Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Haditha and Christopher Hitchens

Anytime you're looking for someone to say something either extremely obvious or thoroughly incoherent about the situation in Iraq, but with great vehemence, Christopher Hitchens is your man. He is at it again in Slate, arguing that Haditha is not like My Lai.

I hadn't heard much of this talk, so I was curious who was actually making this claim. Hitchens has his sources. He says there's been a lot of "glib talk about My Lai." This, in the style of Internet journalism, hyperlinks somewhere. And where does it hyperlink? Yes, to another Hitchens article about why Iraq isn't like Vietnam. Is Hitchens accusing himself of glib talk?

Well, no: My Lai is never mentioned in his article. Is it mentioned in the New York Times article that he links to, which compares Vietnam and Iraq? No: that article was written long before Haditha, and mentions no massacres. Anyway, before I analyze the rest of this argument, I would just like to make something absolutely clear about this: Christopher Hitchens is a liar. If you link to something that is supposed to corrobate your argument, and it leads here, then you are either being dishonest or are just an incompetent journalist. Why do people keep publishing this guy?

Here are some of Hitchens main points: My Lai took all day; more people were killed. The army now warns people not to do such things again. Indeed, all of this is true. I waited to see where this was headed, but then he switches gears, which I must say is one of his characteristic moves:
The other difference, one ought not need add, is that in My Lai the United States was fighting the Vietcong. A recent article about the captured diary of a slain female Vietnamese militant (now a best seller in Vietnam) makes it plain that we were vainly attempting to defeat a peoples' army with a high morale and exalted standards. I, for one, will not have them insulted by any comparison to the forces of Zarqawi, the Fedayeen Saddam, and the criminal underworld now arrayed against us.

Indeed, one ought not need add this, Mr. Hitchens; I will throughly concede that these massacres took place in two different countries. Two different enemies were involved. They even took place, yes, more than thirty years apart. Why has no one else thought to point this out?

Then he marches forward with his apparent argument: the Vietcong were a people's army and he won't have them compared -- simply won't -- to Zarqawi and the other monsters we are now fighting. What? But we were talking about the massacre of one group of women and children, and comparing it with the (alleged) massacre of another group of women and children. What in the world does this have to do with the nobility or savagery of the enemy we are fighting? Is it better to shoot down a village full of civilians in a just war or an unjust war? Hitchens doesn't care; he wants to get indignant about yet another straw man. (He wisely decides to link nowhere to prove this point; I have not heard anyone praising Zarqawi's methods or congratulating him as a freedom fighter.)

Then Hitchens goes forth to take a bold position. Apparently, some insurgent elements are actually trying to make American soldiers jittery about the civilian population by sending suicide bombers. So what does this mean? "As with the foul policy above, the awful thing about this charming policy is that it works. Which leads us to one very important conclusion: Any coalition soldier who relieves his rage by discharging a clip is by definition doing Zarqawi's work for him, and even in a way obeying his orders. If anything justifies a court-martial, then surely that does."

So here is the grand finale. A soldier who shoots a civilian should be court martialed, because it's bad for America's status in Iraq. Well said, Mr. Hitchens. I too believe that a soldier - no matter how rattled his nerves might be - who walks through a village and shoots women and children, and then proceeds to cover it up by filing a false report, should be punished. And I also think that My Lai and Haditha are two different things, and that both are awful. Can I get published in Slate for saying it, or in The Atlantic, which also continually publishes this guy's useless articles? I sure hope so, because I could use the money. Here's an idea for my first article: Iraq is in the Middle East. Now all I need is a suitably vehement first sentence, preferably a little orotund: "All across the media, you can see people arguing about the position of Iraq on the globe, first saying that it is located in South America, and others arguing that it is in fact in Asia. But this is absurdly false..."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very well-written article. Couldn't agree more.

See also this article on Hitchen's Haditha piece:

Hitchens - the final collapse