Daily Archives: March 29, 2003

The War as Advertised

Dubya, Rumsfeld et al are half right when they bitch about the second-guessing they’ve been getting in the press. The half they’ve got right is that it’s utterly ridiculous to judge how the war’s going when we’re less than two weeks in; it’s like deciding you don’t like an entire opera based solely on the overture. If we are going to judge then let’s judge it as honestly as possible and note that as wars go, this one is pretty successful so far. Our casualties are low, we control much of the countryside (even if the cities are giving us fits), and while the mad dash across the desert has its disadvantages, such as Fedayeen taking pot shots at our supply lines, which themselves are currently stretched thin enough that troops are rationing their MREs, to my utterly ignorant military eye that’s several hundred miles of desert these troops don’t have to cross when the weather gets hot and mean, which I understand will be happening sooner than later. So all that’s encouraging. The rumblings about the mechanics of the war don’t sound particularly thrilling (especially this one, which seems like bad news all around), but strictly from the results end, it’s so far, so good.

The thing is, the war we’re having isn’t the war we were sold. This is where the press and everyone else is justified in calling the administration on the carpet, all the better to hear the rrrrrhhhhmp sound of dress shoes backtracking. The administration line right now is that it never actually said that this war was going to be so quick that all the troops would be back home in time for baseball’s opening day, but if it didn’t (an assertion which isn’t strictly true), it certainly went out of its way to imply it with extreme prejudice.

Put it this way: You go into your car dealership to buy a car, and the salesman steers you towards one of those sweet new Thunderbirds. You plunk down your cash and then go have lunch while they detail your new purchase. When you come back, they present you with a Ford Excursion, which can seat most of Fort Bragg in the back.

And you say, what happened to the car I bought?

And the salesman says, this is it.

And you say, I wanted the Thunderbird.

And he says, well, this one is much nicer.

And you say, sure, it’s a nice car, but it wasn’t what I thought I was getting.

And then the salesman rather testily replies that he never actually promised you could have the Thunderbird, so he doesn’t see why you’re complaining about it now. You get the Excursion. Take it and get the Hell off the lot.

In this war, we were promised a Thunderbird and we’re driving off the lot with the Excursion. The Excursion may indeed be a fine vehicle, if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s not what we bargained for, nor what we were led to believe we would get, and it’s a perfectly legitimate thing to point that out.

And here you might say, caveat emptor, pal — let the buyer beware. Maybe so. But at least when you buy a car, if it turns out to be a lemon you can send it back. This war we have to keep.

Cavalcade of Comments I

I think it’ll be fun to every once in a while highlight and comment on some of the comments I get from the various postings — a way to let people know I’m reading while at the same time giving me a cheap and easy source of things to write about. It’s the circle of life, friends. And it moves us all.

From the “Confederate States of Iraq” post, this comment from Henry:

In Vietnam, we overestimated the value of our technological superiority. We underestimated the persistence of the opposition. Our troops couldn’t tell the difference between the civilians and the “bad guys”, who used that to their advantage. And the people we were supposedly helping didn’t want our help.

I’m not convinced that this war will end as badly for us as that one did. I do believe we are entering this one with the same assumptions. Who knows, maybe this time our assumptions are correct.

Well, as General Wallace so delicately put it, the enemy they’re fighting in Iraq is indeed not the enemy they war-gamed for. And it’s also very true that Saddam and his people are trying to get the US to fight the war their way, which to say in a way that de-emphasizes our really vast technical superiority and plays up their willingness to fight dirty (i.e., dressing up as civilians, using them as human shields, the car bomb which killed five US soldiers, etc) to our disadvantage. It’s also pretty clear that even many of the people who hate Saddam are less than pleased to see us walking around in their backyard. For various reasons dating back to the first Gulf War, they don’t trust our intentions.

For all that I don’t know that Vietnam is a great analogy. I don’t think the vast majority of Iraqis will shed a tear when Saddam is gone, and it’s also a excellent data point to keep in mind that it appears that Saddam’s more doctrinaire followers spend most of their time shuttling from one army group to the other, threatening the Iraqis who don’t want to fight or try to surrender. Someone else somewhere compared Saddam’s tactics with the ones the Soviet used at Stalingrad, during which Soviet solders who attempted to retreat from the Germans were shot by special Soviet squads who stayed behind for just that purpose. Now you know why the Soviets lost 25 million people in WWII.

I do think our Administration and our military are currently paying the price for initially overstating the ease with with our technological goodies would overcome resistance, and mis-estimating the disposition of the Iraqi people. At this point, in fact, the only clear winner in Iraq is Colin Powell, whose “Powell Doctrine” of overwhelming force at the outset is looking better and better with every headline about US forces at the ragged tail end of supply lines that are being harassed by Iraqi irregulars.

But at the same time I’d caution against understating the advantage technology is providing us. At any other point in time, in the same conflict parameters, thousands of civilians would be dead from bombing instead of the relative few that are now. That midnight attack by Iraqi forces against our people earlier this week would have been much more effective if our troops didn’t have the night vision goggles to see them coming and to pick them out before they got to them. Our casualties in this conflict are very low, and much of that is due to technology doing the heavy lifting.

