Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Torture as The One Ring

I ran across this interesting blog post over on Andrew Sullivan's site earlier this week, comparing the recent US policies regarding the torture of terrorism suspects to the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. Sullivan had this to say about it:
The point is not that between America and al Qaeda, there is any equivalence. It is that no country is good enough to trust itself with the evil of torture. And semantic denial is not renuniciation. That's why we have the rule of law. That is why those who treat it as an expedient will lose themselves before too long, whatever their initial motives. And they have, I fear. They have.
It really hit a nerve, so I sent out the link to my best friend, Dave, who had this to say (I think he summed it up even better for whatever that's worth):

Sherrian and I heard/read some blowhard talking about how the success of Lord of the Rings was proof that people had developed an appetite for Good vs. Evil, and tried to cast the "War on Terror" in the light of the War of the Ring. Sherrian and both looked at each other open-mouthed, and Sherrian said what we were both thinking: "Don't they get it? HE'S SAURON!"

The truth is, though, as that article points out, is that it's much worse than that, which is why so many of us watching get soul-sick, and finally just weary. We're not Sauron -- we're Isildur, we're Aragorn corrupted, we're Nazgul, we're Gollum. Bush, in the most sympathetic light imaginable, is Boromir or Denethor if they'd gotten the ring.

It's ridiculous that we frame so much of what we do as a battle of good and evil, when, given the opportunity to make the choice ourselves, we blow it.

Sometimes I think about the cheap seat I'm in. It's pretty easy for me to sit here and spout about how people ought to behave when they're doing the hard and dangerous work involved in actually identifying threats and removing them. But it's this argument, ultimately, that heads off most appeals to more moral behavior. Those who ask for patience rather than paranoia or vengeance are presented as being soft and used to safety, and so are rarely to be able to claim enough credibility to make the argument. And if they can, undermining that credibility becomes the A-1 priority of the opposition (see: swift boats). I'm surprised that we didn't hear something about McCain being a pushover for not liking torture just because he experienced some.

Heinlein saw the only way out of that as making every citizen a soldier. Tolkien had some faith that the comfortable could still be strong and moral when the time came. Not sure of the answer myself.
I'm not sure either, but I know that asking the question is better than just blindly trusting that what we're being told is the truth.

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