Nothing hidden in the Info Age

An embarrassing video surfaced this week that appears to show four Marines urinating on Taliban corpses in Afghanistan. It begs the question one more time:

What were they thinking?

The incident, which likely would be a violation of international laws of war if confirmed, has already taken on a life of its own as it runs rampant on the Internet. Much like the Abu Ghraib photos of prisoner abuse in 2004, the images already are a black-eye for America. It is amazing that in this age of instant information that anyone would think such an act could be recorded and kept secret.

The knee-jerk reaction many Americans will have, unfortunately, is, So what? It will be pointed out that America’s enemies have dragged the corpses of U.S. service members through their streets, celebrating the deaths. If U.S. service personnel did urinate on the dead bodies, the argument goes, it’s no big deal because had the roles been reversed, the Taliban certainly would have done worse ... and reveled in it.

What is missing in that argument is one simple, but very important point: We, as Americans, are better than this.

The incident is being investigated by both the Marines and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. We’d like nothing better than to find out that the whole thing was a setup and didn’t involve U.S. personnel, but initial responses from Washington don’t seem to be indicating that.

If the images are legitimate, what these four Americans have demonstrated is that they were willing to stoop to the level of our enemies. They have given those enemies ammunition for their position that America really is no better than they are.

Will this video make our friends abandon us? No. If we could demonstrate that in every instance we have handled ourselves properly, would it turn our enemies into our friends? Again, no.

What it does do, however, is give those in the world who are on the fence about us a reason to dislike us. When we demand that other countries behave in a more humane manner, it gives them something they can throw in our face, along with a claim that we don’t practice what we preach.

The fact is, in any organization you have a few who don’t always meet the high standards set for them. When you consider the thousands and thousands of Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and guardsmen who have fought — and died — on our behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear that most have taken on the unsavory task of warfare in a manner that reflects well upon our nation. They have done their jobs with dignity and they have made America proud.

If what the video shows occurred as it appears, those who did this should be punished. We must make it clear that this sort of thing will not be tolerated, and that it is an isolated event that in no way reflects on the Marines and our military as a whole.

We are better than this. It is incumbent on us to ensure that we back up our high ideals with our actions.