In Search of the Ultimate Oxymoron: Humane War

The renewed debate over enhanced interrogation techniques is just another episode in the hopelessly naive search for the ultimate oxymoron -- humane war.

"Shocks the conscience" is a key phrase in the CIA documents that the Obama administration released. Obama's motive for releasing the memos is fertile ground for speculation. (If it's part of his strategy to be a uniter, it isn't working.)

It's difficult not to assume it had something to do with politics beyond the stated motive of promoting transparency in government. The Federal Government is as inherently transparent as lead, except in cases of dramatic waste and incompetence.

It's equally hard to assume that all those who say the interrogations represent us "losing our moral bearings," as the President said we had, are suffering from shock to their consciences. Some inside the Beltway are just pretending to be shocked. Particularly those who were briefed at the time the CIA's efforts to gain information from high value detainees were underway. 

That means some are playing politics with a serious national security issue. Unfortunately, there isn't a litmus test we can administer to identify the hypocrites and subject them to the ridicule and distain they deserve. (I put several of the retired generals who are now commentators for the networks into this category, especially those who served in Vietnam. They've seen the ugliness of a war where waterboarding is dunking for apples on Halloween.) 

Some others, both inside and outside the Beltway, politicians and ordinary citizens alike, are unquestionably shocked to learn what the CIA did to 28 detainees, three of whom were repeatedly waterboarded.

These are the people suffering a genuine shock to their conscience. They also buy the notion that we lost our moral bearings by using rough treatment on terrorist detainees after 9/11. It makes Americans, some of them say, as bad as our enemies.

One wonders about their understanding and expectation of war? How much do they grasp, at least by imagination, about what it takes to defend a nation? What personal pain would they tolerate being inflicted on their families without doing whatever it took to defend those they love?

Do they really think that World War II in the Pacific was fought by Marquis of Queensbury rules of engagement, and that those large garrisons of Japanese troops that perished to a man defending small islands were all recipients of mortal wounds while the battles were still in doubt?  Or, that all the U.S. troops that died in Vietnam did so while still engaged in fighting?

The level of naïveté among an alarming number of American citizens concerning the nature of war reflects a deep ignorance about what nation-building and nation-defending requires.  Theirs is a fundamental ignorance concerning the suffering, the sacrifice, and the base inhumane nature of war. A nature that can't be sanitized.

Maybe it's the popularity of TV violence, or the gory video games, or softened sensitivities born of a comfortable, disinfected lifestyles heavy into threat mitigation. Where does this genuine shock to the conscience in response to this political opera called enhanced interrogation techniques come from anyway?  

The Obama administration is preparing to release photographs of the interrogated detainees. That guarantees to dial up the outrage of the shocked.

So let's take their shock into the red zone and give them the full Monty.

Let's show them the forensic photos of the 289 bodies found intact on 9/11. Let's display the 19,856 body parts found in the ruins. Let's ask the 3,051 children who lost a parent that day how goes the shock to their collective conscience, not to mention the 422,000 New Yorkers said to have suffered post-traumatic-stress disorder. And let's investigate how closure's going for the 1,717 families whose loved ones were vaporized and never recovered in whole or in parts? 

If the Obama administration means to shock the conscience, let's do it.

The National Archives surely houses boxes of classified photographs of U.S. and enemy casualties, military and civilian. The photos taken at the Battle of Tarawa during World War II were so gruesome they were withheld from the public. In 76 hours, over a 1,000 Marines died on an island the size of Central Park. Over 2,000 were wounded.

Why not satisfy the voyeuristic appetite for seeing the gruesome face of war and show us all the ugliness?  Hold nothing back.

If the President thinks we lost our moral bearings in our treatment of terrorist detainees, let's define the compass.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse."  John Stuart Mill
The renewed debate over enhanced interrogation techniques is just another episode in the hopelessly naive search for the ultimate oxymoron -- humane war.

"Shocks the conscience" is a key phrase in the CIA documents that the Obama administration released. Obama's motive for releasing the memos is fertile ground for speculation. (If it's part of his strategy to be a uniter, it isn't working.)

It's difficult not to assume it had something to do with politics beyond the stated motive of promoting transparency in government. The Federal Government is as inherently transparent as lead, except in cases of dramatic waste and incompetence.

It's equally hard to assume that all those who say the interrogations represent us "losing our moral bearings," as the President said we had, are suffering from shock to their consciences. Some inside the Beltway are just pretending to be shocked. Particularly those who were briefed at the time the CIA's efforts to gain information from high value detainees were underway. 

That means some are playing politics with a serious national security issue. Unfortunately, there isn't a litmus test we can administer to identify the hypocrites and subject them to the ridicule and distain they deserve. (I put several of the retired generals who are now commentators for the networks into this category, especially those who served in Vietnam. They've seen the ugliness of a war where waterboarding is dunking for apples on Halloween.) 

Some others, both inside and outside the Beltway, politicians and ordinary citizens alike, are unquestionably shocked to learn what the CIA did to 28 detainees, three of whom were repeatedly waterboarded.

These are the people suffering a genuine shock to their conscience. They also buy the notion that we lost our moral bearings by using rough treatment on terrorist detainees after 9/11. It makes Americans, some of them say, as bad as our enemies.

One wonders about their understanding and expectation of war? How much do they grasp, at least by imagination, about what it takes to defend a nation? What personal pain would they tolerate being inflicted on their families without doing whatever it took to defend those they love?

Do they really think that World War II in the Pacific was fought by Marquis of Queensbury rules of engagement, and that those large garrisons of Japanese troops that perished to a man defending small islands were all recipients of mortal wounds while the battles were still in doubt?  Or, that all the U.S. troops that died in Vietnam did so while still engaged in fighting?

The level of naïveté among an alarming number of American citizens concerning the nature of war reflects a deep ignorance about what nation-building and nation-defending requires.  Theirs is a fundamental ignorance concerning the suffering, the sacrifice, and the base inhumane nature of war. A nature that can't be sanitized.

Maybe it's the popularity of TV violence, or the gory video games, or softened sensitivities born of a comfortable, disinfected lifestyles heavy into threat mitigation. Where does this genuine shock to the conscience in response to this political opera called enhanced interrogation techniques come from anyway?  

The Obama administration is preparing to release photographs of the interrogated detainees. That guarantees to dial up the outrage of the shocked.

So let's take their shock into the red zone and give them the full Monty.

Let's show them the forensic photos of the 289 bodies found intact on 9/11. Let's display the 19,856 body parts found in the ruins. Let's ask the 3,051 children who lost a parent that day how goes the shock to their collective conscience, not to mention the 422,000 New Yorkers said to have suffered post-traumatic-stress disorder. And let's investigate how closure's going for the 1,717 families whose loved ones were vaporized and never recovered in whole or in parts? 

If the Obama administration means to shock the conscience, let's do it.

The National Archives surely houses boxes of classified photographs of U.S. and enemy casualties, military and civilian. The photos taken at the Battle of Tarawa during World War II were so gruesome they were withheld from the public. In 76 hours, over a 1,000 Marines died on an island the size of Central Park. Over 2,000 were wounded.

Why not satisfy the voyeuristic appetite for seeing the gruesome face of war and show us all the ugliness?  Hold nothing back.

If the President thinks we lost our moral bearings in our treatment of terrorist detainees, let's define the compass.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse."  John Stuart Mill