support our troops
Thursday, May 6 2004
On the subject of the Iraqi prisoner abuse crisis, which has come out of nowhere to further damage the Bush administration:There's something about the unfolding of this crisis that restores a small fraction of my faith, not in humanity, but in whatever it is you would label that mix of laws, technology, and societal forces that underlie American culture. We've been hearing for months about the abuse of war prisoners in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo. We've heard about innovative use of "stress and duress," an American euphemism for torture. We've been told that these are "tools" that are "necessary" for "fighting" the "war" against "terror." When asked about the Geneva Conventions (which concern the rights of prisoners of war), Donald Rumsfeld scoffed. And up until the ongoing prisoner abuse scandal, the administration was getting away with their secretive advocacy of this corrosive brutality. Why the change? Why does it suddenly matter that Americans are torturing their prisoners when it didn't matter before?
The answer is pictures. Humans are clever and can deal with abstractions on an intellectual basis, to the extent they have an intellect at all. But pictures bypass all that machinery and go straight to a more basic sense of right and wrong located several strata down in the accumulated cranial sediment. Sadly, it's that part of the brain that drives our society, even in liberal democracies. We just have to count ourselves lucky in this case that there was a way to get those pictures to us. The abused Iraqi prisoners didn't have to wait for an invading army of morally outraged soldiers to snap pictures of their dehumanization (as did, say, the victims of the Holocaust). The pictures were made and distributed by the brutalizers themselves. Just looking at the pictures, you can tell that they thought they they were doing good work for their nation. No doubt they thought that their work was part of the "War on Terror."
The ubiquity of digital cameras and the ease of modern digital photography has made it a trivial matter for the troops to bring their grim reality home to us in a language we don't need words to understand. Interestingly, as technology advances, it finds itself able to communicate with increasingly primitive parts of our brains.
The small fraction of faith that's been restored concerns the nexus of several factors and trends: technology, communication, and what's left of American freedom. Individuals within a democracy can delude themselves into thinking that good can come from fostering a culture of torture, but in an operation as big as the occupation of Iraq, the brutal consequences of that culture cannot be suppressed, not when that culture is so flagrant and cameras so ubiquitous. The result has been a near-universal revulsion in civilian America. I have hope that this will lead to a backlash in favor of human rights. Everyone who has seen those abuse pictures knows we're fucked in the Arab world, fucked in a way that could have been avoided. There's no undoing the damage to America's good name, but a long and soul-searching demonstration of contrition is definitely in order. This is yet another crisis that we can't bomb our way out of.
A variation on a lone star theme.
Gretchen has been sick but was feeling a little better today. She came with me when I did the second half of my bank scanner subcontract gig. While I was doing that, she was at Ulster County Community College taking care of some loose ends related to a library sciences class she'd recently taught there. She also completed the registration paperwork for a Spanish class in which we'll both be enrolling. Our hopefully-not-too-optimistic goal is to be fluent in Spanish by the time we go to Ecuador and the Galapagos in January.
We ate lunch at the Rosendale Café and it consisted of tempeh reubens as usual. Our waitress was a "baby dyke" who had just turned 18. Intestingly, the lunchtime crowd consisted mostly of elderly people eating alone.
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