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Dear Auntie Pinko,
Who's responsible for what happened in Abu Ghraib? The
reservists on duty? Their commanding officers? Military Intelligence?
The Pentagon (Rumsfeld)? The Bush Administration?
All of the above, and more. Auntie Pinko has read newspaper
articles in which family and friends of the reservists accused
of these atrocities have asked in great anguish why these
reservists were assigned prison guard duty without "proper
training and supervision."
Auntie Pinko doesn't think anyone should need "training"
to know that stripping someone naked and standing them on
a box with electrodes attached to their body is wrong. Auntie
Pinko doesn't think it should have to take "proper supervision"
to keep American soldiers from taking pictures of themselves
grinning like idiots in the presence of men being dehumanized,
tormented, and humiliated.
My father was a Marine and deeply proud of his service.
At one time, when I was very young and studying the Nuremburg
trials I asked him if when he was serving, would he have carried
out the orders the German soldiers on trial in Nuremburg carried
This was not an easy question for my father. He first explained
to me the training he and every other Marine received, regarding
following orders, what they could be ordered to do, what they
could not be legally ordered to do, and what they were supposed
to do if they received an order they believed was illegal,
both in the presence of the enemy in active combat, and in
other circumstances. The idea was to keep exactly the kind
of thing that happened in Abu Ghraib from happening.
But he also explained to me about the esprit de corps that
was fostered, the sense of being part of the team, the pride
in being able to carry out difficult orders, etc. He admitted
that it might have been hard not to carry out such orders.
Perhaps he would have done so. But he also said something
I remember vividly:
"But I hope that instead of just going along with something
I knew was wrong, I would have remembered that I was a Marine."
What he meant by that was the pride he felt in being part
of the world's finest (in his opinion, of course) fighting
unit - finest not just because they could get the toughest
jobs done, but because they upheld American ideals of freedom,
human rights, and basic decency. To have done something like
what was done in Abu Ghraib would not only have disgraced
him, it would have disgraced and dishonored the service in
which he took such pride.
What has happened to America, that such an attitude today
would be deemed "impractical," or even "wussy?" All of us,
who are responsible for that change of attitude, are responsible
for what happened in Abu Ghraib.
All of us who ignorantly mouth rationalizations about not
being able to make omelettes without breaking eggs are responsible.
All of us who think that it's "okay" to make American prisons
"uncomfortable" for prisoners - because, after all, they're
bad people, right? - we are responsible. Those who think it's
okay not to spend extra money to relieve overcrowding and
inhumane conditions because criminals deserve what they get
bear that responsibility. So do those of us who don't want
to know what is being done in our names, not just in the military
penal system, but in the domestic penal system.
All of us who have somehow absorbed and encouraged and passed
on the attitude that it's "cool" to be a "badass" are responsible.
All of us who think that scrupulous attention to human rights,
respecting the dignity of the individual, protecting the vulnerable
and making society a place that values non-violent solutions
to problems is "wimpy liberal new age stuff" are responsible.
Maybe it's time to dust off the hero, and let the anti-hero
take a rest for awhile. Maybe it's time to focus on the unambiguously
good, and the triumphs and sacrifices of doing the right thing
in the face of overwhelming pressure to "be practical," "go
along," or "take shortcuts." Maybe it's time to set up a few
pedestals, and put the values we really care about on them,
and give our endless fascination with people who accomplish
good by doing bad things a rest.
Is it the Bush Administration's fault? Certainly - they
have already modeled the worst kind of "the end justifies
the means" rationalization in the rush to war in Iraq. Is
it the Pentagon's fault? Of course it is - they not only "allowed"
these methods to be used, they ignored the warnings about
how far the situations had escalated for many months. Is it
the fault of the superior officers in charge? Indisputably.
Is it the fault of the young men and women who allowed themselves
to be drawn into something so deeply repugnant? It is. But
it is also my fault, and that of every other American who
does not speak out to stop all of the human rights
abuses perpetrated, foreign and domestic, in the name of the
Time for all of us to speak up, take responsibility, and
work for change. Now. Thanks for bringing it up, Mandy, painful
as it is. And thanks for asking Auntie Pinko.
Do you have a question for Auntie Pinko?
Do political discusions discombobulate you? Are you a liberal
at a loss for words when those darned dittoheads babble their
talking points at you? Or a conservative, who just can't understand
those pesky liberals and their silliness? Auntie Pinko has
an answer for everything.
Just send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org,
and make sure it says "A question for Auntie Pinko"
in the subject line. Please include your name and hometown.