Creative Destruction

April 9, 2007

Chemical Weapons are not WMD

Filed under: Iraq,War — Gled @ 7:12 am

The Register:

Improvised protective gear might well get you through a VX attack unharmed, Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage antics in The Rock notwithstanding. Staying indoors would work even better. Once the attack was over, in many cases you’d be able to escape the area with no more than a pair of wellingtons. I’m not saying that a chemical attack would be a completely trivial matter, but it would almost always be preferable to being hit by the same weight of high explosives.

So, if your aim is to kill and injure as many people as possible, you’d be a fool to use chemicals. And yet chemicals are rated as WMDs, while ordinary explosives aren’t. So too are biologicals, even more amazingly. Biological “weapons”, in the modern sense, have yet to be even demonstrated.

I’ve long been of the view that chemical agents are more weapons of mass propaganda than real threat. The Tokyo Subway Attack, for example, involved five separate releases of gas, under ideal conditions for a gas attack, and killed just twelve people. Tragic for those affected, but far less deadly than a bomb or even an accidental fire.

February 17, 2007

The Essential Conservatism of Feminist Discourse: The Whitewashing of Male Victimisation

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Human Rights,Iraq,War — Gled @ 3:57 am

Over on Alas, Kate L. makes an Odious Comparison . (My italics):

I don’t really know about other feminists, but I for one will be the first one to tell you that sexism – both personal and institutional – hurts men as well as women. Now, that being said, I’m afraid that I do agree with amp that the degree of harm is different and that in general most women are probably harmed more than most men, but there is substantial harms to both due to rigid gender role expectations.

How can you draw any conclusion about who is harmed more if you don’t fairly evaluate the harms to both?

The extended discussion between me and Amp, which lead to his revised definition of feminism, began with this post, and this comment by him to Robert’s reply. Amp describes in considerable detail the cataract of disaster that has poured onto the heads of Iraqi women since the invasion. I queried Amp’s statement from his comment that “there’s strong evidence that for girls and women in particular (but not exclusively), things have gotten much worse since we invaded”, (my italics), asking him: “please provide some evidence that it’s not overwhelmingly men in particular who are being targetted for violence?”

Amp’s reply was quite intemperate. He later retracted some of the snarkiness, but stood by his his main point, which was that it wasn’t his burden to prove his claims, but mine to disprove them:

Daran, provide me with some evidence that non-combatant men have been killed more than non-combatant women…

In any case, I don’t doubt for a second that men’s lives in most of Iraq have been made much worse by the US invasion, and that there is an endless supply of violence – perhaps even a majority of violence, by some measures – directed at men, especially if one doesn’t see any moral distinction between shooting an armed combatant to death and shooting an unarmed civilian to death.

In any case, it wouldn’t alter my basic opinion at all. Even if men were the majority of victims in Iraq, I’d still think that there are clearly some forms of violence, abuse and loss of liberty that have been directed more at women then at men, and I’d still be writing about those problems.

Well I took on that burden. It took me several months to find some actual figures, but here they are: 5.4% of civilian fatalities of the on-going violence are women. I estimate about 2% are children, almost certainly mostly teenage boys. The figures for the wounded are similar: 6.4% are women and 2.3% are children.

I don’t think Amp would stand now by what he said then, except for the last quoted paragraph. The question is, how did he ever come to believe that women in Iraq suffered more violent victimisation than men? The answer, of course, is the complete whitewashing of the extent of male victimisation in both mainstream and feminist media, coupled with the feminist gender-norm – the Odious Comparison – that makes such declarations de rigueur in feminist circles without any analysis of the harms suffered by men. Before I found those UN reports containing actual figures, I had to ferret around in reports and news articles for any clues that might have survived the whitewashing. This story for example, discusses these killings at length without any direct reference to the sex of the victims. It’s like reading a description of the Nazi Holocaust which avoids mentioning the word ‘Jew’. But it does contain a clue about two thirds of the way through:

Even the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) humanitarian news agency reported on April 26 that “More than 90 women become widows each day due to continuing violence countrywide, according to government officials and non-governmental organizations devoted to women’s issues.”

Another extremely telling point in the IRIN report is that “Although few reliable statistics are available on the total number of widows in Iraq, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs says that there are at least 300,000 in Baghdad alone, with another eight million throughout the country.” The report said that at least 15 police officers’ wives are widowed every day, and that local NGOs in Iraq said the situation had become much worse since the 2003 US-led invasion of the country, which has brought horrific violence on a level not seen before

Woah there! Eight million widows!? (The figure would include widows from the Hussein era, and so is not necessarily inconsistent with extimates of post invasion deaths in the tens or hundreds of thousands. I am nevertheless sceptical about this figure.) 90 widows per day? Notice that these indirect victims of the violence are gendered. It is only through the centring of the female victims, that the sex of the direct victims becomes visible, and then only by inference. When male victims are discussed directly, they’re desexed, and thus rendered invisible as men. See this post for another example of the desexing of male victims.

Compare with this femininst treatment: “Iraqi Women’s Bodies Are Battlefields for War Vendettas” it says in the headline. Contrast the emotive description of the woman’s murder with the perfuctory language of her brother’s. “They pierced her body with bullets.” vs. “He was also shot and killed.” In case you’d forgotten the headline, the same formulation is used about midway though the article: “women’s bodies [are] the battlefields on which vendettas and threats are played out.”

This is a conservative treatment. It adheres to the mainstream gender-norms exemplfied in the first article, in that the overwhelming levels of male victimisation are rendered invisible, in effect, denied. It is only through being subordinated to a woman’s death, that a male victim is visible at all. A progressive treatment would challenge these gender-norms.

Media whitewashing of harms to men isn’t restricted to Iraq, and it isn’t restricted to war. It applies across the board of feminist discourse which “looks at female oppression through a microscope, and male oppression through a telescope. Backwards. Pointing at the ground. With the lens covers still on. And both eyes closed.

So again, how can you tell who’s harmed the most, if all your sources of information whitewash the harms to men?

(Crossposted with Feminist Critics.)

February 11, 2007

Rape During the Balkan Conflict


…I didn’t blame the people who made up all that crap about rape rooms in the Kosovo war. They were playing to their audience. The west doesn’t care about men dying so let’s give them women raped. Much more effective.

(I do blame the muslims (KLF) for starting that whole war of course and it’s possible the rape room propaganda idea was actually hatched in an American focus group)

The victim populations unquestionably played the “women and children” card, but the underlying allegation about mass rape wasn’t made up. The most authoritative source on the subject of rape in the Balkan wars, and quite possibly in any conflict, is Annex IX (Summary) of the Bassiouni Report, which documents these crimes meticulously. Claims by the victim populations (and by feminists) about the severity of the atrocities perpetrated against women are not exaggerated – indeed it would be hard to exaggerate them. For example:

There are reports of one more camp in the primary school in Kalinovik. *252 On 2 July 1992, drunk Serb militiamen reportedly broke into the school. One witness reports that they said, «Look at how many children you can have. Now you are going to have our children. You are going to have our little Cetniks.» They reportedly selected 12 women, took them to the Hotel Kalinovik, forced them to clean the hotel, and then raped them. The women were then returned to the school. Reportedly, 95 women were raped in the next 26 days. Pregnant women were spared, and women who became pregnant were reportedly thereafter spared. One witness stated that the first night, the militiamen randomly selected teenagers and raped them in bathrooms next to the gymnasium. After that, they selected women by name. On 29 August, the detainees were exchanged, and at least 15 women terminated their pregnancies in Mostar and Jablanica. *253

That example wasn’t deliberately chosen. All I did was move the scroll bar to a random place within the report and cut&paste the first paragraph I came to. It’s a typical, not an extreme example.

However the simple picture of men raping women isn’t the whole story. There were a small number of female perpetrators, and not just in minor or incidental roles:

The victim selection was reportedly well organized at Luka camp. Several reports suggest that young Serbian woman was responsible for its administration. *115 Reportedly, she brought a nurse to Luka to «prepare the girls and make them calm». According to the nurse’s report, she watched as the Serbian administratrix stabbed a girl in the breast and vagina with a broken bottle for resisting instructions. The girl subsequently bled to death….

The report also includes many, many cases of men being sexually abused and tortured by male and, in a small number of cases, by female perpetrators (italics are my comment.):

…The most graphic of the reported castrations [at the Strolit Camp in Odzak] involved a named Croatian woman. She is reported to have ordered a Great Dane to attack naked detainees and bite off their genitals.


