Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Blaming the victim(izers)

I've had a rant brewing for the past couple of days, and it's finally come to fruition.

It stared with all the Abu Ghraib prison photos, and the resulting fallout.

PFC Lynndie England (the chick with the leash) said:

"I was instructed by persons in higher rank to `stand there, hold this leash, look at the camera,' and they took picture for PsyOps (psychological operations)"

"We don't feel like we were doing things that we weren't supposed to because we were told to do them," England said. "We think everything was justified because we were instructed to do this and to do that."

After meeting with England, attorney Giorgio Ra'Shadd said she shouldn't be used as a scapegoat by the military.

"You don't see my client doing anything abusive at all," Ra'Shadd said in an interview. "I think she was ordered to smile."

I remember from high school social studies that "just following orders" is not a valid defense. I don't know what they teach in the West Virginia school system, though.

When Lt. William Calley was on trial for the My Lai massacre, he said he was "just following orders":

When Calley took the stand, he defended the killings as part of his “job.” He said, “I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women and children…I carried out the orders I was given and I do not feel wrong in doing so.” Calley emphasized that as an officer, he was compelled to carry out his orders. “So it was our job to go through destroying everyone and everything in there…,” he said. For three days, Calley continued offering the Nuremberg defense of “only following orders.” After Calley’s repetitious testimony, Captain Ernest Medina took the stand and emphatically denied ever ordering anyone to kill women and children. “No, you do not kill women and children. You use common sense. If they have a weapon and they are trying to engage you, then you shoot back,” he said.

That quote mentions the Nuremburg defense, used at the end of World War II:

"The original Nuremberg Defense was used by WWII war criminals to argue that they should not be held responsible for their crimes because they were simply carrying out the orders of their superiors and the laws of their respective states. The defense is derived from a set of principles which the U.S. government endorsed at the close of WWII after a U.N. General Assembly Resolution, adopted on December 11, 1946 and recognized in the Charter of the Nurnberg Tribunal. The inclusion of the idea of individual responsibility within the Nuremburg Principles helped the Allies to dismiss this defense and prosecute the war criminals."

But the main point is what I'm making as a sociologist (yes, that's what my degree is in!): People are becoming less likely to take responsiblity for their own actions. It's always somebody else's fault, or she was a victim of larger social forces. What really struck me today was the headline in today's Star Tribune: "Berg had been told to leave Iraq, U.S. officials say" The first thing that came to mind was Bush or Rummy saying "that guy wouldn't have been decapitated on videotape if he would have left. It's not our responsibility."

I see it so often in special ed. One of my bonehead eighth-graders neglected to get his high-school registration form signed by his mom this past winter, and she called me in a panic the day before it was due, demanding a meeting. When I told her that he had plenty of time to bring it home and get it signed, she said, "yeah, that's his ADD." It's not Bart's fault that he didn't bring a single sheet of paper home to get signed, it's the "disorder."

Another parent went all the way to the district head of special ed, who "ordered" me to call a meeting for this particular student. A week before spring break, we had the parents, student, family therapist, all the teachers, three special ed teachers, the ninth-grade dean, the social worker, and a district special ed coordinator. One of the issues was communication between home and school, and Bobby was given a guideline of last Thursday (term four conferences) to straighten things out to get fewer restrictions. I've been holding up my end of the bargain, but the parents have slacked off, and didn't even bother showing up for conferences. Really, their whole blame for Bobby's failures lies with the school district.

Whatever happened to "the buck stops here?"


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