Wednesday, March 9, 2005

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Help out this fifth grader!

I just received the following e-mail, which I've edited a bit:

My name is *******. I am in the fifth grade.... As part of my class project for American Studies we have to write an essay on a current event and relate that to information on the internet. As part of my project I have decided to write an essay on the Iraq War. My father is not a supporter of the war and belongs to some groups that are for peace. One of his coworkers said I should not just write about the war but about what people on the internet think about it.

There is an essay on the war that my father read about that he thinks would be perfect for my topic but it would be better to see what bloggers think about it. It is not in support of the war and is called Iraq, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, And The Couch Potato's Burden....

My father says I should send it to some people who are for the war, some people who are against the war, and other people who are in the middle. I can then see why people who have the same ideas might have different reasons....

PS- I know you are a professor but I would appreciate it if you could use simpler words. My father says you are for the war but not a person full of anger, so I should try you. (emphasis added)

Alas, as a professor I'm congenitally incapable can't write using only simple words anymore. So I'll turn this one over to my readers.

posted by Dan on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM


Dan, haven't read the book (and have no interest in doing your homework assignments for you), but as suggested inspiration, just think what Mr Brucker, Mr McKiernan or Ms Woloszyienski (sp) would have wanted. Wow, the 5th grade was a long time ago.

posted by: Jay on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

That linked essay certainly doesn't look like it's at the fifth-grade reading level. And wouldn't it make more sense to look on the Internet for opinions on the war rather than asking people on the Internet for their opinions of an essay about the war? This sounds like a thinly-veiled excuse for the father to send an anti-war essay to various bloggers.

posted by: fling93 on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

I tend to agree with fling93 that there's something a little fishy about this e-mail that you received. My antennae are up.

posted by: Klug on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

God...I loved being in the 5th long ago...sigh.

It is true that when a human being 'turns' into a
professor they no longer can use simple words
when expessing themselves. This is due to a mysterious
universe force. There is nothing one can do about
it except to accept the new lifeform.

The mysterious force also affects human beings
studing the mystery of higher mathematics. They
no longer can do simple arithmetic.

Just like those many 5th grades of times long past.

Ahh...the circle of life continues.

posted by: James on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Having read (waded through, would be more accurate) the essay, it's a steaming pile of regurgitated leftista screeching points. Translation into smaller words: The author is simply repeating things he's been told, and many of them are not true.

Some advice for the young man ...

1) Anybody who starts off by saying all Republicans are cold-hearted businessmen (or religious zealots), all Democrats are spineless cowards, all politicians are corrupt, and/or all voters are stupid and ignorant is a bigot. Being an equal-opportunity bigot doesn't make him a centrist, it makes him a hateful fool.

2) If you want to see some clear-headed, informed pro-war essays, read Charles Krauthammer, Victor Davis Hanson, Michael Ledeen, and/or Mark Steyn.

If you want a quick summary of the main pro-OIF argument, it goes like this:
Saddam Hussein was a very bad person. He had attacked one of his neighbors and spent 12 years violating the cease-fire that suspended the UN-authorized war that drove him out. He had tried to hire someone to kill a former President of the United States. He had destroyed an entire ecological habitat. He was paying terrorists to blow up civilians in Israel, sheltering terrorists in his own country, and (at very least) attempting to make alliances with more terrorists. He was torturing and murdering his own people on a grand scale, and had been for decades. He was trying, every chance he got, to increase his destructive capability with WMDs. (Few on the left or right will dispute any of that). Finally, President Bush and the pro-OIF people decided enough was enough. He posed a demonstrated direct threat to his people and a demonstrated threat via proxy to everybody else. He had to go.

posted by: Achillea on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Dan, assuming posters upthread are wrong, I would respond in this way:

It is not often helpful to base one's opinions on the belief that people who disagree are psychotic, suffering from a special kind of mental illness. Illness of this kind does exist, but it is somewhat rare, and people suffering from it are usually unable to reach positions of great power or responsibility.

The Iraq war is a difficult issue, but in thinking about it one may start by asking two questions. First, was it right? Second, was it wise?

The first question is a moral one -- did the United States have the right to invade another country, even though that country's government was one of the most cruel and vicious anywhere in the world and had attacked its neighbors many times in the past? The second question is a practical one -- what does the United States get from invading Iraq? Do we destroy a threat to our own country, or strike a blow against terrorism, or give other people a chance at freedom? And if we do, is it worth the cost to us, especially in the lives of our soldiers but in other ways also?

