Rethinking the holy war

With allegations of Quran abuse in the headlines, the Pentagon approves, and then retracts, an image of a U.S. tank called the "New Testament."

Published May 27, 2005 12:00PM (EDT)

Sometime in the last couple of weeks (though it's not clear exactly when), the U.S. Marine Corps Web site posted this image in its photo gallery, which it identified as having been taken in Iraq on May 5, 2005. The tank with the words "New Testament" painted on its main gun was accompanied by a blurb (cached here by War Room) entitled "M1-A1 Abrams tank rolls over insurgency in Iraq," which emphasized the tank's destructive capabilities. It referred to the "New Testament" in particular as "an intimidating piece of machinery." The caption reiterated that the tank itself was called the "New Testament."

We thought the clash of civilizations stuff and President Bush's post-9/11 "crusade" were dispensed with many moons ago for the obvious necessary reasons. (When the administration realized it would be important to win the war of ideas, too.) Why the Pentagon would approve the New Testament image after numerous allegations that U.S. military personnel used tactics of religious degradation and humiliation on detainees, is beyond us. But approve the insinuation of a religious war it did: A disclaimer next to the image on the USMC site read, "This image has been cleared for release."

Of course, the timing of throwing the Book at the enemy looks particularly bad; just days after the photo was taken, Newsweek's botched Guantánamo story put Quran abuse in the headlines again, alongside news of violent anti-American demonstrations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Though the correlation between the two was absurdly overstated by conservatives and the Bush White House.)

The Pentagon, however, appears to have realized the folly of its ways; the image and accompanying text disappeared from the Marine Corps site Thursday afternoon.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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