The dangers of American deprecationism
Andy Liang’s opinion piece in the Tuesday edition of The Tech is insulting, disgusting, and wrong on so many counts that it is difficult to know where to start. It is a “shotgun blast” article, aiming to incriminate an “unapologetic media”, downplay (if not delegitimize) the notion that PTSD may have been involved, and altogether is indicative of a very troubling trend amongst American culture today.
At it’s core, Liang’s article argues against the media’s “defense” of Sergeant Robert Bales, who is alleged to have murdered 17 Afghan civilians.
The most troubling portion of Liang’s piece is the overt ridicule of even the possibility of mental health issues playing a role in what was obviously a situation in which Sergeant Bales “snapped.” Liang’s rhetorical questions of “was he drunk when he made that first kill … suffering from a headache when he made the second kill … not been himself when he made the third kill … been the family man … when [he killed] children with bullets to the head?” are absolutely disgusting. PTSD, and other mental health issues are not “drunkenness,” they are not “headaches.” They are very real injuries caused by extended exposure to brutality and horror the likes of which most of us will never know, Liang included. Liang chooses not to consider this point and instead faults the media for even giving voice to Sergeant Bales’ attorney and friends who describe a pattern of emotionally unstable behavior, especially for a soldier on his fourth tour of duty.
Liang does not note the dozens of articles in the media that were scribed the night of the incident detailing a senseless act of murder, and instead takes issue with the media’s later reports with information about the accused sergeant, such as statements from his attorney and friends, mentioned above. Liang states that the media needs to do more to “mourn” for the Afghani victims and not “mourn” at all for Sergeant Bales.
What Liang clearly does not understand is that the media in this instance was merely carrying out its mandate, to present both sides of a story while details emerge. Contrast this with the recent Trayvon Martin incident in Florida, in which barely any attention was given to even trying to investigate what kind of person George Zimmerman (a neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin) was. NBC even admitted to altering 911 tapes. Regardless of how the Martin situation turns out, it still is the media’s mandate to present the news — both sides of a story.
Interestingly, Liang opines that the media has not done enough to apologize for the incident that took place.
And this is kind of thinking is indicative of a very disturbing trend in American culture today — the acceptance and legitimization of a moral equivalence, while neglecting at the same time any notion of American exceptionalism or even simply “greatness.” I call it American deprecationism. Liang ascribes to a view that is becoming increasingly common that when a wrong is committed by an American, or an agent of America, no matter what the situation, no matter the circumstance or context, it is our duty as Americans to bow our heads in shame and apologize without questioning “well what went wrong?” This might even be a legitimate, balanced view one could argue if only they expected the same from other nations.
However this is not the case for deprecationists. This might be a fair statement to make if Liang didn’t purposefully omit the murders of over 10 American and NATO troops just before the incident involving Sergeant Bales. Rather, Liang instead mentions that “NATO burning the Qurans eliciting a pandemonium of protests. Many injustices were done to Afghans without any true retribution for them.”
Retribution? I call 10 murders of American soldiers retribution. I call a subsequent car bombing that killed nine more individuals “retribution.” The NATO forces burned the Qurans because those Qurans contained coded messages passed from captured terrorists to one another that might seriously comprise a threat against American soldiers’ lives.
Liang wants an apology? Let’s start with one from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. Our president apologized for the burnings, yet I’m still waiting for Karzai’s apology. Where is Liang’s outrage?
Overall, it is easy to take away a couple of lessons from the shortcomings and distortions of Liang’s piece. For one, the reality of mental health issues as a result of combat on our heroic veterans is very real, yet often dismissed by many people. Secondly, the media should be doing its job better not to apologize in a reactionary way, but to cover both sides of a story. Lastly, American deprecationism is becoming increasingly common in our culture and needs to be contained. America is an exceptional land, an extraordinary country. One which (whether people like it or not), routinely gives its services, blood and treasure, to the cause of freedom and helping others, Afghanistan included. More effort should be expended in trying to fix the problems we’ve learned than furthering them.
Adam Edelman ’14