Editor's Choice Archive 1

Regaining Our Balance as a Nation


By Patricia Keegan

Since the photos of atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison were exposed to the world, on some subliminal level, I can hear America weep. How will this affect the courageous soldiers who have sacrificed so much in Iraq? What have we done to our honor? What has become of that 'sense of ourselves' that wanted to heal -- rather than attack -- areas of fathomless pain in the world?

Those photographs do not represent how we think of ourselves, yet they are a reflection of an America at war and, in the age of the digital camera, nothing can be hidden for long. These images of torture have sent us reeling, like an unexpected swipe at our consciousness.

Now Republicans and Democrats are coming together, calling for accountability and endeavoring to show the world how a democracy is supposed to function. Call it fate or Divine intervention, but this seems to have had more of an impact on our psyche than the first terrible days of war -- as we watched bombs being unloaded on Baghdad. It even seems to have impacted us more than the number of American soldiers we lose every day -- contrasting starkly with rarely seen photos of dead American heros returning in coffins. We have limited access to many aspects of the war, even to how many Iraqi people have been killed. Until now, most Americans saw a faraway, almost unreal, war -- in contrast to the painful immediacy it holds for those with family members in Iraq.

In looking back at all the Administration's “noble” causes for embarking on a pre-emptive strike in Iraq, we find the way paved with incompetence and blatant lack of vision. Now, I ask: In this chaos, what remains ofreason for both the Iraqi people and the American people who must pick up the pieces?

With true American optimism, I wonder if the power of these photographs lies in their longer term effect of finally awakening us to the predictable horrors of war. In a re-examination of ourselves, which we can only hope will take place, we must return to the basics of what made America great in the first place. Two things stand out. One that is continually recounted is our liberation of Europe and the defeat of Germany in WWII. The other attribute that gave America a moral authority in the world was our emphasis on Human Rights, a keystone of President Carter’s administration. In a cycle of revenge, which we may continue to see, there is scant opening for the respect of human rights, but it must be emphasised as our only hope for Iraqi peace and freedom. What we see is a growing imbalance between military power and respect for international law. If neither the US nor the British have ironclad rules in place with respect to the Geneva Convention, what is left to hold back this predictable tide of revenge?

It is time to calm down, step back, and let the power of all that is still decent and good about the people of our two countries emerge. Witnessing the Congressional investigation and the passionate concern expressed by both Republicans and Democrats gives us hope. Let us pray that the ball will not be dropped, and tactics for dealing with 21st-century problems will reach a level more worthy of our nation.