08 June 2006

There's Logic For You

It's always rather surprising to see a conservative appeal to logic--their strong suit is fuzzy emotional appeals like those President Stay-the-Course Bush is so fond of, or the irrelevant invective of the Ann Coulters among them. But over at AlterNet I saw an example of conservative "logic" that was so bizarre I have to share it.

This was a reply by Conservativation to an article by Scott Ritter, one-time UN weapons inspector in Iraq. In the course of the article Ritter cited a book by Iraq war veteran Paul Reickhoff, who compared the Iraqi insurgents to the fictional "Wolverines" of the long-forgotten movie Red Dawn. Red Dawn is one of those endless trashy movies Hollywood comes out with year after year like Independence Day or The Passion of the Christ, where action substitutes for ideas and shock for internal logic. In it (as best I recall) a high-school football team takes on the Russian army after a successful invasion of the United States and somehow manages to win. Ritter summarizes Reickhoff as follows: "The Wolverines were heroes. The occupiers, frustrated by the tactics of the Wolverines, used increasingly brutal means of suppressing the insurgency, including taking out their revenge on the innocent civilian population. Reickhoff wrote of how he and his fellow soldiers, by invading and occupying Iraq, had reversed roles with the Iraqis. The Americans were now the brutal occupier, and the Iraqis were the 'Wolverines'."

Now I see many difficulties with this comparison. The Wolverines were fictional caricatures in a simplistic movie universe; the Iraqi insurgents are real people in a complex social and political environment. The Wolverines were a single group with a fairly clear goal; the Iraqi insurgents are many groups with differing goals and tactics. The Wolverines were a bunch of high-school students; the Iraqi insurgents appear to come from a wide variety of backgrounds. The Wolverines were Americans; the Iraqi insurgents are (for the most part) Iraqis. But neither Reickhoff nor Ritter suggested that the parallel was exact, and none of these objections really affect the point that Reickhoff was making.

Now Conservativation has his own objections--two of them--that he apparently thinks are "logical" and relevant. First, he observes, "The Wolverines never killed their own...." (Their own what he doesn't say.) I assume he must mean that the Iraqi insurgents do kill "their own". I'd like to see an example of that. Judging from the various reports coming out of Iraq, the insurgents are behaving as other resistance movements have done: targeting the occupying forces, collaborators with the occupying forces, and in some cases rival insurgent groups with different agendas. In no case have I seen an instance of an Iraqi insurgent group targeting "their own"--nor does it seem likely that they would. Any insurgent group that routinely killed its own members for no good reason would not survive very long.

If by "their own" Conservativation means fellow-countrymen who are collaborating with the enemy then he's way off-base. Whatever may have happened in the movies, real resistance movements deal harshly with traitors. They kill them. Take a look sometime at the history of the resistance against the Nazi occupiers. From the viewpoint of the insurgents collaborators are worse than the occupiers themselves. They are people who have sold out for power, or for money, or for some other sordid reason, and deserve whatever happens to them.

But, writes Conservativitis, the Wolverines never "beheaded innocents that were there to help...." Ah, but to help whom? The occupying forces? Remember, insurgents do not want the country to run smoothly under occupation--quite the reverse. Logic dictates the necessity of attacking those who help the occupiers even when such help consists of food for the hungry or medical aid for the sick and injured. It's not a pretty picture, but occupation never is.

"[M]aking the insurgents into heroes is a huge stretch," Conservatorium writes, adding irrelevantly "Iraqis may dislike the US, but they are not huge fans of these murderes [sic] either. They kill more Iraqis than Americans." But whether people are heroes or not is always a subjective issue. I have talked with people who regard George Armstrong Custer as a hero rather than a blithering blowhard with a flair for self-promotion. Thomas Edison, Andrew Jackson, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Billy the Kid, and even Adolf Hitler have their admirers. On the other hand the native Americans who ran an unsuccessful resistance movement against alien invaders in North America for many decades were seen (at least till recently) as bloodthirsty savages, and their names--Cochise, Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, Captain Jack--were reviled. (And even today, not to wander too far from the point, it is considered acceptable to name a team the R-dsk-ns--one of the vilest epithets in the English language--where you'd never see let's say the San Francisco F-gs, the Tuscon W-tb-cks, or the Los Angeles N-gg-rs play in a national arena.)

