Saturday, May 19, 2007

Conduct Unbecoming? Texas Fred and the Collapse of Civil Discussion in Debating Iraq

The absence of civility and lack of respect for the views of others is a common phenomenon in the "Wild West" of the blogosphere. Veteran bloggers know it's best to have thick skin when wading into the comment arena on many a stimulating blog post. Occasionally, though, the online community reacts to personal attacks or outright threats with revulsion and backlash.

This occured famously with the recent controversy over the death threats to and sexual harassment of Kathy Sierra -- an information technology blogger -- whose blog was ranked in the tops of the Technorati hierarchy. Apparently, few bloggers are sweeter than Sierra, but her episiode demonstrated the evil that lurks in the online world.
Sierra cancelled conference appearances after the threats and quit blogging. The Washington Post ran an interesting article on the trend, "Sexual Threats Stifle Some Bloggers," which noted that while women are the main victims of online sexual threats:

Men are harassed too [in general], and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web.
In truth, as an observer, some of these shrilled, nasty debates are fascinating to read. I visit Ann Althouse's blog regularly. One of the things I like most about her blog is that she's provocative and doesn't back down from a good debate. She's super smart, too, and thus she generally triumphs over her less urbane challengers. If you didn't catch it, her debate with Jessica Valenti of Feministing over Valenti's mammary-glandular appearance with Bill Clinton at a bloggers' get-together was a sensation on the web late last summer. There must have been over a thousand comments in a series of posts Althouse wrote over the course of the debate ( see here, here, here, and here). One of Valenti's responses is here. Over the course of that engagement -- and many others on Althouse's page -- I noticed just how intense, personal, and nasty such debates can get.

Now, I've had my own share of go-rounds with commenters on my page, although nothing of the scale or notoriety of the Althouse-Valenti imbroglio. Some visitors to my page in the past have called me just about every name in the book --
chicken hawk, fascist, racist, etc. (I've even had a death threat.) I'll usually continue such debates if they remain civil. But usually they don't, and often the opposing commentator is posting anonymously, indictative of the spinelessness of those inhabiting the lower-level phyla of the blogosphere.

But one recent debate I had with another blogger on another blog was particularly ugly. Note that as I comment on that exchange here, I am going to temporarly suspend my normal, personal high standards of upstanding discourse as a gentleman and a scholar (sometimes you just have to get down in the bog with the scum to really wrangle effectively). My routine expectation in debate is to stick to concepts, ideas, and evidence, and to avoid ad hominem attacks. Yet, there's a particularly despicable milblogger who goes by the handle of
Texas Fred -- a real jerk if there ever was one -- and his comments in a recent exchange on an outstanding, favorite blog of mine were beyond the pale. The identity of the blog where the original post is located will be kept private. Also, the identities of any other bloggers in the debate shall remain unidentified.

The debate with
Texas Fred got going in a comment thread discussing the debate over congressional Iraq appropriations. Texas Fred had noted that he opposed the surge, and argued that the Iraq invasion was an unnecessary debacle, that Iraq was no threat to U.S. national security, and that the war had gone on too long and it was time to get out. Well, to me that was boilerplate left-wing blather, and I responded with a long post defending the arguments in the main post to which the comments were responding. I noted in my remarks the comments of a liberal journalist, in an article suggesting that President Bush would eventually compromise on proposed Democratic benchmarks and timetables for the deployment.

At one point, I jokingly suggested that
Texas Fred "ought to get a load out of the piece," since his views matched up well with the article's author. Well, ole Freddie boy didn't like that. My entry into the disussion was by invitation, and I was asked to write detailed comments responding to the original post. However, I went over my word limit on Haloscan's comment system, and had to break up my entry into three parts. Texas Fred's response was to ridicule my analysis as "mundane verbosity." Well, one who is mundane is banal -- even worthless -- lacking insight and originality. I didn't take kindly to Texas Fred's response and suggested that he "avoid ad hominems and debate the issues if you're so smart."