Over at the “PETA-ization of Protest” comments, Bill Peschel writes:

Steven Den Beste had a perceptive comment on his site about shenanigans like this. He believes it’s not so much campaigning to change people’s minds as it is the group attempting to perpetuate itself through rituals that create a bonding among the participants. PETA ensures its survival through publicity and making its members perform humiliating acts in public, in the belief that they’re “speaking out,” “making a statement” and showing they occupy the moral high ground (or Golgotha if you’re in a really funky mood).

I’m pretty sure the entry Bill’s referring to is here, if you’re interested in reading it, although if you’re new to Den Beste, be aware that it’s in his classic form: A couple thousand words of introduction before he gets to his point. I like it (speaking as someone who often takes his time to get to a point) but it takes some getting used to.

I think the formulation Bill encapsulates in his comment is about half-right. PETA (and other protest groups of the same volume level across the political spectrum) do use their outrageous and nutty protests to draw attention to themselves and to recruit new members. However, I don’t really think in those cases that the outrageous behavior is an explicit bonding mechanism because I strongly suspect that the sort of people who join PETA and like organizations are the sort of people to whom outrageous statements appeal.

In other words, you don’t have to force your typical PETAn to splash red paint on a fur coat; he or she wants to do it already, and are just looking for a support group for to vent their urges. If they actually wanted to do some good for animals, they’d join World Wildlife Federation or the Nature Conservancy. It’s very much like the sort of person who intentionally goes to an S&M club already self-identifies as liking S&M, and wanting to try it; now they’re just looking for someone with a whip and a ball gag.

From the “Another Thought on Comments,” Cowboy drops in the following, one suspects, because there is no other appropriate place to do so:

One thing I’d like to comment on is your view of southerners. Take your recent review of a Hank Williams Jr. CD in an issue of OPM for example.

You said something to the fact that (southerners) had never read the constitution, except for the second amendment. I myself, am from Texas..And I’ll have you know that I have indeed read the constitution..and if it’s ok with you I’ll keep my damned guns too.

One more thing, you also implied that ALL of Hank Jr’s songs had something to do with city people injecting heroin in their (eye sockets? WTF?) and stabbed people for spare change. He had only one song that even compared to that, and the only verse that had to do with a city person killing someone went like this: “..for $45, my friend lost his life.”

I think if you’re going to review music, and ridicule a specific type of people, you need to get your facts straight before you do so.

Inasmuch as many of you don’t read OPM and don’t have any idea of the review I wrote there, allow me to post it below, so you’ll have context:

Hank Williams, Jr.: America (The Way I See It)

Hank Junior has always been the polemicist of choice of the big-buckle set, them folks what think they’re the true Americans yet can’t actually be relied upon to have ever read the Constitution either prior to or past the Second Amendment. So it’s not entirely surprising to find America jammed with songs in which the country folk stand for everything that’s good and true in our nation, while everyone in the big cities is injecting heroin directly into their eye sockets and stabbing everyone else for spare change. It’s a simplistic and stupid way of at look at both urban and rural folk and also makes for a batch of truly annoying and lame songs. And, Hank throws in his Monday Night Football song. Kill me now.

Cowboy’s first error is in assuming that “country” equates with “southern” in my mind; inasmuch as I live in the country (come down and see my neighbor’s cornfield!), and yet live in the distinctly Union state of Ohio, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that it’s an incorrect assumption to make. This is another case of it’s not my fault if you don’t bother to read what I actually wrote. Mind you, I would be thrilled if big-belt-buckled, small-brained, double-wide-dwelling jingoistic shitkickers only lived in the south, because I don’t live there and then I wouldn’t have to see them on a daily basis. Alas, the Sun Belt does not hold a monopoly on such types. Bear in mind I don’t believe every one who lives in the country is like this, either. But you do find them here on a not-infrequent-basis.

In the second place, I’ll stand by the review. This is a good place to explain the mechanics of writing a 100-word review: By its brief nature, I’m not going to go into detail about every nuance of every song — indeed, I am going to be prone to some (hopefully amusing) exaggeration in order to get my point across. Cowboy is focusing on the fact that Hank doesn’t actually have a lyric about someone jamming heroin into their eyeball, while missing the larger point that I’m using it to highlight the “rural vs urban” schism in Hank’s songs, which is in fact played out across several songs on the album.

Since bad things happen in the country just as they do in the city — see the “Murder in a Small Town” entry from just yesterday — I don’t have a problem pointing out Hank’s self-serving Americana crap is in fact just that, and — this being the main point — beyond being thematically insincere, also makes for a pack of bad songs. I mean, if Hank had written another Nebraska, I’d be all about giving him the mad props. But instead I call it like I see it, which is that he’s a button-pushing huckster going for the cheap sentiment. You don’t have to agree with me, of course. That’s the nice thing about opinions. They don’t have to agree.

Also, Cowboy, I’m happy to let you have your guns. Enjoy them responsibly. I’m also glad you’ve read the Constitution, because I can think of at least one Texan out there who seems not to have bothered.

Mind you, Cowboy is correct that I have it in for some Southerners, specifically the ones who go about waving Confederate flags, since I think doing so is a sure sign of willfully induced brain damage. However, I have it in for a lot of different people, and Confederate-loving Southerners are merely one subset therein. I mean, in just the last couple of days I’ve whacked on liberal war protesters, prayer supporters, PETAns, think tankers and myself. I think it’s pretty clear I’m an equal opportunity offender.

If this still bothers you, by all means, read my disclaimer. It should help clear things up.