When the photographs of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners came out, I wasn’t shocked. I was heartbroken, sad and even a bit bitter, but not shocked. Simply put, I understood going into this war that these types of things happen in war and that, no matter how many conventions you hold, no matter how much you try to civilize war or how much you try to humanize the enemy, war, fundamentally, is a brutal struggle that invariably brings out the worst in mankind.
Instead, what I’ve found shocking is the surprise from the rest of the country. More than any prisoner abuse scandal, I find the naivete of my fellow Americans far more surprising. It’s become painfully obvious that, most of those who were in support of the war, felt we were going in to fight a John Wayne war where we would liberate the people of Iraq, kill the bad guys, be lauded for our efforts and go home heroes.
If that’s the case, then clearly America has a very short memory.
After all, if Korea and Vietnam hold any lessons for us, it’s that our past attempts to “liberate” other nations by force always wind up becoming a mutual contest of disturbing behavior that shows exactly how low people can sink when their lives are on the line. Be it throwing a grenade into a schoolhouse or torturing Iraqi prisoners with electrodes in hopes of extracting information, the concept is the same, survival at any cost.
On a related note, I’ve also observed, but am not shocked by, the lack of outrage from the Arab world over the brutal deaths of Mr. Berg and other Americans killed in Iraq, even though the American abuse of Iraqi prisoners had made headlines across the globe. Though the lack of condemnation and outrage is regrettable, it isn’t shocking either.
After all, what else should we have expected when we go alone to invade an Arab country, overthrow its leaders and then fail to find proof of justification for that war. No one, Arab or otherwise is saying that Saddam was a great man, but those much harped-on WMDs never turned up and the entire justification for this brutal war fell through.
Instead, what’s become painfully obvious to me is that America was not prepared for this war. Our gung-ho mentality, especially among our leaders, hid the fact that we had long since forgotten what actually goes on inside a real war. Perhaps the first Persian Gulf War with its speed and multinational support had softened us to the harsh realities of an ongoing conflict, perhaps we, as a nation, gave in too easily to the Bush administration’s propaganda or most likely, we’re just a nation with a real short memory, especially when it comes to our human flaws.
Basically, anyone who supported the war in Iraq but now decries the prisoner abuse needs to ask themselves a hard question, “What did you expect?” If you beat the war drums, but didn’t expect things like prisoner abuse, outrage from the Arab world and atrocities on both sides, you went into it blind. There’s no way around it, especially in light of recent events.
As a nation, we should have expected this. We should have known that there’s no other outcome of war than inhumanity and cruelty. I’m not a peace-loving pacifist by any stretch, I realize that war has its place and can be very necessary, but these are simple truths about war that should be weighed before going into battle, not regretted afterward.
Personally, I was against this war from the beginning and the reasons above were among the ones I gave. I couldn’t understand how so many others could favor such a needless war, but now, I believe I see the problem. In short, we, as a country, let our naivete and idealism get in the way of our better judgment and memories of wars gone by.
As a result of that error in judgment, we’ve lost the moral high ground in Iraq (if we ever had it in the first place), we’ve stoked the fires of Muslim terrorism in a way Bin Laden had only dreamed of and done so much damage to our reputation as a nation than it will take decades, if not centuries, to even begin a repair.
Therefore, all that I can hope for is that, as a nation, this embarrassment teaches us something and that this time the lesson sticks with us. Yes, war can be necessary, justified and good, but getting ourselves into senseless and needless wars only brings about pain, suffering and more problems than ever could have been solved by the actual conflict.
In short, war is a last resort, not a tool to achieve an end, and any other use of it is going to spread only misery, not freedom, wherever we go.
A lesson now learned not in history books, but on the news.