Category Archives: 2020 Trip to Southeast USA

Freedom: Where is it?


In the community we lived in this winter, Johnson Ranch, Arizona, they have a lot of rules about what you can and cannot do. Fro example, we learned that there were a lot of picky community rules about the color of buildings—all tan. No other colors allowed except slightly different shades. So it seemed to me. At the community swimming pool we were asked to vote on which color of wall we liked best. And they were all basically the same.

They have rules about what kind of plants you can grow on your yard. You have to choose from an approved list.

They make available a book of such rules. Its pretty big. Apparently local Nazis enforce those rules. Sort of like Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. I wondered, where is the freedom America loves so much? Doesn’t anyone care about freedom any more.Has it been sold  for sake of conformity. Everyone should be the same.

This reminds me of a song by Pete Seeger:

Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes
Little boxes
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

And the people in the houses all go to the university
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same
And they all play on the golf course and drink their martini dry
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
And they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same
And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same

There’s a green one, and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

This is not just an American problem. Canadians are just Americans on Prozak. Canadian are just not as loud about freedom.

Where has all the freedom gone? Long time passing.

One crazy last day


It was bound to happen—one last crazy day in a crazy holiday. We had been fleeing Arizona because our Canadian government urged all Canadians to come home, “while we can.” That sounded ominous. Our last week in Arizona was spent mainly talking about the pandemic and what to do about it.

From Sioux Falls South Dakota, the land of the free in the west we headed for home. Much to our surprise after travelling all the way from Arizona and finding it very difficult to find a restaurant other than take-out restaurants or drive-through restaurants, both of which are a bit inconvenient for travellers, we found out that anything goes in South Dakota. Last night we ate in a restaurant where there were no rules. No social distancing and the attitude was do what you want. After all we were in the land of the free? But were we in the land of the dumb? Were we dumb? We were dying (I hope not literally) to eat in a restaurant so we did it.

We cleaned our table, menu, and did not touch anyone or anything we did not know was “clean.” We had been told no standard items would be brought to the table that had not been cleaned specifically for us at our table. That sounded good. Was it? We ate a great meal.

In the morning we paid particular attention to the weather forecast as we had heard about a storm coming in from the west. We had just come from Colorado where they were expecting a blizzard. Don’t they always travel west? Like to where we were and where we were headed? Friends phoned us while we were traveling and they were in Colorado caught in that blizzard and it did not seem like fun.

Well we soldiered on. First I-29, normally a busy highway was eerily empty. Only a few lonely (crazy?) souls were on the road. Were we stupid? That made driving easier. But we had a variety of weird driving conditions on this last day. We drove through fog, snow, rain, freezing rain, blowing snow, and snow packed roads. It changed between those conditions about every mile or so. Fro about 6 hours we drove with constant stress. It never stopped being tricky, but never got dangerous so we thought. There were a few vehicles that had slid into the ditch or meridian. We drove carefully but steadily.

We also kept worrying about what would happen at the border. Canada just announced today that the border was closed to all except Canadian and American citizens and only for essential travel. We considered ourselves “essential” of course. Would the border authorities agree? We had also been advised that if we showed signs of the coronavirus we would not be admitted to Canada. On the entire trip from Arizona we worried that we might develop symptoms. Of course we did not want to get sick. After all we were in the high-risk category of old people with underlying conditions. What would they do if they detected symptoms? We would actually already be in Canada when we reported to the customs authorities at the border. If Canada turned us back would we be able to drive back into the United States?  Likely they would not be keen to have us back. Would we have to camp at the border? Thankfully none of that happened. The Customs official hardly looked at us and believed us when we said we had no symptoms.

We were instructed at the border we would have to “self-isolate” for 14 days. When we got home we were lucky to have some angels of mercy. My wonderful sister Barb and brother-in-law Harv had purchased some essential supplies for us and delivered delicious home made soup. She even added Street Smart candies because she knows how much I like them. Wow! Good friend Garry Giesbrecht delivered tasty stew and offered to pick up essentials. And not just liquor either. Another good friend Cyndi Friesen also offered to get stuff. We were very lucky.

