Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither, and lose both.
-- Benjamin Franklin

Man of the Year

An actual letter to Time Magazine by Cindy Sheehan:

\Tuesday 21 December 2004
Dear Time Editors:

My son, Spc. Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq on 04/04/04. This has been an extraordinary couple of weeks of “slaps in the faces” to us families of fallen heroes.

First, the Secretary of Defense-Donald Rumsfeld-admits to the world something that we as military families already know: The United States was not prepared for nor had any plan for the assault on Iraq. Our children were sent to fight an ill-conceived and badly prosecuted war. Our troops were sent with the wrong type of training, bad equipment, inferior protection and thin supply lines. Our children have been killed and we have made the ultimate sacrifice for this fiasco of a war, then we find out this week that Rumsfeld doesn’t even have the courtesy or compassion to sign the “death letters”-as they are so callously called. Besides the upcoming holidays and the fact we miss our children desperately, what else can go wrong this holiday season?

Well let’s see. Oh yes. George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three more architects of the quagmire that is Iraq. Thousands of people are dead and Bremer, Tenet and Franks are given our country’s highest civilian award. What’s next?

To top everything off-after it has been proven that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, there were no ties between Saddam and 9/11 and over 1,300 brave young people in this country are dead and Iraq lies in ruins- what does Time Magazine do? Names George W. Bush as its “Man of the Year.” The person who betrayed this country into a needless war and whom I hold ultimately responsible for my son’s death and who was questionably elected, again, to a second term, is honored this way by your magazine.

I hope we finally find peace in our world and that our troops who remain in Iraq are brought home speedily-after all, there was no reason for our troops to be there in the first place. No reason for my son and over 1,300 others to have been taken from their families. No reason for the infrastructure of Iraq to be demolished and thousands of Iraqis being killed. No reason for the notion of a “happy” holiday to be robbed from my family forever. I hope that our “leaders” don’t invade any other countries which pose no serious threat to the United States. I hope there is no draft. I hope that the five people mentioned here (and many others) will finally be held responsible for the horrible mistake they got our country into. I hope that competence is finally rewarded and incompetence is appropriately punished. These are my wishes for 2005.

This isn’t the first time your magazine has selected a questionable man for this honor-but it’s the first time it affected my family so personally and so sorrowfully.\

7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

A quick question. You have rather firmly established in this blog your oppostion to this nation’s current war in Iraq. I see what you are against, what are you for?

Over the 229 or so years of this nation’s existence it has found itself in various armed conflicts. In order that the readers of this blog might better understand their host I pose to you these two questions. Had you been a citizen at the times of these confilcts, which ones if any would you have supported? And of those, in which instances would you have been willing to pick up a rifle and go into battle?

The readers of this blog? I keep track of how many visits I get, and where they come from. On a good day I might get 3 hits, most of whom are my immediate family, so don’t think I am having a profound influence on anybody. This is my own work, and while anyone is welcome to visit or comment, it is pretty much just a journal.

I will answer your questions two ways. Regarding which war I would have been willing to fight in, I would like to say none of them. This is a religious positition, and I would like to think I would be willing to die rather than kill another. I don’t know if I would be strong enough to do this, but it would be my goal. As I said, this is a religious position. Without going into details, if you are interested do some research on the Quakers and the Peace Testimony.

Now, the question of whether I feel differently about this war than others. Were others "more" justified than this one.

Yes, this war is more criminal than any other we have fought.

1) It is illegal. Article VI clause II of the US Constitution declares treaties to be the supreme law of the land, coequal with the constitution. (Before you bring up the thought that this only relates to state courts opposing those treaties, do some research. It has not been interpreted that way.) By violating the UN Charter, Bush has violated this treaty.

2) It is also illegal under international law. Under article 51 of the United Nations Charter, to which the US is a signatory, self defense is justified "if an armed attack occurs". International law and general UN belief is that a preemptive attack may be considered justified only when the necessity for action is "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." (Carolina affair, as argued by Daniel Webster in 1837). As Iraq and Saddam Hussein not only had no weapons of mass destruction, but also no means of delivering them if he had had them, we are in direct violation of both international law and the UN Charter.

3) The war was deceptively forced on the US population. We were told that there was irrefutable evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction. This was a lie, and the administration knew it was lie as Powell presented it to the UN. We were told that Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda. This also was a known lie. The only presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq was in the northern kurdish zone, which the Iraqi government did not control. We were told there was some relationship to the 9/11 attacks. This was also a lie.

