Sunday, December 31, 2006

Greg Djerejian and others comment on Saddam

(This is turning into a summary post of comments from a variety of sources. All are about the same topic, so I see no need to split them out into separate posts. Sorry, but it's about twelve or fifteen monitor screens in length.)

Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch: (More at the link.)

I will shed no tears for Saddam Hussein. An odious genocidaire, he ranks high in the pantheon of 20th Century monsters. But it is clear as day that this judicial process, not least the rush to execution, positively reeked of victor's justice. This is not to say the trial could not have been even worse, as genuine attempts by some in the USG were made to assist the Iraqi authorities in putting together a credible tribunal. But, like the rest of the Iraq War, it was mostly a fiasco (see here for detail regarding some of the many shortcomings in the process).


John F. Burns, writing in the New York Times: (Much more at the link. Very good article.)

Almost the only chink in his prideful armor showed when he demanded at the Dujail trial that he be shot by firing squad, the privilege as he told it, due to him as the — still legitimate, as he claimed — commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces. That plea was quickly denied by the chief judge. It was a point never again raised by Saddam, who took, at the end, to proclaiming his eagerness to die as a “martyr” for Iraq, and his belief that this would earn his passage to paradise. But the plea to be spared hanging suggested that fear — of humiliation, if not of death — was a close companion during the 1,000-odd days he spent in solitary confinement in Camp Cropper.

Of other strains of humanity there was little sign. During the Dujail trial, and just as much during the Anfal trial that followed, at which Saddam and six other defendants were accused of murdering as many as 180,000 Kurds in the late 1980’s, he showed no hint of remorse as survivors of the torture chambers and the desert internment camps and, in the case of the Anfal campaign, the chemical weapons attacks and the mass graves, told their pitiful stories. Head to one side, hand pressed to his head, fingers splayed, writing detailed notes on yellow legal pads, Saddam listened impassively to the accounts of women hung upside down to be beaten, of sons holding wet cloths to their faces and finding the twisted bodies of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers heaped in an agony of death from mustard-gas attacks, and of young men who scrambled back to life from beneath the bloodied bodies of fellow villagers in remote pits scraped from the desert wadis of Iraq.


Saddam, prideful to the last, left much of the caviling over prison conditions to his erstwhile minions. And shortly before he was sentenced to death, he demonstrated, inadvertently, that in the shrunken world of his captivity he remained the leader who dare not be defied. An American official who worked closely with the Iraqi court told of watching on a closed-circuit relay as Saddam and other defendants in the Dujail trial waited one day in a holding room off the courtroom floor. At the time, Saddam had declared a hunger strike on his own and his associates’ behalf in protest of the Dujail case continuing after the walkout of the defense lawyers, who had been replaced by counsel appointed by the court.

At one end of the room, visible on the surveillance cameras, was a table laid with food, including cellophane-wrapped oatmeal biscuits of the kind available in every American military canteen in Iraq. Thinking his fellow defendants were distracted, one of the accused, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president renowned even among Saddam’s henchman for his brutality, slipped two pockets of biscuits into his pocket, only for Saddam to march on him demanding to know who gave him permission to eat. Mr. Ramadan, the American official said, denied he had taken anything from the table. “Empty your pockets, you betrayer!” Saddam demanded. Whereupon Mr. Ramadan lamely admitted his guilt and, with the sheepish deference born of two decades in Saddam’s inner circle, returned the biscuits to his basket.

Blogger Mad Canuck calls the execution a "farce." And makes a good case. (More at the link.)
After Saddam is put on the trapdoor and the noose is placed over his neck, he begins to quietly pray. His prayers are drowned out by one of the executioners and some members of the crowd shouting, "Muqtada, Muqdada, Muqtada!"
Saddam retorted from the gallows: "Muqtada? Is this how you show your bravery as men? Is this the bravery of Arabs?"
Members of the crowd drowned out Saddam with calls of, "Straight to hell!", and "Long live Mohammed Baqir Sadr!"
Finally, someone (perhaps one of the executioners) calls out to the crowd, "Please, I am begging you not to, the man is being executed."
At this point the trapdoor opens, Saddam drops, and the crowd erupts in cheers.
There are two things I find profoundly disturbing about this video. Firstly, is completely
unprofessional for an executioner or witnesses to an execution to taunt the condemned man, drowning out his prayers with vicious taunts. The condemned man is set to die - why does it need to be made cruel? Did these men taunt Saddam using the name of Sadr on purpose, knowing their taunts would be captured on video?
In addition to the taunts, it is completely inappropriate for the crowd at the execution to be dancing and rejoicing. No matter how much one may dislike a man or his crimes, it is never right to rejoice over his death.
The barbarity of Saddam's execution, the video of it quickly released to Iraqi television, and the execution timed to coincide with the start of a holy day for Sunni Muslims but not for Shias - all of these things seem to be a carefully crafted message from members of the Shia dominated government to the Sunni minority: we don't care what you think, we are running things now, and we will do whatever we want without regard to you. And, in conducting the execution in this spiteful way, the execution team has damaged and undermined some of the credibility the court worked hard to build up, and Iraq has taken a further step towards fractionalism, and sectarian alienation.
A sad day for Iraq, for America, and for the world.
In a very long post with many links, Juan Cole recounts USA-Saddam connections reaching back to 1959. America has been poisoning this well for decades and in the overall narrative the death of Saddam Hussein is just another footnote. Reading Cole's post makes me feel dirty as a citizen. Incidentally, anyone who wants to nit-pick needs to do so over at Juan Cole's place, not here. If you don't like what is posted here, just move on to someplace else. The following ten points are only snips with links disabled. Cole's post is full of supporting links.
1) The first time the US enabled Saddam Hussein came in 1959. In that year, a young Saddam, from the boondock town of Tikrit but living with an uncle in Baghdad, tried to assassinate Qasim. He failed and was wounded in the leg. Saddam had, like many in his generation, joined the Baath Party, which combined socialism, Arab nationalism, and the aspiration for a one-party state.
2) After the failed coup attempt, Saddam fled to Cairo, where he attended law school in between bar brawls, and where it is alleged that he retained his CIA connections there, being put on a stipend by the agency via the Egyptian government.
3) In February of 1963 the military wing of the Baath Party, which had infiltrated the officer corps and military academy, made a coup against Qasim, whom they killed. There is evidence from Middle Eastern sources, including interviews conducted at the time by historian Hanna Batatu, that the CIA cooperated in this coup and gave the Baathists lists of Iraqi Communists (who were covert, having infiltrated the government or firms).
4) In 1968, the civilian wing of the Baath Party came to power in a second coup.
5) The second Baath regime in Iraq disappointed the Nixon and Ford administrations by reaching out to the tiny remnants of the Communist Party and by developing good relations with the Soviet Union. In response, Nixon supported the Shah's Iran in its attempts to use the Iraqi Kurds to stir up trouble for the Baath Party, of which Saddam Hussein was a behind the scenes leader.
6) When Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, he again caught the notice of US officials. The US was engaged in an attempt to contain Khomeinism and the new Islamic Republic. Especially after the US faced attacks from radicalized Shiites in Lebanon linked to Iran, and from the Iraqi Da`wa Party, which engaged in terrorism against the US and French embassies in Kuwait, the Reagan administration determined to deal with Saddam from late 1983, giving him important diplomatic encouragement.
7) The US gave practical help to Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War...
8) The Reagan administration worked behind the scenes to foil Iran's motion of censure against Iraq for using chemical weapons.
9) The Reagan administration not only gave significant aid to Saddam, it attempted to recruit other friends for him.
10) After the Gulf War of 1991, when Shiites and Kurds rose up against Saddam Hussein, the Bush senior administration sat back and allowed the Baathists to fly helicopter gunships and to massively repress the uprising. President GHW Bush had called on Iraqis to rise up against their dictator, but when they did so he left them in the lurch. This inaction, deriving from a fear that a Shiite-dominated Iraq would ally with Tehran, allowed Saddam to remain in power until 2003.
Along the same lines, Robert Fisk traces the origins of Saddam's horrible legacy to the US and its allies. (The "we" in this quote refers to Britain, not the US. This is from the Independent from the UK.)
Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.
This piece by Josh Marshall is two days old, written prior to the execution, but it is getting a lot of traffic according to BlogsNow. I was impressed when I read it the first time. This deserves a link in this collection. It's twice as long as this snip, but you get the idea.
This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.
Try to dress this up as an Iraqi trial and it doesn't come close to cutting it -- the Iraqis only take possession of him for the final act, sort of like the Church always left execution itself to the 'secular arm'. Try pretending it's a war crimes trial but it's just more of the pretend mumbojumbo that makes this out to be World War IX or whatever number it is they're up to now.
The Iraq War has been many things, but for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren't grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake pulls no punches. She is clearly sickened by the whole spectacle.
...I had to turn the TV off yesterday in the midst of the ghoulish execution watch and today I feel a bit dirty. There's a funny taste in my mouth and everything feels wrong and out of sorts. Perhaps it is not the final coda to the events of 9/11, but it is most certainly some sort of interstitial bookend and I cannot help but feel that as a nation we failed.
We are not what we pretend to be. As Americans we like to believe that we act with wisdom and good judgment, and those on the right who cheered on this war most vociferously did so out of a conviction that we are a nation possessed of indominable moral rectitude. Even as they claimed the right as the world's policemen to dethrone and execute Saddam Hussein for his crimes against humanity, they openly mock Jimmy Carter for his insistence that human rights be placed in the vanguard of American foreign policy considerations. For this he is considered weak and naive. In the end I just don't believe that more than one in a hundred Americans knew that Saddam was ostensibly executed for his role in the 1982 killing of 148 Shiite Muslims, nor did they care. I would be willing to bet more still believed that Saddam had ties to Al-Quaeda, a role in the 9/11 hijackings or god help us all, weapons of mass destruction. Somewhere in the distance between political opportunism and national bloodlust the reasons for his death can be found. It's a fetid pile of refuse I'm not particularly interested in picking at just now.
Any sympathy I might feel for Saddam's plight would find him standing at the end of a very long line of victims of this war, and it's not even an abhorrance of the death penalty that moves me today (although I most certainly feel that this is nothing a civilized nation has any place engaging in). That sickened feeling in my stomach seems to mark some kind of new low to which we have fallen, murder as PR to inch the arctic approval ratings of the pathalogical boy king and his disastrous war incrementally upward. Codpiece justice and death-as-photo-op reign supreme. Perhaps this is just the last, gruesome swan song of a morally bankrupt right wing as it exits center stage, the perverse final chorus it sings in its death throes.

