A video of Marines in Afghanistan urinating on the dead bodies of enemy insurgents has appeared on YouTube. The public response has illustrated several points:
1. The four Marines committed an offense for which they will be punished. The action was offensive, but it was not murder, rape, or mayhem.
2. The American media has been restrained in its coverage, recognizing that among 100,000 troops at war, some will misbehave, and that overall, the conduct of our forces has been exemplary.
3. The mainstream press maintains more influence than social media networks. YouTube is crowded with homemade, or field-made, video clips of ferocious firefights and graphic displays of violence that attract millions of viewers on individual computer monitors. MSM retains the powerful ability to focus the attention of millions simultaneously and as a collective audience on whichever single graphic event MSM chooses to highlight.
4. The ubiquity of the digital camera connected to the Internet via the thoughtlessness of exuberant young soldiers will continue to bedevil military commanders.
5. Congress on both sides of the aisle has been largely silent. There isn’t an anti-war party or a Democratic wing challenging a Democratic president. Unlike in the Abu Ghraib case, this event will not evoke inflamed statements from Democratic politicians.
6. The scale of the public apologies by senior American generals and cabinet secretaries was excessive, as was Afghan president Karzai’s rush to highlight the event. This illustrated an underlying relationship that is exceedingly fragile at best and probably dysfunctional. Karzai’s repeated public scoldings bode ill for the stormy days ahead as negotiations with the Taliban begin.
7. In sum, the event merited a small column in the media. It exploded due to the graphic image, not the severity of the offense. The American media has shown restraint and has indicated no inclination to keep this story on the front page or evening news.
(Note to MSM: Please do not prove me wrong by hyping this event!)
— Bing West, who served with the Marines in Vietnam, is author of The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan.