I was brought up in the Deep South. Now please don't get me wrong here. I'm not defending the Confederacy as a cause. But the ideal of honor was very strong and certainly continued into the time of my childhood. I learned, for example, of the swords that were engraved with these words: "Draw me not without provocation. Sheathe me not without honor."
In France on June 29 a soldier taking part in a demonstration mistakenly fired live rounds instead of blanks. He wounded 17 people who were watching the display. The Chief of Staff of the French Army, General Bruno Cruche, submitted his resignation to President Sarkozy, who accepted it next day. There had been speedy analysis of a horrific incident ; immediate acceptance of responsibility ; then a self-imposed and principled end to a distinguished career by an officer who has set an example in honor and decency for generations of French soldiers. And for any others who care to take note.
Compare this incident with the aftermath of the evil scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where scores of Iraqis were tortured by US soldiers in the most disgusting circumstances. All the victims of casual violence, which was enjoyed so much by their torturers, as was evident from their happy photographs, were scarred for life, mentally or physically. Some were murdered in the prison; some died later. And we don’t know the half of what went on there. In 2004 US legislators were shown videos and still pictures of even more revolting and degrading atrocities than had been leaked to the public. There are scores of scenes of dreadful torture that the US administration has ordered to be kept forever secret.
But did any generals resign over this appalling affair? Nary a one, of course.
A few people were court-martialled. But most charges were reduced, dismissed, or dealt with by “non-judicial punishment” – you’ve got to laugh about that particular weasel-wording in spite of all the horror. Then a female one-star officer was reduced in rank. Apart from that : nothing – except that the officer appointed to investigate the sickening mayhem, Major General Taguba, ended his career when he recorded the truth. What a poisoned chalice he was handed : allow a cover-up and advance to three stars ; or permit the truth to be told and be destroyed for what his peculiar superiors would call “disloyalty”.
And this sort of thing has continued. Countless atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan have been denied, ignored or covered up. The conduct of US troops has only too often been horrendous to the point that the phrase “war crimes” is inadequate. The lies told by US army officers of the highest rank concerning the accidental killing of Pat Tillman by his own comrades in Afghanistan are a blot on the army’s reputation. But not one of these reptiles resigned.
I still value that principle. Would that it were still valued by our military officers.