The case of three Navy SEALs facing court martial for striking a terrorist captive in custody is the latest story of U.S. servicemen who may have gone too far in the course of fighting America's war against jihadists. But Americans have done much worse than that, Warren Kozak writes in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal:
You don't have to dig too deep to understand that war brings out behavior in people that they would never demonstrate in normal life. In Paul Fussell's moving memoir, "The Boys' Crusade," the former infantryman relates a story about the liberation of Dachau. There were about 120 SS guards who had been captured by the Americans. Even though the Germans were being held at gunpoint, they still had the arrogance—or epic stupidity—to continue to heap verbal abuse and threats on the inmates. Their American guards, thoroughly disgusted by what they had already witnessed in the camp, had seen enough and opened fire on the SS. Some of the remaining SS guards were handed over to the inmates who tore them limb from limb. Another war crime? No doubt. Justified? It depends on your point of view. But before you weigh in, realize that you didn't walk through the camp. You didn't smell it. You didn't witness the obscene horror of the Nazis.
Earlier, Kozak recounts a similar story about German and American POWs during the Battle of the Bulge. "Was the U.S. a lesser country because these GIs weren't arrested? Was the Constitution jeopardized?" he asks. "Somehow it survived."
Perhaps. But no worse for wear?
Men have struggled over the centuries to find a "permanent peace." The League of Nations even made a treaty once. Abolishing war is a folly. But maybe the greater folly is the effort to civilize it.