War and Torture

Frank Rich’s NY Times opinion piece, “The Coup at Home,” notes that the support of powerful Democrats means that a man who refuses to label waterboarding as torture will be confirmed as the US’s attorney general.

What is waterboarding?  There are a number of different accounts, but they all confirm that it is a risky and potentially life threatening procedure designed to induce in its victims the belief that they will drown.  And that surely sounds like torture. So the Democratically controlled Senate is about to confirm someone who refuses to label war crimes properly.

Rich notes that

Last weekend a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that the Democratic-controlled Congress and Mr. Bush are both roundly despised throughout the land, and that only 24 percent of Americans believe their country is on the right track. That’s almost as low as the United States’ rock-bottom approval ratings in the latest Pew surveys of Pakistan (15 percent) and Turkey (9 percent).

But somewhat inconsistently he maintains

To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal.

Despise but regard as a new normal? Perhaps the tension between public opposition and public acceptance is resolved in his remark:

We are a people in clinical depression. Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon.

Putting aside for a moment questions about whether American ideals ever set us apart from the rest of the world, we should wonder what has happened to the public outrage that would make the despised behavior at least less easy.  We might be caught now in a depressed fog, but that is not a good  account of how we got here.  So one can worry, Were we all just too busy?

3 thoughts on “War and Torture

  1. PS

    I was thinking of putting in a bit about why this is a feminist topic, and I decided not to. Comments on the issues of what is a feminist topic and whether this one is are very welcome.

  2. There are two senses of ‘internalise x as normal’. 1: know that x happens a lot, not be very surprised by x. 2: take x to be acceptable. 1’s perfectly consisting with despising x. It’s certainly what I do when contemplating this stuff now. (Haven’t had time to read the article yet.)

  3. Jender,

    I agree and you’ve put the point much better than I did in the (I now see) wrong “somewhat inconsistently.” That is, there isn’t a straight forward formal inconsistency. However, I suspect there’s an empirical inconsistency, or can be. Once we start to take something as normal, we may well be less outraged and disgusted by it. And the consequence, I fear, is that while people will answer pollsters with negative opinions, they won’t be energized to get out and vote.

    So in a sense people despise the president and the congress, but in a sense they’re withdrawing from the scene.

    Of course, I’ve made some empirical claims which are not a lot more than guesses, and I’d be very glad to be wrong.

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