The Voyage of Captain Obvious

Grading is satanic

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On Understanding and Hate

"and I looked up to see my enemies, and I saw you all looking back at us instead"

-Dar Williams "The Great Unknown"

Note: most of the below relates primarily to those who have actually committed acts of torture. There are clearly a very large instance of cases where what I'm talking about doesn't apply, particularly relating to non-Vietnam conflicts before this one.

Mi querida and I had an interesting talk this afternoon at dinner. She just finished her job for the regular year (she works for an afterschool program), and we were out celebrating this, and we got talking. In particular, the Abu Gharib/Guantanamo incidents came up. We never really talked to each other about the topic before, but interestingly, we had very similar questions about it.

In particular, we thought the implications for the higher-ups were not the most interesting angle. They were clearly operating with fucked up priorities, and in a world where the United States' prime investigating body was not controlled by major jerk and commander corrupt, the assholes behind the torture should and would be punished and stripped of their jobs. But our questions ran a little deeper than that.

In essence, we both really wondered, what causes otherwise normal people to turn into the kind of monsters that would even fucking think of tying people to a ceiling and beating them periodically over several days until they died (link via Body and Soul). There is no reason to believe that the soldiers involved are inherently evil, or at least no reason to believe that they were evil before they arrived in Afghanistan, and yet, here we are, with these horrific tales, often perpetrated against those who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (read the link before complaining to me about that last sentence). So, what turns people away from compassionate beings into these feral monsters?

My lover is keen to point to the 'animal nature' of human beings, that this instinct to violence is something innate in us, that we suppress through society, but which might surface at any instant. Torture is just an example of this violent nature in humans coming to the fore. There may be some truth to this, but I don't think that it is the whole truth--we pick very specific groups of people to direct this violence against, and it's always some group of people that are supposedly threatening our way of life. My idea is hardly novel, but the root of everything seems to be that there is an 'us' struggling to maintain their 'way of life' against some encroaching 'them'. So, the soldiers that went to Afghanistan were trained by the military to think of the US as an us threatened by an Islamic 'them' (hopefully there is some nuance there, but nuance is always lost on some, and in an instance with consequences this severe, matters should not be left to nuance). So, it isn't important if the particular individual is rounded up for a particular reason, and it isn't important that the person be treated well and respected--the person is not a human being, per se, he is one of them, and therefore, not deserving of the treatment one of us would deserve. I think Abu Gharib can be explained similarly, particularly due to the stories of soldiers believing that the war in Iraq is payback for the September 11 attacks, which everyone knows is total nonsense.

So, what to do? I don't know, but I think part of the problem is that the military really isn't built for nation building or for occupation. The Bush administration does not understand that bullshit like this is the reason why our occupation will never work--you cannot win the people's trust whilst killing and torturing them. And the needless killing and the torturing will stop once we start emphasising that everyone is people, and everyone is deserving of respect. What would this nation-building military look like? I don't really know. Maybe something like our current one, plus a shitload of more oversight is all that we need. Regardless, this needs to be taken more seriously, and when imposing your will onto others, even if for the best, sensibility is the very most crucial thing to have. And it's something that the United States federal government currently lacks.


  • At 26 May, 2005 09:23, Blogger Sleeps with Butterflies said…

    I liked your entry a lot, my boyfriend. It was very insightful and intelligently written. We have already spoken about my disagreement about how tortue tends to surface when its "people threatening our way of life" i.e. violence against children, and also, animals. What makes human beings feel uncompassionate towards other living things? Probably because we see them as being "less" than us. I think the same applies here. As a species, we can think we're "better" than other species; as a culture, we can think we're "better" than other cutulres; and even as an individual, we can think we're "better" than other individuals. I think it all stems back to humans inate instincts AND our natural superiority complex. What each culture needs is an ingrained way of reminding everyone that just because we *think* we're better than someone, doesn't mean we are. Proof and truth need to factor in somewhere (i.e. self-defense cases). This will be the hardest lesson for us to learn because like I said, it's probably deep inside our subconscious.

  • At 26 May, 2005 09:36, Blogger Valatan said…

    I think those exceptions strengthen my point, however--people feel free to do whatever the hell they want to the other, whether it is an Afghani, cow or child. Once someone has made the us/them distinction, then free reign to madness seems to begin.


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