"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Posts tagged ‘torture’

Chesterton on Torture

An excerpt from his classic essay, On Ending and Mending Things:

A certain politician (whom I would not discuss here on any account) once said of a certain institution (which wild horses shall not induce me to name) that “It must be mended or ended.” Few people who use this useful phrase about reform notice the important thing about it. The important thing about it is that the two methods described here are not similar but opposite; between mending and ending that is not a difference of degree but of vital antagonism of kind. Mending is based upon the idea that the original nature of a thing is good; ending is based upon the idea that the original nature of a thing is bad or at least, has lost all power of being good.

If I “mend” an armchair it is because I want an armchair. I mend the armchair because I wish to restore it to a state of more complete armchairishness. My objection to the armchair in its unmended state is that its defects prevent it from being in the fullest sense an armchair at all. If (let us say) the back has come off and three of the legs have disappeared, I realize, in looking at it, not merely that it presents a sense of general irregularity to the eye; I realize that in such and such respects it does definitely fall short of the Divine and Archetypal Armchair, which, as Plato would have pointed out, exists in heaven.

But it is possible that I might possess among my drawing room furniture some object, let us say a rack or a thumbscrew, of which the nature and raison d’être was repellent to my moral feelings. If my thumbscrew fell into slight disrepair, I should not mend it at all; because the more I mended my thumbscrew the more thumbscrewy it would be. If my private rack were out of order, I should be in no way disturbed; for my private code of ethics prevents me from racking anyone, and the more it was out of order the less likely it would be that any casual passer-by could get racked on it.

This was a man with clear moral principles.  When he needed an example of something that was obviously evil, and that everyone would agree was evil, he chose torture devices.

Torture once again

A great deal has been written about the torture report by people much better and smarter than myself.  I feel that I have very little to add.  Torture is always wrong, has always been wrong, and will always be wrong.  All decent people accept these facts.  How could the United States go so wrong?  Whatever happened to our moral principles?

That’s the sort of question that needs to get asked at a time like this.  Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t do very well at asking questions at the moment.  Of course you can pick up any newspaper and read some doofus blathering about the need for “a national conversation” on something or other, or making an urgent demand for “soul searching”.  All of which means nothing.  Let me take the opportunity to recommend this article: National Conversations Are Worthless:


Luckily there is a little bit of good news from Daniel Larison here:


Fighting back against the claim that an large and growing majority of Americans are okay with torture, he notes that 81% oppose electric shock, at least 58% percent oppose waterboarding, and at least 84% oppose sexual humiliation.  It’s easier for a moral weakling to support ‘torture’ in the abstract than to actually approve of specific, horrible actions against our fellow human beings.  For those of us who hold the morally right position on this issue, we need to remember this and use it wisely whenever we’re having any sort of discussion of the matter.

The Torture Report: What hath Dubya wrought?

It’s advent, the most wonderful time of the year.  The boughs of holly are out.  The lights are up.  The news is all about murder by police officers, false rape accusations, and torture.

It’s not a terribly jolly way to start the holiday season.

But no decent person can ignore the torture report.  Here is a good summary of the horrors that were revealed.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

The eight amendment of our Constitution bans “cruel and unusual punishments”.  Throughout American history, we have refrained from using torture because we’re better than that.  Even during World War II, when the very existence of the free world was threatened by fascism, we did not torture.  Nor during the Civil War, World war I, or the Korean War, or any other conflict.  Torture was morally wrong and we knew it.

But then came George W. Bush, and we started down the road to hell.  He has a lot to answer for.  So does everyone else who participated in this in any way.

President Obama has done many things wrong, but at least he stopped all use of torture.  That, however, does not protect the USA against the shame and disgrace that this brings.

Sadly, the standard response from Republicans seems to be unrepentant.  Last night I was at the gym, and had the misfortune to spend thirty minutes on a treadmill with Bill O’Reilly’s face right in front of me.  O’Reilly’s argument to me seems to be: we didn’t torture anyone, and it was right for us to torture people.  Of course he was full of euphemisms: we have “detainees” rather than prisoners, we use “enhanced interrogation techniques” rather than torture.  And of course he couldn’t point out a single statement in the report that wasn’t true.  There you go.  That’s the Republican position.

Having left the Democratic Party and become more conservative, I find myself sympathetic to Republican positions on many issues.  But until the Republican leadership takes a clear stance against torture, there’s no chance that I’ll vote for them.

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