Friday, December 21, 2012

I'm linked in


Unfortunately Brian Doherty spends a lot of his post on an odd (although in retrospect, I guess understandable?) claim about me.

The post was this:

"It's amazing to me how many people think a crazy person targeting kindergartners is comparable to the military targeting al Qaeda affiliates

You are welcome to be angry about a policy you don't agree with and you are welcome even to call its ethics into question. You are welcome to mourn the (dramatically fewer) innocent victims of drone attacks.

But to talk about these two things as if they're equivalent is something I find horrific."

So he took "(dramatically fewer)" to mean fewer than the deaths at Sandy Hook. I suppose in retrospect I can see someone reading it that way, but I've blogged a lot on here before about how drone warfare kills fewer innocent people than conventional warfare so I assumed my readers would be thinking in those terms. On top of that, I just can't imagine anyone would actually think that drone warfare killed fewer innocents than Sandy Hook! It seems implausible on its face and it could have been easily cleared up. What I find most funny is that when I've talked about this issue in the past I've cited many of the sources that Doherty cites on civilian casualty statistics!

Anyway - the post Doherty links to is now updated so no one else is confused.

[UPDATE: Wow! Everybody seems taken in by this "dramatically fewer" thing! Let me spell this out - Doherty was perfectly sensible to read it the way he did, and that's something I unfortunately realized after he pointed it out, and not before I posted. Unfortunately, it's not at all reflective of what I think, so hopefully that's clear now. I didn't even realize people argued such a thing. Look people, drones are far more humane and efficient than conventional warfare, but it's still a bloody and imperfect business. Nobody should have any illusions about that. So we're on the same page: the really important issues come below this update!]

This was interesting:

"As far as motive for Sandy Hook, we all seem to agree there was none other than a desire, for whatever reasons, to murder a bunch of helpless strangers, including children. That is a big difference. But is it enough to inspire horror that someone who objects to murder of innocents in general might find them similar in that respect?"

Obviously it does! I was horrified by it after all and I object to "murder of innocents in general"!!! Equating wanting to kill children with not wanting to kill children is something that Doherty agrees is a "big difference" (I'll say!). As far as I can tell someone who does not recognize that big difference is bordering on sociopathic behavior. If you have no moral compass that differentiates wanting to kill someone from not wanting to kill someone I find that horrific. I can't imagine what other reaction there could be to that sort of thing.

He goes on (after noting that this is politicizing the tragedy):

"Indeed, the very reason why those opposed to U.S. drone strikes might feel it necessary to make that analogy that horrified Kuehn (and as I noted would undoubtedly horrify most Americans, if they'd heard it) is the very reason that it horrifies him: that people opposed to drone strikes find it very difficult to get their fellow Americans to understand that there might be something horrific and evil about a policy that murders children with bombs from the air, and that a moment where they are mourning and hating a crime involving someone murdering well over a dozen children with guns might be a moment they are open to understanding this; perhaps more so when they consider that unlike the one-time horror of Sandy Hook, with a dead perpetrator, this policy and practice is ongoing and may well result in more dead children."

Wow. OK, so now Doherty is doing the exact same thing. You don't have to convince me that "murdering children" is bad. That's my whole point. I'm already quite adamant on the point that murdering children is bad. I was quite adamant on that point before I even knew who Brian Doherty was. You have to convince me that we should change what it is to "murder" to fit the political point you're trying to make.

Lots of innocents get killed in war. This is why we should have much less war. It's as simple as that. This is why I've been advocating the end of the Iraq war for years (well, since 2003! but of course I haven't been blogging that long!). It's why recently I've been noting that we are probably done or close to done with the good we can do in Afghanistan (it's hard for me to be declarative on this because I don't have the facts on the ground). Indeed, this is exactly why I've said that it's good that the war on terrorism is transitioning from a conventional to a drone war. It kills less Americans and it kills less innocent non-Americans than conventional war. How could I not support that?

The problem that Doherty skirts around is we have twin evils, of course. There is collateral damage from war and that's bad (but certainly not murder), and we have the evil of terrorists and totalitarian Islamist governments. The trade-off between those two is quite difficult - much more difficult than Doherty is suggesting. A step in the right direction, in my mind, is moving forward in a way that reduces the first evil while still combating the second. I can't imagine how that could be controversial or suspect.

As far as I know I've never suggested that Brian Doherty needs to be convinced that terrorism or totalitarianism are bad, and that gender equality and liberty are good.

I wish he'd extend the same courtesy to me. Instead he thinks he needs to convince me that murdering children is a bad thing.

Nonsense, Brian. I don't need you to tell me that.


  1. So he took "(dramatically fewer)" to mean fewer than the deaths at Sandy Hook.

    Right, and that's what I thought you were claiming too, because that is the only way to read the sentence you wrote. I was busy so I didn't bother asking you to clarify. To be clear, I didn't think you could possibly believe that, but then again you've written things about how Obama is quite careful with the people he puts on his secret kill list etc., that I thought, "Maybe Daniel actually believes that fewer than 20 children have been killed by US drone strikes?"

    It's funny that you are getting exasperated that people thought you meant that. Suppose I say:

    "You know, Michael Moore says that eating at McDonald's is bad for you, and that a Big Mac has a lot of calories, and that we should eat a locally grown salad instead. I'm amazed he complains about people eating a Big Mac, which has dramatically fewer calories."

    Then you go nuts and say it doesn't.

