Yes, You’re Pissy

Arthur Silber has a monumentally chestbeating post up on ‘the Coalition of the Pissy‘ and warbloggers.

Since I’m for the war and a blogger, I guess he’d include me in that category. And since I have a deep set of disagreements with him – not just about the war but about some of the broader issues he raises in the post, I’ll take them on here.First, the tired (I’d hoped it was re-tired by now) ‘chickenhawk’ argument:

…the warbloggers, those armchair generals who appear to delight in conflict, war and death — so long as it all occurs far from wherever they happen to be, while their fingers fly over their laptops, while they sip their evening drinks and watch their widescreen TVs in their oh-so-comfortable homes.

Second, the notion that simplisme is the root of the desire for war, and that one who understands the complex, rich broth of history would take a different position:

According to the brave, fearless, always-typing warbloggers, we had spread before us an old-fashioned morality play: on one side, we had pure, untarnished good — the noble, honorable, uncompromising United States, which stands only for truth, justice, freedom and liberty for all. And on the other side, we had a monster like Saddam Hussein — and anyone who expressed a “but” clearly had placed himself on Saddam’s side, and on the side of torture, the murder of innocents, the gassing of children, rape rooms, and innumerable other crimes against humanity. There was no middle ground, no complexity, no nuance here — it was one or the other. You were either on the side of the typing warbloggers and of Pure Good, or allied with the forces of Unadulterated Evil.

Third, the notion that criticism somehow equals censorship:

I also realized something much more important: all those who adopted Coalition of the Pissy as their war whoop of condemnation against anyone declining to join their mindless dance of joy are nothing more than moral bullies and intellectual thugs. They are the enemies of mind, and of thought — and they are the enemies of truth, justice and freedom in a very deep sense. They are the advance guard of the Truth Police. For them, history does not exist, nor does the past in any meaningful sense at all, nor does the future.

These barbarians live only in the moment, only in the now — disconnected from everything that has become before, and from everything that is likely to flow in the future from our present actions. Thought, principles and ideas are alien to them, in the most profound sense imaginable.

Fourth, the notion that it’s really All Our Fault:

And if you want thorough, indeed overwhelming, documentary evidence of the numerous kinds of support provided to Iraq in the 1970s and 1980s by both the United States and Britain, go to this page. Follow the links — and despair, but wonder no more where Saddam’s “power” came from.

But our own crimes and betrayals still continued. Not only did we build up a man we knew to be a vicious, brutal dictator when it suited the demands of an utterly pragmatic, unprincipled foreign policy — a policy which many enthusiastic supporters of our current foreign policy now want to see continued with Taiwan, so that we can sell yet another free country down the river for the benefit of a totalitarian dictatorship — but we then stood by while innocents were slaughtered by the tens of thousands. The following has to be one of the blackest marks in our recent history — and one of the most damning indictments of a “pragmatic” foreign policy, a policy which deliberately and intentionally spits in the face of principles, and of the value of human life.

Fifth, the notion that having done something wrong in the past, we can’t right it.

…these people who proclaim their own moral superiority at every turn, and condemn those who do not agree with them in every detail as loathsome “Saddam-lovers” who “hate America” — apparently never learned, or are now determined to forget, that it was the United States, Britain and other Western nations who built up and supported Saddam when it suited our purposes, and that it was the United States that stood by while courageous Iraqis were slaughtered literally under our noses.

Sixth, the overweening moral arrogance that seems to characterize a big part of the antiwar movement.

I want to state one thing very clearly and unmistakably for the benefit of any warbloggers who might read this — particularly those warbloggers and other hawks who strut their self-announced moral superiority and constantly shove it in the face of everyone else, and who act as if any disagreement with their historically ignorant views of the world constitutes some sort of treason. You are the enemies of America — just as you are the enemies of thought, of history, of ideas, of any conception of what genuine liberty means, and how it is to be achieved.

Let’s go through these in order.

First, I’ve hammered a nail in the chickenhawk argument before; I should try again with a wooden stake. It’s a vile debate tactic, aimed as silencing those with whom you disagree, and intellectually senseless, as it would suggest that only the troops ought to vote on issues involving war – something that I hope we’re pretty far away from in this country.

Second, no, the issue isn’t the acceptance of nuance, but the inability to see anything in the other side’s facts or argument that can simply be accepted – as it makes sense to accept that Saddam’s capture was good – without a left-handed attempt to devalue it.Again, it’s about devaluing an opponent’s arguments so that no real weighing can take place. I fully accept the idea that war is a bad thing – that innocents (and innocence) die; that events seldom play out according to plan; that plans themselves are incomplete and contingent.

I’m just weighing the scales differently, and am willing to accede both the goodwill and intellectual probity of those who disagree with me. Doesn’t mean I don’t think they aren’t wrong; people often are.

But I don’t need to deny the idea that deaths in combat – of our troops, civilians, or even our enemies – are tragic, or that lives are in fact shattered by loss and injury in wartime. And I can hold that thought without the balancing ‘but’ and still hold on to my belief that those tragedies and losses are sometimes necessary or unavoidable. In my universe, that’s what qualifies a nuance and intellectual sophistication.

Third, no, saying that you’re wrong – even loudly saying that you’re wrong – isn’t censorship, it isn’t something that makes us ‘enemies of truth, justice and freedom‘ – unless, of course, you are the sole arbiter of truth, justice, and freedom (see arrogance, below). I’m tired of reading in the Los Angeles Times plaints from those who explain that their dissent is being crushed by the totalitarian State. If the State was crushing your dissent, you wouldn’t be on page A3 of the Times, you’d be in Pelican Bay. that ought to be a difference we can all understand.

Fourth, where does the notion that all of history is driven by the Trilateral Commission (or, more seriously, by the U.S.) come from? Everything isn’t our fault, nor is it entirely our responsibility.

The West, collectively, has both some responsibility for what happens in the Middle East, and some stake in how it comes out. That stake was raised dramatically on 9/11 – as it would have been had we watched a cloud of debris, dust, and human ash rain down over Paris rather than Manhattan.

But to suggest that we – in the U.S., or even in the West in its entirety are the only actors in this drama – is both counterfactual and morally demeaning to the actual people who live in those far away lands. They have the status of actors, of moral agents, not props in some morality play being acted out among the intellectuals here in California.

Fifth, our failure to march on Baghdad and to support the Sunni uprising was a stupid and immoral act. But I’ll point out that it was many of the same actors in Europe and the UN who counseled that we limit our action to ejecting Saddam from Kuwait. And having failed to do the right thing once precludes us from doing the right thing later – how?

Sixth, I certainly reserve the right to enthusiastically argue on behalf of what I believe in. But I make those arguments in the context of my belief that the rest of the universe is full of smart, well-informed people who are worth listening to. And that not only do I hope they I can convince them of things important to me, but that it just may be that I learn something from them.

Because if I can’t learn from other people – if my only lessons come from self-reflection and dialogs held with my mirror – there wouldn’t be any point in public dialog, and I could save myself the effort of typing these words for public consumption.

UPDATE: Demosophia comments, and adds some historical echoes from an earlier era.

22 thoughts on “Yes, You’re Pissy”

  1. I like the irony that he thinks we’re close-minded while he proclaims warbloggers as evil and our opinions to be worthless.

    But hey, consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds …

  2. AL –

    First of all, no one said you couldn’t put your thoughts and opinions out into the open marketplace. I enjoy reading what you write (along with many, many others) and I agree, men sharpen each other by their fruitful discussions and trading of opinions.

    And I’m glad you agree that given the events of 1991, that we (the US and its “Coalition of the willing”) had little hope of inspiring another bloodshed uprising among the Shi’i in the south. Silber is right on this point.

    I disagree, however, that we were “counseled” out of completing the march to Baghdad. Said march was NEVER the plan becasue of the nature of the coalition built (including most Arab states; something this venture lacked) as well as the limit of domestic support for such a radical departure from the stated mission (liberting Iraq). Moreover, who exactly were those European counselors? Methinks Blair, Chirac, Schroeder, Anan, et al were not in the halls of power in 1991. This is far different than those currently serving in our administration today (Cheney, Powell, Wolfowitz, just to name a few) and not to mention the current President himself (who was one of his Dad’s private advisors). All of the named were willing and major participants to the formulation and execution of ODS 91; the decision call for a revolution came from D.C., not Geneva, Paris, or London; the failure to assist (even by renegociating the cease fire terms to include no-fly for Iraqi attack helicopters came from the top of the US Administration. By the time the dimension of the slaughter became apparent to those in DC, it was time to make statements that SH’s ouster was not a strategic objective of the war (true); that our allies and closest friends did not sign up to liberate Iraq (true); and not reverse course on a military ramp-down that left insufficient force along the cease-fire line to renew hostilities with success (also true, the victory parades were already planned for Memorial Day). Instead, our Administration slinked away from assisting a grass-roots uprising and thus dishonored the US in the eyes of the Shi’i survivors. Indeed, it was a mistake that leading neo-cons have decried since 1991.

