Thursday, January 08, 2015

A Question of Perspective

You may recall, Dear Readers, that former Vice President Dick Cheney was selected as our Ass Clown of the Year for 2014, largely on the basis of his strident defense of the torture of terrorism suspects. Second place, you may also recall, went to the Republican Congressional Leadership for its lack of … well … leadership, as well as compassion, statesmanship, and evidence of ability to govern. Third and fifth places went to ISIS/”The Islamic State” and the Taliban respectively, for reasons that probably need no elaboration, while Texas senator Ted Cruz handily took fourth.

As I always do, I linked to the blog post from my Facebook page, where I received several comments, one of which was this one from my friend Bob: “Very disappointing that both ISIS and the Taliban finished behind anyone. I think we may lack some perspective.”

Now, Bob and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on things, but I respect his opinions. In this case, though, I have to say I think he’s dead wrong.

It’s very easy and satisfying to point out that the crazies of ISIS and the Taliban - and the lunatics who murdered a dozen cartoonists in Paris yesterday - deserve condemnation for their religious bigotry, senseless violence, and generally disgusting outlook on things like decent treatment of women, and living in the modern world. We know that they’re ass clowns, whether they won the vote or not.

But sometimes, we're ass clowns, too.

We recoil in horror when ISIS rapes, tortures, and murders innocents with terrifying glee. We are horrified when al Qaeda sympathizers behead American hostages. We shake our heads in disgust at the savage murder of editorial cartoonists. We value the sanctity of life and the dignity of the individual, and you may recall from your history lessons that we conducted major war crimes trials after World War II in which German and Japanese defendants were prosecuted for - among other things - torturing prisoners.

And yet we have done it ourselves. As I noted in the award citation,

While many argue that the torture of individuals responsible for the despicable murder of innocents simply shows that they are reaping what they've sown, America has always stood for the rule of law and justice - even when it's hard, and even when such rules have been mocked and ignored by other nations and groups. By resorting to the terrible actions for which we have so often condemned other regimes, we have lowered ourselves to their level and have forfeited the moral high ground.

Not everyone sees it that way, of course. In an OpEd essay in the Washington Post last Monday titled “Democrats Lose the ‘Torture’ Debate,” conservative commentator Marc Thiessen gloats (and I use the term deliberately) that "six sordid years of Democratic demagoguery and investigations" into the use of torture on terror suspects “show that the opponents of the CIA interrogation program were completely and utterly defeated.” He goes on to write that

"… a (Washington) Post poll revealed the American people’s final verdict. The vast majority agree with the CIA that these techniques were necessary and justified ... And - most importantly - 76 percent said they would do it again to protect the country."

But does that make it right? As I have noted in this space before, we teach our children that “he/she did it first!” is not an excuse for bad behavior. And in this particular case, that bad behavior will come home to roost with an awful vengeance the next time a YouTube video shows an American being tortured by those we no longer have a moral right to condemn.

In the future, thanks to Mr Cheney and Mr Thiessen and people like them … people who lack perspective … we have lost the moral right to condemn the use of torture by our enemies. We pride ourselves on being a country where the rule of law is supreme, but nowadays the law seems sometimes to be treated like a helpless prisoner - tortured until it tells us what we want it to say.

Because, you see, our values and our principles lack perspective.

Have a good day.

More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

Sometimes it's hard for people to have perspective, in part because they are driven by short-term goals and a search for easy solutions. Sometimes, in doing so, they have consequences not thought of.

allenwoodhaven said...

Well said Bilbo. Being in the majority does not mean one is right. There was a time when a majority thought that tomatoes were poisonous, that smallpox vaccines couldn't
work, and that a man on the moon was impossible. There are many more examples without a doubt.

Linda Kay said...

I think you have done a great job of addressing this, and I have to say that I am among many who will agree with the NY Times here in Texas and the conservative stand. But then there are the Native Americans, slavery, and other despicable human treatments in our history. Many thought it was OK.

Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...


Mike said...