Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Mark Hyman’s most recent commentary confuses me. Before reading it, I had thought that two of the bedrock principles of contemporary conservative rhetoric were that it is unpatriotic to criticize the American soldier serving in the field and that individual responsibility for wrongdoing must be upheld.

On the surface, Hyman’s editorial about the alleged atrocity at Haditha (vaguely alluded to as “recent allegations of misconduct in Iraq”) goes along with these assumptions. He notes that the actions of a few soldiers shouldn’t be used to defame all. Of course, he doesn’t point to an example of anyone using Haditha to condemn all service personnel, and I’m not aware that anyone has, but let’s grant that if anyone says Haditha is proof that all members of the military are brutal sadists, that would be wrong.

He then compares the soldiers accused of atrocities to a “rogue nurse” who euthanizes patients. Such a nurse should be condemned rather than blaming the entire medical profession.

True enough. These seem like reasonable positions and ones in keeping with the conservative rhetoric of honoring the military and placing blame on the individuals who deserve it.

But the more I thought about it, the more trouble I had reconciling Hyman’s words with these ideals.

First, Hyman’s use of the “rogue nurse” metaphor not only doesn’t work, but paints the servicemen accused of the Haditha crimes in an even blacker hue than they’ve already been. After all, the nurse Hyman conjures up is a sociopath who is killing for the sheer joy of killing. He/she is committing premeditated murder in a cool, calculated manner. As horrific as the Haditha charges are, one must grant (at least I do) that the soldiers of Kilo Company didn’t leave their base that day with the goal of slaughtering innocent civilians, including children. Their actions, as criminal as they were, sprang from uncontrolled rage brought on by a violent attack that killed one of their comrades.

Does this excuse what happened? Not a bit. Yet, Hyman’s analogy equates these soldiers to someone who kills for the pleasure of it. Why do I feel that if anyone to the left of Hyman made such an analogy, he or she would be derided for equating soldiers to criminals and not having the appropriate sympathy for the horrendous burdens our soldiers face every day as they battle the evil doers?

It’s hard to believe that anyone could come up with a way of slandering the troops of Kilo Company in a way that seems unfair even if you grant the truth of the allegations against them, but Hyman manages it.

And why does he do this? This brings us to the issue of personal responsibility. As we saw with the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib revelations, the instinct of those who support the war is to blame those at the lowest levels for the crimes, conveniently insulating those higher up from any culpability.
True, those who actually tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib, just as those soldiers who allegedly blew out the brains of kids at Haditha, are responsible for their actions and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But why does the invocation of individual responsibility stop at this point? If one truly believes in making individuals accountable for their actions, doesn’t this require us to look at those higher up who made decisions that led to the atrocities?

Let’s go back to the rogue nurse analogy. Sure, such a monster should be held accountable, but would it not also make sense to look at the wider situation? Who was responsible for the hiring practices that allowed such an obviously deranged person into the hospital? What sort of flaws in oversight allowed this nurse to commit such crimes without being detected? Who was responsible for not looking into the first of these mysterious deaths when they started? What evidence was ignored, and by whom?

Would it in fact not be immoral to *not* look at the wider culture that allowed this nurse to commit such atrocities and take actions to make sure it doesn’t happen again, including holding individuals accountable for criminal negligence or professional incompetence?

Holding others accountable wouldn’t mitigate the wrongness of Hyman’s rogue nurse. It would not undermine an ethos of individual accountability. Quite the opposite. It would emphasize the necessity of holding people accountable for their actions.

But Hyman’s argument, much like those neo-cons who tried to pass off Abu Ghraib as the actions of a few rogue soldiers, looks suspiciously like an attempt to protect any wider application of the “individual accountability” value.

This is particularly negligent given that conventional wisdom suggests that atrocities like those alleged at Haditha don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen when there’s an absence of proper leadership, low morale, and a sense of a lack of moral order coming from the top down.

Suggesting that any member of Kilo Company who murdered a civilian is a monster might be accurate, but if this suggestion is made in order to discourage holding others accountable for their role in the atrocity, it doesn’t support the notion of individual responsibility; it erodes it.

The more I thought about Hyman’s commentary, the more I found myself coming to the conclusion that Hyman doesn’t necessarily believe in unquestioning support for our servicemen and women or in the principle of individual responsibility. On the contrary, Hyman is willing to ignore both of these principles when they interfere with his larger goal of supporting the president and the decision to launch a war of choice that has led to the deaths of 2,500 American soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.91


At 12:49 AM, Anonymous hyman's turtle said...

I concur. (wink)

At 4:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ditto here, Ted!

At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Herbert Birdsfoot said...

I think that you refuted Hyman's real point in the second paragraph. He's not so much interested in defending the innocent members of the military, as insinuating that "someone" is defaming all members of the military, based on the actions of a few. And who is this "someone" who is defaming the troops? That is left up to other members of the right wing noise machine (Limbaugh, O'reilly, Coulter et al.) to answer, without actual quotes of course.


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