Thats when things started to deteriorate. Here's
Texas Fred's next entry:

Don, how many years did you spend in uniform?? Leading men in combat?? Leading your own Intel unit?? Acting as liaison between civilian Intel agencies and the Corps?? How many Purple Hearts do YOU have?? How many other decorations did YOU earn Don??

What was you rank at retirement?? What's your percentage of disability now that you're fully retired form those injuries?? Does that PhD reflect anything even remotely connected to War College??

Let me tell you something your 'Mother Superior', I have earned the right to voice MY opinion, as have you, but I am of serious belief that if YOU are as learned as you would claim, you skipped class the day they had the course in 'common sense', if you think I am a liberal, you are really not very well grounded in anything other than Bush Bot politics...

For what it's worth Don, [name redacted] sent me a personal email asking me to comment on this thread, I didn't drop in and try to write a thesis, I was invited to give MY opinion and that is exactly what I did, I gave an opinion, I didn't quote others, I stated my own thoughts and beliefs, and I did NOT come here to debate with the likes of YOU...

Mundane verbosity?? Indeed...
Here's my dignified response, whereby I assert my right to debate in a very civil fashion:

TexasFred: You're too informal. You do not know me personally, so you do not have permission to call me "Don." One does not have to have been "in uniform" to be able to comment on American foreign and military policy. We all have the constitutional right to our opinions, civilians or military. But you do not have the right to personally ridicule me as dumb (I admitted above that I'm not too bright sometimes, but laugh with me not at me [in reference to going over Haloscan's word limits]). You're basically calling me a "chicken hawk." But that's not an argument, that's an attempt to defame one's integrity and reputation -- a slur, and that's low. Maybe they didn't teach you about having some class at the school of (military) hard knocks. I do see, though, that you've left your blog's URL, and I'll check to see all the high-powered military strategy and tactics you're spouting over there -- hopefully it'll be more than the same old "no more Vietnams" rehash. (And you likewise have some skills at "verbosity," by the looks of your last comment, in any case). Perhaps you're not liberal, as you say, but you do have the Murtha/Pelosi talking points down. And no, I didn't attend a "war college." I am a specialist in security studies, however, and I trained under some of the country's top political scientists in foreign policy and international relations. Finally, for the record, I was also invited in an e-mail from [name redacted] to comment on his excellent post. So, keep it civil -- like I said before, let's debate the issues, not each other's credentials.
But Texas Fred got pissed -- as most testosterone-laden, swamp-dwelling hicks likely would be -- and came back with this:

Aw gee DON, did I offend you??

Sorry Don... You have NO credentials I care to debate, and your continued reference to Pelosi and Murtha further show your propensity to call names and nothing more...

As I said, we already WON the WAR, but we have screwed the hell out of the nation building...

And if you HAD served Don, you might actually know that...

Have a nice night Don, go play with your PhD and realize, a degree in political science is a degree in PoliSci, not Military Science or that most important degree of all, the one from Heartbreak Ridge...

At this point, I declined to continue engaging this lame-brain, signing off to Texas Fred by noting that "having some respect is one thing you've never learned, Sir!" Well, Texas Fred's testes are bigger than his brain, so he couldn't just end it there -- he had to look tough for his fellow jarheads, attempting to salvage whatever threads of decency cling inside that hollow soul of his:

Well Don, to get it, you have to give it, and I did NOT come into this thread and call you out by name, but you did, and YOU called names, how childish can it get Don??

OK Don, you want to play games, we can play games, but you will lose, as I said, you initiated this tete a' tete, not I...

Don, I did not come here to debate with you nor to denigrate you, but I give as good as I get and when called out I take the high ground, and that Don is something you have no idea of...

I was having a discussion with a fellow Marine and YOU stuck your nose into MY business Don, and that's something I don't take very well too, you are the rude one here Don, as I said, I didn't try to pick your comment apart, I don't know you from Adam, but I know your type, your arrogance is stifling and is only surpassed by your overinflated ego, and it's quite obvious that ANY opposing opinion will be met by your ad hominem of "They must be libber moonbats", that was what YOU inferred Don, and as everyone that has posted in this thread knows, nothing could be further from the truth, but ya know what Don, it makes no difference what you think about my politics, actually, it's mind over matter, I don't mind and YOU don't matter Don...

