May 12, 2004
pays for military atrocities
is the integrity of the "liberating American army"
when it commits atrocities on Iraqi prisoners of war?
What ought to be done to make right this ever-widening
military abuse scandal?
integrity of American military forces has not been destroyed
by the hideous behaviors of the Abu Ghraib prison-guard
group. But the humanity of this small, misguided, perhaps
even degenerate segment of a larger military force has
been diminished. What has happened at the Baghdad prison
is awful. Appropriate actions are being taken and will
continue to be taken -- as this investigation reveals
more and more of exactly what happened. Our leaders will
fix the problem, and a shocked American society will brace
itself for global reactions, many of which will be understandably
negative. And we will go on. Going forward to make things
right -- even when things go wrong -- is what integrity
requires of individuals, nations and societies.
Everyone pays for atrocities, one way or another. We may
see an erosion of national pride and confidence. Some
people will be embarrassed, feel guilt and experience
a lowered self-image. The nation will likely come away
with some further loss of cultural innocence. This is
a costly mistake. Some few soldiers behaved hideously.
The images they have created with their behaviors will
not easily fade away -- especially for those who were
One of my friends, a retired judge, reminded me that only
about 6 percent of the people -- in any walk of life --
create an overwhelming percentage of problems. Even though
most people, probably 94 percent, go about their lives
responsibly, a minority creates chaos and captures headlines.
Because the news often addresses irresponsible behavior
or catastrophic events, people can easily conclude that
just about "everything" is wrong, as opposed
to the "truth" that some things and some people
are problems and will always create pain for others.
Regarding your question about the integrity of those American
soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad who committed
these unspeakable acts:
President George W. Bush owns these behaviors because
he is commander-in-chief. We know all leaders are responsible
for what happens "on their watch" -- for better
or worse. Depending on how he chooses to deal with this
-- and how he acknowledges his own responsibility -- he
could help this nation sustain a sense of direction, confidence
and integrity. Today, the world is watching the United
States, just as other nations were observed after World
War II regarding how they dealt with those responsible
for death camps and murdering children with bayonets.