There was one inconvenience. Our television service could not be reconnected for some bizarre reason, even though we had phoned ahead a couple of days and been told it would be all ready when we arrived. Now we found out they could not send a techie guy to fix it either. Technical people were not allowed in our home. This was a serious annoyance as we began a 14-day quarantine. And there was nothing we could do about it. But we soon realized it was not elegant to schlem about it. After all we were safe and sound and at home. Around the world people have been suffering seriously from the coronavirus and its consequences. We just had to buck up and stop complaining.

Friends and relatives phoned or emailed or texted us to see how we were doing. Life was good. Very good. Yet we think about those who don’t have it so good and wish them all the best in these difficult circumstances.

To panic or not to panic

A couple of days ago I suggested to our photo club that we cancel our monthly meeting in the home of one of our members. We usually meet in a small living room and look at slides and discuss them and photography in general.

One of our members suggested we were all overreacting and panicking. My fellow photographer said we should look at both sides.  He suggested we watch a video with Judge Jeanine.  So I watched it and listened to her rant in her typical fashion about those stupid liberals criticizing President Trump and panicking over a flu! It’s just a flu she said.

I agree that most questions have two sides.He said he intended to carry on his life as usual. We need to look at both sides carefully. Important public questions should be based on the best available evidence. Not comments by pundits. And there are many of them on both sides of many questions like this one.

I would suggest that for complex public health questions we consult with experts in the health field, instead of retired judges (or lawyers for that matter.) Trump has some good ones in his camp and we should respect what they say.

And the experts suggest we should be very careful because coronavirus is a very serious health concern. They do not urge panic and they are not overreacting. They have warned that the rate of infection will likely jump sharply in the very near future and they have said “all Americans” (and we should include Canadian in that) should take serious measures to contain the spread and if we do that we have a chance of minimizing the harm. Doing nothing and carrying on as we have always done is not the right approach. If we do that we run a serious risk of making things worse. Much worse.

Trump’s experts have recommend that we keep safe social distances from each other.  Our groups should be small. I think if our entire photo club came to our leader’s home that would not qualify as a safe social distance. It would be dangerous–for someone. If the virus was passed on to someone young and healthy, like our youngest member, for example, he might be safe, but he could pass it on to someone who is not. Like his grandparents or even a stranger he encounters.

Some points made by Judge Jeanine are correct. Most importantly panic is not helpful. I did not advocate panicking. I do advocate that all of us take reasonable steps to protect vulnerable people, including old people with underlying health conditions. I know a  few people like that. The coronavirus can be very serious for them. Young healthy have much less chance of getting seriously sick from it, but they should not take unnecessary chances that risk harm to others. If they just harm themselves I wouldn’t care what they do.

Another expert is Dr. Theresa Tam who has been strongly recommended to me. She is Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer and is a pediatrics specialist in infectious diseases. This is what the World Health organization says about her:

“Dr. Theresa Tam was named Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer on June 26, 2017. She is a physician with expertise in immunization, infectious disease, emergency preparedness and global health security. Dr. Tam obtained her medical degree from the University of Nottingham in the U.K. She completed her paediatric residency at the University of Alberta and her fellowship in paediatric infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and has over 55 peer-reviewed journal publications in public health. She is also a graduate of the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program.

Dr. Tam has held several senior leadership positions at the Public Health Agency of Canada, including as the Deputy Chief Public Health Officer and the Assistant Deputy Minister for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control. During her 20 years in public health, she provided technical expertise and leadership on new initiatives to improve communicable disease surveillance, enhance immunization programs, strengthen health emergency management and laboratory biosafety and biosecurity. She has played a leadership role in Canada’s response to public health emergencies including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), pandemic influenza H1N1 and Ebola.