After thinking about these questions, there is a third: what should we do now? The invasion of Iraq, after all, has already happened. It can't be undone even if we wanted to undo it. Our country has made a commitment to the people of Iraq. This is a great responsibility; what is the best way to be worthy of it?

Personally, I think now that the invasion was right, but not wise. I do not think it was wrong for the United States to remove so evil a government as Saddam Hussein's from power. But, the deadly weapons Iraq was thought to have before the invasion turned out to have been destroyed already, and these were the greatest threat to us. Also, some of the supporters of the war back in 2003 thought it would be much shorter and less expensive than it turned out to be; difficulties that should have been planned for were not, and this has cost the lives of many American soldiers. So, knowing what I know now I would not have supported the invasion, though I did support it at the time.

Now, I may be wrong about this. We cannot tell what would have happened had Saddam Hussein been allowed to remain in power -- he may have just gotten chemical or biological weapons as soon as our backs were turned, and given them to terrorists. And it is possible that if the Iraqi people are able to build a democracy with American help, the region Iraq is a part of may become more peaceful than it has often been in the past.

Whether I am right or wrong, we still must think and act responsibly toward Iraq and the war there. It is no good saying "I am against the war" as if by holding our breath it would go away. It doesn't make much sense to carry on as if Americans who disagree with us are crazy or stupid, either. Instead, we need to think about what is the most we can do in Iraq, and how much time and money we can afford to spend in doing it. I don't have a short or easy answer to the question, "what should we do now?" I think, though, that this is the most important question of all.

Dan, it will probably turn out that if you answer this e-mail the kid will write back to tell you he has access to $30 million in Nigerian bank funds and needs your account number to access them. But maybe not.

posted by: Zathras on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Dear Kid,
I think you have a very good idea, and the best thing about your idea is that simple words can communicate a great deal.

I began to read the 'Wolf' essay and I think it sucks. There are a couple of big reasons and several small reasons for this.

Big Reason #1 - Contradiction
The author begins by saying that the reasons for the American Civil War and WWII were simple and clear. Then he goes on to suggest about 15 different reasons and factors for the war in Iraq.

Every war is very complicated and everybody brings a whole lot of reasons why they are for it, against it, neutral and all of those opinions change over time. Yet he has chosen to ignore that as he looks at history, and history has more information written down than the present.

Big Reason #2 - Cynicism
The author demonstrates his willingness to believe the very worst things about people who don't deserve it. He says that PT Barnum is an astute observer of the American character, and uses the (fake) drama of TV talkshow guests as an example of Americans. If he is willing to believe the worst things about average people, he'll certainly think that about leaders. He will very likely assign sinister motives to people who make honest mistakes. That does not make him a very trustworthy source.

Big Reason #3 - Loaded Language
A good analyst should always use terms that allow the reader to make up their own mind, even when they are giving an opinion. I am trying to do that myself in this note, so I will use phrases like 'he will very likely' instead of 'his ignorance will always force him to'. You're a smart kid. Read through that essay again (if you can bear it) and see how many times he insults your intelligence by using loaded language. That's the difference between analysis and propaganda.

These are the big reasons I distrust the author of this essay 'Iraq, The Boy Who Cried Wolf and The Couch Potato's Burden'. Like many people who have differing opinions on the war, I strongly believe that the author believes that anyone who disagrees with his position is evil, stupid or both.

PS. I'm 43 years old and have three kids in elementary school including a fifth grade son. So as a parent I understand very well how important it is to be clear and reasonable in simple language. Good luck on your work!

posted by: Cobb on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

For more letters along the same lines by other authors, see this. My efforts are in my right sidebar.

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]


On another note....

"...the (iraq) invasion was right, but not wise."

Correct action Not Equal to Wise action?????

I thought it was the other way around.
Isn't it...
"Correct action and Wise action are the same."

There has got to be a proverb, or a chinese
saying somewhere that covers this...

"A wise person knows that a wise action taken
is not dependent on whether the action was
correct or incorrect. But whether the definition
of wise was known at the moment the action was

Master Fung, From "Xiaolin Showdown"

Gee...No wonder he drives his students crazy...

