FEELING THE HEAT
Re: Ben Stein’s Keeping the Faith:
I find it odd that people who purport to honor and support our military immediately jump to the conclusion that the media reports — the same media that gave us such highlights as the “Horrors of Katrina,” “Flushed Korans” and Jason Blair/Janet Clark/Stephen Glass — are either trustworthy or accurate.
I also wonder why no one has raised the possibility that the insurgents themselves killed those civilians, for no other purpose than to blame it on the Marines. After all, they could count on the assistance of the Western media and the Dems in Congress. Not to mention the usual gaggle of leftist geese.
I find it odd that American troops would commit a massacre in broad daylight — especially when they are equipped and trained to act in the dead of night. And I find it far easier to believe that the insurgents — you know the guys who put car bombs in the middle of crowded markets or near schools — are capable of mass murder, than the Marines.
— Michael Giles
Copiague, New York
My disagreement with Mr. Stein about the stewardship of Secretary Rumsfeld, I should like to point out that any and all hindsight is usually 20-20, and that FDR probably would have done some things differently if he had the benefit of transcending time. Be that as it may, I do not want to engage in a polemic defending Secretary Rumsfeld because I have neither the education nor the factual military experience to make the decisions which he has been called upon to make. I would, however, like to comment on the left (and even some of the right) tendency to skyrocket in righteous indignation at incidents such as the one purported to have happened at Haditha, yet barely raise an eyebrow when one of Saddam’s mass graves containing thousands of bodies is uncovered. No one in his right mind welcomes a massacre of civilians by any force or government, but why does the one raise such deep emotion while the other (far greater in scope) doesn’t even ripple the water of the collective left’s pool of conscience?
This selective sense of judgment seems to appear in other areas too. Look at a comparison of the DeLay/Jefferson debacle. Then there is the Patrick Kennedy affair, and we could go back in time to a comparison of the Condit/Ted Kennedy situations. I would like to respect the folks on the left, and would like to honestly debate them about the apparent double standard, however, whenever I bring this up, they slide away both verbally and literally, and I am left with the question with which I ended the previous paragraph. I have read in several sources that the reason one cannot verbally dissuade or demonstrate a delusional patient out of his delusions is because those people take anything that is said or done and play it into their delusions. As one tries to argue them away from lunacy, one is actually contributing new vistas to that lunacy. This could be the reason that arguing with a committed leftist is both exhausting and fruitless. It’s a thought.
— Joseph Baum
Stalin, the quintessential lefty, would have known what to do. He explained (more or less): two dead in a ditch is a tragedy; a million dead is statistic. Were he in the Oval Office, he long ago would have turned the Sunni triangle into a wasteland.
— Ty Knoy
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Regarding Ben Stein’s article on Haditha. I find Mr. Stein’s assumption of guilt on the part of the Marines to be appalling, particularly on the part of someone who poses as a supporter of the military. For shame, Mr. Stein.
— Beth Plymale
While I almost always agree with everything Mr. Stein says, I write to disagree with a few things he mentions in his article. First, despite what the CIA did or did not get right with respect to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the decision to invade Iraq was right and proper. Saddam had daily launched missiles at our over-flying aircraft, there to enforce the “truce” imposed on him. And each and every shot was an act of war. Saddam had to go. WMD are largely irrelevant to this decision. America’s political will, of course, is wavering. But that is not a reason why the decision to go to war was wrong.
Second, the Marines at Haditha are not “killers.” Not yet at any rate (and, it will take a great deal of uncontradicted evidence to make them so in my view). They are an occupying army, entitled to protect themselves from attack as they see fit. Casualties of war don’t just come from frontal assaults by combat troops. Sometimes casualties come in the most heartbreaking manner. But, war is not a place for fine distinctions and every benefit of the doubt must be extended to the combat troops in Haditha, as everywhere else.
Mr. Stein also mentions that George W. Bush did not “carpet-bomb” Baghdad.
Perhaps we should have dropped a tactical nuclear device on Fallujah when the insurgency was said to have occupied that city. There is no telling (now) what such a strong show of force might have done to pacify the population long enough to allow the mission to be completed.
