Monthly Archives: March 2008

The warrior ethic: a response

“The Flight of Aeneas” (1595), by Peter Brueghel

I can’t remember if it was the late Col. David Hackworth or the late Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. (author of the influential retrospective on the Vietnam War, On Strategy) who made the telling point that any American general in World War II worth his stars would make it his business to know the names and backgrounds of all of the German generals opposing his forces, and that, by contrast, very few American generals in Vietnam knew even the names of the North Vietnamese Army generals opposing them, much less their backgrounds.

So I agree wholeheartedly with Jeet Heer’s contention over on sans everything that as a matter of military strategy, demonizing the enemy is dumb. In that regard, the Greek warrior ethic is indeed of significant utility, as was the chivalric code of medieval Europe which assumed that one’s opponents were fellow Christian combatants who should therefore be taken seriously on the field of battle (and of course whose personal identities and histories would be well known to both sides).

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Stop.

Section cover, Washington Monthly (Jan/Feb/Mar 2008)

The title sums it up, and in the world we once thought we lived in, nothing more would need to be said. But such is not our world any longer, and a great deal needs to be said, as often as possible. In this cause, the Washington Monthly has performed a great service by devoting a 26-page section (pdf version here) of its latest issue to a simple proposition: that the use of torture by the United States must stop. Its contributors include former congressman Bob Barr, former NSC advisor Rand Beers, terrorism expert Peter Bergen, former president Jimmy Carter, Marine Corps Brig. General (ret.) Steve Cheney, National Association of Evangelicals VP Richard Cizik, former supreme commander of NATO General Wesley Clark, senators Chris Dodd, Carl Levin, Dick Lugar, and Chuck Hagel, former U.S. Navy judge advocate general John Hutson, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former presidential special counsel Ted Sorensen. From the introduction:

In the wake of September 11, the United States became a nation that practiced torture. Astonishingly-despite the repudiation of torture by experts and the revelations of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib-we remain one. As we go to press, President George W. Bush stands poised to veto a measure that would end all use of torture by the United States. His move, we suspect, will provoke only limited outcry. What once was shocking is now ordinary.

On paper, the list of practices declared legal by the Department of Justice for use on detainees in Guantanamo Bay and other locations has a somewhat bloodless quality-sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced standing, sensory deprivation, nudity, extremes of heat or cold. But such bland terms mask great suffering. Sleep deprivation eventually leads to hallucinations and psychosis. (Menachem Begin, former prime minister of Israel, experienced sleep deprivation at the hands of the KGB and would later assert that “anyone who has experienced this desire [to sleep] knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”) Stress positions entail ordeals such as being shackled by the wrists, suspended from the ceiling, with arms spread out and feet barely touching the ground. Forced standing, a technique often used in North Korean prisons, involves remaining erect and completely still, producing an excruciating combination of physical and psychological pain, as ankles swell, blisters erupt on the skin, and, in time, kidneys break down. Sensory deprivation-being deprived of sight, sound, and touch-can produce psychotic symptoms in as little as twenty-four hours. The agony of severe and prolonged exposure to temperature extremes and the humiliation of forced nudity speak for themselves.

And yes, President George Bush did veto the measure, as predicted.

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