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May 27, 2005

Our Methods Of Being Cruel To Others Are Not As Creative As They Should Be

Given all the Koran hoo-ha, I'm surprised few people have paid attention to something the US definitely has done with detained Muslims: shave off their beards.

Many detainees have reported being shaved against their will. And we know this was part of US policy; on December 2, 2002, Donald Rumseld approved various interrogation techniques that included (pdf):

Human Rights Watch put out a press release about this, but it doesn't seem to have been picked up anywhere. And I assume this doesn't seem that important to most Americans. What's the big deal about shaving off a few beards? Shouldn't the detainees and the Islamic world generally just suck it up and get over it?

Well, maybe the below picture can make this issue clearer. I think everyone can probably figure out who's doing the shaving here and who's being shaved.

Of course, there's a critical difference between us and these German soldiers: they were doing it just for fun, while we have REASONS.

Posted at May 27, 2005 08:23 AM | TrackBack

You know, I imagine there is a certain degree of disease-control logic involved in shaving the beards of third-world detainees. So many prisoners in close proximity in shitty conditions almost guarantees an outbreak of SOMETHING with legs and offspring. I honestly don't know anything about the medical conditions of those being held, but this at least I can see as a valid practice if for those reasons (and not, say, humiliation and degradation of one's faith).

Proper sterilization of Korans, however (for health reasons, of course), ought to be done in a steam bath or microwave, probably not in the port-a-jon.


Posted by: Matthew at May 27, 2005 08:48 AM

Love the photo tag. Love it. If there were a Sound of Music II (The Revenge of the Rolf?) and it didn't include this scene, I would feel gypped.

Posted by: inkywretch at May 27, 2005 09:36 AM

a certain degree of disease-control logic involved in shaving the beards of third-world detainees.

Geez, Matthew. You might as well have led off with "perhaps we'd be better off if we just exterminate the brutes."

It's humiliation, plain and simple. Don't make apologies for these fascists. They're counting on a complacent population that will accept their rationalizations.

The showers at Belsen-Bergen were just for sanitary purposes, too, y'know.

Posted by: patrick at May 27, 2005 10:03 AM

Patrick's right. Give me back my name.

Posted by: Matthew Sullivan at May 27, 2005 01:06 PM

We can start calling you "Sully", now that "Matthew" has been stolen from you.

Posted by: saurabh at May 27, 2005 01:39 PM

In the turn of the last century, the mayor of San Francisco ordered the shaving of Chinese prisoners heads shaved, to "prevent" lice, subsequent to "over-crowding" of the jails (this was due in response to mass jailing of Chinese workers who lived in cramp spaces in San Francisco, another harrasment technique). An appellate court review found it unconstitutional since the State couldn't respond as to why it didn't shave the heads of female prisoners ("...did they posses some special genetic disposition as to why they didn't also become infested with lice...?)

Posted by: spooky at May 27, 2005 02:37 PM

Dammit, Jon, at least we probably use SAFETY razors. What's more important, that we're humiliating these people or that we're doing it SAFELY?

Posted by: Ted at May 27, 2005 07:01 PM

Jon: I've seen those pics a million times, and they still never fail to send shivers down my spine. To humiliate is the quickest way to lose one's soul. As someone else said, if the Koran is in the toilet, at least it's in good company: The US constitution is already there. Those fools in Washington don't understand it's not the Koran we've flushed down the toilet: it's our soul!

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 27, 2005 07:49 PM

Never been to your site before. Just found it via blogdex. I want to be clear here: You compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany, right? Really? They killed millions of innocent people.

Making that comparison is just low class.

See also Godwin's Law.

Posted by: at May 27, 2005 08:44 PM

Yes, but he compared them with respect to shaving beards as a method of humiliation, not with respect to killing millions of innocent people. (Though the U.S. military has killed a certain number of civilians -- estimates differ -- in Iraq and elsewhere.)

That said, I would have to add that comparing Bush and the GOP to Adolf and the Nazis has become somewhat tiresome, despite certain resemblances. I would propose that we shift to some other horde: Genghis and the Mongols, perhaps?

Posted by: Jon J at May 27, 2005 08:59 PM

Nice try, anonymous commenter. Jonathan did NOT compare the U.S. to Nazi Germany. You did. There is a big difference between the U.S. and Nazi Germany. I would appreciate greater efforts from you to ensure that remains true. One of them is to make sure our government doesn't order soldiers to commit crimes against humanity.

Posted by: Harry at May 27, 2005 10:18 PM

Ah, the Godwin fallacy. The seemingly tidy conceit that no comparison to the Nazis can be considered valid until ten million people have been slaughtered. The propaganda tactics are the same, the cultural symptoms are the same, and we've even reached the concentration camp stage, but until the death count reaches eight digits, gosh, it's just an unfair, emotionally-charged comparison, eh? Sorry, but when our figureheads are going around BEHAVING LIKE NAZIS, some of us think it's wise to point this out BEFORE it happens again, not after.

Posted by: Kevin Pease at May 27, 2005 11:57 PM

Hey, anonymous. Please study a topic FULLY before using it incorrectly.

See also Quirk's exception to Godwin's Law.

Noticing a similarity between two types of fascists - Bushists and Nazis - is, in fact, a perfectly legitimate comparison.

What is "low class" are the actions of the fascists at the heart of the discussion - not the discussion of their actions.

Thanks for playing. Buh-bye.

Posted by: Silversmith at May 28, 2005 12:57 AM

I don't think the Nazi comparison is getting old; I believe it should be made, and repeated, as often as possible. The Bushists (and Nazis) have used repitition to try to implant an image in place of reality--"faith-based initiative", "right to life", "family values", etc.--and so should their opposition. It may someday sink in, at least sufficiently for some to be attuned to their tactics. And in the case of the Nazi-Bush comparison, there's this: It's pretty damned accurate.

Posted by: Erik at May 28, 2005 10:55 AM


I think the Genghis-Bush comparison is pretty accurate, too: the former, like the latter, thought he had some sort of divine right to crash around the world with his enemies putting ever larger territories under his control.

But his armies did have some tricks up their sleeves that Bush's haven't thought of yet, apparently: from the Wikipedia article on Genghis Khan:

"In 1218 Chingis sent emissaries to an eastern province of Khwarizm with the intention of discussing possible trade with the Khwarizmian Empire. The governor of the province had them killed, and Khan retaliated with a force of 200,000 troops. The Mongol army quickly took the town, using superior strategy and tactics, and executed the governor by pouring molten silver into his ears and eyes as retribution for the insult."

Oops -- let's hope I haven't given Rumsfeldt any ideas by posting that paragraph.

Posted by: jon J at May 28, 2005 12:47 PM

We must never do anything that the Germans ever did. In Iraq, our soldiers breathe air. You know who else breathed air? Nazi Germans. Unacceptable!

Posted by: Stankleberry at May 28, 2005 09:22 PM

"But his armies did have some tricks up their sleeves that Bush's haven't thought of yet, apparently"

Did Genghis's army think of gay S & M pronography? Maybe they had "live performances"

Posted by: at May 28, 2005 10:04 PM

We must never do anything that the Germans ever did. In Iraq, our soldiers breathe air. You know who else breathed air? Nazi Germans. Unacceptable!

I can't believe the person who wrote this is actually as stupid as this makes them appear. Because no one could be that stupid.

Posted by: trix at May 28, 2005 10:53 PM

It's hard to tell if Stankleberry is really stupid or just gets off on playing stupid.

What make people call themselves names like that anyway? They're like high school kids who can't get enough fart jokes.

Posted by: Harry at May 29, 2005 02:42 AM

The issue isn’t whether or not we are the same as the Nazis. The issue is we aren’t different enough.
—Avi Schlaim, Israeli historian, quoted in DailyKos 12/12/04

Posted by: Tirebiter at May 29, 2005 08:37 AM


I'm very happy you noticed and liked the photo tag. As far as know, this is the only website whose standard policy is to include such semi-secret jokes.


Thanks for mentioning that -- I'd never heard of it, although I'm not surprised.


Good point re the safety razors. What really made the Nazi shaving dastardly was not the shaving itself but the lack of care they took in doing so.


Yes. It sometimes seems like the world is run by particularly stupid and unpleasant nine year-olds.


As other people have noted, I didn't compare the US to Nazi Germany. I pointed out that Nazi Germany also shaved people who wore beards for religious reasons in order to humiliate them.

I did this for two reasons. First, to illustrate how offensive and frightening this is found by many Muslims by bringing it into the context of a religion with which more Americans are familiar. And second, because what we're doing alarms me and (I believe) should alarm other people. In history, this type of forced humiliation of others hasn't always led to worse abuses later. However, every hideous action in history HAS been preceded by this type of humiliation. It is a step down the path to a destination at which I don't want America to arrive. And the best way to avoid arriving at that destination is to draw attention to the ugliness of every step along the way.

Jon J, Harry, Kevin Pease & Silversmith,

Thanks for the backup.

Jon J—you may be interested to know that, in between death marches, the Japanese Imperial Army also shaved their Sikh prisoners for similar reasons. (At least, I think this happened—I read it somewhere but I can't remember where.) I actually was going to use that as an example, but I couldn't find a picture.