Several reports describe a camp in a shoe factory in Karakaj. There a female guard, a member of Arkan’s troops, ordered men to have sexual intercourse with her. (Good thing she didn’t try to rape them). When they refused, she shot them. *628 One report called the factory the «Glinica» factory, and stated that 48 girls and women were raped there. *629

Another camp was at a theatre in Celopek, where 163 men were housed. One day, three «Cetniks» came to the camp. One called out the names of seven pairs of men. The men were mostly fathers and sons or close relatives. The guard forced seven of the men to kneel down and bite off the penises of the other seven. Three of the men died. *630 The other prisoners were forced to watch. A week or 10 days later, another of the guards cut off a man’s penis with a knife. *631 According to another source, the guard made this man eat his severed penis. *632 The same source reported that this guard beat a prisoner with a wooden stick and shoved the stick into the man’s anus, causing the victim to bleed profusely. He stated that the guard, who was often drunk, forced prisoners to perform sex acts with each other. The prisoners were taken to Batkovic in late June and finally released in February 1993. *633

Finally the report also notes that sometimes men acted to protect women:

There also are many cases where female victims are protected by someone from the same ethnic group as their attackers. Men take women out of the camps to protect them from rape and sexual assault, tell other guards or soldiers that the women are «taken», or help them escape. Women hide other women or bring them contraceptives. There is insufficient information on the sexual assault of men to determine a similar pattern.

My emphasis. These details disappear when you look at mainstream and feminist derivative sources which whitewash anything which doesn’t fit into the ‘men are perps, women are victims’ mould. But for this whitewashing, we would perhaps been less surprised at the pictures of Lynndie England abusing male prisoners in Abu Ghraib, to which some of the above accounts bear a remarkable similarity. On the other hand, had those pictures not emerged, England’s involvement in the abuse would most likely have been similarly whitewashed.

The Kosovo war didn’t break out until after this report had been published, but the patterns of male detention, torture and slaughter were similar, and I’d be surprised if the treatment of women was any different. Antifeminists and Feminist Critics are rightly incensed by typical feminist propaganda, such the claim that “men make war and women are the victims” and “women’s bodies [are] the battlefields on which vendettas and threats are played out.“, which, in the light of the overwhelming burden of torture and murder borne by non-combatant males, is not just victim-blaming, but holocaust-denial.

But that’s no excuse for replying in kind. The best response to falsehood is truth.

(Also posted at Feminist Critics)

February 9, 2007

ICT: IDF not Killing Women and Children. Killing Men and Boys Instead

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Human Rights,Israel,War — Gled @ 7:18 pm

The Institute for Counter-Terrorism Rebuts Palestinian Propaganda that the Israeli Defence Force indiscriminately kills women and children. On the contrary, it’s men and older boys who are being indiscriminately killed. (Bold added for emphasis. Italics are my comment.):

If we look at Palestinian noncombatants killed by Israel, we see that the few female fatalities appear to be randomly distributed by age. The male fatalities, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly young (although, as noted above, relatively few are below the age of ten). To be more precise, at least 60 percent of all Palestinian noncombatants killed by Israel were boys and men between the ages of 12 and 29.


Population segments like women or older people are not military targets; (meaning young noncombatant men and boys are?) thus their higher prevalence among Israeli fatalities is an indication of the degree to which Palestinian terrorists have killed Israelis simply for the “crime” of being Israeli.

In contrast, Palestinian noncombatant fatalities have been overwhelmingly young (but over the age of 11) and male. This pattern of Palestinian deaths completely contradicts accusations that Israel has “indiscriminately targeted women and children.”

So that’s all right then.

(Crossposted between Feminist Critics and Creative Destruction.)

Civilian Casualties – Media Depiction vs. the Real Numbers

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Human Rights,Iraq,War — Gled @ 6:11 pm

My good friend and co-blogger on Feminist Critics, HughRistik, has made an excellent post which deserves wider readership:

…according to an Op-Ed in the February 4th issue of the New York Times entitled 31 Days in Iraq, by Adriana Lins de Albuquerque with graphic design by Alicia Cheng. This article is mainly a large picture showing the death tolls in various areas of Iraq. The picture contains icons of people who represent American forces, other coalition forces, Iraqi forces, police officers, and civilians. All of the icons are male figures, except for … the civilian icon, [which] is a figure of a woman holding a child. Apparently, men don’t count as civilians.

Indeed a glance at the full graphic gives the impression that innocent women and children are being slaughtered in huge numbers in Iraq, while male casualties are confined to soldiers and a small number of policemen. But is this a fair picture?


The UN produces a bimonthly report on the Human Rights Situation in Iraq. The May/June report last year was expanded, and for the first time gave civilian casualty figures, including figures for women and children. Fatalities reported are the sum of the Ministry of Health figures (which cover deaths in/bodies brought to hospitals around the country, excluding Kurdistan) and bodies brought to the Medico-Legal Institute (MLI) in Baghdad, each of which contributes about half of the total. For reasons that aren’t clear, the figures for women and children killed were omitted from the November/December report, hence I will consider here only the figures for the six months between May and October.

The total civilian casualties for the period are reported as 19,471. (Each report also gives revised figures for the previous two months. I have not taken these revisions, which are in any case small, into account because the figures for women and children were not given a comparable revision.) This figure includes 852 (4.4%) women, and 204 (1.0%) children. However, The MLI did not report separate figures for women in May or June, and does not appear to have reported separate figures for children at all. If the MLI’s figures for May and June are excluded, the total falls to 16501, and the proportion of women increases to 5.2%. Unfortunately the MLI’s figures are not reported separately in all four reports, so it is impossible to repeat this adjustment for children. Suffice it to say that if we could, the corrected proportion would probably be roughly double, or about 2%.

A child is anyone under the age of 18. Although I have not found specific information on this subject, I would conjecture that the majority of children killed are not babes in arms, as depicted in the graphic, but teenage boys.

Police and Combatants

Police are legally non-combatants, even though the media sometimes refers to them as “troops”, and lumps them in with army casualties. In December, the Ministry of the Interior reported that 12,000 of them had been killed since 2003.

I have no information on the numbers, but Google searches on the phrases “female Iraqi soldier”, “female Iraqi terrorist”, and “female Iraqi police”, indicates that they do exist. According to this report (PDF) one in seven suicide bombers worldwide is female. In some places, Turkey and Chechnya, 40% or more are female. This tells us little about Iraq; I cite it solely for the proposition that there could be more female combatants than people might expect.


Just as the Haditha atrocity, and the attack on the Education Ministry the mainstream media whitewashes the overwhelming burden of violent victimisation of men in Iraq. A wholly false picture of ‘innocent’ female victimisation is presented. Men, if they are visible at all as men, are depicted in cannon-fodder roles.

(Crossposted between Feminist Critics and Creative Destruction.)

January 18, 2007

Winning The Unwinnable

Filed under: Current Events,Politics,War — Off Colfax @ 4:06 pm

John Cole, the Republican blogger who has disassociated himself from today’s GOP, points towards this post (Specifically, the comment thread attached to the post.) by the (in)famous Jeff Goldstein. While John takes apart the commenters with amazing speed and clarity (Except for one, but I’ll get to it later.), I find myself more puzzled by the root post. Now, I haven’t done a lot of posts on Operation Iraqi Debacle just yet, so it’s well past time for a traditional long-winded diatribe on the subject.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I have, in recent memory, bought Jeff Goldstein exactly two beers. The first was a thank-you message for giving me my first trackback from a major-tier blogger. The second was in commiseration for, and my support for, his difficulties with a certain Oregonian blogger who now has a warrant for her arrest, not to mention all those names Duncan Black had been calling him. The third, coming up on February 16, will be to toast “Justice.” Or maybe simply Sláinte, ’cause Jeff does like the Guinness. I’ve just learned that Jeff Goldstein is not going to be there. And people call ME a cut-and-run surrender monkey.)

That being said, he does bring up a single set of good points, with his own distinguishing simile tacked on to the end.

To wit: that it was “unclear” that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction is moot: the fact is, he wouldn’t let us know either way. And what we did know for sure was this: the weapons he had at one point have never been accounted for, his regime was involved in talks with al Qaeda, he was backing terrorist bombings in the middle east, he had tried before to assassinate a US President, and, if given the chance, he would have aided international terrorists against the West in any way he could find, even as he took Oil for food money to build his palaces and re-constitute his weapons programs in anticipation of a lifting of sanctions. So being right about weapons of mass destruction is like being right, in hindsight, about not having paused to slide on a jimmy: it’s only a good move if nobody gets pregnant, or picks up some nasty infection.

True. true. Maybe true. True. True. And, yet again, true. (The part about the jimmy is always true.)

Yet this part of the next graf down reads exactly like you can mentally exchange the name Campos with any given detractor of the Iraq debacle.

I will happily point out that his last point—“that the whole project was likely to end in disaster”—uses the past tense, suggesting that [Paul] Campos has already declared defeat, and, even more maddeningly, seems to be reveling in it. Or, to be more kind to professor Campos, is smugly satisfied that he “predicted” that defeat, though he is not too keen on waiting for the fat lady to sing, it appears.

To be blunt, most of us that are/were against this Iraqi adventure felt that it would not end well. While it is true that some few are using that prescient standpoint to advance their own media spotlight, such as Campos and Cindy Sheehan and every single one of the early Democratic contenders for 2008 as examples, the rest of us on the left side of Blogville Elementary Playground are simply pointing and saying “See? Told you so.” While that may not be the best way of getting a point across, the resulting roar of indignation from the other side drowns out the one major point that we detractors have, which falls on the heels of those words: What could you do better? What can be fixed? What can be changed?