Dr. Tam has served as an international expert on a number of World Health Organization committees and has participated in multiple international missions related to SARS, pandemic influenza and polio eradication.”

This sounds like the sort of person we should listen to on such important health issues. Not television commentators.

This is what Dr. Tam said 3 days ago: “Let me be very clear. Today I am asking everyone to take strong action to help us delay the spread of COVID-19 and protect as many people as possible.” She also said the following: “With cases rapidly increasing in Canada … our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow.”

Those measures include cancelling non-essential travel outside the country; avoiding large public gatherings, increasing your public space and talking with your employer about working from home, she said. She also said, “This is our chance, right here, right now. We need to act now and we need to act together… You do not want this disease transmitted rapidly. Whatever you can do to decelerate that transmissions and break those chains of transmission is really important. We can do something about this now.”

We don’t want to panic or over react but we should all take the problem seriously not just for own sake, but for the sake of others around us.

While Trudeau said that Ottawa had not ruled out making self-isolation mandatory, Tam said that such a move would be difficult to police. “This is a voluntary self-isolation. It is impossible to be essentially keeping tabs on every single traveller that comes in,” she said.

“This is a social phenomenon, this is a societal response and everyone must take that responsibility,” she said.

I think this is what each of us should do to the best of our ability. For the sake of us all.

The end of civilization as we know it?


Is this the end of civilization, as we know it? Today after a few days of wringing our hands and contemplating what to, we made the big decision. We decided to pack up our kit bag and head out to Tiperarry.  Home in other words. Today we heard the Canadian government say that Canadians who were out of the country should return home “while we could do that.”  What did that mean? Was it possible they would not allow us back into the country? Impossible. Right?

Yesterday, my neighbour Gary, told us that a local Ammo store here in San Tan Valley had a 2 hour waiting line to get in. Why were people stocking up on ammunition? Here in Arizona, everyone has a gun or rifle. Why were these people worried about running out? Were they worried that the revolution was about to begin?

I also thought about the fact that grocery stores were out of food. As of yesterday, the Fry’s store nearby  had many empty shelves. We had tried for about 5 days in a row to get toilet paper. Why were people hoarding toilet paper. Food that I could understand. But I was mystified that toilet paper was sold out for 5 days in a row. I heard it was just as bad in Canada. This is not an America phenomenon.

I also know that when people are out of food things start getting serious. If your family was out of food what would you do? There is no telling what we would do. I suspect societal norms would be insignificant in such circumstances.

I had earlier gone to buy paper napkins when we could not get toilet paper. Chris called this hoarding. But we were just buying enough to cover our journey home if we could not find any. Is that hoarding?

This made me think. Are we approaching the end of civilization as we know it? Surely not. But who ever thought that grocery stores in the U.S. or Canada  would be empty of most supplies. This was inconceivable. But, inconceivable or not, the grocery shelves were empty.

That was why Chris emailed some friends that  were going home because I was worried that people with guns would invade our home to get our paper napkins Crazy. Right? But aren’t empty shelves in grocery stores crazy too? What would you do if your family was hungry and you desperately needed food? Or toilet paper?  Invade my house?

Is it time to panic?

WalMart with empty shelves

This country is on full-fledged panic mode. Stores have run out of toilet paper! None of the shelves. Now this is getting serious. A financial crisis and a health crisis. What does this mean?

I have no idea what this means. The stock market is plunging (or is it recovering?)  Either way, there is very little less rational than the stock market. Reason has nothing to do with it. I don’t know how serious either crisis is. The financial crisis seems to have been brought on by the coronavirus crisis. I don’t know how serious it is.

But there is one reason I think that panic is a serious option.  Now I know some of my faithful readers will criticize me for bringing Trump into the discussion. Some people seem to think I blame him for everything. I don’t think that is true, but I acknowledge their concern. That won’t stop me from commenting on him. And I know he may not be to blame, but I doubt that he has helped either.

