The odd claim of manliness by people who are continually ready to piddle all over themselves in fear of non-existent ticking time bomb scenarios and to urge the most panic-driven and draconian public policies on the basis of their hysterical fear is one of the more piquant charms of the pro-torture movement. Like the hilarious claim of hard-bitten “realism” (based on watching Bruce Willis films and “24”), it is a thing spun from whipped air, like cotton candy–only poisonous. The scenario is always the same: America faces nothing but a continual onslaught of Jack Bauer ticking time bombs. The people we are torturing are always people we know to be a fountain of information that will save millions of lives. Seconds count. So what else can we possible do but torture the bastard? And if we question the realism of this panic-driven fever dream, we want nothing more than to give the terrorist milk and cookies and send them back to their work of murdering innocents. Indeed, in the inverted moral universe of the torture enthusiast, the choice to do something worthy of the everlasting fires of hell is embraced with a prideful boast about one’s courage and the grave sinner strikes a pose of Miltonesque “courage” declaring, “let’s say that I lose my soul to save innocent lives. Then so be it.” In other words, “Better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven” as Milton’s Satan put it.
Let’s take this logic apart step by step.
At no point does the coward indulging these fantasies stop to ask how he reconciles his favorite claim of “Hey! It was just three high value targets!” with the fevered vision of a relentless horde of millions of ticking time bomb-weilding orcs. If we’ve only tortured three times (a lie, to be sure, but one which I’ll grant for the moment) then three guys is hardly a good basis for sweeping changes in public policy that overturn the settled view of all authorities secular and ecclesial for a hundred years, is it?
No, it’s not. Particularly because the torture is often (80% of the time at Abu Ghraib and many times at other sites) inflicted against people who, oopsie, turned out to be innocent. That’s why civilized societies don’t listen to cowards who shout in their panic that we should just fold the punishment phase into the evidence-gathering phase of fighting evil. This method, while it may appeal to people whose logic processes, under the lash of fear and cowardice, function like this:
…has generally been disregarded as unreliable by the civilized world. It results in too many innocent people getting tortured for things it turns out they are not guilty of, as for instance, happened to this guy and this guy (who, in addition to being tortured, was murdered). Really manly men don’t torture innocent people to death or make excuses for those who do. That’s the work of cowards.The coward, however, does not see this because he is blinded by his chicken-hearted fear which he congratulates himself is “courage” and “realism”. So instead of clearing his panic-filled mind and considering for a moment that his is not the first generation in history to face evil (a congenital vanity of Generation Narcissus), he simply ignores the fact that wars have been fought against really evil people like Nazis and Commies without our nation having to resort to torture policies to get the intel needed to fight them. Instead, he poses his panicky false alternative and concludes he has definitively proven that torture is morally acceptable.
Then comes the kicker. When you point out that he has not only the whole civilized world, but Holy Church against him, he falls back on a diabolical inversion of moral values which identifies grave sin with courage like Milton’s Satan:
This is the *real* heart of the matter. When all is said and done, the coward is saying, quite nakedly, that he will commit a sin for which God would be perfectly right to damn him to the everlasting fires of hell–and pridefully congratulating himself for it.
The strange confusion of immoral brutality with courage is one of the odd traits I have noticed when cowards attempt to deal with moral reasoning. You can see exactly the same thing in Himmler’s exhortations to the SS to be strong and resolute doing grave evil:
I also want to refer here very frankly to a very difficult matter. We can now very openly talk about this among ourselves, and yet we will never discuss this publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June 1934, to perform our duty as ordered and put comrades who had failed up against the wall and execute them, we also never spoke about it, nor will we ever speak about it. Let us thank God that we had within us enough self-evident fortitude never to discuss it among us, and we never talked about it. Every one of us was horrified, and yet every one clearly understood that we would do it next time, when the order is given and when it becomes necessary.
I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, to the extermination of the Jewish people. This is something that is easily said: ‘The Jewish people will be exterminated’, says every Party member, ‘this is very obvious, it is in our program — elimination of the Jews, extermination, a small matter.’ And then they turn up, the upstanding 80 million Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say the others are all swine, but this particular one is a splendid Jew. But none has observed it, endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when there are 500 or when there are 1,000. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person — with exceptions due to human weaknesses — has made us tough, and is a glorious chapter that has not and will not be spoken of.
The satanic moral inversion which boasts of a willingness to do damnable things as “courage” is one of the most evil things cowards embrace. It’s no better than if Judas Iscariot were to say he was proud of his bravery in his grave sin since “It is better for one man to die than that the whole nation should perish.”
Note to cowards: Brutal cowardice does not equal courage. Obedience to the Church does not equal pollyanna unrealism. Learn to live in reality and not in panicky fantasy–as those who fought Nazis and Commies without the cowardly embrace of torture did. And for God’s sake stop posing like Milton’s Satan.