Mark Lynch has collected a bunch of links from ME media sources. His take seems to be the event was not as problematical as the timing, but he has a plausible insight, that quibbling over the timing of the execution enabled American allies among the Arabs (such as remain) to avoid making public pronouncements about more substantive topics.
Whereas I'd reckon that much of the anger among Iraqi Sunnis and the Arab public is genuine, I would also point out that this outrage over the Eid issue is very convenient for Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan (precisely the ones which have spoken up most loudly): it lets them spout public - pleasing rhetoric over a side-issue without saying much of anything about the their unpopular positions on the deeper issues. Easy for them to score some cheap points by being on the "right" side of the Eid issue so that nobody pays attention to where they stand on the bigger Iraq or Iran or Palestinian or other issues. (Next thing you know, they'll find some tasteless cartoons about the execution published in an obscure European newspaper to get upset about.) And at the same time, by directing popular anger at the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, it also helps them fan the sectarian (anti-Shia) flames which many of these governments seem determined to ignite.
Salam Adil may have the most realistic of all comments. His post is labeled The Mother of all Smokescreens.
Bush is in a fix and needs time badly. The Iraq Study Group report is hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles. And after the split of the Sadrists from the Iraqi government, its unity is hanging by thread. The execution of Saddam Hussain will buy time. It placates the American public on one side and the Sadrists on the other. Saddam's execution is a big smoke screen to hide an ugly policy. As proposed by the American Enterprise Institute, a huge military surge as a last gamble to secure Iraq. By its own admission, this policy will cost billions and kill hundreds. .
But its the last desperate throw of a dying empire and after this, the only way is down.Saddam had his Mother of All Battles but nothing will be left of the Mother of All Smoke Screens after the wind blows it away. The emperor has no clothes and it's showing.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Fat Lady Sings -- Death of a Tyrant

Found via a comment left at Wampum, this is worth keeping.

Saddam is dead. They hanged him just a few hours ago. That he deserved to die is true - Saddam Hussein was a sadistic sociopath; but there are many who deserve execution in our world today. I don’t like that we had a hand in it. I don’t like that it was video-taped for the slavering masses – his executioners shown dancing around the body, firing guns into the air. What makes them any different from all the others celebrating torture and death on the streets of Baghdad? His death makes me feel dirty; and it shouldn’t. But then I felt dirty when the bullet riddled bodies of his sons were shown all over the TV. This is America – not ancient Rome. Americans don’t parade dead bodies down Main Street – or at least we didn’t used to. But then it seems there are a lot of things we do now that used to be considered abhorrent. Frankly – I’m surprised they only hanged Hussein without drawing and quartering him as well. But who knows? Maybe when its Ahmadinejad’s turn we’ll have him eaten by lions.

And yes, I have added her to my blogroll. This is a creature after my own heart.

President Bush doesn't seem to have any qualms about either the execution or its consequences, moral or otherwise. This from the NT Times...
Before the hanging was carried out in Baghdad, Mr. Bush went to sleep here at his ranch and was not roused when the news came. In a statement written in advance, the president said the execution would not end the violence in Iraq.

A YouTube video to the event didn't take long. I don't care to embed the link but you can see it at Zayed's blog, Healing Iraq.
The fear is evident on his face as he struggles to appear calm. He reportedly tried to resist when American soldiers handed him over to Iraqi guards, but then grew quiet and calm as he accepted a fate that was expected. The last moment appeal to a U.S. judge by Saddam's lawyers to stay the execution was rejected.

The Shi'ite executioners and witnesses were reported to have danced around Saddam's corpse after he was hanged while chanting Shi'ite religious slogans. The same situation was reported from the Green Zone by Al-Arabiya TV reporters who said members of the current Iraqi government were also celebrating. Iraqis took to the streets in Sadr City, Najaf and Basrah. Some carried portraits of Muqtada Al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, the new strongmen of Iraq.

Protests took place in Tikrit, Baiji, Fallujah, Ramadi and Garma, but so far there have been no violent reactions. Instead of visiting relatives or going out to parks, people had to stay home out of fear. According to an Iraqi law expert interviewed on Al-Arabiya TV, It is against Iraqi law to schedule an execution on an official or religious holiday, but he conceded that this was obviously a political decision.

I hope the execution of the tyrant brings relief to the families of his victims.