    I clarify, "Huh? I meant, eating a Big Mac has fewer calories than going to a Chinese restaurant, which is the alternative for people who like McDonalds. I can't believe you'd even think I was comparing salads to Big Macs. I even linked to the same USDA site you did. Man you guys are nuts."

    1. Not exasperated. It was a miscommunication and in retrospect I see how he read it that way. I didn't spend three hours composing the three sentence post after all :)

      Anyway, it's updated (not changed - just an update added) so that we're all on the same page.

  2. I'm surprised Bob thought you wrote that fewer than 20 children were killed by US drone strikes. Yes, that is the most natural reading of the sentence, but in our previous conversations on drones, you argued many times in favor of drones as more humane and less civilian-casualty generating than conventional methods. In that context, I found your meaning to be very clear and didn't think regular readers would get confused.

    1. Good, glad to hear that. It's certainly confusing for people who haven't been reading my blog, so hopefully the update helps.

  3. The only way that one can justify using drones because they cause fewer civilian casualties, is if it's clear that the strikes are making the world (or the U.S.) a safer place.

    There is considerable evidence that they are not.

    Besides the fact that we target first-responders and funerals (tactics our government told us are used by terrorists), and describe every male 18 or older as a "combatant," I find horrific the idea that the grieving and misery of the families of these people... less than that felt by Americans who lose their children to senseless violence (or that the deaths are somehow "necessary" for the defense of the U.S.).

  4. It would be nice if Doherty responds to this post, because his own piece doesn’t really get to the heart of the libertarian critique of the drone war, except to say that it’s generally bad policy to kill people. Of course, as you suggest, that’s what war is -- so you have to judge the drone war by those standards.

    But would more people be killed without the drone war? To answer “yes” you’d have to assume that we’d be otherwise willing to bomb or invade Pakistan with conventional forces. I think that’s unlikely. It’s one thing to bomb the military assets of the Libyan government to achieve publicly stated policy objectives. But the drone war is a never-ending clandestine assault… to the point where people in the tribal region of Pakistan have put normal life on hold for years and are experiencing widespread psychological problems. _We_ can make a moral distinction between what we’re doing and what Bin Laden did, but will they? I think that’s unlikely and reason enough to wonder if we’re just creating new generations of terrorists.

    War is a necessary tool of government, but using drones not only makes it technically easier to wage war, it puts it outside the normal constraints of the international system and domestic politics. Had we been bombing Pakistan by conventional means, our actions would have been considered an international incident of great controversy, not to mention the subject of intense domestic debate -- we would have been forced to stop within days or weeks. Instead the drone war has allowed us to bomb people for eight years with a minimum of controversy outside of the country actually being bombed.

    Libertarians oppose unchecked government power, especially when that power involves the use of violence against innocent people. As a particularly unrestrained kind of warfare, it’s easy to see how the ongoing drone strikes concern libertarians. It’s disappointing to see so many liberals willing to just look the other way.

    1. War is a necessary tool of government, just as organized crime is a necessary tool of the mafia. What is not necessary is the state. It is criminal, evil, and unjustified. ANd the fact that war is one of its "necessary tools" is one reason why.

  5. "But to talk about these two things as if they're equivalent is something I find horrific." I couldn't agree more. On the one hand children were killed by a psychotic madman. On the other hand innocents were deliberately targeted in cold blood as a matter of policy. One can not excuse a madman for his extreme violence, but it is easy to understand that his was an act of someone quite insane. The deliberate targeting of innocents as a matter of policy is quite something else. It is evil on a scale much grander than the act of a single madman. It is an ongoing act of violence against innocents whose entire point is to inflame the local populations against our country in order to assure a continuing supply of terrorists in order to justify an endless war which benefits only those who make money off it. The deliberate considered nature of this evil is so HORRIFIC it is unspeakable. It is one thing to have innocents die in a war which has an objective that is moral, and quite another when the objective is to sustain an immoral war for no reason greater than to make money for war industries. This is not a war ON terrorism, this is a war OF terrorism. And unfortunately America is the country spreading terror.

  6. "bad (but certainly not murder)"

    If murder is just an attempt at a state legal definition of a subset of unjustified killing and such, well that still leaves plenty of room for unjustified killings wrong by their nature. Their weak definition is not so much law as legislation, I think. That those of the state don't define their killing of young foreigners as murder doesn't mean they aren't equivalent or worse and that the harshest of punishments wouldn't be appropriate and just.

    I'm not inclined to let the state claim power over murder, to say that that it's killing of children isn't murder.

  7. "This is war," is the most common excuse for why the regular, violent deaths of innocent civilians (foreign, of course) is acceptable.

    The word, "war," has many meanings, but the idea that we're at "war" with a small number of religious fundamentalists whose best plan since 9/11 has been to put bombs in the underwear of a U.S. airliner, requires that we ignore what that word has meant for most of history. Believing that this "war" means we have to target first-responders and funeral attendees requires that ignore the basic human decency that inspired the Hague and Geneva Conventions.

    When will we win this "war?" From whom will we accept surrender? The answers are, respectively, "Never, because a war on a tactic cannot end," and, "Nobody, because tactics don't surrender."

    So we are in a position to be at "war" forever, which means that the people who accept the regular, violent deaths of innocent civilians during war believe that these violent deaths must continue forever. And that every time a parent in a distant, foreign land gathers together their children's bloody body parts...

    ...we should only shrug, and say, "War is hell."

    Casual acceptance of the unending hell of war. This is what is horrific.

  8. Fact: the same government that some people are clamoring to restrict my gun ownership is the same government that is murdering kids around the world and the same government that believes it can assassinate me.


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