The premature surrender story

There’s a tale flying around Blogville that a bunch of Iraqi soldiers cut through some barbed wire, crossed into Kuwait, and tried to surrender to some British soldiers, who regretfully told them that the war hadn’t actually started and sent them back.

Glenn Reynolds refers to the story with glee; Eugene Volokh, with concern about what might have happened to the Iraqis, a caveat about the story’s truth, and puzzlement about the apparent decision to send the soldiers back where they came from.

I call Eugene’s puzzlement and raise his skepticism. Five will get you ten this is bogus.

The original source is the Mirror, which has a big circulation but occupies a journalistic niche only one level up from the National Enquirer. (Most of the front page in the issue that has the “surrender” story is taken up by a photo of Gwyneth Paltrow, rumored to be marrying some rock star.)

The story includes the telltale paragraph:

Last night the Ministry of Defence officially denied the incident had taken place, but the story was corroborated by an intelligence source.

Right then. Why on earth would MoD deny such a story, if it were true? Not to keep it a secret, if it’s on the front page of the Mirror. To avoid damaging Iraqi morale? To prevent an upsurge of optimism among British troops? To avoid providing political support for HMG’s decision to join in the invasion?

The most obvious reason for MoD to deny the story is that it’s a howler, made up and handed to the Mirror as a morale-booster, or merely made up out of whole cloth by the Mirror correspondent. No official, and no reporter for an English tabloid, is going to be punished for, or embarrassed by, having made up such a story or for reporting it.

And on its face, the story makes no sense. Not the part about some Iraqis deserting, which is plausible, or even deserting because they thought the war had started, which is a little harder to believe (What? No radios?) but might still be true. But under what circumstances would those soldiers be sent back to (as Eugene points out) probable death or worse, rather than being interrogated for whatever tactical intelligence they might be able to provide, disarmed, and either interned or offered a chance to join up with one of the Iraqi opposition groups?

Certainly the decision to send them back would have been echelons above the pay grade of the commander on the scene, yet there’s no mention in the story of the question’s being bucked up to headquarters and the dimwitted and cold-hearted decision blamed on the REMFs.

I’m happy to be corrected by someone more learned in military lore than I, but this smells like a crock to me.

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: