16 June 2010

Sausages, Bloody Sausages

  • The Saville report was released yesterday.

    So now the UK has its own admitted My Lai incident, complete with panic fire from an undertrained junior officer; dubious defenses from a company commander; inappropriate interpretation of higher directives at the battalion level; and an almost complete lack of training all around on how to tell a potential combatant from a potential threat.

    If that sounds familiar, it should: It describes three thousand years of problems afflicting occupying armies. As a historical rule (that does have — remarkably few — exceptions), notorious atrocities require either gross incompetence or ill will at the battalion level (roughly 500 to 1000 troops). That's not to say that an individual soldier can't create an atrocity; it's only to say that it's far more likely that a smaller-unit impetus for an atrocity is historically far more likely to result in effective corrective action.

    There are no winners here. It's nearly forty years after the fact, so there's just no bloody way that the Saville report is definitive, in the sense of being 100% factually accurate (considering both inclusions and omissions). It can't bring back the victims. It can't deal with the traumatic effects on families... or military personnel in and around the incident and their families. It can't bring back other victims of the IRA. It can't deal with the continued sectarian problems that demonstrate the fundamental problem with organized religion. All it can do is offer an opportunity for truth — or, at least, as close to truth as we're likely to get — to do what truth does: Offer an opportunity to demonstrate change. Whether twelve years and £195 million just for this 5000-page report will prove a worthwhile investment won't be known for years... as it's operating against a background of several hundred years of mixed sectarian/tribal/nationalist occupation and violence in Ireland.

    I would suggest, though, that this report should be immediately adopted into the curriculum of the Army Staff and Command College. The report demonstrates all too well the likely treatment of post hoc evidence offered by the intelligence community; of perceptions of scapegoating, whether or not justified; of the importance of context in understanding military action and necessity; and, perhaps most important of all, the understanding that the truth about a single incident will not set everyone free: that requires a national and cultural act of will that, in the last hundred years, has only been attempted (with incomplete success) in South Africa.1

  • Those who would sacrifice a little liberty for a little security deserve neither. Ask the family of Alfred Dreyfus.
  • And it's not getting any better in Iran.
  • Another English-speaking nation tries to confront its disdain for foreign languages. (At least it's not France!) Perhaps this is just a side effect of English's capacity for acquiring the best parts of other languages... but it's more likely a side effect of empire and/or isolationism. Meanwhile, consider whether it means dick to be a dick.
  • The Authors' Guild and Wiley continue to obfuscate instead of illuminate over the Wiley amendment "offer" I've discussed here in two parts (raising the chocolate ration to 25 grams) (no, it's being raised even further to 20 grams).

    Frankly, the AG that should be involved here is the New York Attorney General, who should open an inquiry concerning unfair trade practices. But that's not going to happen: If the NYAG opened an inquiry here, it would leave a lot of other questions about unfair trade practices in publishing unanswered... such as the effects of the impetus to me-tooism in acquisitions (and the never-discussed-in-polite-company problems created by the time-to-market problem).

  1. I'm using the Grauniad as a source here just because it's a convenient source that has a lot of well-considered commentary in one place... and because The Times has gone all paywally, and citing the Independent on anything related to The Troubles is, itself, inciting violence. There are lots of other sources all over the news systems of the UK that have similar material, albeit frequently in much smaller and narrower quantities. You could even try the report itself.

    Application of this problem to the problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. is left as an exercise for the terminally frustrated student. Nobody in power is going to even try, so it's going to be left to academic exercises.