When you learn to properly address fighting men, and not attempt to denigrate them with your self assumed superiority complex and assumption that any position but yours MUST be wrong, we may have more to say, until then, you are, in MY opinion, beneath contempt and not worth any further effort...
Now, another commentator in the thread came to my defense, noting that the blog's proprietor didn't appreciate Texas Fred "scaring away" his visitors. I appreciate the intervention on my behalf, but to be clear, Texas Fred didn't scare me away from debate. It's simply impossible to have a rational, policy-related discussion with someone of Texas Fred's low-caliber intellect. No matter how reasoned an argument I might have put forward, Texas Fred would have popped back up -- like a "whack-a-mole" game -- with more of his gonad-driven attacks on my "inexistent credentials," or what not. Freddie boy had little by way of compelling, policy-related arguments, in any case. For example, his argument that the U.S. doesn't do nation-building is absurd. We have nation-building troops stationed around the world -- dating not just from World War II (in Germany and Japan), but also from more recent conflicts, like the defeat of the late-tyrant Slobodan Milosovic in the 1999 air campaign in the Balkans (our nation-building detachment there, the NATO-led Kosovo Force [KFOR], was referred to in recent comments as the forgotton mission, because most of the public's attention on U.S. forces abroad has focused on Afghanistan and Iraq).

In any case, I didn't call
Texas Fred names, nor was I acting childlike. I was defending my rights under the First Amendment to speak out on U.S. defense policy -- like any red-blooded American patriot would (and should) do. Fred's using the old, underhanded rhetorical trick of turning the tables on his opponent. He didn't like his comments being compared to a "libber," so he started projecting his own pathologies on me. Texas Fred's got issues (his firing clip's missing a few rounds). He's obviously an insecure, little old man, trying to keep up whatever blowhard reputation he might have built up over the years. He most lilkely has a history degrading anyone who disagrees with him, and certainly anyone who's more accomplished, and especially civilians. Sociologists have noted that the military, with its internal culture and its particular martial elan, has become isolated from the general public. In Freddie's case, he distorts the honorable meaning of "Semper Fidelis" when he circles the wagons among his fellow Marines, dismissing anyone who's "never worn a uniform." Well, Texas Fred attempted to puff himself up, but you know what they say: "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."

Now, in anticipation of those who might want to criticize me, or come to old Freddie's defense, this post is not about sour grapes. I could have given old Freddie a paddling in a real policy-related dialogue on U.S military policy and strategy. His lily-livered fake machismo just wasn't worth the effort. Furthermore, anyone with even a passing familiarity with my blog knows that one would be hard-pressed to find someone more committed to the U.S. Armed Forces and our vital and ongoing military missions overseas. Many of my family members have served in uniform (in both combat and nation-building), so I don't remotely appreciate ole Freddie's condescension about the right way to talk to a "fighting man."

Note, also that I suggested in my comments that I'd check out his blog to see "what high-powered military strategy and tactics he was spouting" over there. Well, I did mosey on over to old Freddie's page, but I found very few posts on military or strategic studies. I did find some of Freddie's supremely ill-considered ruminations on immigration policy:
In response to one of his commentators, who called for illegal alien second-offenders to be SOS (Shot on Sight), Fred said:

How do you determine if they are 2nd time offenders?? Just shoot the bastards and be done with it…
Well, there you have it! A bit of incisive wisdom from brilliant policy analyst Texas Fred, with his recommendations on how to handle persons in this country illegally. I guess that's just old Freddie's style: Forget reason, pragmatism, and hard contemplation on the issues: Just attack your opponents rhetorically (or shoot to kill your alien migrants vigilante-style). That's a very bad debating style, and very bad policy (combined with a very liberal dose of hatred and stupidity).

In any case, in his debate with me, Fred attempted to capture the high ground in his final diatribe against me, but he only succeeded in sinking deeper into that swine-infested, scoundrel's bog of self-loathing within which he resides.

Update: This post and the comments section have been edited to remove any alleged factual errors, or references to said alleged errors, from the original draft.

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