(My apologies if I got the master's name wrong.)

posted by: James on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

He meant right as in morally justified, not right as in correct. Or were you just being funny?

posted by: fling93 on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

One of my website's readers noticed this piece and informed me of it. As the writer of the linked piece I can only respond that it's sad to see that so much of what I decry in it is manifested here:

1)'Anybody who starts off by saying all Republicans are cold-hearted businessmen (or religious zealots), all Democrats are spineless cowards, all politicians are corrupt, and/or all voters are stupid and ignorant is a bigot' Apparently this person missed the part where I speak of parties, not individuals. I also state 'I do not shrink from the term ‘benighted’, nor buy into the political platitude of ‘the American public’s wisdom’. Were that true Madison Avenue could not have thrived.' Can anyone seriously refute that?

2) As for his war rationale, I pretty well destroy it in my demolition of the Joint Resolution.

3)Zathras- up and leave. The tyrant is gone- and the Iraqis have ethical agency. If they choose to war, so be it. It's their choice, although I doubt we'll willingly leave the well-guarded oil fields.

Pt1- I state 'However, not many wars can claim to be relatively clear cut as those two.' What do you not understand about the qualifier 'relatively'?

Pt 2- I actually grant the Pres the best of motives, and defend the First Lady, if you actually read the piece. Even granting he's simply wrong, the war was and is unsupportable- as I show by vetting the Joint Resolution. In fact, to show how off-center you are, as are Leftists, when I've tried to send or link the piece to political/anti-war websites many refused to allow it because I wd not declare myself a Liberal and/or they did not like that I did not solely blame Bush for the war, but also the cowardly, anomic Left. And it's worth noting that I differentiate between Cons & the Right & The Left & Liberals, because I quote from a flaming Reaganaut who is against the war, as are all true conservatives. You can call yourself a con and be for the war, but that ain't gonna make you one. Both extremes are noxious, but the Right's worse cuz they're the powerholders who've consigned so many to needless deaths.

Pt3- the piece is subtitled as an Attack, but even so it is open about it and states '6)I hope this essay can become a template to help argue the Anti-War cause against the incessant Orwellian revisionism and lies that are fundaments needed to propagate war, regardless of whether your opposition is based in conservative or liberal politics, or mere pragmatism and a rejection of deceit and delusion, as mine is. I offer specific talking points, often apolitical, and provide sloganeering hooks to win converts.' I am up front about my aim, far more than you are in this post when you claim, 'I strongly believe that the author believes that anyone who disagrees with his position is evil, stupid or both.'

While I do not doubt you believe that you are manifesting your own prejudices, not mine, as I state, 'There are some anti-warriors and Leftists who hate all America stands for, as there are Apocalyptic pro-warriors and Rightists who support ‘freedom’ abroad, but anti-libertarian causes at home. There are Leftists that shamelessly grandstand, such as the disingenuous networking tool that was Poets Against The War. I denuded their senseless rebuke of First Lady Laura Bush- a great friend to the arts. Neither has a grasp of American nor world history in toto, for America has committed atrocities, but so has virtually every other nation, and it is American to be for freedom anywhere, not just in places politically convenient. There are Leftists who are sincere, fear not a ‘real’ win, but a victory of might makes right. I disagree, to a degree, but am wary, and worry over American losses, and possible future wars in Iran or Syria. There are Rightist who are sincere, not ‘in it’ for corporate oil’s greed, but many slavered over profit and war spoils. I do not accuse lay pro-warriors of lack of patriotism, nor malign motives, merely gullibility, and immaturity, in their inability to admit error- in going to war, then conduct of the war, as well an inability to see consequences that can do incalculable, unforeseeable harm to the nation, in ways we cannot see now, but in 2030 will seem inevitable outgrowths of our choices. The integrity of the majority of pro-warriors I do not question, merely the intelligence of their choice. Neither extreme, however, is the majority.' It's hard to get more cogent and evenhanded than that.
Or this, ' I believe in American Exceptionalism- but a saner, more realistic form, emphasizing our place as the only nation in human history consistently bettering itself since its inception, not this Christianized Shining City On The Hill bastardization of the Right and pro-warriors, and that Exceptionalism does not preclude such in other nations, as well. This is the strength of secular ethics, the evolved right and wrong recognitions, that comes from within every individual, opposed to non-secular morals, which are creeds cast down from on high, and without. Ethics support individuals doing what they will, as long as pain is not inflicted, and free will respected. Morals damn all sorts of beings, beliefs, and behaviors, because a higher power supposedly decrees it.'