In short, the only apparent defects in the prosecution of the war (as I see it) are that we are not eliminating our enemies at a fast enough clip.
— John Shea
I really like Ben Stein! But, frankly I am heartsick at the basic premise of “two architects, but no plan,” that Iraq was a mistake. Further, in every war there are “mistakes,” and Mr. Stein alluded to many in previous years, and wars. However, Mr. Stein should also know that had leaders and governments heeded Winston Churchill’s warnings in the early 1930’s there would have been no WW II and the loss of millions of human life. For his foresight, Churchill was removed by the British people in 1945. It is far too early to call Iraq a mistake.
— Jack Griffith
So, now Ben says we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq, a horrible mistake though not as bad as past president’s mistakes in war. The question I have is: After Afghanistan, where would we have gone to fight the terrorists? Would Afghanistan have been the center of the terrorist holocaust or would they have just stopped plotting and planning because of our effort there? There are ramifications for all we do; some good and some bad. It is easy to be a sidewalk general. It is impossible to expect perfection in the judgments of men.
— Bette S.
Iraq was not a mistake. The Arab Moslem strongman was defying the UN and shooting at our planes, breaking armistice. A friendly government and allied army in that insane region is a strategic investment What war was run perfectly?
— Mike Madigan (who usually enjoys you)
Ben has an uncanny way of focusing on important issues and putting them in proper perspective.
I take issue with him on Rumsfeld. More troops? How many more? Just think of several hundred thousand more troops, had they even been available. Perhaps a slow and clumsy advance with American casualties in greater numbers, and even greater resentment by Iraqis would have incurred an even more virulent critical reaction to his “stewardship of the war.”
Iraq was not a mistake. Given what we knew at the time, leaving Saddam in place would have been irresponsible.
My other contention has to do with Vietnam. It may have been a mistake, yet it may have stopped the domino effect we feared at the time. Who knows, a successful North Vietnam may very well have followed a communist advance into the rest of South-East Asia. An extended communist world may not have collapsed eventually as easily. Totalitarianism by its very nature is relentlessly expansionist if not stopped in its tracks. The big mistake more likely was not winning and waging a protracted but limited war and fear of bombing North Vietnam at the beginning.
— Thomas A. Edelman
Santa Monica, California
Mr. Stein is quite correct as he recites the rules of engagement followed during WWII. I believe that he is also correct in his overall argument and judgment to keep the faith with our military folks that are in harm’s way. I would like to pick at one little nit in his article. That is his seeming judgment of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
First, it must be remembered that Mr. Rumsfeld has, himself, served in the military during war time, and is not totally ignorant of the military and its needs, theories, practices, and policies. This gives him a small measure of credibility to make judgments on plans that he recommends to the President.
Secondly, Mr. Rumsfeld has demonstrated the ability and capacity to successfully command large organizations, in both governmental and private industry, previously. He has been there and done that. Thirdly, Mr. Rumsfeld was not brought aboard as Sec. Def. to prosecute a war. The war was an afterthought, although an important one. Mr. Rumsfeld was originally tasked to accomplish nothing less then a total transformation in our military forces, organization, and doctrine. He was to transform our forces from a ponderous killing/defense machine capable of standing successfully against the Soviet Union and it’s massive infantry and armored formations and tactics, to a light, fast, highly lethal body capable of removing threats at a moments notice, anywhere in the world, with little or no collateral damage.
This has been a risky task at best. The entrenched flag officers have placed IEDs in his path at every turn. When he cancelled the “Crusader” program, you would have thought the world was ending, instead of just not going forward with an artillery piece adjudged inappropriate. The same happened with other program cancellations of aircraft and ground warfare pieces and programs.
On top of that, he had the audacity to reach around the entrenched advancement system to seat folks that would move the military in the direction desired within the Bush administration. When Mr. Rumsfeld brought General Schofield, a Special Forces type, out of retirement to be the Army Chief of Staff, you would have thought an atomic bomb had detonated. Then to promote a Marine General to the Joint Chief’s Chairman, why it has never been done before. To allow a Marine Commandant to assume command of a military region instead of retiring, never been done before.
Not only that, but Rumsfeld has the audacity to question the judgments and plans of flag rank officers and demand answers to his questions and doubts. Why sometimes Rumsfeld doesn’t take time to be deferential, and he really does hate to have to suffer fools. He has hurt some general’s feelings, don’t you know.
Like Mr. Stein, I might grade Mr. Rumsfeld’s performance at a “C,” but I would give him a “B+” on the military transformation, and I am sure that both grades would be higher if he had not had to take both classes simultaneously.
— Ken Shreve
I agree with Ben on a lot of his points but his synopsis of FDR and WWII are a little off base. FDR had to overcome a large pacifist movement that stripped us of weaponry through arms reductions of the 1920’s and 30s’. He also had an America First movement composed of fascist sympathizers and gullible people which was led by some of the best known names of that time. He also had his hands full trying to keep Great Britain supplied enough to keep them from going under while maintaining a semblance of neutrality as required by Congressional action. In the Pacific, he did underestimate the Japanese, as did the British, but that was understandable given the thought of that time. Still, he did a pretty good job at keeping China afloat too. Ben is pretty accurate about Vietnam (at least from my viewpoint, others might disagree).
Now onto Iraq. Ben, I think you have put that in pretty good words and I have to say, I do agree with you on your synopsis there. Bush and Rummy blew it big time. Now, it isn’t really right to compare it to past blunders, even from a perspective point of view though. One can argue over WWII and Vietnam but Iraq is happening now. Those warriors are dying now and the enemy exists now. What happened in that hamlet is nothing compared to what has taken place in the past as you so rightly pointed out but it still happened and it is a going to be played up big by the left. Even Bush is ready to hang these warriors if the facts bear out the charges, but that is wrong. They should have expected something like this to happen by now given the situation. I won’t go into my own reasons but I think it is time to pull out. We have done what was needed to be done and to hell with the Iraqi people. Not one of them is worth an American’s life anymore. Bush’s experiment is done. How can you democratize barbarians anyway? From some of the warriors coming back, one gets a feeling that the war has gone on too long, mistakes are piling up and our warriors are becoming secondary to politics. Like the old Senator (Aiken , a Republican) from Vermont said about Vietnam, “Let’s say we won and go home.” In this instance I agree.
— Pete Chagnon
Why does everyone assume that replacing Donald Rumsfeld at Secretary of Defense will immediately improve the situation in Iraq? By replacing Rumsfeld we can only guarantee two possible outcomes. Iraq will either improve or get progressively worse. Since maintaining the current status quo in Iraq falls within the realm of getting worse that scenario can not be considered as a separate possible outcome. And, why is it that all of those who insist on sacking Rumsfeld have no other candidates in mind to replace him at Secretary of Defense. Sure we could bring in someone else to run the show but what guarantee will there be that things will improve in Iraq. Will the insurgents/terrorists suddenly lay down their arms? Will the Syrians and Iranians finally pursue peace? Does anyone out there really exist with the skills and the knowledge to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse? If this person exists, please step forward and explain how you intend to make things better in Iraq. But, let’s try to remember the old saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
And not to take anything away from Ben Stein’s excellent column, the reason we are able to sit back and take the moral high road in this war is because our enemy is not bombing our cities or fighting in our streets. Our leaders in WWII knew that we had to destroy our enemy’s cities and the morale of the so-called innocent civilians, because anything else would have brought about the destruction of our cities, our morale, and our nation. We defeated our enemies in WWII because we destroyed their will to fight and their ability to continue the war by destroying their nation. And, in order to do that we had to use the most savage and cruel methods at our disposal. In my opinion, if we had fought WWII under the rules of engagement we employed in Vietnam and are currently using in Iraq, I believe it’s quite possible we would either still be fighting WWII or we would have conceded defeat as we did in Korea and Vietnam.
Make no mistake; our enemies have no pangs of doubt or sense of guilt about unleashing absolute total destruction on our so-called innocents. To them, we are the enemy, and given half a chance they will destroy all of us or turn us into slaves. Believe what you will about our enemy, but the history of mankind has shown that the defeated rarely escape with their lives much less their freedom.
