Thursday, April 24, 2008

Quite Possibly The Least Intelligent Blather I've Read This Week

Warning! The following is a long winded post which devolves into military history and so on and so forth which you may find completely boring. If you manage to read all the way to the end, you have my admiration.

Check out this bit of back and forth on Megan McArdle's blog at the Atlantic. McArdle has gotten into a bit of a dustup with Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald over the Bush administrations use of torture. In one of the responses on McArdle's blog she writes:
I said that what the Bush administration has done was not the result of choosing what Glenn Greenwald called an "aggressive" war in Iraq. (To be distinguished, presumably, from the peaceful, passive sorts of wars that other countries have.)
I'm certain that McArdle intended for this riposte to be construed as obvious and witty, but she seriously misses the mark. Nearly by definition, if a war is not aggressive it is defensive. Wars may be fought to defend your own nation or another nation we have treaty obligations to defend without being aggressive, so the substance of McArdles half witted parenthetical riposte to Greenwald is manifestly vapid.

Of course one would expect a widely read blogger on a very popular website to take some heat for such a weird statement, and the comments section of the post in question does not disappoint. Unfortunately for McArdle, she chooses to engage one of her commenters in defense of her wrong headed point, and that exchange is as follows:
I thought that a war is supposed to only be fought as a matter of self-defense. If you aren't defending yourself or an ally against aggression, then you are the one initiating violence without cause. And I'm pretty sure that there's a word for killing people without a defensive justification. It starts with the letter M...
Posted by thoreau |
I don't think that's quite right, Thoreau. We weren't defending ourselves against the Japanese or the Germans, who had zero capability to conquer the United States or even inflict much serious harm on us. Nor was the north defending itself against the south, which had no interest in occupying it. We chose those wars, in my opinion rightly, as payback for attacks on our territory that did limited damage to non-military capacity. (And for other reasons besides, of course, but that was at least part of the basic motivation.)
Posted by Megan McArdle
Now there are certainly many examples of past American wars of aggression (the Mexican war and the Indian wars are striking examples, and in fact the crimes committed during the Indian wars in particular provide backing to Greenwald case) but McArdle is widely off the mark in describing the causes of WWII and the Civil War. In fact she so completely twists the causation of those wars as to seriously call the credibility of her opinion on this entire matter into serious doubt.

I am particularly interested in the Civil War, and McArdle's take exactly mirrors that of the southern dead enders and modern day Confederate sympathizers whose favored name for that war is "The War Of Northern Aggression". It is certainly true that the South did not immediately invade the north, but it is also true that President Lincoln was not wrong in asserting his rights as commander in chief of the entire United States of America. In fact the South did initiate hostilities against Fort Sumter after the commander in chief attempted to provision the fort.

One would be hard pressed to favor the terminology of the southern lost cause crowd under any other situation in world history. When one part of a nation attempts to overthrow the central government and establish their own self rule through force of arms, that is the definition of Civil War. It is not aggression for the central government to assert control of their own territories.

The McArdle/lost cause, war of aggression logic provides the building blocks for the recent and widely ridiculed assertion from the wingnuts at Redstate that McCain's 100 years in Iraq makes perfect sense... IF we consider that the United States has peacefully occupied the south, with a standing army, for longer than that!

All of this is certainly fascinating from my perspective, but I'm a big civil war buff and anyone reading this post has probably had their eyes glaze over. So let me move onto the other citation by McArdle in reply to Thoreau. Just to refresh our memories McArdle opens her mouth and inserts her foot with the following sentence: "We weren't defending ourselves against the Japanese or the Germans, who had zero capability to conquer the United States or even inflict much serious harm on us."

This is one of the most patently absurd statements I've ever seen. I feel goofy for even rebutting it to be honest because the history is so obvious. But I suppose if I'm going to flame McArdle for that quote I have to justify my take, so here goes.

Has McArdle ever heard of Pearl Harbor? There is this very famous quote from the president at the time... who said that December 7 1941 was a date which "will live in infamy." It's not like America went willy nilly across the Pacific ocean looking to pick a fight with Japan.

McArdle's take about Japan and Germany posing no real threat to American security is belied by the damage done with the attack on Pearl harbor, as well as the harvest of dead and wounded taken from the ranks of the American services during the course of the war. Nations which don't represent a real threat to America do pretty freaking well when they wipe out our pacific fleet and kill us by the hundreds of thousands... which doesn't even touch on the German near miss with their nuclear weapons program. It certainly was a grave error in judgement when Japan initiated war with America, but they weren't bringing boxing gloves to a gun fight.

As for Germany, I would tend to be more forgiving of McArdle for getting this wrong than I was at the Japan gaffe, because the bit of trivia I'm about to give is hardly as infamous as Pearl Harbor. But the fact is that Germany and Italy declared war upon us four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The notion that the war would extend to Europe in the days after Pearl Harbor but prior to Germany's declaration of war was hardly a settled issue. The first hostilities between America and Germany were initiated in mid January when German U-boats began patrolling the eastern seaboard and the toll they took on shipping was enormous.

McArdle just digs herself in deeper by asserting that America chose to march into aggressive warfare in the Civil War and WWII "as payback for attacks on our territory that did limited damage to non-military capacity." At this point you just have to throw your hands up and surrender to the dingbattiness. Pearl Harbor was an attack which did "limited damage to non-military capacity"?! Just exactly what does she mean by non-military capacity anyway? Is she under the impression that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was intended as a mighty blow against Hawaii's international sugar distribution network which went horribly awry? McArdle seems to be under the misapprehension that we were facing opponents who learned their methods from the Vikings, Atilla the Hun and General Sherman. The way they meant to defeat us was to rampage throughout the land, bringing ruin to society as we know it... but thank goodness, their success was limited.

It may be the case that McArdle is extremely intelligent and well spoken on many issues, but her take on American military history is simply mind boggling. She would be well served to remember that there are quite often times when the best thing one can do in order make oneself seem more intelligent is to leave ones mouth closed in the first place. I suggest the next time the subject of aggressive vs defensive war and American military history are raised in her presence that she just clam up.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
erm... anyone who wonders about the comment I deleted, it was an advertisement for stun guns. When I first started this blog I used to get several spam comments on each post from advertisers. After a couple of weeks of that I activated the comment verification feature. I can't recall any other advertiser comments since I did that, but the stun gun people had to go ruin it for me...
Yep, looks like more revisionist history needed to be debunked in an attempt to actually make the Iraq war look legitimate - good job.
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