bringing the war blogging home?

As I've said too many times, war blogging is not my shtick. That's because I support the war but don't have access to facts. In a war, facts are limited, statistics debatable, and stories are often anecdotal, or made up. There are propaganda machines on both sides which attempt to persuade people to support or oppose the war, or support or oppose one or more factions involved in the fighting. Because of the nature of propaganda, virtually any factoid can become grist for the mill. Trying to verify or debunk these facts can be very difficult, and in the larger picture, I see most of them as irrelevant anyway. For example, whether soldiers laughed at an injured woman or ran over a dog has absolutely nothing to do with my view of the war. If things like that happened, they may or may not be matters for appropriate discipline. But they have nothing to do with whether the war is right or wrong, and they have even less to do with whether "all war" is right or wrong. War is an inevitable part of the human condition. A human natural law, almost akin to a law of physics. Anyone who cannot see this from even the most cursory study of history is in my opinion foolish. And the worst fools are those people known as "pacifists" who actually believe war can be abolished. Wittingly or unwittingly (often both), pacifists become grist for enemy propaganda machines. While I tend to have more intellectual respect for people who actually support the enemy than I would a pacifist, in practical terms I must recognize that pacifists are not a direct physical threat, so as antiwar people go, I have to consider them the lesser of the two evils.

Where it gets murky is with the people who claim not to be pacifists, who claim to support necessary wars, but who don't support a particular war.

"Yes, we need to fight al Qaeda, but not in Iraq!"

This is logically frustrating, because we are in Iraq, and so is al Qaeda. But the argument is that they only went in there because we went in there and they wouldn't be there if we weren't there, so if we pull out, so will al Qaeda, and we can go back to fighting them in Afghanistan or Pakistan where they belong. I see that as wishful thinking, and I don't see much difference between saying we're responsible for al Qaeda being in Iraq than saying we were responsible for al Qaeda being in New York and Washington on 9/11. Ultimately, I see such arguments as being based on What We Should Have Done. "Should have" is no way to fight a war you are in. It's more appropriate for looking at Vietnam. And the constant invocation of the Vietnam theme makes me wonder whether the "should have" people just plain want the United States to lose.

The fact is the "should have" people who harp on Vietnam never portray Vietnam as a war we should have won, or could have won, or as providing lessons on tactical mistakes. They see it as a lesson in defeat, and as a well deserved defeat at that! What kind of people look back on their country's defeat with pride, and want it to happen again?

I'm not saying defeat can't be seen as a lesson, but I think it needs to be remembered that the United States was not defeated militarily in Vietnam. It was a post-war political defeat, accomplished by the enemy after a peace treaty had been signed and the U.S. had pulled out. True, the U.S. failed to go back in to enforce the treaty, but what is the lesson there? Is anyone arguing that a sufficient show of U.S. military force at the right time (in response to North Vietnam's initially careful expeditionary probings) would not have deterred the enemy? It certainly deterred them before, brought them to the peace table, and it would have again.

So what is the "should have" lesson there? How to avoid defeat? Or how to ensure defeat? Or is Vietnam simply being invoked as a broad "never should have gone in in the first place" argument?

How is that in any way helpful if the goal is to avoid defeat?

Again, I can't do much by way of war blogging other than offer my opinion based on the limited facts at my disposal. But what's easier for me to understand (and what really brings the war blogging home, as it were) is that, at the same time the "Iraq is Vietnam" meme is being pushed, there's a growing meme to declare that Philadelphia is Baghdad, and the Iraq war is here!

We may all be stuck in the same narrative together, folks.

Hey, if the war is right here in my neck of the woods, and if it's the same thing as Iraq, there's no way to ignore it, right? Pretty soon it'll be Vietnam all over again, and we'll have to accept defeat, and it will be All Our Fault. Right?

Don't look at me. I don't make up these memes. But I suppose if they want to try to force me into "Philadelphia war blogging," I could say I've been there all along, as I have written more posts about local crime issues (especially Philadelphia homicides and the attempt to blame guns) than I can count. Whether that means I'm a war blogger depends on whether there's a war.

Recently, CBS News argued that Philadelphia was a "war zone" (and "just like Baghdad"), and in today's Inquirer, a local trauma surgeon supplies more fuel for this Baghdad narrative in a piece titled "An Army surgeon tells of war on our own turf":

In the swirl of screams and moving figures, my mind drifted to my recent experience in Iraq as an Army surgeon. There we dealt regularly with "mascals," or mass-casualty situations. In Iraq, ironically, I found myself drawing on my experience as a civilian trauma surgeon each time mascals would overrun the combat hospital. As nine or 10 patients from a firefight rolled in, I sometimes caught myself saying "just like another Friday night in West Philadelphia."

