Dr. Strangeread, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Our Troops

Robert Bidinotto is pissed off. He’s pissed off at me in particular and he’s pissed off at anti-American scumbags in general. So much so that I have been denounced as, inter alia, a scumbag, a liar, a sophist, disingenuous, a complete fraud, and incapable of arguing straight up and honestly. So much so that I have been informed that I am no longer welcome to comment at Bidinotto’s blog. Others have gotten tagged with most or all of these terms, and just for good measure some of them have been denounced as bitches, contemptible, bottom feeders, and complete lunatics. Here’s why.

Late last month, Bidinotto was pissed off that Joel Stein, Leftist columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a column in which he took issue with the popular cant of supporting the troops.

Leftist columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Joel Stein, has become notorious during the past couple of days for writing, I don’t support our troops. Not I don’t support the war in Iraq or even I don’t support the war against Islamist terrorism. No — I don’t support our troops.

And the scumbag means it. Sure, we could blame just Bush, he wrote. But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they’re following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.

Yup. He’s blaming the troops.

But he’s not the only one.

Then follows a long invective, frequently updated with new bellows of outrage, against libertarians — mostly those in the orbit of LewRockwell.com and the Ludwig von Mises Institute — who have similar things to say, or other things that don’t bear much relation to Stein’s column but strike him as outrageous anti-American scumbaggery. In reply to all this, I asked two days ago (2006-02-03):

From Rad Geek on 02/03/06

Here’s the comment of Joel Stein’s that Bindinotto [sic] singles out, apparently for special outrage: The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they’re following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.

Isn’t this true?

To which Bidinotto replied (2006-02-04):

From Bidinotto on 02/04/06

Hey Geek, do you know what question begging means? It means assuming what it is that you’re supposed to be proving.

Let me spell it out for you: You are assuming (1) that the American soldiers are acting immorally, and (2) that they know their activities to be immoral, but are ignoring that fact. Neither is the case. So — no, the last statement is not applicable.

I point out to one side that I have a long-standing professional interest in the teaching of logic and that I’ve written philosophical work on the nature of question-begging fallacies. Not that that means anything. In any case, since this didn’t answer my question, I replied yesterday (2006-02-04):

From Rad Geek on 02/04/06

Bidinotto:“Let me spell it out for you: You are assuming (1) that the American soldiers are acting immorally, and (2) that they know their activities to be immoral, but are ignoring that fact.

No, I’m not. I’m asking you whether or not it is true that individual soldiers bear at least partial moral responsibility for the actions they carry out, even when they are acting on orders. And further whether large-scale surrender of individual conscience under military orders (whenever it happens) is horrifying. Neither I nor the passage I asked you about says [sic] anything at all about whether in fact the conduct of soldiers in the Iraq War specifically is immoral.

(And yes, I realize that the rest of the article does make that point. So what? The question is about the passage that you singled out for excoriation, not the rest of the article.)

Bidinotto: Neither is the case. So — no, the last statement is not applicable.

I didn’t ask whether it was applicable to the Iraq War or not. I asked whether it is true or false.

Bidinotto came around to the question and added one of his own (2006-02-04):

From Bidinotto on 02/04/06

EVERYONE bears moral responsibility for his or her actions. Soldiers, too. And in fact the disobedience of soldiers to improper orders is a time-honored tradition. So is the prosecution of those who give, and follow, transparently improper orders. Remember Lt. Calley in ‘Nam? Hell, what about the Abu Graib prison abuse?

But none of that is what Stein’s disgusting piece was about, as you well know and acknowledge. His I don’t support the troops was about the troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq; it was they whom he calumnied as horrifying by declaring that they were ignoring their morality; and THAT was what I indeed target for special outrage.

Now a question for you: in the context of Iraq, do you agree with Stein that our troops are acting immorally — and knowingly so?

Which I then answered, with a clarification of the point I was interested in:

From Rad Geek on 02/04/06

Now a question for you: in the context of Iraq, do you agree with Stein that our troops are acting immorally — and knowingly so?

I think that some of them are and others aren’t; the issue is complicated by the fact that soldiers are not free to stop participating in the war and thus some of them are acting under duress. Those that are willingly doing it are, I think, willingly participating in evil, and I see no reason to celebrate them for that or sanctimoniously declare my support for them on that account (even if they do things that require a lot of physical or intellectual skill, and even if they do things that are very daring).

If that makes me an anti-American scumbag, so be it; my main concern here, though, is that the argument over that should be played from where it lies. Your real complaint here isn’t that Stein, Rockwell, Snider et al. don’t support the troops. It’s that they don’t support the war in Iraq. Fine; that’s an argument to be had. But fuming about the fact that people who already consider the war to be an unjustifiable campaign of State murder afortiori consider those foot soldiers who willingly carry it out to be murderers, really seemsto me to be a bit much. The debate is better served by arguing over the premises, not shouting back and forth over the conclusion.

To which Bidinotto replied earlier today (2006-02-05):

From Bidinotto on 02/05/06

So, Geekie, now you admit that what I said earlier WAS true: You are assuming (1) that the American soldiers are acting immorally, and (2) that they know their activities to be immoral, but are ignoring that fact.

