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April 29, 2005

I Was Wrong And The Weekly Standard Was Right

As I've said before, one reason this website exists is to allow me to practice being honest and fair. I wanted to practice because being honest and fair requires practice. It doesn't just happen on its own—particularly for those of us, like me, who are human beings.

So in that spirit I'd like to point out a situation in which I was wrong, and Matt LaBash of the Weekly Standard was right. Recently LaBash wrote an article for the Weekly Standard about Ward Churchill. Here's one paragraph:

What Churchill is really trying to say is that from Wounded Knee to the Tokyo Firebombing to our sanctions starving half a million children in Iraq (his favorite talking point), we are guilty of an "uninterrupted stream of massacres." Saddam Hussein--who cared about Iraqi children enough to tie them to tanks as human shields, who skimmed $20 billion from the Oil-for-Food program after it was implemented in 1996, and who before that turned down deal after deal for humanitarian aid if it came with monitoring conditions to ensure it was being used for food (all while finding the scratch to build 48 palaces)--doesn't figure in Churchill's narrative.

When I read that, the bit about Saddam tying Iraqi children to tanks rang false to me. It was hard for me to imagine that in Iraq's wars with Iran and Kuwait this would be a useful military tactic. I also didn't find anything about it in a quick search online—and one thing I did find, a CIA report about Iraqi use of human shields, made no mention of children tied onto tanks.

So I sent email to LaBash, expecting that this was just something he'd heard somewhere, without a credible source. But I was wrong. He was gracious enough to respond and point me to his source, a Human Rights Watch report. It turns out Iraq did tie children to tanks as human shields—not during its wars, but while crushing the uprisings against Saddam in 1991:

Security forces in Basra used human shields to protect their tanks, either tying women and children to the tanks or forcing them to walk in front of them, according to several independent reports. A former resident of Baghdad who now lives in London and who entered Basra on March 7 in a convoy of relief goods, described watching with binoculars a column of 20 tanks proceeding from the al-Ashar district toward the city center on March 8:
I saw that the tank that was leading had three children tied to its front. They did it because four hours earlier they had tried to attack in the same way, and a 14-year-old girl with explosives had jumped on the front of the first tank and exploded it, forcing the whole column to withdraw.

Now, I do believe LaBash's overall point regarding Churchill and Iraq is way off. And I don't feel too bad for being skeptical, because I've read other things in the Weekly Standard about Iraq that were riddled with egregious factual errors and omissions. (For instance, this.) But my judgment on this specific point was wrong, and I want to acknowledge that.

I also want to reveal that I hope to turn this whole "honesty and fairness" shtick into a religious practice, and eventually a worldwide cult. Don't be shy—there's still time for you to get in on the ground floor!

Posted at April 29, 2005 08:13 AM | TrackBack

So what does good ole Labash say about Wounded Knee, starving Iraqi kids and so forth?

It's weird to me that conservatives (and some liberals) think that the mere recitation of American atrocities is a form of sarcasm. I don't want to violate Godwin's Law, so I'll avoid the usual Nazi analogy and ask whether a Maoist would defend his idol by saying "Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, yada, yada, yada".

Posted by: Donald Johnson at April 29, 2005 05:28 PM

It's a morality play. Things were more moral, once upon a time, and the bastards who got killed had it coming anyway. It's the same something for nothing redemption the faithful get in megachurches - with easy monthly payments.

Posted by: Harry at April 30, 2005 11:17 AM