Scandal! Shocking! Shame! A public relations setback for the war! The world no longer trusts America with her loss of the moral high ground!
Yes, the pictures at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad show coalition American soldiers taunting, humiliating and apparently physically abusing Iraqi prisoners. British soldiers also face similar accusations. Both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair recently apologized for the soldiers' behavior, and promised investigations, with several already underway. In America, officials already appeared before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
No one justifies abusing Iraqi prisoners. But America's "shock" likely stems from the country's lack of recent experience with a major war.
Vietnam. In the notorious My Lai massacre, U.S. soldiers massacred some 500 Vietnamese villagers, including women and children, in a matter of four and one-half hours. The military court-martialed and convicted Lt. William Calley. Yet, despite allegations of widespread atrocities committed by American soldiers, researchers found little to corroborate allegations of widespread illegal behavior on the part of American soldiers.
What about the North Vietnamese and Vietcong? In addition to the infamous atrocities endured by American POWs at the "Hanoi Hilton," the communists in Vietnam inflicted massive brutality on South Vietnamese civilians, including 3,000 massacred in the city of Hue in 1968.
Early in the Korean War, hundreds of helpless South Korean civilians -- including many women, children and old men -- were gunned down while hiding under a bridge in No Gun Ri, according to villagers and ex-GIs. Historians say North Korean troops committed far more atrocities than American troops, including the execution of U.S. POWs and the slaughtering of vast numbers of South Korean civilians.
World War II. Japanese troops, after taking the city of Nanking in China, killed 250,000 to 300,000 civilians, mostly women and children. Japanese soldiers, in addition to reportedly raping some 20,000 Chinese women, also hacked some civilians to death. And during the infamous Bataan Death March, Japanese soldiers force-marched nearly 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war for 63 miles -- beating, kicking and starving the soldiers along the way.
Stragglers faced the bayonet, and 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers died during the long march.
And where do you start with the Germans? The Nazi regime killed up to 15 million civilians, including 6 million Jews. The Germans used some American POWs as slave laborers, while ridiculing, intimidating, starving and beating them. Many American captives died of injuries, malnutrition, disease and exhaustion. Guards shot and killed some prisoners for no apparent reason.
The Russians? Mass graves in a forest in western Russia (then the Soviet Union) contained the corpses of 4,443 Polish officers apparently shot from behind. The Russians blamed the Nazis, a ruse that worked for a while. But researchers later determined that the Polish officers came from a Soviet POW camp. In April 1945, at the end of WWII, thousands of women in eastern Germany drowned themselves to avoid rape by the Russian soldiers, then advancing toward Berlin. German soldiers stripped off their uniforms and jumped into the Elbe river, swimming naked to the west side so they could surrender to Americans rather than to the Russians.
What about Saddam Hussein's Iraq? The American-led coalition, thus far, unearthed many mass graves, containing most of the more than 300,000 Iraqis believed murdered by Saddam's regime.
Uday Hussein, one of Saddam Hussein's sons, ran the country's Olympic program. The punishment for losing? Iraqi athletes endured scalded feet, toenails ripped off, beatings and draggings on pavement followed by a dunking in sewage to ensure infection of wounds. Hidden outside the Iraqi national Olympic committee administrative headquarters, reporters found an obviously well-used iron maiden -- a sarcophagus-shaped device with long spikes on the inside door to impale its unwilling resident.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-CT, demonstrating yet again why he failed to achieve the Democratic presidential nomination, sensibly put the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in perspective: "The behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge, immoral, intolerable and un-American," said Lieberman. "It deserves the apology you have given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military. I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, never apologized...And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never received an apology from anybody."
War is hell. It brings out the best in people -- honor, valor, sacrifice -- and, unfortunately, in others it brings out the worst. So, yes, let's get to the bottom of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and punish those responsible. In the meantime, how about a little perspective?