A shocked nation. That is the sentiment that is ricocheting fromone paper and news program to the next. Editorials in major U.S.newspapers first expressed disheartened disgust at the prison abusescandal and, now, like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, call for theresignation of the secretary of defense.
May I be caustic for a moment? This is what war looks like,America. It is easy to pretend with the luxury of distance that”freedom” paves a moral path into and out of war-zones; thatsomehow with an overflow of righteousness and moral superiority wecan wage war with flowers plugging the barrels of guns. I wish thatwere true.
I am not surprised at the outrage toward these revoltingexcesses of power. I am appalled, however, that we fail torecognize that war is unseemly, dangerous, chaotic, wrenching. Thesoldiers who mock their hooded captives do so out of a politicalreality – these hooded Iraqis are evil and deserve to be mocked, atleast according to the notes from the president’s trumpet that ledus into this war.
The military brass and the president of the United States areassuredly fuming at these photos. The question is, though, not whatcan be done to eliminate torture as means to extract information,but what can be done in the hierarchy of the military to preventthese abuses from becoming known. The president and secretary ofdefense have not condemned the use of torture, they have neatlyavoided that, but they have condemned the taking of snapshots oftorturous acts and the messy way the military has handled theserevelations.
The soldiers who smile and laugh at the flaccid penises of theircaptives and grin at the piles of twisted bodies are no guiltierthan their superiors who directed these young men and women to”soften ’em up.” And these superiors are no guiltier than the U.S.citizens who so willingly pretend that war can be clean, morallyprincipled, and without humiliation, suffering, and torment. Thisis what war looks like, America.
At what point will we realize that war is a terrifying lastresort?
Our contemporary understanding of humanity, which has beenpieced together out of countless wars, tenuous treaties, andmillions upon millions of lives, is what justifies our claim thatwe are equal; that given an opportunity all people will strive fora better life and a better community. The heart of thisunderstanding is the knowledge that war turns compassion intomadness and the civilized into the ferocious and discontent. Thatwe have so willingly forgot this to please our president and toavenge our suffering for September 11 will be a costly mistake.These pictures from the dungeons of Abu Ghraib serve as remindersof what war looks like, no matter how grand our intentions or howwillingly we believe our leaders.