I encourage you to think this through more carefully and then try again.


As you know, your name alone means you will always find a warm welcome here.

Also, nice quote. Avi Shlaim is a really interesting character.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 29, 2005 09:13 AM

I'm surprised this worked out.

I was afraid we'd risen to the bait and Schwarzy was going to point out that some people can't be reasoned with.

And then he was going to point out my dangling preposition.

And this would take so much energy he'd never give me my book signed in blood.

Posted by: Sully at May 29, 2005 02:07 PM

That dangling preposition rule is a farce. It's a product of the fact that grammarians used to write their texts in Latin, and consequently tried to impose Latin grammar rules onto English. Cf. the "split infinitive" rule, which exists solely because Latin infinitives are a single word that CAN'T be split. Similarly, Latin prepositions MUST precede the prepositional phrase in order for it to be understood. However, English grammar obviously differs, as no one is confused when we end with a preposition. So there's no need to abide by arbitrary rules of what is proper taken from another language. Post-pre-posit away.

Posted by: saurabh at May 30, 2005 11:35 AM

Well, thanks for clearing that up.

I really needed someone to helpfully explain the rules.

Posted by: Sully at May 30, 2005 12:34 PM

A Poem For Rummy & "Old Glory"
When black is blue
& white is red,
when slavery is freedom
and alive is dead,
that's when I'll believe
what we do in Iraq is "just",
That's when I'll believe "In God we trust"!

Regards Greg, Sydney, Australia.

Posted by: Greg Fisher at May 31, 2005 01:49 AM

The real problem with you violators of Godwin's Law is that you show a deplorable lack of American pride. Don't we have plenty of high-ranking, human rights-abusing, murderous scumbags in our own history that we can use for comparative purposes when Bush and his minions commit another war crime? Yes, we do, so I'll thank you not to outsource such comparisons to foreign competitors. Compare American, dammit.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 31, 2005 11:26 AM

Hey Donald, I have some comparisons for you! How about Andrew Jackson, butchering the Iriqoi etc? What about Quantrill and his Raiders? Or how about Lincoln, just check out Tom E Woods "Politically Incorrect Guide to American History"! Regards greg from Oz (LOL).

Posted by: Greg Fisher at May 31, 2005 11:43 PM

That's the spirit, Greg. I feel deeply about this issue, obviously. Any patriot knows that war crimes comparisons should begin at home.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 1, 2005 11:01 AM

WTF? what the hell was this thread originally about? i don't know what you clowns expect to EVER change with this much in fighting. i really thought for about five minutes that the revolution will have to be fought online (thanks patriot act), but nuts to that - at least on the street there isn't enough time for anything BUT singular action.
get educated.
get serious.
do something!

Posted by: czolgosz at June 1, 2005 06:38 PM

Um, czolglosz? You had me going. For a second I thought you believed all the "arguments" in this thread were for real.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 2, 2005 07:57 PM

i don't think, in this case, a nazi comparison is really accurate or useful.

yes, it's done for the purpose of humiliation, but it's such a radically different angle than the what the nazis did. you're talking about the attempted total extermination of european jews, forced shaving being part and parcel to that, and several hundred arab men losing their beards.

i don't know if any of you are under the impression that bush and co. are out to actually commit genocide against the muslims of the world, but save perhaps a handful of them, they're not. it's not what's happening. the scale, and more importantly the overall intent of the nazis' actions make the comparison a tad ridiculous.

all that said, i'm anti-war in the most serious way, but i just think it's harmful to the cause in most cases to try and link bush to hitler if you're trying to win people over to our side. it comes off as something a teenager who's decided it's cool to hate bush by virtue of the latest green day album would spout. it's a turn off.

Posted by: benjamin at June 4, 2005 08:41 AM

Re the Nazi comparison - even BEFORE the current invasion, the U.S.-inspired, U.S.-led "U.N." embargo resulted in the deaths of a million Iraqis. I'd say that puts the U.S. within the same ballpark as the Nazis, especially given a Secretary of State (Albright) who described that "price" (a price paid by someone else, not by her of course) as "worth it" (an interesting statement in and of itself since we now know that Iraq was disarmed before virtually all of those deaths occured).

Posted by: Eli Stephens at June 5, 2005 09:17 AM

What about the millions killed in Vietnam?

Posted by: Trep at June 5, 2005 04:41 PM

A little advice please:

a) Where can one acquire a trustworthy estimate of the number of civilians killed by US Troops in Iraq? (trustworthy meaning not Aljazeera or Fox News Channel)

b) Where can one acquire a trustworthy estimate of the number of Shiite and Kurd civilians killed by the Sunni insurgency?


Posted by: MikeS at June 16, 2005 08:45 PM