Thursday, May 13, 2004

"What would you do?"

This is a wise column by Anne Applebau on What Would You Do? if you were placed in the same position as the soldiers in the military police unit at Abu Ghraib prison. Would you abuse prisoners or refuse to do so?
The lesson, if there is one, is that no one's behavior in extreme circumstances is predictable. Childhood poverty is no more an excuse or an explanation for villainy than it is a necessary component of heroism. Neither love of thunderstorm [Pfc. Lynndie R. England, photographed with naked Iraqi prisoners] nor a penchant for destroying paper towel dispensers [Spec. Joseph M. Darby, whose sworn statement set off the investigation] provides a clue to how a person will behave when, as at Abu Ghraib, all of the rules are removed. Evil is a mystery. So is heroism.
I hope that thinking about circumstances like these ahead of time and trying to think about what you would do is can prepare you -- but as she says, "the only possible answer to the question 'What would you do' in such a situation has to be: 'I don't know.'"

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