Thursday, May 01, 2003

A bit of a rerun:

In 1770, Boston was under occupation by about 700 British regulars, who had been brought in by the lawful government of the time to maintain order. On March 5, outside the Customs House, a soldier got into a scuffle with an apprentice, who ran off --- and returned with a mob. The soldier called for relief. As it arrived, the mob got increasingly threatening, pelting the soldiers with whatever was handy, mostly snow and ice, and daring them to fire back, which they did (perhaps not hearing the orders of their commander, who was shouting "Don't fire! Don't fire!" in the tumult). Three colonials died immediately, two later on.

By public demand, stoked by radical propaganda, the soldiers were put on trial --- but under the circumstances, even a jury of colonials would not convict. First the commander, then most of the soldiers, were acquitted on all charges; the radicals got only two token convictions for manslaughter, for which the soldiers were branded on the thumbs and released. Some credit for that is probably due to the able work of the defense attorney, John Adams (yes, that John Adams), but much of it reflects the simple fact that the soldiers, at the time of the confrontation, were under attack.

The event has gone down in history as "the Boston Massacre", due largely to the propaganda efforts of some of the local radicals -- like the local silversmith with ties to secretive, radical organizations, who started selling prints of "the Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street", showing a distorted view in which the troops were formed into an ordered line, firing under orders into a crowd which was doing nothing to offend, and inserting a "butcher" shop in the background lest anybody miss the point.

I originally brought this up in connection with the claimed Israeli massacre at Jenin, but it's just as apropos to the current fracas in the Iraqi city of Falluja, which has so far seen thirteen Iraqi dead. It's worth noting that American troops claim that in the initial conflict, they were facing not just stones, but bullets, though those claims are hotly disputed. They are clearly facing more now -- they've been hit with a grenade attack -- but then again, the locals might say, that was only after the fifteen dead.

However, if you believe in the Tom Friedman "win friends and spread democracy" argument for the war, then what matters to your goal is less what actually happened, then what the people of the region believe. And the distorting lens of the Arab media -- like the ones already trying to hire the former Iraqi Information minister -- may be even more damaging to the cause than, say, Paul Revere's amateur printing press.

Then again, if the purpose of the war was just to convince the rest of the Arab world that we are some baaaaaad ass muhthafukkas, and nobody better pick a fight, then the events in Falluja are no trouble. No trouble at all.


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