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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture Has Lost All Meaning (and I Blame the Media)

A few days ago, the White House released memos concerning the interrogation of high-level terrorist suspects. Immediately, the condemnations spread across the political sphere like wildfire. Calls for arrests for war crimes, prosecutions, moral outrage and the like were typed and posted on to blogs, spoken to cameras and crowds, and an endless stream of misconceived legal knowledge was touted as fact. All this over memos that talked about nothing more shocking than what our soldiers go through during prisoner of war training.

You can read the lack of legal ramifications here. My concern isn't with the legality, but the moral outrage by the antiwar crowd and its overall impact on the way we fight our enemies. To the outraged amputation, nail pulling, breaking bones, branding or forced drowning are equal to sleep deprivation, forced nakedness, fluctuating temperatures, loud music or simulated drowning. Its like comparing Serbian actions in Kosovo to the Holocaust, the Flight at Kitty Hawk to the Moon Landing, and so on. It may be in the same city, but no where close to the same ballpark.

We seem to live in a time where there is an assumption that because the United States is a free, equal and prosperous nation it must give up all three to create a utopian example for the rest of the world to follow. If we are to protect our rights, we must give them up to those who would kill us. If we end all governmental discrimination, we must discriminate against the majority for the minority. If we are to keep our wealth, we must subsidize the mistakes of others without benefit to ourselves. In this universe, the world follows our City on the Hill and peace and harmony spreads across the Earth. Alas, this world doesn't exist. Its not even close to existing. Its barely an idea, let alone a coherent philosophy to transition to from our current freedom oriented ideologies.

Our world is nothing like the moralists hope it is. Since the end of a fifty year, multi-proxy war between two nuclear powers there have been over 60 wars, civil wars, insurgencies and other major conflicts. Over sixty in less than twenty years. The low ball toll from all these wars nears around seven to ten million lives. As of today, there are at least a dozen conflicts going on. Just last year there were four separate invasions/border wars (Comoros-Anjouan, Thailand-Cambodia, Djibouti-Ethiopia, Russia-Georgia). Despite American examples of going to the UN, respecting PoWs, treating prisoners (even terrorist prisoners) with respect, the crimes and abuses done by other nations in these four conflicts dwarf the heinous acts we saw at Abu Ghraib, let alone waterboarding by professional interrogators.

There are those out there who would like to think the American citizen has become desensitized to violence and abuse through their exposure to its simulation in movies and video games. I think the reaction of millions of people to the so-called “crimes” of the American government shows, in fact, that the American populace has been shielded to the realities of war and terrorism. In movies, no one is really hurt when the bad guy massacres a village, rapes a woman, tortures the good guy's family. You have special knowledge in the back of your head that keeps saying “its all pretend!”. Well, in the real world, where massacres are common, rapes mutilate and torturing of innocents actually hurts, you can't fight it with James Bond or psychics or some kind of good moral violence that the peanut gallery approves of.

In the real world, you need things like waterboarding to break terrorists who have been expertly trained to resist interrogation. In the real world, not breaking the terrorist and disseminating what he knows may cause 3000 more people to die, or worse. In the real world, you have to stare into the eyes and understand the mind of a mass murdering religious cultist so your children don't have to. In the real world, we are harsh and ruthless to terrorists, but we do not make them uncomfortable or harm them for fun. In the words of the experts, “The point of interrogation is intelligence, not confession.”

Utopian moralities, like utopian politics, will always be outraged because no one could meet their standards of conduct in the world we live in. At least with Christianity there's a route to forgiveness for the sins you commit. With our harping utopians, you were screwed from the second you thought to defend your country.

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