4) According to reasonable estimates published in \The Lancet\ the war has killed an estimated 100,000 Iraqis. We are currently appalled at the death toll from the recent Tsunamis. In an unnecessary and illegal war, we have killed an equivalent number of people.

5)We have betrayed those who we most deserve to honor. We have caused the deaths of 1328 (to date) American soldiers, not to mention over 170 mercenaries and civilian contractors hired by the US Government, who believed they were fighting terrorism. They were not, and this has betrayed them and their sacrifice.

6) The war has made the situation for the US worse, rather than better. While Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the war, they certainly are now. Osama Bin Ladin recently endorsed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and is directly interfering in Iraq.

7) We had no plan for attaining or maintaining a peace after the war. The administration thought it would be easy, but who in their right minds thinks a foreign occupying power, speaking a different language and in general of a different religion, would not be constantly harried and attacked?

8) By the way this war was started, we have destroyed our standing in the world. Much of the world now considers Bush the moral equivalent of Saddam Hussein or Milosovic. Why should we care what they think? We need our allies in any war on terrorism, but we have done everything we could to drive them away.

This is an illegal, and immoral war. It has been foisted on Americans via lies, and has been pursued in such a way to practically guarantee failure and more deaths. The only ones benefitting from this war are Halliburton and the other defense contractors, while we continue to cause unnecessary deaths of both Iraqis and Americans.

As I stated in my initial response to your post, your position on the issue of this nation’s current war is well established. My question to you dealt with the various wars in this nation’s past.

That portion of your response that pertains to my question prompts several more. If my questions seem callous, please forgive me. I simply want to understand how you think.

First, do you deny that the successful waging of war by this country has benefited its citizens, and you and the family you to which refer?

Second, are your religious beliefs such that you believe that all mankind should adopt them and thereby an adamantly non-violent stance that precludes participation in armed conflict.

If the answer to the first question is no and that to the second is yes, then you seem to be faced with two options, to reject the benefits derived by the sacrifice of millions of men who were called upon by their nation to become violent, or to admit that your religious values are dear to you but that your ability to maintain them is dependent upon the sacrifices of the unenlightened.

Please explain. Please restrict yourself to the general topic of this nations military past. I understand your position on Iraq. I don’t much care about the U.N. (a joke) or international law (an irrelevence to me when it comes to my family’s security.)

By the way, Halliburton benefits every time we go to war. It’s what they do. They’re good at it. The Clinton administration used them.
Get over it.

Happy New Year!

Sorry for not responding earlier, I was spending holidays with my family.

First, can we agree that my moral stance and opinion is irrelevant to the indictment of \this\ administration and \this\ war? Your questioning of me and my moral positions is an \ad hominem\ attack on my arguments, faulty logic in and of itself, and irrelevant to the facts of the posts you question.

I would like to believe that we have agreed on the indictment of George W Bush and his war, but somehow I doubt that is the case.

Now, to your faulty syllogism.

\First, do you deny that the successful waging of war by this country has benefited its citizens, and you and the family you to which refer?\

Have we benefited by war? I suspect we have, though the question of whether we would have benefited by peace even more is moot, since we have no way of knowing. More importantly, benefiting is not the issue, is it? Spain benefited by raping and destroying the Inca Nation. The Carribean pirates benefited by attacking the Spanish treasure galleons, Hitler benefited by removing the gold from the teeth of millions of murdered jews. Since when is the question of benefit related to morality or righteousness? If it were, I would suspect we should rewrite the ten commandments: "Thou shalt not steal unless you can get away with it." Perhaps Jesus would have said: "But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other, unless of course you can slit his throat and steal his purse." Perhaps we should also rewrite the laws of the United States, with a universal "unless you can get away with it." clause.

\Second, are your religious beliefs such that you believe that all mankind should adopt them and thereby an adamantly non-violent stance that precludes participation in armed conflict.\

I’ll assume this was a question rather than an indictment, despite the lack of a question mark.

Yes, I believe the world would be better, universally, if it adopted my beliefs. Examples of nations that have rejected violence and armies are few given the nature of mankind, but they are there. Check, for example, the CIA Fact Book for Costa Rica. No standing armies, a rejection of violence as a national principle, with __very__ few exceptions a peaceful history, widespread land ownership, a growing economy, and, in short, the most successful of the Central American countries, and perhaps of most of Latin America. It \is\ possible to run a country on the principle of national non-violence.

