Saturday, May 21, 2005

It's about revenge, stupid!

Confucius knew better, teaching "before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

Really, that's what underlies the steady drip, drip, drip of stories about US soldiers and contractors torturing and murdering prisoners and other unfortunates. Sure, it is the imperial wars of our pseudo fascist rulers that provide the opportunity and the backdrop. As a matter of policy, those rulers disdain law and seek to rule through brute force. But the individual torturers, soldiers and interrogators, are only enabled, not made, by the policy; too many of us thrive on irrational, exaggerated feelings of personal injury about the 9/11 attacks; too many feel justified by this injury in taking revenge on hapless conquered people under their power.

As the New York Times recounted in a recent revelatory story from Bagram prison in Afghanistan, for the US torturers, all Afghan, Iraqi, Arab, Muslim, "hajji" captives are guilty and all people, except other guilty subhumans, can be counted on to share that view, even US criminals.
Finally, Specialist Walls grabbed the prisoner and "shook him harshly," the interpreter said, telling him that if he failed to cooperate, he would be shipped to a prison in the United States, where he would be "treated like a woman, by the other men" and face the wrath of criminals who "would be very angry with anyone involved in the 9/11 attacks."

Some of the US torturers in Afghanistan began to notice the human beings across from them. Connection couldn't be allowed to develop:
"We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren't our friends and could not be trusted." Mr. Leahy said.

The novelist, former priest, and essayist James Carroll marked the institution of the elected Iraqi government with an insightful meditation on the need people in this country feel for revenge:
Sept. 11, 2001, left the United States in the grip of an unarticulated need for payback. No one takes a blow like that without wanting to strike out. Stated justifications aside, that need fueled the subsequent American attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, which is why it meant so little when those justifications (bin Laden dead-or-alive, WMD, etc.) evaporated. And why it meant so little when the brutalities of American methods were made plain, from torture to hair-trigger checkpoints to ruined cities.

Carroll's whole article is well worth reading.

It seems so obvious. Unless and until we are willing to let go of the injured innocence that we use to justify dehumanizing others, we are killing our own humanity. And while we hang on to our righteous wrath, this country will go on making morally broken torturers of the testosterone poisoned men (and some women) we send to fight our imperial wars.

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