Putting a Price on Suffering

The LA Times has another story (see this post from Wednesday) about the U.S. tactic of paying relatively small amounts of money to Iraqi villagers for losses they’ve suffered in the war.

Marines Walk Softly And Carry A Big Stack [otbblog/jamesotb]

Now that the fighting between Marines and insurgents has tapered off in the area, the U.S. military is attempting to make amends with noncombatants who suffered. The Americans hope cash will win friends and help bring peace in this part of the volatile Sunni Triangle.

Under Marine rules, a payment for a death goes directly to the family. Payments for community losses can be funneled through an elder, sheik or village leader.

“I know we cannot replace your loss, but we would like to offer a small apology in the form of $2,500 so we can move on in friendship,” Capt. Kevin Coughlin, judge advocate general for the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, told the man who said his daughter had been killed.

“I accept your apology,” said Saady Mohamed Abdala.

Whether his daughter was killed by fire from Marines or insurgents — or whether the man even had a daughter — was not entirely clear.

“There’s really no way to verify these accounts,” Coughlin said. “It’s really irrelevant. In making these payments, the U.S. is not taking responsibility for the loss, only offering an apology for a loss that occurred as a result of combat operations.”

While this system borders on comical, it’s quite consistent with Middle Eastern culture (and not all that far removed from old European traditions like Danegeld) and will likely go a long way to establishing good relations.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rich Gardner says:

    Similar to Dane-geld, but hopefully not the same since we are the one’s paying out. We are not being “requested” to pay up, rather we are doing it of our own accord to keep the peace. As Kipling wrote,

    And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.

    And the one’s we are paying aren’t “the Dane” (hopefully), rather those caught in the cross fire. We are the “armed and agile nation.”

    This got me to reread the whole poem and think about the contrasts between today’s concept of war, and the past. And likewise remember that the world could go back to the prior way of doing business.

  2. Mercutio says:

    Actually, I think you were referring to “weregeld”, a body price, rather than danegeld which was just basicly paying protection.

  3. James Joyner says:


    Probably right. My memory of Germanic cultural practices of the Middle Ages is downright rusty.