This is one of those rare occasions where I agree with some of what Dershowitz had to say. Water-boarding IS torture. The real question is not whether or not a particular technique is torture, but whether or not torture harvests useful intelligence or is just indulging the sadistic impulses of some of our freakier interrogators. The conduct of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and make no mistake, they are ours, not just George Bush’s) suggests that after more than five years, we still do not have high-fidelity information about those who we have chosen to fight.
Beyond that, once we come to terms with the reality of torture, and quit playing word games to mollify our sensibilities, our national conversation needs to be about whether we’re ready to give up the pretense of having any ideals, of holding any truths to be self-evident:
…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
On this eve of Veteran’s Day, when we pause to remember the human cost of wars past and present, those famous words ring hollow to me.
PS — there was a long opinion piece in our local paper today by Bill White, titled “Honor our armed forces.” It is his account of returning home from Korea in 1953. I was expecting a rah-rah piece of patriotic fluff, so what I actually read was a bit of a shock. Apologies for the length of this, but I trust you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did:
Korea, January 1953: What a bunch of haggard-looking old men, ages 18-26, we were, waiting by a railroad track in a snow storm. Most of us had that too-long-in-combat stare from sunken emotionless eyes. The Marine Corps said we were going home. It had said that a month ago when our “tours of duty” were up.
Well, maybe this time it was true, yet we still carried our weapons and ammo. When a battle-scarred miniature train appeared heading south, we had hope. Bullet holes, probably made from strafing by our planes or theirs, perforated both sides all along the cars. Inside the passenger cars, some seats had been blown out along with the doors. There were jagged holes in the roofs where snow floated in.
We boarded a few miles south of the Imjim River headed toward Seoul, Korea. Most of us had seen more death and destruction in a year than we would see the rest of our lives, and we had survived! None of us would ever be the same. We would carry the horrors with us forever. Even though it was 15 degrees both outside and inside the passenger cars, some sullen faces actually smiled when the sun began to shine through the falling snow. No one cared about the cold, as long as the train kept moving south toward Ascom City near the port of Inchon where we were to board ship.
Ascom City was a barbed wire enclosure, consisting mostly of six-man tents aligned in typical military fashion. Each of us was assigned to one. But first we went through a delousing line where we were all sprayed like livestock with a white powder that was supposed to kill any vermin we had brought with us and then sent to nice hot showers to wash off all the other crud we carried. We exchanged our filthy dungarees for clean ones and Marine Corps chickens…s began immediately saluting, marching to chow, guard duty and all the other military nonsense. The next day we had a formation where we stood at attention while some Army general spoke. “Gen. George S. Patton said to his troops in 1943 that ‘Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge.’ Now all of you know the significance of that remark,” the general said. “You have done your job, and you have done it well, and you have survived. Your efforts have made the world a better place by stopping the spread of communism. You.”
What BS that was! I cut him off about then. I was freezing. I should have worn my overcoat over my field jacket. Finally, he shut up. But then a Marine colonel made a speech about how we had upheld the “glory of the United States Marine Corps.” More bull. Then a Navy chaplain gave us his. He held sort of a memorial service for “those who had not died in vain.” What utter baloney this was! He went on about how we “had made this a better world!” For whom? Certainly not for the starving Korean peasants who did not survive the harsh winters because we and enemy forces destroyed their means. I thought about the civilians accidentally killed, and my friend blown to bits in what would have been surely my place. For most of us the whole tour had been in vain, especially the deaths. We just followed orders. None believed in or cared about what we were fighting for, just our survival. And I have some words for General Patton: “George, you were one insane son-of-a-you-know-what!”
Early the next morning, we boarded the same troop ship we came over on, the USNS Weigel, and headed for home. Strange, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but I would never want to do it again. Happy birthday, Marines. Semper Fi! God bless our troops.