Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A Hero's Welcome

I really wanted to be wrong. When I speculated that Spc. Joseph Darby, the Abu Ghraib whistleblower, would have trouble coming home, I really wanted to be wrong.

I wasn't.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised Darby for his "honorable actions." But Washington is a universe away. "They can call him what they want," says Mike Simico, a veteran visiting relatives in Cresaptown. "I call him a rat."

The sentiment is so deeply felt that even those who praise him do so only anonymously, or with many reservations.

The feeling is starting to bubble up elsewhere, too, among people who feel that what Darby did was unpatriotic, un-American, even faintly treasonous. [...]

His sister-in-law, Maxine Carroll, who's served as the family spokeswoman for the last couple of weeks, told reporters she's "worried about his safety," about "repercussions." "It scares you a little," she told the Associated Press, when asked if some might consider him a traitor. On May 8, she and her husband slipped away from their housing complex in Windber, Pa., to an undisclosed location.

An Army spokesman confirmed that Darby is on leave in the United States but wouldn't disclose where he is.
In our great national exercise of blame-shifting, the hometowns of the 372nd MP Company have very few options. Americans? That's them. A brutish military culture? That's them and their family members. Ignorant, animalistic hillbillies? That's them again. Women in the military? Those are their daughters and sisters. The isolated moral depravity of six psychopaths? You're talking about their kids. The Bush Administration? They're patriotic enough to claim that one as well. The Iraqis? Yeah, but they can't really get to them. So they turn their anger and shame and frustration at the one target within reach. It's ugly and wrong, but I understand where it comes from.

Where did Darby get the moral stature to resist going along with the corrupt Abu Ghraib culture? The Post article makes the intriguing suggestion that it's because he never really fit in with the crowd:
Darby was one of the handful of new kids in a school where everyone had known each other since kindergarten. And something about him provoked others. For most boys on the football team, hazing stopped after their sophomore year. But with Darby, the boys kept it up well into his junior year.

"He was arrogant," recalls Manges. "He seemed to want to fight you for some reason. We had to bring him down a notch." [...] Manges theorizes that Darby's action had something to do with the bullying. "Maybe he felt sorry for them, because he got picked on, too."
I have reservations about that theory, because so often it's the case that perennial targets turn viciously on those beneath them when given the opportunity. The surest way not to be the outcast, the victim, is to reinforce shared hatred of a shared enemy. Darby could've done that, and he didn't. And yet: we also know that one of the best predictors of a person's ability to stand up against social pressure is practice. Darby had plenty of opportunities to learn the lesson that the strongest aren't always right, and he had plenty of practice being the odd one out. (More on that later.)