The "few bad apples" alibi in business, military and political crimes

It has become part of our day-to-day lexicon… something as American as apple pie. Whatever happens of an unpleasant or nefarious nature, it must have been caused or created by a “few bad apples.” We get to hear it – or read it – with multiplier frequency these days because of the high profile cases being witnessed involving the worlds of big business, politics and the military.

Now that the judicial system has closed the chapter on Enron, with Lay and Skilling soon to be behind bars (well… maybe), Americans are being made to feel at ease knowing that those few bad apples have been taken out of the barrel. The moral of this fable underlines that justice reigns supreme after cleansing a few businesses of their greedy and lawbreaking executives, keeping our capitalist system pure and sacrosanct.

Except that… this “few bad apples” application to big business is not a fable but a farce. The predatory capitalism exercised by much of big business does not sail under the flag of free enterprise, mostly operating in an oligopolistic or sub rosa fashion under captive or protected enterprise. Banking, energy and pharmaceutical companies – by no means in exclusivity – have been and continue raping the American consumer.

One thing that helps these predatory firms is the loyalty of their own “armies,” employees who more often than not have little choice, if they wish to keep their jobs, but to be complicit to crime. And, of course, the loyalty extends from all those 401k-holders, and other investors, that subliminally take part in the hyenas’ feast.

Absent any form of effective government control, big business stays on course with its predatory ways, and society is left to deal with the ever more putrid barrel of apples that is big business. A “few bad apples” in big business? Give me a break!

More of the same occurs in politics. The judicial system puts away lobbyist Abramoff, resulting in the investigation or incarceration of a few politicians, and normalcy returns… opening the nation to the chivalrous desire of exporting America’s democracy to less politically-enlightened nations. Which brings up the question, shouldn’t we consider cleaning up our act at home first? After all, it is mostly corporate money, not talent or true civic dedication, which gets a lion’s share of American politicians elected… so why insist that this system of corrupt politics, this “democracy” we are so proud of, is better than that of other nations? A “few bad apples” in politics? Give me a break!

Perhaps the greatest misuse of the “few bad apples” metaphor takes place in the military during time of war, when the meaning of honor, duty and country often becomes a hollow interpretation to villainous lies and rationalizations. After almost four decades, we still have a parade of four-star not so gentle men, in and out of uniform, who proudly refer to the My Lai investigation as “the gold standard.” That is something unfathomable to anyone with half a mind, and a slice of heart, when at day’s end the punishment dished out for the murder of hundreds of non-combatants (old men, women and children) in a Vietnamese hamlet shamelessly ended up being a three-and-a-half year confinement to quarters for a platoon leader. Many of us, I recall, have been for years referring to this total whitewash as “the Medina standard,” and not “the gold standard.” A “few bad apples” in the military? Give me a break!

The good, or even great, things about this country of ours are diluted by those among us who insist on being evil-minimalists. For them everything about us is unquestionably great: our free enterprise system, how we govern ourselves… and our military, tireless defenders of our freedoms and our way of life. That’s who we say we are, reality and truth be damned.

Exceptionalism, if such thing could be justly applied to any large group of people, or even a nation, should never be a self-imposed superlative. America can only aspire to be exceptional when much of the world sees us, our actions, as exceptional… but not until then. If touting this chimerical uniqueness is part of the nation’s psyche, the jingoist joke is on us. But that’s just my take.

One gets awfully tired of the warning by some constant flag-wavers who act as the assigned keepers of the nation’s virtue when they emphasize how “a few bad apples don’t define a nation.” No one challenges that. But it seems senseless to talk about a few bad apples, however, when we stand over a barrel half-full with rotten apples.

It’s a safe bet that the “just a few bad apples” excuse will continue to play well with our complacent and complicit society as we meet the crisis du jour, this time Haditha. And the question will not likely come up as to how many little “hadithas” have been covered up; or will continue to be perpetrated in Iraq; or in new frontlines, in our imperial march. For now, resolution is being met by providing ethics lessons for the grunts… when the greater need exists high in the chain of command, all the way to the very top.