Not long ago our country, led by bad news, betrayed our soldiers. We lost political will and we lost the war. How quickly we forget.
For the last three months, Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell has probed the alleged killings of 24 unarmed civilians by U.S. Marines in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19. He has focused on three areas: 1) the actions of the soldiers involved in the incident, 2) the accuracy of the information they communicated to their superiors, and 3) whether senior Marine commanders were derelict in monitoring their subordinates.
In light of the pending release of the investigation results, top military brass is preparing the public for bad news.
The leading U.S. General in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey, announced Thursday morning that commanders will be required to conduct "core values training" of all coalition soldiers, focusing on moral standards on the battlefield.
We might think the bad news the Pentagon fears is the revelation of criminal battle rage of a group of men in uniform. Wrong. They are preparing the public for bad news reporting, the kind that leads public opinion to betray the very men and women who risk their lives for ours.
Bad news reporting is telling stories out of context and proportion. It is highlighting the exceptional, while ignoring the routine. It is sensationalizing the solemn and serious.
Another military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, explained the purpose of the new "ethics program" by saying, ”As military professionals, it is important that we take time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies."
I’ve got a feeling Gen. Chiarelli knows our soldiers need no such reminder. Every homicide bomber in an open market does the trick.
Perhaps he was speaking to the press for the sake of the press, offering them an ethics course, of sort, while camouflaging his suggestions behind humble admission of military fault. Here’s my translation of his politically correct public relations discourse:
"Don’t take the bait, mass media. The deplorable actions of a few men are not representative of our military. Our soldiers, in contrast to the enemy, know the difference between right and wrong. In fact, it’s part of their training.
Sometimes they mess up. That’s war. It’s never clean. It's always messy, and in the throes of passion the best and the worst of humanity come to light. When we make a decision to go to war, we decide something is so good and beautiful it is worth a hell of a lot of evil, including our own imperfect humanity. When our soldiers commit crimes on the battlefield, we punish them. Every time we do, you should thank God we live in a system where war crimes are recognized as reprehensible.
If you are going to drag into the public eye the irresponsible acts of a few, mustn't you also spend a proportional amount of time praising the heroism and self-sacrifice of the majority?"
The announcement of "ethics training" for our troops is not an admission of widespread problems. It is eating of humble pie as part of a strategy not to lose another war on the account of manipulated public opinion.
The press plays an important role in Iraq. We are to commend them for uncovering criminal behavior, even when it threatens morale. But we must also hold them to the same standard of professional ethics we require of our soldiers. That includes the simplest of principles like, "Don’t bash the innocent." Our good men and women in uniform will be forever grateful.
History shows we can handle a whole lot of bad news, but very little bad news reporting.
God bless, Father Jonathan
Write to Father Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.