As for the kid, I'm flattered that he and/or his dad thought enough of it to base an essay on it, or rather reactions to it and the war. Unfortunately, if your posters' replies are typical, they've merely reinforced the very same and sad points about the blogosphere, that most do not read what is written, but what they believe their foe must be stating, for they cannot freeform and can only reply with canned answers- although I agree that you are one of the few non-angry types out there. DAN

PS- send the kid my way and I can put him in touch with some of the real assy Leftists and Rightists who have screeded against the piece. On 2nd thought, I don't wanna be accused of interstate corruption of a child. Damn! DAN

posted by: Dan Schneider on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

fling93 posted:

"He meant right as in morally justified, not right as in correct."

Ah...The more accurate sentence fragment should be:

"...invasion was a morally right thing to do, but was done very very badly."

If this is what Zathras meant, then it involves
two different kinds of wisdom that are not
interchangable-but can be related to one another
depending on the situation.

The Fung (Fong?) proverb is convoluted.
But then I think that was the point.

Apply it to iraq convoluted?

What was so moral about invasion? Where was
the wisdom in that? What definition was used?

How to does one obtain a definition of wisdom?
What is the reference point to measure against?

and so forth.

Student:"But Master Fung. We have to do something!"
Master :"Perhaps young Xiaolin."

"One must be careful with good intentions. Unwise
actions intended to do good can cause more damage
than evil intentions could ever hope to achieve."
Sometimes it is better to do nothing at all."

Student: "Soooo..Is that a yes or a no???"

posted by: James on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

The War in Iraq (from a 5th Grader's perspective:)

Dear Johnny,

Imagine that you decided one day to break into your neighbor's house and eat up all his Captain Crunch.

And just suppose that, a few years earlier, when you were in third grade, that you had broken into your other neighbor's house and stolen all of their Milky Way bars.

Suppose you got caught and your father grounded you. When he grounded you, he says to you: "If you stay in your room after school and promise to do your homework and be a good boy, we'll let you off your grounding and restore your allowance."

"In the meantime," says your father, "We're gonna continue to feed you, educate you, and let you stay with a roof over your head - but we're gonna be watching you to make sure you stick to your word."

"Sure," you say. "I agree."

Of course, you don't really agree. That night, you climb out your bedroom window, sneak next door and throw a rock through your neighbor's front window.

Everyone knows you did it, but nobody sees you do it.

The next night, you again sneak out, but this time, the police happen to be patrolling the neighborhood and they spot you, rock in hand, about to toss it into another neighbor's window.

They nab you and turn you over to your parents. And they tell your parents that if they catch you out again, about to throw more rocks through your neighbor's windows, they'll put you in jail.

The next night, you again sneak out and throw a rock through a neighbor's window. And for the next 17 nights, you manage to sneak out and break all the windows of all your neighbor's houses.

Finally, your father pulls you aside and says to you, "Son, if you sneak out tonight and plan on throwing more rocks through our neighbor's windows, we're gonna let the cops arrest you and take you to jail."

That night, you go out, and just before you heave a rock through a neighbor's window, the cops pull up. They don't shoot you or the neighbors, but they arrest you and take you to jail.

Thus, Johnny, you have just experienced the Iraq war.

Johnny ... you are Saddam Hussein. Your parents are the United Nations (they warned you).

George W. Bush was the cop.

You see Johnny, whatever the United States did that got Saddam in power allowed him to pick on his neighbor countries. In 1999, he invaded Kuwait (in other words, he started throwing rocks). And it looked like he might next break into Saudi Arabia and steal all of their Captain Crunch.

The cops showed up (in other words, the US military). They arrested him, but instead of putting him in jail, they sent him home and grounded him. They made him promise that if he was a good boy, they'd lift the sanctions the UN put on him (in other words, they told him they'd give him his allowance back). In the meantime, he was fed, clothed, housed and educated.

But instead of being a good boy, Saddam started throwing rocks at those who were watching him to make sure he was a good boy (in other words, he started shooting at US military jets in the No-Fly Zone).

Also, instead of doing his homework, he started figuring out ways around his grounding (in other words, he figured out how to evade UN sanctions by bribing some French and Germans).

So, eventually, the UN said to Saddam: "If you keep doing this we're gonna let the cops arrest you."

