Young Geoffrey (ed_rex) wrote,
Young Geoffrey

Angry Relativism: Rational Thinking Is the Second Casualty of War

I don't regularly read The Globe's Christie Blatchford - she's on the crime beat and I am seldom interested in reading about either courtroom dramas or the details of whatever rape or murder is being reported, so it is to her credit as a wordsmith that I've read as much of her work as I have.

On Saturday, she left her regular courtroom post for the op-ed page with a fierce (if wrong-headed) polemic about last week's revelations of torture by US soldiers (and "civilians") in Iraq, as well as the subsequent beheading of Nick Berg by Iraqi kidnappers.

Blatchford is angry about those of us who are more concerned with the crimes committed at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison than we are with the "war crime" committed against Berg. "... can no one really tell the difference any more between the sort of butchery inflicted upon Mr. Berg and the treatment of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison? Do people not recognize any longer that in the scheme of what to be angry about, a beheading is worse than a humiliation, the deliberate display on a website of a murder committed by masked men is infinitely more disturbing than pictures of a detainee being paraded about on a leash by a girl soldier, her face clearly visible?"

In her disgust for the "infinitely more disturbing" murder, she begs the question which, elsewhere in her essay, she insists she does not want to get into - "... another lengthy discussion of the failures of U.S. foreign policy of the past 50 years." And so she falls into the jingoistic trap into which we so often fall when confronted by horror, especially when that horror is committed by "them" against "us".

Blatchford says she expects "a good deal more of American leaders and soldiers ... than [she] do[es] of al-Qaeda thugs," but her article belies that claim. She says you "have to know who to be mad at," and ends her argument by saying, "And the brunt of the white-hot anger now, in the whole Iraq business, should be borne by the likes of those who wear hoods over their faces as one of their number cuts the head off a 26-year-old American and then displays it for the camera."

Blatchford forgets 2 things. First, something most of us learned at our mother's knee: namely, that 2 wrongs don't make a right (and that the fact someone else did something bad doesn't justify our own, arguably less reprehensible, misdeeds). No amount of war crimes committed by US troops - and civilians - at the Abu Ghraib prison justify the murder of Nick Berg; at the same time, David Berg's murder does not justify the torture of Iraqi prisoners.

Torture is wrong. Murder is wrong. And so is 1 country invading another for any reason but that of self-defense.

Which leads to the other matter Blatchford forgets: Why did the US invade Iraq and, therefore, why was Nick Berg not only there in the first place, but why was he a target?

If Ms Blatchford wants to discuss anything that has happened in Iraq since then US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein that, "We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960's, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America," (see for a full transcript), we have no intellectually honest choice but to consider US foreign policy, past and present.

Just as, when the Twin Towers were destroyed, you heard a lot of impatience with anyone who dared suggest it would behoove the US to look at "root causes" of the attack.

"This isn't the time!" we were told, as if a crisis is not, in fact, the most important time to think logically about one's situation. As the Americans are now being shown (whether they are learning the lesson is another matter), chasing after the wrong guy when you've been sucker-punched from behind only leads you into more trouble - and will quite likely leave the one who hit you in the first place quietly laughing at your stupidity from a dark corner somewhere (as Osama bin Laden is no doubt now doing from a cave somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan).

The US had no legal or moral reason to invade Iraq in the first place. As even the US government now admits, there are no "weapons of mass destruction" and Iraq had no ties to Al-Qaeda. And, given the history of US foreign policy over the past 50 years - a littany of support for brutal dictators, of overthrowing democratically elected governments, and training and financing death squads and torturers - only ideologues and the terribly naive can believe the American government's latest "reason" for the war, that they want to bring freedom to the Iraqi people. One would think even the naive would consider over 10,000 dead Iraqi civilians evidence to the contrary of that last "reason".

The point is - and, for once, I digress with the ultimate goal in mind - the murder of Nick Berg was a result - albeit an indirect result - of the unprovoked American invasion of Iraq.

In juxtaposing the murder of Berg with the torture of tens, or hundreds or (who knows?) thousands of Iraqis and the killing of more than 10,000 civilians, Blatchford implies that American lives are more valuable than Iraqi lives. She wants to believe that "we" are, by definition, "better" than "they" are, not just because "a beheading is worse than a humiliation", but because "we" must be doing what "we" are doing out of the goodness of our hearts, because "we" are, by definition, "good" people. Of such knee-jerk chauvinism have governments benefited for centuries while sending their troops off to war.

If "we" rain death from the skies of foreign countries and thereby kill thousands, the resulting deaths are sad necessities; if "they" cut off the head of Nick Berg, it is a monstrous crime. If that isn't "moral relativism", I don't know what is.

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