America: Too Afraid of the Truth

The most appalling thing to me about the release of the torture report is the fact that so many Americans — a majority, I have no doubt — who want to bury their heads in the sands. That’s why we see all that “America is awesome” bluster, because it covers up the uncomfortable truth of what the government did — does — in our name. David Simon nails this phenomenon:

That there are elements of the American government still arguing against this cold blast of truth, offering up the craven fear that the rest of the world might see us as we actually are, or that our enemies will perhaps use the evidence of our sadism to justify violent retribution or political maneuver — this further cowardice only adds to the national humiliation.

This is not one of the world’s great powers behaving as such, and it is certainly no force for good in the world. This might as well be the Spanish national amnesia following the death of Franco, or a post-war West Germany without the stomach for the necessary self-reflection. Shit, even the fragile, post-apartheid democracy of South Africa managed to openly conduct hearings and attempt some measure of apology and reconciliation in the wake of the previous regime’s brutalities. Not us. Not the United States. We’re too weak to endure any such moral reflection without the attempt itself descending into moronic partisan banter. That’s right. Here, in America, we are — today — actually torturing other human beings with exacting cruelty in secret and then arguing about whether we can dare discuss it in public.

He quite correctly argues that those who did this must go to jail, but that we are too cowardly to do that. “Who has the courage to begin? Is there a single American political leader? No. Not a one,” he says. He’s right. And how fucking pathetic is that? The home of the brave? Brave is the opposite of what we are. We are so terrified of even the smallest threat that we will gladly and immediately acquiesce in anything the government says they must do to protect us from it. And when we find out what they did and how morally bankrupt it is, we cower in fear at the thought of having it revealed. We are a nation of cowards.

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  • eric

    He quite correctly argues that those who did this must go to jail, but that we are too cowardly to do that. “Who has the courage to begin? Is there a single American political leader? No. Not a one,” he says. He’s right. And how fucking pathetic is that?

    Its not cowardy or pathetic so much as intensly self-serving. Our military and political leadership very very much wants a cadre of soldiers and CIA agents who will not question orders, no matter what they are. Who will not report illegal government activities and not question the legality of orders. The most obvious way to create such a cadre is by not punishing anyone for following orders, no matter how brutal or illegal those orders are. That sends the right message to the non-coms and agents: do what we tell you to do, without question, and we will have your back. Obama’s punishment of whistleblowers reinforces the message: disobey an order – even if its an illegal one – and we will punish you mercilessly. Combine these two responses and pretty much every enlisted person and CIA spook will get the message that the administration is trying to send.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, These verbal jackboots were made for walking

    It’s not because you’re afraid, it’s because you approve.

  • bmiller

    While I agree with eric, I would question also this statement: the uncomfortable truth of what the government did — does — in our name.

    This is mere window dressing/propoaganda. Who is this “we”? The government does this in the name of elite interests, not “American” or “the people’s” interest,

  • http://dharmaubuntu.wordpress.com/ Aspect Sign

    Funny but it seems like it’s the same people taking this tact, that will support things like stop and frisk with ” if you haven’t done anything wrong you have nothing to worry about”.

  • peggin

    Ibis3 @2

    It’s not because you’re afraid, it’s because you approve.

    I think it’s more that they approve *because* they are afraid. They are so piss-their-pants terrified at the thought of another terrorist attack that they approve of any tactic that might even conceivably reduce that risk. It’s like they think, “Sure, torture hasn’t produced any reliable information yet, but maybe there’s a 0.000000001% chance that someday it might, so we ought to keep doing it.”

    They are cowards completely lacking in anything resembling a moral compass. They don’t care if hundreds or even thousands of innocent people are hurt or killed, all they care about is their own worthless lives, so they approve of anything they think has even the smallest chance of keeping them safe.

  • dingojack

    How does it go? ‘Those that exchange liberty for a little security deserve neither’?

    Dingo

  • Michael Heath

    There’s a graph going around the ‘net that reveals differences in public support for certain torture tactics parsed by political affiliation. Link: http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/12/15/tortures-partisan-divide/.

    Besides far too many people advocating we torture, especially Republicans, I’m disheartened both parties consider sleep deprivation a relatively benign form of torture. 77% of Republicans support this tactic.

    I also disliked the failure by either the surveyors or the creators of this graph where they failed to combine torture tactics and query the public on that. For example, those who were deprived of sleep were also simultaneously held in stress positions, suffered from being wet and cold, exposed to relentless noise, or deprived of any sight or sound.

  • eric

    I think it’s more that they approve *because* they are afraid. They are so piss-their-pants terrified at the thought of another terrorist attack that they approve of any tactic that might even conceivably reduce that risk.

    See, I think that paints them in too nice a light. The world is full of authoritarian dickwads who want to be able to command people to do stuff and have their orders followed without question. Who will put a much higher value on underling loyalty to the organization than they will underling ethics or underling critical thought. Would it be that surprising if some of those people ended up in positions such as “CIA Director” and “military General,” not to mention “President”? Hell, our political parties are practically designed from the ground up to reward loyalty over any other consideration. And would it be that surprising if such people used the threat of terrorism to make their soldiers/agents more pliable, make their organizations more like tinpot autocracies? I don’t buy the “they’re doing it because they’re scared of terrorism,” because leaders valuing loyal followers over ethical followers is something we had way before terrorism and after islamic terrorism is nothing more than a historic trend, we will still have them.

    I have no need of the ‘because they’re afraid’ hypothesis. The government (non-)response to the torture allegations is perfectly adequately explained by saying the organizations involved value loyal behavior over ethical behavior, and they don’t mind everyone around them knowing that.

  • Goblinman

    I’ve been noticing a pattern lately, and I’m sure it’s nothing new, but it’s seemed really pronounced in the last few months. It goes like this: It’s revealed that someone (usually someone in a position of social authority) did something wrong. And not just a little wrong, but the kind of wrong where someone needs to be reprimanded or it’s going to reflect badly on all of us. Instead they get off free, and we get told, by their defenders in the public: “Not all men/Not all cops/America is awesome.”

    Yes, “Not all men,” so why defend the bad ones? “Not all cops,” so why not convict the ones who break the law? If America is awesome, shouldn’t we be fighting even harder to make sure it stays awesome?

    Men make it about all men when they say “not all men”. Cops make it about all cops when they say “not all cops”. America gets a little less awesome every time we bury the truth under “America is awesome”.

    I find myself thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a country where, when a cop murders an American citizen on camera, he gets sent to jail? When, as it turns out, members of our defense forces committed crimes against humanity, someone responsible is put on trial to answer for it? Even if fixing corruption in the system is too hard, abiding by our own laws seems like the least we could do.

    I used to believe that this country, for all its flaws, at least believed in rule of law. Such an idealist.

  • abb3w

    It seems that we’re too deeply divided.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, These verbal jackboots were made for walking

    I think it’s more that they approve *because* they are afraid.

    The view from here looks more like revenge (also sadism & dominance display) than fear.

  • dannorth

    “”I think it’s more that they approve *because* they are afraid. ”

    The view from here looks more like revenge (also sadism & dominance display) than fear.”

    According to the research reported in Dr Altemeyer’s The Autoritarians the personality described as low dominance right wing authoritarian is described as seeing the world as threatening and of feeling seething anger.

    So both perceptions would be true.

    (Scariest book I have read.)

  • John Horstman

    Someone in another thread linked me (well, not me specifically, any readers) to The Authoritarians, and it identifies the psychological threads that underlie such positions, as well as quite accurately predicting what would happen in this very case (well, not quite: it speculates about the reaction to an actual criminal indictment, but the situation is parallel; the book was written in 2006).

  • John Horstman

    And I see dannorth also referenced the book!