For some reason Lynndie England has been interviewed recently by the media. She was jailed for her part in the Abu Ghraib regime of abuse. The interview I saw on television was absolutely despicable. If I had been present I would have been tempted to slap her face. I’m talking about the female interviewer of course.
The interviewer was showing Lynndie the notorious photographs of herself published around the world and asked her why she was smiling. She also asked her if she didn’t feel any shame or moral uncertainty at the time. The interviewer clearly has no understanding of human psychology, none.
By a coincidence, I am currently reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It describes brilliantly how the facade of civilisation is so easily stripped away. It describes the terrifying and hugely empowering leap into the unknown space of lawlessness, of crossing the line between acceptable and unacceptable.
Lynndie England had crossed the line. And it felt good. It felt good because she was reassured by the authorities around her that she wouldn’t be punished for doing it. It is the, ‘I was just following orders’ scenario. Let us explore the concept of crossing the line.
Milgram, in his famous experiment, demonstrated that most people would ‘cross the line’ of killing someone if given enough backup by a figure in authority – they were simply following instructions.
Humans are instinctively curious. If something is prohibited, we become even more curious about the that which is prohibited. The story of Adam and Eve demonstrates this. The story of capitalism demonstrates this (what is it like to be rich?). Sexual fantasies derive their power from being unlikely to happen in reality i.e. prohibited. Imagine then if you were given the opportunity to live out a fantasy in reality without anyone ever finding out. Would you take it? Would you cross the line?
Now some people are more freethinking than others. The more freethinking you are, the sooner you would stop in the Milgram experiment and I dare say that these sort of people would also object at the things being done to the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But freethinkers don’t join the military. The military-industrial complex is anathema to any freethinker, ergo it is the easily manipulated, pliable personalities who join the military. Not only that, but the military processes these people to be compliant, to follow orders, even when the orders seem insane (kill these strangers – how insane can it get?).
Add to this, that the military attracts personalities which are prone to crossing the line (there are documentaries now which has ex combatants discussing frankly their joy of killing and the incredible thrill they get from combat) and the Lynndie England story becomes a tired and depressingly predictable one.
What the hell did the interviewer expect? A grovelling apology? An epiphany of moral enlightenment? Where the hell was the interviewers moral outrage? Why didn’t she object to the interview taking place and demand that the real culprits be named, not Lynndie England, but the members of the administration which condoned these methods? Why wasn’t Dick Cheney being interviewed instead? The eternal farce is still being played out; an insignificant scapegoat is made to carry the burden of public admonishment while the real villains slyly move on to other atrocities.
No, the entire interview was a farce, no better than the show trials of Stalin. And complicit in the debacle, once again, is mainstream media.
I would like to interview the interviewer and confront her, just as she did with Lynndie England, with the footage of that interview and ask her why she didn’t feel any moral outrage at what she was doing at the time. How was it good journalism?
I have sympathy for Lynndie England. What she did was wrong but the greater sin of approving authority goes unpunished.