Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I have to suppose that I have a blind spot about torture. Of course it's wrong. So is killing. Yet we kill. So not all killing is wrong. Which brings me back to torture. Which is wrong because it causes pain. But surgery causes pain. So it's not the pain. Torture is wrong because it demeans the victim's humanity. But killing him ends his humanity. So that's not it. Torture is damaging to the one inflicting it. But the one being tortured would end the world itself. So that's not it.

The problem is that we see it as black and white, when the world is so very gray. We want to guard our purity against the slide into evil by demarking some stopping point, beyond which we must not pass. But what of the evil that would proceed, after we halt ourselves? Would we save our own souls, at the cost of so many others? So unlike the apostle Paul? -- who would have given up his salvation, that the Jews be saved? What horror must we refrain from, and greater horror be allowed?

It's about squeamishness. We don't want to sully our hands. That's not a respectable position. We cannot profit from the very thing we condemn. We must make our peace with necessity. If I cannot stretch out a man across a table, expose his body in bare, nearly pornographic detail, his soft belly tight against the arch of his back, the blade of a knife whetted on the white and hair of his tendermost parts, then I am willing to let a hundred thousand children feel their own flesh peel from off their backs, duck-and-cover having proved an insufficient defense against the bright sunrise surprise of a moslem bomb. A false dilemma? Yes. So far.

We think of Torquemada and the zealous iniquity of bigotry and sexual sadism. We think of Room 101 and the eternal boot smashing always into one and every face, for the simple reason that it can. We think of our own nightmares and of the guilt we feel, and will, should our justice fail. We remember the classroom lesson that came before any other, be nice, and forget if we can the cruel dynamics of the playground, except that we ourselves must never be the bully. But we forget that there is no higher authority, among nation states. There are no adults to teach us right and enforce harmony.

If we want justice, we must make it. If we want peace, we must be strong. If we would stop evil, we must face it, not on its terms, not on ours, but according to what necessity requires. No necessary thing can be evil. The soft answer is that there is always a way out. The fact that sometimes that way is through rather than around -- even those who place their integrity above the lives of others must admit the truth in this. They must dismiss it, I suppose, another's life, as being less important than their own integrity.

Torture is a monstrous thing. This fact does not excuse the monstrous selfishness that refuses to torture because the thought of it, and its reality, is unpleasant.


No comments: