WAR: "Why don't they just give up?"

I’m about to say (as the song goes) a bad bad thing.

When a national government is faced with an attacker of overwhelming force, in an all-but-certain war, leading in all probability to enormous suffering, death, and devastation in their nation, and most likely an eventual loss…

capitulation is morally defensible and perhaps morally obligatory; and failure to do so is morally condemnable.

To say this, is a bad bad thing: because it goes against endless centuries of praise for valor against overwhelming odds, courage in the face of defeat, “never say die,” “we will fight them on the beaches, in the alleys, etc,” VIVE LA RESISTANCE!, contempt for Neville Chamberlain, “free the captive nations!”–and almost every war movie ever made.

And it’s arguably true that the individual person who fights to the death against what he/she regards as something intolerable deserves honor.

The question is, How admirable is it to require thousands, or even millions, of one’s subject citizens to fight to the death in a war of resistance that will almost surely end in defeat?

It is objectively impossible for Iraq to defeat the United States in the case of an all-out military invasion. True, they can go down in such a manner as to inflict tremendous damage, and maybe pull down the whole middle east with them. And if this were to be a gradually escalated, half-hearted war of foreign policy, it might well be possible to inflict such pain and cost that the whole project will be abandoned.

But within, say, the first 48 hours, it will be very clear what kind of operation this is to be. What sort of morality thinks it’s OK, and even praiseworthy, for Saddam to send wave after wave into the meatgrinder just to save face, or in the cause of “national honor,” a natural sentiment of such vagueness that it is easily turned to dishonorable and irrational ends?

I hear, quite properly, loud and frantic debates about the US plan, its justification, its morality. That’s right, and necessary.

But I often hear things like, “Saddam is a corrupt, odious dictator; but we shouldn’t inflict on his people…etc etc”

Maybe we shouldn’t. But does the fact that we (arguably) bear the prime culpability (if culpability it be) as the initiator of the situation thereby render Saddam morally innocent?

In moral terms–disregarding the politics and pragmatics–shouldn’t those opposed to the US policy NEVERTHELESS comdemn Saddam for refusing to “just give in”?

–because I fear some opponents of our policy, those most verbally solicitous of the abused Iraqi people (and I wholly agree that they are indeed abused, and by all sides), are in fact USING those same people as “cannon fodder” to turn (what might be) a misguided US policy into a human catastrophe.

Couldn’t Saddam and his minions just step down for the good of his country? Couldn’t there be such a thing as occupation without war? Shouldn’t the peace moralists be marching for THAT now and then?

The police do say: For the good of your family, when the bandit pulls out a gun–don’t resist!

Everyone wants a line drawn in the sand. For all the shades of analysis that seem to be going on, very few care to not draw that line. And it is obvious to everyone what the right thing to do is.

It has always been possible. I don’t think it even flickered in his twisted mind that he was hurting his own people.

That would only make sense for anyone who claimed that the current ruling structure is terrible but they don’t want war. But of course there is no way for a peaceful occupation by anyone or any coalition. So the line we are left is basically: leave him in power, or forcefully remove him from power.

Because sometimes defeat is worse than war. It’s really that simple.

Sure…that would be great. However, I don’t see how marching in the streets to push Iraq to back down would accomplish much. For one thing, Iraq is not a democracy, and for another we are not the citizens of that country.

What some people don’t seem to understand when they complain about those against the war being critical of Bush but not of Saddam is that we have higher standards for Bush and we believe (perhaps naively) that our views in this democratic society might matter to the President and other policymakers.

They should and most of them (us?) do. I have it very clear in my mind that the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people are primarily caused by Saddam’s refusal to comply with the terms of the UN. No question. He is guilty as charged.

OTOH, the odds of victory are not so clear and depends on what you call victory on either side. Vietnam was also a lost cause for the North and they won. Can Iraq defeat the USA? What would you call “defeat”? Can the USA defeat Iraq? What would you call defeat? I think that anyone who thinks a long term occupation of Iraq by the USA is going to be an easy task is seriously deluding himself. I do not think the case is as clear cut as some think.

If my ancestors here in Finland had thought the OP’s way 64 years ago, I’d be speaking Russian.


“…That would only make sense for anyone who claimed that the current ruling structure is terrible but they don’t want war. But of course there is no way for a peaceful occupation by anyone or any coalition…”

I would hope (a vain hope!) that no one “wants” war. My point is that Saddam is aptly demonstrating the moral depravity of his rule, not merely by “secret” acts that we have to “prove,” but by his open and public unwillingness to negotiate a no-war solution to the situation that satisfies US demands. By “hanging tough” and “saving face,” he is becoming at least partially, and perhaps primarily, culpable for the terrible human cost of what will happen.


“…Because sometimes defeat is worse than war…”

For whom? And–sez who? Saddam? Remember the premiss of the OP: that this is a case in which the US will, in fact, prevail. We may attribute to the average Iraqi heroic sentiments along the lines of “Better dead than red-white-and-blue.” Is the attribution accurate? If they are to be occupied by the Great Satan in any event, would they not choose to preserve as much of their society and population as possible rather than fight to the death? Is the Saddam government morally blameless to the extent it encourages suicidal fanaticism?


“…we have higher standards for Bush and we believe (perhaps naively) that our views in this democratic society might matter to the President …”

Yes. And in and of itself, that’s a reasonable view. But even if you profoundly dissent from Bush’s position and program, wouldn’t there be some moral usefulness in publically telling Saddam that he, also, is expected to do some serious work to prevent bloodshed and suffering? “Serious” at this point means placatring the US, not the UN. (incidentally, I note that citizens of many other countries not hesitating to give “counsel” to the leaders of a country not their own.)


