October 20, 2002



This is the best news story I've read in months. I'd kill for the next column inch in the pyramid, if only so I'd know what it is the short-legged dogs of Urumiyeh were accused of.

UPDATE: The link has apparently been broken, ruining my fun (Thank you very much, state supreme court!) but just so late comers know the story in question was about the leading cleric in the Iranian town of Urumiyeh, demanding police arrest all the town's dogs this time, having previously rounded up only the short-legged ones, or else he'd do it himself. Only in Reuters...

UPDATE: Den Beste links to the post above this, but the Blogger links are screwed up again. If that's where you're coming from, just go to the top of the page.

UPDATE: BBC still has the full story.

Posted by BruceR at 06:07 PM



Bill Quick, in the comments to an entirely deserved attack on Heather Mallick (whom he unaccountably refers to as Michelle) makes some reference to the Philippines and says it wasn't an example of imperialism. I don't believe that that's sustainable. Nor would I agree that there is an inherent American opposition to imperialism... indeed, I believe that grew largely out of the Philippine experience. Think about it: in 1893, with the last Indian uprising three years back, F.J. Turner stunned America by declaring the American frontier "closed." Up to that point, Manifest Destiny had ruled the thinking... the Americans were too busy trying to fill the "empty" continent they had than looking beyond it. It's very difficult to find anyone prior to the 1890s even considering what America's overseas ambitions should be.

So, five years after America is finally free to engage in imperial adventure, they do. They get the Philippines out of it. But the ensuing four years of pitched battle with the Filipinos proves deeply dehumanizing. It's a course entered into already amid much doubt... Kipling's "White Man's Burden" was aimed at Americans hesitant to join the European mugging of the colonies. And some ignorance... President McKinley justifies it by saying it'll bring "Christianity" to the Catholic Filipinos. But by 1901, it's clear that Americans just aren't inclined to be casual about the stories of cruelty coming back home... so they start the switch to something rather novel for the times, a policy of restoring as much autonomy as possible to the lesser countries they happen to capture, albeit within an American economic sphere of influence... it's a policy they've followed more or less up to today.

I believe the Philippines experience also had a profound impact on the opinion leaders of the time, particularly presidents Roosevelt (who took office after the worst atrocities had ended), Taft (himself once administrator of the Philippines) and Wilson. In the early 1890s, Roosevelt is talking about America seizing hold of its destiny and spreading its reach; in 1905 he's pledging to Latin America that the U.S. has no territorial designs in the Western Hemisphere, and saying the U.S. must act maturely and fairly to the Filipinos. It's not stretching it too far to say that Quick, when he argues that America is not an imperial nation, is channelling the Rooseveltian consensus, post-1901. But, like Kurtz's killer in Apocalypse Now, the U.S. had to go into the heart of darkness, complete with water torture and reconcentrados, in order to firmly reject it. One could argue the Iraq situation is going to test the firmness of that rejection before long, so I do believe it's worth revisiting exactly what America turned its back on.

There's a good unbiased summary of the early Philippines occupation here. Gates is must-reading on this subject. He makes a very strong case that the Americans were mostly fair, mostly positive, as occupiers but still with some (overplayed) black marks. Gates doesn't go into details on the atrocities he downplays: but in case you were wondering, Gates is probably referring to stuff like this:

"In the path of the Washington Regiment and Battery D of the Sixth Artillery there were 1,008 dead niggers, and a great many wounded. We burned all their houses. I don't know how many men, women, and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners."
--soldier L.F. Adams, February, 1899

"At the best, this is a very rich country; and we want it. My way of getting it would be to put a regiment into a skirmish line, and blow every nigger into a nigger heaven. On Thursday, March 29, eighteen of my company killed seventy-five nigger bolomen and ten of the nigger gunners.... When we find one that is not dead, we have bayonets."
--Sgt. Howard McFarland, Company B, 43rd Infantry, 1899

"Last night one of our boys was found shot, and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight, which was done to a finish. About one thousand men, women, and children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger."
--A.A. Barnes, Battery G, 3rd U.S. Artillery, March 20, 1899

"After a hasty consultation it was decided to proceed at once to kill or drive into the lake every native possible to be found in the half-moon district lying between the mouth of the Mateo River and the further end of the lake, a distance of twelve miles."
--F.L. Poindexter, 2nd Oregon Regiment, 1899

