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Friday, December 29, 2006

Counting in Iraq: Update III

In my continuing series of non-Renaissance posts that do not belong on this blog, I offer this last installment of my "Counting in Iraq" series.

On March 4, 2006, I wrote that "U.S. military deaths in Iraq should surpass ... the grand total for 9/11 [i.e., 2,986] sometime in late January 2007."

Unlike in my previous two updates, this deadline arrived earlier than I had projected, as U.S. military deaths now stand at 2,987 here in late December [actually, they're now up to 2,996; nine more soldiers have died since I started this post on Wednesday night] .

And since Bush will not be pulling out any troops before he leaves office--he is instead set on a policy of escalation--we can and should expect at least another 1,650 U.S. soldiers to die in Iraq in the next two years (plus another 100 or so Coalition military deaths). And tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis will die. And there's nothing I can do about any of this.

Really, I can't believe my rather simplistic projections from nine months ago were so accurate. And I can't believe that Bush is ok with sending thousands of more young men and women to die in this war.

This grim milestone makes me think of that scene in Shakespeare's Henry V set during the night before the battle of Agincourt (Act IV, Scene 1, which Josh Marshall, it turns out, quoted almost three years ago). Talking to the disguised Henry, the soldier Bates says that "we know enough if we know we are the King's subjects; if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us" (4.1.132-35). The soldier Williams then argues that, "if the cause be not good," the King will have to answer on Judgment Day for the deaths of his soldiers:
But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all, "We died at such a place," some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the King that led them to it; who to disobey, were against all proportion of subjection. (4.1.136-49)
Henry, understandably, bristles at this idea, and I've increasingly found Henry's subsequent logic-chopping, shall we say, unsatisfying.

He first responds that "the king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not their death when they purpose their service" (4.1.158-62). In other words, when Kings (and presidents) go to war, they do not intend for their soldiers to die, and they are therefore not to blame if soldiers do ultimately die (because, as everyone knows, some wars do not result in death).

He continues, "War is his [God's] beadle, war is his vengeance; so that here men are punished for before-breach of the King's laws in now the King's quarrel" (173-76). Put differently, the sinful soldiers had it coming; or, from a more Rumsfeldian perspective, "you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want." According to this logic, a sinless army would be invincible.

And, finally, the King offers this concluding thought, "Every subject's duty is the King's, but every subject's soul is his own" (181-82). Henry's argument here is, of course, right. Williams will not be sent to Heaven or Hell on the basis of what the King has done. But this argument also removes any responsibility from Henry for his soldiers' deaths--he has given himself and other kings a blank check to send as many soldiers as they like to die, especially because they do not intend for their soldiers to die when they start wars. I have to confess to not knowing the precise theological arguments that would support or counter the King's argument, but I do think we, the audience, are supposed to find it sophistic and morally problematic, even repugnant. Do kings bear no responsibility for starting wars that kill thousands and thousands of soldiers and civilians? Everyone except a king would say yes.

And in fact, Henry never directly confronts Williams's main point. Judgment Day may still "be black matter for the King that led them to it," even if the king's ultimate fate will not absolve the soldiers of their own sins. If I were the president and believed in Judgment Day, I would be nervous, very nervous.

Update: Oops, my bad. It appears that Iraq, much like the capture of bin Ladin, might be better described as "a success that hasn't yet occurred."

Update II (12/31/2006): There are now an even 3,000 U.S. military casualties.

  • At 12/30/2006 08:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    As Patton is supposed to have said, no dumb bastard ever won a war by dying for his country, and no commander wants to lose any of his men if he can help it. The problem is that if none of his soldiers are dumb enough to die for their country, the king will still be responsible for the deaths of the other dumb bastards who die for their country. Every commander does intend to kill the enemy.

    I think what Henry is getting at is that his cause is just and therefore the French will be responsible for all the deaths. In earlier scenes he's gone to a lot of trouble to demonstrate that he's in the right. But there are still two problems. One is that the Lancastrians aren't really the legitimate kings of England, so claiming a divine right to the throne of France looks a bit dubious. It's suggested that the war with France is necessary to distract English magnates from challenging Henry's right to the throne and/or fighting among themselves.

    The other problem is that Henry looks arrogant because he is absolutely convinced that he's in the right. Williams asks an awkward question: what if you're not? Henry doesn't seem to have an answer.


  • At 12/30/2006 09:46:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    For me, Williams's speech is the crucial passage of the entire play. For one thing, it forces us to reflect on the opening scene of the "Salic law" speech; is this parody or legitimate justification? And how do we take the tennis balls incident? Is Henry's response glorious or petulant?