Initially, in reply, you said No, I’m not — maintaining that you were not referring to soldiers in Iraq, but to generic soldiers who blindly follow orders.

But now you admit that all along you WERE referring to our soldiers’s activities in Iraq, and that Those that are willingly doing it are, I think, willingly participating in evil… You now admit that you consider those soldiers to be murderers.

In short, in trying to get my original response, you lied.

I do not welcome sophists who argue disingenuously, just to try to score debating points. Besides being an anti-American scumbag, Geekie, you have revealed yourself to be a fraud, and any future comments by you will be deleted. And should you, Betsy, or similar sorts try to sneak in here under assumed names, you will only underscore the fact that you are complete frauds who cannot argue straight up and honestly.

Second, Geekie, don’t tell me what my real complaint is with Stein, Rockwell, you, et al. I made it very clear in this post that I have friends and colleagues who strongly oppose the war in Iraq; but they remain friends and colleagues precisely because they do NOT mock, insult, and belittle our SOLDIERS over that policy disagreement.

No, Geekie, my targets in this post are anti-American scumbags like you, who DO sully American troops.

Got it?

Everyone else: got it?

Since I’m no longer welcome to post comments at Bidinotto’s website, I’ll mention a couple of points here.

First, a point about logic and language. It’s not accurate to say that I’m assuming that American troops are acting immorally, and that they’re doing so knowingly. I’m concluding that on the basis of an argument. The argument is mostly left unexpressed in my comments at Bidinotto’s blog; but that brings us to the second point: the reason it is left unexpressed is that nothing turns on it in the discussion with Bidinotto. The passage from Stein that Bidinotto singles out for outrage is true — and Bidinotto later concedes that it is true — whether or not the principle set out in it is (as Stein thinks it is, and Bidinotto does not) applicable to the situation of those soldiers who are willingly fighting in Iraq. (I think it’s important to note that not all soldiers fighting in Iraq are doing so willingly, in any meaningful sense. But that’s a side issue.) That’s all I was asking, and all I was interested in; There is a difference between stating that you’re going to discuss a principle without applying it to a particular situation, and stating that you’re going to discuss a principle that doesn’t apply to that particular situation. The question (and my implied endorsement of the principle) presupposed nothing (neither a Yes or a No) about its applicability in this particular case. Which is what I was saying. The invective against my dishonesty and fraudulence is, thus, based on something hard to distinguish from wilful misreading.

Logic lesson for the day: in order for an argument to beg the question, the argument must first be made. Or at least alluded to. Or something.

Second, the fact that Bidinotto is willing to bestow sentimental praise on some opponents of the Iraq war is not even remotely to the point. Here is a rough version of the argument being used by the folks that he is outraged at:

  1. The things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War are evil.
  2. There are some (many) American soldiers who willingly do the things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War.
  3. If soldiers willingly do things that are evil, they bear (at least some) moral responsibility for them.
  4. You shouldn’t support people who bear (at least some) moral responsibility for doing things that are evil.
  5. Therefore, there are some (many) American soldiers you shouldn’t support.

As far as I can tell, this is a valid deductive argument (if somewhat roughly expressed). Bidinotto strongly disagrees with the conclusion; and he’s pretty pissed off about those who would draw it. But what is it that he disagrees with in the argument? He explicitly states that he agrees with 3. 2 is a matter of manifest empirical fact. He doesn’t say anything one way or the other about 4 in this article, but as an Objectivist it’s unlikely that he’d want to deny it. So which premise does that leave in dispute: (1), the premise that the things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War are evil. If you accept all of the premises but don’t accept the conclusion, then you’re being inconsistent. If you avoid the conclusion only by rejecting premise 1, then the real issue in the debate just isn’t the scumbaggery of failing to support our troops. It’s the damned war. Acting as if your decision to sanction or not sanction the actions of American soldiers in Iraq should be insulated from any moral considerations about the propriety of the ongoing use of militarized violence in Iraq, or the direct individual roles that the soldiers play in carrying out the force, or the individual decisions that they make to comply or not to comply with that policy, requires you to either (1) deny one of the other premises (i.e., to give up on the idea that you shouldn’t sanction willing participation in evil, or to give up on the idea that individual soldiers are morally accountable for their actions under the banner of war); or (2) blank out. Neither of these is an option that should recommend itself to rational and civilized people.

It’s one thing to get pissed off about deep disagreements of moral principle over the nature, justice, and effects of the Iraq War. It’s quite another to fume at people for refusing to hypocritically profess to support for our troops when they have concluded that some (many) of those troops are willing participants in evil.

There is no nobility in blanking out the conclusions of your premises, and no honor in palavering hypocrisy. Modus ponens is a tough cookie.

That’s all I’m saying.

Update 2006-02-09: I fixed an issue of sentence order in the first paragraph.

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32 replies to Dr. Strangeread, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Our Troops Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Laura J.

    His ability to prove you wrong by the choice application of diminuitives to your screenname is impressive.

