The Americans who tortured and humiliated the prisoners in Iraq chose
to erase the Moral Box that civilization assigns us all.
In war, the Beast of Terror takes over, and turns many into primal
beasts, willing to write their own moral codes, while others, such as
the 170,000 American troops not part of the torture, suffer the fungus
effect of a few's actions. Learn about War's Moral
Box and how all of us, when tested, are tempted to become Beasts,
willing to maim, torture and avenge the loss of a loved one.
Friday, May 7,
2004—Ground Zero Plus 968
The Thin Moral Box Guarding Iraqi POWs
GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--May 7, 2004 -- I am feeling a
hole in my warrior's soul as I watch Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S.
Secretary of Defense, the top of the military/political food chain,
caught in the crosshairs of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rumsfeld on trial before the U.S. Senate Armed Services
White-haired Senator John Warner, a
Republican, is reading a statement lambasting the torture and
humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, laying groundwork for the top leaders
to be put on trial along with the young American female MP
joyously dragging a naked Iraqi prisoner around with a rope tied to
Part of me screams about the horror
of it all--the horror of the world seeing these small but giant crimes
against humanity as the facade of America's willingness to fight and
die in Iraq.
Studying the pictures of torture and
humiliation, plus the joy expressed by those doing it, degrades and
demeans the 170,000 other warriors in Iraq and more than 700 who have
died in an attempt to build not destroy the image of America as a
liberator rather than just another tyrannical oppressor, steering the
land toward freedom, liberty and the highest of all societal moral
standards toward others.
Rumsfeld apology rang hollow to
may critics of his closely guarded administration of the war.
He knew about the problem from the Red Cross in January and February,
the pictures were released and didn't inform the President or Senator
Warner. Of more concern, no obvious actions were
taken to remedy the problem, or defuse the slow-burning political bomb
that has now exploded at the doorstep of the world's media, especially
within the Congress.
England mistreating Iraqi prisoners
Now, the lack of action against the charges
has led to the court of world public opinion and the instant
conviction of America as a Beast of Terror, if not worse than, then
equal to, the Beast that America drove from the palaces when Saddam
Hussein's regime fell.
America is not the only nation
under the gun for mistreatment of prisoners. London's Daily
Mirror has been publishing front-page photos of British troops
engaging in similar acts of inhumane treatment and demeaning torture
to Iraqi prisoners.
It would seem the civilized
approach to war has been retarded, but that is a quick view.
However, the bigger picture of what is going on and why needs
There is progress toward the
management of war's atrocities, even if it is small. Despite
the shame and ugliness of the scenes being broadcast through the
global communities, many of whom are eager to drive America out of the world's business,
America have performed a major task in its role as chief peacekeeper,
its legacy as the Sentinel of International Vigilance. It proved
once again America's willingness to stand up to the Terrorism, to chase
the Beast to the ends of the earth until it is rendered lame.
The torture photos should not diminish this role.
Calley on trial in March 1971 alone took the bullet for the
Mai Lai massacre
Fortunately, Rumsfeld is on trial today.
In my day, a generation ago, Lt. William Calley was on trial.
He stood alone before the court of world opinion for his role in the
My Lai massacre where he, in a fit of rage against the enemy, killed
22 women and children in a mass execution of suspected V.C. that was
termed "premeditated murder"
None of the top officers in the
military or top politicians stood in front of Calley. He
alone took the bullet. Then Secretary of Defense, Robert
S. McNamara, ducked the bullet that Rumsfeld is taking until he
finally spilled out his feeble share of the blame in his 1995 book
"Mea Culpa" and most recent film, "Fog of War" where he accepts blame
for the debacle of Vietnam. He, like the soldiers guarding
the prisoners in Iraq, made his own Moral Box.
War creates personal Moral
Each warrior draws his or her
lines as to what is "moral" and "immoral."
Some will draw the lines wider
and wider, believing they have the authority because of the gun they
carry and the charge to "kill the enemy" that this authority includes
being "god," being "judge and jury" over the enemy, and treating the
enemy as inhuman as can be imagined, and then some.
I witnessed horrible tortures
and deaths of Vietnamese prisoners in Vietnam, scenes that sickened me
in one way because the void of compassion in executing the torture, in
the degradation of human life as it slowly beaten to death in the
process of getting information that might save American lives.
On the opposite side of the
coin was the blood of my comrades. Prisoners who
withheld information that could save your buddy were not human.
They were time bombs who held the secrets of life and death over your
friends, your allies, and whatever you did to them was justified, at
least in the sense of "saving the lives of others" because they were
"evil," ready, willing and able to slit your throat, to let you walk
into an ambush, to allow you to stumble upon a punji pit with
sharpened bamboo spikes laced with human feces so any wounds you
received would quickly infect and maximize the chances of you dying
before you could receive medical attention.
The Moral Box
of War can shift
The Moral Box of
War--the one that everyone who looks through the sights of their rifle
with and chooses to kill or not kill those who are in its
crosshairs--can shift dramatically when the guy you are closest too
gets his head blown off by a mine, or a sniper puts a round into the
eye of the guy next to you and his brains splatter on your face as you
hug the earth, hoping you won't be next.
