Friday, August 29, 2008

In the news... maybe...

In the midst of the Olympics, the DNC, McCain's VP choice, and tropical storms, sometimes other news stories get lost.

Like this one.

I'm not blaming the Soldiers- they were given a bad tip, and there is a multitude of other factors that can be analyzed. I guess that's what gets me- we'll analyze the path of every tropical storm and every possible VEEP choice all day long, but not look at a tragedy that killed 90 civilians- 60 of them children...

KABUL, Afghanistan — A United Nations human rights team has found “convincing evidence” that 90 civilians — among them 60 children — were killed in airstrikes on a village in western Afghanistan on Friday, according to the United Nations mission in Kabul.

Residents of Azizabad, Afghanistan, on Saturday walked around a home that was destroyed in an American airstrike on Friday.

If the assertion proves to be correct, this would almost certainly be the deadliest case of civilian casualties caused by any United States military operation in Afghanistan since 2001.

The United Nations statement adds pressure to the United States military, which maintains that 25 militants and 5 civilians were killed in the airstrikes, but has ordered an investigation after Afghan officials reported the higher civilian death toll.

Keep reading the story here.


Anonymous said...

I think this ties in completely with your last post. One way to "support the troops" is to give them the benefit of the doubt. My distrust of the federal government is outweighed only by my distrust of the UN. But your post begins with the assumption that the UN report is the correct one: "but not look at a tragedy that killed 90 civilians- 60 of them children..."


Why say that rather than "a tragedy that killed 25 militants and 5 civilians." It may be true that 90 civilians were killed, but I'll give the military the benefit of the doubt, and not second guess split second decisions made in the heat of battle.

I know you said you weren't blaming the soldiers and that other factors can be analyzed; I'm just referring to your setting the baseline as the UN report instead of the US report.

Anonymous said...

My stupid touchpad caused me to insert my initials in the middle of my post- sorry.

Sara said...

I see your point, though- as you admitted- I in no way intended to place the blame on the Soldiers who carried out their orders. My main point was that these stories get lost in the hype. I have actually been paying more attention to the news lately, and have been quite disappointed at what I see- and don't.

The first time I heard of this tragedy was in an NPR interview with the father of one of the victims- that admittedly played into my belief of and feelings toward the story.

Anonymous said...

I have a few comments...

1) The UN is never to be trusted. It's one of the most anti-American organizations on the planet.

2) The fact that it was reported on NPR damages, not helps the credibility of the story. I listen to NPR to find out what the enemy is thinking.

3) I'm glad you're paying more attention to the news. Uninformed people are easily persuaded by the other side.

4) The report you quoted was from the NY Times... also not that credible.

5) I thought this sentence, referring to a Russian document condemning the attack was interesting... "The draft, obtained by The A.P., notes “that killing and maiming of civilians is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law” and asks for measures to ensure protection of civilians." Interesting, because it comes from the Russians. And Interesting, because - while unfortunate - the killing and maiming of civilians is the only way to win a war.

6) Terrorists who don't want their children killed should sleep somewhere else.


Anonymous said...

I agree that this story is under reported, especially in light of the gossip column lunacy that passes for "news." But it also isn't really a continuing story, such as the election, a hurricane, or even the Olympics, that would keep it in the news. You heard it on NPR and linked to a NYT article (and it was on every major news site), so I wouldn't really say it was ignored, just maybe not given the amount of attention it deserves.

As an aside, thanks for posting something worth debating again.


Anonymous said...

I don't think that stories like this get lost in the hype. They get Matt said, this was on websites and news programs. Whenever a MI soldier is killed, it is reported on the news here. The thing is, we have been hearing about this for so long that we've become immune to it. It isn't news to us anymore. News is something new and urgent. Soldier and civilian deaths in the Middle East just don't fall into that catergory anymore.

Then you have the other issue already brought up. Is it true or is it embellished to make the war look bad? Which spin to believe?

Question for Dad regarding #3...who exactly is the "other side"?


Anonymous said...

#3 - the "other side" is people who don't agree with me, and are obviously wrong

Also, I forgot a really important comment. Matt, if you disable tapping on your touch pad - like me - that doesn't happen


jonathan said...

