This post put on the back burner for a while for a number of reasons, including my scholarly commitments, so please forgive the references to events that occurred last December as recent.
I was checking my blog the other night when I saw a hit from a comment I made on a piece from another blog, Wallwritings, over a year ago. I criticized James M. Wall’s post because not only did he perpetuate the false belief espoused by columnist Andrew Sullivan and President Barack Obama that Winston Churchill didn’t allow the torture of prisoners during World War II (both Jonah Goldberg at Real Clear Politics and Robert Siegel at National Public Radio disprove this claim), but because he demanded that we not resort to any form of enhanced interrogation to get information for terrorists for moral reasons, citing the famous speech by Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons to bolster his hollow argument.
WILLIAM ROPER: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
SIR THOMAS MORE: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
As shown in its full context, More wasn’t discussing whether or not enhanced interrogations were torture and whether or not it was legal. He was talking about the importance of maintaining the integrity of “Man’s Laws” and not falsely imprisoning those who haven’t committed crimes. Aside from misleading his readers on the opinion of these two historical figures on corporal punishment, Wall wanted people to believe that maintain our morality was paramount, and that “taking shortcuts that “undermine who we are” takes us in the wrong direction.” To put it bluntly, we’re better than them and must always behave as such.
The talking point has been repeated over and over again by those who have problems not only accepting that we are at war with Islamic terrorists, but have issues with using any means available to get information which will save lives. Most recently, ‘The Young Turk’s’ Cenk Uygur repeated it when he anchored for MSNBC the other week. While discussing the Ahmed Ghailani verdict, he stated that the “Foopie’s” acquittal on more than 280 charges should be celebrated as it shows that “our justice system worked” because “We just gave this guy, who we believe helped to kill 224 people, a fair trial.” What was Cenk’s argument for giving Ghailani a civilian trial? As I pointed out in my article about this verdict, he incorrectly points to the Nuremberg Trials, military tribunals, and states that America and her allies gave prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany “fair” civilian trials. Not only were they not civilian trials, but many historians and legal minds of the time considered them far from “fair.” As Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Harlan Fiske Stone wrote, “I don’t mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas.” What does all this mean though? Let me explain.
Why is there this obsession with our own conduct? Those who compare us to terrorists do so because of their hatred for the Western world which they justify by pointing to what we have done in the past. I am not here to argue whether or not certain actions, like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are morally right or wrong. The issue is what were our motives for these actions. Unlike those these people would compare us to, we do not have a desire to inflict pain and suffering, nor do we rejoice when we cause the deaths of civilians. These offenses are either accidental, like the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655, or are done out of perceived necessity. Returning to Stone’s comment about the Nuremberg Trials, it was important that the Nazi leadership be punished for their crimes. It might not have been “fair,” but it was necessary in order to bring peace and stability back to war-torn Europe. Being better doesn’t mean that we cannot take certain courses of action. If necessity demands that we use less than desirable means to acquire information which will save lives, we do so. Since when is this perceived morality worth even one life?
Aside from our motivations, what else sets us apart from terrorists? Why not ask what is similar about us? Are we driven by an outdated, intolerant and violent ideology? Do our societies oppress ethnic and religious minorities? Do we mistreat our women and deny them equal status? The answer to all these questions is no. There was a time long since past when these might have been true, but not now. Unlike these barbarians, the Western world has moved well beyond our beginnings and become the standard by which other countries are judged. This is where this comparison falls apart. These people who are obsessed with our conduct would have you believe that any immoral act on our part would undo all that we have accomplished. Returning to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what was the result of these actions? Japanese brutal campaign in the Pacific ended, possibly saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives in the process. Following their surrender, the United States invested heavily in the reconstruction of Japan. Americans didn’t loot the country, nor did they enslave its citizens as these barbarians have done for centuries, cannibalizing the countries of the Middle East.
Being “better” doesn’t mean being passive. It does mean a reasonable level of restraint, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take an action which might not be wholly moral. We don’t live in a world where we have the luxury to act on principle alone. This is something that Sir Thomas More and Sir Winston Churchill understood. If those on the left are incapable of understanding this, as Cenk Uygur, Andrew Sullivan and James M. Wall are, then their disapproval should be simply ignored. As the least, it doesn’t help further our position in the world. In fact much of their criticism provides support for those who have shown through their actions that they are not our equal.
Simply put, we are better than them, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.