PINEHURST, N.C. — In the past few weeks we have seen some horrific photos of some deranged thinking and acting by a handful of military men and women at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. As a veteran, I was shocked, appalled and terribly disappointed that members of our uniformed forces would act in such a manner, and then even be dumb enough to incriminate themselves with photographs of their absurdities.
As a veteran I also know that these people, at whatever level in the chain of command the fault lies, were taught early on that such behavior was illegal. Each military member is exposed to specific classes on the law of war, the Geneva Convention, and more importantly on what America expects and deserves from its warriors.
"Just following orders" is not a valid defense. The Uniform Code of Military Justice specifies the need to follow "lawful" or "legal" orders. If there had been orders to treat the Iraqi prisoners inhumanely, they would not have been legal or lawful.
One hundred-thirty-five thousand American servicemen and women in Iraq are doing some marvelous things bringing freedom to the Iraqis -- restoring their national infrastructure -- and some are losing their lives in this worthwhile effort. All of their good work and their personal and professional sacrifices are overshadowed by a few poorly led and poorly supervised members in uniform, other government agencies and contractors.
Our nation has suffered an incredibly severe setback, not only among the Arab nations, but throughout the world. Television, the print media and the Internet have permitted the world to view the stupid actions of a small band of men and women who America trusted to perform a vitally important mission. Those in other nations who believe we live in a decadent society (as learned from our movies, television shows and video games) may now be even more convinced that our morals are corrupt.
It only took a few hours or days by a small group to bring great shame on America and its armed forces. It will take years, maybe decades to recover from such horrendous treatment of foreign POW's. It could also be devastating to how American forces may be treated should they become POW's of a foreign power or a terrorist organization. The ramifications of these stupid and unlawful actions in Abu Ghraib are endless.
This constant drumbeat of the sickening scenes at Abu Ghraib has detracted from this month's dedication of the World War II Memorial in our nation's capital. Nearly 60 years after our men and women came home from Europe and the Pacific theater, there will now be a very special place of remembrance of the sacrifices of so many Americans intent on providing freedom to our citizenry and others around the world.
Tom Brokaw, of NBC News, in his best-selling book referred to the WWII era as "America's Greatest Generation." And it may be just that -- 16 million men and women served in uniform during WWII. Over 400,000 (that's right over 400,000) died while in service during the war. Most were battle deaths, some were training accidents and some were other nonhostile fatalities. Nearly 80,000 were lost in combat and never recovered.
Of the 16 million who served, only 4 million remain alive today. These special veterans are dying at the rate of about 1,000 every day. It is unfortunate that so many will not have lived to see the imposing memorial being dedicated to them nearly 60 years after the conflict ended.
As former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole has said, "... the generation of Americans that defeated the forces of tyranny neither asked for nor expected a memorial. They came home. They went to work. And they built a nation that remains the world's most powerful example of democracy and freedom in action."
How tragic those few soldiers and civilians in a Baghdad prison entrusted with a "powerful example of democracy and freedom" didn't understand or appreciate the great deeds of the greatest generation.