War IS bad. Nothing needs to be spun in order to see that. Sometimes war is indeed a necessary evil, but there is NO such thing as a "good" war. It is inherently bad. Its not to say that good can't come of a bad thing, or that bad things don’t necessarily have to happen; but whenever people are killed - particularly civilians (in the case of war), families are destroyed, orphans are made, economies are ruined and evil takes its toll unchecked it IS a tragedy. Once the killing starts, its terribly hard to stop it. War is an unequivocal tragedy that needs to be undertaken only when ALL other means of conflict resolution have been exhausted - this is the main tenant of the "Just War Theory" that has governed our military's conduct in war and our governments decisions to go to war since our founding. More on this in a bit.

I usually avoid discussions like this, but had a few thoughts to weigh in.

MDN - I think you are spot on - this post does in fact point out exactly what it means to "support the troops." However, I think I come to a different conclusion on that point - in the cacophony that is the "reporting" that surrounds the DNC and the RNC (VP picks and whatnot) stories like this are lost. This is sad given the tragedy that should be analyzed and understood. The American public can and should be asking the question - how did that happen, and could it have been avoided?

To ask these questions is not to question the military decision on the ground - I can guarantee you that this mission has been investigated and is continued to be investigated. Supporting the troops means that the average American can remember that behind this story is a group of pilots that have to live with the reality of their following orders. There are leaders that have to live with the guilt of their order. There are infantrymen on the ground who are now in greater danger because the Taliban used our own tactics against us. They knew we'd attack them, they got out of using a suicide bomber by knowing that our hellfire missiles can do so much more damage. The "Fog of War" is a tragedy and it should always be remembered that the soldiers duty is to his other soldiers. In the heat of battle they will act with all the weapons they have at their disposal. Asking the question – how did that happen and can it be avoided and what does this say about the war in general is the responsibility of citizens – particularly when we are involved in an open-ended war with no clear objectives. We in the military have localized objectives but those change all the time – the objective I would like my civilian leaders (and by proxy the American people) to define for me is - what does the end of this war look like? What exactly does it mean to “win the war on terror?” Ask ten Americans and you are likely to get fifteen different answers. Being informed and asking those questions IS supporting the troops.

When that question is asked, it may well be found (as I believe it was in this case but the only place I could find that even looked into it was, incidentally, NPR) that the airstrike was unavoidable and necessary given the situation on the ground. The point is – ASK the question and then hold the civilian leadership accountable for it. At the end of the day, that’s where responsibility lies.

Thankfully, in the military bureaucracy, there are systems set up for this accountability – now that we are civilianizing essential warfighting functions those systems are lost – but this is not the discussion at hand.

Ylf – Your statement “And interesting, because - while unfortunate - the killing and maiming of civilians is the only way to win a war.” Is interesting because I have heard many such statements (or their variations such as “we need to let the army do what its gotta do” or “just drop a bomb on the whole place”) by many civilians and it bears some fleshing out. I encourage anyone to at least read the basic points of the “Just War Theory.” In lieu of a more thorough discussion I would point out the three main points of military ethics – i.e. how we, the US Army, is to conduct itself in war.

Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create. The prohibited acts include bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target and committing acts of terrorism or reprisal against ordinary civilians.
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. The force used must be proportional to the wrong endured, and to the possible good that may come. The more disproportional the number of collateral civilian deaths, the more suspect will be the sincerity of a belligerent nation's claim to justness of a war it fights.
Military necessity
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of minimum force. An attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy, it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. This principle is meant to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction.

Killing and maiming civilians is NOT how you “win a war.” It happens of course, but it is NOT how wars are won. Unless, of course, they are whom you went to war to fight in the first place. Unless I missed something, war was not declared on the Afghan people or the Iraqi people but on “terror.” …whatever that means…

Maybe, just maybe, terrorists purposely put civilians in danger. Maybe its their stated goal to kill and maim as many civilians as possible. Maybe that’s why they are terrorists. I would restate the above observation this way, “As a terrorist, the killing and maiming of civilians is how I win a war…”