  2. Stefan

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere does it appear you said that the troops “knowingly” are committing evil. You said some are “willingly participating in evil”, but that’s not the same as doing evil and being aware that you’re doing evil. The American troops might just be confused about what’s good and evil (unless you buy into the Socratic idea that “knowingly choosing evil” is a contradiction in terms).

    If your presentation is accurate then it does indeed appear Bidinotto is misinterpreting – he says you’re against the troops, you clarify and say you’re asking a different question, then he asks whether you support the troops and turns around and uses your negative answer to accuse you of “dishonesty” (!).

    The underlying problem here seems to be that Bidinotto wants to draw a distinction between the following two types of people:

    1) Those who do not support the war in Iraq.

    2) Those who do not support the troops (in Iraq).

    However, I fail to see how you can distinguish these two groups except on the basis of patriotism. If you accept patriotism, it seems to me you could disagree with the war while still supporting the troops who are fighting it. Of course I would regard this as a reductio ad absurdum of patriotism, whereas Bidinotto presumably would not. I’m starting to see why he might not like you very much Rad Geek!

  3. Discussed at atopian.org

    atopian.org:

    and moral responsibility again

    Radgeek here.

  4. Sergio Méndez

    Charles, you are a very kind person. You dedicated an entire post to debunk Binodotto post with good logic, while I will had said is that he is an asshole. And not only for the post in his blog against “anti american scumbags”, but for the debates I have seen Binodotto had with Sciabarra on SoloHq about the war. He always ended using the patriotism card, when every else failed (as usuall).

  5. Diane

    The discourse which you describe is living, highly detailed proof that there is no room for logic in argument these days. Actually, there hasn’t been for some time. Critical thinking is neither respected nor practiced by who know how many thousands.

    The conclusion I have drawn from this massive lack of critical thinking and aversion to logical argument is that the facts do not matter. If there were sudden incontrovertible proof that Bush et al told massive lies about Iraq, September 11, Valerie Plame–everything, it would not matter to those who have dug their heels in and wish to “fight” the “war on terror.” In some cases, there is already detailed proof of deception (the Ohio election), and the response has been to bury the evidence and make fun of those who wish to bring it public.

  6. Rad Geek

    Stefan:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere does it appear you said that the troops knowingly are committing evil. You said some are willingly participating in evil, but that’s not the same as doing evil and being aware that you’re doing evil. The American troops might just be confused about what’s good and evil (unless you buy into the Socratic idea that knowingly choosing evil is a contradiction in terms).

    Well, Bidinotto asked me whether I thought that soldiers in the Iraq War were knowingly acted immorally, and I replied that I thought some of them are. I then used the phrase “willingly” to make a distinction between soldiers willingly carrying out an immoral campaign and those doing so under duress. But I didn’t intend to use that to change the subject from knowing evil to willing evil.

    I do think that some (many) American soldiers in Iraq are knowingly participating in evil. Roughly because I think there is a natural law of humanity that is open to everyone’s understanding (that is, to the understanding of any creature that could be said to exercise deliberative reason), and that most immoral actions are knowingly done in violation of the rightful claims of that law. (I say most because of the possibility of tragedy — there are cases where you might inadvertently do evil things even though you act on the right reasons — but I think most immoral actions are knowing rather than tragic.)

    This is complicated by the fact that as an Aristotelian, I also think that everyone acts with a view towards achieving the good, i.e. on the basis of their beliefs (right or wrong) about what promotes, and what constitutes, goodness. But my answer here is roughly the same as Aristotle’s: people can know that something is immoral and choose to do it anyway, but in those cases the knowledge is not part of the action; they are acting as if they didn’t know what they do know, and the knowledge is, as far as that action is concerned, just along for the ride.

    Anyway, all that is a long way of explaining why I don’t think that Bidinotto was being unfair to me on that point. Where I think he’s mistaken is in the notion that I was asking about, or implying some claim about, or, really, at all interested in his opinion on, the applicability of the general principle about moral responsibility to the particular situation of American soldiers in Iraq.

    Also in reading a statement to the effect of It’s not the case that my question assumes that X as if it were a statement to the effect of My question assumes that X is not the case, and then denouncing me as a fraud when I reveal that I do believe that X.

  7. Roderick T. Long

    I reach, bro. See my comments on Bidinotto here.

  8. Lady Aster

    “Roughly because I think there is a natural law of humanity that is open to everyone’s understanding (that is, to the understanding of any creature that could be said to exercise deliberative reason), and that most immoral actions are knowingly done in violation of the rightful claims of that law.”

    Why should one imagine ethics on the model of law– that is, on an exterior fiat, which one obeys or does not obey, and which stands to humanity in a relation of authority. It seems a peculiar model for an anarchist to approach one’s choices of value, or even specifically social value. Doesn’t it both promise and reflect authoritarian turns of thinking, when one’s moral episteme is one of orders from above?

    BTW, whatever else, I want to say I consider Bidinotto’s treatment of you disgraceful. Patriotism may be the last refuge of the scoundrel; it is a first fortress for the conformist blowhard.

