The Corner

Double Standards That Kill

Over at the New York Post, Arthur Herman has penned an outstanding piece that outlines the double standards inherent in every American conflict since Vietnam. Here’s the core point:

After Vietnam, our politicians demanded that our armed forces be trained to wield the most lethal weapons ever made, with the moral and cultural sensitivity of Peace Corps volunteers. To anyone who knows history, our troops have met this challenge with overwhelming and unprecedented success — as our real record in Iraq and Afghanistan attests.

But it has left our military trapped in a strange double bind, one reflected in the furor over this video. If Somalis drag our dead through the streets or Iraqi insurgents dismember captured Marines or the Taliban gang-rape and mutilate women to enforce their vicious version of sharia law, the media treat it as irrelevant to understanding who we are fighting, or why. They even suppress those stories and images — such as the beheadings of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg. Their grounds for that censorship is that such reporting might “inflame hatred” — in other words, make us fight harder.

On the other hand, if an American warrior oversteps civilized bounds, his behavior becomes proof that our mission is a moral failure and no longer deserving of support.

This actually understates the severity of the problem. When the media confronts enemy atrocities, they’ll often argue that the very horror of those atrocities demonstrates the desperation we’ve allegedly caused. In other words, our atrocities are our fault and their (much worse) atrocities are our fault. Heads, we lose. Tails, they win.

The vast majority of our soldiers not only fight honorably (in fact, one of the tragic and untold stories of the war is the number of American soldiers who died because they showed restraint), they are keenly aware of the extraordinary scrutiny. When I deployed, countless soldiers asked me if they were “going to jail” if they made an honest mistake outside the wire. The question itself grieved me. Imagine the stress of fighting for your life while constantly looking over your shoulder for the long arm of the law.

At the same time, while we knew that the slightest error (or malicious report) could become world news overnight, we also knew that al-Qaeda actions like shooting babies in the face or decapitating women was no news at all. Double standards have consequences. And as Arthur Herman rightly notes, for Americans the consequences can include terrible wounds and sudden death on an overly sensitized battlefield.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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