American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 11, 2004
SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Every day it's something else. Today I woke to the news that cicadas are coming. I remember those pesky large beetle-like insects that have a way of climbing all over your house and yard while the male vibrates membranes on his belly and the drum-roaring sound wakes every sleeping thing all night long. I thought they were gone for good with the advent of DDT and Raid but I discovered they are not seasonal - unless you count 17 years between plagues a season.
When I heard that news, I said "oy veh, what next?"
Yesterday's news brought an exasperated, "Junius H. Priest."
The day before, I slapped my forehead and said, "Holy Toledo."
When I watched that breaking news at week's end, I said (not as an epithet, but as a prayer) "Jesus Christ, what in the name of all that's high and holy is going on around here?"
Once again, I looked at the pictures of the Iraq detainees and those guarding them with such disbelief and listened as the spin started before anyone knows what the full story is. This time I saw the women guards, not just the men. There is one true thing: Nobody ordered them to smile.
Who is the spinner and who is the spinee? Who is the detainer and who is the detainee? Just whom do we call the dregs of society, them or us? If listeners and viewers don't want their collective heads to spin, they'd better stay tuned to one station or network for one point of view they can fathom.
I've heard people ask that we show 9/11 photos over and over so we don't lose sight of why we're over there. Does no one seem to understand that 9/11 happened without provocation? We were victims! We are fighting back, for sure, but we can not act "without provocation" against the detainees.
We already know al-Qaida does not need a reason to hate Americans. They just do. So, we'll drive them back to where they will neither do us harm nor anyone else. We can do that and we are, with great personal sacrifice to us all.
That's what I thought last week when we were going about our business in this war on terror, sending the message that they don't fool with Americans. We're in for the long haul - "in for a penny, in for a pound."
But now look what's we've gone and done: Uh, oh. We've provoked them. We are no longer the innocent bystanders, the wronged citizens presenting moral authority to the world as part of our character. we are the provokers; they are the provoked. We just poked a tiger already wide awake and roaring.
Although the spin doctors are careful not to say the soldiers were just obeying orders, they infer the soldiers' actual orders were to keep the detainees awake and uncomfortable so they'd be more willing to talk. On the surface, that sounds rather innocuous; in fact, I'd take it to mean an occasional spritz of water or the sound of a dripping faucet.
Is it only in the movies that the guards leave as soon as the psychiatrists arrive for questioning? Whatever happened to brain washing to find the answers?
I trust the investigation to be thorough. I trust there will be no scapegoats. I know the punishment will fit the crime - assuming every soldier received literature on that culture and was tested on their knowledge beforehand.
One of the earliest truisms I learned is that a picture is worth a thousand words. Now, those spinning the news to protect our image are trying to tell us we don't see what we see. We see smiles on the faces of the soldiers; we see horror on the faces of the detainees.
The smiles were not pasted grins on their faces while the soldiers were inwardly dying of shame for what they were expected to do.
No. They were smiling in bright-eyed amusement. They were having a good time and let the culture be damned. It's written all over these photographs and whatever turned these presumably honorable soldiers into the images before us defies explanation.
Remember the picture of Patti Hearst wearing the black beret of the Simbionese Liberation Army taking part in the bank robbery? All the Hearst fortune and all their top lawyers could not convince us she didn't know what she was doing. She went to jail.
Perhaps these young women and men found saftey in numbers. If even one thought they might be doing wrong, they could harken back to the advice I learned and then used with my family: If a child wondered about right and wrong, I'd ask: "If someone took your picture doing it and it appeared on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper, would you be proud or ashamed?" If they never heard that admonition, do they not know that understanding right from wrong is knowing the consequences of whatever it is they are doing?
Even if they didn't fear consequences from the Command, were not the consequences of their action pain and humiliation inflicted upon another human being?
All that's left in my mind is knowing we'll feel the consequences of their actions for a long time to come. I'm all out of acceptable epithets; I can only swallow hard.