Unfortunately, “victory” for the US may mean causing the one thing we are are guaranteed to cause–bloody chaos.


But I always thought the Finns DID give in to the Soviets–hence the expression “Finlandization.” Would an all-out Russo-Finnish war, and subsequent occupation, have been preferable?

Your argument, as i perceive it, would in the case of a bussload of passengers being held hostage by a crazed gunman justify blowing up the buss? Or at least if the bussload were iraqis.

Scotts original argument, that is.

This is not at all a fact. The Vietnamese had beaten the French and they were confident that they could do the same when the U.S. showed up.

Recent tapes have been released with LBJ talking on the phone, saying that there was no way that the U.S. could win that war. This was at the first of the war (as opposed to Kennedy’s sending advisors). **An example that LBJ gave was that a Vietnamese would sit in a cold wet hole for days waiting to get an opportunity, but a G.I. would wait only 20 minutes until he needed a cigarette. **

Another difference was that we could never invade North Vietnam, which was being supplied by China and Russia. This time Bagdad is the target with no likely supporters.

Uhm, there was a Russo-Finnish war.
About the time of the Invasion of Poland, IIRC.
And the Fins gave the Russians quite a whooping.

I’m sure Kantaloopi will be glad to fill you in on the details.

Indeed. There was an all-out Russo-Finnish war, called the Winter War. (There was also a later all-out Russo-Finnish war, as Finland took part in Operation Barbarossa as Germany’s co-belligerent with the main goal of retrieving areas lost in Winter War.) Soviet goal was occupation and puppet-regimization/annexation of Finland, and Stalin (and most of the rest of the world) thought the fighting would take two weeks, at tops. While Finland lost the war in the sense of it having to give up territory, we preserved our national independence and freedom.

Finlandization refers to post-WWII policy.


You preserved your national independence and freeedom so long as you did what the Soviet Union wanted.

Finland basically surrendered to the Soviet Union. The ‘Finlandization’ of Finland is a diplomatic plus for the Soviet Union since they were able to get what they wanted without actually occupying Finland.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe Finland did what was best for Finland in the long run but to hear it as a diplomatic victory for Finland is a bit much!

Defense and the preservation of a country’s ‘liberty’ often defy pragmatism. There are many countries that, in the long run, would have been better off if they’d rolled over immediately (personally, if I were Saddam I’d give up now and live in exile somewhere; if I were in the Iraqi army, I’d surrender immediately, too), but it just doesn’t work like that.

While that is debateable, it’s almost given that Finland is currently a wealthier nation and generally in a better position than it would be if we had followed the course of Baltic nations instead of fighting for independence. That also applied for the entire run of Finnish post-war history - Finland couldn’t have a very independent foreign policy and there was a definite authoritarian streak in Finnish democracy during Kekkonen era, but Finland still had more national independence, economic independence and yes, even more diplomatic independence (Finland, after all, wasn’t a member of Warsaw Pact or COMECON) than it would have had as People’s Republic of Finland or the Finnish part of the (planned-by-Stalin) Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic. And that’s kinda what’s being the point of discussion here.

Agreed, Kantalooppi, that the decision was best for Finland in the long run.

My point, in relation to the OP, is that Finland did, in effect, give up and accept heavy Soviet dominance instead of fighting and it worked out.

In the case of Saddam resisting the might of the USA, that is correct. If he just accepted the UN resolutions then there wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, he shouldn’t even be placing his country in this position in the first place.

In the grand scheme of things, there is a moral justification for resisting overwhelming odds. I think few would agree to simply rolling over to Nazi Germany or an invading Sadaam army.

I meant an army controlled by Sadaam. Not one made up of 100,000 Sadaam clones.

Actually, they DID fight, and LOST the second R-F War, 1941-45 as a German ally. Just that they then got a break on the best peace deal out of all the Soviet-front nations. The Finns were essentially in this spot in 1945: “You have fought for 4 years. You are beaten. Do you acknowledge this or would you want to also be destroyed?” But Kantaloopi’s saying that had they been “reasonable about the odds” in 1940 and not fought at all because it was obviously hopeless they would not even have had the option of accepting terms.

Defeat is not only total conquest, standing up is not always fighting to the last man. But suing for peace when you are clearly beaten is different from “just give up, it’s hopeless” up front. That IS “rolling over”. Interestingly, insofar as “fighting to the last man”, it seems human nature will be that when it is done on “our” side we think it’s heroic, and when done on “their” side we think it’s fanatical.

There has been a “sea-change” relative to the history of warfare in the late lamented century: before that time, say 1900, 90% or more of the casualties of war were soldiers. In WWII and since, 90% of the casualties are civilians. That pattern is likely to hold true in present circumstances, especially if Saddam, as predicted, withdraws to Badhdad to fight it out.

An invasion of Iraq under these circumstances is a determination that our purpose is so certain, the absolute neccesity so undeniable, that the lives of those innocent civilians are forfeit.

Hysterical clairovoyance as to what Saddam might do someday is not sufficient motivation for such a barbaric decision. I hold it to be on a level with fire-bombing a non-military target, which is to say, reprehensible.

If we do such a thing, we can put aside any pretense of being the “good guys”. Despite all blather to the contrary, we won’t be doing it to free the Iraqi people, but to protect ourselves from a danger that is, at least for now, speculative. God may forgive us but I see no good reason why they should.

Loss in what sense? Has the US “won” in Afghanistan? Really? Thought the Soviets should have given up in WWII? What about the Brits?

Yes, why doesn’t he? In fact, why doesn’t W. step down?