03-26-2008

Phil Hersh writes about the problems facing China today, with their attempt to make the world forget some of the more unsavory parts by hosting the Olympics, and pretending the air is clean, and Tibet is not repressed, and factories aren’t filled with little kids working 13 hour days earning 20 cents an hour making clothes for rich Americans.

This was a great column, right up until this half-baked, tossed-off idea: “A U.S. boycott would seem holier-than-thou anyway, given our treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghirab and issues over domestic civil rights raised since 9/11.”

Yeah, because American imprisonment of terrorists who blow up little kids when they run for candy is EXACTLY like the Chinese brutal repression of the people of Tibet for 57 years.

And American “torture” against these same unlawful combatants — who are not entitled to any benefits of the Geneva Convention, since they don’t wear uniforms and don’t fight under a sovereign flag — such as turning up the A/C and blaring crappy pop songs at top volume, is EXACTLY like imprisoning innocent citizens and opening fire on crowds of unarmed people.

And waterboarding! Oh, the horror! Of course, we do the same thing to Navy SEALs in BUD/S training. So follow the logic here: it’s much too terrible for terrorist scumbags, but not so terrible that we can’t use public monies to subject Americans — who volunteer to protect us — to it. Got it.

And how about those domestic civil rights issues? The Bush Administration wants to allow electronic eavesdropping on people talking to known terror suspects in foreign countries. Exactly like Tiananmen Square!

It’s uncanny how similar these things are!

It’s considered trendy and chic, now, to treat the U.S. as just as evil as all the other evil that exists in the world. Wrong, but trendy and chic, nonetheless. Somehow, in places like Hollywood and the halls of academia, and the news trade, and in government bureaucracies, where postmodernism and other naive ideals reign, the very idea that evil still exists in the world is rejected as a relic of the anicent past. Perhaps they don’t read enough.

Then there are other people who also express this view, but not because it is trendy or chic. They think it is a fact. They believe it. All the way down to their shoes.

Let’s review some facts about treatment of prisoners.

First of all, it’s Abu Ghraib, not Ghirab. And the abuse that occurred there was an outlier, not an approved policy, and was caused primarly by weak leadership putting under-qualified MPs in charge. And I don’t recall anybody having their head sawed off, do you? Quite a contrast with, say, the executon of Nick Berg? Or the many other victims of beheading caught on tape? Since we’re comparing American atrocities to the rest of the world here, right?

I personally can’t bear to watch any of these videos, but sometimes I wonder if I should anyway, as a way to bear up and confront the evil that exists in the world in the most graphic, mind-searing way possible. Such an image would be burned forever in my head, I know it, and this is what both grabs me and scares me; I don’t deal well with visuals. So far I’ve stayed away from watching them. But whether we watch them or not, we know they are out there, and those that like to compare conduct towards prisoners can’t just ignore that fact.

As for Guantanamo, let’s talk about the “treatment” they were subjected to. Many of the unlawful combatants housed there gained weight, probably from eating too many of their Islam-friendly meals.

Prisoners gaining weight … ? Stop right there. When, in the history of the world, has that ever happened?

Plus, all prisoners were provided with prayer rugs and Korans, and were permitted to pray 5 times a day, as their religion requires. A grand total of three of these prisioners were subjected to waterboarding. One of them was Khalid Sheik Muhammad, who organized the 9/11 attacks. He broke in 30 seconds Am I supposed to be concerned with his comfort level, now?

Here’s a truth: we could have legally shot all of them in the field of battle and left their bodies to rot. Enemy combatants who don’t wear military uniforms, don’t fight under a sovereign flag, and don’t have central leadership are entitled to precisely zero protections under established laws of war. And the Geneva Convention, from the reading I’ve done on it.

In fact, to extend protections to these terrorists that they aren’t entitled to, by any reasonable definition, is an insult to everybody that has ever fought in war, and tried to follow the general rules.

If you want to see what torture looks like, read a book such as Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides, detailing the horrific conditions that Japan — as a matter of policy — inflicted on captured American forces during the Bataan Death March, and after that at Camp O’Donnell in the Phillippines.

The captives walked from the south of Bataan to Camp O’Donnell, their hike punctuated by wilfull slaughter of their companions by Japanese army guards. They were shot, stabbed, beheaded, beaten to death. In the camps to which the remnant were sent, they were starved and beaten and killed for over three years. Cabanatuan, the largest of the POW pens, at one time housed as many as 8,000 POWs. Their Japanese overlords gave new meaning to the word “cruelty.”

These Americans suffered from dengue fever, amoebic dysentery, bacillary dysentery, tertian malaria, cerebral malaria, typhus, typhoid-and yet their captors refused them medicine, and the POWs died by the tens, the hundreds, the thousands.

At Palawan Camp just above Puerto Princessa Bay, a satellite of Cabanatuan, for example, on 14 December 1944, the Japanese guards ordered 150 POWs into a slit trench and then doused them with high octane aviation fuel and used bamboo torches to set them on fire. Those who were able to crawl from the trench were systematically hosed by machine guns or rifle fire. Only eleven managed to escape to tell of this unwarranted savagery.

Let’s just assume it isn’t really necessary to review all the ways that the above is in a completely different moral universe than either Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.

This is an extreme example, yes, but there were plenty of other examples, just in that war. And the extremity of it is kind of the point; you need a starting point for these discussions, or they evolve into … whatever we have today. No frame of reference, with a corresponding lack of relevance. Lots of people opining about things they really don’t understand in any kind of historical context, and getting swept up in political posturing.

