Kos blows one, big time

If Kos’s attitude about four Americans killed by our enemies is really “screw them,” then he has put himself beyond the pale.

Four military veterans employed as part of a contract armed force hired by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq were slaughtered, and their bodies desecrated, by a mob in Fallujah. There is not the slightest hint that they, or the company they worked for, were doing anything wrong, unless you think it wrong to try to make the occupation of Iraq succeed.

Any human being not a partisan of the Ba’athist or Islamist resistance to the American presence in Iraq ought, first of all, to mourn the deaths of four fellow human beings. And even someone who for national or political reasons approved of killing them ought still to be disgusted at the desecration of their bodies, and ought to refrain from adding verbal desecration to the disgusting physical acts of the mob.

Even if there were some reason to say rude things about those men and what they were doing, ordinary decency, and respect for the suffering of their loved ones, ought to counsel waiting at least until after the funerals before doing so. (I had some rude things to say about Rachel Corrie — things which I’m prepared to defend — but I deliberately waited a year before saying them.)

Nor are the ties of nationality entirely irrelevant here; these men were our fellow-citizens, engaged — though as private employees rather than soldiers or public officials — in carrying out the policy of our lawful (whatever you think of what happened in Florida) government. Indifference to their deaths strains the ties that bind the country together.

Yes, there’s a legitimate debate over the practice of allowing private companies to engage in quasi-military actions on behalf of the United States. As Phil Carter points out, for the purposes of the Law of War they are neither civilians (since they’re armed and organized to fight) nor soldiers (since they don’t wear national uniforms or answer to officers responsible to a government). But if that debate must be carried out before their bodies are cold, it ought to be carried out with respect.

So I think Kos was utterly out of line in what he said at first about the deaths of those men, and not really any better in what he said after a day’s reflection (and laceration by the warbloggers).

Much of what I said above applies to the indifference, or worse, expressed by many now criticizing Kos most vigorously, about the slaughter of the UN staff in Baghdad last August. That massacre was even worse than this week’s in numbers, and in that the UN folks were noncombatants, not quite so bad in that it didn’t involve desecration of the corpses.

Most of what I said applies, but not all of it. Saying “screw them” about the dead — well, “mercenaries” isn’t a pleasant word, but calling them “contract security” doesn’t much change the reality — anyway, saying “screw them” does express, while verbally dancing on the graves of the victims at UN HQ does not express, hostility to the American side in an ongoing war. I wouldn’t say that there is never a time to oppose one’s country, and support its enemies, in foreign adventures — the British Whigs who supported the American revolutionaries earned, I think, the gratitude of their countrymen as well as ours — but in a country where the government can be changed by election that time arrives only very rarely.

The vast majority of Americans — including the vast majority of Americans who thought, or now think, that invading Iraq was a bad mistake — would rather have the situation come out with a victory instead of a defeat for our side. If Kos prefers an American defeat, then he’s entitled to say so, but at the cost of cutting himself off irrevocably from most of his fellow citizens. If he doesn’t prefer an American defeat, then he shouldn’t be indifferent to having his countrymen slain by the common enemy.

When Ann Coulter expressed her wish that Timothy McVeigh had murdered the entire staff of the New York Times, she put herself beyond the pale of civilized discourse. Anyone who now quotes her, links to her approvingly, or supports her financially is dirtying himself: Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

Kos has now, it seems to me, put himself in the same category. And he needs to think, quickly and accurately, about whether to take himself out of it, or remain there more or less permanently.

Until and unless Kos comes to his senses, recognizes what he said, and takes it back with a full and unreserved apology, it seems to me that no office-seeker in his right mind can continue to advertise on his blog.

Despite not seeing at all eye-to-eye with him about politics or policy, I’d like to have Kos — who has energy, skill, and a following — as an ally in the partisan struggle from now to November and beyond. But only as someone with a sense of the basic decencies, and as a patriot.

Update Oliver Willis shares my view. So does Kevin Drum. If anyone outside his own comments section is defending Kos, I haven’t seen it.

[The contrast with the right’s silence about Coulter and Bunning is pretty stark, wouldn’t you say? [Wrong! Bunning is getting some attention.]

Kos now says that his original remark was “pretty stupid”, but is more focused on nastiness some of the right wing is inflicting on him than with the nastiness he inflicted on the dead and their families. His acknowledgement that he was wrong is significant — more, for example, than Ann Coulter has ever done — but I don’t think it’s enough. And his swaggering tone seems inappropriate. Even if he doesn’t feel bad about having ranged himself with the enemies of his country, he ought to be ashamed of having given aid and comfort to Instapundit and Little Green Footballs.

Second update My comparison of Kos’s comment to Ann Coulter’s has really gotten under the skins of a number of people.

All things considered (including his fairly quick retraction), Kos’s remark doesn’t seem to me as unforgivably bad as Coulter’s: my point was that a sufficiently outrageous remark, if not retracted, can put someone outside the bounds of civilized company. I do not propose to carry out a ritualistic de-linking (as if anyone would care about being de-linked from this site). But I do think there’s a need for all of us who agree with Kos about who should win in November but disagree with him about the whether the deaths of those Americans, and the desecration of their bodies, were deplorable events, to say so loud and clear.

Third update On cue, the Kerry Campaign’s blog formally delinked from the Kos site, and said why. That makes good sense as a way for Kerry to make it clear where he stands on Kos’s original remark, and I’m glad Kerry did it.

But, now that Kos has backed off from his own original comment by calling it “stupid,” I think he has taken himself out of the Coulter category, and it seems to me that Tacitus goes too far in calling the money raised for Kerry through Daily Kos “dirty money.” (A candidate would have to be crazy to advertise on Daily Kos now, but that’s about tactics, not ethics.)

Hmmmm … I wonder what links exist between the Bush Campaign and Coulter, or sites that promote her? A project for some enterprising blogger or journalist.

More thoughts, informed by later information, here and here. Bottom line: I continue to think that Kos’s original remark was unspeakably bad, but based on his subsequent comments I no longer think that it reflected either a settled intention to disrespect the dead or ambiguity about which side he wants to see win the war for Iraq. So I think that continued calls for boycotting his site are inappropriate. And now that the right side of the blogosphere has established a standard of conduct and response, I hope it will be applied evenhandedly: to Bill Kristol, for example.

Eugene Volokh has some thoughts about the general issue of “mercenaries,” which I think are acute (as I would have expected them to be) but not complete. Eugene wants to know what’s wrong with mercentaries.I essay an answer here..

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

5 thoughts on “Kos blows one, big time”

  1. Bring out your dead

    Mark Kleiman has expressed, most powerfully, many of the thoughts I have been having on the massacre at Fallujah. I have refrained from commenting on the aftermath of this tragedy. I have felt, well, ambivalent at best. I posted my

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    What Mark said: Here and here. This is truly asinine as Greg from The Talent Show, Jesse and Ezra from Pandagon and Joe from Apathy, Inc. all have noted. If nothing else it inspired me to write a haiku and

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    For the last few days I've been in the ideological trenches, waging war over this sordid, tawdry little controversy. I have been in multiple comment box battles, and I've written e-mails to advertisers (happily with success) to try to get

  5. POLITICS/WAR: Kos Theory

    I generally prefer to blog on a subject like last week's Kos Kontroversy when I've got sufficient uninterrupted blogging time to unpack all its implications, but I haven't had that kind of time lately and the issue's getting a bit…

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