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The innocent and the guilty

May 24th, 2003

Tim Dunlop links to this report in the Christian Science Monitor providing survey estimates that the number of civilian deaths in the war on Iraq was between 5000 and 10 000. (Thanks also to Jack Strocchi who alerted me to the same piece).

Tim quotes the following claim from Bush

With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.

and implies that these figures may prove him wrong.

My view is that, if serving in the Iraqi army and obeying orders makes you ‘guilty’ then Bush’s claim has been validated. I think it’s clear that the number of Iraqi soldiers killed was many times greater than the number of civilians, and must have been in the tens of thousands. Many of these ‘guilty’ soldiers were conscripts, and all faced the threat of being shot for desertion if they did not fight. And civilians are still dying in large numbers as a result of the chaos produced by the war, including crime and breakdown of basic services.

The decision to overthrow Saddam by force and to impose a government of occupation has imposed a huge moral responsibility on the countries that took that decision. As I’ve argued previously, producing a sustainable Iraqi democracy will take years of effort and cost tens of billions of dollars. The US was prepared to spend the billions on war, but it has budgeted almost nothing for the peace.

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  1. May 25th, 2003 at 15:23 | #1

    The US was prepared to spend the billions on war, but it has budgeted almost nothing for the peace. Yes, but we shouldn’t be surprised by this given the ideology of the Bush administration. The corporate sector can look after this. See Tariq Ali’s piece Business as usual in yesterday’s Guardian.

  2. May 25th, 2003 at 20:51 | #2

    They’re naive if they think the corporate sector can do the job. Their money may flow, but when the economic jitters set in, as it inevitably will at some point, the money will flow out just as fast. The corporate sector is not the best at ‘sticking it out’ when their profits are looking a little shaky.

  3. May 25th, 2003 at 23:01 | #3

    by your logic, if someone was forced to do evil, then we shouldnt try and stop them, if it means killing them…

    its tough luck if you were in the saudi army and your choices are desertion and being shot by the iraqis or fighting and being shot by the americans…this has nothing, repeat nothing, to do with the justification for war*…

    german soldiers under the third reich faced essentially the same options…we didnt stop bombing them, because “they had no choice”

    you know the worlds gone nuts when you start to hear these type of morals come into discussion about war**.

    *justification of war surrounds the consequences of invasion, obviously one of which is killing the enemies soldiers. that we have to kill lots of them does weigh into the equation, and whether the benefits are worth that human cost. whether they have a choice does not.

    **war is (hopefully) about stopping your enemy from commiting some greater evil later. this means killing their soldiers. again, whether theyre soldiers have no choice, or whether theyre robotic fighting machines again has nothing to do with it. thats not fair, and i dont like it, but thats the way it is. the difference with civilians is you dont have to kill them to defeat your enemy. you do have to kill soldiers who have no choice.

  4. May 25th, 2003 at 23:01 | #4

    damn i said saudi at some point and meant iraqi…

  5. May 26th, 2003 at 02:00 | #5

    Pr Q is correct that the US has an obligation to pay compensation to the civilians of both Afghanistan and Iraq, who were collateral damage in the US’s war against:
    Bolshevik communism in S. Asia during the eighties
    Baathist fascism in the S.W. Asia during the nineties
    The world is well rid of both regimes but, as the history of the Suuni Taliban and the currency of Shiites Ayatollahs indicates, the regimes that came in the post war anarchy may be worse.
    Thus, from a personal moral and geo-political strategic perspective, the US needs to take it’s reconstruction and recompensing budgets in both states and multiply them by ten.
    Fat chance with the Republican tax cutters in the saddle.
    I accept and concede PR Q’s argument that Iraqi military casualties were likely > 20,000.
    Thus in GW I, there were serious (dead or badly wounded) casualties of about
    civilian – 5,000
    military – 30,000
    GW II took only half the time that GW I took,
    but appears to have inflicted the same number of total casualties owing to high intensity round the clock targetting.
    Still, many Iraqi soldiers deserted their posts prior to hostilities which explains why there were few prisoners.

    “In northern Iraq, between 43 and 75% of regular soldiers…have already fled. Iraqi tribal leaders in the region have also abandoned Saddam and defected to the Kurds in the northern no-fly zone…In and around Baghdad, the desertion rate is lower, but even among Saddam’s elite Republican Guard divisions, whose loyalty to their leader has been unquestioned until now, 23% have deserted.”

    This is why SH resorted to poltically controlled fedayeens to fight in the South and Baghdad.
    It is also clear from reports, as I guessed at the time, that many of the so-called civilian casualties were baathist enforcers or fedayeen irregulars, who were engaged in fighting but committing war crimes by using civilian shields and not wearing uniforms.

    So c8to is right about the moral difference between killing civilians and soldiers
    - esp in a fascist regime like Baathist Iraq.
    Wars of social ideology are about destroying malignant regimes , not acquiring real estate or killing people.
    In a fascist regime, the army provides the core of the political leadership.
    Thus the Baathist regime was essentially a junta, the last hangover from the WWII fascism,
    which is consistent with SH’s record as an officer & his cabinet always appearing in uniform.
    To destroy the Baathist regime the US had to destroy the core of the Iraqi Army
    - the all-volunteer, better paid and more ideological Republican Guard. (which has been implicated in most of the B regimes mass murders)
    Prior to the initiation of hostilities the US attempted to dissuade RG officers from fighting using both psy-ops & bribes.
    It then targetted RG facilities with precision weapons. Many RGers deserted their posts, as the masses of discarded uniforms and empty vehicles indicated.
    Those that stayed and fought were either unlucky to have powerful & brutal officers or they were die-hard supporters of a fascist regime.
    I truly regret the unlucky “only following orders under threat of punishment” soldiers. They were no more guilty than the killed civilians.
    In the case of loyal die-hards, Bush’s characterisation of them as “guilty” seems fair & reasonable.
    From the evidence of last ditch stands and suicidal charges it would appear that a fairly large proportion of the RG’s > 20,000 casualties were in the last category.
    I can’t lose a lot of sleep over these RG casualties. The die hards were determined to sacrifice their own & their citizens lives to perpetuate a war criminal fascist regime for a dynastic term. They were guilty alright.

  6. derrida derider
    May 26th, 2003 at 17:52 | #6

    “the regimes that came in the post war anarchy may be worse”

    So the poor bloody Iraqis are no better off, there were no WMDs and the links with al Quaeda were fantasy – all EXACTLY as opponents of the war said.

    So remind me again, Jack, why this war was a good thing.

  7. Andrew
    May 26th, 2003 at 21:08 | #7

    Surely Mr Derider you should realise that it is better to be seen to do something, even foolish, rather than be patient and look ineffective. First law of corporate survival.

  8. May 28th, 2003 at 15:22 | #8

    You should not take into account only the victims of the war, but also the people whose lives were saved by the war.

    If this is serves as any indication, there were more than half a million fatal iraki (not counting iranian) victims in the irak-iran war.

    Now, if ataking Bush and defending Saddam meakes you feek good, god bless you.

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