2005-05-26 / View From the Middle

What About Self-Censorship For When We Denigrate Ourselves?

View From The Middle
By Charles Rogers

It’s perplexing. There we were, being told all our early lives that being an American soldier is a good thing, filled with works of bravery and fortitude and good morals, we hope, and that soldiers on our side are fighting the good fight for the good cause. Some-one tells us it’s “our country, right or wrong,” and then we’re told to think for ourselves. As with the Vietnam War, though, maybe the “our country” adage doesn’t always work.

But, politics notwithstanding, most of us still hold our fighting men and women on a high pedestal, like comic book heroes of old, picturing them with gritted teeth, courageously defending the flag. It’s a good image; a preferred image; one that is emblazoned in our minds from childhood. Brainwashing? Sure. But that’s the way it is. That’s life, not only in these United States, but in every country. Instill patriotism in youth and, most of the time, it will stick. We all know this and nobody balks. Yes, that’s life. Why should we complain? Unless you’re an inborn, hate-mongering, home-schooled radical, that Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem are okay. We have freedoms that cannot be taken away, and that’s why we protest when we see others who don’t have similar freedoms. And that’s why we have soldiers to defend those freedoms and fight for us.

The figure on that pedestal at times looks un-reachable, though. We can still look up to it because of all the blood that has been shed in the past for our freedoms. We know it has faults, although we can still hope it comes up to our expectations.

But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there are those who would prefer to show the seamy side of heroes, even in the midst of a war.

And yes, there is a seamy side, whether we want to deny it to ourselves or not.

In journalism school we are taught that “right is might,” and that “truth is the ultimate answer.” How-ever correct those adages are, sometimes one must think not only about how very much that truth can have adverse, disastrous results — including rioting and death — but about how little good it will do to show it.

I saw a picture published after World War II that showed our soldiers doing some horrible things with prisoners of war in the Far East. I won’t go into particulars, except to say the photos outdid those from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year. The public, and most of all our enemies, did not see the photo because the government said, “You’ll publish those over YOUR dead body!” Yes, it was censorship.

So what?

There are these events at the Iraq prison and, recently, the supposed dunking, or, at least, desecration of the Koran by our American soldiers in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, as reported by Newsweek, that show the very worst of the American soldier. The very worst of the American person.

And not too suddenly, those heroic soldiers, those ideals of bravery and courage, become the dregs of life.

And this is showcased to the world.

Neither the prison pictures nor the Guantanamo incident needed to be seen, either by our enemies or our friends, but, taking their pseudo-omniscient stance, media outlets decided they would be the ones to beat their breasts and let their countrymen show themselves to be “bad guys.”

I know, I know...It’s censorship, to a degree. Not in the classic sense, because the government is not preventing the publishing. No, we should not ignore it. Truth will indeed come out and, after all, ideal journalism determines that we keep an eye on our own government, as well as others. We can’t sweep our discrepancies under the rug and pretend we’resuperheroes.

However, we could use our heads and not practice overkill, as we did with Ghraib and Guantanamo. There are other ways, I’m sure, for us to shoot ourselves in our own foot on the road to defeating ourselves. Even if a Pentagon or State Department spokesperson is a source, it doesn’t mean we have to publish it. It’s called discretion . What an editor does is use judgment and choose what to print or show on television.

Our foolish soldiers did those horrible acts at Abu Ghraib; they probably did try to flush a holy book down the toilet in Cuba — page by page. Journalism be damned, though! I’m tired of bringing those kinds of truths to our enemies and to our own people.

We need not show ourselves to be fools, even if — by our comportment — we make fools of ourselves.

By saying all this, I don’t expect to get a seat on Meet The Press.

Y’know what? I don’t care.

I do care about our troops over there, who, for the most part, are brave and good and moral and all those things our ideals want them to be. I do care that they’re resilient and tough, and they’ve learned to take it when people from other countries deride them because of a few acts by other dumb soldiers put them in a bad, bad light. I do care when they’re not respected, as they should be.

Think about them this Memorial Day. Please don’t forget them. Give them the respect they deserve and wish them Godspeed.

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