Michael J. Kelly, a law professor at Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska, argues that the trials of Saddam Hussein should continue posthumously. He makes some very good points. Time permitting, read his whole post.
...although the great tyrant is dead, his trial should continue - even if posthumously, on the question of guilt for the Anfal campaigns. His co-defendants in that trial will remain co-defendants, but his counsel should remain at table. The law that will come out of it is important, and the quality of the trial, such as it is, will only be heightened if Saddam's more sophisticated counsel remain in the game instead of leaving it to the counsel of his co-defendants alone. Moreover, Iraq's Kurds deserve to have their
victimhood, and Saddam's role in it, as legally recognized as the Shi'ite population. To be sure, the full extent of Saddam's atrocities will not be as completely appreciated as if he physically stood trial for all his crimes. But at least by letting the Anfal trial move forward, the IHT would finish some of what it started.

H/T Grotian Moment blog.

The comments thread at that site makes for interesting reading. No need for me to elaborate here. Readers can find it themselves and come to their own conclusions. Unlike most threads, this one seems to come from several intelligent people who know what they are talking about.

From a Muslim commentator:...All moslems today felt insulted by the assassination of our President Saddam Hussein on this particular day. I wish you knew arabic to read some of the comments. The general idea is this : Eid Al Adha which is the Greatest Feast, because in Islam there are two main Eids, one is Lesser "Eid al Fetr" that is "break-fasting" which comes after Ramadan, the month of fasting, and this Eid which comes after a major event i.e. the Pilgrimage. In both Eids and especially the Greater, it is forbidden to kill, fight or spell blood "other than the lamb". It is a Feast of reconciliation and forgiveness. Imagine to kill Saddam Hussein who is a moslem and viewed by all arabs and moslems as a legitimate ruler, and by many as a hero, at such a day. We all "even by people who do not like Saddam" consider this planned with intention to insult the Arabs and Moslems.

From Paul Wolff...Today, all Muslims are thinking about the Feast of Sacrifice. Astonishingly, the first sacrificial lamb was none other than Saddam Hussein, the ousted President of Iraq. He was executed at about 6:00 this morning,...The Iraqi people have today sacrificed Saddam Hussein to God. Not unlike the symbol of Jesus, said to have given his own life and died for our sins. Yet like Saddam, Jesus had little choice in the matter. The timing of Saddam's death suggests more than martyrdom - it suggests he may someday be viewed as a prophet.Blasphemy? Of course it is, but don't blame it on me. I didn't pick the execution day, and only explain how this event may be viewed by many Muslims, today and in the future. Has this occured by accident? By an odd twist of fate?...

Also from the Muslim commentator... there is evidence from the pics which are displayed that his body was mulitated after death. Is this what American Justice is ? is this what you call "human rights" ? remember? he was a POW !! what is more they refuse to give his body to his family , perhaps to cover the violiation done to his dead body.Mr. Curtis ,as his lawyer,what are you going to do about these abuses of his rights living and dead? why do not you go to the UN and speak to the members, perhaps you can shame them, or speak to the Red Cross. Do not just talk to us here, we are helpless.

It's still not too late for decisions making an international public relations disaster even worse.

Update, Sunday morning:

Zayed's blog now has another link to a cellphone video making the rounds, which shows the "drop." Someone left the link in my comments section and I removed it. A soundtrack records what was being said at the time and Zayed furnishes the following translation and remarks:

Saddam (as the noose is put around his neck): Ya Allah (Oh God).

Someone in the audience: Mercy be on those who pray for Mohammed and the household of Muhammed (Everyone repeats the prayer, including Saddam) -

Executioner and two people in the audience: And hasten his return (the Mahdi), curse his enemy and grant victory to his son, Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada! (This is a common Sadrist chant.)

Saddam (smirking): Muqtada?

NSA Muwafaq Al-Rubai'i: To Hell!

Saddam: (laughing)

Prosecutor Munqidh Al-Far'awn: Please, no.

Muwafaq Al-Rubi'i: Longlive Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr!

Someone in the audience: To Hell!

Saddam (solemnly recites the Shahada prayer): I witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Mohammed is the messenger of Allah. I witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Mohammed is the- (trap door is opened).

Audience: Prayers for Mohammed and the household of Muhammed.

Someone: The tyrant has fell. May Allah's curse be upon him.

Someone: No. No. Stay back.

Someone: Leave him for 8 minutes. Don't take him down.

Someone: Everyone. Stay back.

There was no denouncing American and Persians after his last prayers, as this New York Times story says, but perhaps that was before he was led to the gallows. It utterly disgusts me that Sadr's supporters have infiltrated every level of the state, and that the witnesses, including Iraqi government officials, have made this look like a sectarian issue. They were doomed to repeat Iraqi history by hanging their former oppressor and labeling it as justice. In a perfect situation, Saddam's execution would have united Iraqis, but thanks to the actions of the new Iraqi rulers, it will only serve to divide further. I doubt any of them will prevail as much as Saddam did, though.

Wireless Internet in Africa...

...Rwanda, specifically. This is one of the most promising stories I have seen in a long time.

In Rwanda, among Africa's poorest countries, an American millionaire is developing one of the world's most modern wireless networks. The Rwandan government hopes the project will help make the country an African counterpart to the Indian high-tech city of Bangalore.

"Africa offers many investment opportunities," says an enthusiastic Greg Wyler, a boyish-looking man in his mid-thirties. "We simply have to bring the Internet into each of these huts, and the rest will fall into place." Wyler, an American entrepreneur, hopes to launch an "African Renaissance" with his project. His recipe for success is simple enough: free software, high-speed fiber-optic networks and unrestricted entrepreneurship.

Via Blake Hounshell. If this works, even a little bit, it should qualify Greg Wyler for well-earned thanks and recognition.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Riverbend on the eve of Saddam's execution

Saddam is scheduled to be hanged in the next few hours. Most sources say the time will be six o'clock in the morning, Baghdad time. Riverbend posts her first comments since November 2. Her essay is very bleak.

A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

2006 has been, decidedly, the worst year yet. No- really. The magnitude of this war and occupation is only now hitting the country full force. It's like having a big piece of hard, dry earth you are determined to break apart. You drive in the first stake in the form of an infrastructure damaged with missiles and the newest in arms technology, the first cracks begin to form. Several smaller stakes come in the form of politicians like Chalabi, Al Hakim, Talbani, Pachachi, Allawi and Maliki. The cracks slowly begin to multiply and stretch across the once solid piece of earth, reaching out towards its edges like so many skeletal hands. And you apply pressure. You surround it from all sides and push and pull. Slowly, but surely, it begins coming apart- a chip here, a chunk there.
...Bush has effectively created more terrorists in Iraq these last 4 years than Osama could have created in 10 different terrorist camps in the distant hills of Afghanistan. Our children now play games of 'sniper' and 'jihadi', pretending that one hit an American soldier between the eyes and this one overturned a Humvee.

This last year especially has been a turning point. Nearly every Iraqi has lost so much. So much. There's no way to describe the loss we've experienced with this war and occupation. There are no words to relay the feelings that come with the knowledge that daily almost 40 corpses are found in different states of decay and mutilation. There is no compensation for the dense, black cloud of fear that hangs over the head of every Iraqi. Fear of things so out of ones hands, it borders on the ridiculous- like whether your name is 'too Sunni' or 'too Shia'. Fear of the larger things- like the Americans in the tank, the police patrolling your area in black bandanas and green banners, and the Iraqi soldiers wearing black masks at the checkpoint.