The real problem is two-fold.  Like it or not, Donald Trump is the leader of the free world (though I don’t acknowledge him as my leader and I think I am part of the free world.) The real problem is that he is a person who does not think evidence and data are relevant to his job as President. I started to worry when I heard Trump say, “I have a hunch the problem is not as serious as the Disease Control Center says it is.”  Earlier he said, echoing the right wing pundits from whom he does take advice, I think it is a hoax.”

I am not really concerned about Trump. His Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said “he’s a fucking moron.”  Sorry for my bad language, but the quote is not real without the bad word. I think Tillerson was right. I know some friends of mine think he is smart. After all he got elected as President of the United States. I think Trump is cunning. He knows what is good for Donald Trump. He has a keen sense of that.  He is able to disregard the interests of everyone else other than himself. This allows him to avoid distractions and concentrate on his goal–i.e. what is good for himself.

But ultimately I think Tillerson is absolutely right. What really scares me is that about 55 million voted for him and most of them still like what they see. They like him. Now, from my perspective, the United States is led by a man who is obviously unfit for the job.

Even more important however is that Trump is uninterested in data or facts. And he won’t listen to experts. This is what Trump said on CBS 60 minutes the week the latest IPCC report was issued, when asked if he still thinks that climate change is a hoax? “Look I think something is happening, something is changing and it will change back again. I am not denying climate change but it could very well go back.” He added that his uncle  was a professor of science. Trump never talked about climate change with his uncle, but Trump assured us, “I have an instinct for science.” Trump wants us to base vitally important decisions not on science but an instinct for science. It doesn’t matter that Trump knows nothing about science he expects us to trust him. And guess what? Millions of Americans do exactly that. They are not accustomed to basing important decisions on facts and reasoning on those facts. They base decisions on things like hunches, faith, trust, and instinct instead. And they vote for leaders who do exactly the same thing. Would you want a cancer surgeon who based his decisions on science, data, evidence, and careful reasoning on that data or a surgeon who based his decisions on instinct or faith? During a serious health or financial crisis would you want the country to be led by a President who respects science or one who has a instinct for science? Take your pick. But his scares me.

I am about ready to panic.


Is Donald Trump a King?

Recently, I learned some astonishing things about the United States. One of my legal heroes, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, made astounding statements in the U.S. Senate in defence of President Donald J. Trump from impeachment charges launched in the House of Representatives.

Susan Glasser a reporter with the New Yorker interpreted what he said as follows:

Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the President can do just about anything he wants.” This is an astonishing claim. It amounts to saying the United States is not a democracy. Dershowitz was asked by Senator Ted Cruz, during the question and answer phase of the Senate Impeachment Trial of Trump whether or not the President’s motivations mattered when he imposed a condition on the release of hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid for the Ukraine’s defence against Russian aggression. If the President insisted on a quid pro quo that Ukraine investigate Trump’s leading Democratic Party rival before getting the military aid was that permitted?

Dershowitz, one of Trump’s lawyers, went beyond saying what he needed to say to answer that question. Dershowitz said, Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it. There are no limits on what the President can do. Dershowitz in effect suggested.

 I was stunned to hear this. Democracy is more than counting ballots. Counting ballots is important. It is a vital part of democracy, but it is not all of democracy. A democracy must be a country that permits all citizens to vote and for all their votes to count equally. But there are many forms of democracy. Democracy is more than that.

The majority must be constrained by civil liberties or human rights. In other words, we must have a liberal or constitutional democracy. Even majorities in a genuine democracy cannot impose their will on the minorities in all cases. There must be reasonable limits on what the majority can do. For example, the majority cannot be allowed to ban freedom of religion or freedom of speech.  Another example: the majority cannot be permitted to ban free speech, or the free press, or the freedom to assemble.

