The Marines Knew How to Do It Right

One thing I hear a fair amount1 is people saying that since the Iraqis/Arabs/whatevers are so inhuman to “us”, it's ok, indeed both just and desirable, for “us” to do “whatever it takes” or “give them what they deserve”. I take that to mean that because there are some vicious Islamic terrorist groups out there, and because some Arab governments repress their own peoples, it follows that the citizen-soldiers of our democracy should regress to bestiality either for retribution or deterrence. Neither one of which I find either persuasive or even palatable.

Our country's history offers a better lesson, documented in a wonderful New York Times story in today's paper, Enemies in the Heat of Battle, Friends for 60 Years.

The campaign to get the Japanese out of their caves on the islands near Japan was as brutal and vicious as any in the second world war. The Japanese were considered by many to be exceptionally vicious fighters who didn't always obey the laws of war (albeit more so in other theaters, those in which they had held the upper hand). Everything being said about Iraqis or Al Qaeda today was said about the Japanese sixty years ago, and worse.

Takeo Sato, then a Japanese officer, was part of the Japanese effort to defend Saipan, captured when part of his cave fell in due to naval shelling. He became the prisoner of Marine Lt. John Rich, who ultimately befriended his captive. When fortune found a demobilized Mr. Rich in Japan a few months after the war, he went to the homes of six POWs it had been his job to question, and told their families their sons were still alive. From this sprang an improbable but enduring friendship. Now Rich and his former prisoner, both in their eighties, are revisiting Saipan with their extended families.

It's hard to imagine that we'll be reading any stories like this about Iraq in our dotage. And therein lies part of the problem…

1 [Update: Here's Trent Lott in today's NYT Magazine:

You recently created a stir when you defended the interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib.

Most of the people in Mississippi came up to me and said: “Thank Goodness. America comes first.” Interrogation is not a Sunday-school class. You don't get information that will save American lives by withholding pancakes.

But unleashing killer dogs on naked Iraqis is not the same as withholding pancakes.

I was amazed that people reacted like that. Did the dogs bite them? Did the dogs assault them? How are you going to get people to give information that will lead to the saving of lives?

Charming. (Incidentally the answers to the questions about the dogs are yes and yes.)]

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4 Responses to The Marines Knew How to Do It Right

  1. Russ Abbott says:

    This is exactly what Bush’s uses of terms like evil when referring to the killers of Paul Johnson leads to. It is not just “background music,” as some would say.

  2. Brian Wilder says:

    Even more amazing to me than the callous disregard for the rule of law, which, after all, has been a trademark of Mississippi Senators for more than 150 years, and therefore unsurprising was the last Q&A:
    “How do you feel about gay men adopting and raising children?

    {Senator Lott] “It’s so important that children have parents or family that love them. There are a lot of adopted children who have loving parents, and it comes in different ways with different people in different states.”

    If anybody could explain to me how the United States could be simultaneously descending into neo-fascism in some respects and rising to a level of tolerance, unparalleled in Western Civilization, since the advent of Christianity, I would love to hear it.

  3. Brian,
    The move towards tolerance is more apparent than real. The move to neo-fascism is quite real, and we are very possibly staring the last opportunity to stop it without outside intervention in the face.

    If we fail, may everybody who struggled and fought and died to get us this far forgive us.

  4. JamesW says:

    The heartwarming Pacific War story was very much the exception. The Japanese Army had a literally suicidal policy and culture against surrender; I seem to recall that in Burma some Japanese soldiers charged the machine guns of the British/Indian forces unarmed (source: memoirs of John Masters). But even so, the US forces took very few prisoners. In the European theatre, where Geneva rules were recognised by both sides (except for the SS), it’s been estimated that a single Wehrmacht soldier surrendering had about a 50% chance of doing so alive (source: Max Hastings, The Battle for Normandy). However, these were (again with the exception of the SS) classic “heat of battle” war crimes, far removed from the planned cruelty of say the Wehrmacht treatment of Red Army prisoners – and, on a much smaller scale but almost as delinquent, Abu Ghraib.

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