By now, everyone's seen at least a still picture of the four American soldiers urinating on dead Taliban.
And most of us are repulsed by it. Rightly so.
But still, unless we've been in combat, we can't imagine the pressure those young men and women are under. War by definition is nerve-destroying. My dad, who fought in two wars as a pilot, just didn't want to talk about his combat experiences. And he was never on the ground like the GI's who we see in the picture or video.
He had no desire to brag about his exploits - which in my experience seems to be a common reaction by most veterans, as if they don't want to recall the horrors they witnessed.
Adding to the pressures of war is that of being in a country where the enemy is impossible to identify, in that they could be right next to the soldiers in any town or city, unbeknownst to the soldiers. Unlike the soldiers in uniforms, the Taliban look like any other civilian.
So put a young American man in a really foreign country populated by folks who, at best, tolerate their presence and, at worst, collaborate in killing them; a young American soldier maybe on his second or third tour of duty; a young American soldier who might've just finished a fierce fire fight with the Taliban.
Maybe then can we better understand the soldiers' behavior - not condone it, but understand it.
These soldiers, however, need to understand, too, that Americans are held to a different standard, the standard of civilized behavior - an ironic term when applied to war, but still the truth. No matter how brutal and cruel the enemy is, we have to fight by different rules.
And those rules preclude behavior like the four soldiers demonstrate in the video.
Because of that, no matter how courageous those four young men might've been in battle, they must be punished. Does it sound like, in a way, a kind of double standard? Sure.
But it's a standard we must live up to, no matter how difficult.
If we are the exceptional country we like to believe we are, then we must demand punishment for those who exhibit deplorable behavior.
Those four young men are guilty of at least that, no matter how much we sympathize for them and try to understand what they face on a daily basis over there.
Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.