In Canada such limitations on democracy are contained in the Charter of Rights and Liberties. Added to that, to have a democracy we must have a society in which the rule of law is respected. We do not elect dictators or kings. Our elected representatives, even our top leaders, must govern by law. Political leaders must be governed by law like everyone else. They cannot do anything they want. This is the flaw in Dershowitz’s argument. Saying the President can do “anything he wants,” amounts to saying the President can be an absolute dictator. That is contrary to democracy.

I am no expert on the American constitution so don’t want to comment on it. But a democratic society cannot be led by a dictator or king, even if the term of the leader is limited for specific years, such as 4 years in the case of the United States.

Dershowitz had something larger and more profound to say, however: Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it.

Dershowitz argued,

“If a President does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” he argued. Dershowitz was offering Trump—and all future Presidents—a free pass. His argument seemed unbelievable: as long as the President thinks his reëlection will benefit the country, he can do anything in pursuit of it without fear of impeachment.”


Of course, earlier Trump himself made it clear that this was his position. No surprise there. He said “I can do whatever I want.” Trump’s actions and statements, ever since he got elected, make it clear that is precisely what Trump believed. If Trump is right, America is not a democracy! If Trump is right the US has elected a King!

In the impeachment trial in the Senate the House managers who acted as prosecutors, played the video of Trump making this statement over and over again. It was no surprise that Trump believed this. All of his actions and statements since being elected in 2016 made it clear that this was his belief.  Few others have expressed similar views. Therefore is it was shocking to see this position supported by Alan Dershowitz a respected Harvard Law Professor emeritus.

As shocking as all of this is, and it is shocking, what is even more shocking is that millions of Americans agree with this!  Millions don’t challenge his statement. Whatever Trump says or does, he must be right. We will soon see how many Republican Senators agree with this. I suspect almost all of them agree. In my view this means all of these people do not think it is important that the country is democratic! That is shocking!

I wonder how many Americans think Trump is a king?

Impeachment is not important; Democracy is important

I don’t know know what happened today at the impeachment hearing in the U.S. Senate as to the conduct of President Donald J. Trump, but I suspect it was not good. I suspect the Republicans who control the Senate decided it was not necessary to have witnesses for a fair trial.  That is because their minds are made up. They won’t convict not matter what, so why have a trial?

If I am wrong, and there will be witnesses, I suspect that won’t matter for the same reason. They have already decided to acquit no matter what evidence is produced against Trump.

I don’t really care about Donald Trump. Americans elected him. Americans can live with him. What I do care about is that it seems millions of Americans no longer believe in democracy. To think that in the self-proclaimed leader of the free world millions of people no longer care about whether they live in a democracy or not is deeply disturbing to me.

I never thought impeachment was a good idea, at least until Nancy Pelosi came out in favor of impeachment. I know lots of people despise her, particularly on the right. I don’t despise her; I respect her. She is a wily politician. She was largely responsible for getting Obama’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) approved by Congress. She did that, if you recall, when many in the house of Representatives and Senate were violently opposed to it, but she promised Obama she would deliver the votes and she did. It was masterly. If now she thinks impeachment is necessary, I find it hard to disagree with her.

What we all have to remember is that democracy is more than giving people the right to vote and then saying the will of the majority as evidenced by votes, must prevail. This is part of democracy, but more is needed to have a genuine democracy. For example, the country must respect the rule of law. Moreover there must be reasonable limits on what the majority can do. Human rights must be respected even if the majority wants to get around them. This is important.

We need rights and freedoms that are entrenched in a constitution to be a democracy. That means these rights and freedoms are constitutionally protected. There are different kinds of constitutions and different kinds of human rights. So some democracies are more democratic than others.

As well, those rights and freedoms need not be absolute. In Canada the way our Charter puts it is that limits on the basic rights and freedoms must be such as can be justified in a free and democratic society.

