A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Ugly Italian

After reading the latest Associated Press article about the death of Nicola Calipari and the release of hostage Giuliana Sgrena, I had to remind myself of something: No matter how vile and baseless the accusation, the opinion of one person is not representative of an entire country. It saved four boxes of Bertoli pasta and a good bottle of Malvasia di Bosa from getting flushed down the toilet. Sgrena, you see, is now speculating that American soldiers intentionally fired on her car because “the happy ending to the negotiations must have been irksome” to US officials. Since we’re against negotiating with terrorist hostage-takers our troops are, according to her, perfectly willing to murder innocent people to see that others don’t do it either.

Must … not … flush … expensive … wine.

Sgrena Giuliana (AP Photo) Posted by Hello

First of all, I’ll say that the accidental killing of Mr. Calipari is an unmitigated catastrophe. A brave guy died needlessly, the coalition is up in arms over it, and the US military looks woefully quick-triggered at best. There’s no upside here; the situation just sucks all around. I cringe when I think about it, and I feel awful for Mr. Calipari’s family. For whatever it’s worth, they have my condolences.

But let’s get two items out of the way real quick. They’ll help us understand from whence the accusations of intentional murder come:

1) Giuliana Sgrena is a communist. I know, I know, it sounds almost laughably like an attempt at cold war-era political slander, but it’s actually true. The “newspaper” she writes for – which is really little more than a mouthpiece for Italy’s far, far, far left – is called Il Manifesto. Its owners and editors are self-avowed communists, as are most of the staff. They are no friends of capitalist, democratic America and our achievement-oriented culture.

A quick look at archived Il Manifesto articles – Sgrena’s in particular – reveals a rabidly vitriolic hatred of US policy and an outright paranoid view of our motives. I exaggerate not at all when I say that reading this woman’s work gives one the impression that the US went to Iraq specifically to murder innocent people and increase the amount of general suffering in the world. She doesn’t even bother with the tired, disproven “It’s all about oil!” nonsense like her counterparts here in the US; to Sgrena, America is simply evil incarnate and we need no reason or excuse for our war of predation in Iraq.

Honestly, I find it hard to consider people who believe such things sane, much less responsible or impartial.

2) Even if she weren’t a lifelong America-hater, Giuliana Sgrena is undoubtedly experiencing Stockholm syndrome to one degree or another. After more than a month in captivity she has come to identify with her kidnappers and their cause (given that she was friendlier to their cause than to ours all along, I doubt seeing the terrorists as heroes was too far a leap for her to make anyway). They took her hostage at gunpoint. They held her prisoner under threat of death. They absconded with who knows how much money, which they demanded in exchange for her life (and I suspect the only reason she was released at all is because the terrorists realized what an excellent anti-US mouthpiece she was).

But in her mind, they’re the good guys. The ones who pointed AK-47s at her head for a month or so. The appropriate reaction, I think, is a mixture of annoyance and pity … I feel the same way when I think about Patty Hearst.

So, keeping in mind Sgrena’s extreme left ideology, her hatred of the US and US policy, and the tendency for kidnap victims to become sympathetic to their captors, her latest ravings of paranoid anti-Americanism aren’t really so surprising. They are, however, utterly baseless speculations being made by someone who admittedly despises the US. And she has not the slightest shred of evidence to support them.

You know what? I can speculate like that, too:

Perhaps the kidnapping of Giuliana Sgrena has been a sham from the very start. Maybe she was contacted by and became friendly with members of the insurgency during her work in Iraq. Maybe, being sympathetic to their opposition to anything the US wants, she furthermore agreed to help them. With the understanding that neither she nor her bodyguards would be harmed, Sgrena agreed to become a “hostage” in order to win ransom money for the insurgency and embarrassment for the coalition.

Sgrena was never in any danger; she was cooperating with the kidnappers all along. Even the video of her pleading for her life was an act designed to hasten the payout to the insurgents and further demoralize those working to bring democracy to Iraq. Then, when the appeasers and apologists in Italy finally won out and secured a ransom for her release – a ransom which, by the way, will fund more kidnappings and a variety of other mayhem – she and her cohorts had one last mission: Provoke the Americans into an act of violence that would turn public opinion in Italy further against the occupation of Iraq.

The Italian communists made sure that one of their people was driving the vehicle; both he and Sgrena knew the plan. He’d speed towards a checkpoint, refusing orders to stop and ignoring warning shots, and the two of them would duck down while the other occupants of the car were vulnerable to fire from US forces. It was risky, but she was willing to take chances to help her friends in the insurgency and further the goal of seeing Italian troops leave Iraq. And if someone in the vehicle got hurt – someone innocent who was just trying to help win the release of a woman he believed to be an innocent hostage – well, you’ve got to break a few eggs, you know. All for the greater good. And their plan worked perfectly.

Now, do I believe any of that? Nope, not a bit. But it’s no less plausible than the idea that the US administration was so enraged by a ransom payoff that they ordered American troops to kill the released hostage and everyone in the car with her (or that American soldiers would obey such an order if it were given). Both stories are entirely speculative and pretty nearly absurd. But the difference here is that we are not making the ridiculous claim that I outlined above; its pure fiction that I simply made up. Sgrena and her leftist supporters, however, are actually saying that their ludicrous story is true.

The official position of US authorities in Iraq is that the shooting was an accident. Either our soldiers or her driver – or maybe both – screwed up. They have said repeatedly that there will be a full investigation. On our end, the response has been sober, thoughtful, and contrite. On theirs it has been recklessly speculative and accusatory. When weighing the facts to formulate your opinion on this matter, I would ask you to consider that very salient fact.