- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where’s a Porta-Potty when a few good men need one?

This is the question Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense, ought to concern himself with, instead of trying to top Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, with over-the-top “outrage” over a Marine patrol taking a leak on the bodies of several freshly killed terrorists in Afghanistan.

If Mr. Panetta had been doing his job, he might have found enough Porta-Potties to spell battlefield relief for the Marines. This should teach him a needed lesson. Battlefield rest rooms are important, and will become even more important when women are dispatched to the battlefield. Lady grunts will expect something more than toilet-seat etiquette or an inconvenient bush or tree stump to protect their modesty.

The defense secretary and the secretary of state were each eager to out-deplore, out-lament and out-bewail the other, playing for the cameras a ferocious game of “can you top this?” Mr. Panetta said what the Marines did was “utterly deplorable.” It’s hard to get beyond “utterly,” but Mrs. Clinton called in her crack linguistics team at the State Department — where plain speech is utterly frowned on — and she soon pronounced herself in “total dismay” on hearing the news, and was sure that the “vast, vast” majority of “American military personnel” would never, ever do what those awful Marines did.

Mrs. Clinton’s description of that “vast, vast” majority, and not merely a “vast” majority, was taken to be an indication that she thought the Marines’ offense must have been twice as bad as the offense of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” tormenting Bubba for indulging in inappropriate merriment with a regiment of big-haired ladies at the White House. A secretary of state should use language precisely, and carefully ration her vasts.

Nevertheless, urine is rarely a proper salute even to dead terrorists, and the four Marines who relieved themselves on Taliban corpses should be properly disciplined. Americans, instructed by a culture informed by the certitudes of Jewish and Christian faith, are better than that. Still, sending two senior Cabinet officers do what a second lieutenant could have done was just short of a full grovel. The Obama administration stopped just short of sending the president himself to deliver a deep bow and a fulsome apology to the Taliban terrorists.

Mr. Panetta, who served two years as an Army intelligence officer several decades ago, knows better. Mrs. Clinton, whose hands-on knowledge of warfare and weaponry is limited to the lamps she threw at Bubba in the White House, has no knowledge of what Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, the infamous Civil War firebug, was talking about when he famously said “war is hell.”

Dehumanizing the enemy is the first task of the men who send boys to war, men who never have to learn that war is more than merely a policy option. “But of course [these Marines] have dehumanized the enemy,” Sebastian Junger, a documentary filmmaker who spent a year with an Army platoon in the Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan, observes in The Washington Post. “Otherwise they would have to face the enormous guilt and anguish of killing other human beings. Rather than demonstrate a callous disregard for the enemy, this awful incident might reveal something else: a desperate attempt by confused young men to convince themselves that they haven’t just committed their first murder — that they have simply shot some coyotes on the back 40.”

Rick Perry got it right when he said the Obama administration’s rhetoric showed “a disdain for the military.” The incontinent Marines should be reprimanded, but filing criminal charges against them is unreasonable. “Kids, 18- and 19-year-old kids make stupid mistakes all too often and that’s what occurred here. To call it a criminal act is over the top.”

An anonymous veteran of the Vietnam war makes a similar point in an Internet blog. “I was on the line in the A Shau Valley with the 101st Airborne Division. At Camp Sally, not a Club Med place to be. Nor for the faint of heart. You must understand that those who live war are a different breed. Perhaps later, much later, maturity rearranges one’s focus.”

What we need now is the rearrangement of the focus of the old men who send young men to war. They don’t have youth and inexperience to excuse their sins, miscalculations and misjudgments. These old men should keep this in mind when deciding how to discipline the Marines sent across the seas to defend and, if need be die, for their country.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.