Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Memorial Day Weekend, America Reckons with Torture

A Bill Moyers essay from Common Dreams courtesy of a facebook friend:

Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves. So Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people, and did so in defiance of domestic and international law. Most of us haven’t come to terms with what that meant, or means today, but we must reckon with torture, the torture done in our name, allegedly for our safety.

It’s no secret such cruelty occurred; it’s just the truth we’d rather not think about. But Memorial Day is a good time to make the effort. Because if we really want to honor the Americans in uniform who gave their lives fighting for their country, we’ll redouble our efforts to make sure we’re worthy of their sacrifice; we’ll renew our commitment to the rule of law, for the rule of law is essential to any civilization worth dying for.

More here.

Such a period of national introspection isn't likely to happen soon. Indeed, virtually no one actually thinks about this stuff in any lasting or meaningful way. I mean, of course, some people think about this, myself included, but even among those of us who do, it's really easy to avoid dwelling on it, really easy to just go about our lives in our torture-practicing nation while ignoring the awful moral baggage it carries.

What does the fact that our nation has a massive torture-regime under its belt mean? It means we're like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Red China, the Spanish Inquisition, Imperial Japan, Cambodia, North Korea, Chile under Pinochet, Iran under the ayatollahs, or under the Shah, and on and on. Yes yes, we can quibble over such comparisons. We don't send millions of Jews to the gas chambers, for instance. We're capitalist and Christian. Sure, there are necessarily differences because we're one nation and those are other nations. But you can cite differences all day long, and none of them removes the major similarity: the US is like all other evil nations in that we will inflict pain and suffering on captives who have been rendered harmless.

And we did it for the express purpose of inflicting cruelty as revenge: it has long been known that torture is an imprecise and faulty method for intelligence gathering, but we did it anyway, happily, just because we were pissed off and wanted to hurt some brown Muslims.

It's all very depressing. Redressing this horrible stain on our national conscience is nowhere on the horizon. I've written so many posts here at Real Art on this topic that I'm starting to get bored with it, and that's just awful; I'm getting bored with trying to remind people that we have this scarlet "T" on our chests. That's the most frightening thing of all: moral lapse due to lack of interest.

Of course, I shouldn't kick myself so hard. This is very American. We have also never come to terms with our near-genocide of the Native American population from whom we stole our land. We have never come to terms with the African slave trade, and the economic foundation it laid for our luxury today, or how African-Americans were and are still oppressed. Or how we took nearly half of what is now the Western US from Mexico in an unprovoked war of aggression. And on and on and on. Committing unspeakable acts of evil and then pretending it never happened is as American as apple pie. Swimming against the stream on this is beyond difficult.

But what moral choice do we have? The only thing people can do who are deeply concerned with our national sin is to continue talking about it, continue reminding their fellow citizens that we have a great deal of unfinished business, vital business that concerns our souls, concerns our future choices as a people.

We should never stop discussing this.