Bush and the Amoral Majority
There have been 2 articles in recent days that have given words to ideas that have been churning around in my brain for some time. In some sense they're nothing new, but I think the articles help tie some pieces together, at least for me.
Lets start with the article by William Pfaff: Shock, awe and the human body. First he traces the well known path that the US took to torture and its official sanction by the government. He then asks a simple question: since almost everyone agrees that torture is of limited utility in obtaining quality intelligence, why did this administration go to such lengths to purposefully go against the rule of law while ignoring international treaties and engendering international disdain. Mr Pfaff hypothesizes that torture was not performed for its utility as an intelligence gathering device but for its symbolism.
It originally was intended to be a form of what later, in the attack on Iraq, came to be called "shock and awe." It was meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies. We are indifferent to world opinion. We will stop at nothing.
He then goes on to compare this with the battle at Fallujah. Everyone knew the attack was coming and little was done to prevent the insurgents from leaving the city. The US then virtually destroyed the city killing anyone who was left that came intotheir sights. Mr. Pfaff argues that although this operation was very destructive it was in essence a symbolic operation since most insurgents had long left the city.
Its real purpose was exemplary destruction: to deliver a message to all of Iraq that this is what the United States can do to you if you continue the resistance. It was collective punishment of the city's occupants for having tolerated terrorist operations based there.
Mr Pfaff concludes:
Destroying cities and torturing prisoners are things you do when you are losing the real war, the war your enemies are fighting. They are signals of moral bankruptcy. They destroy the confidence and respect of your friends, and reinforce the credibility of the enemy
I would argue with the first part of this sentence in the sense that I believe that these techniques were being used long before anyone had a sense that we were losing or becoming bogged down. Mr. Pfaff is correct in that using these techniques for fighting this insurgency is a losing strategy. I agree strongly that they are a sign of moral bankruptcy.
The second article, God, Bush, and Functional Atheism by William L. Anderson speaks directly to this latter point. Mr. Anderson, a member of a conservative Presbyterian church, has labeled the Bush administration "functional athesists".
What I mean by "functional atheism" is this: the U.S. Government is a utilitarian enterprise which operates by the simple rule of force (as opposed to a rule of law). The concepts of "right" and "wrong" are limited to what is useful for increasing or protecting the rule of the state, period. The participants in the system do not deviate from those standards, whether or not they meet the requirements of what Christians of the past would have termed "just."
But Mr. Anderson carries this idea beyond the torture incidents in Iraq.
In the past week, new revelations of vast abuses of U.S. prisoners being held in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have appeared in the news. Yet, many of the same people who condemn these atrocities are quite willing to see government officials engage in the same behavior toward Americans. While abuse, torture, and outright lying and criminal behavior by participants in the "justice system" are common, the public gives a collective yawn and juries continue to swallow the lies that prosecutors feed to them.
Mr. Anderson then relates the aggressive tactics of Janet Reno in Florida in pursuing child molestation cases.
The first involved the accusation (almost surely false) of massive child molestation against two owners of a Florida daycare center in 1984. The chief accuser was then-Dade County State’s Attorney Janet Reno (yes, that Janet Reno) who was in the middle of a tough re-election campaign and was determined to get a guilty verdict.
Reno was able to have then-18-year-old Ileana Furster, Frank Furster’s wife, held without bond. Furthermore, the young woman was placed nude in a solitary confinement cell, being in full view of male and female guards. In 1998, Ileana described some of her treatment:
They would give me cold showers. Two people would hold me, run me under cold water, then throw me back in the cell naked with nothing, just a bare floor. And I used to be cold, real cold. I would have my periods and they would wash me and throw me back into the cell.
Keep in mind that this case, as well as the infamous Grant Snowden case, in which Reno falsely accused a Miami police officer of massive child molestation won her fame and adulation from among the Democratic Party faithful. (Snowden received a life sentence, but the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction after it said that the evidence Reno presented amounted to fiction and her tactics were based on torture and abuse.) In fact, Reno was so feted by the party that Hillary Clinton successfully pushed her to be U.S. Attorney General in 1993, saying that Reno was "good on children’s issues."
Conservative Christians are forever applauding people like Bush and Ashcroft because they believe that the presence of such conservative Christians gives "legitimacy" to their own religious beliefs. Yet, Bush and his minions have not governed like Christians, but far from it, as the record clearly demonstrates. From the demolition of Falluja to the imprisonment of Martha Stewart and the Lackawanna Six, the Bush Administration has governed with a cynicism that has been hard to match.
The actions of Bush, Ashcroft, and others in this government are made by people who apparently do not fear God. While they may claim to be Christians – and are near-worshipped by many in the evangelical and fundamentalist community – they govern as though they were atheists.
So whether its in Afghanistan or Iraq, or in Florida or Texas, or whereever, the Bush administration and other local, state, and federal officials use fear and intimidation to enforce their policies all the while invoking a moral Christian authority that they themselves clearly do not believe in and in reality do not practice. Leo Strauss is smiling.
But where are we as a country? How many express outrage at the torture of Iraqis? How many express outrage at the conditions within our own prisions here at home? How many people profess to be Christians while at the same time remaining silent or even approve of the administration's actions which render the meaning of law and morality mute? How long have we been like this? Is this a recent phenomenon that somehow can be "exorcised" from our collective psyche? Or is it something more fundamental in our belief system, in our view of society in general, that festers usually below the surface but which becomes all too plain given the "right" set of circumstances and leaders? Are they periodic manifestations of American Exceptionalism? Or have we allowed ourselves as a nation to become brain washed by those in power succumbing to their fear mongering and blatant manipulation? Was the idealism in the '60s and 'early '70s the aberration or is now? So many questions, for me so few answers.
When I look out on this amoral landscape, I see few if any true leaders on either side who will advance a view of fairness and an adherence not only to the law, both domestic and international, but to justice. We have to start by demanding this of our leaders and continuing to speak out against this abyss we have slid into. It might not be that long before we will not be able to extract ourselves. But are there enough people?