    The perfidity of the GHWB administration in inciting revolution among the Shi’i and then backing away from what they had wrought has left a bitter, bitter taste among the majority of Iraq’s population today. That perfidity plays even today in preventing strong Coaltion cooperation with the Shi’i people (no matter how much of the marsh wetlands wet rewater). There is little doubt that while the Shi’i tolerate our presence, they are, and will continue to work quietly for, our removal and their empowerment (at least as far north as Baghdad).

    Did we do the right thing later? Did we amend a wrong that was committed by Bush 41? In our eyes, we have (of course, that is not why we went to war in the first place, all post-bellum reasoning aside). More importantly, did we redeem ourselves in the eyes of the Shi’i we wronged? I don’t think so. Certainly Mutdqa al-Sadr doesn’t think so. And neither does the Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

    As June 30 approaches, we will find our forces caught in an ever deepening civil war in Iraq as the armed militias of the three main rival ethnic groups duke it out for control of Baghdad (the heart of the county). Along the way, I’m sure we will take sides (not unlike Lebanon in 1982-83) and suffer heavily for it. And while more than half the Army is dedicated to holding on or extricating itself from the mess it was put into by the politicians, our real enemies like Al Qeada will stir the pot in Iraq and move concertedly toward destabilizing and overthrowing the two states that can really give them power – Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Heck, what a strategic opportunity we have given to China, Russia, and France (not to mention Israel, Arafat, and Hezbollah) to carry out all sorts of shennanigans while we’re tied down by the Iraqis. All the while, the current administration will be running for re-election by scaring the bejeezus out of the homefront and simultaneously denying it made a mistake in Iraq (and while hiding the cost in dead troops and shattered lives).

    At least those are MY OPINIONS. the ones I am entitled to have and put forth into the marketplace. Disagreement I expect and accept. Maybe by our mutual sharpening we will all gain a greater understanding. But, when name calling goes out (as often happens; though I admit rarely on this site), then we will all lose.

  3. I wirte too fast and proofread too little.

    Of course, the stated mission in 1991 was to liberate Kuwait (not Iraq).

    Humble apologies.

  4. SP –

    Great comments; a couple quibbles/questions –

    1) Arthur is – by devaluing everything that people not as enlightened as he is say – discouraging, not encouraging debate. I’m rhetorically calling that an attempt to silence the side you disagree with; he’s not asking to shut down my IP block, but it’s certainly nothing that leads to fruitful discussion.

    2) You’re absolutely right that the calls for rebellion came from DC. But it was fear of pissing off our allies, and those who agreed with them – who hadn’t signed up for destabilizatiion – that led to our unwillingness to take out the tanks and helicopters. And that stupid, immoral decision is one we’re pying for today.

    I’m more optimistic about the outcome than you are; and I’ll suggest that yours is just one branch of a complex probability tree; we probably disagree on how thick a branch it may be.


  5. Because you (USA) supported Saddam in the past,you have no right to overthrow him now.

    Whereas we,having opposed Saddam in the past,have now the right to deny the only means for those “courageous Iraqis” to reach their freedom.

    Freedom from fear of torture,of women systematically raped,of men and boys being thrown into industrial shredders because of real or suspected disloyalty to their master.Of whole families,villages,towns being shot and dumped into mass graves.

    I’m not including these undeniable facts to sound sarcastic.They are there to shed light on a single point:that to the anti-war Left,the people in Iraq,Afghanistan and elsewhere are but bit players in a greater drama:the trial of America.

    To the left,only one thing matters:that America and its allies declared morally corrupt,wanting of every standard of decent behaviour.Once that consensus is achieved,the rest can be deduced.

    Appease dictators,and you are condemned.Oppose them,and you are condemned,because you are not working out of pure motives.

