The Globalist's Person of the Year 2004:
Commoner Joseph Darby’s Uncommon Courage
What does it take to become The Globalist’s Person of the Year 2004?
When most people around the world today think of American heroes, they think of Hollywood actors like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt — flashy, polished and wealthy.
None of these characteristics apply to our person of the year. Rather, it seems as if his young life was a straight series of strikes against him, from his tough upbringing to his family's current struggles.
Despite all this, his fundamental act of courage in many ways represents the traits that foreigners have come to love and admire in Americans.
The classic American hero — counter to the modern Hollywood image — is a down-to-earth person with a strong moral compass who does the right thing at a time when it would have been easier not to do anything at all.
One powerful example of that trait are the many nameless Americans from simple backgrounds who stormed the beach of Normandy in June 1944 and helped free Europe from the scourge of fascism.
Just like our person of the year, most GIs back then did not want to be in the situation in which they found themselves, but nevertheless did what needed to be done with great courage, conviction and honor.
Their acts helped define an image of America that made the country beyond reproach, despite its obvious warts and faults inherent in any nation.
What a contrast a few decades make. These days, we live in a time full of great question marks about the contemporary usages of American power and its global projection patterns. These question marks are present and pressing all around the world.
Sadly, according to a solid body of opinion polls, these days people virtually everywhere question the beneficence of the U.S. military.
And truth be told, there are surprisingly many inside the U.S. military, at ranks very high and quite low, who are asking the same questions. Why are we here? What good does our presence accomplish? What are the long-term effects of our present actions?
They feel that their nation — proud and without peer for now — is shredding the goodwill it has earned over the decades.
Even U.S. businesses, forever fervently patriotic and unquestioning in their basic stance toward their government, have begun to be very concerned about the business fallout of the present course of U.S. foreign policy. They worry about the value of their brands and longer-term sales prospects.
Amidst all this, one American reservist doing duty in Iraq gathered all his guts — eventually triggering a major scandal.
In January 2004, Sergeant Darby — a 24-year-old reservist in the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Maryland — left two CD-ROMs and an anonymous note on the desk of one of his superiors, thus making the first move in bringing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to light.
This was no small feat, considering the military's culture of not questioning orders and watching out for one's comrades that tends to turn questions of right or wrong into secondary considerations.
When asked what prompted him to take this step, he is reported to have said that he simply kept thinking what he would do if the prisoners were his mom, grandmother, brother or wife.
If you were to take an informal poll around the world about the images of American heroism, few — if any — people would pick a Joseph Darby. He surely does not fit the prototype of American hero that Hollywood has built up over the decades.
But much more importantly than mere looks or his teenage years as a rough-rousing troublemaker, Joseph Darby incorporates the values that foreigners have always loved about the United States.
And in many ways, Joseph Darby was essential in letting loose the self-correcting powers inside the U.S. system. Some low-ranking soldiers implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal have already been put on trial.
More importantly, a broad national debate on the treatment of prisoners, the use of torture and the questionable legal theories behind some aspects of the war on terror has been started. This will ultimately make the United States a better and stronger country — and enhance its role in the world.
Tragically, despite his great act of heroism, Sergeant Darby is currently forced to live in hiding and under protection, due to numerous threats against himself and his family by self-proclaimed "patriots" who believe that he has done his country great damage.
Even some people in his hometown consider him a traitor to the "patriotic" cause, or at best as somebody who has besmirched the image of the United States.
That is the true disgrace in the case of Joseph Darby. Obviously, his intention and his rationale were not to harm the United States.
Rather, he felt deep down that the acts he had witnessed were besmirching his image and the interests of the United States — violating everything he had learned and learned to love about his country.
Most people, at least outside the United States, would agree with him. And, one can only hope that most Americans would do so as well. Because nations — no matter whether large or small, powerful or not — ultimately depend on the courage of the common man or woman.
That is what gives them strength. That is what defines their essence and future potential. Common courage, from unexpected sources, is what really counts. And for that reason, Joseph Darby deserves to be selected as The Globalist's 2004 Person of the Year.
Not because he unearthed the Abu Ghraib prison scandal as such, but because he demonstrated that — even in very difficult times — there are Americans who respond to a higher authority than a disastrously narrowly understood version of national interest.
He reminded the world of the higher aspirations of truth to which Americans can strive.
That is what represents true American-style leadership to them. Holding your head up — against all the odds and the strikes already counted against you. Doing what's right — even if it's not considered polite.
With great individual courage, Joseph Darby shone a forceful light beam on a much-darkened "city upon a hill."
The Editors of The Globalist.