Vietnam veteran John Smathers and his wife, Judy, knelt at the altar rail at the Falls Church, a 272-year-old faith community at which George Washington once prayed, just outside the nation’s capital in Virginia. Holding a microphone, they bowed their heads before worshipers struggling to come to terms with disturbing photographs of American soldiers sadistically abusing Iraqi prisoners.
Thirty-eight years ago, Lieutenant Smathers had watched through binoculars as his navy ship gunned down Vietnamese villagers huddled helplessly on a beach. He had always regarded his country as a force for good; the incident distressed him. Now, history was repeating itself. “Lord,” Smathers said, clasping his wife’s hand, “we acknowledge this revelation of our nation’s dark side.”