In a way, I was cheered by the release of the Senate committee torture report, because I already figured we were guilty, but I didn’t necessarily expect us to own up. And the fact that we did gave me some hope that we might be a worthy nation after all.
If there is anything that makes America exceptional, it should be our devotion to civil liberties, our founding principles, our respect for the rule of law, even international law–hell, this being one tiny marble we’re on, especially international law–and our unwillingness to compromise our ethics to satisfy our bloodlust.
You don’t have to hang out too long on the internet to find out that that is not a universal perspective. There are a lot of dark alleys on the internet and a lot of people with shivs crouched behind every dumpster. I don’t know how anyone could contemplate torture with anything but revulsion, but people do. Some people get little patriotic woodies over it. I don’t know what has happened to people who can imagine torturing other people without getting sick. Lots of things, probably. They’ve been broken somehow, hurt, probably early on. They’ve had to protect themselves from something or other–even something as ordinary as inconsistent love–since they were children, and they have racked up years maintaining enemy lists, sharpening their blades, figuring out which side of their shield everyone falls on.
They’re pissed at the store clerk with a perceived attitude, the friend who all but called them fat, the women who don’t think they’re good enough, the nigger who got promoted to the job they should have had, the man who can’t be bothered to pick up his own damn underwear, the asshole on the phone who can’t even speak English. They’re pissed and the only thing that makes sense of everything is to have a clear line drawn, and a clear shot at the ones on the wrong side of it.
They’ve got the patter and the script. They’re energized by the Real New Jersey Housewife with her hands on her hips and a head-waggle who says she gon’ cut that bitch. Fuck yeah, sister. Give ‘er one for me.
Some of them have drawn their line clear up to Heaven. American Exceptionalism? We are God’s chosen people. And since we are God’s chosen people, everything we do must be what God had in mind. If they behead one of us, we’ll slice up their whole family. I would prefer to think a true moral high ground might make us exceptional, but if it’s just that God gave us the stamp of approval one inattentive day, so be it. There are echoes of that brand of confidence all over the world, in every dark alley.
People think if we’re not strong, if we’re not cruel, we’ll be run over. That’s what those who are devoted to vengeance believe: that the rest of us are pushovers, pansies, naifs who think we can prevail with purity of heart and a good drum circle. Peacemaking is hard work and takes a lot of patience and fortitude, and there’s never a guarantee of success. The latter is what it has in common with war. What no one bothers to show is any reliable outcome from war and violence other than more war and violence. There’s no good evidence that it’s ever done us any lasting good. How can you bomb innocent people and win anything worth having? Does it really matter if our hearts were pure and we didn’t mean to take out your wedding party, or your whole village?
One fellow I eavesdropped on in an internet thread said he “didn’t feel sorry for those people”–the terrorists, or their innocent human stand-ins swept up in the dragnet, whom we tortured. No one is asking anyone to feel sorry for a terrorist. That’s not to say it would not be a good exercise to try. To try to imagine that everyone is human and hurt and something like ourselves. In the case of those actual terrorists we torture, a lot like ourselves.
By relying on the tactics our perceived enemy uses, we become indistinguishable from them. How can we say that we are so much better than they, when we use the same methods? And you can't make peace by going to war. What you put out is what you get back. If you are filled with hatred for a segment of humanity, they will pick up on this on some level and treat you exactly as you expect them to. If you imagine a boogeyman under every bed and an intruder behind every door… eventually you will attract that to you. We find what we are looking for. Maybe we should stop thumping our chests and looking for an enemy, and start looking for ways that we are alike and can come together. But I don't think that this war-like segment of the population really wants peace — or we would have it. They want to be "right". They want to be "special". Plus, for the top one percent, war is an excellent business decision. Follow the money.
"If you are filled with hatred for a segment of humanity, they will pick up on this on some level and treat you exactly as you expect them to."
You seem to be filled with a similar hatred for the "top one percent," Are you casting the first stone?
I have no monetary interests in war. If you "follow the money", you can see that they do. I'm not "filled with hatred" for them. If war just concerned them, I wouldn't give a toss what they did. But the rest of the country gets dragged into it, and that does concern me!
I thought I made a valid point, but I guess you can't see it from way up on the moral high ground.
Now, now. See what happens when I can't get any humor into a post?
Most people's problem with the "one percent" has to do with the fact that they are hoarders, to the detriment of everyone else. And war is often a lot about resources. People who are sitting on top of a lot of fossil fuel can in general expect to suffer.
Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. War is big business. A lot of the 1%-ers are getting rich off defense stocks.
OK, I'm sorry for trying to insert a slightly different point of view. I guess all the 1%ers are evil. fortunately (or unfortunately) I am in the wrong 1%. I'll just leave quietly. Didn't mean to upset anyone with conflicting ideas.
Come back joeh! We love you!
It doesn't take being hurt in some way to make people believe torture is acceptable. I'm related to a lot of people who believe that. I had a conversation about it with one of them just the other day, someone I otherwise love and respect very much. Hell, if this doesn't put a warm and fuzzy spin on it, someone I quilt with. She firmly believes it's okay because they're bad people. She refuses to acknowledge – as do many of my relatives – that a policy of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth will result in everyone being blind and toothless.
I suppose you're right–it's just hard for me to imagine how anyone can think about torturing someone without puking on her quilt. Something's off, there.
Those tactics of torture were wrong. We are better than that. Given the times, blown up buildings, poison sent by mail to our leaders and talk of dirty bombs I am inclined to forgive those who believed they were acting to protect our citizens.
We do need to admit we were wrong, and that we are better than that, but I don't feel the need to pile on those who made the bad judgement call 13 years later.
