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Okay, It Really Does Look Like a Mobile Home | Main | Bloggers Rumored to Be Selected as Time's "Persons of the Year"
November 18, 2004

Must-Read Email From a Marine in Fallujah

Long story short: these guys are going to do whatever's necessary to protect themselves and their fellow Marines, and they're not going to apologize for it. God Bless Them.

We have a huge disagreement in this country about what is and what is not acceptable in this war. Part of this is all just a proxy fight for the leftists' insistence that war itself is unacceptable under any circumstances; having lost that debate decisively, they attempt to engage in guerilla-rhetorical tactics, simply sniping at each and every event that unfolds, in hopes that the accumulation of the little wounds they inflict will ultimately win the war they really care about-- the war on war itself.

But let's put that aside for the moment. Abu Ghraib, waterboarding Al Qaeda leaders, etc.-- the right and left have a major disagreement.

The left insists that we must scrupulously honor all possible ethical, legal, and moral restraints in our fight, even those which, by their very terms, do not apply (such as the Geneva Conventions' protections for legal combatants, which most terrorists and terrorists/insurgents are not).

The right is a bit more, let us say, "liberal" on these matters.

I cannot accept the proposition that, no matter how inhuman or savage our enemy might be, we must treat him as if he is a lawful and honorable soldier. "Just people who disagree with you," as Chris Matthews says.

We act with perfect legality and honor with respect to those who similarly act with perfect legality and honor. To treat the savage and animalistic with such strict scrupulousness is doubly counterproductive. It obviously restricts our actions more than we might like; and it provides no protection for our own troops, since the enemy knows they can abuse and behead prisoners with impunity and yet we will continue treating them with velvet gloves.

Medieval knights respected a code of honorable combat. But they didn't extend that code to everyone -- only opponents who were, themselves, honorable could expect to be treated with full martial honor. Those who weren't quite honoroble -- like archers and crossbowmen, killing from a distance rather than engaging honorably in close combat -- could expect a knight to lob arrows and bolts back at them in turn. Any other rule -- like the absolutist code of conduct urged on us by the anti-war left -- would have been suicidal.

Occasionally dealing roughly or even savagely with these bastards does not, in fact, make us "no better than they are." Because we are perfectly willing to treat them with perfect regard for honor and mercy-- were they willing to treat us the same in return. They are not so willing, of course, and routinely proclaim just that in their videotaped murder-porn.

If a man says he wants a fair fight, but his opponent immediately gouges him in the eye as a response, that man is not required to actually fight fair. Honor is satisfied by his declaration of his desire to fight honorably. If that offer is spurned-- well, there's no reason for him to encumber himself with rules and restraints that his opponent refuses.

I am reminded again, as I frequently am when confronted with these issues, of Steven den Beste's outstanding essays on the strategic virtue of the childhood tactic of "tit for tat":

One guy decided to run a computer tournament; people were permitted to create algorithms in a synthetic language which would have the ability to keep track of previous exchanges and make a decision on each new exchange whether to be honest or to cheat. He challenged them to see who could come up with the one which did the best in a long series of matches against various opponents. It turned out that the best anyone could find, and the best anyone has ever found, was known as "Tit-for-tat".

On the first round, it plays fair. On each successive round, it does to the other guy what he did the last time.

When Tit-for-tat plays against itself, it plays fair for the entire game and maximizes output. When it plays against anyone who tosses in some cheating, it punishes it by cheating back and reduces the other guys unfair winnings.

No-one has ever found a way of defeating it.

Now let's analyze two different and even more simplistic approaches; we'll call them "saint" and "sinner". The saint plays fair every single round, irrespective of what the other guy does. The sinner always cheats.

When a saint plays against another saint, or against tit-for-tat, the result is optimum but more important is that everyone gets the same result. When a sinner plays against another sinner, or against tit-for-tat, everyone cheats and the result is still even, though less than optimal.

But when a sinner plays against a saint, the sinner wins and the saint loses.

Which brings me back to the point of all this: Is there anything I would rule out in war? Nothing I'd care to admit to my enemies, because ruling out anything is a "saint" tactic. The Tit-for-tat tactic is to be prepared to do anything, but not to do so spontaneously. In other words, if the other guy threatens to use poison gas, you make sure you have some of your own and let him know that you'll retaliate with it. That means that he has nothing to win by using it, and he won't. (A war is a sequence game and not a single transaction because each day is a new exchange. If you gassed my guys yesterday, I can gas yours today.)

Maybe Chris Matthews can't abide an America willing to occasionally fight the enemy with one tenth of the savagery with which he fights us, but most of us are just fine with it.

The moment they stop kidnapping, beheading, blowing up schoolbuses filled with children, etc., I'm willing to discuss a stricter policy as regards the rules of war.

R. Lee Ermey Update: Citizen Smash instructs our troops: YOU ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO DIE!

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posted by Ace at 04:50 PM

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