From the outset, as I noted over a year ago, the alleged “Iraq War” was like a Washingtonian three-card Monte game; we’ll act like it’s a war, even though we won’t specifically declare war.

Then the media stories roll in about insufficient equipment, malfunctioning equipment, FUBAR’d rules of engagement, corporate kickbacks, corporations not fulfilling their commitments as listed in their kickback contracts, the hiring of the equivalent of mercenary groups where every man jack makes more than a Marine colonel, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the stop-loss exercises. There are a veritable Who’s-Who of Charlie-Foxtrots out there to select from. (Look it up if you don’t know it.) Whenever something bad, and worse than bad, came out about the execution of the Iraq invasion, those who called it a war were quickest to blame… the media outlets that reported the information.

So tell me honestly. With all these developments coming down the pike at a rapid clip, how else are we supposed to look at it? It’s not the media’s fault that they report the stories. It’s not the soldiers’ fault that they have a cruddy job, not to mention insufficient equipment and boots on the ground to do the job they have. And yet who gets the blame? From the supporters, it’s the fault of the media for only reporting what has gone wrong instead of what has gone right, such as the toppling of the Ba’athist regime, building schools, secure Kurdistan, et cetera. (John Cole also links to this post by Hot Air’s Bryan, who lists a bunch of positive things that the media has, whether due to it being against the “Bleeds = Leads” mantra or some other reason, not reported widely.) From the more violent detractors, it’s the soldier’s fault, for (a paraphrase) they signed on to be Myrmidons, ruthless crushers of humanity, et cetera.

The military has a slang term already available for both of these outlooks: experiencing a Rectal Cranial Inversion.

The full truth is that we sent our boys and girls off to do battle, and our leadership stayed home and had business as usual. And that, as notes the Flannel Avenger, was the Achilles’ heel of the Republican Congress. The congresscritters went on securing their own power structures, being more concerned with political gains than doing their jobs. (Minor apology to Mr. Ray, however. Iraq was a part of the GOP losses in November, but it was a regrettable symptom rather than the cause.) Hearings that lasted 2 hours and performed to an empty room. Earmarks that spiraled out of control. Amendments that defeat the purpose of a bill rather than support it. Amendments that cause a perfectly good and necessary bill to die off because the authors couldn’t even vote for their own bill anymore. The Republican Congress showed us, by their actions rather than their words, that they didn’t take the invasion seriously, that it was just another political tool to bend into a shape of their choosing rather than a real-world disaster in the making.

But that was then. This is now. A new Congress is in, led by Democrats. And what is the magic bullet?

To withdraw funding and force the Pentagon to pull everyone home. If Pelosi & Co. could come up with a scenario more likely to spawn the “cut-and-run” accusation favored by the right, it would have to be a true thing of beauty. Not only does this kill off any chance that the still-unstable Iraqi government could stay on its feet, it sends a dour message to the boys and girls in uniform who would have to feel like kids who come home from summer camp to find that their parents had gotten divorced. “Hi kids. Guess what? You live with someone else now. Oh, and you don’t get your allowance anymore, either.” For can you guess what would be the first casualty of reduced funding? Late or non-existent payroll. It wouldn’t be ammunition that suffers, as that’s mostly in theater already and you can fire on full-auto less often. It wouldn’t be fuel, as that’s mostly in theater already, whether what we brought or what’s being distilled on site. It wouldn’t be Kellogg Brown Root, as they have binding contracts for certain services. Instead, it’d be the same kids that went where they were ordered to go by Congress and the President. Simply slashing the funding to zero wouldn’t do a single bit of good for those who wear the boots. Indeed, how are those kids supposed to get home without even enough money for transportation?

Talk about a morale killer.

And then there’s this gem by Nawoods:

The enemy’s tactic for achieving stratigic victory is to not fight in the traditional sense. Rather they plan operations designed to grab headlines in the western media in the hopes we become demoralized, convince oursleves all is lost, and head for home.

Essentially, what we have here is a complaint that the insurgents aren’t fighting like real men. They aren’t battling for strategic ground. They don’t have a hill to take. They don’t have a river to cross. That’s because that we’re fighting in what the normal folks in the military call FISH: Fighting In Someone’s House. The insurgents don’t have to take and hold land. They just have to deny someone else that ability temporarily. Or back off for a little bit, wait for the US forces to move on, and then return to their former attack runs. Or, just as likely, throw a rock at someone, walk around the corner, and be a suddenly upstanding citizen again. This isn’t a traditional war, and our military leadership and supporters continue to make the mistake of expecting one. (See: Battle of Fallujah) So to Nawoods: You are experiencing a Rectal Cranial Inversion. Please remove head from bottom immediately. Thank you.

So what do we do to win the unwinnable?

For one thing, the “surge” plan is doomed to fail unless and until they scrape up every single bit of necessary and required materiel from stateside and ship it over to the sandbox with all overdue haste. It won’t make a bit of difference to send in another fifty thousand, hundred thousand, two hundred thousand pairs of boots, plus the people to stand in them, if they don’t have the gear they need. This is a must, period, ad infinitum, ad astra, ad nauseum.

Second, all talk of preemptively cutting funding must cease. Instead, we should actually stop diverting funds from the troops stationed in Iraq in the first place. We’re putting more and more money into the Iraqi infrastructure than we are into the actual needs of the people fighting. This, as they say, is a Bad Idea. Fund them right, feed them right, equip them right. You want to show your support of the troops? Then do it where it counts. No more “I support my troops so I’m pulling them back home” garbage.

Third, one hard and vicious timetable. From all available reports, the Iraqi government doesn’t seem to be able to step up and take the ball. If this is a question of them being incompetent and unable to lead, then the incompetent must be replaced. (Preferably by someone who is not chosen for their political friends, but by displayed competence levels.) If this is a question of them dragging their feet and hoping that the Americans won’t leave, acting like a kid going to the dentist for fear of that great big needle… The shot will hurt a lot less than the drill. And they will get drilled if they aren’t as ready as they think they are.

Fourth, an engaged Congress. This very moment, the idiots I helped elect into leadership positions are becoming more and more concentrated on gaining political leverage, scoring points against the loyal opposition, and leveling a few legislative booms on their enemies. Sound familiar? Exactly. It’s what I just got done saying was one of the causes of the Republican downfall. No more business as usual under the Dome. Do your bloody jobs right by the kids who swore an oath to serve, protect, and defend the Constitution of these United States, just the same as you did.

Like it or not, this is our ball to run now. Don’t like it? Tough. We wanted it.

Don’t you dare drop it.

[Crossposted from Left Off Colfax]

January 8, 2007

Sublimated Hostility

Filed under: International Politics,Popular Culture,War — Brutus @ 5:38 pm

At the Indian-Pakistani Wagah border, a strange example of pageantry has evolved where the border guards put on a chest-thumping, foot-stamping display of sublimated hostility. Personnel appear to be chosen specifically for their impressive height, which is amplified to great effect by the headdresses on their helmets. Michael Palin has a brief YouTube review of the festivities: 
(tried to embed the link but it didn’t display properly)

It’s wishful thinking, of course, to wonder what the world would be like if we could act out our disputes and hostilities ritually the way these guards do. It’s a nice daydream, though.

The significant number of people on hand to witness the boarder closing each day and the bleachers erected on at least one side of the boarder indicate that this has become an institution and a tourist destination.

December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein Dead by Hanging

Filed under: Current Events,War — Brutus @ 4:58 am

I went to Wikipedia to look for something and there is already a lengthy article on Saddam Hussein’s execution, which occurred just under 5 hours ago (see this CNN article). Hard to believe how fast things sometimes happen. (There is a new feature — at least I think it’s new — called “Wiki news.”)

I happened to be discussing this with an acquaintance, who was happy that Saddam would be getting “the necktie treatment” so soon. Although my acquaintance was partially being funny, I remarked how easily we become vengeful. Although I don’t regret the decision to punish Saddam Hussein via the death penalty, I don’t revel in it, either. Nor do I consider it fodder for glib jokes. Maybe it’s quaint of me, but as with going to war, it seems to me a decision and action to be taken soberly, with the utmost seriousness, and as the last reasonable alternative to other better alternatives.

December 5, 2006

Steyn’s Folly

Filed under: Personal Ramblings,Reproductive Rights,War — Tuomas @ 1:35 pm

Why is the pop-pundit Mark Steyn so popular, in addition to his above-average writing and use of often genuinely funny witticisms?

Why is he — of all people — accepted as something of an authority on the conflict between Islam and the West?

Why do American (neo)conservatives worship him so?


December 3, 2006

The Challenge of the Congo

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Personal Ramblings,War — Gled @ 11:04 pm

Tuomas’s recent post, or, more precisely, the news story to which he linked about the violent rapes of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of women in the Congo has been personally challenging to me on a number of levels.

