The capture, internment and repatriation of the British sailors and marines can only be described as a shoddy spectacle. From start to finish, the Brits heaped nothing but ignominy on themselves, and one can recall few instances in recent memory in which a group of uniformed service members acted with less professionalism and more dishonor.
From the start, things were destined to end badly. Although the inevitable investigation by the Ministry of Defence will determine the sequence of events that led to the capture, it seems that the boarding party was not following generally accepted practices for such an operation.
For example, there was either ineffectual support from sea and air resources, or no support at all. Iranian Revolutionary Guards were permitted to get close enough to capture the British troops, and there is some evidence that the Brits did not employ anyone to guard the search party.
In part, the United States military Code of Conduct provides,
I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
By contrast, these British geniuses surrendered without a shot being fired in their own defense.
And then things went downhill from there.
In captivity, rather than providing only name, rank, service number and date of birth, the Brits began apologizing for being in Iranian waters (they weren’t, according to the British government) and permitted themselves to be taped doing so.
And then came the penultimate step: The Presentation of The Suits and Gifts. Once their release had been arranged, the British captives gleefully accepted small mementos of their internment and new, ill-fitting suits that made the men look like mini versions of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As if that were not enough, they participated in one last comedy before leaving Iran: amiable chatting with Achmedinejad, the architect of their incarceration. Hearty handshakes all the way around. Thanks for the hospitality. What a pleasant little excursion. Sorry for troubling you.
Video: Blair: "Glad" for sailors' release Once they were released, some were effusive in their praise for the Iranians, apologizing yet again for their intrusion.
Some have suggested that the Brits’ reprehensible behavior may have been the result of coercion. Please explain how that happens among captives in a matter of mere days, troops who are not isolated and show no sign of abuse? Indeed, some of the tapes showed them eating heartily and clearly not under duress. With what were they being threatened… loss of dessert privileges?
Of course, one can expect a thorough investigation by the Ministry of Defence, and to be sure there will be recommendations to ensure that troops are properly trained, adequately supported, competently led and able to distinguish between proper and improper behavior. This is also a warning for our forces. Although we work hard to inculcate our troops with the spirits of Code of Conduct and of the warrior ethos, we must always be vigilant in demanding honorable behavior.
Many of us know brave American troops, prisoners of former wars, who endured years of captive isolation without disclosing any information, even under torture. And England has its own Greatest Generation, troops who fought a determined and superior enemy while vowing never to surrender. As Churchill observed, that was England’s finest hour.
Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also holds three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.
© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints