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Online, there's no due process

THE WEB, ETC. : WEB SCOUT

A virtual lynch mob quickly forms after a video of a Marine apparently killing a puppy hits the Web.

March 16, 2008|David Sarno | Times Staff Writer

Others felt the outrage was unwarranted: "I don't know about your unit and training, but I was taught to view the enemy as something other than human because it makes them easier to kill," wrote a commenter whose profile indicated he was a former Marine lance corporal. "If the allegations are true, he killed a defenseless animal and should be punished. But this throwing the book at him, simmer down people. It was a puppy, not a human baby."

After the puppy video surfaced, the online crowd dug up several other online videos that appeared to depict service members engaged in other acts of violence against animals, including dogs and sheep being shot or tormented.

Might battlefield stress or military training play a role in such acts of cruelty? This is a touchy subject. UC Irvine's Raymond Novaco, who studies include the relationship between anger and post-traumatic stress disorder and said he has been working with armed forces personnel for decades and has "great compassion for them," said an event such as the one portrayed in the puppy video would be "very unusual."

"If the incident even happened, I'd say it was a stretch to connect that with combat stress. The Marines don't train people to do that.".

What is clear is that, real or not, the puppy video has been a lose-lose situation for all parties. Even if it's discredited, the Marines may find that the image of one of their men holding up the ill-fated puppy won't be easily erased. And the men involved may find it can't be erased at all.

But the biggest loser here is the Internet. As it becomes trivially easy to play vigilante without ever coming out from behind your sheet, too many people are confusing bravery with downright cowardice.

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david.sarno@latimes.com

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