  9. Rad Geek

    Lady Aster:

    Why should one imagine ethics on the model of law–that is, on an exterior fiat, which one obeys or does not obey, and which stands to humanity in a relation of authority. It seems a peculiar model for an anarchist to approach one’s choices of value, or even specifically social value. Doesn’t it both promise and reflect authoritarian turns of thinking, when one’s moral episteme is one of orders from above?

    Good question; the answer is that I think law is an ambiguous term, and sometimes fit, sometimes not as a model for morality. I’m using law here in the same sense in which Thomas Aquinas and Lysander Spooner spoke of a natural law, which is not imposed by the will of some authority, but rather stands above any positive claims to authority whatever, which licenses every legitimate claim to authority (e.g. my authority over my own body and my own stuff), overrules as arbitrary every illegitimate claim to authority, and happens to commit to the flames nearly all the books of so-called positive law that have ever been written.

    You might have already had those precedents in mind, and you might be prodding me not only on my own usage but also the Spoonerite usage as well. That’s fine; I’m willing to put the point I want to make a lot of different ways, and I think there are plenty of cases where talking in the idiom of natural law is harmful, rather than helpful, because of its analogical association with statutory law and the possible implication that it’s a matter of external constraint imposed by some authority (if not the King, then God or Nature). But I think the answer to make here is what Roderick would call an Austro-Athenian one: there are plenty of cases of things ordinarily called law that aren’t imposed by an authority or external constraints. The laws of logic, the laws of physics, etc. aren’t external constraints laid down by an authority, or enforced by some kind of underlying metaphysical entity. They’re just principles that are constitutive of, internal to, certain kinds of language-games, or certain facets of existence, or your life as a deliberative agent.

    I’m sure there are contexts in which using the language of law can obscure this point; just as I’m sure there are contexts in which using th language of choice or values can obscure it by suggesting that they are arbitrary or not categorically binding on everyone. Maybe these both ought to be thought of as Wittgensteinian ladders to be kicked away once you have climbed up them; what I’m more inclined to say, though, is that they’re both respectable ways of talking about it that can be divorced from their unsavory etymological connections.

    Does that clarify or muddify?

  10. todd yarling

    If you are talking about “begging the question” does this Bidinotto feller ever logically prove that you should support the troops?

    He seem’s to take it as a given that people who don’t are scumbuckets, but, why?

    I would like to see a nice, step by step proof of the proposition, people who don’t support the troops are scum.

    It should be easy, since objectivists are supposed to be the most rational people in the world.

  11. Roderick T. Long

    It’s been argued, by Hayek among others, that historically the original meaning of “law” was not a rule imposed by authority but a rule discovered to be necessary to and/or implicit in either a) some particular social practice or b) social practice generally. In any case this was once the dominant view in jurisprudence; see the list of citations here.

  12. W Baker

    Bidinotto like a most Americans holds subconsciously or consciously holds that the ‘troops’ are the ultimate expression of the country. (Extrapolate downwards for police officers, emergency services, bureaucrats, etc.) They’re right up there with kith and kin.

    If soldiers are off limits because they valiantly carry out orders to defend the homeland and protect ways of life, why does Bidinotto limit his appreciation to just American soldiers? Where’s the love for the Iraqi Cincinnatuses who are doing just this? If soldiers are to be admired for their resourcefulness, courage against overwhelming odds, etc., I don’t think the average Iraqi ‘insurgent’ would fare too poorly.

    The truly puzzling thing about the Stein/Bidinotto/other talking heads flap is their obvious lack of self awareness, inability to understand history, and place themselves within that story. In other words, how can Bidinotto or others ever contemplate historical wars – or any historical event – without displaying the same jingoistic attachment to one side or the other? How does this man read about the Peloponesian Wars or the American Revolution? Is he unable to see the other side of the conflict at all?

    Pardon my ramblings.

    Courage.

  13. Rad Geek

    W Baker:

    If soldiers are to be admired for their resourcefulness, courage against overwhelming odds, etc., I don’t think the average Iraqi insurgent would fare too poorly.

    The right answer to make here, and (I suspect) the answer that Bidinotto would want to make, is that daring in the face of overwhelming odds, resourcefulness, love of country or cause, etc. only count as virtues in the proper sense when the cause that one is employing that daring, resourcefulness, and love to fight for is a just cause. And while I don’t doubt that there are some Iraqi insurgent groups motivated primarily by the desire to defend their homes against aggression, there are also clearly many Iraqi insurgent groups motivated by profoundly evil and deadly ideas.

    Of course, making this answer is, in the end, inconvenient for Bidinotto, since, to precisely the degree it undermines praise for (at least some) Iraqi guerrillas, it also undermines his ability to consistently claim that we ought to praise and support American soldiers regardless of what we think of the morality of the war they are fighting in.

  14. Lady Aster

    “Bidinotto like a most Americans holds subconsciously or consciously holds that the ‘troops’ are the ultimate expression of the country. (Extrapolate downwards for police officers, emergency services, bureaucrats, etc.) They’re right up there with kith and kin.”

    Oh, how very, very true, and insightful! The psychic loyalty to the family is of the same nature as that of the state in to me a crucial realisaion of theoretical politics.