He kept doing it, despite repeated warnings that he was eventually going to be arrested and put in jail.

When the US invaded Iraq, we didn't start shooting innocent Iraqi's. Could it have gone better than it did? Probably. But hey, war is heck. Are there still problems? Sure. That's why we tend to not want to go to war in the first place.

Saddam is now in jail. As a side bonus, the innocent Iraqi's don't have to worry about Saddam gassing them in their homes. And hey, they had their first real election in 33 years.

For his part, Saddam probably gets all the Captain Crunch he wants.

But no more rocks.

posted by: slim999 on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Slim99, that's pretty good.

My take:
Saddam was an evil guy. There is a question whether the USA, or anybody, should fight evil.
When a country fights evil with an army, the country must be willing to have some soldiers die, and soldiers kill, which are both bad. The fighting country must also be willing to have some soldiers kill innocent people -- this is one reason that "war is hell" is so true.

If Bush had not invaded Saddam, Saddam would still be ruling Iraq. Those against the invasion were FOR Saddam, whether they wanted to be or not. (They could also be unhappy about both invasion and Saddam and be neutral--"both are bad".) Logically, whenever there are two alternatives, to be against one is supporting the other.

The most important comparison today is with Sudan. Bush has called it genocide, but the UN has said it is not. If it was genocide, the UN would have to "take action", according to their charter. If it is not genocide, no action needs to be taken -- so Sudan remains on the UN Human Rights Commission.

Most folk against the Iraq invasion include an idea that the "UN should lead". The UN is now leading on Sudan. As the days and weeks go by, and the numbers of murdered black Muslims increases, remember that this is a direct result of UN leadership.

Those who support the war must admit some responsibility for the bad things: 1500 US soldiers killed; 30-100 000 Iraqis killed, including those murdered by death squad terrorists, and Iraqi terrorist murderers who look just like civilians; and inevitable soldier abuse of Iraqi prisoners and suspects.

Many of those against the Iraq war were also against the Vietnam War, wanting the USA to leave Vietnam. Protesting increased from 1968-1974, when the US left.
After the US left, N. Vietnamese communists took over the South, violating their promises at the Paris Peace Accords, and murdering some 800 000 non-fighting civilians; Cambodian communists murdered some 2 000 000 civilians. See The Killing Fields.
The anti-War Left refuses to take any responsibility for the results of following their policy.

Every policy that is taken has desired and undesired results. When one argues for one policy over the other, the good and bad points should both be examined. When your policy is taken, you are somewhat responsible for the good and bad results.

posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Slim- that analogy is laughably shady. But let's continue it.
If the boy is throwing rocks, all of a sudden the town's mad bomber comes along and blows up city hall, the police station, and thr firehouse. Then, the few remaining 'authorities' are told to forget the bomber, and go after the rock throwing kid, cuz it'll be far easier to get him, and pin the bombings on him- although he had no bombs, after all, and his rocks were really spitballs.
Dad says, 'But, my kid only had spitballs!' but the cop, still dazed from explosions, and clinging to his rosaries, says, 'Fuck you', blows daddy away, levels the house, and leaves it in ruins. Then, the mad bomber says, 'Hey, let me send some of my rats over to the bombed out house, to see if we can make a ruin a breeding ground for the black death.'
The cop is hailed as a hero, because all the neighbors fear his power and authority. Then the cop says other homes may have to be torched- except the mad bomber lives in a cabe a few miles outside of town. The neighbors fear the cop may destroy their homes, meanwhile the spitballer's home has bred a litter of ratlings, who start feeding on the corpse of the spitballer and daddy.

You see, Johnny, what slim shady believes is known as delusion. There is a psychological condition known as psychosis that describes it. That is when someone, like slim, believes things that are false or never happened.

And Tom- wdn't it be far more cogent to blame the Killing Fields on the pro-war Right? After all, they supported the CIA in the installation of the 1st Indochinese death camps in Operation Phoenix? Perhaps your analogy is flawed? Like begets like. When we support murderous tyrannies- wherever- the result is usually not good- Latin America, Saddam. Marcos, Suharto, S. Vietnam, etc. If you're gonna assign blame it's prob best to start with those that actually did killing, not those who were against it, in all its forms. The Left of the 20th C. can rightly be chided for its Stalinist delusions, but its claims in Vietnam, unfortunately, were all borne out one by one. Dan

posted by: Dan Schneider on 03.09.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

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