I don’t know why everyone is so shocked at the pictures of British soldiers apparently abusing Iraqi detainees – about which some idiot on C5 last night said “[the British army] knew that people would call it ‘the British Abu Ghraib'” – which we probably wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t mentioned it.
Vapid verbal posturing aside, there’s a deep problem with the media’s coverage of this. Did we learn nothing from the Stamford experiment? We shouldn’t be surprised that people do these things, and we certainly shouldn’t be appalled by human behaviour. Oh, hang on – that’s just more posturing. We aren’t ignorant of our natures, we aren’t ignorant of what we, as human beings, are capable of, of our desires, our bestiality. Morality isn’t innate – if it was, we wouldn’t need books or gurus or the police force, or to talk about it. If morality were innate, we wouldn’t have the Daily Mail.
Everyone has felt the urge to do real violence at some point; many of us have given in to it. Our surprise at the latest photos of wartime abuse, then, is either feigned or – perhaps more worryingly – an indication of our unwillingness to accept ourselves. Humanity, clothed in red.
Which isn’t to say that people should do this sort of thing – or even that they shouldn’t avoid doing it, although that’s a more complex issue. If nothing else, it’s probably unwise for soldiers sent to pacify a region in order to reduce terrorism to use terror tactics on anyone in the region, be they terrorists, insurgents or whatever. But let’s not blame those on the ground for mimicking their seniors – it is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.
Although, for the record, I prefer chocolate. I get the feeling that General Sir Mike Jackson would have, too.