Friday, May 07, 2004

Philip Kennicott has an excellent article on the abuse/torture case in Iraq in Wednesday's Washington Post. Catch it while it's still up.

I'm particularly struck by two ideas, near the beginning and end of the article. The first is something that America has long needed to hear: that if democracy is truly the will of the people, then the American public has to accept the responsibilities of the country's failings as well as the benefits of its successes.

More interesting to me is Kennicott's quote from Joel Turnipseed's memoir of the first Gulf war, in which a staff sergeant explains the rules of the Geneva Conventions. The soldiers then proceed to break the rules, but that wasn't what I found significant. My eyebrows went up with the staff sergeant's summation of the rules: "What that means, in plain English, is 'Don't feed the animals' and 'Don't put your hand in the cage.'"

When you equate other people with animals, how can you help but lack respect for them? Look at some of the photos where you see US soldiers with the prisoners, and they're almost gleeful. It's like the neighbourhood bully laughing after he stomps some hapless nerd into the ground -- incidentally, committing the same crime of reducing someone to a non-person.

Of course, this is to be expected when the occupying force is the same as the invading force. Combat soldiers are trained -- deliberately, and by the circumstance of battle -- to see the enemy not as people, but as targets. Many, I'm sure, can switch that off when the bullets stop flying. But just as many can't.

More later. I have to get to work.


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