The wounds and nationalities of the patients are different, but the feelings of helplessness, despair and loss are the same. In Iraq, soldiers die for freedom, for honor, for their country, and their buddies. Here in Philadelphia, civilians die without honor, without purpose, for no country, for no one.

Doesn't this beg the question of what is war?

The Philadelphia murder rate today, while high, is not as high as it was in the 1990s. Those who are killed in Philadelphia are overwhelmingly the victims of criminal violence, and the victims are often involved in criminal activity themselves. The results look the same to a trauma surgeon, but then, is the daily carnage on the highways any prettier? Any more "purposeful"? Would it be proper to call the thousands of highway fatalities war casualties? Deaths are tragic, and violence is gruesome, but death and violence do not equal war.

Nor do numbers. Back to Dr. Pryor:

More young men are killed each day on the streets of America than on the worst days of carnage and loss in Iraq. There is a war at home raging every day, filling our trauma centers with so many wounded children that it sometimes makes Baghdad seem like a quiet city in Iowa.
Children? Doesn't that depend on the definition of the word "child"? And what is meant by war? Gun deaths only? If the national statistics supplied by Economics professor Richard Ebeling are any indication, I don't see the number of children becomes a war:
In 1997, the statistics for accidental deaths among children under the age of 14 show that the primary cause was automobile accidents (2,608 deaths), followed by drownings (1,010 deaths), pedestrian crossings (675 deaths), bicycle accidents (201 deaths) and then gun accidents (142 deaths). Homicides caused by the use of guns for the age group under 14 was 346. Adding up these categories of accidental children's deaths, firearms account for only 3 percent.
I'm not saying that death by homicide is the same as death by automobile accident, but I don't understand the argument that homicide can constitute war. Each homicide typically involves some sort of dispute between individuals, none of whom are fighting on behalf of any country, or organized group dedicated to achieving political power. Only on rare occasions (the recent case of a member of a black Muslim group shooting a journalist to deter a story being one such example) are there attributes which resemble war. True, there are gangs, and gang-related killings, and many killings are also drug-related, but to call this phenomenon "war" is simply an exercise in rhetorical hyperbole.

Hyperbole or not, it seems to be catching on, as Pryor's editorial piece also appeared in Sunday's WaPo, with a different title -- "The War In West Philadelphia."

Dr. Pryor's Iraq experience certainly checks out; last summer he wrote a piece titled "A surgeon at the Iraqi front whose soul is often wounded" in which he describes the death of a Marine, and what he would say to the parents:

...The Marine will be brought to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and eventually home and to his final resting place.

If I could say something to this Marine's parents, it would be this: I am so sorry that you have lost your son. We, more than almost everyone else, know he was a true American hero. I want you to know that the Marines, medics, doctors and nurses of the 344th Combat Support Hospital did everything possible to save him. I want you to know I personally did everything I could, and that I am sorry that it wasn't enough. Although we never knew your son, we loved him. I want you to know that although he lost his life, we preserved his dignity after death. We held his hand when he died and prayed for his soul and for God to give you strength. I want you to know that he had great friends who cared deeply for him, and that they were also here when he died. He was never alone for his journey back to you. I also want you to know that I will never forget your son, and that I will pray for him and all of the children lost in this war.

It may be a minor point, but I tend to think of Marines as something other than children. Children are innocent victims, but don't Marines die for their country?

So I may be confused on this minor point, but it might go to the heart of a philosophical disagreement. "All of the children lost in this war" probably means more than just the U.S. Marines and soldiers.

The argument seems to be that children die in Iraq, and they die in Philadelphia, so Philadelphia is Iraq. But if Iraq is like Vietnam, then clearly, Philadelphia is Vietnam too. (Yes, because children died in Vietnam! Case closed.)

What are the local implications? Should we pull out now, or pull out later? Or should we have pulled out before we went in? Is defeat inevitable? How do we apply the lessons learned in Vietnam? Somehow, I'm unable to follow the analogy. But again, I never said Philadelphia was Iraq.

I'm not sure I like Philadelphia war blogging any more than Iraq war blogging!

posted by Eric on 08.08.07 at 10:01 AM


This may very well be the Perfect War Post.

Loren Heal   ·  August 8, 2007 12:06 PM

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