Again, I can't help but ask myself why this was all done? What was the point of breaking Iraq so that it was beyond repair? Iran seems to be the only gainer. Their presence in Iraq is so well-established, publicly criticizing a cleric or ayatollah verges on suicide. Has the situation gone so beyond America that it is now irretrievable? Or was this a part of the plan all along? My head aches just posing the questions.
...Saddam no longer represents himself or his regime. Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shia). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is "Look- Sunni Arabs- this is your man, we all know this. We're hanging him- he symbolizes you." And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood (though low-budget, if you ask me).

Whether or not we like what she says, there can be no doubt that she speaks for a lot of Iraqis. She speaks especially for non-combatants who have been injured or killed or lost a loved one in this war. Can anyone argue that the role of the US military has made the casualty count lower than it might have been otherwise?

This is why I like lawyer blogs

This post at VC is a riot.
Be sure to read the comments.

...I *did* see the Playboy pictures, which actually made her look less attractive than she did in her clothes. Just a little weird looking. Though as my boss would put it, if she ate crackers in my bed, I still wouldn't throw her out.

...According to the complaint (and her blog), it appears that the defendant was a part-time prostitute on the Hill while working fulltime as a Sen. Dewine staffer. Maybe the Republicans deserved to lose afterall...

And how about this couplet?

Comment: ...I'm a little freaked out at the amazon ad on this page for "Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats" - is it context sensitive?

Reply: I think the Amazon ads are determined by your Amazon cookie. At least they seem to be for things that I've been shopping for on Amazon. This can be kind of disconcerting if you have been Xmas shopping for people with a wide range of tastes. Shopping for my teenaged daughter, twenty something son, my wife, and my mother made for a really strange ad until I figured what was going on. No comment on the "Pimps, Whores, etc." and your shopping habits. NTTAWWT.

Totten is back from Lebanon -- Updated

December 21

Michael J. Totten has returned from a short "under the radar" trip to Hezbollah country in Lebanon. I'm looking forward to his report(s). If events of the last four years have done nothing else they have enabled a handful of able journalists to report what has happened up close and personal. Too many, sadly, have been killed in the process. Every time someone like Totten drops from view for a week or two there is real reason to fear for his safety.

...I went to Hezbollah’s southern “capital” of Bint Jbail, and also to their blasted-apart command and control center in the dahiyeh, the suburb south of Beirut. I’m on their “list,” so to speak, and it was both easier and safer to work without announcing my presence and giving them the chance to run interference.

I felt slightly ridiculous, like I was being too paranoid – the odds that Hezbollah would actually hurt me were miniscule. They haven’t committed any violence toward Westerners for many years. But they could have broken or confiscated my equipment and kicked me out of their area. Fortunately they did neither.

Guest blogger Abu Kais cross-posted to Totten's blog during his absence. Yesterday he posted this video pointing to the fractured political scene in Lebanon. It raises a question: When will the cedars of Lebanon become a single forest?

Added December 29

Totten's report reflects his customary excellence. It is much too long for any snips to do it justice, so go to the link for his on the spot pictures and narrative. It's worth your time.

He is having a lot of trouble with trolls in the comments thread, however, and dealing with it much more patiently than I would.

...don’t take the comments section too seriously. I have a bit of a troll infestation, a gift from the self-described Angry Arab who attacks me in part because of my race. A link from his site is a comments section destroyer.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. The axe-grinding reactionaries in the comments do not even remotely represent the people of Lebanon. They represent the readers of Angry Arab. (The name says it all.)

I don’t think the professor (yes, he’s a professor) realizes what a spectacularly bad job he’s doing of public relations for his country. I should not have to clean up his mess on behalf of his countrymen, but here I am doing it. You will really have to excuse his fans. Please. Lebanon is far kinder, more tolerant, and more intelligent than they are. I am sorry for having to say this.

I rather doubt that when I post interviews with Lebanese who were used as human shields in July, and with an Iranian-educated Shia cleric from the dahiyeh who staunchly opposes Hezbollah that he'll feel like linking me anymore.

If you would like to see what Totten and some other bloggers look like, take a look at the pictures Judith Weiss posted. Anyone who thinks blogging is not journalism needs to pay closer attention. These are the movers and shakers of our time.

Saddam's execution as entertainment -- Update

Saturday morning:
I'm not embedding the YouTube video, but here is a link to another summary post in which one can be found. It was on Iraq television. I expect our own networks won't be far behind. You know the saying...if it bleeds, it leads. Well, there's usually no bleeding at a hanging, so it may not have enough oomph to make the lead.

Friday morning update:

They're not messing around. NBC is reporting that Saddam is to be hanged in the next thirty-six hours, in time to start the Eid holidays.

What was that about circuses?


Martin Kaplan contemplates how the hanging of Saddam Hussein will be handled by the media.

It's not hard to imagine the Iraqi authorities allowing cameras at the gallows. Even if they don't, it's not unlikely that a cellphone or two will somehow manage to video the execution. In either case, thanks to the 'Net, footage of the hanging will conceivably be globally available. What will the networks do?

On one side of the ledger, there's the issue of taste, and of the possibility that children are watching, plus that pesky what-kind-of-society-are-we? question, none of which has so far prevented the mass media from depicting the most barbaric violence in their entertainment programming, or from covering car chases or hostage situations with the never-to-be-admitted hope of capturing a fatal money shot on tape.

On the other side, there's the this-is-news argument, and the deterrence rationale, and the fear that they'll be eating the Nielsen exhaust of a competitor who isn't so Emily Post about broadcasting judicial porn. Those who do air it may prefer to cloak their reasoning in public interest terms, but the lurid truth is that there's a centuries-old tradition of the public being extremely interested in watching executions.

My own objections to capital punishment seem more and more quaint, don't they? The scheduled execution or this despicable man is like the cherry on top of the dessert. This is the circus part of "bread and circuses."

50 Things We Know Now

Or, as the complete title says, 50 Things We Know Now (That We Didn't Know This Time Last Year) 2006 Edition.

Heads up, trivia buffs...

5. U.S. Protestant "megachurches" - defined as having a weekly attendance of at least 2,000 - doubled in five years to more than 1,200 and are among the nation's fastest-growing faith groups.

9. Scientists have discovered that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers.

25. Women gain weight when they move in with a boyfriend because their diet deteriorates, but men begin to eat more healthy food when they set up a home with a female partner. [No reports mentioned about same-sex partners. Is this where we get the term diesel dyke?]

38. Most of us have microscopic, wormlike mites named Demodex that live in our eyelashes and have claws and a mouth. [Probiotic Grace, anyone?]

50. Researchers from the University of Manchester managed to induce teeth growth in normal chickens - activating genes that have lain dormant for 80 million years.

...moving right along...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

John Edwards on YouTube

No, I haven't decided yet.
Just keeping up.
Something tells me that YouTube is about to become a factor in politics. Big time.

Poor guy. He hasn't even started, and already some of the sharpest knives in the drawer are starting the death of a thousand cuts.

Pejman notes...

Stephen Bainbridge takes note of a major chink in the supposedly inspirational Edwards campaign story:

. . . "During his career of allegedly championing the helpless, he took no pro bono cases." This failure is especially noteworthy given that the North Carolina bar's rules of professional responsibility state that "The provision of free legal services to those unable to pay reasonable fees continues to be an obligation of each lawyer ...."

I certainly don't begrudge anyone trying to make a living--least of all, a lawyer. But really, enough with the claims that John Edwards is some sort of last bastion for the indigent. When it really counted, he did nothing to help the very people he claims to stand up for, the people in the lower half of the "Two Americas" Edwards always claims to decry.

Oh, and at hilzoy's place, von says...

