The secretary, the general and the private

When assigning responsibility for the misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison it’s odd to have to choose between Lynndie England and Donald Rumsfeld. I thought the normal thing when something goes very wrong in a military unit was to hold the officer in charge responsible. In this case that would be Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib and indeed all U.S. military prisons in Iraq.

Her responsibility is treated as aside the point. One commentator points out that she’s a woman and so untouchable in the present-day military (and, some men have been tempted to say on occasion, never responsible for anything in any event). I’m sure that’s part of it. A more important part though is that no one is interested in the conduct of the officer in charge, male or female, because that would tie the situation too much to a world of serious responsibilities in which things that happen are dealt with seriously. What people are interested in is myth. If America is wonderful and Wilsonian expeditions are still more wonderful then anything that’s not wonderful must have the most limited significance possible and be purely the responsibility of those most immediately involved. On the other hand, if America is evil then everything bad that happens proves yet again how evil it is from top to bottom, and blaming anyone but the holders of supreme power and the society at large is just a piece of obfuscation. With cosmic principles are at stake, who cares about a brigadier general?

1 thought on “The secretary, the general and the private”

Leave a Comment