by Paul Routledge
Many years ago, while serving as a foreign correspondent for The Times in south-east Asia, I met an American in a pub in Singapore.
Nothing unusual about that, except that he turned out to be a teacher of English on a US aircraft carrier docked in the harbour.
Why, I asked him, did the US Navy need an English teacher? Because, he admitted, a large proportion of new recruits were "functionally illiterate". They couldn't read or write - not like what we can.
Setting aside the scary factor of matelots not knowing how to follow the instructions to fire missiles, this was a terrifying indictment of education in the world's greatest superpower.
I am reminded of this incident in the current furore over military brutality in Iraq, which does not surprise me in the least. What does surprise me is that it has become public.
But in the age of the digital camera, nothing stays secret for very long, and given the boastful nature of soldiers, disclosure of the maltreatment of Iraqi detainees has an awful inevitability about it.
Tony Blair loves the military, chiefly because they do as he tells them, which the rest of us do not. He turns a blind eye to squaddie brutality, wrapping himself in the Union Jack of posturing patriotism. His attitude is sickening.
Remember World War Two? The real war fought against a Nazi Germany, whose Fascist dictatorship tried to invade our country and murdered hundreds of thousands of our citizens - the Daily Mirror was proud to be the soldiers' paper.
In that great national crisis, soldiers, seamen and airmen were mostly amateurs: volunteers or conscripts. They fought for their country, their homes and their families, not for money. And, my God, how they fought. An abiding image of those far-off days is a British soldier lighting a fag for a German prisoner he has just captured somewhere in the Western desert. A common humanity informed their lives.
Not any more. The images today are of US soldiers posing, smirking beside the naked bodies of Iraqis who have been pulled in for questioning.
Yesterday's disclosures plumbed new depths: a Yankee woman soldier dragging a naked Iraqi man by a dog lead in the notorious Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad where Saddam Hussein's torturers used to operate.
All this in the supposed name of democracy. We should be ashamed of ourselves, especially those British soldiers who have succumbed to the American virus of vanity brutality.