Beast within roars. All the civilization that one has learned,
all the moral regulations, evaporate. The primordial ooze of the
Caveman, the growling, grunting Beast whose eyes dart and fingers
twitch about his club as he searches, like a savage, for anything
that moves so that he can bash its skull in, eat its brains, thump his
chest and roar that he is victorious, ruler of the land, and then
marks the earth with his urine to warn off all who might venture to
trespass until they come across the mangled remains of his handiwork,
his barbed wire fence of Terror that warns the world to BEWARE THE
back to primal behavior is not just limited to the arena of war.
The mother or father whose daughter is raped and ravaged by some
sexual predator engage the same rage as the Caveman, willing and eager
to beat him and smash him and torture and humiliate him before they
rip his arms and legs off, and place, as the American Indian women and
children once did to captured cavalry soldiers, small piles of tinder
over the sprawled, tethered body of their victim and light them each
day so they burn holes through the flesh until finally, just before
losing consciousness, they set a pile of tinder directly over the
heart and dance as the body convulses into its final state of mulch.
In war the
"license to kill" often erases lines of "humane" behavior
The savagery of
human beings has always broken through the Moral Box society and
civilization tries to constrain the Beast Within with by imposing laws
and regulations for "humane" behavior. But when war occurs, the
"license to kill" diminishes those lines, and young people, such as those
in Iraq guarding prisoners, expand their Moral Box to include the
savagery of the Beast we are now seeing represented by pictures
shaming America, shaming our intent to liberate, shaming all those who
keep the constraints of their Moral Boxes intact despite the nagging
Voice of the Beast of Terror who whispers: "Kill 'em all....they
will kill you...kill 'em all...they are inhuman. You have the
The parents of the
raped and butchered child hears the same words hissing in their ears,
for our civilized natures are fragile, like rice paper, and those of
us who think we are exempt because of what we consider to be "high
moral footing" must be wary about the time when the Beast comes to our
doorstep, and lays down the mangled body of someone close to us, and
laughs in our face.
I do not
condone the behavior of the guards who treated the prisoners the way
they did, but I also understand their behavior. I
understand that war is ugly for it creates in us all the ability to
shift, erase, expand or bend the Moral Box of human behavior to fit
our needs at that particular moment.
Unfortunately, we do not have statistics and neither do we leap up in
joy and jubilation over the kindness and compassion shown to Iraqi
people and prisoners with the same effort we hang our heads in shame
when we see the horrors of war unfold before our eyes.
It is like the
news. The more ugly and bloody the news, the more
readership. The more "bland" the less. Good News
papers don't make it. Bad News papers do.
Similar to rumors, people tend to pass on the "dirt" about another at
lightening speed and tend to let the "glory of good deeds" fall to the
wayside, as the aren't "juicy" to the pallet.
I was a U.S.
Marine Corp Combat Correspondent in Vietnam
When I was a U.S. Marine
Combat Correspondent in Vietnam, my job was to cite and record the
stories of war, and most of those stories were about the compassion
and respect our troops paid to others who might easily be called our
There was ugliness of
course mixed into the equation, but the average American Marine,
Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Coast Guarder, was and is the average guy or
gal from the average town in America. They are "good kids"
who believe in fighting for the rights of others, and dying for those
rights if necessary.
Most of them have fought and
struggled with their Moral Box, to keep it as firm as possible under
incredible pressure to release their grip on civilized behavior.
We forget about all those who chose not to act as a tyrant, as a
Terrorist, all those who could have easily become Beasts of War but
rather struggled to maintain the much harder position of Sentinel of
Vigilance, carefully picking their targets, not eager to kill anyone
unless absolutely necessary, treating their prisoners with respect and
dignity despite the fact they might have just killed a buddy or pal.
These people are our
unsung heroes of Iraq, whose great Courage, Conviction and Right
Actions will not be recorded or shot onto front pages of papers, or
featured on 60 Minutes Two.
At this moment,
when the world is looking at a few Americans whose Beast of Terror
cause them to erase their Moral Boxes, the tens of thousands of
Americans who have fortified their Moral Boxes will be victims of the
fallout of the few, will be tainted and some deeply scarred by the
hatred spewing at them by default as the world convicts the whole for
the acts of the very few.
I salute the
true Sentinels of Vigilance in Iraq
But I will not.
I will salute the true Sentinels of Vigilance in Iraq, those who have
maintained their Moral Boxes, and hope you will too.
And, I will remind all
that if you subscribe to the Pledge of Vigilance, it is a tool to help
you keep your Moral Box strengthened, keep it reinforced, for it
provides you a way to measure whether your actions are civilized or
Had the Americans, for example, who
were about to demean and torture the prisoners in Iraq asked this
question: "Is what we are about to do to the benefit of the
Children's Children's Children? Not just our own, but all
children throughout the world three generations from now...?"
The odds are they would have driven the Beast of War, the Beast of
Primordial Ooze running. They would have realized the
fungus they created will stick to America's legacy in Iraq for
generations to come.
But that fungus did not attach itself
to those 170,000 other Americans who have maintained their Moral Box,
who have resisted the hissing Voice of the Beast and stood above the
desire to club the enemy to death when they have their hands in the
We salute the Sentinels of the Moral
Terrorism & Iraq: Another Quagmire?