While support for the war on terror has wavered, one thing has remained constant: support for the troops. But as the war moves into its fourth year, there are growing signs that this support should not come so unconditionally.
Two recent videos circulating on the Internet best illustrate why the actions of American troops need to be more closely examined. One video shows a soldier dangling a bottle of water off the back of a troop transport as a group of Iraqi children chase after, racing down the pock-marked streets of an Iraqi city for several blocks hoping to catch the prize.
His comrades laugh at the children, being given a brief distraction from their grim duties, then the bottle is dropped after all but one child gave up the pursuit.The other video shows a crowd of Iraqi children surrounding an American tank chanting “F— Iraq!” as their teachers, a group of American soldiers, stand back laughing
and gloating in self-satisfaction.
It is difficult to believe that these children knew fully what they were saying, and even more difficult to imagine what the outrage would be if American children were being taught to curse their country by outsiders.
In light of the investigation into the slayings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, along with the looming memory of Abu Ghraib, these videos evoke similar feelings of disappointment, embarrassment and disgust.
American troops are not babysitters, but they do share some responsibility for the safety and well-being of the civilians in the countries they occupy. Taunting innocent children offers no reasonable benefit to the ultimate cause of a free and stable Iraq, and portrays our servicemen
as unprofessional, immature and cruel.
Many experts believe the key to American success in Iraq is winning the propaganda war – gaining the support of Iraqi people and preventing people from joining ter-rorist groups and sectarian militias to move together toward a common goal. It is an objective that goes beyond tactical victories and places responsibility on all troops to create confidence among the people they are protecting.
This footage hardly represents the American electorate, who should be outraged that the individuals responsible for this conduct, from the soldiers to their commanders,
have contributed to an ailing global image.
For many Iraqis, the current occupying presence of American soldiers could be the most direct representation of American culture they may ever witness. These actions only cast a more shameful shadow on an already wounded and distorted global perception of the United States, and perhaps for understandable reasons. The unprecedented amount of media coverage about the war on terror has made it the most heavily reported conflict of recent times, offering a continuous amount of reportage from all sources and angles imaginable.
The fact that these two videos can be found on YouTube and humor Web sites does not discount their validity or usefulness. Among newspapers, broadcasts and political
discussion, this footage fits as a small but poignant part of the variety of sources from which the American public must derive its perception and opinion of the war.
Reaction posted on the popular social networking Web site Facebook reflects the utility of such material, as it has fueled the arguments of anti-troop and pro-troop groups alike. Though discussion often borders on incivility, it is a sign that, at least among the youthful demographic
of the site, people feel strongly about the American presence in Iraq.
The sacrifices of American servicemen and women cannot be denied, but this should not blind the public to their misdemeanors and should not be used as an unconditional
shield from scrutiny. All arms of the government deserve equal treatment under the public eye, as it is to the public that government must ultimately answer. This includes the armed forces.
True patriotism is not achieved by turning a blind eye to deplorable behavior when a larger objective takes precedence.
It is up to the civilian public to hold the government accountable for all its actions and to call for change when change is necessary.
Brian Krier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.