This ensures that the leaders who are elected must obey the law and must honour and respect the fundamental constitutionally protected rights and freedoms. In a democracy we don’t elect absolute rulers. We don’t elect kings who are entitled to do as they please. Our leaders must be subject to the rule of law and basic rights and freedoms. This is sometimes called a Liberal democracy.

Even though I am not per se concerned about whether Donald Trump is found guilty of what the American Constitution calls “high crimes and misdemeanors.” If he is found guilty of that by the Senate he will be removed from office. I believe Trump richly deserves this, but that is not for me to decide. I am concerned however that more and more Americans don’t seem to care any more if they have a democracy or not. I am concerned that many Americans seem content to have an absolute ruler. It does seem to me that millions of Americans don’t care. That I think is very important.


The Rio Grande is not Grand


On our trip to Arizona we saw that the Rio Grande River was dry again. This magnificent historic river has been reduced to a few puddles here. Nothing that would warrant the name “grand” or even “river.”  This is a shame. After we passed it I realized I should have stopped to photograph its demise. Next year I should photograph that as well.

Will Rogers once described the Rio Grande as “the only river I know of that is in need of irrigating.”  This was funny, but also a wise observation because thanks to dams and withdrawals for agriculture this famous river has become fragmented.  It is nearly 1,900 miles longs second in the US to only the Missouri-Mississippi network. At least at one time the Rio Grande was that long. It really isn’t anymore as we could see. Water no longer flows through its entire channel.

The Rio Grande’s headwaters are found in the San Juan Range in Colorado. From there it empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville Texas. Water flows into the Rio Grande from 11% of the continental United States. Much of that land is drought prone, but it is also vulnerable to many dams and irrigation projects that divert much of it historic flow. In recent years significant portions of it have run dry. In 2001 for the first time the river failed to reach the Gulf of Mexico. It happened again the next year.

Diversions for municipal and agricultural use claim 95% of its average annual flow. That is the problem. Recent droughts have exacerbated the problem. Climate change may mean there are more droughts. So the future of the river is grim. Growing populations around Albuquerque and El Paso sharpen the problems.

Yet parts of it are still spectacular. But we did not see any of them. We just saw puddles. No river at all.

The Battle for Mosul: Who are the Good Guys?


I know I have been going on and on about war in the Middle East, particularly the wars in Iraq.  My American friend got me going on these thoughts when he said if he was President he would “take out Iran.” That sounds so simple.

Ben Taub in his New Yorker article described the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS as the” most intense urban combat since the Second World War.”  One of the interesting things about that battle was that the brutal ISIS fighters were often seen as preferable to the U.S. supported Iraqi security. As Taub said,

“They told us that the Iraqi security forces would kill the men and rape the women,” a young woman from the village of Shirqat told me… “We trusted ISIS more than the Iraqi state.”

Of course that did not end brutality by ISIS. As Taub reported,

“We trusted ISIS more than the Iraqi state.” Other villagers, who had spent years awaiting liberation, were loaded onto buses at gunpoint by ISIS fighters, and packed into Mosul’s front-line neighborhoods, to be used as human shields. In the ensuing months, the jihadis murdered hundreds of people who tried to escape, and hung bodies from electrical pylons.”

 Mosul was a very difficult place to fight a war. After all it was an old city. The west part of the city was particularly difficult because it was so densely packed with narrow streets and alleyways. As Taub said,

“The coalition concluded that the Old City could not be captured according to the rules of engagement that had governed the battle in East Mosul, so it loosened its requirements for calling in an air strike. In March, the U.S. dropped a five-hundred-pound bomb on a roof in the Old City, in an effort to kill two ISIS snipers. The explosion killed a hundred and five civilians who had been sheltering inside the building. Survivors reported that there were no ISIS fighters in the vicinity at the time of the strike.” Who thinks this makes sense?

There is only one question that is really pertinent here: “Who are the good guys?”  After all this was “our side.” Our side is always the good guy right?

