IS IT any wonder that most of the Muslim world regards Americans as clueless on the cultural divides that separate them from others when a top American warrior muses aloud about the thrill of killing in Afghanistan and Iraq?
What exactly is the Islamic community to conclude when military brass, who have commanded troops against warring religious factions on the way to Kabul and Baghdad, utter wisecracks about the manhood of the people they enjoyed killing there?
The remarks didn't come from an infantry soldier muttering asides to a colleague crouching in the same foxhole. The crass comments came from a Marine general at a recent San Diego forum on strategies for the war on terrorism. Lt. Gen. James Mattis went for a cheap laugh - and got it.
General Mattis, who led an assault battalion during the first war with Iraq and commanded Marine brigades and divisions in Afghanistan and during the second war in Iraq, was on a roll when he said what "a hoot" it was "to shoot some people." By "some people" the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., apparently meant the "guys" in Afghanistan who abuse women "because they didn't wear a veil."
There was more. "You know," Lt. Gen. Mattis continued, "guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." His commanding officers seemed to shrug off the reprehensible remarks of their colleague as just a poor choice of words from someone who has a propensity for too much candor in public settings.
"His actions and those of his troops clearly show that he understands the value of proper leadership and the value of human life," said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Not surprisingly, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group, had a different take. "These disturbing remarks are indicative of an apparent indifference to the value of human life," said Nihad Awad, CAIR executive director.
How else could one interpret the statements of high-ranking American military leaders who, said the Muslim group, "treat the business of war as a sporting event?" Far beyond choosing his words more carefully, this top warrior needs to eat them in a public apology acknowledging his stunning ignorance of and gross insensitivity to cultures his country is trying to liberate.