The British author, William Golding, painted a grim model for mankind in his 1954 book, 'Lord of the Flies'. In the book, a group of British school boys survive a plane crash on an uninhabited tropical island. Separated from society and civilization, the boys revert to the laws of the jungle with all the savagery this implies.

The boys' behavior, without adults and rules to control them, soon lapses into the barbaric with infighting, attempts to dominate the group and even a hunting party to kill a boy. Hailed with great acclaim when published, critics pointed out that it was far more than a good story and that it was "a parable for our times".

A number of allegorical themes are covered in the book including the theory that in times of great stress, people often single out another, weaker individual, to degrade to improve their own security. Golding wanted to show that you can only cover up man's inner savagery for so long before it eventually breaks out given the right situation; in this case being marooned on an inhospitable island. The dark impenetrable jungle of the island provoked fear of the unknown in the boys. This fear was a powerful force, which quickly turned to hysteria. 'Lord of the Flies' sets out to show that without the laws, practices and conventions of society, civilized behavior soon degrades into hopeless chaos and anarchy.

Fifty years later, it is not schoolboys, but young men and women soldiers; the backdrop is not a tropical island, but the hot dry sands of Iraq. But many other parallels with 'Lord of the Flies' hold frighteningly true today.

We do not know if the actions of the US troops at the Abu Graib prison in Baghdad were an attempt to improve their own security through denigration, fear of the unknown, or, as many claim, they were simply obeying orders and preparing Iraqis for interrogation. Seven guards are to be tried in a military court for their deeds in the prison. Hopefully these guards were not given specific and clear orders from above, because that possibility is even more disturbing. Disgraceful as this action of American troops and civilian contractors may be, that they are to blame is a more comfortable explanation than learning their actions were actually authorized from the Defense Department in Washington.

In these disgraceful events and pictures, are we witnessing what happens when a generation brought up with little moral guidance, ethical or religious education are put in charge of enemy captives? While moral education declines, the entertainment industry that encourages violence and promotes brutality blossoms; by age 18, the average US youth will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence on television. Ever more realistic computer games cover every vicious and cruel scenario imaginable. Not only were these men and women in the prison more familiar with the Simpsons than the Geneva Convention, they seemed patently unaware of the simple difference between right and wrong. Added to this, they were naive enough to photograph and be photographed performing their crude and masochistic capers.

With the 'censor' of the photo-developing company removed from the equation thanks to digital-camera technology, in seconds the images could be sent round the world by email. A world that watches open-mouthed as the United States stumbles ineptly and inappropriately through Iraq. America excels at 'shock and awe' tactics, where tanks, cruise missiles and high level bombers are involved. But, when the dust settles and the armed forces are on the ground winning those 'hearts and minds' it has consistently gone horribly wrong. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, far from achieving their goals, have done the opposite: they have encouraged more terrorism, not ended it. Fuel prices rise and stock markets fall. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair looks as though he will have his political career cut short for his support of the USA.

In the weeks after September 11 America had everyone's sympathy, yet in less than three years they have managed to destroy that goodwill. A 'war on terrorism' may have sounded like a great slogan when the President first used it. But time is proving that it is not possible to fight terrorism in the conventional sense. Instead the US has turned themselves into the best recruitment agents for those terrorist organizations they want to defeat.

Another writer, Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn, summed up the conundrum facing America when he wrote: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”