We weep for Nick Berg as we wept for Daniel Pearl, and for all men and women who sacrifice their lives for standing up for freedom amidst the cruelty of war.
Nick Berg did not choose to be a hero, but his death is a painful and expensive reminder of the nature of the war we fight. We're at war against cowards who murder for the joy of killing "infidels" in a demented interpretation of Islam. We're at war against hate-crazed zealots who take innocent lives as testimony to a cheap imagination of manhood.
The death of Nick Berg quieted the drumbeat of outrage and self-loathing that accompanied the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib Prison. We rightly condemn those as acts of brutality and stupidity perpetrated by a tiny segment of our military that in the Age of the Image are magnified as though they define America at war.
But we must not forget that those photographs became public because an American soldier took his job seriously and exposed the barbarous acts of his colleagues. Army Spec. Joseph Darby, 24, an Army Reservist and member of the 372nd Military Police Co., is the hero of this scandal, a soldier who understood that soldiers must not act in this way.
He slipped a note under his commander's door, describing the mistreatment of the prisoners. He was acting on an honor code of conscience, which couldn't have been easy to do. But he did what every good soldier must do: Speak truth to dishonor.
The justifiable public outrage swiftly took on a life of its own, and before long suggested a false moral equivalence between an army that fundamentally fights fair and an enemy that only fights dirty. The legitimate army at war with terrorist criminals was soon at risk of demoralization, as if all soldiers must be tainted by the acts of a few. Worse, some of our best minds were blinded by their zeal to right wrongs.
The cost to the United States for its abandonment of Vietnam was the loss of respect for the military. Soldiers came home from Vietnam to a cold and hostile public. Only after the success of the Gulf War did we begin to rebuild the image of the soldier. The soldiers who entered Baghdad were heroes to all of us and the gentle treatment they extended to civilian men, women and children in Iraq was touching, reminiscent of the soldiers who liberated Europe a generation ago.
This is a different army. Many are reservists who joined up as much for the pay as for devotion to duty, honor, country, or even in the expectation of active duty. Jobs in the military are increasingly "outsourced" and many civilians act as guards, cooks or dishwashers. This has the advantage of freeing the warrior for fighting, but the disadvantage of diluting discipline and cohesion.