November 27, 2006

Depths of Depravity

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics,War — Tuomas @ 6:23 am

Don’t read this story if you are easily disturbed. It contains violence and sexual assault triggers.

“No one wanted to believe it at first,” says Lyn Lusi, manager of the HEAL Africa hospital (formerly called the Docs Hospital) in the eastern Congo city of Goma. “When our doctors first published their results, in 2003, this was unheard of.”

Here’s the full Newsweek article from Congo.

What is there to say?

(Specializing in what?)

November 24, 2006

The Women and Children of Srebrenica

Filed under: Feminist Issues,War — Gled @ 6:57 pm


Men are also positioned as the “true” threat–women couldn’t possibly act as anything more than companions or mothers–they may have access to the info, but they aren’t going to actually be *acting*.

From the communities end, however, WOmen were, indeed, doing a lot of the *acting* (that is, carrying guns, planning take overs, etc) while at the same time, never really having access to any positions of power.

The actions of the women of Beit Hanoun is one example.

I came across another remarkable and ultimately tragic account in my research into the fall of Srebrenica. Four months before the final collapse, UN Force Commander Philippe Morillon paid a surreptitious visit:

Morillon’s party crept into Srebrenica in the dead of the night. They found hundreds of people living in the street, and dozens still pouring into town. It was cold. There was no wood left in town. People were burning plastic bottles for a little warmth and the smell clung in the cold night air.

The next day, Morillon met Oric. He told him that he would do everything possible to secure a cease-fire, and get humanitarian aid through. He then got into his vehicle to head out of town. Oric had other plans for him. Efendic, back in Sarajevo, had sent Oric a coded message: ‘Whatever happens, prevent Morillon from leaving Srebrenica until he provides security for the people there. Do it in a civilised way. Use women and children.’

Morillon now found his path blocked by hundreds of women and children sitting in the middle of the road. He was now as trapped as they were…

(Laura Silber and Allan Little, “Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation” quoted here.)

Three things occur to me. Firstly the obvious power dynamic – it’s men who are in charge. Secondly it does not appear that Oric (the Bosniac commander) had to organise this. These women (and no doubt the older children too) were already organised in the defence of their city. All Oric had to do was give a command. Finally the government in Sarajevo was aware of all this. “Use women and children”, without further detail, implies that Efendic and Oric shared an understanding of the ways women and children can be used.

November 23, 2006

Colouring Gender

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Race and Racism,War — Gled @ 5:15 pm

brownfemipower, toysoldier, I, and others have been having a three way discussion at her blog, about the issues I raised in my post about how gender-selective atrocities are represented in the media and how feminism interprets those representations. TS’s part in the discussion ended with me slapping him down. I feel a bit of a rogue for that, because he was, after all, supporting me in the face of ad homs from some of the commenters there, (though not from BFP herself).

But it was necessary. The (false) suggestion that I wanted to centre the discussion on white males was becoming self-fullfilling, and I didn’t want that to happen. TS posted a response back at his blog

Any ideology or philosophy that purports whites cannot experience violence, discrimination, marginalization or oppression to the same extent as other racial groups should never be tolerated. That is part of the very foundation of racism.

That was not her argument. Although she did not use the word, I understood her argument as saying that whites are not victims of genocide.

I can’t argue against that proposition. There certainly have been white genocides. The history of Europe is one genocide heaped on another. Europeans colonised Europe before they colonised anywhere else. All that ended in Western Europe sixty years ago.

The whitest genocides in recent history were in the former Yugoslavia and in Armenia. But were they white? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t think it’s my business to decide who’s white and who isn’t. The race element comes in as an “us/not us” calculus, and in those cases, I think the Armenians fell clearly on the “not us” side. Ex-Yugoslavia is less clear, but I think it was more “not us” than “us”.

So, BFP goes on, without in any way denying the crap things that happen to white men, she doesn’t want to centre them.

That’s a deal.

That said, the real issue is that instead of addressing the misandry within the media and within feminism, it was utterly dodged and unaddressed.

It was. And it would have beem no chance of ever addressing it, had we gotten into an endless fight over whether we should or should not be talking about whites.

To a certain extent, when Daran acquiesced to the position that his post failed to acknowledge race as a prominent, if not the, component of this biased treatment, he also conceded that the overall issue of male marginalization, which affects all males, is inherently less important than any other issue. But if this is what the proper response should be, this notion that one should ignore the larger issue/issues that affect an entire group of society and rather focus a smaller subset of that group, then what is the point of bringing up the issue at all? Why call it marginalization or misandry if the “real” problem is racism?

This misrepresents my acquiescence. Firstly I didn’t say “my post”. I said my “analysis” was inadequate. I wasn’t referring to a single post, but to my entire hitherto race-blind conceptual framework. Secondly I did not concede that race is “the” component of this biased treatment. It’s “a” component, and one I should pay attention to.

Regardless of what role, if any, race plays in the media’s coverage of violence, the fact remains that when the victims are male, the media coverage “exemplif[ies] incidentalisation and displacement which, together with exclusion are the three strategies commonly used in the media to marginalise and conceal the gender-selective victimisation of men.”

All men? Or just dark men?

I don’t know, because it’s never occured to me before to ask the question. I think it’s worth trying to find out.

November 16, 2006

The Women of Beit Hanoun – What Really Happened

Filed under: Blogosphere,Current Events,Feminist Issues,War — Gled @ 2:10 pm

I’m still trying to make sense of what happened to the Men of Beit Hamoun, which post I will update shortly. However, what’s become clear in my research is that the story of the women given by the press, and subsequently taken up in the blogosphere, is inaccurate, and that the truth is even more remarkable and tragic.

The press version of the story is that two women were shot dead when a group of around 150-300 unarmed women broke a IDF seige of a Mosque in Beit Hamoun on Friday 3 November, allowing the men trapped inside to escape. In fact two separate incidents appear to have been confused here.

The most detailed incident-based reports of the invasion of Beit Hanoun that I have been able to find are from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), both of which publish weekly summaries, which can be cross-referenced.

According to the PCHR the Mosque incident happened, not on the Friday, but the day before:

At approximately 12:00 on Thursday, 2 November 2006, IOF besieged al-Naser Mosque in the center of Beit Hanoun. There were a number of resistance activists inside the mosque. Approximately 150 women from the area around the mosque moved to lift the siege. IOF responded by heavy gunfire at the women. One woman was seriously wounded to the head. Medical crews were not reach the injured woman. She lay bleeding on the ground for a long time before she was transferred to the Beit Hanoun Hospital, where her wound was described as serious.

The OCHA confirms (PDF link) that “A Palestinian woman was injured by the IDF in Beit Hanoun” on 2 November, but give no further details. No women are reported dead that day.

The second incident, which happened the following day does not appear to have involved a Mosque, other than perhaps being near to one. According to the OCHA, there were five fatalities in all:

3 November: Five Palestinians, including two women and two boys, aged 15, 16, 18, 22, and 42 years were killed, and 38 Palestinians – mostly women – were injured when the IDF opened fire in the direction of a group of women who tried to enter Beit Hanoun.

The PCHR thinks there were two casualties among the women, plus a further four in a separate incident a few hours later:

At approximately 7:00 on Friday, 3 November 2006, a group of about 300 women from several areas in the northern Gaza Strip organized a demonstration and headed to Beit Hanoun. When the demonstration reached the outskirts of Beit Hanoun near ‘Izbit Beit Hanoun, IOF fired at them. Two women were killed and 40 others were wounded. Ambulances were not able reach the bodies of the dead. The wounded were evacuated to hospital at 20:00. The two women who were killed are:

1. Rawda Ibrahim Jaber, 48, from Jabalya refugee camp; and

2. Ibtissam Yousef Mas’oud, 44, from Jabalya refugee camp.

At approximately 11:00 on Friday, IOF continued indiscriminately shell of areas in the towns of Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia, and Jabalia. Four Palestinian civilians, including two children, were killed by the bombardment near ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam Mosque in Izbit Beit Hanoun:

1. Ahmad Sahweel, 15, from Beit Hanoun, hit by a live bullet to the chest;

2. Hamza Mohammed Karsou’, 18, from Beit Lahia, hit by a live bullet to the chest;

3. Hamdi Ramadan ‘Abdul Dayem, 16, from Beit Hanoun, hit by a live bullet to the chest; and

4. Mohammed Ahmad Sabbah, 20, from Jabalya, hit by a live bullet to the chest.

In additions, scores of civilians were wounded, including a journalist of Ramatan news agency, Hamza al-‘Attar, 22.

It isn’t clear how indiscriminate shelling can cause bullet fatalities. What is clear, despite minor discrepancies in the listed ages, is that five of the six fatalities identified by the PCHR correspond to those given by the OCHA.

The Men of Beit Hanoun

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics,War — Gled @ 7:26 am

While preparing a post about the attack on the women’s protest in Beit Hanoun, I came across this remarkable claim, (via Chuckie’s comment at the Woman of Color Blog).

