Civil War

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A Pew poll actually asked respondents whether they consider Iraq to be a civil war. Also, they asked whether Matisse is post-impressionist or modern.

It's such a stupid question/debate/topic. Whether Iraq is in a civil war does not inform us in any way. It doesn't tell us what the goals of the different sides are, how their conflicts can be resolved, whether we should be involved, or anything else of real importance. This is demonstrated by the fact that Pew's results on that question show no significant difference in attitudes toward the war among people who responded differently to the "civil war" question.

The thing that drives me the most crazy, I think, are the many people who assert that because of the number of people dying, or the weaponry used, that this says there's a civil war, like Marjorie Miller of the LA Times said on NewsHour a couple of weeks ago:

In the summer, we ran another front-page story that said "Iraqi Civil War All But Declared," and quoting a lot of Iraqi leaders as saying, "Well, we think this has all the earmarks of a civil war."

And, finally, this fall, when we looked at the numbers of Iraqis who were dying -- which had topped 3,000 -- we looked at the almost unbroken violence. We said we thought we had crossed this threshold, and we quit qualifying it.

But the numbers of people dying is not what the debate is about. The discussion is the nature of the violence -- who is fighting whom, and for what reasons and goals -- that defines a civil war. No one denies that the amount of violence is significant enough to call it a civil war. The "threshold" of amount of violence is beside the point entirely.

But she got stupider:

Each side has combatants in and out of uniform. They're attacking government ministries. You have 100 Iraqis dying at least every day. What do you call that, if not civil war?

Again, the numbers are beside the point. The other things she mentioned are getting closer to the point, but still don't support the argument that it is a civil war: OK, they are attacking government ministries. Who is doing it? Why? What's the goal? Is it the main objective, or incidental?

To answer her question though, I think the answer is simple: you call it the Iraq War. She cannot even explain on NewsHour a reasonable and commonly understood definition of "civil war," and yet she defends the use of the word by saying it is to help people understand what's going on. But as I mentioned above, no, it doesn't. It does not inform us. Actually answering the questions about who is doing what and why will inform us. Labeling it "civil war" will not.

But let me just allow Yale and Columbia history professors in the same article to weigh in:

Frankly, I regard this as a frivolous discussion ...

Well, there's no definition of civil war that's chiseled in stone. I'd call it an emerging civil war ... I don't think we should get hung up on the label, as long as we focus on the extent to which the shape of the war has been changing and the main lines of division in the conflict have been changing.

I am not saying we should not call it a civil war (and the latter of the two, while saying it is not [yet] a civil war, said it is in some ways positive to call it one). I am saying that people who make a big deal out of asserting it is, "in fact," a civil war, are full of it, and that saying it is a civil war doesn't inform us, and that this whole discussion is a waste of time.

P.S. When I wrote the above title, I just recalled that I think I wrote a song once called "Civil War." I think. But I have no real idea how it goes. I looked at my old list of lyrics to try to jog my memory, but it's not there (though other songs are not there, too).

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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