As three years and a few months have passed since the start of the Iraq war, I want to take a moment to reflect on it.
The Iraq war has seen about 2,500 combat deaths of American Soldiers, and probably some 40,000 deaths of Iraqi Civilians, foreigners and combatants. The number of US Soldiers killed per year averages at around 780, and the number of Iraqi citizens and foreigners is around 12,000 / year. Compare these numbers to World War II, where around 100,000 America soldiers were killed per year, or Korea where 20,000 were killed per year, or Vietnam, where 5,000 were killed per year. Additionally, during his reign, Saddam Hussein is estimated to have killed 2 million people over the course of 30 years, which is an astonishing 67,000 people per year, or 3,000 per month. Two million is 1/3rd the number of Jews killed in the holocaust. Saddam Hussein was perpetuating his own patient holocaust, and indeed his Anfal Campaign was a blatant systemic effort to kill all Kurds. Compared with the 10,000 people per year killed by the violence from the war, and the violence from insurgents and local terrorists, the US led Iraq war could be considered to be saving 50,000 lives per year.
If one says they care about the people in Iraq, then how can they wantonly condemn them to tens of thousands more murders per year? As a human being, why should I care so much about people in Louisiana getting murdered, raped, and robbed, but not care about people in Iraq having the same things done to them? Are they any less human?
Every death is terrible and tragic, but unfortunately we do not live in a world of infinite resources. But the choice is clear, if we do nothing, many millions more people die, if we do something, thousands die. There is no choice between death and no death, it is only between a little bit of death and a whole lot of death, between a complex time of turmoil and a hope for a better future for the people of Iraq, the middle east, and subsequently the world, or decades more of murderous oppression and brutality, and possibly of globally disastrous terrorist events. Abdicating choosing does not free us from the moral responsibility. You can’t bury your head and the sand and proclaim you had nothing to do with it. Ignoring something is functionally no different than sanctioning it. It is depraved indifference.
There is no doubt we live in a complicated world, and no one can accurately predict the future, the only thing we can do is make the best possible judgment on the information we have, and deal the worst possible blow within reason that we can, against the enemy, which in this case is fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. But refusing to judge is no moral blank check, it does not free you from the moral consequences of your inaction.
Consider one third of the people in the world today live in brutally oppressive theocratic or dictatorial nations, held hostage by the unsanctioned leaders, the armies they control, and the brainwashing which perpetuates their rule. These nations, as Political Scientists R.J. Rummel has coined them, are nothing short of mortacracies (that is, governments of death), their leaders are explicitly murderous hostage takers, and their people no more than literal slaves, where their thoughts and actions are forcibly controlled by the governments which imprison them. Everyone has heard of the terrible conditions of North Korea, but few people know of the similar conditions people face in Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Berundi, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, etc, and of the wretched oppression forced upon the people living within those borders.
In the Middle East, the situation is the worst of the entire world. Instead of raising standards of living, the massive oil fields under the nations of the Middle East have done nothing but prop up murderously oppressive regimes, which through their indoctrination, brutality, oppression, and religious fanaticism promulgate the worst, though not all, of terrorism the world faces today. The nations of the Middle East, while embracing the technology of industrial age, are culturally still in the dark ages; where violence and intimidation are the accumulation of wealth, where beheading and honor killings are the currency, and where centuries old conflicts between long dead ancestors define their goals.
People living in these nations hate their governments, and so hate whoever they perceive as helping their governments and love who ever their governments hate. Consider in Iran, where the brutal Shia controlled government insists that the United States is Satan and the greatest evil of the earth, the people however, who hate their government because of its oppressive policies, love the US. Iran has one of the strongest pro-US movements in the Middle East. Conversely, Saudi Arabia, which is considered a ‘friend’ of the US, bred most of the terrorists which attacked America on 9/11. In Saudi Arabia, one of the strictest and most controlling nations of the world, the people perceive the US as a friend of their government (with a lot of just cause to consider as much) and since they hate their government, they also hate the US.
