This issue of torture – of doing “whatever it takes to defend, serve and protect one’s homeland, is as controversial and “hot button” an issue in America today as it ever was. Whether you cite today’s biggest threats in al-Qaeda (al-Qaida/al-Qa’ida) and/or the Taliban, or go back a generation to the U.S.S.R. (no fair comparison other than to cite as national security concerns in their time), the passions and stakes are just as high. Whether you’re talking about preventing terrorist attacks or global thermo-nuclear war, the consequences for both are a matter of life and death.
Looking further past to Nazi Germany, and you have an even more complicated consideration as to what ends justify what means. What could have been done to save *SIX MILLION* innocent lives? Would having prevented this apocolyptic devastation, at the hands of a MAN! (albeit evil incarnate) at any cost been justified? It’s hard to argue not. Saving half that number, one could credibly assert, would surely have been worth it.
And then, it seems a completely valid moral consideration to ponder if saving merely ONE innocent Jew would have made any necessary means just. It is surely credible to maintain that the saving of one innocent (noncombatant) is worth the price of infinte soldiers, all of whom have blood on their hands.
Where to draw the line is a very fiery matter. Some look at it as an issue of absolutes – it is right or it is wrong. Other people who have thought about this have offered, more or less, that it is a moving target – it is relative. They rightfully declare that “war is hell” – and that the goal is to end it, cut your losses, accomplish your mission, and end the bloody thing as quickly and certainly as possible. Keep the collateral damage to a minimum, lose as little of your own resources in the process, and achieve your objective. But, what exactly is “collateral damage”? Surely, you can’t be reducing the value of a human life to such a cold and inhuman calculation!
If you’re of the former school of thought, there is little that can be said which would convincingly persuade most to abandon their own stance. It is either borne at the visceral level, and as such is immune to reason, or it comes from life’s experiences, which surely speak louder than any argument’s words.
But, if you find your position to veer toward a “well, it’s absolutely wrong to harm another human being, buuutt…then again, what if you’re trying to save another human being or beings from greater harm…? Hmmm” – then it gets pretty hairy. No – it has *gotten* so hairy! Is it worth preventing another 9/11 to put a person in harm’s way to get information – or even leverage? Is it enough to treat it as a somber and unpleasant “duty”, to be ceased as soon as the captive has given his captors what they demand?
And, how far is too far? Most tastes and values today, at least as far as this westerner is aware, would be hard pressed to find that, say, mutilating a captive’s limbs or eyes or genitals, et cetera is worth whatever information he may (or may NOT!) have. Such vivid examples don’t seem to pass the “yuck” test. They make most shudder and cringe.
What about holding someone captive in an area whose dimension neither allow him to stand, nor lay down stretched out – for hours or even days at a time. You’re not “torturing” him in that you’re causing no imminent harm and likely no permanent damage. Physically, anyway.
Does a soldier even “know the rules” before he signs up? Does he know military or nationalistic culture beyond America’s borders? Does he get exposed to the ideas that if captured, the Constitution – hell, the Geneva Conventions – would likely not be observed by those who hold his life in their hands. Surely, most 18 year old men (boys!), even if given such a rudimentary education, would puff out their chests and say something macho and patriotic. It matters little whether such posturing is done out of peer pressure or a desire for society’s approval, or whether it is an authentic pride in doing what he has affirmed is his duty to protect the people and country he loves.
If an AMERICAN soldier is unprepared, and my claim is that no human being, however strong and hardened and focused, no matter how dedicated, earnest and brave, is fit to endure treatment that, at best, barely acknowledges that he is a living creature.
In that light, I cannot find a place in my heart, or an argument around which I can wrap my mind, for which there is room to degrade the dignitiy and integrity of my fellow man. I don’t care if he gets misty-eyed over the red, white and blue, or whether he has sworn to die for a dictator who has promised him the eternal Kingdom for his sacrifice, no one – NO ONE is worth the suffering of that lone individual, or the permanent stain on the souls of his perpetrators and survivors.
For perspective, all one has to do is imagine an American soldier being water-boarded or walked around on a leash like a dog, or had his Bible or Quran or Torah or other sacred text defecated on or otherwise mutilated and utterly disrespected, to understand how very wrong and gut-wrenching and irrepairably damaging it is to disrespect humanity so coldly and cruelly.
As Americans, and as citizens of the world, we need to be diligent and *overzealous*, not in the measures we take in meeting the huge responsibility of preserving our national security, but in making sure we live up to the best of America’s potential. In protecting the safety and security of our country and we the people who make it what it is, we must never, EVER betray those ideals that make the land of the free and the home of the brave WORTH defending.
The best way for us to defend America today is to live up to the America envisioned and sacrificed for by every good citizen who has come before us. Nothing less than our very highest ideals and expectations, and the dogged pursuit of their achievement will do justice to the hope of those who came before us, and the promise and hope our country holds as strongly as ever.