…Beit Hanoun was left with no men between the ages of 16 and 45 in the wake of a massive forced round-up by the Israeli army last Thursday night amid helicopter gunfire, tanks and artillery shelling.

The systematic wholesale internment of entire populations of adult men is by no means unheard of in wartime, but I’ve never heard of the Israelis using this tactic. I became suspicious when, on searching, I could find no news report of this claimed round-up independent of the Guardian’s original piece. I suspect the direct source was this article, also published in the Guardian, by Jameela al-Shanti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who led the women’s demonstration.

For days, the town has been encircled by Israeli tanks and troops and shelled. All water and electricity supplies were cut off and, as the death toll continued to mount, no ambulances were allowed in. Israeli soldiers raided houses, shut up the families and positioned their snipers on roofs, shooting at everything that moved. We still do not know what has become of our sons, husbands and brothers since all males over 15 years old were taken away last Thursday. They were ordered to strip to their underwear, handcuffed and led away.

This was published the following day, but the Guardian’s editors certainly would have had it in hand when they published the earlier report.

It’s not clear what “all males over 15” refers to in the above. The editors appear to have understood it to refer to every man in the city, but it could just as well be interpretted to refer to all the men in the raided houses, or even just those men known personally to al-Shanti.

I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I carried on searching. The most detailed incident-based reports of the invasion of Beit Hanoun that I was able to find are from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), both of which publish weekly summaries. The PCHR report makes no mention of any kind of mass detention, while the The OCHA (PDF link) reported the following (page 11):

1-6 November: More than 2,000 people including women were detained by the IDF in the Agricultural School. Most were released, but it is not clear how many in captivity.


4 November: IDF ordered all men aged between 16 and 40 years living in the Al Masreen and Al Bora areas in Beit Hanoun to evacuate their homes. They were all detained by the IDF in the Agricultural School

The School appears to have been used by the IDF as a temporary holding area. Presumably those not released would be moved to more secure locations. It’s not clear whether the mass arrests on 4 November were included in, or in addition to the more than 2000 people detained there during the week.

The 4 November action, however, does not appear to be the one that al-Shanti was referring to. Aaccording to her, the detentions happened “last Thursday”, i.e., 2 November, the day of the Mosque seige. I began to search for news reports for that day, and found two syndicated stories by Reuters and Associated Press.


Witnesses said soldiers using loudspeakers had ordered all residents over 16 years of age in the town of Beit Hanoun to present themselves at a school for questioning. The town of 30,000 people is effectively under an army curfew, they said.

Associated Press

Amid the clashes, men between the ages of 16 and 40 were ordered over loudspeakers to gather in one of the main squares of Beit Hanoun, but few complied.

Those who arrived in the square were taken by soldiers in trucks to another area of the town and questioned to find out if they were involved in terrorist activity, said the army, which took over the town Wednesday. Some were released and others were taken for more questioning, it said.

Compare with this report from Al Jazeerah:

Israeli occupation forces, on Thursday afternoon, transferred the males of Beit Hanoun aged between 16-45 in a convoy of large trucks to unknown destinations.

Security sources reported that the Israeli occupation forces called the men through loudspeakers, and gathered them in front of An-Nassr mosque in the north of Beit Hanoun.

No mention there that the call had been largely ignored, or that some of the men had been released. Note also the reference to the Mosque – the same one that had been liberated by the women that day.

October 31, 2006

US Military Recruits From All Classes, Races

Filed under: Science,War — Robert @ 1:54 pm

Some conventional tropes of critics of the American military:

* the military draws mostly or disproportionately from the poorest Americans

* the military draws disproportionately from minority populations

* the military draws disproportionately from the poorly educated

All wrong.

The median household income for recruits is slightly higher than the national median.

The top income quintile provides 22.85% of the recruits; the bottom quintile provides 13.66%. (Suggestion to the critics: switch your argument to an inquiry into why the poorest Americans feel so alienated from their country, they won’t even fight for it.)

Racial statistics are a little harder to pithily summarize, but basically the military is ethnically representative of the country. Blacks, who were over-represented by about 17% a few years ago, are now under-represented by about 4%. Pacific Islanders are the most over-represented group, with a whopping 649% over-representation. Asians are the most under-represented, at 69% of proportionality. Those groups are relatively tiny; the Big Three are all close to 1.0.

Educationally, the military considers a “high quality” recruit to be a high school graduate who scored above the 50% on the Armed Forces standardized test. The proportion of high-quality recruits has gone from 57 percent in 2001 to 64% last year (down slightly from 67% in 2004). Category IV recruits (essentially the “let’s give them a chance but not have high hopes” cohort) are 4.4% of total recruits.

The one piece of conventional wisdom that’s accurate: more recruits come from the South.

(H/T: NRO)

October 24, 2006

A Proposal to Republicans

Filed under: Human Rights,International Politics,War — Robert @ 2:47 am

Let’s go for a twofer.

The Republican Party ended slavery in this country. (Lots of other people helped, to be sure.)

Let’s end slavery in the world.

You have read the same depressing news stories as I have. Slavery is on the verge of making a transcontinental comeback.

How should we do it? It beats the hell out of me. This is a “man on the moon” type decision.

But we could do it, probably much as the British did it once – with fire and steel. (Although it would be nice if we could do without the fire and steel for once.)

It’s a job worth doing.

October 22, 2006

They Haven’t a Clue

Filed under: International Politics,Iraq,War — Gled @ 6:21 pm

If leading counterterrorist officials within the American Government don’t even know the difference between Shiite and Sunni, what hope do they have of being able to coordinate an effective response?

October 20, 2006

Substantive Criticisms of the Lancet Report: Part 1

Filed under: Current Events,Debate,Iraq,War — Robert @ 6:12 am

Well, I should be going to bed, but I’m not tired. I can think of nothing better than statistical nitpicking to put me to sleep, so herewith is the first annual Lancet Skeptical Review and Somnolence Soliloquy.

There are two documents in play here. The first one is entitled “The Human Cost of the War in Iraq” and subtitled “A Mortality Study, 2002-2006”. That document can be viewed in the original here. The second document is a companion article which provides some more detail on the study and which can be viewed here. I shall refer to these documents as “the study” and “the article”, respectively.

Let me begin with a quick disclaimer. I am not a trained statistician; any numerical analysis which crawls its way into this post should be viewed with a skeptical eye and read broadly and generally. I am skeptical towards this article’s conclusions on grounds of its consistency with the other things that I know, but this post is not about that inconsistency, and is instead a list of what valid critiques I can come up with against the study and the article. I have skimmed the IBC press release slamming the study, and have glimpsed other criticisms, but have not done any extensive reading in the “opposition research”.

Some of the following criticisms may seem trivial. I have not made an attempt to pick every possible nit, but I have listed each flaw or criticism that I can find in the interest of completeness and thoroughness.

1. My first criticism comes in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the study, which states that 600,000 people have been killed “in the violence of the war that began with the U.S. invasion in March 2003”. This criticism is not statistical, but historical and editorial. The war did not begin in March 2003; the war began in Kuwait on August 2, 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor. We do not speak of World War II as beginning on D-Day, or when Operation Torch put Allied troops back into the continental mass in 1942. This may seem a minor quibble, but it is revelatory of an authorial mindset that the war is blamed on the United States, and not on the original aggressor.

2. Later on the first page, the study states “The survey also reflects growing sectarian violence, a steep rise in deaths by
gunshots, and very high mortality among young men.” These are all facially plausible claims, but only the second and third are actually supported by the study. The study goes on to assert “growing sectarian violence”, “sectarian violence”, “sectarian animosity” and “sectarian lines”, again as assertions. These assertions of sectarianism are plausible from what I know, but an attempt appears to be being made to rest the “fact” of sectarianism upon the study’s foundation. No such finding is supported, however.

3. In the Introduction (p. 4), the study authors assert “Such methods [passive data collection such as morgue reports] can provide important information on the types of fatal injuries and trends. It is not possible, however, to use these methods to estimate the burden of conflict on an entire population. Only population-based survey methods can estimate deaths for an entire country.” This is flatly untrue. Survey methods are in most circumstances the best method for estimating a systemic variable like countrywide-deaths, but it is trivial to reach reasonably strong conclusions concerning deaths using counting methods. Demographers do not do this very often, because survey methods are really very powerful. But they could do if they needed to, and in fact they used to quite extensively before the development of the statistical knowledge that permits us to use survey methods. The survey authors here appear to be attempting to bolster the strength of their work by denying any validity to alternative methods. Those other methods, however, function – and the study authors, if they are competent statisticians, know that they function.

4. In the Introduction, the authors claim that 2.5% of Iraq’s population has been killed since the invasion. The casualty figure they use, 654,965, would thus indicate a total Iraqi population of 26,198,600 people. However, the chart on page 5 detailing the population figures as they were used to assign clusters has a total Iraqi population of 27,072,200 people. With that population total, the percentage ought to be 2.4%. Either they are misreporting the figure, or they are using a different population total for their conclusions versus their starting point.