As for the service personal currently being charged for the incident in Haditha, my thoughts and my prayers are with the uniformed service personnel and their families. I have not seen all the evidence and they have not been tried in a military court of law. And, I will not pass judgment on them in either case. I say sack Bush for his lackluster defense of our uniformed men and women, and his desire to appease the left-wing anti-military extremists. Placing a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day does not expunge his total abandonment of the troops under indictment.
We ask our nation’s young men and women to volunteer and serve our nation’s defense. We train them in the art of war and the killing of human beings. We then drop them in a hell hole called Iraq, watch some of them die or get maimed fighting a war very few of us are personally willing to participate in, and then when a few civilians are killed we turn our backs and call them murderers and baby killers. We sent them to do our dirty work and when they do as we asked we act surprised and accuse them of barbarity. Our nation, our government, started the war in Iraq and as such we can not just turn away from our national responsibility for what happened in Haditha. And why is it that when civilians are killed by a bomb dropped from an aircraft, it’s considered collateral damage, but when civilians are killed by troops on the ground, it’s called a war crime. If I remember correctly, when Bush called in an air strike to try and kill Saddam only civilians were killed and he was not tried for the murder of innocents. I guess the lesson here is if you don’t want to be accused of the crime of killing innocent civilians in war time its better to call in an air strike, or be POTUS.
— William Weaver
Mount Laurel, New Jersey
There you go, Ben, interjecting a history lesson into an emotional argument! How dare you. I would add that this situation with occupying military forces killing civilians is not uncommon when you try to use a military force as a police force. A totally difference mindset is required as well as mission. There is nothing new here in historical terms.
What is really more important is that the non uniformed enemy we face and the civilian population in question are in fact one in the same for all practical purposes. We ask a lot of our military forces when they have to make split second decisions about whether or not that 10 year old kid approaching them is truly just a kid or a human bomb. Ask the Israelis about such things. Is the person dressed in civilian cloths with the remote detonator in his pocket while a military convoy passes by immune to criticism or blame here?
Prior to the 1948 partitioning of Palestine some Jewish underground movement factions practiced terrorist activity against the British armed forces. It wasn’t pretty and the British military was in the same position we are in Iraq with regard to an enemy that used the civilian population as a base of operations and cover for its activities. Like I said, we are asking a lot of our military and should be willing to embrace the broader picture here and let the military justice system work through this. One thing we should not tolerate for a single second is anyone who tries to make political points with the actions of a handful of military personnel. For such people, we should view the same way our uniformed personnel view the terrorist dressed in civilian cloths that also happens to be standing among a group of children for cover. No quarter should be given on that.
— Thom Bateman
Newport News, Virginia
While I admire your writing and your unwavering support for our troops, your comments on Secretary Rumsfeld are completely wrong. You are no military expert and in matters military you wouldn’t make a pimple on one of the Secretary’s hemorrhoids.
The war we are fighting today is asymmetrical and by its very nature it is long, provides no benchmark battles to measure success and requires the troops to work in close proximity to the enemy. While it is easy for the media to present the negative aspects of this type of war, it is the military that carries it out relentlessly.
Sooner, rather than later, our movement towards releasing our area responsibility will begin. Progress has been made and the Iraqis will eventually take charge. Will there ever be a military victory here? No, not in the conventional definition.
Being familiar with a change in strategy of a war in SE Asia, we could be at that point in Iraq. As “advisors” we were working closely with the ARVN’s and making good progress towards an equilibrium that could have allowed us to gradually pull back. At that time we had approximately 15,000 troops in country. The 1964 election changed all that. On one side we had a military hawk who proclaimed the war could end by cutting the head off the snake. The Dem. warned against WW III. Neither was right.
The one thing I credit President Kennedy with was his understanding of the concept of asymmetrical warfare. We can not, must not loose this war. We changed our philosophy in Viet Nam and we know what that got us. For those of you who are getting woozy over the conduct of this war, turn your eyes from the messy situation in Baghdad and look at the rest of the country. Secretary Rumsfeld has performed magnificently; the failure is in your understanding of this type of warfare. The reason you can claim “small mistakes” in comparison is that we are fighting exactly the right type of war. The brave Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen know that. They freely accept that responsibility. Don’t dare give up on them.