    Perhaps that is because the family as we know it is much the same as our familiar state? A power which demands our love and obedience, absorbs our identities, controls our destinies by the invocation of maruaders and spooks abroad, and enervates our own talents until we cling to our oppressors, by welding community functions onto a model of heirarchy sanctified as natural? Each is a guardian which promises a fortress against aggression, but in fact maintains locked doors within which aggression is unstoppable. In both, the association is with a tribe considered ‘one’s own’, drenched in sweet sentiment, written up in duty-bound mythology. In both, the accident of ancestry or association is to determine our loyalties, not our reason, authentic loves, or chosen commitments. The only difference is one of scale, with the levels of civil society stretching out like black spider webs between the foundation of the nursery and the state’s citadel crown. The authoritarian family is the microcosm of the paterfamilias state.

    All forms of authority- whether statist, patriarchal, familial, corporate, survive the same- by the cultivation of rational and irrational fears of independence, the promise of security, and the gift of a collective idenity to replace the need to be one’s own person. All require painting in dark colours the possibility of voluntary community and of independent flourishing and survival. The moral intimidation to ‘support our troops’ is the same as the patriarchal family’s demand “not to air dirty laundry in public”, the corporation’s artificial collective personhood creates the same demand of the human cells within this ‘person’. In each, the question becomes- not what is true of false, beautiful or hideous, passionate or dead, but who is ‘us’ or ‘them’. And a social philosophy which invokes these fears against individualism, whatever its professed antistatism, is authoritarian to the core.

    Cling to the tribe or you will never make in in the world! Cling to the tribe or you will be lost in spiritual darkness! Cling to the tribe or be damned for failing to support “your own”!

    Liberty means realising the fortess is not on your side. This may mean trying to create social models of parenting, spirituality, economics, or the common governing of affairs that are not authoritarian. But it also means not trying to make night-terrors out of being on your own, in flesh or in spirit- or in politics. The likes of Bidinotto cultivate obedience by having us quake at the thought that state soldiers cease ‘protecting us’, while welding us to our oppressors in service in blind admiration ot those who serve. Well, some of us do not find drudgeried obedience according to a will not our own admirable. Oppression begins in the building of city walls and is sanctified in the hearth. Refusing to support ‘our own’ is precisely what we must do. On every level- unless ‘our own’ be those that share our individual spirits and struggles out of common conviction, condition, or choice.

    Live free or die.

    Aster

  15. W Baker

    Radgeek said: “And while I don’t doubt that there are some Iraqi insurgent groups motivated primarily by the desire to defend their homes against aggression, there are also clearly many Iraqi insurgent groups motivated by profoundly evil and deadly ideas.”

    But isn’t this the perpetual dilemma of warfare? Which act of warlike valor, normally condemned in polite, peaceful society, is to be commended? Who rightly kills? Who justly sabotages? None of these moral dilemmas, however, even give pause to the hawks. The modern moral slate is always wiped clean by the victor. It’s been that way in this country since Appomattox.

    “Of course, making this answer is, in the end, inconvenient for Bidinotto, since, to precisely the degree it undermines praise for (at least some) Iraqi guerrillas, it also undermines his ability to consistently claim that we ought to praise and support American soldiers regardless of what we think of the morality of the war they are fighting in.”

    Well put and better said than my ramblings. We don’t, for instance, speak ill of our countrymen at Mai Lai, Dresden or Fallujah; we just ignore it. If pressed, we shout revisionism or biased reporting. The inverse is true for anyone on the other side of our perpetual conflicts.

  16. Dswogger

    “If you accept all of the premises but don’t accept the conclusion, then you’re being inconsistent.”

    You are hereby hoist by your own petard — that’s an irrational statement. It concludes that a set of premises lead to one and only one conclusion. We know that to be false — a set of premises may well lead to several conclusions.

  17. Dswogger

    I caught it myself — if the statement I challenged is made in the subject context only…..

  18. Robert Jones

    Speaking of personality attacks, have any of you actually read your comments about my fellow soldiers and me? You speak about us as though we’re a passel of unwitting dupes who are too simple to fathom such concepts as ethics and moral culpability. Has it ever occurred to any of you — who yourselves write in a manner which suggests a ranking of haughty superiority on mankind’s lofty pecking-order — that not only many, but indeed most, of us troops know what we are fighting for, that we support it and that it is indeed a noble undertaking?

    Now, we can debate the war, but that is for another forum. I am not here to debate the war. I’m here to defend my brothers in uniform.

    Your own certainly in your moral perfection is awe-inspiring: It reminds me of talking to Germans who look down their noses on American soldiers. You see, after 60 years of having peace imposed upon them, many Germans act as though they invented peace.

    The people here on this site appear to have been holed up in an ivory tower so long, they sneeringly believe patriotism only to be some kind of trump “card.” And, to equate American soldiers with Iraqi terrorists, who saw off heads with the dull edge of a sword….am I on some communist blog? Is this a libertarian blog, or is this Noam Chomsky’s homepage?

    It seems that each of you whose smug entries on this thread I read have lived in your ivory towers long enough to make Rapunzel’s hair look like Ross Perot’s buzzcut.

