Saturday, May 15, 2004

The president is said to have reacted with “disgust” and “shock” to photos of depraved behavior by our Military Police at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib Prison. Media across the country have reacted similarly.

The shock by our men and women on Capitol Hill can hardly be contained. Everyone, it seems, is surprised and shocked that reserve military personnel, plucked just months earlier from the most permissive and hedonistic era in America’s history, continue reflecting that culture while in the military a relatively short time.

Have we forgotten just where we are as a society? Where do we think these men and women come from — a sealed cocoon? They come from us. They are us. And it isn’t pretty.

Think back. Wasn’t it just five or six years ago we witnessed a president of the United States —the commander in chief, if you will — admitting to all types of lewd behavior, not in a faraway prison in a foreign land, but in the Oval Office? What was his defense? Something or other about “oral sex” not really being “sex”? Didn’t we just recently read an official opinion by the Federal Communications Commission that the “F” word can be uttered on prime-time network TV?

Do we not daily listen to graphic descriptions of Kobe Bryant’s and Michael Jackson’s sexual behavior gleefully repeated endlessly on cable TV shows?

Are not so-called “reality shows” little more than serialized gross-out spectacles offering huge sums to participants who endure the most demeaning behavior? Have you listened to the lyrics of much of what passes lately for “music” on the radio? Or talked to high school principals about how many “love nests” they found hidden in their schools in the last few years?

Why does the president, the defense secretary, the TV commentator, or whoever, think simply because relatively modestly educated 21-year-olds don desert camouflage they suddenly and magically leave behind the permissiveness and hedonism that bombarded their waking hours in civilian life?

These practices — humiliation, violence and constant sex — are the staples of reality shows, TV, movies, radio and many schools. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize young adults, unburdened by what little restraint civilian society places on them, will be more rather than less likely to act out the behavior now so commonplace in images back home.

In Rome, Ga., the same week we first witnessed the photos evidencing the depravity of American MPs “guarding” Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, an 18-year-old, 6-foot-6 football player was being lionized as a hero upon his release from state prison. His claim to hero status? He had sex with a 15-year-old girl. If that’s all it takes to win the laurels in America’s heartland, why shouldn’t we expect our soldiers, who come from that same milieu, to strive for similar goals while defending our country abroad?

If our military leaders, stateside and in overseas operations, were concerned more with discipline and good order than political correctness and tolerance, perhaps we would at least have had a reasonable shot at preventing or severely curtailing those MPs’ behavior.

However, in the modern, 21st century military, in which the practice of Wicca or witchcraft is tolerated, accepted and protected as a bona fide religion, and in which “don’t ask don’t tell” is the watchword of the day, we haven’t a chance.

You see, to establish discipline, enforce moral behavior and ensure good order, you must have leaders who act and comrades who do their part to ensure such standards permeate the ranks.

The West Point cadet’s creed is — or at least once was — “I will not lie, cheat or steal. And I will not tolerate those who do.” Unfortunately, that once-proud claim has been all but silenced in the cacophony passing for culture in 21st-century America.

Bob Barr, a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, is a columnist for United Press International.

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