5. On page 5, the authors note that “For ethical reasons, no names were written down, and no incentives were provided to participate.” While it is indeed ethical to refrain from providing incentives, it is difficult to see the ethical merit of making it impossible to verify or check the study results. That information must ethically remain confidential, but in order to validate a demographic study, it must be possible for other researchers to recompile data. This is a major lapse. It may be justified by the security situation, but given the seeming eagerness to participate in the study on the part of the Iraqi people, it seems unlikely that cooperation could not have been elicited even while following standard demographic survey protocols. The survey work is not reproducible.

The lack of name recording, even informally by the survey takers, also opens up a major area of uncertainty. Without recording names, it is impossible to reliably check for duplicate reporting. Household statuses in war zones are not always fixed and immutable. It is entirely possible that the death of a relative who lived in more than one household over the course of the occupation was reported twice or more. This is made even more likely considering that the surveyors went literally house to house in the cluster area; in Iraq, as in many places in the world, it is quite common to see brothers and cousins living in proximity. The magnitude of this effect could be quite small or it could be very substantial, and we will never know because the surveyors did not keep records of the names.

6. Also on page 5, it is noted that 92% of respondents who reported a death were able to produce a death certificate. This is not a priori impossible but it does seem like a high value considering the condition of the country’s health and governmental infrastructure over the period in question. The central bureaucracy is reported by the study authors as failing to retain a miserable one-third of the death certificate information in peacetime, yet the local versions of that same bureaucracy managed to achieve an essentially 100% rating on ensuring that every dead body went through the proper government protocol. This is again not impossible, but there does seem to be a disconnect between these two observations.

7. On page 7, the post-occupation non-violent death rate for the country, as indicated by the current survey reports, is calculated by the study authors as being essentially the same as during the pre-occupation period, with a deteriorating trend beginning to show itself. The authors hypothesize that “this may represent the beginning of a trend toward increasing deaths from deterioration in the health services and stagnation in efforts to improve environmental health in Iraq.” This seems unlikely; it would seem much more reasonable that those infrastructure components would deteriorate rapidly following the invasion and then either slowly recover as coalition troops and Iraqi government agencies restored capacity, or stay at a low level if insurgent activity was sufficient to eradicate any gains made. This is a small but potentially significant indicator that the survey sample used by the authors does not jibe with the overall population of the country.

8. On page 10, the authors compare this study with the 2002 study and find that the surveys indicate similar results. The authors report “That these two surveys were carried out in different locations and two years apart from each other yet yielded results that were very similar to each other, is strong validation of both surveys.” To describe it politely, this is wishful thinking. That the two surveys yielded similar results is a strong validation that the surveys have similar methodology, execution, and sample, and nothing more than that. A smashed barometer will give the same wrong reading a hundred days in a row; this indicates nothing about the weather and everything about the barometer. This is not the only instance of the study authors hyping the strength and quality of their results without providing foundation for the assertion.

I will hopefully post Part 2 of this on Friday, covering the article itself, which contains some fairly serious problems. Thanks for reading thus far. Comments are welcome. (Update: Part 2 posted.)

October 17, 2006

Threats of Population and Nuclear War

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,War — Brutus @ 3:07 pm

While many of the recent posts and comments on Creative Destruction have been busy thrashing and gnashing about how someone has misstated, misinterpreted, misdefined, misconstrued, etc. some tiny bit of feminism or statistical data, I note that today is the day the U.S. population passed the 300 million mark. What does that mean, really? Not much, at least to some. It’s a milestone, a big round number of which we take note, shrug, and move on. I think the term population pressure ought to be of some concern to us, as capitalist dependence on continued expansion is known (though scarcely acknowledged) to be unsustainable.


Similarly, we take note of the fact that we may already be in an undeclared state of war with N. Korea over it nuclear ambitions (if we allow N. Korea to define that for us or note that no peace treaty was signed at the conclusion of the Korean War — only a cease-fire is in place) or are at least poised to reenter a phase of nuclear brinkmanship not experienced since the 1960s, but I guess we’re more interested in sniping at each other about pomo deconstruction of political correctness.

Even in the face of dire and imminent threat, I realize that life goes on: we still eat, sleep, love, make love, and yes, hate. But we currently face some pretty major threats to human survival both on our doorstep and perched over the horizon. I don’t want to think about them, either. But who will if not us? I’ve lost faith in our government(s) providing stewardship. They’re too consumed with electioneering and serving their top 5% constinuencies. Ugh.

Update: Even before any substantial comments, I’m already feeling silly, sheepish, and a little ashamed. While it’s true that I’m getting personally disoriented and dispirited about the current state of the country and world, getting shrill and antagonistic is the sort of thing that leads to moving to a shack in Idaho, writing a 35-page manifesto for publication in the New York Times, and eventual self-immolation on the sidewalk in front of the White House because NOBODY IS LISTENING TO ME! I don’t want to go any further down that road. So we return you to your regularly scheduled program. Go back to what you were doing.

The Women and Children of Haditha

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Gled @ 7:16 am

In the headline of his Sunday Herald story, Neil Mackay characterised the atrocity as follows:

Haditha: the worst US atrocity since Vietnam … Iraqi women and children massacred by American marines.

After giving a little background, including a comparison with the My Lai massacre during the Viet Nam war, (“mainly women, children, and the elderly”), he gives the following summary of the events in Haditha:

Minutes after Terrazas died, the remaining 13-strong unit of marines went on a bloody rampage, wiping out whole families, killing women, children and an elderly man in a wheelchair, and hurling grenades into homes. In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were murdered by American troops.

Let’s parse the entire story, to see how many of these women and children were actually men.

In the first house attacked, according to MacKay there was a girl called Eman, her “father… mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts and two uncles”, of whom one aunt and a niece escape – a total of 12 people in the house to start with. We’re told that Eman and one brother survived, Presumably the escaping Aunt was the “Only one of the adults in the house that day [who] survived.” Also the niece, giving a total of four survivors. We’re told that seven family members died, leaving one unaccounted for, which must have been a child, probably the other brother.

Here’s the tally for house number 1:


2 Men. (Grandfather, Father)
2 Women (Grandmother, Mother)
2 Male probable Adults (Uncles)
1 Female probable Adult (Aunt)


2 or 3 Children (Eman, Brother, maybe other Brother)


1 Woman (aunt)
2 or 1 Children (Niece, maybe other Brother)

The second house contained eight individuals, of whom seven died:

1 Man (Father)
1 Woman (Mother)
1 Female probable Adult (Mother’s Sister)
5 Children

Not killed:

1 Child

House number 3:


4 Men


1 Woman (intentionally spared by the Marines.)



5 Adults (almost certainly all Male)

Total Killed:

7 Men
2 Male probable Adults
5 Adults probably Male
3 Women
2 Female probable adults
5 children.

Of the 24 people killed in this massacre of “women and children”, it looks like at least seven, and probably as many as forteen were men, perhaps five were women, and five were children. Morever it appears that what started out as an indisriminate slaughter, had morphed by the time it reached the third house into a targetted cull of men.

But you really have to dig deep into the story to tease this information out. Would a normally attentive reader who read to the end have realised just how deceptive the headline and summary paragraph were? What about someone who only read as far as the summary paragraph? Or who only read the headline?

In actual fact the gender gap is even more striking. This list of the victims confirms many of the details given in the story. It also confirms some of the assumptions I made in my analysis: The uncles and aunts were indeed adults. The taxi passengers were indeed male. However, there are a couple of discrepancies. Firstly the other brother in the first house, who was indeed a child and who I assumed survived, in fact died. One fewer adult died than MacKay accounts for. Either there was an error in his list, or a second adult escaped. My lack of familiarity with Arab naming conventions means I cannot tell for certain, but my impression is that it was one fewer woman. (Perhaps the “two aunts” were each the mother of the other’s niece, leading Mackay to double-count the mother. However this is speculation.) I assumed the mother’s sister in the second house was an adult who died, but no such person is listed as a casualty. Instead, there is an additional child. The revised tally of the dead is as follows:

14 or 13 Men
3 or 4 Women
7 Children (5 girls, 2 boys)

Update: Fox News confirms the victims’ sexes, though differs again in some of the details.

Three Strategies

There are many ways you could describe this atrocity. It was a massacre of men, and maybe of children, in which a small number of women got caught up. But a massacre of women it was not. How then, does MacKay manage to pass this event off as a massacre of “women and children”? He doesn’t give false information; the factual claims match the United for Peace list almost exactly. Rather it is the placement, and selective concealment of facts which create this impression. The specific errors and omissions which lead me to infer perhaps two more women casualties than there were, were surely unintentional, but the pattern of exclusion, displacement, and incidentalisation which served to marginalise the male victims was not.

