Wednesday, August 8, 2007

a successful presidency

The inimitable, yet manly, Lance Mannion has a fine line in invective about Chairman George in an essay on how startlingly successful the Bush presidency has been. 'Success' here being defined not as ordinary mortals might, as being for the general good: rather in terms of the cowboy way, achieving everything his paltry independent individual heart longed for. Torture ? got it. A war, so he could feel good ? got that too. Tax cuts for his friends ? whee !
Read the whole thing, as they say.

I diverge into my own woods at this point. Raised in a police state, complicit in torture long before the age of reason, each day of my adult life was lived in a thin but constant fog of shame, guilt and fear. Although my membership in the oppressing class was wholly involuntary, it was worn on my skin, ineluctable. Among the complex of reasons for leaving S Africa, one of the more powerful motivations was knowing that my taxes went to support a government that tortured in my name. There was no way to vote the bums out, the courage of my convictions led straight to jail and I didn't have those. I thought it couldn't happen here. Again I'm waking up in the morning and wondering if what I can do is enough: again I have to find out how much courage I really can muster. How much do I owe myself and my family, and how much to common humanity ?

I worked in Chief of Staff Intelligence for several years during the late 80s, as a conscript and afterwards. It was known but never whispered what really went on at that farm up north of Pretoria (Tshwane, now). That didn't turn out well. In philosophy 101, we were told that knowledge is 'justified true belief'. The tortured may be telling truth, but until there is some justification there is no knowledge. It's well known that torture does not work - fine for revenge and sadism, but as an intelligence-gathering tool it is practically useless. Don't believe me, listen instead to one of the tortured from Stalin's Russia, Vladimir Bukovsky: "torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists.. if Vice President Cheney is right and that some 'cruel, inhumane or degrading' (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already."

I emigrated to the USA instead of any of the other countries I could have gone to, in part because it's still (thought he in his innocence) the only country in the world founded on a dream of decency and justice for all. Now I find the majority of my fellow citizens dream happily of torturing other human beings, and I can't account for it.

Edit December 07: Often I feel like an oversensitive old lady with the vapours, agonizing over things that a Real Man would scarcely notice. From a review of J.M. Coetzee's latest novel, in the New Yorker,
In Coetzee’s work, emotions like shame, guilt, and disgrace surge beyond rational discussion just as cruelty surges beyond bearable depiction. And here, in his latest novel, another novelist protagonist gives voice to a feeling of unbearable shame, this time at the Bush Administration’s connivance at torture:
"Their shamelessness is quite extraordinary. Their denials are less than half-hearted. . . . The issue for individual Americans becomes a moral one: how, in the face of this shame to which I am subjected, do I behave? How do I save my honour? "
Later, this protagonist asserts that if he heard that some American had committed suicide “rather than live in disgrace, I would fully understand.” He can understand because “the generation of white South Africans to which I belong, and the next generation, and perhaps the generation after that too, will go bowed under the shame of the crimes that were committed in their name.”
that's about right.

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