Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Great American Torture Debate, Part 2

Among the world's great battle cries, we can count: "Give me liberty or give me death;" "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes;" and "We shall never surrender."

In our new moral order these have been replaced by President Obama's: "waterboarding is torture.... We will not torture."

To help establish this new moral order Jacob Weisberg of Slate.com has decided that we should all feel guilty that our country waterboarded. Weisberg asserted, without very much thought, that waterboarding an inhuman monster like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is morally equivalent to interning innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II. Link here.

To Weisberg and his fellow guilt-trippers, it does not matter whether waterboarding worked or whether it saved lives. Their argument does not reside on pragmatic considerations.

It resides on moral absolutes. If Obama said it is torture, it is torture. If Obama said it is wrong, it is wrong. So much for moral complexity.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the purpose of this guilt-mongering is mind control. To do penance for your sins you must think as Weisberg does, like squishy leftist.

So much for the free trade in ideas.

Now, we all need to do penance because waterboarding, in Obama's and Weisberg' and Maureen Dowd's words, is corroding our character.

They all believe that when we betray our ideals our character suffers corrosion.

In that they are surely mistaken. Character involves your role in society and your relationships with other people. It is not based on how deeply you love an idea, or how many lives you are willing to sacrifice to demonstrate that love.

A traitor who declares that he loves a higher truth more than he loves his country is not a person of character. He is a traitor.

Building character involves fulfilling your duties, obligations, and responsibilities to other people. When it comes to leadership, a leader shows character by protecting his people, not by letting them die to assert his superior virtue.

No parent of character would ever refuse to use any means necessary to protect his or her children. Period.

Winston Churchill understood this well. Whether or not Churchill condoned torture is subject to debate. Yet, the man who ordered the firebombing of a civilian population center did not allow his war effort to be hamstrung by excessive moral scruples.

Surely, Christopher Hitchens was thinking of Dresden when he pronounced Churchill to be: "ruthless, but humane."

Listen to Churchill's great battle cry: "We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...."

Weigh the rhetorical force of those words, and ask yourself whether Churchill should have concluded... "and, by the way, we shall never torture, because then the Nazis would win."

Obama's policies remind me more of Woodrow Wilson's than of Churchill's. His statements on torture and on America's new-found moral supremacy remind me of Wilson's famous statement: "There is such a thing as a nation being too proud to fight."

Like Obama Wilson wanted to lead by moral example. He explained, in a rhetorical and syntactical embarrassment: "The example of America must be a special example. The example of America must be the example not merely of peace because it will not fight, but of peace because peace is the healing and elevating influence of the world and strife is not. There is such a thing as a man being so right it does not need to convince others by force that it is right."

Wilson made this statement in early 1915, within months of the onset of World War I, after a German U-boat had sunk the Lusitania, murdering over a thousand people.

Led by former President Theodore Roosevelt, a large group of Americans was pushing Wilson to join the war on the side of the allies. In the lines quoted above Wilson explained why he decided to sit it out.

For reasons that will puzzle Jacob Weisberg peace did not instantly break out in Europe. Countries did not fall over themselves trying to follow the American example.

What followed Wilson's morally-inspired squeamishness was three years of unexampled carnage, followed by a pandemic that killed tens of millions more, followed by the rise of totalitarian dictatorships and another World War, this one costing the lives of tens of millions more.

Does Wilsonian high-mindedness make you feel any better about that.

As you know, Wilson did eventually intervene. Within a few months the war was over. Unfortunately, it was too late to stop the historical aftershocks. According to George Kennan World War I was the defining catastrophe of the twentieth century.

You may consider Woodrow Wilson a great beacon of moral clarity, a vizier of peace and justice, a representative of America's highest ideals. The blood-soaked fields of Flanders tell a different story.

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