WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One of the gravest losses attendant with the spread of broadcast media is, I suppose, perspective. Yes, the public gains pictures, film clips and sound bites, but we lose perspective and with that judgment, always at the expense of sound policy.
The moral revulsion now being felt about the despicable behavior at Abu Ghraib prison is warranted to the utmost. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is always careful to describe the guards' actions as first "immoral." That is the most damning thing that can be said about the guards' behavior, and the most pertinent. After that, all the other descriptions rendered by the politicians and journalists tend towards coloratura.
What is essential is that the civilized not lose a sense of proportion. American forces, aided by other members of the coalition, are in Iraq to pacify that country and give its citizens a chance for peace and freedom. Our government and our soldiers have paid a high price for this expansion of American security and civilized values. Saddam's regime was crueler than anything done at Abu Ghraib prison.
What precisely happened will take time to establish. Writing several years after World War I in his "The Irish Guards in the Great War," Rudyard Kipling noted, "The only wonder to the compiler of these records is that any sure fact whatever should be retrieved out of the whirlpools of war." When war breaks out, order breaks down and reason takes a holiday. We must attempt to maintain reason, but that is difficult -- especially when the blare of the modern media drives out perspective.
The other night in New York, the Englishman Sir Martin Gilbert, one of the great historians of our time and among other things the authorized biographer of Winston Churchill, spoke of history and biography during a lively dinner with assembled journalists and some public policy types. One of the policy types was a representative of the Iraqi National Congress. Asked about the pictures that are being broadcast of mistreatment at the Abu Ghraib prison, the Iraqi noted that his countrymen have available video of torture practiced in Iraqi prisons by Saddam's torturers. They buy and sell the videos on the street. They show dogs eating prisoners alive and prisoners being put in shredders. Our guards, devotees I presume of Hustler magazine, were mere amateurs, slaves to infantile sex.