    Williams's image of body parts reassembling at Judgment Day is not only fantastically creepy. It also resonates really powerfully for me with Henry's speech before Harfleur, where he rouses his soldiers by disassembling their own bodies:

    Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
    Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
    Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
    Let pry through the portage of the head
    Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
    As fearfully as doth a galled rock
    O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
    Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
    Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
    Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
    To his full height.

    Here Henry asks his soldiers to imagine themselves less as people than as parts of bodies; the rhetoric is rousing partly because, by taking apart their bodies, it prevents them from imagining the death of their (whole) bodies that will ensue. Williams's speech uses that same rhetoric of bodily synecdoche to deflate this heroic battle language and critique the King. Sort of like Wilfred Owens's "Dulce et Decorum Est."


  • At 1/23/2007 09:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Dude, that is so deep. Really, speaking as a person who wasn't in favor of the war in the first place, reading yet another latte sipping academic's derivative leftist pseudo-intellectual rant against Chimpy McBushHitler's Blood For Oil campaign is just the tonic to get me back on the side of our army. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure this stuff is great for bedding trust fund socialist co-eds, but can't you bring academia a little diversity by trying a new line or at least concentrating on your actual field of expertise? Any thoughts on crop rotation, dude? Maybe clover one year, oats the next, what do you say?


  • At 1/23/2007 10:10:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    hmm... I believe you are confusing "pseudo-intellectual" with "intellectual."

    I don't recall any mentions of oil, lattes, or sipping in this post. In fact, the post was largely about our area of "expertise"--which, I'm sorry to say, is not actually crop rotation (though I'm sure we can whip something up about enclosure), but Renaissance literature, such as, you know, Shakespeare and Henry V and all that.

    As the gravedigger in Hamet would say, "Ergo," you are an idiot.

    P.S. I am 100% positive that you are being honest when you say you opposed this war in the first place.

    P.P.S. Last I checked, lattes were now ubiquitous in states red and blue, so I think it's time to retire that cliche.


  • At 1/24/2007 12:27:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I'm not sure what EV means by "back on the side of our army." Is he now currently opposed to our army? I'm not, but perhaps he has been supporting those who wish to kill Americans and American soldiers.

    Or does he mean that he supports the idea of sending more soldiers into battle? That's not exactly what Williams in Henry V would consider being "on his side." But in today's world, where "supporting the troops" often means "sending young men and women into harm's way," I guess I can see what he might mean. Of course, if that's his view, I heartily encourage him to enlist and offer himself up as one of the 1,600 or so U.S. soldiers who are projected to die in Iraq in the next two years. I'll wager, though, that someone who subscribes to this view only wants to support the troops from afar, not actually in Iraq along with them.

    I'll say this for Henry V: he at least fought with his soldiers--even died in France with them in a campaign several years after the Battle of Agincourt.


  • At 1/24/2007 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I guess by "bring academia a little diversity" you mean that you want a broader spectrum of both truth and error -- mingle a little chaff in with the wheat. After all, all opinions, even insane, ideological, or preposterous ones naturally deserve to be represented in the university. It's a real shame that lies and nonsense have been discriminated against for so long. But luckily we have the "academic bill of rights" to set things straight.


  • At 1/24/2007 07:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Simplicius is a genius. Let's see now, I'm four square in favor of firefighters entering burning buildings to save life and limb. And yet, I'm not a member of the fire department. I'm in favor of police officers confronting armed and dangerous criminals. And yet, I'm not a cop. I believe in the utility of constructing engineering projects of great heights and depths putting the lives of the builders at risk. And yet, I'm not a construction worker. Under your taxpayer subsidized logic simplicius, I shouldn't be in favor of any crucial societal function that I am not personally involved in. Is that supposed to be some huge liberal gotcha point? Please.


  • At 1/24/2007 08:41:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Shorter Veddie Edder: "Every subject's duty is the King's, but every subject's soul is his own."


  • At 1/27/2007 03:08:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    And yet, by VE's own admission, when he wrote his first comment, he was not then "on the side of our army."

    What that means, given his last comment, is beyond me.

    But it's clear the main point is that he thinks that U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq is a "crucial societal function." I do not. If fighting in Iraq were anywhere near as safe as working in a fire department, in a police department, or on an engineering project, this wouldn't be an issue. After all, few Americans care about U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany. But Iraq is different because thousands and thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians are dying.

    I realize, of course, that there is no need to go into such detail--only the willfully obtuse do not realize these facts. I can understand the argument that fighting in Iraq is a crucial political endeavor--I disagree with that assessment, but I at least understand it. False equivalencies of the sort VE lays out, however, are a sign of intellectual desperation.


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