A few weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a piece by Eric Fair in which he details abusive treatment of detainees at a detention facility in Fallujah. The writer describes the nightmares he experiences as a lingering effect of his failure to stand up to what he called meritless orders to torture the detainees. According to the short bio at the end of the article Mr. Fair: "served in the Army from 1995 to 2000 as an Arabic linguist and worked in Iraq as a contract interrogator in early 2004." The abuse he engaged in occurred in the summer of 2004 - just at the height of the Abu Ghraib coverage.
Mere months ago, a detailed story of reported torture and mayhem by U.S. troops would have been front page news. But in reading the reaction to washingtonpost.com's Bill Arkin calling our troops pampered mercenaries, and in watching senators who had formerly compared our troops to Nazi's and uneducated ne'er-do-wells now knocking themselves out in declaring their "support for the troops," it's become apparent that demonizing the troops is a losing political and journalistitc strategy. Eric Fair's story gained no traction at all in the major newspapers or on the cable news channels.
If there was one lesson learned from Vietnam, it's that turning against the troops does nothing to help a party win elections. Let's hope those same politicians - so attuned to consequences of missteps in times of war - remember the other important lesson from Vietnam, that precipitous retreat in a military struggle will likely leave millions dead.