Of course both sides were guilty to atrocities. ISIS fighters killed thousands, so the Iraqi forces retaliated in kind.  Taub described it this way:

“By early July, ISIS fighters had killed thousands of government troops and police officers, and Iraqi commanders were under enormous pressure to finish the battle. The next few weeks were a bloodbath. ISIS fighters who surrendered were executed on the spot. Iraqi security forces filmed themselves hurling captives off a cliff, then shooting them as they lay dying on the rocks below. Helicopters buzzed the Tigris, bombing people as they tried to swim across. The troops assumed that anyone still living in the Old City sided with the Islamic State. For the rest of the month, corpses bobbed downstream, dressed in civilian clothes. “We killed them all—Daesh, men, women, and children,” an Iraqi Army officer told a Middle Eastern news site, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. As he spoke, his colleagues dragged a suspect through the streets by a rope tied around his neck. “We are doing the same thing as ISIS. People went down to the river to get water, because they were dying of thirst, and we killed them.” When the battle was over, soldiers used construction equipment to shovel rubble into the entrances of ISIS tunnels—ostensibly to suffocate any remaining jihadis, but also to mingle corpses and concrete, thereby obscuring the scale of the atrocities. As late as March of this year, journalists were still finding the bodies of women and children on the riverbanks, blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their backs and bullet holes in their skulls.

When the battle was over the Old City of Mosul was in ruins.  According to the UN, besides the dead and wounded, the battle for Mosul has left behind around ten million tons of rubble. Many of those destroyed buildings were continuously inhabited from the 7th century until July 2017. Of course the greatest losses were suffered by people.

The brutality of ISIS forces is well known and for good reason. The brutality of coalition forces, supported by the US and Britain are less well known. As Taub reported,

“In October, 2016, Iraqi security forces filmed themselves executing a captive in Qayyarah, an hour south of Mosul. They also tied the bodies of several dead ISIS fighters to the back of a Nissan pickup truck and dragged them through Qayyarah’s main road, while villagers cheered; children kicked the corpses, and a man stood on one of the bodies, surfing. According to Human Rights Watch, which obtained thirteen videos from the scene, a man from a nearby village came to Qayyarah after hearing that the man who had killed his father and three of his uncles was among the dead fighters. He beheaded the man and cut out his heart, then presented it as a gift to his mother.”

Little wonder that coalition forces tried their best to conceal the casualties:

“The coalition has acknowledged a civilian death toll in the low hundreds. But the West Mosul civil defense has retrieved thousands of corpses from the Old City. Last December, the Associated Press obtained a list of nearly ten thousand civilians whose bodies had been registered at the local morgue. Most had been crushed to death by falling concrete; for others, the cause of death had been entered into the morgue’s database simply as “blown to pieces.” (Thomas Veale, a U.S. Army colonel and a spokesman for the coalition, told the A.P. that it was “irresponsible” to draw attention to civilian casualties in West Mosul. If not for the coalition’s campaign, he said, Iraqis would have suffered years of “needless death and mutilation” at the hands of “terrorists who lack any ethical or moral standards.)”

Are we to believe that “our side” is ethical and moral?  The evidence clearly does not support that assumption.

Ben Taub did not mince words in his description of Iraqi forces and Iraqi people:

“Elsewhere in Iraq, security forces filmed themselves punching, kicking, and whipping men in ad-hoc detention sites, including school classrooms. They dragged suspects by the hair, stepped on their heads, slammed knees into their faces, and threw furniture at them. They beat people unconscious; they beat people to death. They filmed themselves gunning down captives in open fields and stabbing them in the face with knives. A group of Hashd members struggled to interrogate six foreign fighters who couldn’t speak Arabic; in the end, they shot them, doused them in gasoline, and lit them on fire—including two who were still alive. A federal police officer filmed himself beheading captives, including minors, and posted the videos to his Facebook account. He told a Swedish reporter that he had decapitated fifty people so far, all while they were still alive; as he paraded through the streets holding severed heads aloft, other uniformed police officers and soldiers cheered and marched alongside him. All through northern and western Iraq, anti- ISIS forces kept lists of people they wanted to kill. They hung bodies from telephone poles, and encouraged civilians to desecrate the corpses of their former jihadi oppressors. The irony was not lost on the killers—they knew that they were mirroring the Islamic State’s worst acts.” 

