Earl Tilford

On the other hand, if the decision was to dispose the Korans, why wasn’t that done in a proper manner consistent with Islamic laws and traditions? In this kind of war, it is imperative that our warfighters understand the culture within which they are operating, especially concerning religious matters. Our enemies unabashedly acknowledge the nature of this conflict as a religious struggle—a jihad. When we deny that fact, we give the enemy a strategic advantage. Additionally, the otherwise “politically-correct” and “culturally-sensitive” U.S. armed forces seem to have their quota of chaplains for every possible religious faith, even wiccans. It is hard to believe there is not a Muslim chaplain assigned to NATO headquarters in Afghanistan. If so, was he consulted on the proper way to dispose Korans? Did that occur to anyone?

These oversights and mistakes, as consequential as they have become, do not rise to the level of an apology required by the president of the United States. Due to a needless knee-jerk reaction in Washington, a level of culpability probably not exceeding a letter of reprimand in a junior-level officer’s file has escalated into a sorry mess with enormous political and military implications. Several Americans were needlessly killed. High-ranking officers may suffer career-ending consequences.

In March 1968, a handful of American GIs commanded by Lt. William Calley murdered 501 South Vietnamese women, children, and old men. Calley eventually stood trial, was convicted of several counts of murder, and sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. He served one night in the post jail before receiving a presidential pardon. No one apologized to the Viet Cong—certainly not the president nor secretary of defense, neither of whom were in office when the incident occurred.

This My Lai massacre occurred at the start of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. Troop morale was plummeting. Military leadership, from the top down, was out of touch with the true nature of the war.

History should not be ignored. Apologizing to the enemy reflects a gross misunderstanding of the purpose and realities to which “we the people” commit our armed forces in our national interest. We go to war with regret, but without debasing ourselves in what are, essentially, meaningless expressions of hand wringing. The real sorry mess is in our strategic assumptions and those who are responsible for articulating them.


Earl Tilford

Earl Tilford is a retired Air Force officer and college professor who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of several books on the air war in Vietnam. His latest book, Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s has been accepted for publication by the University of Alabama Press.