    Why?The answer lies,not in the West,but beyond it:take a look at the list of some of the worst human rights offenders in world.Countries where human rights are tenuous,if not nonexistent:China,Russia,North Korea,Mugabe’s Zimbabwe,Vietnam.All of them were once progressive hopes of a better future.All of them failed totally and miserably.

    Heck,even Saddam once flirted with socialism and vowed to bring free health care and education to all Iraqis.

    Having seen their dreams tumble down time and time again,the Left has been deprived of its Utopia,of any positive vision of the future.But it still has its old enemies.USA,Israel,CIA,the free markets and the big corporations are still out there.

    So the progressives now define themselves not by what they’re for,but what they’re against.Like any reactionary movement raving about its chosen demons – immigrants,Jews,minorities – the Left has reduced itself to a totally negative formula:that all of the world’s ills can be blamed on one source.That somehow,all one needs to do is to destroy that source,and all will be right.

    That is why only America and its allies must be held accountable.It’s why the liberation of millions in faraway countries is so irrelevant to the greater struggle.

  6. 1st…

    “Because you (USA) supported Saddam in the past,you have no right to overthrow him now.”


    This is a ridiculous ascertian on several levels. I’ll only address one.

    By this logic, if I were once a pyromaniac I could never put out a fire.

    By this logic, if I were once a criminal I should never defend a victim OR never act against another criminal.

    Or, if I were once wrong I can never act rightly.

    Or, if I were once stupid I can never be smart.


    “Whereas we,having opposed Saddam in the past,have now the right to deny the only means for those “courageous Iraqis” to reach their freedom.”

    Who is “we” ? The anti-war left? The coalition of the “pissy”?

    And what do you mean by “deny the only means” to reach freedom?

    And why would anyone want to deny someone that right?

    I have re-read your post, Jussi. And I realize you are probably playing the devil’s advocate here.

    If so, please continue and expound on your thesis here.

    Maybe you can shed some light on this anomoly.


  7. “‘Because you (USA) supported Saddam in the past,you have no right to overthrow him now.’


    This is a ridiculous ascertian on several levels. I’ll only address one.

    By this logic, if I were once a pyromaniac I could never put out a fire.”

    Actually, I believe that particular belief by some in Anti-American circles is the biggest reflection of why they’re Anti-American. They don’t believe in new beginnings.

    One of the themes of American history is getting a new start, free from all the crap that exists in Europe or anywhere else in the world. Many of us here in America are descended from the smart ones who left Europe. Our ancestors rejected Europe and its ways and began a new life here, which is an idea alien to European minds. It didn’t matter who you were, what you were or what you did in the dead world, because you were now in America. All that mattered was your drive and determination to excel. During this process of mass immigration, our ancestors took what was good about Europe and left the bad. Looking at Europe today, I often wonder if our ancestors took all of what was good of Europe and what we’re left with today is the bad they left behind. The American West itself is almost the embodiment of the idea of starting over anew.

    Of course, this idea of re-birth and renewal isn’t unique to America and has been around for quite some time, only it seems that America’s the only place where people at least try to hold to a simple ideal that escapes our anti-American friends: forgive and forget. Past sins condemn neither an individual nor a nation for all eternity. If either tries to start anew and correct the mistakes of their past, then that should be applauded and encouraged rather than condemning them and exacting revenge upon them for all of their past wrongs, which is the Old World’s way of doing things. It shouldn’t have any place in a land where we look to the future instead of sitting amongst the ruins of dead cultures and obsessing over the past.

  8. “‘Because you (USA) supported Saddam in the past,you have no right to overthrow him now.’ … By this logic, if I were once a pyromaniac I could never put out a fire.”

    The “let he who is without sin liberate Auschwitz” fallacy strikes again.

  9. Hei Lun Chan wrote:
    I like the irony that he thinks we’re close-minded while he proclaims warbloggers as evil and our opinions to be worthless.

    It’s called projection. Arthur thinks that he’d act that way if he were one of those icky people who don’t follow his “enlightened” ways.

    Example: his definition of warbloggers as those who “delight in conflict, war and death”. No, I’m not impressed by the attempt to weasel out by putting in “appear to” in front of that description.

  10. “it would suggest that only the troops ought to vote on issues involving war – something that I hope we’re pretty far away from in this country.”

