Major Bob Bateman
has been a regular feature on Eric Alterman's blogsite, blogging from Iraq. In yesterday's column, he took a moment to reflect on the Haditha massacre, offering up some experiences of his own with ethics training and troops. Here's a key graf:
Showing my troops the tape [of an ethical dilemma], and then discussing with them the same situations, was among the most educational things I had ever done. What I learned was that my men, a perfect mélange of middle Americana, (and absent their sergeants and lieutenants) were more than willing to use violence in completely inappropriate ways in order to accomplish what they saw as “the mission.” In short, what they told me they would do was (were they to actually do any of these things) a collection of violations of the laws of land warfare. It was a direct confirmation of something which I’d only suspected before, and something which drove me to spend a vast amount of time on these topics with the sergeants and lieutenants later.
Be sure and read the entire entry. It's very instructive as to the state of the military and the state of our young people. Is this attitude reflective on anything in our larger culture?
It seems to me that in my lifetime, American's have become more violent. When I was in elementary school, we discussed the notion of "the end justifies the means". The default balance in American society seems to have shifted in the direction of the end, without regard to means.
I don't know the exact cause or causes, and there are plenty of explanations. But I'm not really surprised at the increased level of atrocity perpetration in the current "GWOT". Certainly, our stellar leadership has led the way in perpetrating that the ends justify any means of action. And I really believe there are many more atrocities that have not been revealed. I would not be surprised to learn that a lack of ethics and moral compass among the general population is a symptom of a declining culture, and that our leadership is merely a symptom of that larger issue. I'm not predicting the apocolypse of America, but I think Mikevotes blog name "Born at the Crest of Empire
" certainly summarizes the situation.
The fad-like resurgence of the "religious right" (at least in the media's opinion) may be a feeble attempt to regain some sort of ethical compass. Ironically, that sphere of influence offers rigidity that actually makes the situation worse. The "angry" left, meanwhile, is really all about ethics and yet is seen in some quarters as ... well ... angry.
It seems to me that the solution starts with families and childhood. Parents demonstrating
a delay of self-gratification in service of ethics is the single most important part of the solution in my opinion. If you want to know the future, look around you and notice how parents perform this task. These children will be the trendline for future ethics. Perhaps some "hard times" might have a silver lining in forcing people to develop greater character. It's too bad that we humans seem to only react to crisis, but if that's what it takes .......
It seems to beat the alternative of a slothful culture which easily slides into the worst of atrocities based on self-indulgence rather than any sense of right or wrong.