Of the three techniques documented by Dr. Jones, exclusion is most obviously at work here. Men were excluded entirely from the headline. The taxi occupants were excluded from the summary paragraph. The phrase “women, children and an elderly man in a wheelchair” appearing as it does superficially to be a characterisation of the victims, not just some of them, serves to exclude the men.

displacement also rears its head in this paragraph. Having highlighted the “worthy” victims – the women, the children, and the disabled old man (therefore “worthy” according to the distorted cultural values at issue), the “unworthy” remainder (who would they be?) are displaced and effectively concealed behind two gender-neutral terms. “Whole families” might suggest that some men were killed, but not necessarily. The phrase is unlikely to be read as asserting that every single member of each of the families was killed, and indeed there were survivors from each of the three families attacked. Likewise the claim that “In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were murdered” does nothing to suggest that any of them were men. Later on in the story, the male occupants of the taxi were displaced into “driver” and “students”.

Finally we see incidentalisation. Dr. Jones explains the process:

Modern news, as noted, is a hierarchical creature. It generally “leads” with the dominant theme of the article, which the headline is also meant to convey. Many newspapers, printing or reprinting an article or wire-service report, will include only (a version of) the headline and the first several paragraphs of the story. Thus, to relegate an important theme to passing mention in the middle reaches of the article, or to introduce it only at the end, is effectively to render it incidental and inconspicuous, if not outright invisible.

MacKay’s treatment of the murdered men is anything but “passing”. Indeed, he is to be commended for merely doing his job his extensive coverage in the middle and latter parts of the article, but one fact, utterly crucial to our understanding of what happened in Haditha is given the scantest attention. By the time they reach the third house, the marines had stopped targetting women and children. (Update: Of course, the women and children had never been targetted. It is likely that it had always been the men the marines were after. Notice how the woman had been able to escape from the first house, even though burdened with a child, while an unencumbered man hadn’t. Nor did they finish off the injured children in both houses. What happened at the third house is that they had stopped disregarding the women and children. Their rage had subsided, just enough for the code of ‘civilian’ immunity to reassert itself, but only for the “default” civilians.)

Feminists tell me that the goal of feminism is not merely to advance the aspirations of women, but to challenge sexist systems which disadvantage men too. The systematic marginalisation and concealment – effacing – of male victims of war surely meets that definition. When will feminists challenge it?

September 28, 2006

Women and the Draft

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues,War — Gled @ 2:49 am

My promised followup to my previous post will have to wait. Here I respond further to Jeff, over at Feminist Allies


My point was that, if he’s really concerned about men getting shafted regarding the draft, part of what he could be doing is making sure that women have equal rights to work (in, say, the military)…the results of such efforts would be twofold: One, there would be less of a need for a draft, becasue women would be allowed to be in combat (officially, that is; they already are incombat in Iraq right now) and therefore allowed to do more jobs for the military,

The unstated assumption here is that the Selective Service exists to remedy a potential shortfall in the number of troops needed for America’s defence. I disagree. America’s technological millitary hegemony is so great that there is no forseeable threat that could not be met, many times over, from male volunteers alone. (I’m not saying that it should be so met, only that it could be.) The real purpose of draft registration is to remedy a potential shortfall in the number of troops needed for America’s imperialist millitaristic adventures. Giving women greater access to combat roles within the military will not sate your lunatic leadership’s appetite for war. It will merely give it a greater ability to wage it.

You do not oppose the draft by encouraging or supporting women in the millitary. You oppose the draft by opposing the draft.

and two, there would be a whole segment of the population (i.e. women) who would have a more direct interest in fighting the fight against the draft with Jim.

Now I’m confused. I understand the “right” in this context to refer to voluntary service. How will giving women more opportunity to serve voluntarily give them a more direct interest in fighting against the draft?

Unless you’re suggesting that we extend the draft to women in order to encourage them to oppose it…

I was trying to get Jim to see the connections between his right (in my opinion) to not get drafted and the rights of women to work where they’d like.

Why, in the name of the Goddess, do feminists – feminists of all people – advocate for the right of American women to get themselves killed oppressing third-world women in the service of Haliburton’s bank-balance?

Are you insane?

On the other hand, it’s unclear (to me) from Jim’s statments that he opposes the draft itself–sounds to me like he opposes it be for only men; if that’s the case, he ought to be ought there trying to get women more rights in the workplace, right?

It’s not even clear that he opposes a single-sex draft, only that he regards it as oppressive and unfair. (Some people argue that oppressive and unfair things are nevertheless necessary.) In the absence of any clue from Jim on about what he thinks on this subject, let’s stick to what you think, and what I think.

On your latter point, Advocating for women’s rights in the workplace generally is laudible for many reasons, but I don’t see the connection between those rights and the draft (and as explained above, I don’t accept your postulated connection between the draft and women’s opurtunity to serve in the millitary.)

Which brings me to:

Irrelevent. No woman wants to be forced to sign up to serve in the military, which is what we’re talking about with Selective Service.

Says you. There are two issues that you’re conflating here–whether the selective service is a moral wrong in and of itself, and whether the way the selective service is run now (i.e. only men have to register) is wrong. There may be many women who think that the selective service as it is run now is wrong, but who would think that mandatory service for all genders is a moral good.

No, you’re the one who has engaged in conflation – of women’s right to serve voluntarily with men’s right to be free from SS. Now, you’ve drawn a connection between the two, which I don’t accept, but which nevertheless is relevant to our current off-topic discussion. It was irrelevent to Jim’s original on-topic point which you misunderstood.

I’m aware that some women favour mandatory service (NOW, for example, see below). However arguing that all women should be forced to serve is not the same as wanting to be forced to serve. Either they’re personally willing to serve, in which case no force is necessary, or they’re not, in which case being forced is a price they’re willing to pay for that alleged moral good.

NOW’s position used to be (I don’t know if it still is) opposed to the draft, but if that was not possible, then NOW favoured a universal, rather than a men-only draft.

…NOW’s primary focus on this issue is on opposition to registration and draft. However, if we cannot stop the return to registration and draft, we … oppose any registration or draft that excludes women as an unconstitutional denial of rights to both young men and women.

Consider the implications of that. NOW’s official position was that not only should women have the right voluntarily to get themselves killed oppressing third-world women in the service of Haliburton’s bank-balance, but that, in preference to the current status quo, women should be forced to get themselves killed oppressing third-world women in the service of Haliburton’s bank-balance.

And they argued this in the name of women’s rights. It’s sheer barking-at-the-moon lunacy!

September 16, 2006

What the ICRC really tells us about War Casualties

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Statistical Method,War — Gled @ 8:43 pm

In recent posts, I’ve been debunking the myth – mistakenly attributed to the ICRC – that women and children are 80% of war casualties. Here I summarise and discuss the findings of four papers from the peer reviewed British Medical Journal, all of which which were based on patient data from Red Cross and Red Crescent Hospitals. (See also my Analaysis of the figures given in the Lancet study on the war in Iraq.)


The data are consistent with the hypotheses that upwards of 75% of war casualties are adult men, and that upwards of 90% of war casualties are male. See below for detailed findings and discussion.

September 13, 2006

Evolution of a Myth: More on that 80% Figure

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Statistical Method,War — Gled @ 5:00 am

Unsatisfied with merely showing that the claim that “80% of war casualties are women and children” was misattributed to the ICRC. I decided to see if I could trace the statistic back to its origin. After all, the figure could still have a basis in well-founded research. After several hours of intensive Googling, I was able to trace it back to a claim in a 2002 edition of the Refugee magazine published by the UNHCR, which itself was derived, at least in part, from a UNICEF report published to 1996. The claim in the UNICEF report, however states only that women and children are 80% of displaced people. Finally I unearthed the real ICRC figure, which is that less than 26% of war casualties are women and children.

Below the fold, I describe my search in more detail

September 8, 2006

Are 80% of war victims women and children?

Filed under: Feminist Issues,War — Gled @ 10:31 am

Over at The Goddess, Morgaine and I have been having a discussion about war victims:


80% of the casualties of war are women and children, who NEVER have the political power to prevent it.


That is simply false. The majority of victims in most wars are male. In Iraq, for example, adult men were the demographic group most likely to be victims. Adult women were the least. See my post here for details.


You are patently wrong, Daran:

Yes I am. What I should have said was “The majority of casualties in most wars are male. In Iraq, for example, adult men were the demographic group most likely to be killed. Adult women were the least.”

It was not my intention to imply that only those killed should be regarded as victims, any more than it was to suggest that only Iraqis should be regarded as victims. The reference was intended to be an example – a single data point for illustrative purposes. I’m well aware of rape as a war crime, and I most certainly do consider those targetted for this kind of brutalisation, overwhelminly female, to be casualties of war. I’m sorry if the wording I used gave a different impression.

Via Japan Times On Line (Registration required — Daran)

“According to a report prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross, titled ‘Women and War’ and based on two years of research from 1998 to 1999, approximately 80 percent of war victims are women and children. This is mainly because military conflicts now more commonly engulf towns and cities instead of only frontline areas.

A report that reached this conclusion using even halfway-decent methodology would certainly trump my single data point, that’s for sure, but does it?