Do I expect all countries to immediately adopt my position on violence? While desirable, I sincerely doubt it will happen. \Someone\, however, must serve as the example, as the leaven, if you will.

\If the answer to the first question is no and that to the second is yes, then you seem to be faced with two options, to reject the benefits derived by the sacrifice of millions of men who were called upon by their nation to become violent, or to admit that your religious values are dear to you but that your ability to maintain them is dependent upon the sacrifices of the unenlightened.\

Since you presented this in the form of a syllogism, and I believe I have rejected both of your premises, the answer to this is unimportant. However, the tone is such that it brings to mind the "Love it or Leave it" chant we hear so often from the simplistic right-wingers. Let me answer your two options. Do I reject the sacrifices of others? No. I honor them. Let me quote from a letter from New Zealand Yearly Meeting of Friends:

\"In speaking out, we acknowledge that we ourselves are as limited and as erring as anyone else. When put to the test, we each may fall short. We do not have a blueprint for peace …. In any particular situation, a variety of personal decisions could be made with integrity. We may disagree with the views and actions of the politician or the soldier who opts for a military solution, but we still respect and cherish that person."\

Many decisions can be made with integrity, and the sacrifices made by those who served in the military of this country are worth honoring.

I just finished reading a book, "Flags of our Fathers," which traces the history of the six men who were pictured raising the flag over Iwo Jima. It is an amazing war book, in that it not only presents the valor and honor of these men in what was possibly the most violent, dangerous, and deadly single battle of our nation’s history, but it also depicts the horrors that that conflict had on them, and their families. It presents the supreme and ultimate sacrifices, the honor due these men, and also the horrors resulting from war, both during and after. I would recommend it to people of any political persuasion.

One of my main criticisms of this war, at this time, (sorry to bring that up again, though it was the original topic of discussion) is that it is being fought with no justification what-so-ever, and in so doing brings this suffering for no reason. I do not believe my rejection of war comes anywhere near that, in terms of dishonoring the soldiers who make the sacrifices.

\…or to admit that your religious values are dear to you but that your ability to maintain them is dependent upon the sacrifices of the unenlightened.\

Patently false, and offensive to boot. If you knew anything about the history, and heart, of christianity you would understand that the early christians were non-violent, persecuted, and despite that eventually became dominant in the largest empire the world has ever known. Whether Constantine the Great adopting christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire was a blessing or a curse for christians is open for debate, but a religion that rejects force and material rewards can certainly survive when its truth trumps the enemies power.

\I don’t much care about the U.N. (a joke)\

You may not care much for the UN, however we are morally (by agreeing to abide by its rules) and legally (by our constitution’s placing treaties as the law of the land) to work within it. If we do not, the president has violated his oath of office, and should be removed.

\"… or international law (an irrelevence to me when it comes to my family’s security.)"\

Security trumps law? I believed we discussed this in general in the the portion relating to benefits of war. Let’s go into it a bit more. What defines a civilized society? While there are many things that go into it, perhaps the most important is a respect for and universal application of laws. I might decide, for example, — and have — that my family’s security is threatened by the current president of the United States. Does that mean I can ignore the law and attempt to assassinate him? I hope that we can both agree that it does not. Rule of law is the essence of the definition of civilized conduct, not only within our borders, but beyond them as well. There are reasonable arguments, not only in countries tradionally hostile to us but also in countries which are tradionally allies such as Belgium and Canada, that George W. Bush should be indicted as a war criminal. Even if you reject that by rejecting the rule of law, it does show what this violation of international law has done to our standing in the world, and thus our ability to accomplish whatever goals we set.

\"By the way, Halliburton benefits every time we go to war. It’s what they do. They’re good at it."\

Having rejected the morale correcteness of using "Benefit" in the same sentence as "war" I should probably ignore this. I do not know of a case before this where a war has been fought which solely benefited the war contractors, nor do I know of one where the turpitude of these companies has been so extreme with no-bid contracts, over charging, and mismanagement of resources. Nor do I know of an administration which would ignore their responsibilities to the american people so much in letting this occur.

