[ExI] The Death Toll Imbalance in the Mideast War

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Jun 7 17:53:55 UTC 2009

What's the question here, and what's really driving
the diverse views?

Our emotions, let's face it, very often drive our
initial answers to many queries, at which point
our rational engines kick in to supply a nice
"rationalization" of the answers we want to obtain.

In the present case, some people are biased in
America's favor, and others resent the U.S.

Why America? Easy: since the end of WWII, the U.S.
has been the "big cheese" among nations, and so
of course garners the most attention. It also follows
that the moral question "Is America doing the right
thing" far outweighs "Is Burkina Faso doing the
right thing?"

As such, this very question provides a critical
thinker a great working example so that he or she
might  examine his or her own biases and, if there
is any interest, try to overcome those biases.

Standing back from just the current "Death Toll
Imbalance" and taking an historical view, all
throughout history invading armies commit atrocities.
And contrary to what some here have written, indeed
the soldiers often enjoy it. Armed conflict of any
kind does tend to bring out the worst in us. The
good news is that the levels of atrocities are
falling off.

I therefore thank Stathis for informing us that
"In occupied Europe, the Germans sometimes tried
and punished soldiers who committed crimes against
the local population." That's news to me. Haven't
we always been regaled with countless stories of
the Germans taking out whole villages in reprisal
for guerrilla actions?

By and large, the pattern is this: in general, the
wealthier and richer a nation is, the more likely
that it will have risen to the point that it can
afford the luxury of being less terrible to
its subjects, including the new subjects of a
conquered nation that often need to be taught a
lesson, i.e. "taught respect" or, what amounts to
the same thing, persuaded that further resistance
will be punished.

On this reading it's clear that one would expect
the U.S. to be more careful about civilian deaths
than the Taliban. If the Taliban or its ally
succeeds in killing thousands of civilians in
the United States in a "terrorist" blow, it's
cause for them to rejoice; whereas if the United States
blows up an aspirin factory in the Sudan, killing
uninvolved civilians, the Americans will consider
it to have been a mistake and will suffer a great
deal of internal criticism.

Stathis wrote

"The Soviet war in Afghanistan was similar in
type and scale to the American war in Vietnam.
Do you have any evidence suggesting that the
Americans behaved better than the Soviets?"

It does seem to be the case that the U.S.
committed fewer actions that we on this list
would regard as atrocities. More important,
however, is how the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.
regarded their own atrocities. In the former
the massacre at My Lai received a tremendous
amount of criticism, and the generals and
colonels involved---simply for the sakes of
their own careers, if nothing else---would
have prevented it had they known ahead of time.
For a gripping view of Soviet atrocities, you
could see the movie "Charlie Wilson's War", :)
though that probably isn't what you wanted in
terms of "evidence". It happens to be true that
even taking their wealth into account, Russian
soldiers and generals all throughout the
twentieth century were well known for their
relative brutality and ruthlessness.

To me it's  appropriate to criticize nations
and leaders so long as an attempt is made to
do it with as little bias as possible. If at
a deep level you resent the prestige and
power of "the big cheese" among nations, do
try to compensate for that; on the other hand,
if you are pro-American or are an American
patriot, in discussions like this some effort
also should be made to overcome bias.

The present conflicts that involve America are
too recent for one to easily get an unbiased
view of who is the *naughtiest* (given their
background level of wealth). Almost all the
information I see comes from politically motivated
sources. The endless finger-pointing suggests to
me that the pundits actually hope that their
denunciations will have some political effect,
and that that's what's important to them. That
would be sad, if it weren't so ridiculous.

Stathis wrote

> 2009/6/6 John Grigg wrote
>> At least in the cases of the Taliban and Al Queda, we are trying to root out
>> very vicious organizations that delight in crimes against humanity and who
>> want to cripple Western civilization.  Yes, it's terrible that so many
>> innocent Muslims have died in this war, but often their own people (the
>> insurgents), hide amongst them and use these unfortunate souls as cover
>> & impromptu human shields.
> And I suppose that the Iraqi invaders would say it was terrible that
> innocent Americans had to die due to the American insurgents hiding
> among the population, when all the Iraqis wanted to do was make sure
> that America would never be able to threaten other countries again.

We see some examples of what I'm saying right here.
How do we know that the Taliban and Al Qaeda delight
in crimes against humanity? I don't think so. It
simply stands to reason, however, that their humanitarian
impulses are, due to their background, less refined than
those of the west. If they cheer when a couple of thousand
of American civilians die in a terrorist act, we have to
take their history (and even their religion) into account.
They haven't been living in the twentieth century long,
if at all.

Likewise, how do we know that "all the Iraqi [insurgents]
wanted to do was make sure that America would never be
able to threaten other countries again"? They have their
own reasons for resenting "the big cheese", a lot of it
cultural, and it's a mistake for western readers to
imagine that those reasons are identical to their own.
Far from it.


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