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Who let the dogs out?

So now you know. Thanks to prime-time television, you, the American people, understand that war is horrible. The mystery is why you didn't know before, why you are outraged now. Perhaps the answer is, if it's not on TV, it's not happening. So, credit to CBS's 60 Minutes II for finally showing part of the truth - that Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison have been undergoing the horrors of war at American hands. No credit to the US media for pulling the wool over your eyes about this war for so long. No credit to you for being appalled now - you should have known that this is what happens in any war, no matter whose side God is on.

Don't you remember the stark images in Life magazine of US soldiers torturing suspected communists during the Vietnam War? Have you forgotten about the My Lai massacre? Did you think the Disasters of War, as depicted by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya in 1810-11 (click here ) were things that only other countries perpetrated, in other times?

Did you think American wars are more civilized, more humane? Well, of course you did. Your president and your media, after the nonsense about weapons of mass destruction had been swept under the carpet, sold you this war as ridding the world of the brutal, bloodthirsty tyrant Saddam Hussein; as bringing the forces of humanity, civilization and enlightenment to a people living in darkness. And you believed that war could achieve this. Now, shocked, you are seeing images that show that the brutal, bloodthirsty tyrant's boot fits some American feet as well. Sorry, but war is dehumanizing.

Your president thunders that prisoner abuse "is not the American way". Maybe he really thinks so - he never saw service in Vietnam, or any other war, after all. Maybe his advisers just didn't tell him what really goes on in war. But to all but the simple-minded and the rose-bespectacled, this is not only the American way of war, it is the way of all sides in all wars.

The US media tell us this morning: "General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told US news channels that those responsible [for the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison] would be brought to justice and that the 'chain of command' would be investigated, as well as the six junior soldiers who face court-martial proceedings." Splendid. There is no doubt, however, that the "chain of command" investigation will not go all the way to the end of the chain. Underlings will take the fall in the US leaders' efforts to show that apart from a few misguided individuals, American soldiers are enlightened and humane killing, raping and torturing machines. An oxymoron? You bet. But you don't win wars by being gentle.

The underlings who will be punished are soldiers who were dragged along by the dogs of war. If you are shocked and appalled by what they did, it is those who let the dogs out who should be investigated. They have only one question to answer, and it is not "Did you order the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners?" The question is, "Is this a just, necessary war?" If it is a just war, you may swallow your horror, because this is how wars are waged.

Sometimes war is unavoidable. Just don't be naive about it. Sorry to say, the grim reality is a whole lot worse than what you have recently seen on the "stupid box".

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May 4, 2004


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