Lynndie England’s shame

The soldier’s story is an American one, made of violence and consumed in violence.

Last week the weight of the chain of command fell on Lynndie England’s shoulders in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. We’re left wondering. Where are the calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to step down? Will England’s superiors get convicted? When will the other torture photographs be released? Who is Lynndie England?

We can try to answer the last question. Her story is a tragedy. She was born in Kentucky and grew up poor in a West Virginia trailer park. In high school she worked at a chicken-processing factory farm. She joined the Army Reserve and by the time she was sent to Iraq, she had already been divorced. In Iraq her superior was Charles A. Graner Jr. He became her boyfriend and she became pregnant. Graner would later abandon her.

The photos that have been made public show her holding a leash tied to a prisoner’s neck. They show her mocking prisoners and sucking a cigarette. In the end she was a prisoner as much as the humiliated naked men surrounding her were.

At her trial she apologized, rightfully so, for her conduct but sadly her apologies so far are not contagious. England has been left as a goat.

Young Lynndie England became the stock character of power conflict. She was used and abused. She was following orders and there be no higher power than conditioned servitude. Her morals had been kicked out of her before birth. And the sad slogan of choosing grief over nothingness had become her slogan in the face of faint American dreams.

And this is Lynndie England’s story, like a paragraph out of a William Faulkner novel, like so many Americans twisted between their own humanity and the cold grip of power.

The tragedy is multiplied by every prisoner being abused as we speak and every soldier taking orders at the cost of their own moral voice.

England’s story is an American one, made of violence and consumed in violence. Only in empathy and compassion can we ever move forward.