    Wasn’t that a plot line in Robert Heinlin’s “Starship Troopers”. His view of a society in which only the military were citizens and could vote was indeed chilling. I believe he took a fair amount of flack over this as it was percieved by many that he was rather partial to the idea.

    No one, chicken hawk or just plain chickens, is seriously suggesting this. It is indeed a lame debate tactic.

  11. I think that perhaps this is the essence of what’s wrong with his thinking:

    “There was no middle ground, no complexity, no nuance here — it was one or the other”

    Many intellectual of the persuasion seem to value “nuance” above all else. They fail to understand that in the world of action, as opposed to the world of pure thought, it is essential to understand the nuances…but then to make clear-cut decisions *anyway*. One cannot stay forever in a Hamlet-like metastable state of “one the one hand”..”but then on the other hand”..”yet still”..and hope to accomplish anything in the real world.

    In many intellectual circles, “nuance” is viewed as a badge of intellectual and moral superiority–a key distinction from the common herd. And it is maintaining their sense of class superiority–not in actually dealing with real issues–that many of these people are all about.

  12. You know what else?? “…to suggest that we – in the U.S., or even in the West in its entirety are the only actors in this drama” also ignores the empirical data that Russia, France, Germany, and China are largely responsible for Iraqi arms.

    After all, I don’t recall seeing a lot of US gear being shot up, or, er, unearthed in the desert.

  13. Darryl, if you’re enough of a Heinlein fan, you might want to read his “new” book For Us, the Living, a utopian novel written in the late 30’s (1939 I think, it’s not to hand right now), in which he makes the notion of only thouse who’ve been in the military can vote a little more explict (albeit a different form): in his utopia, by Constitutional Amendment the choice to go to war must be made by national referendum, with anyone who votes “yes” drafted immediately if the referendum passes.

    I doubt seriously he really continued in that opinion later — he later rejected the idea of a draft — but it’s an interesting point. He’s also pretty explicitly taking the view of the “America First” movement then.

    As to Arthur Silber, I think he needs to take one of those depression screening tests.

  14. Lunacy, Paul, Alan… Jussi Hämäläinen is summarizing his opponents’ position, not his own. Which is often a hazardous thing to accept at face value – but this time, I think his summary is a fairly accurate reflection of the French/ idiotarian leftist mindset.

    Al-Qeada aren’t the only ones out there with a fantasy ideology.

  15. Actually the “only troops can vote” was part of Verhoven’s “Starship Troopers”. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” only allowed those who severed 2+ years in federal service (usually military, but there were some dangerous civilian things one could do — like testing environment suits on Titan) could vote.

    But I think Verhoven had some sort of axe to grind against Heinlein or something.

  16. Nice fisking, AL. I wait with baited breath for Silber’s next installment, though in the meantime I like his recent post where he decries Japanese moves toward greater flexibility in defending themselves against North Korea and participating in peacekeeping, calling it “the policies which led to the twentieth-century’s unending train of the horrors of war.” I missed the part about Koizumi declaring himself Emperor and announcing a plan to create a Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. To be serious, heaven forbid that a democratic government seek to protect its citizens.

    Before Silber shut down his comments, I told him he sounded like Pat Buchanan. Since the only thing bad he associates with Buchanan is homophobia, he was insulted. Nowadays, it seems like he could teach Pat a thing or two about isolationist hysterics.

  17. Minor point to add to the Heinlein side story- only RETIRED members of the military could vote. There is a line in the story that goes something like this: ” letting soldiers vote might result in them voting not to fight- we can’t have that!!”

    You have to wait until you are retired from service honorably before exercising the franchise.

  18. Re Heinlein quibbles: Patrick, you’re right that it was “Federal Service”, and he makes it explicit that not all forms of Federal Service — or even most forms, I think the proportion was more than 9 to 1 — are military. On the other hand, Phil, you’re a little wrong there, as one got citizenship by completing a term of service, which was two years. However, once you “go career”, you’re obligated for 20 years, or until you choose to resign or leave for medical reasons (or are returned home in a small shopping bag.) In any case, you don’t become a citizen until you successfully complete military service, so once you go career you’ve got to complete the 20 years.

    Interestingly, when Heinlein was on active duty, it was considered very much inappropriate for a military officer to be politically active, or even express positive political opinions, while still on active duty.

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