Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 America the Frightful 

February 8, 2005 
When a Marine general tells the world “it’s a hell of a lot of fun” to shoot Afghan men who slap their wives around, eyebrows are raised. On the heels of torture stories from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, this doesn’t do much to improve America’s image abroad.

Death sentences meted out, on the spot, for slapping? Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Why not just a year or two of community service?

But no sooner are all those eyebrows raised than the general finds defenders who say that either (a) he was quoted “out of context,” or (b) he’s a brave warrior who “tells it like it is” about war, or (c) both. It’s the liberal media who jump on the poor guy for being “politically incorrect.”

Out of context? You wonder in what context such explosive words could possibly sound like sweet reason. Shakespeare has been quoted out of context for centuries, yet his reputation has survived. You can’t very well recite the whole play every time you borrow one of his fine phrases.

But let’s posit that the general’s words have been unfairly yanked from a longer, more nuanced utterance within which they sound civilized, even chivalrous. The fact remains that his talk-radio defenders, the anti-liberal media, applaud those words themselves, apart from any redemptive context.

This happens so often — the same crowd likens the Abu Ghraib tortures to “fraternity pranks” — that we needn’t marvel at America’s declining reputation. On the one hand, humiliating naked Arab men is a harmless amusement; on the other, it’s totally atypical of our armed forces; and on yet another hand (though this isn’t often said aloud) it’s probably what those bastards deserve.

Most Americans are decent people; most military men I’ve known have a keen sense of honor. So why does so much of the world have a very different impression?

[Breaker quote: Why shouldn't the world fear us?]We used to have an expression: “That’s the type that gives the whole group a bad name.” In wartime, nations send their young men out to do things that are sure to give them a bad name. Russians are warm, generous people; but during their invasion of Afghanistan, the Afghans experienced a different side of them.

The same group may have one character as individuals and a very different, even opposite character when acting as an organized force. Liberals may talk as if religious people are a threat to the Republic, while getting on perfectly well with their religious neighbors; and vice versa.

This is one of the dangers of war that are rarely taken into account in advance: If you go to war, you are going to be hated. You’re going to give countless people, who may have had nothing against you before, reasons to hate you in the depths of their souls.

And it’s always going to be more than you bargained for. No use hoping to win the hearts and minds of the enemy population, or trying to convince them that your quarrel is not with them but with their rulers; you’ve already decided to show them your worst side, and plenty of your soldiers, including generals, will see to it that your country’s worst side is well represented.

This is implicit in the whole business. Patriotic slogans urging us to “support our troops” are effectively telling us to forget the people on the receiving end, whose innocent casualties are written off as “collateral damage” and whose numbers our own government won’t even estimate.

Those casualties are regrettable, whatever you think of the war, but there have been few American expressions of regret. The world notices these things, just as it notices our soldiers having “fun” killing wife-beaters and tormenting prisoners. And when the world gets a bad impression of us, we complain about “anti-Americanism.”

What did we expect? It would be unnatural for the world to react any other way to this war. The America it sees, and once admired, has become frightening. If you choose to be feared, don’t ask to be loved too.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, grievous insults have been added to terrible injuries. Real peace is probably out of reach for the foreseeable future. It’s especially painful that our European cousins are disowning us, after long alliance and friendship.

We Americans aren’t really evil people. But we’ve been showing the world too many of our ogres and ogresses lately.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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