Image 01 Image 03

Remembering Michael Kelly – 10 years later

Remembering Michael Kelly – 10 years later

Instapundit linked to Jeffrey Goldberg’s tribute to Michael Kelly, an editor of The Atlantic who was killed in Iraq 10 years ago.

Goldberg makes an observation that is apt:

I miss Michael a lot, not least because he was one of the few funny people in Washington, but also because I miss what he would have written over the past ten years. It’s a bit of parlor game to guess what Michael might have made of the aftermath of the Iraq war (and of everything else to come). I tend to think he would have turned on the Bush Administration for its incompetence and negligence (I have a feeling Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, would have been the unhappy, and deserving, recipient, of Michael’s righteous anger), but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have repudiated his support for the idea of toppling Saddam Hussein. He hated Saddam, and what he did to the people of Iraq, too much, to disavow his overthow.

I don’t know if Kelly would have shared Goldberg’s disdain for the Bush administration, but he likely would have turned critical. Unlike Al Gore, whom Kelly clearly disdained, President Bush, whatever his faults, was no phony.

His final column from Iraq told of the invasion of Baghdad.

Weeks before, the battle for the Karbala Gap had been expected to be fierce. But misdirection and bombing had done great work of attrition. The night before the assault, Marcone had said, he expected to find little resistance left at the Gap. And he found little — a small and lightly armed force.

The task force took 22 prisoners at the Gap, killed no one, suffered no casualties and pushed on as fast as three columns of armor can move, which is not fast at all, toward the bridge. There they found the first organized, coherent and serious military opposition in the war to date: what Marcone judges to be two battalions’ worth of infantry, one of irregulars on the western side and one that he thinks might have been Republican Guard. The troops had rigged the bridge to explode and had established what Marcone said were excellent defensive positions on the eastern side.

But none of this affected the outcome, or even much slowed the advance. “First we destroyed all the near-side forces,” Marcone said. “Then with artillery and aviation we destroyed much of the far side. The 3-7 crossed the river in boats, six of them, with engineers, to deal with the demo [explosives]. That was followed by an armored assault by three companies, two tanks and one infantry.”

But Kelly’s most important column (originally titled, “When innocents are the enemy”) was his post 9/11 column.

I don’t doubt Arafat’s shock. And I don’t think he had anything directly to do with the monstrous evil of Sept. 11. Indeed, it is possible that what happened yesterday had nothing to do with the Middle East. But this evil rose, with hideous logic, directly from the philosophy that the leaders and supporters of the Palestinian cause have long embraced and still embrace — a philosophy that accepts the murder of innocents as a legitimate expression of a legitimate struggle.

If it is morally acceptable to murder, in the name of a necessary blow for freedom, a woman on a Tel Aviv street, or to blow up a disco full of teenagers, or to bomb a family restaurant — then it must be morally acceptable to drive two jetliners into a place where 50,000 people work. In moral logic, what is the difference? If the murder of innocent people is for whatever reason excusable, it is excusable; if it is legitimate, it is legitimate. If acceptable on a small scale, so too on a grand.

Why did Osama bin Laden think he could get away with attacking the United States? Might it be that he figured that there’s be enough among the American political class who would seek to address his grievances rather than his destruction? Even now, after Israel sacrificed so much for peace it is often vilified as if it did nothing. Palestinian grievances define the conflict.

It is this mindset that Kelly skewered in that column and the reason he is so sorely missed.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


OnTheLeftCoast | April 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I greatly admired Michael Kelly. I’m not sure he grasped the totality of the problem we face. When he wrote “If the murder of innocent people is for whatever reason excusable, it is excusable; if it is legitimate, it is legitimate” he was missing the point: for the people who do these things, the ones they kill are deemed, supported by a legal opinion, to not be innocent. It is not a matter of excusing an action, but of justifying it. If morality enters into it, it is subordinated – and in their view necessarily so – to the legality. That is, if “legally” required or even permitted, it cannot be immoral.

The President of the US may rely on a formal finding to authorize an assassination. Bin Laden and the others similarly rely on formal fatwahs to authorize theirs; they also deny the legitimacy of not only a Presidential finding but the entire legal system that underlies it.

    snopercod in reply to OnTheLeftCoast. | April 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    …if “legally” required or even permitted, it cannot be immoral.

    Like the Dred Scott decision or FDR’s internment order?

      OnTheLeftCoast in reply to snopercod. | April 5, 2013 at 1:01 am

      Not exactly. FDR or the Dred Scott court were clearly dealing with laws written by man, which are part of the fragile consensual exercise we call civilization. In addition, that legal system admits of the possibility that something can be legal but immoral.

      In ShariaWorld, since Sharia is of divine origin, it is not really permissible to construe as immoral something legal which is legal. A fortiori if it is not merely permissible but mandatory.

    David Gerstman in reply to OnTheLeftCoast. | April 4, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    LeftCoast, I think that Kelly was writing from a Western perspective. i.e. If we judge terrorism by Palestinians to be OK, we are effectively telling our enemies that any terror is OK. He knew that our enemies were in no way guided by our laws or morality.

BannedbytheGuardian | April 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I am more than happy for journalists to get killed in war zones. To much effort is made to protect them to the detriment of the soldiers.

Those that survive lie anyway.

I don’t mind photographers or even artists.

Michael Kelly was far more than a journalist, he had a blazing insight into the flaws of Washington politics and “journalism.” He put his body where his mouth was, and sadly died doing what most of us would never do.

The greatest headline I remember from him was “Liars, Frauds and Hypocrits” that skewered those that would rather see our country rolled over by the evil that is Islamifascism than stand up for our core values. The Atlantic magazine has never been the same since he died, and I have also passed on the magazine.

An honorable man, indeed. God bless his family.