10 May 2004

When Man Becomes A Savage Animal

Sunday Frontpage of the NYT

By now, you must have heard and seen the much-hyped photographs of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. These photographs in recent weeks have ignited a scandal that has caused the Bush administration embarassment, debilitated American efforts to establish democratic reform in Iraq and the Islamic world, fueled more anti-American sentiments in the Arab world and was sufficient enough to generate an apology from Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, amidst strong calls for his resignation.

In my view, almost every war has its own set of abuses, whatever perspective you are taking, be it the conqueror's or that of the vanquished. Soldiers, I think, have different violence thresholds. Some can handle them, and some can't. Those who can't turn into loosewires and enter a phase of savageness much like what you have seen in the William Golding literary work Lord of the Flies.

Most of the Coalition soldiers in Iraq are young and are probably having their first taste of war in the field. They have seen in Iraq for months what blood and gore means. Their training did not prepare them for this. I have always believed that no training will prepare you for the real thing. If your life used to be a happy, closed-knit family, you can imagine the shock one gets when one plunges into the hell of war. The constant bombings, the sniper attacks and ambushes, the exhaustion, the thought of being far-away from home, and the persistent question of why the heck are they fighting that war in the first place, can make an unprepared mind snap. That snap, is the first step to man's tranformation from human to barbaric. That in a nutshell, is my Lord of the Flies theory.

Just like any story, where there are bad guys, there are also good guys. The good characters in Lord of the Flies are Ralph and Piggy, and in the Iraq abuse scandal, the good guy and whistleblower was Army Spec. Joseph Darby, a 24-year-old reservist who gave the controversial pictures to the attention of investigators. He also later on turned in a CD-ROM with 1,000 photos documenting the atrocities, according to a recently disclosed internal Army report.

Read his story here

Man is basically good. War distorts his perspectives, and sometimes, war destroys it permanently. He becomes a savage animal who takes pleasure in abuse and killings. The Lord of the Flies assumes that society holds everyone together, and without these conditions, our ideals, values, and the basics of right and wrong are lost. Without society's rigid rules, anarchy and savagery can come to light. And there are no rigid rules in Iraq right now, correct? Anarchy rules there. Golding also showed through his work that morals come directly from our surroundings, and if there is no civilization around us, we will lose these values.

Come to think of it, whoever said that wars are moral?

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