Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Haditha and the Uses of Brutality

Haditha and the Uses of Brutality

People think of Hannibal as a bloodthirsty conqueror, sort of an early version of Atilla, the famous "Scourge of God". Hannibal was the product of an admittedly bloodthirsty religion that worshipped the monstrous Baal of the Furnace. What people don’t realize, however, is that Hannibal failed to conquer Rome only because he was insufficiently ruthless.

The people of the Italian Peninsula hated Rome, but were terrified of her. They well knew that Rome would avenge any betrayal by decimation, killing every tenth man, or more likely by total destruction. Hannibal, on the other hand, merely asked for their help and tried to win their support for his cause by reason and bargaining. In the end his approach did not work, and the consequence of his forbearance was that his people were ultimately destroyed, obliterated, removed from History. The very soil of his homeland was plowed with salt.

The US has in the past well understood Hannibal’s failing. In the Civil War Lincoln made a mistake with General George McClellan who was famous for preparation and forbearance. After realizing his error, Lincoln then hired and fired until he found some generals that "would fight", Grant and Sherman. You may have heard of them. In World War I, the US allowed Europe to call the shots and negotiate its own peace terms. That was a mistake. Those terms, both too punitive and insufficiently stern, led to World War II. Both wars can easily be viewed as an interrupted whole because nothing had really changed. The US learned the lesson that the Europeans could not learn and, being sufficiently ruthless, accepted nothing short of unconditional surrender in both theaters of WWII.

We still beat our breasts about it, but Harry Truman did the exact right thing by dropping the A-bombs on Japan. He saved many months of war and hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides. He was, by disposition, a nice guy, but he was not one to pull a punch. But the most important thing he did was to prosecute the postwar occupations of Germany and Japan with the intent of effecting change. He had no nostalgia for days gone by and no high-minded love of cultural preservation that would have stayed his hand. He had sufficient ruthlessness to irreversibly disrupt the antiquated and disfunctional social mechanisms that were the real enemies of world peace. He created (with the help of McArthur in Japan) two miracles of modernity. From the ashes of the phoenix there arose choirs of angels. Boy was he a bastard!

Now we have recently discovered something else he did which was not too nice. An event took place early in the Korean War where a large number of desperate civilians were mowed down by American guns. The meaning of that event was suppressed for 50 years. Well, the story as partially uncovered became that American soldiers had fired on these civilians in a fit of panic. Untested soldiers in retreat did not know what to do. Uh huh. Now, a new story is unfolding that puts a different spin on it. The action was deliberate, ordered in fact by the officers. Shades of Haditha or Mai Lai perhaps? Another reason for Americans to hang their heads in shame?

I would argue that this is not so. The political nature of the World hung in the balance. We were fighting what would become the most brutal, totalitarian government on the planet. Indirectly, we were also fighting Chairman Mao, the Obliterator, the Merciless, the greatest political exterminator of all time, and in fact we were engaged in an orderly but hopeless retreat. The full story, as it has come out (if it has come out),

is that we had warned the civilians repeatedly and firmly that they must not approach American lines or they would be killed. Assuming the worst is true, these civilians ignored the orders and were deliberately killed to prevent agents of the North from infiltrating American lines.

Who am I to judge such a thing? It was a horrible choice, but was it for the best? For myself, I think the present state of South Korea is a blessing worth the many prices that were paid. I believe the South constitutes its own section in the aforementioned choir.

Now, what was the biggest act of ruthlessness on the part of America? It was called MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. It could have destroyed Civilization. It could have ended the Age of Mammals. We may not be home free even today. It was, however, the only conceivable defense against the Soviet Union, holder of the title as second most ruthless annihilatorof innocents. MAD sustained us for decades until the Soviet Union collapsed from the weight of its own wickedness, and a particularly inefficient economic model. MAD ended up killing exactly zero innocents. Many intellectual Americans thought that MAD was the primary wickedness, including my personal hero, Carl Sagan. I do not agree. I believe that the primary responsibility of the US was and is to preserve the flicker of hope represented by the shared values of Western Civilization.

Let’s compare a couple of events. Looking at the mistakes of Versailles and Munich, and the accomplishments of Harry Truman, where would we place the following events? The Hostage Crisis of 1979. The bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Lebanon. The Somalia Campaign. The Overthrow of the Taliban. The Overthrow of Saddam. The Occupation of Iraq. Should I mention the Abandonment of South Vietnam? I think you can guess my answers to all of these items. It’s nice to be nice, but there is no substitute for victory. Unless, of course, you are fighting someone more civilized than yourself.

OK, so let’s talk about Haditha. Here’s my take. If you want a reasonable balance of warfighting and police work, you send in the Army. If you are prepared to be ruthless, as ruthless as the enemy is, send in the Marines. Please note that I am praising the Marines here. Maybe they shouldn’t have been sent to Haditha, but there are times when you need them, because there are times when you must be ruthless in the face of a ruthless enemy. And when people are shooting at you from behind a bulwark of innocents, you need to effect measures that will stop that from happening. God, how we try to soften the blow.

6/5/2006 10:01 PM

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At Thursday, June 08, 2006 10:12:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I'm having a lot of difficulty updating Blogger. In the future I'll be putting extra links and non-critical edits in the comments.

Here is a link that discusses a 50-year old letter claiming that the attacks were deliberate. Wikipedia does not cover this yet as there is apparently a wikiwar going on about No Gun Ri.

The original article can be found in the May 30, 2006, issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It is also online at, but for a fee.

At Friday, June 09, 2006 7:53:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Maybe you remember, back in the days when diplomats were being shot and envoys kidnapped in Beirut, that the Soviet's turn came. I don't recall the specifics, but as I recall the Russians sent in some serious people to apply some brutality with the result that their hostages were released and the Russians were not bothered again.

Several years ago I heard, from what I consider a credible person I knew in Guatemala, that there were some private Israeli security contractors operating down there who would occasionally apply some brutality. One case I heard of had a well-to-do family under threat from someone (criminals or left-wing opposition or someone dangerous like that - I don't recall exactly).

These Israelis (that's how they were referred to, as "the Israelis") were hired to handle the situation, which they did by somehow convincing the bad guys that if any harm came to their clients, not only would they be killed, but their wives, mothers, children, friends, dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs would also be killed. I heard from a number of people that these security consultants were very convincing this way, apparently having established their bona fides somehow.

Some stories are incredible. One person I know pretty well found himself with a policeman out to kill him over humiliation at having been disarmed and pistol whipped with his own gun while attempting an improper detention (failed to identify himself and appeared to be a thug).

My acquaintance had some military contacts who were unable to fix the problem more amicably than to dynamite this policeman's jeep. While thanking his military contacts for solving the problem, he was informed that the expenses were $200 for the dynamite.

Brutality seems to have its place, unfortunately.

At Friday, June 09, 2006 8:51:00 PM, Blogger anchovy said...

Excellent analysis. It's the right onclusion regarding the "unfortunate" need for brutality as steve puts it.

I wonder, did you catch the moive Munich? Whatever one might say about the terrorists being portrayed in a sympathetic light, the movie raises some excellent questions about the use of state sponsored "brutality." It's an excellent thought piece.

At Saturday, June 10, 2006 12:32:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Steve, I'm not advocating it, and I'm certainly opposed to torture, but when you've thought out your goals and you have right on your side, you can't let squeamishness obstruct your path to victory. The US government seldom fights an unnecessary war. It's just too much trouble. So when you fight, you fight to impress all your enemies. Don't mess with us, should be the message. What's the use of being Hannibal if you don't bother to win?

The Israelis are brutal wherever they fight, but look what they're usually up against. Usually it's just the crooks who are so brutal, but when you're losing, you have to match the crooks toe to toe -- either that or change the rules.

Anchovy, I haven't seen Munich. Is that the one where the Mossad tracks down the planners and kills them one by one?

At any rate, it appears I might have been too hard on the Marines. Wizbang says they were framed, probably by a terrorist dirty tricks team.

My dad was Army, so I tend to be biased.

At Saturday, June 10, 2006 9:41:00 AM, Blogger Steve said...

> ... it appears I might have been ...

As time goes by I have less and less confidence in the what I read and hear. Everything is spun and interpreted and painted through differently colored worldviews and agendas. It's frequently difficult to differentiate between information and propaganda.

Maybe that should be "usually difficult".

Munich was OK, but I thought One Day in September was more instructive.

At Saturday, June 10, 2006 11:15:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

That's the documentary of the Munich incident. May be a good idea. I asked my daughter about the '72 Olympics and whether "Munich" meant anything to her. No ... But she did know that Israelis had been abducted once at the Olympics. And what happened then. Don't know ...

Maybe a good short history of the whole zionist/refugee/intafadah thing would be helpful. Does such a thing exist without partisan bias? Is it really possible to write such a thing from a neutral point of view? It's like religion.


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