"At any time I am liable to be called upon to go out and bind and gag helpless prisoners, to strike them in the face, to knock them down when so bound, to bear them away from wife and children, at their very door, who are shrieking pitifully the while, or kneeling and kissing the hands of our officers, imploring mercy from those who seem not to know what it is, and then, with a crowd of soldiers, hold our helpless victim head downward in a tub of water in his own yard, or bind him hand and foot, attaching ropes to head and feet, and then lowering him into the depths of a well of water till life is well-nigh choked out, and the bitterness of a death is tasted, and our poor, gasping victims ask us for the poor boon of being finished off, in mercy to themselves. All these things have been done at one time or another by our men, generally in cases of trying to obtain information as to the location of arms and ammunition. Nor can it be said that there is any general repulsion on the part of the enlisted men to taking part in these doings. I regret to have to say that, on the contrary, the majority of soldiers take a keen delight in them, and rush with joy to the making of this latest development of a Roman holiday."
--soldier Clarence Clowe, June 10, 1900

"General Smith did give instructions to Major Waller to "kill and burn" "and make Samar a howling wilderness," and he admits that he wanted everybody killed capable of bearing arms, and that he did specify all over ten years of age, as the Samar boys of that age were equally as dangerous as their elders."
--Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith's own lawyer, at his 1902 court martial. (He was let off with a warning.)

"These people need a thrashing to teach them some good common sense, and they should have it for the good of all concerned. Sixto Lopez is now interested in peace because I have in jail all the male members of his family found in my jurisdiction..."
--Brig. Gen. J.F. Bell, December, 1901

"Any kind of defiance of the government or disloyal manifestations against measures adopted by it to put an end to insurrection, in this brigade, will be suppressed at once. These people must be taught the necessity for submission to the legally constituted authority, and this can be properly done in one way only, -- by firm and relentless repressive action."
--Bell again, January, 1902

There's lots more, but you get the point.

UPDATE: The quotes above were all drawn from Secretary Root's Record: "Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare, by Moorfield Storey and Julian Codman (Boston: 1902)

Posted by BruceR at 04:38 PM



There's been a lot of yapping lately about how Canadians have similar gun ownership rates to Americans, and a lower homicide rate. This has been cited by both pro- and anti-gun advocates as evidence that gun ownership is not the problem in America; rather something else (Michael Moore's "culture of fear", or the NRA's Morlocks with guns that homeowners need to defend against) is. Trouble is, it's something of a simplification, because the ownership profiles are so different.

What the stat overlooks is that Canada, handguns in private hands are close to nonexistent, having been severely restricted by the government back in the 1930s. Only police, gun club members, and collectors can legally own one. There are estimated to be 1 million handguns, or 1 for every 25 people in Canada. By contrast, there are at least 76 million handguns, or one for every 3.5 people, in the United States.

Excluding handguns, the ratios of gun ownership are much closer: in America 146 million long arms of various descriptions (shotguns, rifles, etc.), or one for every 1.8 people, and in Canada 6.2 million, or one for every 4.9 of us. (These are all 1998 Canadian government statistics, btw.) Not identical rates, but certainly close enough that you'd expect some comparability in their use in committing crimes.

In fact, that comparability is almost correlative. Here's a look at the rate of crimes committed per 100,000 weapons, which is the real interesting stat in this debate:

Handguns (homicides per 100,000 guns)

Canada: 7.6
USA: 17

Long arms (homicides per 100,000 guns)

Canada: 1.9
USA: 1.7

Now, those factors seem to firmly establish two things: first, that freely owned long arms are inherently less likely to be used in a homicide than handguns, by a factor of 5 to 10. Second, that once you compare by actual type of weapon, the much-touted cultural differences (which Moore highlights with his footage on Canadian doors being left unlocked, for instance, in his latest documentary) seem to vanish in the case of long arms, and drop dramatically (down to a factor just above 2) in the case of handguns.

In fact, if you compare to non-firearm homicide rates, which are also more likely in the US than in Canada by a factor of two (3.1/100,000 people, vs. 1.6/100,000 people) the handgun rates are very comparable, suggesting that "cultural differences," whatever that's due to, is almost exactly that factor of two for all types of murder, and any gap above that in gun homicide rates is due to the different ownership and legalization patterns. (The fact that Canadian long gun homicide rates are also not twice as high like the other types of weapon is probably due mostly to the statistical sample size.... we're only talking c. 100 long gun homicides per year, here.)

What could those other factors be? I haven't seen Moore's documentary, but I might suggest a higher urban density in the States, a greater wealth-poverty disparity, the relative absence of any "black underclass," and residual effects of a political culture dating back over 150 years that emphasizes, as the two countries' founding documents put it, "peace, order and good government" (The Confederation Act) over "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." (U.S. Constitution).

What I don't think you can make the case for, based on the actual data, is that Canadians are more responsible owners of our guns, somehow. Long guns in Canadian hands commit murder just as often as those owned by Americans. What saves us from having just as high firearm homicide rates at the US, more than anything else, was the government's historic policy of keeping handguns out of private Canadian hands.

