The Torture Myth and the Need for Control

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Anne Applebaum asks a very good question in The Torture Myth after demonstrating that even hardened military veterans have determined that torture does not work: “Given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, the really interesting question is not whether torture works but why so many people in our society want to believe that it works.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, there were many Americans who quietly or loudly were ready to lash out in any kind of violent way with little concern for the results. This wasn’t just the stereotypical construction worker at the bar, even Rich Lowry senior editor of National Review seriously discussed nuking Mecca (what possible effect could that have had but to bring the wrath of a billion Muslims down on our country?) My own take is that after a century of domestic and foreign interventionism Americans are firmly in the “do something” rut. “Do something” as in “Somebody oughtta do something”, “There oughtta be a law”, “We need a leader who will do something”. Or as in Hitler’s compliment to FDR (in 1933), “I sympathize with President Roosevelt for the way he marches straight to his objective over Congress, over lobbies and over stubborn bureaucracies.”

There are at least two problems with the robotic “do something” approach. First, in the sphere of economics, politics and foreign policy when “something” is done it typically backfires, (“blowback”, “unintended consequences”, etc). Secondly, it is in stark contrast to the Christian ethic in which “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”. The Christian ethic also calls for examining oneself first for sins of omission and commission before going off half-cocked… The implication being that maybe your actions are part of the problem and the “something” that you need to do is to stop misbehaving, apologize and make restitution to those you have harmed.

I fear that the alternative I’m describing seems too abstract, too indirect to the current generation. But there was a time in the West when among our heroes we counted not only warriors but also martyrs. It wasn’t that long ago though it seems like ages.

3:09 pm on January 12, 2005