Today I will try to connect and sum up three recent developments,
and shine a different light on them from one social worker's
perspective: (1) the fear that the Iraq war will turn into
another Vietnam, (2) the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and (3)
the barbaric murder of Nick Berg.
Concern has been
expressed that America's involvement in Iraq will turn into a
lengthy defeat such as was the case in Vietnam. The Americans
expressing this concern have been criticized as engaging in hate
speech and having selfish political ambition. Are these
individuals politicizing our national security, or are they
sincere? Whatever their motivation, their words have resonnated
with an entire generation of Americans.
generation will never get over Vietnam. That generation sacrificed
husbands, sweethearts, brothers, and school chums to a war that
made no sense to them. The generation of the 1960's was
politically disfigured by these emotional scars. The coffins that
returned from Vietnam did not contain soldiers whose service was
valued. America's mourning process, therefore, never has been
and never will be completed.
emotions seem to put us at risk of some either/or
thinking. That is, either we fight no war or we fight another
Vietnam. We must learn to weigh history and our current political
realities with objectivity. We need political awareness combined
with self-awareness. Moreover, as we listen to our political
leaders, sometimes we will have to analyze the emotional tone
behind their statements before we can evaluate the significance.
Statements that sound irresponsible on the surface could be
expressing very real fears and anxieties.
were made public of apparent abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American
military at the Abu Ghraib facility. It is not my intention to
make excuses for people who dishonor their uniform and bring shame
to our nation. Likewise, it is not my place to be judge and jury.
And, along with other average Americans, I am just beginning to
give my attention to the area of prisoner interrogation
Abu Ghraib was
originally a prison where torture was inflicted on many innocent
Iraqis and under Saddam's direction. It was already a place of
human misery and death. As some experts have noted, using this
facility for American purposes was like trying to use Auschwitz.
It was a hideous prospect. If you have any concept of
spirituality, I expect you would agree that any possibility of
using this prison again should have been preceded by nothing less
than an exorcism.
There have always
been prison guards who mistreat prisoners, domestically as well as
in wars. Some people cannot manage themselves in situations where
they have power and control over others. Some people tend to let
power go to their head. This is why society, including the
military, has rules to govern acceptable behavior. Iraqis are
right to feel outraged over prisoner abuse, but they should not
conclude that Americans have betrayed democratic principles. Some
Americans behaved cruelly. They are not representative of the
the whole. The majority of Americans are doing their very best
to uphold standards.
Finally, a young
American, Nick Berg, was beheaded by radical Muslims in Iraq.
This ghastly action should remind the world of the nature and the
purpose of terrorist groups. They have no rules. They stated
that they were seeking revenge for abuses committed by Americans
at Abu Ghraib. Following this logic, why is it that they never
sought revenge on Saddam for his abuses at Abu Ghraib? Revenge on
America was not their goal. Their goal is to demoralize Americans
and the coalition, and take over Iraq. They hate America, Europe,
and moderate Islam.
Is there a thread
that can tie these three developments together? So far, unlike
Vietnam, the American soldiers in Iraq have the full support of
our nation. There is division over the legitimacy of the war in
Iraq, but the soldiers are generally regarded with respect. The
casualties are honored and the fatalities are mourned. There is
unity in terms of personal feelings and community acceptance. We
also have a greater knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Soldiers returning from Iraq will have access to better mental
health care. At the moment, it does not appear that today's
generation will forever be haunted by senseless loss. (They will,
however, have to live with the consequences of Abu Ghraib just as
the 1960's and 1970's generation has had to live with the My Lai
involved in abuses at Abu Ghraib are being investigated and
court martial proceedings are taking place. As Americans we are
bravely facing this very unpleasant reality. We believe in human
rights and we are prepared to take appropriate actions against
those soldiers who broke the rules. America has apologized. How
many other countries would act as openly and swiftly? How many
Muslims have apologized for the atrocities committed against
Americans by Islamic terrorists?
The execution of
Nick Berg follows the atrocities committed against the American
security consultants at Fallujah and the murders of the Baptist
missionaries at Mosul. These have been received as quiet horrors
compared to other various expressions of criticism and outrage.
If these deplorable actions had been given major news coverage
(such as was given to the Abu Ghraib scandal) it would have
served to decrease anti-American feelings throughout the world.
Where are the human rights activists? How many people even
remember Karen Watson's name?
We have many, many
reasons to love America. The war in Vietnam caused widespread
discontent among the burgeoning youth and eventually among
mainstream adults. There was never real closure. There was a
deterioration of self-confidence. Abu Ghraib must not be allowed
to define the character of today's generation of Americans.
Instead, it should bring all Americans to a more mature love of
country, more motivation to preserve our values, and more wisdom
in foreign policy. (Written 05/24/04)
Until we meet