Leaping nimbly from rooftop to rooftop, like the Tick on patrol, Conservatwhatever abruptly requests: "Please give me the list of other places in the world where we are breaking international law etc. The article says there are many others. Also, I guess Kosovo was not left from one President to another." While I don't undertake to reply for Scott Ritter, I can't find that either point is dealt with in his article. He does speak of US crimes in "Iraq and elsewhere"; maybe Conservilius equates "elsewhere" with "many others." I would suggest that torture at Gitmo, kidnappings in Italy, Pakistan and elsewhere, detention without trial of the innocent, extradition of suspects to Syria, warrentless spying in the US, are all crimes by any definition. (And if I weren't a Republican I'd find the mysterious election irregularities in 2004 extremely suspicious; the odds against them happening by chance are enormous. Fortunately Democrats, as far as I can tell, are all statistically illiterate, and incapable of seeing the impossibility of the reported results.)

I don't know what "logical" point Conservativeoration thought he was making about Kosovo. Ritter's point was that President Bush has no standard for victory and now admits that it will be up to some future president to figure out a way to get the US out of the mess he got it into. There is absolutely no parallel here to Kosovo, and even if there was, Ritter took no position on Kosovo in the first place (at least not in this article), so Conservativenation's illogical jump is--well, gibberish.

The absolute silliness of all this is incredible. The author wanders aimlessly through the Sudan, and into Rwanda, spewing invective but without stumbling onto a single point that has anything to do with the article to which he is supposedly replying. And then comes this priceless statement:

"I suggest a course in logic would be useful. I say that not to defend the war or the President, but to point out the utter lack of skill you have at making and defending points. It is not enough to allege folks, yet that's all you do, and when challenged, change subject to next allegation. Bush Lied...oh, um, Gitmo, oh well er, torture, er uh...whatever."

The pot criticising the kettle, the blind leading the blind. Scott Ritter's main point--that we should suspend judgment about the events of Haditha--is asinine. The military investigators didn't suspend judgment when they described four students and a taxi-driver as insurgents, or when they claimed that civilians were killed in an explosion when in fact they were shot. Facts are facts, and logic is logic. The military investigators saw no need to resolve inconsistencies in their original investigation, and instead put forth a potpourri of lies and speculation. They blew their credibility with that. Whether it was blithering incompetence or active participation in a cover-up doesn't really matter at this point. They got caught. No further military investigation is worth a damn.

But Conservativation's "utter lack of skill ... in making and defending points" is pitiful here. Does he address anything in the article? No. He engages in frivolous attacks on minor issues not related to the subject under discussion, and then attacks a straw man--some crazy person who makes points and when challenged changes the subject. (Conservativation is pretty good at subject-changing himself.) That person is not Scott Ritter. He goes on to say "It would also help your cause if occasionally you wrote a sentence that recognizes how vile, evil and animalistic the slow slicing off of heads can be," and then with complete illogic, jumps to "Finally, explain Canada being targeted. Are they not utopia?" (Need I mention that there is not one word about Canada in Ritter's article?)

And yet this irrational jumble of irrelevancies apparently passes for logical thought in this character's mind. Much of conservative thought (if that's not an oxymoron) is like this--emotional appeals, irrational jumps from subject to subject without rhyme or reason, pointless invective directed against an imaginary opponent--but this piece, to quote Aristophanes, takes the cake. To take this bucket of turds, tie a ribbon on it, and try to pass it off as logical discourse--well, it's priceless.

Conservatation concludes: "I respect good anti war positions. This article isn't one." His respect, to quote Chaucer, is "nat worth a tord; Thou doost nought elles but despendest tyme." Ritter's conclusion, however, is both sobering and chilling: "The scope and scale of our crimes, as manifested in Iraq and elsewhere, are mind-boggling. The indifference of the American people is mind numbing. And the wrath of history, which will judge all of us harshly, has yet to be felt." And that, friends, judged objectively, is beyond dispute.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, One would expect you'd pick a response more worthy of your skilled discourse.
Good gravy....

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add

"I like the way you tawk, you like the way I tawk....mmmm hmmmm"

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