    Do any of you even know what it is like to be a combat troop out there in the battlefield? I have spent almost two decades in service to my country, and the closest I ever came were field artillery ranges and war games. These are rather grueling enterprises: Every bone in your body aches, you are awash in your own sweat until it dries, and then you’re caked in salt; your skin is leathery and parches from weeks and months in the sun.

    You are trained not only in battle maneuvers, but the Geneva Convention. You are trained in the differences between battlefield combatants and innocent civilians.

    Then — and this is the point where my military experience stops, but that of my Army and Marine buddies continues — you go to the sand box, and what you find makes your stomach churn: Mass graves, with the stinking, rotting corpses of rape and torture victims; Rape rooms for the personal amusement of the tyrant’s sons; a one-state dictatorship run by a power-mad megalomaniac; a wood chipper, in which the bodies of living dissidents are fed, as they are ground to death as so much hamburger meat.

    Meanwhile, you’re a ground pounder building a country for the millions of victims of this bizarre tyrant. You re-open a dam, which held back much needed water, so that thirsty people can once again drink. The combat engineers among you build oil pipelines, schools, and infrastructural improvements such as electricity, plumbing and sanitary sewers. The docs, dentists and medics go to towns ravaged by the tyrant, and start kidney patients on dialysis, fill cavities in childrens’ teeth and perform surgery on the Iraqi civilians maimed by the foreign terrorists lionized by computer nerds in America as “freedom fighters.”

    You do all that. Then, in some comfortable, centrally-heated, cozy and safe home office back in your own country, a certain coterie of the morally self-elected looks down their noses on your noble undertaking as they put you on trial in their own little abstract online Kaffeeklatsch — in abstentia — accusing you of being the moral equivalent of Hitler’s SS cadre and officers corps.

    You do all that, because — despite the self-deluded dilletantes who hate their own miserable lives so much that they need to equate your noble actions on behalf of those who’ve never had the taste of liberty, with those of Nazis, Maoists and Islamofascist murderers — you love your liberty, your fellow citizens, and your country so much that you are willing to put your life on the line for them.

    Liberty, my dear friends, is more than an intellectual game played by a clique of children gifted with abstract intelligence, but sorely lacking in decency, or common sense. Trust me, if we were suddenly invaded tomorrow, I can guarandamntee you that none of you on this board would have the moral or physical courage to use your second amendment rights to repel the attackers. No, instead, I would be knocking on the doors of my military pals to fight back the attackers.

    You children play at being defenders of liberty, when in reality, I doubt whether you’d know how to even load a 30.06, not to mention fire the thing.

    But, then again, what would one expect from people who also utter St. Thomas Aquinas’ and Lysander Spooner’s names with equal reverence and seriousness?

    Sincerely, Ssg. Robert L. Jones

    Soldier and Scholar

    (I have no mind/body dichotomies, unlike some people)

  19. Rad Geek

    Sargeant Bob:

    You speak about us as though we’re a passel of unwitting dupes who are too simple to fathom such concepts as ethics and moral culpability.

    Who did that? What I explicitly stated in the post is that I think that some (many) American soldiers are morally responsible for the actions they knowingly take, and that those who aren’t, aren’t because they are acting under duress, not because they are unwitting dupes. I don’t believe that; Bidinotto doesn’t believe that; and I can’t find a commenter who does believe that. The only person who suggested confusion or unwitting evil as an explanation was Stefan, and he was just stating that some (many) soldiers might just be mistaken about what’s in fact wrong and what’s in fact right, not that they’re incapable of understanding any particular ethical concept.

    In short, you seem to be making this charge up out of whole cloth.

    Now, we can debate the war, but that is for another forum. I am not here to debate the war. I’m here to defend my brothers in uniform.

    This is disingenuous. For two reasons: first you repeatedly assert that the actions of soldiers abroad are noble, benefit folks at home and abroad, etc., which is simply an explicit statement of support for the war projects of the American government. Second because, even if you had not explicitly stated your support for the war while denying that you intended to debate it, the traits that you single out for praise in American soldiers — physical daring, endurance, skill, etc. — are not praiseworthy except when they are devoted to a just and humane cause. Lots of people throughout world history have had great endurance, physical daring, love for cause or country, physical and intellectual skill, etc. Some of them devoted it to noble causes and some of them devoted it to evil causes. The former deserve praise for their courage, fortitude, etc. The latter deserve none, because being more competant at pursuing an evil cause makes you more dangerous, not more praiseworthy.

    The fact is that you have no fundamental problem with the war, and you wouldn’t be offering the praise you offer if you believed that all the daring, the endurance, and the skill that you attribute to American soldiers were being used to further an immoral cause.

    If you are defend, or make excuses for, the war, then go ahead. But pretending as if this is not what you are doing so that you can wave the bloody shirt and pretend that moral objections to the war are just irrelevant to how you should regard the warriors, is pure bluster.

    The people here on this site appear to have been holed up in an ivory tower so long,

    I’m not a student or a professional in academia, just so you know. Not that being or not being in academia has any effect on whether your arguments are good or bad. Arguments can be assessed on their own merits, without resorting to overt abusive ad hominem as you repeatedly do here.

