"We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Walt Kelly, in the comic strip 'Pogo'
To truly win any conflict we have to be morally superior to our enemy. If we are not, then in the long run our victory will turn to defeat as everyone around us, friend and foe alike, come to view our actions with distaste.
I'm sure Rome started out quite nicely, quite idealistically, quite moral, until it turned into an empire and ground it's neighbors under it's heel as it's own internal society degenerated into an amoral nightmare. Bread and circuses, Nero, the list is long. I'm also sure this change did not happen overnight; this profound 'decline and fall' happened gradually. However, the end result was the utter disintegration of what was the largest and most powerful political entity in human history up to that time.
During World War II, American armed forces were by and large above reproach. They acquitted themselves so completely, so honorably that they painted an indelible picture in the mind of the world of the American soldier as a mixture of liberating hero, tough-as-nails fighter and boy next door.
This astronomical level credibility was of immeasurable value as we fought Communism for the forty-five years to follow. It was seriously degraded during Vietnam, and now the current administration seems hell-bent on destroying what little credibility and trust we still have.
During this war we are treated to stories like this.
The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.
In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."
(Link to the story from the Associated Press can be found here.)
Just add this to the already depressing list of torture, kidnappings, 'renditions,' civilian casualties, no-bid contracts to inept and corrupt corporations and it adds another layer of sludge to a foul, odious picture.
What the hell is this? Is America destined to be the bad guy of the 21st century? Will the world team up to defeat us in twenty or thirty years? If we continue down this road, the rest of the world may well wish to do so. A sizeable portion of the world already wants to.
In the long run, moral superiority is the one weapon we cannot abandon if we wish to ensure our success as a nation and a society. All the military might in the world will not serve us if we turn into a copy of the enemy. If we continue down this dark road, we shall either destroy ourselves or we shall become so odious to the rest of the world that they will. Most likely it will be some combination of the two.
We must change our behavior. We must reclaim the moral high ground we have lost it so profoundly in so many ways. Otherwise we risk turning into the same type of terrorists we currently oppose.