Concurrently, three other important factors need to be considered. The Law of Accelerating Returns, the Doomsday Curve, and the Fermi Paradox. The Law of Accelerating Returns, as Identified by author and inventor Ray Kurzweil, is the description of the fact that technology advances in not only an exponential curve, but an exponentially increasing exponential curve. The familiar Moore’s law, which describes and predicts the performance increase of computer processors, extends backwards accurately following this curve all the way to Charles Babbage’s counting machines. In fact all technology follows these very similar curves, from memory storage to genome sequencing to transportation costs per mile traveled. Kurzweil argues convincingly that this growth in technological progress will only become more and more rapid. Consider the technological innovations from 1800-1900 and then compare that with 1900-2000. One can only wonder at the marvels that will come about from 2000-2100.
But along with those marvels come threats, which is why author and political commentator Robert Wrights suggests we ‘take our bitter medicine early’ in his article “A Real War on Terrorism” that is, we stem the growing tide of fundamentalist terrorism earlier rather than later, because if we wait, individual intelligent motivated people will be able to kill hundreds or thousands of other people. This tendency is accurately described in “The Doomsday Curve” and perhaps disturbingly evidenced in the Fermi Paradox. That is, as technology increases, fewer and fewer individuals are able to kill more and more people with less and less effort, and subsequently, at some point in time, a single individual may be able to, either intentionally or even accidentally, wipe out the entire human race. This very idea may be the answer to the Fermi Paradox; the question of why, in a 14 billion year old galaxy of 400 billion stars where if even one single technologically advanced civilization had arisen in the last 5 billion years it would have spread to every single star system in the galaxy, we find none anywhere we look. It could be that life is extra ordinarily rare, or it could be undetectable, or it could be that it almost always tends to destroy itself. The Doomsday curve and Law of Accelerating Returns makes this last scenario disturbingly plausible, but more importantly it is the only scenario which requires action. It is why I am an adamant supporter of the Lifeboat Foundation and also why I support the Iraq War.
At first, the two may seem disconnected, but the effort undertaken in Iraq is not explicitly one directed at punishing Saddam Hussein or securing oil supplies (though both are relevant) The longer term overarching goal of the Iraq war is to create a starting point of liberal democracies in the Middle East. Every single majority Arab or Islam nation is a brutal and murderous totalitarian regime, with the notable exceptions now of Iraq and Afghanistan. Refer to the CIA World Fact Book or the non partisan Freedom House to learn about the nature of the governments which rule these people. Neighboring regimes know that if a stable democracy is formed in Iraq then their own people will want the same, and thus it is in the best interest of every totalitarian two bit thug in the Middle East to do whatever they can to make sure Iraq fails. This is why thousands and thousands of “Insurgents” are pouring in from every surrounding nation and bombing and killing Iraqis, why a recently kidnapped Taxi Cab driver thought he had been transferred to Syria, and why the terrorist attacks are focused on creating a destabilizing civil war, intentionally targeting ethnic divisions to instigate even more “sectarian” violence. An Iraq in chaos is not something people who have lived their whole life in Iraq want, but it is something that every other Middle Eastern tyrant does want.
All of this should raise a great deal of concern in the minds of rational men. To assert that sitting back and doing nothing in the middle east would bring about peace, is completely egregious and flies in the face of all the historical trends of the nations which hold a majority Arab \ Islam culture and would almost certainly lead to a major, probably nuclear level, terrorist event.
These dictators have *no right* to rule these people, they have *no right* to be called a nation, when they don’t grant their own people the basics of individual rights. They have *no right* to *self defense* when they don’t grant it to their own people. Only a government formed from the informed consent of its people has any legitimacy and only when it respects the most fundamental rights of humans, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, does it earn any respect. To the extent at which governments protect the rights of its citizens it is legitimate, to the extent at which it takes them away, it is illegitimate. A clear dividing line, I feel, is that of free speech, because once a governments does not allow it’s citizens to speak, it leaves them *no possible peaceful way to change it* The abdication of free speech is the first and most basic identifier to illegitimate governments. The only nation in the Middle East which allows free speech is Israel.
Something must be done about these ‘nations’ (which I put in brackets because they do not deserve even cursory official recognition) for their people, but most importantly for us, because these nations are the hotbed of everything that might destroy humanity. Something must be done not just because human lives have value and I want them to be able to live in a world where no one is imprisoned for ideas or executed because they want to live, but also because it is in our best interest to see a safe, stable, free world. Democracies (liberal constitutional democracies with market based economies) do not go to war with one another, they commit the least internal violence, see the longest median and mean life spans, the lowest infant mortality rates, and create through their free exchange of information all the great technology the people of the world enjoy today. Brutal oppression, the dictatorships and theocracies of the world, do nothing but breed murderous hatred and complete and utter intolerance, where merely being offended is justification enough to murder.
See, for example, some photos from the “March For Peace” organized in response to the Danish publication of ‘offensive’ cartoons. http://www.snopes.com/photos/politics/muslimprotest.asp You would be hard pressed to find similarly violent sentiments expressed even at a Neo-Nazi rally, and it takes little stretching of the imagination to consider sentiments such as these in the minds of motivated intelligent dedicated individuals leading to hundreds, thousands, or millions of deaths.
So one must naturally ask, if it was necessary to take a first major step in the Middle East, was Iraq the best choice? A lot of evidence would suggest that either Iran or Saudi Arabia would be a better choice because of the brutally oppressive nature and the religious extremism of the regimes. However, one could just as easily argue that had coalition forces attacked a religious Islam nation, then it would have been much easier for inhabitants of that nation to interpret this as a war of Christainity vs Islam, and not one of Civilization vs Barbarous terrorism. But none of have a crystal ball and we can never be sure exactly how things will turn out. We had a military history with Iraq, and Iraq was up for retribution for violating the UN Resolutions applied to it to end the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant, even if he was a secular one, and certainly did have and use chemical weapons, as residents of Halabja would attest to. For these reasons Iraq constituted one of the best cases that could be built to start the change in the Middle East. While it is certainly debatable which Middle Eastern hostage taker was the best to start with, there is no doubt that the change needed to start with one of them, and sooner rather than later.
From a humanitarian perspective, the Iraq war was the right thing to do. From a current geo-political perspective, the Iraq war was also the right thing to do. And from a long term self interested view, the Iraq war was, again, the right thing to do. People who care about the rights and lives of individuals in the world should support it. People who selfishly want to live in a safe stable world should also want it.
Yet people who profess both object to it because some mystical precognitive psychic power only they posses makes them ‘feel’ like it is a bad idea. The same people who take 6 years to buy a car and 30 years to buy a house expect a successful stable democracy to pop into existence in a few months. The same people that call for us to jump into the middle of a civil war in the Sudan worry about us getting embroiled in one in Iraq. And the the same people that point to lessons we should have learned from Vietnam are completely oblivious to the fact that we WON the Vietnam War two years before Saigon fell, that the Nobel peace prize was given to Kissinger and a North Vietnamese general for negotiating a peace, that after the democratically controlled congress made it illegal to support, either militarily or materially, any nation in Indochina, they regurgitated defeat from the jaws of victory, and that, worst of all, more people died in the 6 months following the fall of Saigon than had died in the entire Vietnam War and the North Vietnamese government was eventually responsible for 4.5 million more murders in the subsequent years.
The western world, which is the richest, freest, and most militarily powerful part of the world, sits idly by while half the world is brutally oppressed by murderous tyrants and dictators. Am I advocating invasion after invasion on humanitarian grounds? No, I am advocating a system of long term rational self interest. These types of “nations” are the root of all the instability in the world political sphere, they are the primary causes of wars, famines, the spreading of infectious diseases, and the murderously oppression which breeds terrorism. In a world where rapid technological growth will eventual enable one person to kill millions, billions, or even wipe out the whole human race, we need to ‘take our bitter medicine early’ and immediately turn the tide of these trends before they culminate in the extinction of our race. Only when the whole of humanity joins a modern civilization based on individual rights and property will it become reasonable to look forward to the day when we see a progressively smaller and smaller state, when there is no need of armies, and finally when we will see an and to war and to all internal violence.
See R.J Rummels web site “Power Kills” at http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/welcome.html
1) One book that changed your life?
The Demon Haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark – Carl Sagan
2) One book you have read more than once?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (4 times now?)
3) One book you would want on a desert island?
“How to Build a Solar-Powered Catamaran and GPS Device out of Coconuts, Sand, and Palm Trees” – Have to go with Jenna and Katie on this.
4) One book that made you laugh?
The God Particle by Leon Ledermen (indeed, the funniest book on physics you’ll ever read)
5) One book that made you cry?
Night by Auschwitz survivor Eliezer Wiesel
6) One book you wish had been written?
A conceptual history of classical physics, A conceptual history of Relativistic physics, A conceptual history of Quantum Mechanics
7) One book you wish had never had been written?
Plato’s Republic, aka the origins of communism and mysticism.
8) One book you are currently reading?
The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy by Peter W. Huber, Mark P. Mills
9) One book you have been meaning to read?
The Complete Works of Aristotle.
10) Your oldest books?
Good question, I would guess an old physics / engineering / mechanical or electrical book from the 20’s or 30’s
One of my biggest fears about the future and the well being of mankind are Laws. Yup, that’s right. Laws. I am more worried that these laws, passed in their haste, will cause even more harm. Consider that if the US signs up with the kyoto protocols all of our energy costs will climb. Consider also that since the US is one of the world’s major food suppliers, and the cost of food is the most directly important thing in getting it to the hands of starving people, every single cent in the increase in the cost of food amounts to a certain number of deaths. Whats that number? How many people will a 10% increase in the cost of energy and subsequently food kill? 10,000? 10 million? What number is acceptable?
We really have to remember that every one of these laws passed has negative consequences, usually in the form of human lives.
Consider passing a law which demands an increase in the efficiency of cars. There are only two ways to increase the efficiency of a car, give it new technology, or make it lighter. Usually, making it lighter, makes it less safe. Which means people will be killed. Think about how the Honda Insight bodes in a crash compared the Cadillac Escalade. Conversely, new technology will make a car more expensive, putting new safety features out of the reach of poorer individuals. When one acknowledges that if we are going to die a premature death it will most likely be in a car accident concern over the cost and safety of cars is very important. I have a new Diesel Jetta TDI, which gets 43 miles per gallon and exceeds all other cars in side impact crash tests. It gets mileage comparable to a hybrid, but is one of the safest cars on the market. Yet it is illegal to buy diesel cars in Massachusetts, a law passed over environmental hysteria.
Consider the ban on nuclear power plants, the WHO estimates that 1.25 million people die every year premature deaths from the inhalation of the combustion products of fossil fuels. Many people in Africa COOK THEIR FOOD by burning COW DUNG. Every year since 1975, at 1.25 million people per year, more than 30 million people have now died who probably otherwise wouldn’t have. How many people have died from Nuclear power plant accidents? ~26. How many die from natural gas explosions? Some 4,000 yearly in the world. How many die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning? A completely irrational fear of nuclear power spearheaded all of the laws that now cause millions of deaths. In reality, a few well guarded underground breeder reactor plants, which can be hundreds of miles from population centers, could provide all of the power needed by the US.
Consider also that it is now illegal to drill for oil in the continental United States, even though we have large oil reserves. Instead we prop up murderous dictatorships in the middle east which breed terrorists that have no killed some 50,000 people total. Moronic environmentalist fears pushed these laws through. We prop up brutal dictatorships in South America as well, which foment anti-American sentiment of their own.
Consider of course DDT, which I have mentioned many times. An irrational fear of DDT led to the banning of it by the EPA, and subsequently the UN, which denied foreign aide to any country that continued to use it. At the height of it’s spraying 10 - 20 people died GLOBALLY from malaria. We were on the verge of eradicating it from the human condition. The inventor of DDT received a Nobel prize and was credited with saving 500 million lives. Instead, today, we are ravaged by mosquitoes again. 1.5 - 3 million people die every year from Malaria, mostly children in Africa. Over 30 years that is up to 90 MILLION PEOPLE that have been killed because we IRRATIONALLY BANNED DDT. This is a HUGE black cloud hanging over absolutely everything the environmentalist movement says and does. And until this egregious mistake is acknowledged and corrected, I don’t trust *anything* they say. Mosquitoes are the primary vector for 10 of the 12 worst diseases that have struck mankind, including denguine fever, encephalitis, yellow fever, etc. It has been suggested that Mosquitoes, and the pathogens they carry, have killed HALF OF ALL THE HUMANS THAT HAVE *EVER* LIVED.
It is only by a sheer stroke of luck that mosquitoes currently absorb HIV, should it mutate into a form transmittable by mosquitoes WE ARE TOTALLY FUCKED. All ready there are many cases of HIV that people can’t figure out how they contracted it. Could it be that some these are from mosquitoes?
So more than anything right now I fear the LAWS that governments enact trying to make people safer, because they are NEVER rational, they always cater to the lowest common FEAR. And millions and millions of people die as a result of it.