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The Scapegoat's Apology: Why Did The Chain of Command Suddenly Vanish When They Got Caught?


The Scapegoat's Apology
Why did the chain of command suddenly vanish when they got caught?
By Robert C. Koehler | Tribune Media Services | Common Wonders | August 27, 2009

I don’t begrudge William Calley his remorse about My Lai, but I’m hesitant to acknowledge his apology for it.

If you steal $10 from your mother, you need to apologize. If, as you carry out orders, you lead a raid on a village that slaughters 500 or more defenseless people, something of a higher magnitude is required before you can have your life back.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Columbus, Ga., last week. “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

It’s not that I don’t believe him . . . or that I hold him unforgivable. As a matter of principle, I refuse to waste time heaping my allotted teaspoonful of disapprobation on a scapegoat. Calley’s “responsibility” for My Lai, though personally enormous, is a minute fraction of the symbolic role — the Bad Apple in an American Uniform — he was forced to fill. He was, indeed, just following orders. And the first order of war is to suspend your humanity.

Just ask Lynndie England — another Bad Apple, another Face of Shame — who was also recently in the news. She had been scheduled to discuss her biography as part of a veterans forum at the Library of Congress several weeks ago, but threats and safety concerns forced the organizers to cancel her appearance.

England once almost apologized for Abu Ghraib, or for her miniscule but high-profile role in that scandal. “Yes, I was in five or six pictures and I took some pictures,” she told an interviewer for Stern, the German illustrated weekly magazine, “and those pictures were shameful and degrading to the Iraqis and to our government. And I feel sorry and wrong about what I did.”

The apology came well into the interview, in response to a pressing question about her sense of remorse. It was still tangled with her anger that the photos were made public at all, and was the lamest part of a fascinating interview. Far more interesting, for instance, were her memories of the casual horrors of Abu Ghraib and the moral relativism that was expected of her:

“Of course it was wrong. I know that now. But when you show the people from the CIA, the FBI and the MI (military intelligence) the pictures and they say, ‘Hey, this is a great job. Keep it up,’ you think it must be right. They were all there and they didn’t say a word. They didn’t wear uniforms, and if they did they had their nametags covered. . . . Read more.

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