A general distrust of my natural enemy -- trialius lawyerius -- does indeed extend to one John "Two Americas" Edwards. So I'll take this opportunity to declare my lack of support for his candidacy. Although I'm looking forward to the day that his agenda of "economic populism" causes him to go Lou Dobbs on all your asses and declare his support for a giant dome over the US to protect us from better-life-seekers and assorted work-wanters (funded, of course, by surcharges on the oil and pharmaceutical industries).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Regarding Gerald Ford's passing

Three quick points.

1. Gerald Ford has died at a time when Internet usage is at an all-time high. There is no way to know for sure, but the amount of commentary about him may set some kind of record. Dividing the short number of days he served into the millions of words now being written about him, commentary about Gerald Ford may proportionally exceed that written about JFK.

2. Anyone younger than forty will have no mature memories of the man. That's too bad because he is perhaps one of the most decent men ever to work in the Oval Office. Not great (as one headline said, "A Ford, not a Lincoln") but utterly decent. And that decency is made even more remarkable as it stands in contrast to the corruption of the administration at the time. Nixon's vice-president, Spiro Agnew, resigned under a cloud of scandal and Nixon had to replace him with someone clean as a pin. This was before the Watergate scandal would later sink Nixon's boat.

3. Joe Gandelman has the most comprehensive summary of blogger comments I have come across. Anyone who has the patience is welcome to go there to read more. I have seen all I care to read.

Addendum, December 28

Juan Cole has compiled a lengthy string of data about the Ford years, ending with this:

All presidents make errors, and some abuses occurred on Ford's watch, though they often were initiated by Kissinger. But Ford faced with no illusions the challenges of his era, of detente with the Soviet Union, continued attempts to cultivate China, the collapse of Indochina, the fall-out of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the beginnings of the Lebanese Civil War. Ford was right about detente, right about China, right about Arab-Israeli peace, right about avoiding a big entanglement in Angola, right to worry about nuclear proliferation (one of his worries was the increasing evidence that the Middle East had a nuclear power, Israel, and India was moving in that direction).

Ford's challengers on the Reagan Right were wrong about everything. They vastly over-estimated the military and economic strength of the Soviet Union (yes, that's Paul Wolfowitz). They wanted confrontation with China. They dismissed the Arab world as Soviet occupied territory (even though the vast majority of Arab states was US allies at that time) and urged that it be punished till it accepted Israel's territorial gains in 1967. They insisted that the Vietnam War could have been won.

But despite its illusions and Orwellian falsehoods, the Reagan Right prevailed. Ford only momentarily lost to Carter. Both of them were to lose to Reagan, who resorted to Cold War brinkmanship, private militias, death squads, offshore accounts, unconstitutional criminality, and under the table deals with Khomeini, and who created a transition out of the Cold War that left the private militias (one of them al-Qaeda) empowered to wreak destruction in the aftermath. The blowback from that Reaganesque era of private armies of the Right helped push the US after 2001 toward an incipient fascism at which Ford, the All-American, the lawyerly gentleman, the great Wolverine, must have wept daily in his twilight years.

Yep. That's how I remember it as well. The Reagan Right did prevail. And with the passing of time the Great Communicator has been lifted to a pedestal approaching sainthood. Marc Antony was not entirely right. The evil that men do does not always live after them. It is sometimes the evil that is interred with their bones.

Added December 29

From Duck of Minerva:

...many of the familiar senior figures of today's foreign policy debate got their start in the Ford administration. It was under Ford that a young Dick Cheney became the President's Chief of Staff and Don Rumsfeld became the youngest Secretary of Defense. Brent Scowcroft was National Security adviser and George Bush was director of the CIA. The experience of these men, and many others from that time, continues to have a profound impact in shaping US Foreign Policy. One need look no farther than the strong alliance between Rumsfeld's Pentagon and Cheney's office of the Vice President in shaping Iraq policy, an alliance forged in the Ford Administration.

Second, Ford really began the era of intelligence oversight by issuing Executive Order 11905. The order is perhaps most famous for its ban on assassination by US government agencies. Since their founding in the early years of the Cold War, the US intelligence agencies, notably the CIA and NSA, gave themselves a wide mandated to fight the Cold War. Some of this activity became rather questionable, and included spying on US citizens in violation of US law. However, until the mid-70's, there was no Congressional oversight of the Intelligence Community. Following high-profile investigations by Congress, several laws were passed establishing the legal framework for Intelligence oversight that we have today. Ford's executive order was the first in a series of steps to regulate what sort of spying the US can and cannot do. The order banning assassination remains in effect to this day, having stood the test of time across administrations of varied political leanings. The Global War on Terror has renewed the debate over this ban, yet it remains in force. Now, the US government still targets individuals, such as Saddam Hussein on the first day of the 2003 Iraq war, or various Al Queda terrorists. But, because of Ford's order, these efforts must pass through a complicated legal framework and justification as legitimate military targets, not assassinations. One can debate the point of this, but the fact that that debate is there at all is part of Ford's legacy.

Finally, Ford signed the Helsinki Final Acts in 1975. The Helsinki accord was formally about the end of World War II in Europe, recognizing and fixing the borders of European states, in particular the changes made by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. However, one "basket" of the accords contained key provisions about the importance of Human Rights, and when the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites signed the accords, they committed themselves, formally, for the first time, to upholding basic human rights. At the time, this was not seen as a major issue, but it would perhaps be the longest lasting legacy of the Accords. This moment marked a the entry point of Human Rights as a key issue in US foreign policy and helped end the Cold War. While subsequent Presidents, notably Carter and Reagan, would put Human Rights at the forefront of US foreign policy, Ford's signing and ratification of the Helsinki Accords made it possible for them to do so in a meaningful way. Having the USSR as a signatory to the document gave them a touchstone against which to measure Soviet treatment of their own people. Even more importantly, the Accords led to the foundation of many NGO's dedicated to monitor their implementation. In the West, the best known is Human Rights Watch (originally founded as Helsinki Watch, to "watch" the signatories adherence to the accords). In the Soviet Bloc, groups such as Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia were formed, inspired by the Helsinki Accords. These groups ability to hold their governments accountable for human rights abuses by highlighting the standards to which the governments had agreed in Helsinki was one of the key beginnings of the end of the Cold War. The modern discourse of Human Rights, government policies to uphold human rights, and international network of NGO's who monitor human rights issues owes much of its existence to the Helsinki process, a process that Gerald Ford was willing to stand up for, sign, and incorporate into US foreign policy.

Its certainly not a Truman or Reagan, Kennedy or even Eisenhower-esque legancy, to be sure, but as much of the discussion of Ford's life and Presidency will most certainly focus on Nixon, its important to remember a few of the important things he did accomplish in his brief time as President.

Grandpa Stopped Driving

Trite but true -- lots of old people don't want to give up driving, even when safety becomes more important than convenience. We have all seen this reality. Mention the subject and most people can rattle off stories running from amusing to tragic.

A few wise individuals are exceptional, however. They understand that they have two options: either make the choice themselves or wait until it is made on their behalf by factors out of their control.

(Giving up driving is a matter of control but most people never realize that real control is that which is delegated. Successful politicians and business people know this because they trust themselves to be good judges of other people. Unfortunately, most people never develop that level of self-trust. They probably know know how untrustworthy they are themselves but that is another line of thinking.)

