Friday, August 14, 2009

"The Curious Case of the Establishment Liberal: Condemning Torture, Condoning Mass Murder"

A peculiar notion has arisen of late, maintaining that things like torture, domestic spying and illegal wars are all attributable to the Right -- namely, the administration of President George W. Bush -- and are in fact historical anomalies, not at all in keeping with the traditions of these great United States. The idea that war crimes and civil liberties violations are strictly conservative affairs is particularly comforting to wide-eyed Democrats in awe of America’s First Black President ™, and it affords the heirs to the same liberal establishment which brought us Vietnam and Hiroshima another opportunity to grandstand about their commitment to human rights even as the noble humanitarian Barack Obama continues to extra-judicially murder foreigners with unmanned drones. Unfortunately for partisan Democrats – and even more so the victims of U.S. exceptionalism – American imperialism and its associated evils have long enjoyed bipartisan backing, though liberals tend to be somewhat more sheepish about their support for killing, torturing and maiming poor people overseas.

The torture debate has provided the liberals of the establishment punditocracy but the latest opportunity to claim human rights violations are an aberration -- a regrettable “mistake” in the words of Obama -- the use of which was relegated to an eight year span wherein ignoble right-wingers broke with past tradition and authorized a whole host of evils that would make their predecessors in power turn in their graves. Though abhorrent, the message is that these crimes are a departure from the past, when prisoners of war and others in the U.S. government's possession were presumably set up at the Four Seasons and given a lollipop and a court-appointed attorney.

While that take on history is at odds with reality – the U.S. government's torture school for Latin American human rights abusers in training, the School of the Americas, for instance, was started under the watch of liberal icon Harry Truman – it serves a useful purpose in allowing establishment liberals the opportunity to decry the crimes of their right-wing foes with a forceful moral indignation that would appear ridiculous if they acknowledged the long-running, bipartisan nature of the U.S. empire's many transgressions.

"[R]emember that a liberal's only passion is not to do good but to look good” writes Princeton University mathematics professor Bernard Chazelle. In a post at the blog A Tiny Revolution, Chazelle helpfully reminds liberals that the use of torture did not begin with George W. Bush's disastrous presidency and did not end with Barack Obama's glorious ascension to the White House, contrary to popular lore. Rather, Chazelle notes, committed humanitarians from LBJ to Ronald Reagan repeatedly sanctioned its use in places from Vietnam to El Salvador, though past sainted leaders at least had the courtesy to "always [make] sure we could blame a nonwhite guy with a funny accent," thus helping maintain the fictional-if-widespread belief that the American state really is a force for good in the world and at home, and not actually an imperial, cancerous impediment to progress.

Yet even after their best attempts to pretend crimes committed by self-styled progressive Democrats are excusable or never even happened, liberal denunciations of torture appear none the more credible in light of their general acceptance for other war crimes, such as the aforementioned Truman's brave decision to incinerate hundreds of thousands of Japanese men, women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – a decision, it should repeatedly be noted, that was opposed by Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, casting doubt on the oft-debunked claims it was necessary to stave off the deaths of even more American soldiers (as if that would justify the deliberate and repeated killing of civilians).


Post a Comment

<< Home