[lit-ideas] Re: Hersh and the Devil's Advocate

  • From: Robert.Paul@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Robert Paul)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: 16 May 2004 15:11:55 PDT

>The Devil's Advocate argues that the military should be able to do ANYTHING
short of civilian atrocities to fight al-Qaeda.<

What does _should be able to_ mean here? Clearly it means should be justified in
doing; should have license to do; should not be blamed for or ashamed of doing
anything at all--short of committing 'atrocities' on civilians.

I'll pass over the obvious point that the author would seem to be wedded to the
view that there really is no distinction in this 'asymmetrical' war between
'civilians' and insurgents or terrorists, so that the conscience-easing
qualification is either a slip of the fingers or disingenuous, and ask why The
Devil's Advocate should stop here? Is there some line, visible to TDA and the
author, but not to some of the rest of us, such that committing atrocities
against civilians is 'unjustified,' but doing anything whatsoever (gouging out
eyes, impaling on the stake, roasting over a spit) to persons who, before they
were caught up in a 'sweep' may have been innocent bystanders, as many of the
Iraqi prisoners in captivity have turned out to be, is 'justified'? 

If this is really what the author means, then there should be no reason--except
aesthetic, perhaps--for not videotaping 'enemy' prisoners having their genitals
mutilated or their tongues cut out, and showing these images on television
(tastefully edited for Nickelodeon until children get used to it). After all, it
is justified--something 'we' should be able to do--so where's the harm in it? If
this really is what TDA is advocating, then TDA shouldn't object either to Nick
Berg's beheading or to the taping of it or to the dissemination of that tape.
After all, 'we' are now 'them,' and 'they' are now 'us.' And what are we then
fighting to preserve? Two gross of broken statues...a few thousand battered

A pleasant Sunday afternoon here.

Robert Paul
Reed College
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