A very wise resident where I work once said, "I'm a good driver. I never had any accidents. ButI stopped driving when I was ninety-seven. I knew if I was ever in an accident it would be my fault because I was ninety-seven. Even if it wasn't my fault it would still be my fault because I was ninety-seven, so I decided it was best to stop driving." This remarkable woman is now past 102 and is a model of grace, wit and cheerfulness to everyone around her. And no one could pick her out of a crowd of people under seventy. I think she ages more slowly because she makes good personal decisions about everyday matters.

My wife's Grandpa was cut from the same fabric. After he died this note was found among his writings. It is a draft copy of a notice he sent to his insurance agent after a minor driving incident that was a wake-up call he was able to hear.

Bradenton, Fla.
Dec. 21, 1973

Mr. Stewart Rogers
Nationwide Insurance
Kenton, Ohio

Dear Mr. Rogers:

This note is to inform you that I have changed my position in the car to the right side. My wife Mary will be the principle driver. Her driving record is excellent. No accidents in the 31 years of our marriage. She is only 73 years old and very alert.

Life is activity, and time takes its toll. It is regrettable that for some of us who tarry too long, must be realistic and phase out our former activities one by one and replace them with other avocations, which we may safely do, and keep us happy and usefully occupied until the great transition.

Age 86

I didn't change the syntax of that last sentence because it captures exactly the mood of the letter as it stands. Besides, that is exactly what he wrote. Notice he never said plainly that he was not going to stop driving, but it is clear from what he wrote that even at 86 he was able to recognize and accept the limitations of age as they came along.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nouri Lumendifi is off to college

Been watching this young man most of this year. Apparently he's leaving home to go to college. His reflections make wonderful reading. In my experience teens simply don't think or write like this. Give him another ten or fifteen years and he will be one of the country's most valuable intellectual assets. New Haven, Connecticut has left a mark on Nouri. He may change, but he will never forget. Good luck, Nouri. The world is your banana.

Item: I am kicking a soccer ball down the street, when it hits the wrong side of my foot and hits the window of a pretty blue house. I hear the rattle and the barking of a large dog. The ball stops rolling back to me half way down the lawn. An “ADT” security sign warms me that should I trespass here I will be prosecuted. I panic. The door opens, and a little old man sticks his neck out the door and shouts “Who’s done it!”

I confess, and the old man grows angry. “Whaddaya goin’ to do that for? What’er you doing around here?” Going home, sir. He is dissatisfied, and waddles over to my ball. “This yours, boy?” I am scared, the old man is wearing an undershirt, swimming trunks, a coat of white fir, and loafers; he is rather unsightly. My ball is in his hands now, and I cannot help but as for it back. I am very sorry for hitting his window. “When did you come here?” I haven’t the slight inclination as to what this buzzard is talking about, and I do not answer. He asks again, if I tell him, I am told he will give me my ball back. “I don’t know.”

This bitter looking, wrinkly buzz-cut old man, puts my soccer ball under his hairy arm and turns around, and goes back into his house, slamming the door behind him. He looks at me from the window and closes the curtains, with the look of “Good riddance!” on his pruney face.


My city was my making. The city’s greenery, its Mediterranean restaurants covered in New England snow, its poverty, and its seasons are not easily left behind. In Boston, there are millions. In New York there are millions still. In New Haven, there are perhaps a few hundred thousand, if that. There is pizza the world tells you to like and places that claim to have invented the hamburger. There are probably comparable claims made in other cities, but none of those are my city. I did not read Lenin on the steps of the public libraries of Boston; I did not witness white flight in Brooklyn Heights; and I did not have my first date on the real Broadway. I did all of this in New Haven. Loyalties of citizenship, religion, and ethnicity aside, I am from New Haven. Not genetically, but by an accident of geography.

Dr. Hadar on Surge Therapy

Are you having one of those days?
Who are the "shites?" And the "Sunimis?" I wish Dick was here...
Are you irritatedibalized? I really have to go to the potty...
Can't find your way?
The WMD's are in Rummy's tuches..heee...heee...
Well, that's what happens when you occupy countries in the Middle East for a very long time. You are probably suffering from post-occupation depression (POD). And when you need a Surge, you take Surgpill™! Indeed, the anti-POD Surgpill™ stimulates the birth of new brain cells in rats jumping from ships aka Ken Adelmans, scientists have found. A similar effect in humans might explain how the drug has helped hundreds of of emperors world-wide to cope with POD. There are no sexual side-effects!
One in five members of the Bush Administration are likely to suffer from POD in the next two years, yet medical opinion is divided as to its cause. Some believe it is a genetic disease (stupidity) or a chemical imbalance (recovering alcholics), while others claim it is triggered by environmental factors, including insurgents, IEDs, crazy Shiites, murderous Sunnis, mismamnaged Pentagon, etc. Treatments for the disease include counselling by PM Tony Blair and in extreme cases electric shock therapy such as midterm Congressional elections. But it is Surgpill™, which has been taken by the Soviet leaders after their Afghanistan POD and the Israeli leaders during the Lebanon POD, that has been hailed as revolutionising sufferers' lives. AND There are no sexual side-effects!
Surgpill™ one of a group of drugs known as selective anti-Baker/Hamilton re-uptake inhibitor (ABHRUHIN), which make the mood-enhancing brain chemical, or spins-mitter, tipping-point more available in the brain. AND there are no sexual side-effects!However, you need to take 20,000 to 50,000 of the surgpills™, and the drug takes weeks to have an effect, and scientists do not know the exact mechanism by which it helps to combat POD. But IT DOESN'T AFFECT YOUR SEX LIFE!
Nature magazine reports that researchers Langley, set out to examine the impact of Surgpill™ on the brain. They knew that depressed emperors have a smaller than usual dick-cheney, a structure involved learning and memory. They also knew that chronic stress can reduce the birth of brain cells, known as neocons-genisis, in the brains of rodents - and that stress is a contributing factor in POD. The Langley researchers found that activating a particular receptor for realism in rats' brains increased the birth of brain cells. So they decided to see if ABHRUHINs like Surgpill™ would have the same effect. They found that five rats injected with Surgpill™ for 3001 days had 69% more new brain cells than another injected with Rovism. The researchers believe that the rise and fall of brain cell birth may be an important factor in explaining why people become depressed and respond to ABHRUHINs. And there are no sexual side-effects!
Chief researcher Professor John McCain, said it could explain why Surgpill™ takes time to improve mood. "The time needed for these newly generated cells to mature and make appropriate connections provides an explanation for the 'therapeutic lag' in surgism therapy," he said. "People usually become depressed after a severe life event, like occuppying Vietnam or Iraq, they are unable to form a relationship, they lose a significant elections, suffer bereavement and loss (Rumsfeld), or have a bullying boss (Cheney)," McCain said, adding: "What we need to know is whether traumatic events make people depressed via brain cell death. If they do, we could then identify which events are most damaging and take measures to avoid them."
This post is stolen without permission from another site. Dr. Leon Hadar is one of America's preeminent researchers on a wide range of political diseases and proposed remedial actions. He blogs with great additional illustrations at Global Paradigms. Dr. Hadar, I am at the mercy of the court. Under the circumstances, if you want this post deleted I will gladly oblige.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech

If you have never watched this, take a few minutes to do so. Just under fifteen minutes. You won't regret it. I watched it once but forgot. Thanks, Motion Abbey.

Steve Jobs delivering three very inspiring stories for commencement speech to the graduates of Stanford University in 2005. This is one of the icons of our time speaking. What he says is worth hearing.

Stephen Bainbridge on Russell Kirk

So you have opened the presents, had too much to eat, taken a nap and given up on teevee. Time now to feed your mind...

