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JEFF JACOBY

The images we see -- and those we don't

THE DEATH of Nicholas Berg is a horror. It is a bitter reminder of why we are at war -- something that much of America's political and media elite, in their binge of outrage and apology over the Abu Ghraib abuses, have lately seemed all too willing to forget.

I don't for a moment minimize the awfulness of what some American soldiers did to their Iraqi captives in that prison. Their offenses may have fallen far short of the savagery that Abu Ghraib was notorious for under Saddam Hussein, but in their cruelty and urge to humiliate and in the sadistic glee with which they posed for those photographs, they reek of the depravity we went to Iraq to uproot. As one who believes that this war was necessary above all on moral grounds, I'm sickened by what they did.

But I'm sickened as well by the relish with which this scandal is being exploited by those who think that the defeat of the Bush administration is an end that justifies just about any means. I'm sickened by the recklessness of the media, which relentlessly flogged the graphic images from Abu Ghraib, giving them an in-your-face prominence that couldn't help but exaggerate their impact. And I'm sickened by the thought of how much damage this feeding frenzy may have done to the war effort.

We do remember the war effort, don't we? Surely we haven't forgotten the jetliners smashing into the twin towers and Pentagon, and 3,000 innocents dying in a single morning. Or the monstrous Saddam, who filled mass graves to bursting, invaded two neighboring countries, and avidly sought weapons of mass destruction. Or the reason why 130,000 US soldiers are on the line in Iraq: because establishing a democratic beachhead in the Middle East is critical to cutting off the terrorists' oxygen -- the backing they get from dictatorial regimes.

My sense is that the public hasn't lost sight of any of this. But for weeks now, a goodly swath of the chattering class has been treating the war as little more than a rhetorical backdrop against which to score political points or increase market share.

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, for instance, reacted to the Abu Ghraib revelations with a column urging the Democratic presidential candidate to milk the moment for all it was worth. "If ever there was a moment for John Kerry to come out swinging, this is it," she wrote. "It is the biggest story of the war, and he is essentially silent." There are many thoughtful things one might say about Abu Ghraib, but only someone eager for the US campaign in Iraq to fail and George W. Bush to be defeated could possibly describe it as "the biggest story of the war."   Continued...

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