    And, to equate American soldiers with Iraqi terrorists, who saw off heads with the dull edge of a sword…

    Please. Would it be better if Iraqi terrorists mowed down people with howitzers, or burned them alive with napalm? The problem with Iraqi terrorists is that they are murdering innocent people, not that they are choosing antiquated methods of doing it.

    Liberty, my dear friends, is more than an intellectual game played by a clique of children gifted with abstract intelligence, but sorely lacking in decency, or common sense.

    Setting aside the sad attempt at anti-intellectual bullying, I’d just like to note in passing that this is one of the world’s sillier and more dangerous false dichotomies. There is such a thing as mere cleverness, unmoored from decency, or common sense, but it doesn’t amount to intelligence, and in fact is far rarer than either besotted Byronics or anti-intellectual blowhards would like you to think–because decency, or common sense are the starting-points of logic, and an important part of what leads you to make the right connections between ideas when thinking abstractly. When you give up on the one, you directly undermine your ability to practice the other.

    Trust me, if we were suddenly invaded tomorrow, I can guarandamntee you that none of you on this board would have the moral or physical courage to use your second amendment rights to repel the attackers.

    How would you know this? Have you met me or anyone who has commented here, or are you just making this up?

    Furthermore, why do you think this is relevant? Let’s say that I think that some (many) American soldiers are willing participants in evil–thus undeserving of my moral or material support. And let’s say that, somehow, there’s an invasion of Ypsilanti tomorrow and I’m not able to defend myself without their help. So what? Is that supposed to prove that I was wrong? About what?

    But, then again, what would one expect from people who also utter St. Thomas Aquinas’ and Lysander Spooner’s names with equal reverence and seriousness?

    Thomas Aquinas and Lysander Spooner are both important theorists of natural law, which is the connection I mentioned them in. I’m unclear on what your problem with the comment is.

  20. Alex Gregory

    “after 60 years of having peace imposed upon them, many Germans act as though they invented peace”

    “to equate American soldiers with Iraqi terrorists, who saw off heads with the dull edge of a sword….am I on some communist blog?”

    “Trust me, if we were suddenly invaded tomorrow…”

    “You children play at being defenders of liberty, when in reality, I doubt whether you’d know how to even load a 30.06, not to mention fire the thing.”

    And people wonder why the rest of the world is often terrified of America.

  21. Robert Jones

    Yes, Alex, much of the world should be terrified of America; namely, our enemies. Read Machievelli sometimes: “Is it better to be loved or feared” is his question?

    Of course, someone from your nation — which no longer has any rights to bear firearms worth speaking of — would be frightened by an American acting in self-defense.

    Just because people from the U.K. abdicated their inherent liberty does not mean that we in America are going to think you any more “sophisticated” or “civilized” for it; weakness in the face of adversity is never civilized, but a sign of civilization’s devolution.

  22. Alex Gregory

    “Yes, Alex, much of the world should be terrified of America; namely, our enemies.”

    I assume that countries such as the UK are yet to fall into that category.

    “Just because people from the U.K. abdicated their inherent liberty”

    Its a very odd concept of liberty that implies that I am freer for everyone I know owning a gun.

    I hope that if you give it a moments thought – perhaps taking an example such as traffic lights – you’ll admit that restrictions can increase freedom, so all this talk about abdicating liberty is hyperbole.

    Regardless, my broader point was that (taking your points in turn): Germany has been peaceful for 50 of those 60 years, communism has little to do with sword use, questions about what would happen if America were invaded tommorow do little to show Radgeek to be incorrect about his moral position, and that knowing how to load a gun is not a relevant factor in understanding liberty.

    More generally, I find you terrifying (along with some of the rest of the American right) because your remarks seem to bear so little resemblance to reality.

    (its also unclear that invading Iraq was “self-defence”, but perhaps I should leave that point aside)

  23. Rad Geek

    Of course, someone from your nation — which no longer has any rights to bear firearms worth speaking of — would be frightened by an American acting in self-defense.

    Oh, well, if America has less invasive gun control laws than the United Kingdom, then clearly you’re right and Alex is wrong. How foolish we’ve all been.

    Yes, Alex, much of the world should be terrified of America; namely, our enemies. Read Machievelli sometimes: Is it better to be loved or feared is his question?

    I don’t know about Alex, but I have read Machiavelli. Machiavelli was wrong.

    I couldn’t care less about whether servile love or abject fear is more instrumentally useful for a Prince to encourage in his subjects; and since you imply above that you are some sort of libertarian yourself I wonder why it’s a question that interests you. Bossing other people, whether by fear or love, is the stupidest and worst business that a human can be in, and the use of death and terror in order to establish your reign as the bellowing blowhard lord of the world is not a project that should recommend itself to rational and civilized people.

    Or, as the engraver John Payne put it in 1639:

    engraving: a ghastly skeleton, robed and crowned, holds a sceptre and a polished glass with the words, THE MIRROR THAT FLATTERS NOT

  24. Rad Geek

    Alex:

    Its a very odd concept of liberty that implies that I am freer for everyone I know owning a gun.

    I don’t know whether everyone I know owning a gun would make me freer. I do, however, know that policies that put all the guns in the hands of government military or paramilitary forces — and the occasional subject politically favored enough to get a permission slip — don’t.