The Canadian line, until recently, was that if any kind of gun could be shown to have any legitimate use, exclusive of self-defence, then its ownership would be permitted by the government. Hence handguns, sawed-off shotguns and automatic weapons were more or less out, and hunting arms were in. I think it was fairly obvious that while long arms like hunting rifles can also be used to commit crimes, excluding the majority of the population from owning any other types of weapons (ie, handguns) that are essentially designed specifically to shoot other people, was going to be a crime-reducing measure (yes, yes, that does leave all the remaining handguns in the hands of the criminals, but with rigorous Customs inspections, and few handguns in private hands to steal, the pipeline for illegal handguns was and remains pretty restricted here. It's certainly not impossible to get a handgun off the street in Toronto, but it's certainly not easy, either. In suburban/rural Canada, it can be exceedingly difficult.) Any threat to law-abiding citizens was mitigated by the essentially free ownership of unmodified shotguns (arguably the best home defense weapon) and rifles, giving people who wanted to protect their families an easy out.

It should be added here, however, that things here have taken a turn for the worse since those statistics, as in the wake of the Ecole Polytechnique executions of 14 women engineering students (by a legally owned .223 Ruger Mini-14 rifle, in case you were curious) in 1989, Canadian public opinion also demanded greater restrictions on long arm ownership, leading ultimately to the ongoing creation of a central gun registry. I personally believe that this was a massive waste of time and money to restrict ownership of a category of guns, that, statistical outliers like the Ecole shootings aside, were doing almost no damage to the nation. It's a vast waste of government effort on measures that aren't going to do anything much to prevent crime. Magazine and single-shot rifles and shotguns are involved in an insignificant number of crimes in Canada, and the government is now spending billions trying to keep track of each and every one of those guns, too.

You can't fight a popular consensus for gun control, but I still maintain it would be preferable if Canada announced that in future the existing handgun restrictions would be extended to semi-automatic longarms, like the Ruger, and that the federal Firearms Acquisition Certificate be required to purchase all ammunition, and scrapped the registry. Such a policy would be cheaper, have minimum impact on the hunting community (some of whom still pride ourselves in not needing a semi-auto to take down a duck), be less intrusive, and give homeowners who still wanted to take their self-defense into their own hands the legal option of keeping a pump action 12-gauge in the closet. But, you see, that would be a sane policy, and since 1989, Canadian gun control thinking has been anything but sane.

UPDATE: Here's another way of looking at this. An American population, with a pre-1989 Canadian pattern of gun ownership, and no other societal changes: what would the difference be in the homicide rate? This is pretty speculative, but assuming the number of long guns, which were treated similarly in the United States and Canada, stayed constant, what we're talking about is restricting handguns to the point where they comprise only about 15 per cent of all firearms in the country, as opposed to the 30 per cent they are currently in the U.S. (In other words, if the U.S. had 48 million less handguns than it does today, you've basically got a Canadian parallel.) Make no changes to the numbers of long guns. Now assume that the rate of handgun homicides per gun remains constant at 17 per 100,000, and the rate of long-gun homicides, including long guns, rises slightly to 3 per 100,000 (partly to compensate for the shifting of some criminal activity to long guns and non-guns, and partly to account for the overall factor-of-two difference between Canada and the U.S. in all types of homicide mentioned earlier.)

Taking the 1989-95 U.S. homicide average, then, one arrives at 4,760 handgun homicides a year (down 8,200) and 12,750 long gun and other homicides (up 1,950), for a total homicide count of 17,510 a year, down 6,250... or 26 per cent of all U.S. homicides attributable to their not having Canadian-style handgun restrictions. That's not ALL the answer in the differences in crime rates between the two countries, but I believe you could make the case it's the largest single chunk, and one certainly deserving more credit than Moore and others are currently giving it.

CAVEAT: This does not mean I believe handguns should be restricted in the U.S. today (although, I do personally believe that it might be consistent with the Founders' intent in the Bill of Rights, given that it's fairly clear they were talking about militia arms, and also knowing the fairly pathetic state of handgun technology in the 1780s). Indeed, given the numbers of handguns out there in the U.S., I would argue there's a strong case for heavily arming oneself for protection right now. But in the U.S., the debate is between handgun deterrence and unilateral handgun disarmament. In Canada, where no one I know outside of the police has ever been threatened or hurt by a handgun (subjective, but true), the political choice is between the current state of bilateral non-proliferation, and disarming even further as a society. In many ways, both societies are prisoners of decisions made over a century and a half ago by their respective founding fathers on this issue, for better and for worse.

Posted by BruceR at 12:38 PM