Here's a meaty but satisfying little post that will help you discern the difference between Conservative and Libertarian thought. The kernel of the idea I already understood, but Bainbridge brings it into focus better than I thought possible, introducing (at least to me) one Russell Kirk, a thinking Conservative of out time whose legacy needs to be remembered and studied.

This sparkling gem flashed in the post. It is from a third party, but shines like a glint of sunshine in the rear-view mirror.

The most fundamental difference between conservatism and libertarianism is one of ideology. Libertarianism is an ideology based upon abstract ideas and doctrines such as the free market, absolute liberty, and radical individualism. The libertarian foolishly believes that if his abstract ingredients are properly mixed within the social cauldron, an earthly utopia will bubble forth.


Doc Searls' Christmas wish -- an end to software patents

Little chance this will happen, but I also like the idea.

All I want for Christmas is death to software and business method patents

It is anti-productive, anti-competitive, anti-market, anti-freedom, anti-liberty and simply wrong for the U.S. (and for any country) to continue instinsting that 1) ways of doing business, and 2) the ever-growing periodic table of natural building materials we call software, should be patentable. They should not. We should write business method and software patent laws out of existence and start watching growth and progress happen all over the place.

Yeah, I know. Patents expire and all that, but aside from the techie issues, there is also the crazy idea that genetic tinkering and other results of scientific research, notably new drug formulations, should be denied those in need because R&D costs must first be recovered. So they say. I can't recall any instances of global drug giants filing for Chapter Eleven protection.

While we're on the subject, Google now has a patent search capability, still in BETA.
So if you have a great idea and want to do a patent search, go there and find out how many others beat you to the punch.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve, 2005

Christmas Eve, 2006.
It is now one year later and this post still carries a powerful message about the pain and suffering that war brings to all it touches -- casualties, survivors, family and citizens.
All sides are affected.
Solemn reading indeed for a Christmas Eve, but worth the time it takes to reflect on how best we might avoid war and its consequences.
This is odd. It is early morning of Christmas Eve Day and I find myself dwelling on a subject that seems inappropriate, the official notification of families/next of kin by the military when one of their children in uniform becomes a casualty of military service. A post by Donald Sensing at One Hand Clapping caught my attention last night and reading it triggered a recollection of a similar description I came across last year.

In a season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus with cheerful greetings, happy reunions, a mood of gaiety, smiles and greeting of "Merry Christmas" -- looking at the dismal job of telling families they have lost a loved one is morbidly incongruent. Nevertheless the duty remains. I have an idea why the impulse struck Rev. Sensing. He alludes to it in his post. But I don't know exactly why his post caught my attention. Last night I was in conversation with my brother-in-law about the war in Iraq and I was telling him of my ongoing contact with Abu Khaleel. Perhaps that prepared me to be open to this story. I don't know. There is certainly a lot more stuff that I could be contemplating but without knowing exactly why, here it is...

I am linking first to his post.
That's what got my attention. Very compelling description of how...
No spoilers here. Go read it for yourself.
He tells it better than I can.
Apparently it was triggered by a photo essay in the current Time Magazine.
I suppose if a national publication of their reputation can do that story during this season, I can dedicate at least one post to the same theme.

Next, I am capturing here (in my cyber-scrapbook) the account of LtCol. George Goodson, USMC retired, from the archives of Marine Corps Moms.
One reason for copying it here is that something happened to the punctuation in the archive that has nothing to do with the content. In order to make his account more readable, I am taking time to clean up the format so that it can be read here without distraction.

August 13, 2004
A casualty officer's retrospective
LtCol George Goodson, USMC retired

In my 76th year, the events of my life appear to me, from time to time, as a series of vignettes. Some were significant; most were trivial.

War is the seminal event in the life of everyone that has endured it. Though I fought in Korea and the Dominican Republic and was wounded there Vietnam was my war. Now 37 years have passed and, thankfully, I rarely think of those days in Cambodia, Laos, and the panhandle of North Vietnam where small teams of Americans and Montangards fought much larger elements of the North Vietnamese Army.

Instead I see vignettes: some exotic, some mundane:
*The smell of Nuc Mam.
*The heat, dust, and humidity.
*The blue exhaust of cycles clogging the streets.
*Elephants moving silently through the tall grass.
*Hard eyes behind the servile smiles of the villagers.
*Standing on a mountain in Laos and hearing a tiger roar.
*A young girl squeezing my hand as my medic delivered her baby.
*The flowing Ao Dais of the young women biking down Tran Hung Dao.
*My two years as Casualty Notification Officer in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.

It was late 1967. I had just returned after 18 months in Vietnam. Casualties were increasing. I moved my family from Indianapolis to Norfolk, rented a house, enrolled my children in their fifth or sixth new school, and bought a second car.

A week later, I put on my uniform and drove 10 miles to Little Creek, Virginia. I hesitated before entering my new office. Appearance is important to career Marines. I was no longer, if ever, a poster Marine. I had returned from my third tour in Vietnam only 30 days before. At 5'9", I now weighed 128 pounds 37 pounds below my normal weight. My uniforms fit ludicrously, my skin was yellow from malaria medication, and I think I had a twitch or two.

I straightened my shoulders, walked into the office, looked at the nameplate on a Staff

Sergeant's desk and said, "Sergeant Jolly, I'm Lieutenant Colonel Goodson. Here are my orders and my Qualification Jacket."

Sergeant Jolly stood, looked carefully at me, took my orders, stuck out his hand we shook and said, "How long were you there, Colonel?" I replied "18 months this time." Jolly breathed, "Jesus, you must be a slow learner Colonel." I smiled.

Jolly said, "Colonel, I'll show you to your office and bring in the Sergeant Major." I said, "No, let's just go straight to his office." Jolly nodded, hesitated, and lowered his voice, "Colonel, the Sergeant Major. He's been in this G*dd@mn job two years. He's packed pretty tight. I'm worried about him." I nodded.

Jolly escorted me into the Sergeant Major's office. "Sergeant Major, this is Colonel Goodson, the new Commanding Officer." The Sergeant Major stood, extended his hand and said, "Good to see you again, Colonel." I responded, "Hello Walt, how are you?" Jolly looked at me, raised an eyebrow, walked out, and closed the door.

I sat down with the Sergeant Major. We had the obligatory cup of coffee and talked about mutual acquaintances. Walt's stress was palpable. Finally, I said, "Walt, what the hell's wrong?"

He turned his chair, looked out the window and said, "George, you're going to wish you were back in Nam before you leave here. I've been in the Marine Corps since 1939. I was in the Pacific 36 months, Korea for 14 months, and Vietnam for 12 months. Now I come here to bury these kids. I'm putting my letter in. I can't take it anymore."

I said, "OK Walt. If that's what you want, I'll endorse your request for retirement and do what I can to push it through Headquarters Marine Corps."

Sergeant Major Walt Xxxxx retired 12 weeks later. He had been a good Marine for 28 years, but he had seen too much death and too much suffering. He was used up.

Over the next 16 months, I made 28 death notifications, conducted 28 military funerals, and made 30 notifications to the families of Marines that were severely wounded or missing in action. Most of the details of those casualty notifications have now, thankfully, faded from memory. Four, however, remain.


My third or fourth day in Norfolk, I was notified of the death of a 19 year old Marine. This notification came by telephone from Headquarters Marine Corps. The information detailed:

*Name, rank, and serial number.
*Name, address, and phone number of next of kin.
*Date of and limited details about the Marine's death.
*Approximate date the body would arrive at the Norfolk Naval Air Station.
*Strong recommendation on whether the casket should be opened or closed.