For my own "by the way," I make no secret of who I am, where I live, or my own opinions. Would you care, out of courtesy, to do the same? Other than a brief passing thought that you were a french poodle (le bow-wow?), I have no idea who you are, and have been open in my opinions whereas you have not. I find an eerie correspondence between those who will hide behind the anonymity of the internet to promote their views of morality and those who hide behind sheets, hoods, and burning crosses to do the same.

An excellent exchange, and one of the reasons I come back to your blog so frequently (often disappointed when there’s no new material, but I know you’re only human…).

My various reactions to the conversation:

A more extreme and unlikely moral question than "kill or be killed?" is "kill or see innocents killed": whether you’d kill if it would protect the lives of innocents certain to die without your intervention. Unfortunately, that abstract question is too often used to justify… well, anything at all. Hitler leaned on security as justification for his actions.

Safety is what we all want, but it raises many questions:

1. What are we willing to do to be safe?

2. Can we reach the "safe terminal" without our actions making the journey perilous? (i.e. creating more enemies than we destroy along the way)

3. When we say "safe," how do we measure it? At 8 AM on 9/11/01, we all felt fairly safe. Presumably our national metrics were wrong, and it’s unlikely that the Department of Homeland Security’s rainbow of fear has helped much. "Security" is a slippery word, beneath which the careless and the malevolent can hide much.

After all, if neither the backlash nor the morality of our actions matters as much as safety, then surely the safest route for each of us is to kill as many people (potential threats) as possible, modulo those who can directly benefit us more than they threaten us.

I’d be extremely interested to hear your comparisons of the invasion of Iraq with Vietnam, in terms of its legality and morality. I still think Vietnam trumps Gulf 2, but I’m not a military scholar.

I’ve been reading Howard Zinn’s "The Twentieth Century," and it’s more than a little alarming just how often our military takes action for primarily commercial motives, citing a provoked act of aggression as justification. What’s happening now just doesn’t look all that terribly different from Vietnam, or our actions in Cuba and the Phillipines surrounding the Spanish-American War.

I think Iraq is more about military bases than oil per se (witness the planned closing of cost-effective German bases), but an interesting fact is that Asia and the EU depend far more on Mideast oil than we do, making control of it effective as leverage against economic rivals. Government reports have discussed this since the days of Eisenhower, if not before.

Although your refutation of LBoWoW’s syllogism stands on its own, I’ll add that "rejecting the benefits derived by the sacrifice of millions of men who were called upon by their nation to become violent" isn’t necessarily a bad thing; would you wholeheartedly accept money from a friend or family member if you know he or she stole it, and violently? There’s also the matter of setting future precedents for such sacrifice.

- Eric

Hi Eric-

Thaks for the thought provoking questions and thoughtful response, as usual. I’ve enjoyed your blog also, only wishing I could express myself as eloquently, rather than my usual practice of resorting to quotes.

The question of "kill or watch innocents killed" is the ultimate question for a pacifist, isn’t it? Shortly after 9/11 we had someone nearly leave our Meeting, because he could not justify his pacifist stand after the violent actions of the passengers on flight 94 apparently saved so many more lives. We had long talks on the minimum violence necessary to prevent more. I think this is also the case for the Second World War, wherein far more Quakers volunteered for service than any previous conflict; the specter of innocent deaths was so overpowering. Many other Friends volunteered to serve as guinea pigs for medical or survival research, or to drive ambulances and whatnot, aiding the war effort without actually taking lives. It is a morally difficult position, and I would like to think I would take the position of the ambulance drivers but it is a different time and I am a different person. I can not fault anyone for their choice in such a case.

Of course, as you point out, this is the rationalization for nearly every war. Now that the myth of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq has been debunked, and the myth of Iraqi cooperation in 9/11 has been disproved, the apologists for the war fall back on the protection of innocents. How many innocents will we kill to protect them? Do we have to destroy the country (rather than the Viet Nam village) to protect it? I would be much more receptive of this if we were nerely so concerned about pogroms and mass murders in Africa, where there are no oil reserves.

I would need to review the history of Viet Nam to respond reasonably to your comparison. While I followed this stuff thirty years ago when it was happening, that was a long time, and many wars, ago.

What I do remember is how our economic and political interests caused so much of the problem in the first place. Ho Chi Minh turned to the US first for support in his struggle with the French. By, in essence, blowing him and his independence movement off to support our french allies, we drove him into the arms of communism, creating the morass that still exists in Southeast Asia. It is a shame that our professed support for self determination and human rights is trumped by our economic interests. If it were not so, we would have supported Taiwanese independence decades ago.

