In the most recent variation on this theme, the high ranking official was Secretary of Defense (sic) Donald Rumsfeld and his public assurance went as follows: "We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn't happen do happen."
One needn't be a math major to recognize that even a passing knowledge of American military history would produce enough war crimes and atrocities to surpass Rumseld's .1% solution...but, in classic corporate style, perhaps we should outsource such inventory work. We could hire residents of Southeast Asia to tell us what percentage of U.S. troops commit Haditha-like atrocities. Even better, let's really go multi-culti and include some Koreans, Iraqis, Afghanis, Somalis, Filipinos, Japanese, and Panamanians (to name but a few options). That might raise Rumseld's ratio a wee bit, huh?
However, for the sake of broadening the scope here, let's assume that Rummy's got it right. Let's take him at face value that 99.9 percent of American military personnel "conduct themselves in an exemplary manner." This begs the question: If only one-tenth of one percent make things happen that shouldn't happen, what is everyone else doing to make us stand and sing "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium? How exactly does one define "exemplary manner"?
"Things that shouldn't happen do happen," Rumsfeld explains. But what about all the stuff that this society accepts "should" happen? What should happen are the assassinations of Operation Phoenix, the illegal invasion of Operation Just Cause, and the collaborating with Nazis in Operation Paper Clip. What should happen is shock and awe. What should happen is the United States unselfconsciously using "Apache" helicopters to quell "ethnic cleansing." What should happen is dropping atomic bombs on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and perpetrating the near-extermination of the Native American population.
The repugnant recent events throughout Iraq, of course, must be investigated and the guilty parties brought to justice. But the greater work lies in examining a culture so blind to its violent nature as to spend time unashamedly splitting hairs between what transpired at Haditha and what passes for "exemplary."
Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.