Published May 11, 2004
I'm sorry to have to tell you this: We are apologizing too much.
Now that President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and several top officers in our armed forces have apologized for the mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib (search) prison, it seems only fair to ask — what is the apology for?
Don't misunderstand. There's a reason to regret what happened and make sure it doesn't occur again.
I just fear that we, as a country and society, are saying sorry with the wrong motivation. The pictures of naked prisoners tethered to leashes, contorted into human pyramids and pinioned to their cell doors are distasteful to us as we sit in our living rooms.
But what if you or I were in that prison, trying not only to guard prisoners, but extract from them information that could save a loved one's life? How heavy-handed might you become if the stakes were personal?
The soldiers and guardsmen who are accused — not yet convicted — of abusing their captives made some questionable decisions. They will probably pay for them with their military careers, their reputations, or in some cases, time behind bars.
It's important, though, not to judge all our servicemen and women by what happened in Abu Ghraib or to judge what happened there by the standards of behavior applied to civilian society.
More than a year after the U.S. invasion deposed Saddam Hussein, Iraq is one of the most dangerous places on earth. Nothing increases the chance of falling victim to that violence more than wearing an American military uniform — the same garb we profess to admire as we thank our troops for keeping us free.
Should we revoke that admiration because some small fraction of our troops took license with others' dignity? It might be worthwhile to try to put ourselves in their combat boots for a moment.
As of this writing, 717 American soldiers, Marines and guardsmen have died trying to secure Iraq's freedom. The cheers with which they were met along Baghdad's streets in April 2003 have been replaced, at least on the surface, with a shower of roadside bombs, improvised explosive devices and hand grenades.
When confronted with violence, our troops react as they are taught. They kill some of their aggressors, wound some, and arrest others.
People who fall into the latter two categories are those who are incarcerated at Abu Ghraib. Many have either killed or tried to kill the comrades, friends or barracks-mates of the troops guarding them.
How gentle could you be with the killer of your best friend? Or someone who you saw cheering that crime?
On March 31, a van of American civilians traveling through Fallujah (search) was set upon by a band of Iraqi thugs. They were there to help the country to its feet.
In gratitude for that work, their vehicle was set on fire, they were dragged from it and hacked to pieces, and their bodies were dragged through the streets and strung from a bridge.
Many TV networks, including Fox News, deemed the pictures too shocking to air. Fox also heavily censored a videotape of torture sessions carried out by Saddam's regime.
In retrospect, that may have been a mistake. Without showing the charred bodies of Americans dangling in ignominy, or the lopped off-arms of justice Saddam-style, how can we judge the pictures we are now clucking over?
Was one worse than the other? Where was the outrage, after Fallujah, from members of Congress and other self-appointed mullahs of morality? Do we expect American soldiers to be morally superior to the people who are trying to kill them, and at the same time win a war in which there are no rules of conduct for one side? Does that somehow smack of ... racism?
Americans are living in a split-screen world of war and wealth. Since 9/11, we have conducted our lives with the nervous knowledge that we can be reached, injured and killed by fanatics who do not know us but wish us dead. For some months now, the reality of terrorism has been seen in other places: Bali, Madrid and day after day after day, Iraq.
Meanwhile, millions tut-tut over the exposed breast of an entertainer on the 50-yard line, willing themselves to ignore the amputated limbs and splattered brain matter of men and women in our nation's service.
Others fret as gasoline prices near 50 percent of what they are in Europe. Fans cry real tears because a sitcom is ending. We shriek with indignation that Iraqi suspects are humiliated, but forget the specter of Fallujah.
We can't have it both ways, I'm sorry to say. See? I'm getting the hang of this apology thing. It's a pity, isn't it?
John Moody is Senior Vice President, Fox News Editorial.