May 20, 2004

Bennett on Why We Fight

From William Bennett's "Remembering Why We Fight"

Let me start with the images of Abu Ghraib. We were all rightly disgusted and dejected by what we saw there. Several of our soldiers engaged in ugly, deplorable, disgusting, and inhumane acts. Let's remember those adjectives. We need to get our language right. Emerson said, "The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language." What happened at Abu Ghraib was not a matter of poor training or bad supervision. These were humans acting inhumanely. When I hear that they were not properly trained or supervised, I wonder if those who say that have lost their common sense as well.

What kind of training does someone need to know that it is wrong to abuse other human beings like that, mugging for a camera, knowing such images will travel somewhere—if not everywhere? This was not a matter of poor military training any more than it was a matter of poor military judgment. This was a matter of poor human training and poor human judgment. We don't need to read the Geneva Conventions or the Code of Military Justice to know this. This was basic stuff. You can find it in the Bible; you can find it in Aristotle. If you need the armed forces to be trained in decency, you've waited too long. This was not the fault of our armed forces any more than it was the fault of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or President George W. Bush.

Let's remember the characters here, and let's remember how it shows the character of America. Yes, some American soldiers did this ugly stuff in Abu Ghraib. But it was reported and stopped by other American soldiers. We have the image of Lynndie England (the cultural descendant of Tonya Harding), pointing to naked men, holding another man by a leash. We do not need to see her again. We've forgotten—perhaps because it wasn't much reported —the name of Army Specialist Joseph M. Darby. But as Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post wrote last week, both soldiers—Darby and England—had choices. England had the choice to engage in inhumane activity, and Joseph Darby had the choice to do nothing about it. Here, however, is what Darby chose: "He chose to place an anonymous note under the door of a superior describing the abuse. Later he chose to make a sworn statement, setting off the investigation."

We know little of England, save that she grew up fairly poor and in a trailer park. As if that general report explains anything. It doesn't. Here's what we know, now, of Specialist Joe Darby: "Darby lived in a coal town, in a household headed by a disabled stepfather. To make ends meet, he worked the night shift at Wendy's." Bad actions, wrong actions, even evil actions, have nothing to do with economics, poverty, wealth, or any other artificial construct any more than good actions do. They have to do with moral fiber. Those who attacked us on 9/11, as much as those who planned and trained them, were upper- and middle-class Arabs. Bin Laden is wealthier than any of us can hope to be. Mohammed Atta drove a Mercedes. Al-Zawahiri is a physician from an upper-class family. Let's hear no more of root causes; let's speak, instead, of right and wrong and good and evil. What Lynndie England did is not anywhere near on par with what our attackers did, but economic circumstance is the cause of neither of their actions. And as for shame, the bag should be on Lynndie England's head, not the prisoners'. She is the one who should be hiding, or should have been hiding, from the camera—not mugging for it.

Posted by dan at May 20, 2004 8:19 PM