The cited report can be found here. The executive summary of the study on which it was based can be found here (Both PDF). In neither document can I find any statistic or other statement that stands for the proposition that 80% (or any other percentage) of war victims are women and children. The figure given in the news report appears to be a journalistic invention.

August 25, 2006

National Security and the War on Terrorism

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,War — Brutus @ 12:37 pm

Michael Scheurer answers some questions for Harper’s on U.S. involvement in the Middle East and its implications for national security and the ongoing war on terrorism. His credentials appear to be directly related to these topics, and his answers read as pragmatic rather than ideological. I’m especially impressed that he takes an historical view, noting that we are in our current situation as a result of actions and policy positions taken and not taken back in the first Arab oil embargo of 1973.

I frankly lack the expertise to provide much comment on his views on a point-by-point basis (nor am I particularly interested in scoring points against people the way recent commenters have indulged themselves). However, I do think Scheurer’s remarks present a terrific summary of the issues and suggest they be read and considered.

August 23, 2006

The Eternal Madness of War

Filed under: Content-lite,Personal Ramblings,Popular Culture,War — Brutus @ 3:32 pm

Since Off Colfax posted his encomium to Pump Up the Volume, I’ve been thinking about a similar post on A Bridge on the River Kwai, which I recently saw on DVD. If I ever saw it as a kid, the only lasting impression was of the prisoners marching in columns whistling Col. Bogey’s March (a famous tune most everyone knows even if not by name).

After I got over wondering why Obi-Wan Kenobi was a prisoner of war during WWII, it struck me what a wonderful film it is, full of well-developed character archetypes. The story isn’t especially engaging: British POWs in Japan build a railroad bridge only for it to be blown up on its inaugural crossing. But the way the characters exhibit their particular worldviews and how they interact are the soul of the film.

The Japanese POW camp commander uses force and intimidation to achieve his goals, which doesn’t really work out for him. Although he mentions the Japanese warrior code, Bushido, which is based on determination, honor, loyalty, and dedication, his approach to running the camp is really more fascist. It’s also convenient for the narrative that his staff is mostly incompetent, which ultimately puts the Japanese commander in a bind when he is unable to succeed at building the bridge using his preferred methods.

The British commander, played by Alec Guinness (more familiar to most of us as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars), exemplifies quintessential British reserve through his principled resistance to force and his impassive and bureaucratic professional management skills. His efficiency and success at building the bridge stand in stark contrast to his utter lack of savvy at the end of the film with respect to military stratagems.

Two other major characters provide contrast to the apparent battle of wills between the two commanders: an American POW (played by William Holden) and a British commando in charge of blowing up the bridge. The American, whose dishonorable behavior is particularly unflattering, is heavily reminiscent of absurd characters from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. The British commando (hard to believe such a thing existed), like the other British characters, is unflappable and ultimately unwavering in his dedication to duty. One particularly ironic scene occurs when the British commando compels the American to join the raid on the bridge. In most stories, springing such a well-laid trap would be milked for its drama, but the British officer is almost apologetic (though persistent) in responding to each of the American’s weaselly maneuvers.

The voice of reason through all of this is a British military physician, whose main function is to repeatedly call the entire charade into question as madness. It’s madness for the Japanese commander to mistreat POWs as a means of coercion. It’s madness for the British officers to suffer needlessly out of adherence to principle (The Geneva Conventions, interestingly). It’s madness for the British commander to consent to aiding the enemy by building the bridge. (British soldiers had lollygagged until the British officers were released from the sweatbox and set the men about building the bridge as a means of demonstrating British superiority, raising morale, and maintaining British military command structure.) And it’s madness that the British commandos blew up the bridge upon its completion. All in all, a very entertaining window into mid-20th-century warfare and military practice. The contrasts revealed between the characters and the stark irony of the ultimate destruction of the newly built bridge led me to the realization that the objects and practices of war do in fact add up to a strange sort of insanity, something not altogether different from what a circumspect review of our current wars would undoubtedly also reveal.

July 24, 2006

Innocence Is Drowned

Filed under: International Politics,War — Off Colfax @ 9:47 pm

Well, folks. Looks like it is going to happen.

As I said here, “in the realm of military action, there are few coincidences.” And there is absolutely zero room for coincidence in this report.

The bodies of Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers killed by the Israeli army in Lebanon have been transported to Syria and flown to Tehran, senior Lebanese political sources said.

Israeli and Egyptian security officials confirmed the news, which follows a report that first appeared in The New York Sun, that Iranian forces posted to southern Lebanon have been aiding Hezbollah terrorists in their attacks against Israel, including helping to fire rockets into Israeli population centers.

Got the important part of the lede? Here, let me point it out, just in case someone can’t see it from way up in the cheap seats.

The bodies of Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers killed by the Israeli army in Lebanon have been transported to Syria and flown to Tehran, senior Lebanese political sources said.

Now, you are probably wondering why Iranian units, nominally stationed in Syria, are taking up positions in southern Lebanon.

(Assuming you have read through this far. Which some of you probably won’t, because you worry more about the stagnant-yet-constantly-FUBAR’d situation in Iraq than a whole new crop of bloodshed in Israel. But that’s okay. I’ve got glazed meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes: the ultimate comfort food.) (I did mention I knew how to cook, didn’t I?)

Unfortunately, the answer is simple. And not really what I suspected at first. I display some of my international relations geek-ery after the jump.


July 23, 2006

The hidden war on men in Iraq – Part 2.

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Gled @ 4:13 pm

Barry asks for evidence.

Daran, provide me with some evidence that non-combatant men have been killed more than non-combatant women.

(Edit: I respond to other points he makes in that post here.)

If the Lancet’s breakdown of civilian casualties is accurate, then that statement is true if 5 or fewer in 38 violent adult civilian male deaths (including those not caused directly by coalition forces) were of non-combatants. Lets put that another way, for this to be not true, about 7 in every 8 such casualties would have to be combatants. This assumes that none of the women killed were combatants. If any were, then the ratio would have to be even greater.

The (overwhelmingly male) victims documented here do not appear to be combatents.

Then there’s this report and this one describing gender-selective slaughters of men which do not appear to be combatant-selective.

(Update: Barry has since drawn my attention to this article which shows many innocent people – overwhelmingly male – engulfed by the Coalition’s dragnet search for insurgents.

And how about this: They pull up to houses in minivans and SUVs, armed with machineguns and sometimes grenades. They barge into the house and demand money and gold. If they don’t find enough, they abduct a child or female and ask for ransom. Sometimes the whole family is killed- sometimes only the male members of the family are killed..(My bold.)

In another comment Barry said:

But the assumption that all men are combatants, and all women and children are not, is unjustified.

I presume he wouldn’t disagree with this proposition with “most” substituted for the first “all”. I think the burden of proof now lies with him, if he wishes to assert that a sufficiently high proportion of the male deaths are combatents to falsify the proposition.

July 22, 2006

The Lancet study: My $0.02

Filed under: Statistical Method,War — bazzer @ 7:37 pm

Beset with personal and professional obligations of late, I’ve been shamefully absent from this blog for so long now that all of you have forgotten me altogether. The current debate about the famed Lancet article is a fascinating one, however, and it seems as good a time as any to dive back in.

Applying rigorous statistical methodology in the soft sciences is always fraught with challenge. That’s not to say that it can’t be done effectively (it can, and it should!) but it’s very much a different ballgame. My training was in the hard sciences, where the application of statistical analysis is fairly straightforward. When my wife, the social scientist of the household, asks for statistical help in her research, I always find it more daunting than quantifying (say) nuclear reaction rates.

This particular study has been a lightning rod for controversy since its publication, as partisans from both sides of the divide bring their own ideological biases into the debate, and the whole discussion devolves into a meta-argument that has more to do with the political axes the participants have to grind than with the article itself. We saw it clearly here on this blog, as intense passions were inflamed over an argument about statistics.

For my part, I found the Lancet paper itself largely unremarkable, in both its methodology and its conclusions. I think the researchers did a reasonable job considering the nature of their study. At the end of the day, they essentially said they had a 95% confidence level that the number of civilian deaths fell within the range of 8,000 to 198,000.

Granted, those are large error bars, but that often happens in scientific research. The real crime in the reporting of these findings came from ignoramuses who mindlessly took the unweighted mean of these two figures, which led to countless media headlines screaming “100,000 Iraqi Dead!” and provided the anti-war left with a convenient cudgel of a talking point, lent undue legitimacy by Lancet’s respected status within the world of medical journals.

I think that’s what really got Kaplan’s drawers in a knot, and understandably so. I do think many of Kaplan’s criticisms of the report’s methodologies missed their mark, but I also think Adam was too quick to apologize for linking it into this discussion. Scientists are a cantankerous lot, and as someone who has refereed scientific papers for peer-reviewed journals myself, I can assure you that arguments very similar to Kaplan’s were given full voice behind the editorial scenes before the final draft was published. They were an integral part of the discussion then, and there’s no reason they should not be part of the dialog here as well.

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