I remember the shock and horror during the Vietnam War when news leaked out about the massacre at My Lai--that village where American soldiers ran amok, slaughtering the innocent, women and children, the aged and unarmed villagers, mercilessly with their automatic weapons. We were appalled, remember, Bush, by the realization that Americans in uniform could do such things? It was a crisis of the national conscience. We were forced to look at the dehumanization that is a consequence of war: the dehumanization of the victims, who are perceived by the perpetrators to be less than human, or why otherwise would they deserve to die this way? And the dehumanization of the perpetrators themselves, who otherwise would surely be incapable of such atrocities.
Did we think once again that we had learned about war and about our human nature from this terrible event? Did we think we had learned from the Holocaust--a massacre on a much larger scale, but not that much different in the lesson it offered about humanity, and about the dehumanization needed to permit such horrors to take place? Did we think we had learned from Rwadna? From Bosnia? Then how can we sit back, collectively, as a species, and watch the events in Dafur?
Did we think we had learned, in Iraq, from Abu Ghraib? Now word comes out about the wanton massacre of innocents at Haditha, with Americans in uniform once again at the delivering end. We hear of the investigation into the close-range, execution-style killing of women and babies in positions of supplication for their lives, or as they slept, by US Marines, and we hear the words of some unnamed US government official expressing shock that these men had "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results."
We should not be surprised, though, that they had been dehumanized by war, by the brutality of the enemy and by the brutalities they themselves were called upon by training and by circumstances to commit.
What value human life? I'm not the first one, Bush, to point out the irony: your ideologues fight tooth and nail to defend the life of a fetus from the very moment of conception--indeed, in their antipathy to birth control, even before conception takes place--but tolerate, even glorify the savage taking of life when it serves their idelogical goals.
How can we train our young men to do our killing for us, and then be surprised when they indulge in acts of inhumanity and barbarism? Please don't go repeating that absurd and patent falsehood, Bush, that these are just a few bad apples whose actions belie the good intentions of the rest. This shameful act is one in which we all share, from the Commander-in-Chief on down. Clearly, we do not train our men to kill the innocent. But we should not react with shock and horror when those we have intentionally dehumanized to kill our "enemy" deploy the skills we have provided them on innocents as well.
I'm reminded to ask, in this sad context, if we're through sorting out those "few bad apples" in the Abu Ghraib affair? As I recall, we've laid the blame on the very lowest in the chain of command, and have conveniently forgotten the higher-ups who authorized their actions--particularly, at the highest level, your Gonzales who provided the justification for torture and your Rumsfeld whose not entirely explicit approval (in the interests surely of deniability) opened the door to its implementation.
In scape-goating the bad apples (with apologies for the horrible mixed metaphor, Bush!) we compound our share of the responsibility for such events. Your quick mea culpa reported yesterday did not go nearly far enough. I won't believe in its sincerity unless we begin to see some real self-examination and some real attempt to hold those responsible to account. I regret to say that I don't see that happening any time soon.