About the “incidents”: an IED was the cause of one and maybe all. Ask yourself a simple question? How big would an IED that blew up a Humvee have to be to destroy an armored vehicle and cut a Marine in half? How long would it take to plant, arm, load shrapnel, cover and camouflage the bomb? Innocent civilians? I think not!
— Ron LaCanne
I liked Ben Stein as an actor as well as his game show. He is a diehard, unapologetic Republican and that’s ok too. But his comparison between Bush and FDR contrasting Iraq and WWII is outright ludicrous!
FDR had little choice but to go to war against the true “axis of evil,” namely Japan, Germany, and Italy. Japan attacked this country; Germany declared war on us, and fascist Italy came along for the ride. Despite a draft, American men signed up to defend this country in record numbers. If you weren’t in uniform, you needed a good explanation. We defeated Hirohito, Hitler, Mussolini, and were admired by the world. Then there is Iraq.
Iraq did not attack this country. They had a murderous dictator for sure but he (Hussein) did not attack our country. Hussein had no biological or chemical weapons to speak of and he was fairly contained via economic sanctions and no-fly zones. What Hussein did have was a clear understanding of sectarian strife in a part of the world where religious fanatics thrive. He may have chosen brutal methods but there was order in Iraq as a result. Now there is death and chaos there every waking minute!
Mr. Stein admits the U.S. invasion of a sovereign Iraq was a disaster and should have been avoided. For that bold statement he should be applauded. But then he goes off the deep end by comparing this mistake to an alleged mistake by FDR in how he took us to war, as if that somehow makes George W. Bush look less pathetic. It’s a shallow argument that won’t work. Bush was sold a bill of goods by warmongers and chicken hawks and as a result, his legacy is going to be a sorry one. Unlike his father, Bush was simply too naive to recognize a disaster in the making by invading Iraq. That part of the world is simply not ready for Western democracy, no matter how hard we try and shove it down their throats.
As for Haditha, I feel sorry for both the families of the innocent civilians murdered and the Marines who executed them. Those Marines are ruined for life simply because they snapped when a fellow soldier was murdered by insurgents amongst a people who cannot easily be distinguished as friend or foe. It is Vietnam’s My Lai all over again. I’m beginning to agree with Congressman and former Marine John Murtha that it’s time to bring the troops home and let the Iraqis fend for themselves. After all, conservatives love to tout “up from the bootstraps” dogma so here is a perfect opportunity for them to lay it on the line in Iraq.
— John Petz
Ben Stein has no business condoning bombing civilians in WWII. A second rate history student could discern the British initiated the practice and yet the tactic did very little to stop the war. Since when do we justify our actions based on Nazi atrocities anyway? Should we have taken Germans off the streets and made lampshades out of them also?
Dresden was a holocaust very dissimilar to Hiroshima.
His dismissing Yalta and implying FDR invited the Japanese to attack is outrageously incorrect. Churchill drew up the post-WWII boundaries on a napkin anyway, so why blame FDR, who died in April 1945?
He writes with a dogmatic, ill-informed style similar to celebrities on the Left. Do not degrade your editorial level with lightweights.
Putting the cart ahead of the horse aren’t we? Killers? We don’t know the facts yet, do we? Most assuredly there is no citizen, no network anchor, no stringer, who knows what happened on the ground over there. All that’s going on now is pontificating.
I noticed there is no mention of the rights of, oh, say a Marine perhaps. Due process. The law. Iraqis have rights. Illegal immigrants have rights. Murderers and rapists have rights. Drug dealers have rights.
Who defends the defenders?
You’re starting to sound like someone who never served one day in defense of his country.
— T. Fitzgerald
Thank you, Mr. Stein, for another of your dazzling insights. It is an excellent thing to put the Iraq war into context for those with short memories or a poor knowledge of history (endemic, alas, in this country).
— Martin Robinson
Prospect Heights, Illinois