Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Has America Lost It's Soul?

I can remember the old days when Americans thought of themselves as the good guys.  The American ideal used to be the image of John Wayne. Polite, strong, decent, brave.  Slow to anger, but when roused to action, powerful. A nation that, when it has to, fights according to the rules, and wins.  A political personification of this ideal might be Dwight Eisenhower.

Now the new American ideal is the face of Dick Cheney.  An ugly little rodent of a man, a foul-mouthed coward who, while shrinking from any personal risk himself, sends others off to die in pointless wars that enrich his politically-connected buddies.  A man who has besmirched American honor by making torture an officially sanctioned part of American policy.  A man who, by squandering trillions of dollars in utterly pointless wars, is driving the economy and the military into the ground.  A loser who cloaks his failures with arrogance and venom.

If the reports of the mainstream press are to be believed (yes I know, that’s not at all certain) then the American public prefers Dick Cheney to Dwight Eisenhower.  If true, I am aghast. What happened to America?  When did it lose it's soul?

Now I am not saying that America was always some sort of national saint, or that American soldiers or government agents never did anything wrong.  Far from it.  In the heat of battle, when a soldier watches his comrades get killed and mangled, bad things happen.  I am certain that even in the so-called “good war” of WWII, that there was quite a lot of ugliness.  The thing is, that torture was never official policy.  Torture was something that Nazis did, not red-blooded American GIs.  Even if America often fell short of the ideal, it matters what the ideal is.

Nazi Germany, Tojo’s Japan, The Soviet Union… these states were ‘tough’ and used torture as official policy.  They are all gone now, their relics gathering dust in museums.  America didn’t use torture, and it’s still here.  There is a lesson to be learned from this.

Outside the mindless sensationalism of movies and television, professional intelligence operatives know that torture is counterproductive.  People under torture say anything that they think that their tormentors want to hear.  Professionals know that getting information requires careful work and a systematic approach to gathering information. But that’s not ‘sexy’.  It’s not ‘tough’.  It’s not ‘playing hardball.’  It’s not the sort of thing that would excite an armchair general with no practical experience.

There are four reasons for a government to use torture:

1. To extract false confessions for propaganda purposes.
2. To extract false confessions so that the police may claim that they have solved a case.
3. To intimidate other people into not challenging the government.
4. Pure sadism – because the torturers enjoy the sense of power that it gives them.

Is this really what America has come to?

If America wants to defend itself from crazed Wahhabist terrorists, the sane thing to do would be NOT LET THE TERRORISTS ENTER THE COUNTRY IN THE FIRST PLACE.  I mean, the terrorists of 9/11 were mostly illegal immigrants from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who were only allowed to stay in the country because the rules against illegal immigration were not being enforced.  Some of them could not even have gotten onto the plane without legal driver’s licenses that had been given to illegals.  Some camel jockey in the far desert can only cause harm to Americans if you are so stupid as to let him into your country.  Just say no!

It must also be pointed out that you do not demonstrate strength by shooting yourself in the foot.  You demonstrate that you are a fool.  Attacking countries that had nothing to do with 9/11, and then botching the job!  And then wasting trillions of dollars on corrupt defense contractors!  That is not ‘realpolitik’, that’s not ‘making the hard decisions needed to make America safe.’  It’s just bloody stupid.  Period.

We keep hearing about the ‘ticking time bomb’ theory – what if a terrorist has a ticking time bomb hidden in a school and it’s going to go off in 30 minutes and if you don’t torture this person to find out where its hidden lots of kids will die?  If, if, if.  This is an abstract hypothetical that has basically never happened.  It does not justify the use of torture in all those cases where there was not a ticking time bomb, duh.  (I said “DUH”, dammit!).  The reality is that, if you need to torture someone to find out what they know, that means that you don’t really know all that much.  Which means that you are mostly going to be torturing innocent people.  Which appears to have been the case.  Duh, again, Duh.

If there ever really was a ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario, sure, go ahead and torture the person to find out where it’s hidden.  No jury would convict you, and if they did, you would get pardoned.  In the meanwhile in the real world this doesn’t happen, and should not be used as a rational argument for torture.

Recently it has come out that a couple of psychologists made a combined 80 million dollars in consulting fees to tell interrogators how to shove things up prisoners posteriors to maximal effect.  You can’t make this stuff up.  I mean this says it all: evil, ugly, stupid, and corrupt, as the right people make crazy money for doing basically nothing.  Can any nation long endure when this is the new normal?

Of course, nothing will happen to these consulting psychologists.  I imagine that they will continue to rake in big fees, and maybe get jobs at prestigious universities.  And nothing will happen to the government employees that let this happen.  If you fail to punish or censure people for bad behavior, you reward it - you approve it.

If someone shot off both your kneecaps, should your assailant not be prosecuted because 'it's history and we need to move on?'  Or would you want justice to be done?

It has been suggested that if we hold government officials accountable for committing acts that are stupid, evil, or corrupt, that this might have a chilling effect on the willingness of government officials to commit acts that are stupid, evil or corrupt in the future.  And this is a problem exactly why?  Has America not just lost its soul, but gone stark bonkers insane?

But of course, there is a higher law as well.  Americans should be against torture just because it’s wrong.  Even if (hypothetical IF!)  not using torture puts a few Americans at some slightly greater risk of danger, you’re supposed to be the good guys!  Aren’t you?

The brilliant political cartoonist Ted Rall recently asked: what if the Nuremberg trials were being held today?  He imagined an American prosecutor telling a war criminal ‘but the holocaust didn’t even work!  There are plenty of Jews left!’  That’s absurd, isn’t it?  The holocaust wasn’t evil because it was ineffective.  It was evil because it was evil. 

You should not need to be told that.

If you are an American and you see Dick Cheney’s face on TV and you are not instantly revolted and infuriated, I humbly suggest that there is something wrong with you.  Perhaps you have just been fed a steady line that the left hates America – and there is some truth to this, although that’s another matter – and you automatically assume that anyone criticizing the government hates America.  Please think carefully here.  Not everyone who thinks that Dick Cheney is evil hates America.  Many of us love it. 

I see America headed into decline.  There is an open-borders immigration policy that will turn the nation into an overpopulated third-world hell within the span of those now living.  An anti-American trade policy that hollows out your industries. Corrupt finance that gives trillions in bailouts to Wall Street while starving the real economy of investment.  A defense establishment that is increasingly little more than a way for insiders to make windfall profits, that sucks up ever more money while the real military decays.  An oligarchy that is increasingly out of control, that can for example tear up the pension contracts of regular folks to pad their bottom lines – while contracts guaranteeing the bonuses of hedge fund managers are of course sacred.

The sad thing is that, I wonder if perhaps Americans deserve this.  Please prove me wrong.  The mainstream press is so corrupt and dishonest that I can forgive an American believing almost anything.  But not that torture is an American virtue.  No, if you really believe that, then I do blame you, not the press.  If you think that Dick Cheney is now what America aspires to be, I humbly beg you to reconsider your views.

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