On Monday, the first day he would teach a course at the City University of New York, retired Gen. David Petraeus was heckled by a group of students as he crossed campus. After watching the video, we were left wondering: Who comes off as less sympathetic?
Here's the incident, which started making the rounds on Wednesday afternoon.
At the bottom of this post, you will be asked to vote on which party you find more sympathetic. We now present the case against each.
The Case Against David Petraeus
David Petraeus was the military official responsible for training Iraqi transition forces in 2004, later becoming the overall commander of the U.S. operation in the country. In September 2004, he wrote an article for The Washington Post outlining the "reasons for optimism" about our occupation of Iraq. "Training is on track and increasing in capacity," he wrote. "Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being reestablished. Most important, Iraqi security forces are in the fight …" Two months later, the U.S. saw its highest number of combat dead. Civilian deaths continued to rise through the beginning of 2007.
That was about the point at which Petraeus took responsibility for the multinational force in Iraq, overseeing the troop surge that is credited with helping to reduce the number of fatalities. When he tried to bring that strategy to Afghanistan, at the request of President Obama, he was much less successful. After a year, he left to run the CIA. While there, he was accused of deliberate drone strikes on civilian gatherings, which is a war crime. (The evidence for this is sketchy.)
In other words, if you are looking to protest the national security infrastructure of this country, David Petraeus, even now retired, is as good a physical embodiment as any.
The Case Against the Student Protesters
Here is what adults do not do: They do not join a large group and laugh and yell profanity and slurs at a man walking down the street, unless that man is actually Hitler. "He's a war criminal!" "You've got blood all over you! I can smell you!" "You disgusting imperialist!" "Fascist!" Those would be perfectly fine things to yell at the corpse of Hitler ambling down a New York City street. Assuming many of the people in that video are around 20 years old, they were 11 when Petraeus first assumed his command in Iraq. If you were 11 when Hitler was around, it would be OK to yell at him nine years later, but Hitler is the worst-case scenario.
It is not that they are too young to know what Petraeus has done over the course of his life. And it's not just that these students are protesting a caricature of Petraeus. Everyone who has survived their early 20s recognizes that the demarcations between good and evil we once held with such clarity are actually pretty blurry. Mature people do not follow people in the street, screaming as part of a large group at individuals they don't know.
The liberal blog FireDogLake spoke with representatives of the group leading the protest — The Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY.
The Ad Hoc Committee is just that — a united front of different groups which have joined together for the purpose of organizing these protests on the basis of two demands: “CUNY Must Not be a War College!” and “War Criminal Petraeus, ROTC, Military Recruiters and Military Contracts: Out of CUNY!” The goal is to mobilize mass protest and exposure to drive out “Death Squad” Petraeus and ROTC.
This is not a scene from The Life of Brian. The speaker, we'll note, was an adjunct instructor at the school, S. Sándor John. Whether or not he was present at the "protest" is not clear.
Protests are fun, we get that. Particularly if you're fired up, if you feel like you have justice on your side, if you have a professor at your college egging you on. Tattoos also seem cool when you get them when you're in your early 20s. See how that works out.
Now's your chance. Who do you find more sympathetic: Petraeus or the students? Vote now.
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This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.