Friday, May 6, 2011
© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Earlier this week, Osama bin Laden was killed. By mid-week, various factions started debating whether our "enhanced interrogation techniques" played a significant role in locating the terrorist mastermind. We generated the following piece back in April 2009, and thought that a re-visit might be appropriate.
On most news issues, we don’t have an opinion.
At least, not immediately. We like to think stuff through.
In the case of this “torture” or “enhanced interrogation” debate, we definitely do not have an opinion.
We don’t have enough concrete, credible evidence to competently form an opinion.
More importantly, we do not have first hand information.
Plus, it’s become difficult to decipher the “truth” from the media outlets.
At this point, affixing a label, to the purported conduct, may actually be little more than an academic exercise.
However, we do have some “observations.”
Many of our citizens feel that the methods employed were appropriate.
There is also a substantial segment which feels that they were not, at least for a civilized society.
Some apparently feel that the tactics worked, fulfilled a valuable function, and thus were “necessary,” whereas others disagree.
Yet, despite all of the dissection, few have really focused on the crux of the matter: Whether we are willing to embrace a “by any means necessary” philosophy to address a perceived threat.
This obviously is one amorphous, value-laden, context-driven, ball of Play Doh, moving like a Slinky down the Capitol steps.
There is nothing more unsettling to humans than the thought that we are capable of going to a place we consider unthinkable, although perhaps necessary. (Practice and frequency change all of that.)
It’s mentally akin to shooting a human for the 1st time, whether an intruder, or enemy soldier.
The reality is that at some point on the continuum, we’d all be willing to commit the ultimate act, or darn close to it, if we thought it “necessary,” and that the interests protected were significant enough.
Part of the problem is that it doesn’t matter whether something is actually a threat, but rather whether people think it is a threat, and reasonable people will differ on that.
All three Institute Fellows, the Optimizer, the Laughingman, and the Logistician, served in the armed forces during the Vietnam Conflict Era. Each learned to use weapons which kill, if necessary.
We appreciate the concept of evil, and the concept of the “enemy.’
And yet, we’d all probably be far less likely to use torture, however defined, than 98% of you who have never served.
On the other hand, if we decided that it was necessary, we’d be at the front of the line, in the first 2%, to do it, efficiently, like Arnold, and move the freak on, with little yapping….
The History Channel and PBS recently aired programs documenting the inhuman treatment of Allied POWs in the South Pacific by the Japanese during WWII. Subsequently, we saw a discussion of the psychology of revenge.
Once it was clear that the Americans had won, and began to take Japanese POWs, our forces did some pretty despicable things. A U.S. journalist captured some of this on film. It was suppressed for years, and only recently disclosed.
We didn’t want the world to know that Americans could “go there.”
We need occasional reminding that fear can bring out the absolute freak in us.
And anger is frequently intertwined with fear.
Today, we witnessed the baptism of a young infant. Observing the congregation, we noted the serenity associated with that event.
All of us take on that glazed look when dealing with infants. We’re reminded of an era of innocence, when worries are nonexistent, and someone else has the responsibility of caring for us.
It’s a space to which many yearn to return - unrealistically.
Jack Nicholson reminded us, in “A Few Good Men,” that some force ensures that those of us on the home front, including that infant, sleep in peace and comfort through the night. (Funny that film should have taken place at Guantanamo.)
When we perceive a threat (especially one difficult to define and frame) is about to invade our zone of serenity, our willingness to “go there” becomes less objectionable.
We’re all located in different cars on the train that is the continuum as we approach that point.
That being said, perhaps we can do without labeling it torture or some other euphemism.
Perhaps no prosecutions, bloodletting, or rolling of heads.
We well understand the PR issues, and this desire to convey that America is the Mt. Everest of “high moral ground.”
However, that we live in a society capable of public introspection may be just good enough, for now, especially with other issues on our plate.
It’s what helps form the “collective conscience” that all societies need, but do not have.
The reality is that at the end of the day, all of us care.
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