The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My Thoughts On Torture

I’d define the word “Torture” to include all emotional and physical pain specifically designed to de-construct the psychological mechanisms used to inhibit the flow of communication. Clearly, there are gradations.  What we generally call “extreme” torture would be those methods that end in death.  Somewhere in-between threatening to call your mommy and removing the viscera sans anesthetic is the region most often referred to when people use the word.

Everyone has used it.  And every time it was used, it was thought to be needed.

Let’s get it straight: there is nothing new going on here, in terms of the “Terrorist Threat.”  All they can do is kill us. If we were a village of 100 people, the Huns coming over the hill to slaughter our village is absolutely as devastating, to those in the village, as the threat of a mushroom cloud.  The Nazis thought they needed it, the Inquisitors thought they needed it, the Russians in the Gulags believed they needed it. And on, and on, ad nauseum.

We decried such measures, became world leaders in encouraging our fellow men to hold themselves to a higher standard, and the world looked to us for moral leadership.

But you know what?  Judging from our recent reactions, the insistence of virtually an entire half of our political spectrum that sexual humiliation, waterboarding, beating, tormenting with unmuzzled dogs and the like are just “pranks” and “humane”—(a corruption of language that is almost as frightening as the acts themselves) it is clear that this kind of bestial behavior is resorted to whenever people feel threatened, and that the only reason we (apparently temporarily) held any moral high-ground is that we were protected by oceans.  We felt safe.  So we were functioning at a higher level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of human needs, and could afford to be sanctimonious.  Then we lost .001% of our population, and went apeshit. 

Dear God.  If the Brits had been made of such weak stuff, they would have descended into utter barbarity during WW2.  I am ashamed.

And afraid.  Make no mistake: those who would encourage such actions against “Others” who are identified by religion, or nationality, would have little compunction against using them on the basis of race. Or sexual orientation.  Or politics.

They ignore the words of the experts on these subjects, who say that the information obtained is questionable at best.  They are the same people willing to forgive warrentless wiretapping, invading a foreign nation without cause, exposing active intelligence agents, secret prisons…

And they are us.  The Right is just the side of the spectrum that is more hierarchical and conservative in thought.  We’re all that way, given the correct circumstances.   There is nothing different, nothing special—either positively or negatively—about our brothers and sisters on that side of the political aisle.  We’ve all been frightened and grown rigid.  We’ve all believed we were correct, and been impossible to talk to.  We’ve all been willing to trust some strong leader even when our hearts want to pull in another direction, and our minds want answers to unasked questions.

We’ve all been there.  They are us.

Don’t you dare think that the Right, who I honestly believe to have been hijacked by extremists.   Just how many innocent Iraquis have died?  You don’t even know, do you?  Do you care?  And if you do, how DARE you not understand why our actions have inflamed the Islamic world!  Yes, they railed against us before—but also admired us and wanted to be like us.  The numbers who now hate us and wish us harm HAVE to have increased. They would not be human otherwise.

As you watch America debating just how much flesh we can strip from the bones, how much terror we can interject into hearts, how cold the cells can be, how close the unmuzzled dogs can get…

Remember, those debating this about Arabs would do it to you, my friends. Yes, they would.  And they would shake their heads sadly and say it was necessary.

Remember that when you approve such techniques, it is 100% inevitable that they be applied to innocent people.  No justice system in the history of the world has been perfect.

Remember that with every act a society takes, it is building its future, and revealing its character.

Is this who we are?  Would you want your sons and daughters to behave in such a fashion?  Well, remember that this is how people behave when they are afraid, or feel at risk.  And remember that the next time you hear people suggest that group X or Y “isn’t like us.”

Here we are, the wealthiest, most powerful, and once upon a time most beloved people on the planet.  And one little bitch-slap made us resort to barbarity, dragged us into the humiliating public spectacle of our President wanting to know just where the moral line is.  Dear God.  This man says that God talks to him, and HE doesn’t know where the moral line is.  He’s supposed to be our leader, and he sounds exactly like any defendant at Nuremberg protesting that the methods were necessary, that he was doing what had to be done, following the will of the people and his duty, and finally just following orders.

We will recover from this. Eventually, the world will forgive us.  But they can see that we are just like them now.  No better, no worse.  Knock down two of our buildings, and we’ll kidnap innocents and torture them to salve our fear.

Maslow would understand.  Our grandchildren will be ashamed.


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