People who write for a living have a duty and an obligation to be informed. They are opinion-makers. As such, if they feel compelled to mention comparisons about “human rights” — a concept which doesn’t exist in any meaningful way in much of the world, by the way — they should be a little bit more grounded in history, so as to avoid making easily disproved comparions. And I’m not even an expert in military history; I’ve just begun to scratch the surface on that. And I know how to use a search engine. This is how new doors open … to those who are willing to look.

But maybe a sports writer like Phil Hersh — and I’m not trying to pick on Phil here, more like, I’m trying to pick apart the attitude that he and so many others exhibit — maybe a sports writer doesn’t spend much time reading about torture and really isn’t all that up on it, and is just sort of tossing out one-liners that feel right, based on what they’re heard and read. Maybe he’s showing us how trendy and chic he is.

Well, sorry, but that is no excuse, either. People lose their lives defending our right to speak freely. I think we owe them a little bit more than to toss out uninformed casual one-liners that denigrate our society, our culture, the very society and culture for which those brave men and women fight. And die.

I’d imagine it’s pretty insulting to the troops, quite frankly, to hide behind “trendy, chic, and under-informed” just to fit in with a herd mentality that demands, on the one hand, to be pampered, free, and safe, and yet on the other hand, is highly negative and critical about everything our country does in order to ensure that. Curious.

Words matter. Ideas matter. Truth matters. And these things matter even more to us, because we’ve fought so many wars and lost so many of our finest young people over these ideas. Military cemeteries half a world away are filled with the remains of young Americans who gave up their futures, in the cause of freedom for citizens of other countries, so we can say what we like.

But that freedom doesn’t buy immunity from being wrong.

If everybody walks around spewing complete bullshit — just because it makes them feel less guilty about the built-in advantages they’ve enjoyed, just like any child born into this country, or less guilty about the hedonistic, materialistic, consumerist, obscenely rich lifestyles we seem to love so much, or to show off how little they know about history and the long run that evil has enjoyed in much of the world — then that changes the discussion for the worse, by putting untruths and half-truths in with real truth, until it’s a big stew of God-knows-what-all.

I know what it isn’t: useful.

And I have to confess, I’m growing really, REALLY weary of this conceit, this constant barrage of snark and moral equivalence about treatment of prisoners. Did you catch the latest Hollywood chic, at the Academy Awards, wearing the little orange ribbons to show solidarity with terrorist thugs at Guantanamo? Even though many of those same prisoners despise the West, and especially the decadence of Hollywood; it’s tempting to ask if these brave Hollywood truth-seekers have heard about the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh, but of course they have: that is the whole point. Van Gogh had the guts to make a movie criticizing Islam and was killed in the street. Hollywood, though, has allied itself with terrorists, both with the ridiculous orange ribbons, and the even more ridiculous stream of anti-American movies over the last few years, pushing the fiction that America is what is wrong with the world; presumably, this was in order to protect themselves. So, if you’re keeping score at home, put Hollywood on the Visitors team. Good to know.

The facts show that throughout history, prisoners have been tortured with impunity — for sport, in fact — and then killed. And it still goes on today, nearly everywhere except the prisons run by the Western world. To me, at least, it’s a clear result of a world run mostly by ruthless power-mongers, who know they face no consequences for doing such horrific things to defenseless people — because they don’t live in America. See Pol Pot, Camboida, 1975-1980. See Nanking, China, 1933. See Rwanda, 1994. I’ll stop here; the list is pretty long.

Some like to put George w. Bush on that list. They are essentially criticizing a president during wartime for being insufficiently sweet on enemy combatants who deserve many fates, none of them good.

This is curious. What that tells me is that those people are lacking a sense of moral perspective. To them, such “dissent” is the highest form of patriotism. This is not a patriotism I can identify with.

I’d think it is pretty easy to prove that Bush doesn’t belong on such a list, since we prosecuted the MPs at Abu Ghraib, and since we don’t kill our prisoners, even though there were terrorists who expressly plot to kill others. If anybody deserves to get tortured, these human wastes of oxygen do. Contrast that with Americans and other Westerners and Christians captured by Isalmist thugs who sawed their heads off on tape.

What kind of person ignores that atrocity, yet calls the United States on the carpet for turning up the AC and sleep deprivation? What kind of moral universe is that?

What is this apparent need, unique to Western “intellectuals”, to obsess over every supposed infraction of the U.S.A., while excusing barbarity on the part of others?

Such people imagine themselves to be our moral voice; instead, I find them to be morally vague, politically motivated, and woefully under-informed.

The United States of America invented the ideas of God-given rights of man and limits on government specifically to prevent abuses against freedom.

But it would be imprudent to extend those freedoms and rights to sworn enemies who want to kill us. This is what used to be known as “common sense”. I wonder what happened to that.

I’m no expert on Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. But I’ve seen enough of the actual court testimony, the evidence, the pictures, etc., to know that the popular perception about it is wrong. Which means the moral outrage, driven by the popular perception, is wrong too.

Or, to put a finer point on it, I’d take these arguments more seriously if some of these “liberal” types — who, ironically seem to value freedom only for themselves, and only when it comes at zero cost — exercised any moral outrage at all over beheadings of Americans and other Westerners and Christians by Islamist terrorists. But none of them ever say anything about those murders.

In our modern life, that is your baseline, from which all moral outrage discussions should start.

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