This story is a tragedy on all sides. It’s a tragedy for the people who went to a funeral to weep for a lost loved one and were killed in an airstrike. It’s a tragedy for the soldiers on the ground who have to pick up the pieces. It’s a tragedy for the American soldiers who will probably be attacked by grieving families who, though not terrorists before, might become one now, and might even die as a result. It’s a tragedy for the pilots that have to live with the nightmares of knowing the power of their weapons. It’s a tragedy that its somehow more important that we as the American people would parse every word, hand gesture, posture, and possible intent of every moment of an made-for-tv event than even think about what 60 kids dying might mean for their sons and daughters on a foreign soil. It’s a tragedy that wars even need to be fought in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Jon- I generally agree with your statement (though you did bring up many side issues that I'll leave alone). But to clarify, my specific statement regarded giving the soldiers the benefit of the doubt. Two conflicting reports exist- the US and the UN. One says 90 civilian deaths, the other says 5 civ & 25 militant. Both sides have an agenda in their reporting. Therefore, my baseline, until disproved, is to err on the side of the soldiers. Is the US report accurate? Probably not- the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

The second part of my response regarded the reporting. It was on NPR, NYT, Fox News, CNN, BBC, among others. Under reported, yes, but certainly not ignored. Americans are intellectually lazy on all fronts- it's easier to watch a speech full of platitudes than it is to read about foreign policy. Another example of our "bread and circuses" society.

As far as killing civilians to win war, I agree that you don't win war by killing civilians, but you will kill civilians in winning a war- especially when those you DO need to kill hide among civilians (not to put words in his mouth, but I suspect ylf would agree with this restatement). And you correctly state that JWT admits as much. That said, this "war" on a nebulous enemy such as "terror" is ridiculous and lends itself to this type of tragedy, and makes JWT application much more difficult.


jonathan said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Bread and circuses indeed.

Civilians will die. Soldiers will die. It is inevitable in war. Which is why the JWT has been the gold standard for ethical conduct in war. Perhaps it should have been applied in 2003...

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to imply that I think it's OK to kill civilians. My point - and I know it's simplistic - is that no war will be won without civilian casualties. I'm not a historian, but I can't imagine a war where no civilians are killed. that's my problem with JWT. Not that we should try to kill civilians, but that if you aren't willing to accept that inevitability, don't go to war.

ylf(i-l)This is one of the greatest errors of the neo-cons... this is one area I agree with the dems... our primary enemy wasn't in Iraq, but in Afghanistan.

We need to quit letting the news media run the war, and leave that to the people who know what they're doing, whether military or civilian advisers.

Look, the way to win a war and win it quick is to level widespread damage. Unfortunately, the only language most enemies understand is, "We're stronger than you, and unless you surrender, you and everyone around you dies."

Again, I'm not saying to target civilians. And I'm not even saying that we shouldn't try to avoid them. But the fact of war is that innocent people die. And our attempts to avoid it or hide it so the news media won't show it during the dinner hour is part of the problem. I don't think most people understand how terrible war is... they're too disconnected from it. Generally speaking, our modern culture (enabled by the media, I might add) no longer hates war, they hate whichever politician the media chooses to blame.

The only way to win a war (as I see it) is to bring the enemy to it's knees. As terrible as the atomic bomb was to Japan, that's what ended the war. We haven't won a war since. While we have the greatest military on Earth, we have a weak legislature, not willing to authorize what it takes to win.

Also... one more thing. As I see Biblical prophecy, I don't think THIS war CAN be won.

Without trying to put words in your mouths (or keyboards), I think we all agree in principle, but are looking at it from different perspectives. But the fact remains, war kills innocent people, and any country not willing to accept that unfortunate fact ought not start them.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the unorganized last post. I forgot to add my name, and when I tried, it put it in the middle, and messed up some of the paragraphs.

It was me... ylf-i-l

Sara said...

I do have some other thoughts to weigh in, though I think you all are doing a good job of it already...

For now, in my post-dinner pre-baby bath & bedtime minute, I have two simple ironies to point out.

1. YLF- your initials were in the middle of your post. I thought your touchpad tap disablement prevented that from happening? ;-)

2. "But the fact of war is that innocent people die. And our attempts to avoid it or hide it so the news media won't show it during the dinner hour is part of the problem." Wasn't this my point all along?

Anonymous said...

no... the touch pad wasn't my problem. I forgot to sign my name, and then when I DID, I also did some editing, and, in the process, I put my name in the wrong spot.

On your second point... yeah, but MY point was that it was from a different perspective. During the 60's, they wanted it kept off the news because the violence created hatred for the war. Now, they want to keep it off, because it creates hatred for inept politicians.