The Iraqi government has sought to minimize attention to such atrocities. Haider al-Abadi, who served as Prime Minister between 2014 and October, 2018, dismissed them as “individual acts” for which the perpetrators would be held to account. But there have been no meaningful investigations. According to the senior Iraqi intelligence official, “all Hashd violations are carried out with the knowledge and approval of the national-security apparatus, in all governorates.” He added that the government has provided official cover for numerous civilian massacres, by organizing press conferences and lying about the provenance of mass graves. “The Iraqi government brought in journalists and said, ‘Look, ISIS killed these civilians,’ when in fact it was the Hashd al-Sha’abi,” he said. “The reality is totally different from what ends up in the media. At least ISIS had the courage to not hide its crimes.”

Yet even that is not enough to describe what the liberators–people who were liberated from ISIS by American sponsored forces have done.  As Taub said, “Throughout the ISIS period, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, the Iraqi government has carried out mass executions in order to mollify an outraged public.”

If there are no good guys in a war, what does that mean?

Humility is as important as a good military: The First Iraq War

Some have asked if I am a passivist who believes that all wars are morally wrong. The answer is no, but I admit I am very close to that.  There are not many wars I think were justified.

The first Iraq War had what we lawyers like to think of as ‘colour of right.’ There was some justification for that war. After all a cruel and vicious dictator, Saddam Hussein, led Iraq into an invasion of a small neighbour, Kuwait, entirely without provocation. This was reminiscent of Adolf Hitler leading Nazi Germany in invasions of Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland just because he could, and because the neighbour’s big bully, the USA, hinted it would look the other  way. That invasion would have given Iraq access to all of Kuwait’s oil.  Saying that this was unacceptable made sense.

George H.W. Bush the American President at the time got a solid international core of support for his venture.  The broad coalition of countries he got to sign on included Britain, various European countries, Australia,  as well as a number of Middle Eastern countries. He even got Canada to come on board.

The key to that war, unlike the Second Iraq War, was limited aims. The coalition forces  joined to stop the aggressor from its invasion of Kuwait and drive them drive it out of the country.  Iraq was not allowed to convert its gains on the ground into potentially valid claims against the country.  This contrasted sharply with the Second Iraq War where George W. Bush’s lieutenants, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, wanted to initiate what they famously referred to as “regime change.”

Many American conservatives had thought George H.W. Bush had stopped the first Iraq War too soon. The Coalition forces could have driven the Iraqi invaders back into Iraq in order to removed the widely perceived ‘evil’ Iraq government led by Hussein, into submission, but the elder Bush decided to stop when the goal was accomplished.  George W. Bush was not so easily satisfied. He wanted to topple the government, and not just the statue of Hussein. This changed the war entirely. Bush Jr. wanted to do what he thought his father should have done–see too it that the regime changed.

The younger Bush had goals that could not be considered modest or humble. He wanted to end the Hussein government and turn the country into a democracy.  Wars without humility are very dangerous things. George W. Bush and the American people found that out the hard way. They ended up with a war that has lasted nearly 2 decades and is still not over. They are still having trouble extricating themselves from Iraq.

The second problem with the Second Iraq War, unlike the First Iraq War, was that there was no legitimate instigation or provocation. The Americans tried to manufacture one, but that failed. They claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and it did not matter that the Americans had them too. Iraq could not have them.

There is no time where humility is more important than war. Hubris is as much of an enemy as the foe. If countries fail to remember this, even powerful countries can be made to pay a heavy price.