A higher way


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A higher way
By Bobby Neal Winters

When I was in high school, the Iranians took some of our people hostage held them hostage for a long time. At one point, President Jimmy Carter sent a military team to attempt a rescue. This attempt failed, the helicopters crashed, the soldiers were killed, and the Iranians desecrated their bodies. The images we saw on television made an impression on everyone I knew. In that part of the world and that socio-economic stratum, we were largely ignorant of all of the complicated politics of the region and the history, however the sight of the bodies being kicked-around after they were dead touched upon something primal within us, something primitive, something potentially monstrous. That was 20 years ago, and while my memory concerning the details dims, the anger, and yes, the hatred, remains hot within me.

There are those who would argue that America deserved everything we got there. One can list the atrocities of the Shah and so forth, but it is not my point to argue blame one way or the other. The point is the emotion, the pain, and the anger. Emotion is a handle by which humans may be turned. It is a rudder by which they may be directed. We have very little control over how we feel, and not much more over how we react to our feelings, yet somehow our minds must tame our hearts if we are to proceed beyond barbarism. In our society, one means of doing this is the rule of law.

I am thinking, of course, of the recent events in Iraq. Iraqis have killed Americans and desecrated the bodies. They have mistreated the dead, burned bodies of our countrymen. The desecration has shocked more than the death, so we label them barbarians. This is easy for us, but then we receive a nasty surprise.

We have a very idealized image of our soldiers, and we should. They are fine young men and women who are putting their lives on the line in the service of our country. They have left their loved-ones, and the comfort of the home fires in order to serve their country. How shocking to discover a group of them have been mistreating their Iraqi prisoners in shameful ways. It is desecration without the mercy of death.

We are not this way. Our soldiers are not this way. We do not do things like this.

But there are the pictures all over the TV, all over the world, and in every conceivable language. Days pass like heartbeats, and then we are greeted with a videotape of some Iraqis beheading a hostage.

Like a bloody tennis ball being whacked back and forth, it is knocked back at us. High school boys now, American and Iraqi, will remember these things until their dotage, and we may carry the bloody volley on ad infinitum.

For Americans, the emotional roots of this war go all the way back to 9/11/2001. There are those who argue there is not a logical connection, and it is not my point to debate that, but America's emotional backing for this war are irrevocably intertwined with the smoldering husks of those two buildings, the men in business suits looking like dots in the air as they flung themselves from the buildings, and the search for bodies, or even portions of bodies, afterwards.

Since that day, this has been a war of one view of the world over the other. One is tempted to say of Islam versus the secular west, but it is more convoluted and complicated than that. However, I am bound to oversimplify, and so allow me to grossly over simplify. It is a battle of "them" versus "us."

It is difficult to compare them to us. There are many things about them that I like, and there are many things about us that I don't. However, I do believe we are people who love justice and value mercy. I believe this is true.

If we lose these things, we lose ourselves, our souls, regardless of who is left holding the battlefield at the end of the day. We must take the higher way, the way that values justice, mercy, and the rule of law.

Our debacle with the prisoners should be taken as a warning and an opportunity for self-examination. I believe that we erred egregiously by not extending the rights given by the Geneva Convention to these prisoners. We've been playing a game. On one hand there is no war, so therefore, no prisoners of war, but on the other, we are at war and these are foreigners, so our constitution does not apply. We have at some level said the end justifies the means, which is the very thing we cannot do. While information gained from torture might be helpful in the short term, in the long term it is disastrous. We might defeat them, but we will become them.
That's a very skilled post - not least because you manage to touch on so many highly contentious issues very quickly, but steer clearly and diplomatically through what could have otherwise been a minefield of opinions. :)
Thanks, Brian. This is such a volatile subject I haven't even sent it out to my mailing list. I've posted it here, the Dome and that is about it. Very touchy emotions right now.
I think you've actually done a very good job - you haven't expressed any opinion that could be contested or emotively argued against - you've simply referenced the topic. What's all the more interesting is how you manage to touch upon so many, without committing yourself to any pedestal of ridicule for doing so. That's a job well done. :)

You know what - I didn't even know about the Iranians desecrating the American bodies. That helps put something of Iraq into context here, that I didnt realise before.