    Gun control laws are always enforced, in the last resort, by … men with guns. What they do is limit the control of guns to men of the political classes. I don’t think that depending on a government-selected class of enforcers to do all the shooting on our behalf is a very reliable route to autonomy or freedom. Do you?

  25. Alex Gregory

    “I don’t think that depending on a government-selected class of enforcers to do all the shooting on our behalf is a very reliable route to autonomy or freedom. Do you?”

    Before I respond, I just wanted to note that even if you are correct, and gun control does somehow increase freedom (in the long run), then I’m not sure that changes my earlier point. My earlier point was primarily that you can’t defend gun control simply by saying that it is part of your inherant liberty – and I think you’ve admitted that in so far as you’re bringing in further empirical facts to bear on the case.

    Still, its an interesting question, so I’ll respond.

    Firstly, as I mentiond in my blog earlier this week, its not clear that civilians with guns are really going to be much use against a more heavily armed, and more importantly, trained, government force. I just really can’t imagine any long-term political progress being achieved through larger gun access.

    Secondly, political classes with guns do at least have some checks on their use. We can, difficult as it may be, vote certain political groups out if we think that they’re being irresponsible. In contrast, if you’re my neighbour with a gun, there’s little I can do to change how you use it.

    Thirdly, there’s the obvious impact on crime through greater gun ownership – I severely doubt that my freedom will be increased at any point by the people mugging me using guns rather than knives.

    Last (and possibly least), I think you could even maintain that gun ownership decreases my freedom because it would force me to have to buy and learn to use a gun which I wouldn’t want otherwise. As it is, I have no such need: but I think if all my neighbours, enemies, and friends own guns, there becomes a certain onus on myself to get one to make sure I’m not a target. (I think of that as analgous as burgular alarms, which don’t stop crime, but instead change the houses which get targetted: which forces everyone to get burgular alarms even though they’d all be equally well off if none had one)

    Alex

  26. Rad Geek

    Alex:

    My earlier point was primarily that you can’t defend gun control simply by saying that it is part of your inherant liberty — and I think you’ve admitted that in so far as you’re bringing in further empirical facts to bear on the case.

    Well, no, I just have different dialectical strategies for different occasions. My basic moral reason for opposing gun control legislation is that I don’t think that anyone’s got the right to stop me (or you) from getting and keeping a gun without evidence that it poses an actionable threat to them. (This may justify, say, taking guns away from people convicted of violent crimes if it’s likely that they may do it again; I don’t think it can justify ex ante restrictions on gun ownership or purchase for all of us ordinary civilians.) Roughly because as long as there no specific threats of aggression are being made, you (or I) have got a right to self-defense and to prepare ourselves for it, as far as you (or I) deem necessary, using the fruits of our honest labor. The class-based political reasons that I explain above are also a genuine reason to oppose gun control legislation. I don’t think they are the primary reason; I do think that they are a reason people coming from the Left often have an easier time recognizing.

    That said, I think that this debate is probably better had in a post dedicated to the topic. I’ll probably have something more to say about your comments here in a later post or on the post that you linked to.

  27. Alex Gregory

    The post I should have linked to, incidentally, is this one – although its obviously only short.

    Also, I’d be interested to hear if you think your above argument applies to nuclear weapons as well, and if not, why not.

    But yes, a distinct discussion may be best.

    Thanks, Alex

  28. Eric

    Alex Gregory:

    Also, I’d be interested to hear if you think your above argument applies to nuclear weapons as well, and if not, why not.

    I’d apply the same argument but get a different conclusion. A neighbour in possession of a gun might not pose an actionable threat, but one in possession of a nuclear weapon would.

  29. Rad Geek

    Eric, I think that’s basically right; the fact that there are no defensive uses of nuclear weapons (since there’s no way to use them that doesn’t involve massive killing of non-combatants) makes a reasonable case for treating mere possession as an actionable threat. Not so for firearms, which have lots of purely defensive uses. That said, extended debate on this or related point would probably be better directed to Alex’s brief post on gun control, where the debate has already been joined.

  30. Anonymous22

    Eric, I think that’s basically right; the fact that there are no defensive uses of nuclear weapons (since there’s no way to use them that doesn’t involve massive killing of non-combatants) makes a reasonable case for treating mere possession as an actionable threat.

    There’s an easy way around that one as well; suppose a mad scientist lives alone on a mountain in the middle of the desert, and several evil governments want to move in and take over his mountain base. In such a case a nuclear weapon could have a defensive purpose (or better yet, imagine a conflict in outer space, like on Star Trek, where nuclear weapons (or the equivalent) are indeed sometimes deployed defensively.

· March 2006 ·

  1. LL

    Bidinotto has clearly become more and more rabid and very unpleasant. I stopped reading him for that very reason. It was more than I could endure. Some of this is no doubt his hanging out on the discussion group of some really unpleasant Objectivists connected with some nut case from New Zealand. They specialize in vile attacks, vicious innuendo and smearing anyone who disagrees with them. And when they’ve had a few drinks they get worse.

— 2008 —

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