In response to your final paragraph, I can reject the benefits of the sacrifices of those called upon to be violent, without rejecting the people themselves. I think it is important to make the distinction. The people who have personally taken up arms and subjected themselves to the violence of war are worthy of honor. and this is one reasons I reject and abhor those who will take advantage of them lightly, or for no justifiable reason. How many of the administration were willing to take up arms themselves? See this page for a count.

You deserve a fuller response to your questions. I need to do research to give it to you.



Al, I think you (and your son Tom) express yourselves eloquently. Though I haven’t spent much time with him, he was a thought-provoking comfort before and after the election…

Agreed that "kill or watch innocents killed" is the ultimate question for a pacifist. Unfortunately, I’ve so little experience with strong or physical conflict (much less violent conflict) that I’m uncertain how I would react.

After 9/11 I became a raging hawk, and am not proud of those feelings. Fortunately, I came to my senses with the help of soul-searching and rational thought (to which all too little debate tips its hat).

As for the passengers of flight 94 – they are heroes. I can’t say whether I would have done what they did, but I think I would have wanted to, since it was probably the minimum necessary to prevent much additional carnage. But my active pacifism, such as it is, is young. It will take much thought and meditation and prayer…

WWII is seen by many Americans as the U.S.’s shining moment in world history, and the benefits to Europe and the rest of the world are, perhaps, exceeded only by its benefits to us (in the form of markets, bases, allies, and raw materials via colonies). That doesn’t imply that it was entirely wrong; a world with Hitler in it would almost certainly be a much worse one. But then I look at the decisions to drop the atomic bombs (2 of them), and on the sites chosen, and wonder why, and what the balance is.

Yes, apologists for the Iraq invasion fall back on the evil of Saddam (without question), the protection of innocents (despite the fact that kick Saddam’s ass in terms of killing Iraqis, though not yet Iranians), the defiance of UN mandates (despite our sterling history of vetoes in the Security Council).

Yes, Africa is and continues to be a nearly bottomless well of suffering. If you look at the U.S.’s humanitarian donations, as a percent of GNP, we come out around .13 percent or so recently. Most other wealthy nations are much higher, though all fall miserably short of the .7% agreement (I’ll put the reference on my blog soon). Perhaps the rest of the world would view us more charitably if we put our money where our mouth is; while private donations in this country are high, they don’t raise our percentage nearly enough. And our generosity is focused on Israel and Egypt, strategic military allies, not the truly needy nations.

I’m no Vietnam scholar; it just seemed that the points you raise against the Iraq invasion (all true) apply well to Vietnam.

I think the problem with communism was our poor understanding of it; we mistook popular uprisings in Indochina and the Americas as extensions of an advancing communist monolith, and took regrettable actions all around to suppress anything communism-scented. I believe Vietnam was more or less ‘promised’ to the French post-WWII; something about a return to stable pre-war holdings. The Viet Cong had massive popular support, because the U.S.-backed Diem regime was a lousy one; but he was our louse, so there you have it. We converted multiple populist movements into a single powerful populist movement, and then into an army with indefatigable morale, since they had nothing left to lose. Hopefully the same isn’t happening in Iraq – we’re a long way from it, at least to date.

If our professed support for self determination and human rights weren’t trumped by our economic interests, you’re right, Taiwan might be independent, Iran might be a democracy, Iraq would probably have overthrown Saddam on their own, Cuba wouldn’t be what it is, and we might not have killed so many hundreds of thousands.

You wrote:
> … I can reject the benefits of the sacrifices of
> those called upon to be violent, without rejecting
> the people themselves. I think it is important to make the distinction.

Yes, I agree completely. I didn’t mean to imply that the people should be rejected; even the Wolfowitzes of the world shouldn’t be rejected as people. But their arguments can, and must, be pounded into submission to reason and, though I may sound like a hippie, love. I’d settle for respect as a nice backup.

> The people who have personally taken up arms and subjected themselves
> to the violence of war are worthy of honor, and this is one reason
> I reject and abhor those who will take advantage of them lightly,
> or for no justifiable reason.

Extremely well said.

No additional response or research is needed – I’m just skilled at throwing out large numbers of questions, as I attempt to supplement my education with breadthwise coverage of U.S. history.

Advice on editing my blog would be great. I think my Himalayan entries scare off most members of my mailing list.

- Eric

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>