News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Pfc. England's actions a foil to U.S. heroism

If the U.S. military had to come up with a retrospective set of playing cards depicting those who helped sink us in the quicksand of Iraq, Army Pfc. Lynddie England would deserve a place.

Her conviction on six of seven counts Monday, which earned her a 3-year sentence, will not erase the legacy her actions contributed to the war.

Posing atop naked Iraqis and leading them with a leash at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, she became durable proof to U.S. enemies that America was as bad as they thought. She no doubt spurred terrorists to action and increased the wedge between the United States and its allies.

The act will buy us no foreign friends, but she was also a foil for what is good in the U.S. military.

Whatever the Geneva Convention may say on the subject, the people of an occupied country are at the whim of the invading troops. A shooting that will get a civilian the death penalty goes unnoticed in the confused violence of warfare. Cries of rape go unheard.

As Lord Acton, a British baron and historian, put it in the 19th Century, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

As despicable as was Ms. England, she was simply more evidence of the accuracy of an aphorism long known to be true. Unchecked power dredges our worst impulses to the surface.

She was by no means the only American whose actions brought shame to her homeland, but she certainly was not the norm. Other Americans, honorable Americans, brought her misconduct to light. While she preened for the camera, other soldiers offered food and comfort to Arabs they knew might be armed with explosives.

Many questioned our initial invasion of Iraq; many more question it now. Despite Ms. England's legacy, however, questions about our Iraqi presence are not triggered by our soldiers' misconduct. Rather, they are triggered by our soldiers' nobility.

As our courageous sons and daughters die, we naturally focus upon whether we have rightly evaluated the importance of the cause that killed them.

Ms. England did not deserve the uniform so proudly worn by our troops, a uniform proudly worn inside too many coffins. She may have proved that absolute power corrupts, but she is a reminder that Lord Acton did not quite get it right.

Great men, it turns out, are not always bad men. Those we sent into battle, many of whom will not return, proved Lord Acton wrong.

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