Reports concerning the purported massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of U.S. Marines have created quite a firestorm in the media, and in the United States Congress as well. Most of the headlines that I have read have convicted the Marine unit in question while official investigations are still not complete.
Many people have the inclination to be initially skeptical of the U.S. military’s ability to police itself, but I am not one of them. As a member of the U.S. military, I believe that the investigation will be conducted fairly and completely, and that those guilty of crimes will be punished while those who are innocent will be exonerated. I believe this because all members of our armed forces live their lives as professionals, committed to specific core values and ethical standards that guide us to do what is right, both legally and morally.
Of course, there are incidents of atrocities in virtually every conflict involving American military forces. But these are isolated incidents and are not representative of the quality of character found in the vast majority of uniformed personnel. While we may find out that the allegations of murder and cover-up are substantiated, we have to have faith in the magnificent men and women of our armed forces who will ensure that ultimately we will do what is right. We have to have faith that our values will prevail.
In the Army, we use the acronym LDRSHIP for our core values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. These values influence every action we take, both in peace and in war. Violations of these values are not acceptable and thus not tolerated. The Marines have a similar set of core values: Honor, Courage and Commitment. A quick scan of the website www.usmcpress.com provides insightful details on these values and reinforces the high standard the American people expect.
The first Marine value, Honor, “…requires each Marine to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical and moral conduct.” Further, “Each Marine must cling to an uncompromising code of personal integrity, accountable for his actions and holding others accountable for theirs.” For Courage, the website states “Courage is moral strength, the will to heed the inner voice of conscience, the will to do what is right regardless of the conduct of others.” These values define the character of each individual Marine, even if some may have failed to follow them.
In some cases, our military justice system may have been slow to respond. But it does ultimately respond. From the conviction of Lieutenant Calley for the My Lai massacre, to the convictions resulting from the Abu Ghraib scandal and the conviction of an Army sergeant for the rape and murder of a child in Kosovo, and from the exoneration of Lieutenant Pantano for the murder of two Iraqis to the support of the Marine corporal who shot a wounded insurgent in a mosque in Fallujah, there has been justice.
In this case, as well, there will be justice. There will be justice because those of us who serve, almost without exception, believe that the people and the nation we protect are more important than any one of us individually, and more important than any group of us collectively. We have dedicated ourselves to protect and serve this nation and its people, often at the cost of our lives. We will continue to do so and will only tolerate those among us who are willing to live by our values.
Note: This piece ran as a letter to the editor in the Saturday, June 3, 2006 edition of The Washington Times. It was also published on OpinionEditorials.com and Americanchronicle.com.