The sentiment of the vast majority of our citizens was "what ever it takes to protect our country." The sentiment may have been wrong in retrospect, but we were all (or most of us ) guilty. Fear often results in bad judgement.
Plus we apparently learned that torture does not get any valuable information and might even get false leads, so on several levels we should not resort to it again.
This whole incident reminds me of the WWII Japanese internment camps. Clearly wrong in retrospect, but somewhat understandable given the fear at the time of further attacks.
Someday maybe we will learn from history.
I think that's the point of having principles, so there is something to carry you through the times of fear.
Agreed! Sometimes those principles will have you killed, sometimes principles are worth dying for and sometimes fear is what saves our lives.
Not trying to argue here, I've just got way too much time on my hands today.
Very good post…as usual.
"someday maybe we will learn from history"
Don't count on it. How long has history been going on already? And we're (not all of us) still killing each other over differences or perceived wrongs.
Have you ever thought of running for office? It would not work, I know, you are too honest and too forthright. What kind of twisted soul thinks it is OK to torture another human being? Put them in prison, give them a trial….or let them free and follow them…I did so agree with your post and I wish I had you clarity in writing skills.
God no, run for office? How would I get my blog done?
Isn't that what secretaries and minions are for? hmmm?
I'd be uncomfortable with minions. Truth be told, I feel uncomfortable whenever I'm talking to someone shorter than me. (It doesn't happen often.)
Probably only when there are toddlers around 🙂
It's not us versus them. We're all in this together. However, I think we evolved to have an "us versus them" bias, because way back when we lived in caves it was probably more true to protect scarce resources like food. Our operating systems are obsolete.
And there are SO MANY of us.
This is a great piece, Murr. Another thing I cannot understand is how the Taliban can burst into a school and kill a bunch of kids. Human beings suck.
I wonder if there's any understanding such things. Honey, I can't even watch a boxing match.
But what about those who kill at will, whose life's purpose is to take others' lives, who actually want to "go to glory" killing other people if they do not share their religious beliefs – I'm thinking of ISIS here, among other killing machines – what of them? (Please understand I'm not talking about the torture issue as much as the bombing issue.) There is no reasoning, no pacifist approach and no friendly hand to the people in these mindsets that will ever result in friendliness or acceptance or peace in return. This prospect scares and angers me all at the same time. And if anyone has any good ideas about how to deal with this, I am all ears.
Punishment doesn't equal torture. We can punish without being inhumane. Folks who kill, who are fairly tried and convicted, should not be given free rein to do so again. That's punishment. Torture is cruel and twisted and has nothing to do with fixing a situation. Police, politicians, society–whoever– have no right to kill or torture.
The difference between what you would do if someone hurt your child and what the state would do to the perpetrator is Civilization.
Let me be clear: I do not believe in torture and I do not believe in personal vengeance, and I would hope that my past comments in general would have offered a clue to that. I was asking a larger question here – what DO we do, given the lack of conscience and lack of wish for peace on the part of well-armed and far-reaching terrorist groups? – which I thought might fall into the scope of the post, but maybe it's a bit beyond.
My suspicion is that it involves something more along the lines of a police action and a transfer of evildoers to an international court, or at least a court. There was a good article recently–can't remember whose it was–about how things like beheadings are the tactic of the less-powerful and specifically designed to lure other people into warfare. Tends to work, too.
Oh, and I totally got where you were coming from.
Hmm. If you read anything good in future, point me to it? Or maybe not. My blood pressure hasn't given me any trouble to this point in life, and I really don't want it to start. I really wish I knew what the answer is. I don't, so I tend to try to notice and praise and emphasize and remember the good in the world. But there's such bad and such insanity out there, it's getting past my defenses lately.
And where the heck is Infidel when ya need him to comment? I'm pretty sure he'd have something worthy to say.
I know, right? Probably some of the time the problem is that there are no GOOD answers. But there are some I'm pretty sure are bad.
Thank you Murr.
War is an obscenity, and torture trumps it. I think when we became able to classify other people's lives, families and futures as collateral damage we crossed a line.
To say the least, torture requires a pathological lack of empathy.
Nothing to add; this post is pure excellence.
I hate writing these.
Thank you, Murr, for this post.
Such as it is.
"To try to imagine that everyone is human and hurt and something like ourselves."
Except for the psychopaths, right? I know a few who will use that very kind of empathy against you to your detriment and not feel a damn bit of remorse about it. They comprise a relatively small proportion of the human population but they do tend to gravitate toward positions of power and sure are good at making life hell for the rest of us.
I hate to be a cynic but I do believe it is us against them.
Except for the psychopaths. There's still no necessity to torture them. What that does to us is every bit as bad as what it does to them. Lock them up; try them; be civilized. I am not anti-punishment.
Agreed. Anyone who can torture another human being regardless of who s/he is or what s/he has done is broken somehow, somewhere.
Swimming in the deep end today Murr. You make a lot of sense too.
That "we're right, God is on our side, no matter what" attitude is so wrong. Having the biggest gun or the mightiest army doesn't make you the winner.
There shouldn't be any need for winners anyway. People should be able to live peaceably together in spite of differences. Aren't the differences what make life interesting?
Yeah. Except for some of the differences. Some of them are just weird.
Weird is interesting, as long as I don't have to participate.
Not much I could add after all that. What I wonder is aren't there enough of us with this kind of thinking to overcome the rest of those with the other kind?
Yeah, but we're not armed!
Those of us who think this way don't want to fight the others, we just want to convince them to see reason. Unfortunately, they never will, and they will fight to try to convince everyone else that they are right.