Saturday, May 08, 2004

What or who is an american?

A recent blog visitor asked me if I should make a distinction between the american public and Dubya's administration. I mulled it over during the bus ride to the university this morning. The answer is not as cut and dry as the question itself may suggest.

There exists a fine line between the american public and their President, whom they (usually) elect in a democratic process and therefore provide with a mandate in not only their own personal governance but also in matters of their foreign policy and military activities. I am largely unprepared to absolve the american public of their democratic rights and duty to influence their government and their policies. The american Declaration of Independance defines this intricate relationship in no uncertain terms:

"... Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government..."

Ofcourse I don't think that all american's are evil. Actually, I would dearly like to believe that the majority of americans are appalled enough about the behaviour of their military to demand some action and accountability. However I am not naive enough to feel secure in the current state of voter apathy I have observed amongst the american public. Let us not forget that Hitler derived his powers legitimately through the democratic process, elected by people who subsequently empowered him to do what he did, even if that was not their original intention. They allowed subtle changes in their laws to take place that eventually removed or altered their ability to influence, speak out against, or remove their government. What eventually became Hitler's Germany was a dark spot in our collective history that we should all guard against repeating.

It really is beyond me how anyone can try to condone or find some justification for the activities illustrated in these pictures. A blog I visit regularly made a very good point of all the "excuses" being bantered around:

"... but they've bundled their apologies with excuses, thus negating any sincerity. My favourite excuse: "The guilty persons weren't properly trained in the rules of the Geneva Convention." Really? Really? Do you really need to be told that this isn't right? So ... their soldiers do not naturally know how to treat human beings? They need to take a special course to know that pissing on people, dragging them around on leashes, and stacking them in naked human pyramids is not proper?"

People make conscious choices to act in certain ways. We all know that our actions have consequences that we need to take responsibility for, ourselves, regardless of who or where we are in society or the world. When I was in the army we were all well briefed in Military Law, basic rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention, especially as it pertains to the taking and treatment of prisoners/detainees, from our Basic Training onwards. I can't imagine it would be that different for americans. Regardless, it remains the duty of every soldier to question and defy any order that is thought to be unlawful until that order is confirmed from higher up the chain of command. Further, I would humbly suggest, it is the duty of every human being (especially of a free citizen) to guard against outrages upon the personal dignity and wellbeing of another human being. But maybe that is just my opinion.

So, for now, I will reserve judgment. In the best case scenario this will all prove to be isolated cases, illegal acts committed by a very few number of people who were operating of their own accord and not under a command structure that allowed this type of behaviour to prosper. But while this current situation in Iraq *might* be representative of only a minority of american people, the eyes of the world are waiting on the reaction of the majority before we decide.

In conclusion, let me add that america needs to leave Iraq. Troop escalation will not help; there needs to be an immediate and unilateral withdrawal of american (and British) troops. The longer the occupation remains, the potential for it to get worse increases. But this is a blog for another day.

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