The boy's family lived over the border in North Carolina, about 60 miles away. I drove there in a Marine Corps staff car. Crossing the state line into North Carolina, I stopped at a small country store /service station/Post Office. I went in to ask directions.

Three people were in the store. A man and woman approached the small Post Office window. The man held a package. The Store owner walked up and addressed them by name, "Hello John. Good morning Mrs. Cooper."

I was stunned. My casualty's next-of-kin's name was John Cooper!

I hesitated, then stepped forward and said, "I beg your pardon. Are you Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper of (address)?"

The father looked at me--I was in uniform--and then, shaking, bent at the waist, and vomited. His wife looked horrified at him and then at me. Understanding came into her eyes and she collapsed in slow motion. I think I caught her before she hit the floor.

The owner took a bottle of whiskey out of a drawer and handed it to Mr. Cooper who drank. I answered their questions for a few minutes. Then I drove them home in my staff car. The store owner locked the store and followed in their truck. We stayed an hour or so until the family began arriving.

I returned the store owner to his business. He thanked me and said, "Mister, I wouldn't have your job for a million dollars." I shook his hand and said; "Neither would I."

I vaguely remember the drive back to Norfolk. Violating about five Marine Corps regulations, I drove the staff car straight to my house. I sat with my family while they ate dinner, went into the den, closed the door, and sat there all night, alone.

My Marines steered clear of me for days. I had made my first death notification.


Weeks passed with more notifications and more funerals. I borrowed Marines from the local Marine Corps Reserve and taught them to conduct a military funeral: how to carry a casket, how to fire the volleys and how to fold the flag.

When I presented the flag to the mother, wife, or father, I always said, "All Marines share in your grief." I had been instructed to say, "On behalf of a grateful nation." I didn't think the nation was grateful, so I didn't say that.

Sometimes, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn't speak. When that happened, I just handed them the flag and touched a shoulder. They would look at me and nod. Once a mother said to me, "I'm so sorry you have this terrible job." My eyes filled with tears and I leaned over and kissed her.


Six weeks after my first notification, I had another. This was a young PFC. I drove to his mother's house. As always, I was in uniform and driving a Marine Corps staff car. I parked in front of the house, took a deep breath, and walked towards the house. Suddenly the door flew open, a middle-aged woman rushed out. She looked at me and ran across the yard, screaming

I hesitated. Neighbors came out. I ran to her, grabbed her, and whispered stupid things to reassure her. She collapsed. I picked her up and carried her into the house. Eight or nine neighbors followed. Ten or fifteen later, the father came in followed by ambulance personnel. I have no recollection of leaving.

The funeral took place about two weeks later. We went through the drill. The mother never looked at me. The father looked at me once and shook his head sadly.


One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant Jolly held the phone up and said, "You've got another one, Colonel." I nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked the officer making the call -- I have no idea why-- and hung up. Jolly, who had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates telephone numbers into the person's address and place of employment.

The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my office. I called the Longshoreman's Union Office and asked for the Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked for the father's schedule.

The Business Manager asked, "Is it his son?" I said nothing. After a moment, he said, in a low voice, "Tom is at home today." I said, "Don?t call him. I'll take care of that." The Business Manager said, "Aye, Aye Sir," and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII."

I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw instantly that she was clueless. I asked, "Is Mr. Smith home?" She smiled pleasantly and responded, "Yes, but he's eating breakfast now. Can you come back later?" I said, "I'm sorry. It's important, I need to see him now."

She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, "Tom, it's for you."

A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door. He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said, "Jesus Christ man, he's only been there three weeks!"


Months passed. More notifications and more funerals. Then one day while I was running, Sergeant Jolly stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth (I never could do that) and held an imaginary phone to his ear.

Another call from Headquarters Marine Corps. I took notes, said, "Got it," and hung up. I had stopped saying "Thank You" long ago.

Jolly, "Where?"

Me, "Eastern Shore of Maryland. The father is a retired Chief Petty Officer. His brother will accompany the body back from Vietnam."

Jolly shook his head slowly, straightened, and then said, "This time of day, it'll take three hours to get there and back. I'll call the Naval Air Station and borrow a helicopter. And I'll have Captain Tolliver get one of his men to meet you and drive you to the Chief's home."

He did, and 40 minutes later, I was knocking on the father's door. He opened the door, looked at me, then looked at the Marine standing at parade rest beside the car, and asked, "Which one of my boys was it, Colonel?"

I stayed a couple of hours, gave him all the information, my office and home phone number and told him to call me, anytime.

He called me that evening about 2300 (11:00PM). "I've gone through my boy's papers and found his will. He asked to be buried at sea. Can you make that happen?" I said, "Yes I can, Chief. I can and I will."

My wife who had been listening said, "Can you do that?" I told her, "I have no idea. But I'm going to break my ass trying."

I called Lieutenant General Alpha Bowser, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, at home about 2330, explained the situation, and asked, "General, can you get me a quick appointment with the Admiral at Atlantic Fleet Headquarters?" General Bowser said, "George, you be there tomorrow at 0900. He will see you."

I was and the Admiral did. He said coldly, "How can the Navy help the Marine Corps, Colonel." I told him the story. He turned to his Chief of Staff and said, "Which is the sharpest destroyer in port?" The Chief of Staff responded with a name.

The Admiral called the ship, "Captain, you're going to do a burial at sea. You'll report to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel Goodson until this mission is completed."

He hung up, looked at me, and said, "The next time you need a ship, Colonel, call me. You don't have to sic Al Bowser on my ass." I responded, "Aye Aye, Sir" and got the hell out of his office.
I went to the ship and met with the Captain, Executive Officer, and the Senior Chief. Sergeant Jolly and I trained the ship's crew for four days. Then Jolly raised a question none of us had thought of. He said, "These government caskets are air tight. How do we keep it from floating?"

All the high priced help including me sat there looking dumb. Then the Senior Chief stood and said, "Come on Jolly. I know a bar where the retired guys from World War II hang out."

They returned a couple of hours later, slightly the worst for wear, and said, "It's simple; we cut four 12" holes in the outer shell of the casket on each side and insert 300 lbs of lead in the foot end of the casket. We can handle that, no sweat."

The day arrived. The ship and the sailors looked razor sharp. General Bowser, the Admiral, a US Senator, and a Navy Band were on board. The sealed casket was brought aboard and taken below for modification. The ship got underway to the 12-fathom depth.

The sun was hot. The ocean flat. The casket was brought aft and placed on a catafalque. The Chaplain spoke. The volleys were fired. The flag was removed, folded, and I gave it to the father. The band played "Eternal Father Strong to Save." The casket was raised slightly at the head and it slid into the sea.

The heavy casket plunged straight down about six feet. The incoming water collided with the air pockets in the outer shell. The casket stopped abruptly, rose straight out of the water about three feet, stopped, and slowly slipped back into the sea. The air bubbles rising from the sinking casket sparkled in the sunlight as the casket disappeared from sight forever.

The next morning I called a personal friend, Lieutenant General Oscar Peatross, at Headquarters Marine Corps and said, "General, get me the fuck out of here. I can't take this shit anymore." I was transferred two weeks later.

I was a good Marine but, after 17 years, I had seen too much death and too much suffering. I was used up.

Vacating the house, my family and I drove to the office in a two-car convoy. I said my goodbyes. Sergeant Jolly walked out with me. He waved at my family, looked at me with tears in his eyes, came to attention, saluted, and said, "Well Done, Colonel. Well Done."

I felt as if I had received the Medal of Honor!

Posted by Deb at August 13, 2004 09:25 AM