Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Good Americans and the meaning of silence - Frank Rich

Emily tells me Frank Rich is not reading Gordon's Notes. After all, I wrote "Torture and the end of the American Exception" only 10 days ago, and Rich was probably working on today's column before that.

Actually, I really don't think he's reading GN. It's simply synchronicity; the meme is in play. It's past time to stop blaming only Cheney and Bush, though they deserve historic shame (Thank you Mr. Carter).

The truth is, America's worst enemy is not Dick Cheney, Iran, what's left of al Qaeda, or Islamic fundamentalism -- it's the our own worst selves. We've failed the American Idea.

Here's Frank Rich. Emphases mine. The "Good Germans", it's important to know, were those who looked away, who chose to remain silent even before it was dangerous to speak.
The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us - New York Times - Frank Rich Oct 14, 2007

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung”, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”...

... We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq — and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin...

.. the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.

Instead of taxing us for Iraq, the White House bought us off with tax cuts. Instead of mobilizing the needed troops, it kept a draft off the table by quietly purchasing its auxiliary army of contractors to finesse the overstretched military’s holes. With the war’s entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq...

... Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.
Verschärfte Vernehmung is pronounced something like "VERR-SHAREFF-TA VARE-NA-MOONG. With practice it rolls off the tongue.

There's a rule of thumb in net culture that any reference to Naziism indicates poor thinking. It's not a bad heuristic, but it has its limits. The unique feature of Naziism was not its brutality, its cruelty, its racism, its rhetoric, or its genocides -- those are common in human history. The unique feature of Naziism was that it emerged in a democratic society with a free press and universal literacy.

Germany of the 1930s was an incredibly stressed society. Modern America is taking the Verschärfte Vernehmung road amidst unprecedented wealth, freedom, and communication. We're fat (really fat) and happy -- yet we've become "Good Americans" anyway.

I think the religious right should be very careful about asking God for justice. Mercy might be wiser.

No comments: