2009/05/05

A tortured question

A have a torture problem. The number of stories in the news lately that use the word "torture" in them seems to show that most people do not flinch in their very souls every time the word is used. But I do. The word itself makes me hot on my chest and at the back of my neck and above my eyebrows, and then the scenes of movies I have foolishly watched or books I have idiotically read float in front of my eyes, and I can hear it all over again.

I see that woman spy - waterboarded in that movie "based on a true story" that I watched very late at night while I was babysitting - more than thirty years ago.

I see Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, tied to a chair and beaten. And I see - and worse, I hear - all the other fictional, utterly staged, completely made up, I know full well it's pretend - scenes from decades of an overactive imagination and a lifelong horror of powerless pain and uninhibited evil. Torture is, quite simply, the best way for men to be truly evil.

With a great inner effort - effort that feels like pushing away something very heavy before it can cover my mouth and nose - I move my eyes and head and upper body so that I can stop. I have to stop before I superimpose the image of my own daughter's face onto those other images. She deploys soon. It's getting harder to push the huge and heavy hand away from my face - and more necessary.

Today something has changed. Today I started listening to the debate and forcing myself to be a bit more dispassionate - a little more analytical - I started to wonder something. Is all of this talk - the hundreds of times every day when the news and analysis includes that horrid word - is it a sign that we are finally lancing the boil? Humans used to use torture and pain and force of every kind, and few folks thought anything odd about it. That was the way things were - the way the world worked. To show strength or moral rectitude or domination, or it was a useful way to get information or to punish crimes - sometimes somebody gets a bruise or a broken bone or a lopped off ear or tongue or a few lashes with a whip.

So I wonder today ... are we talking about it to get it into the light of day as a precursor to turning away from it? I hope so. It will be easier to keep out of my mind if I can relegate it to the movies. It would be a good thing for the stuff of nightmares to only be possible inside the mind.

The world will never be free of evil, I know. The world is not now free of the kind of madhouse in which people are chained to the walls. The world still contains places where (in the words of my doctor) women "do not have control over what happens to their bodies." I know that the evil will always be with us. But I also know that thumbscrews, Catherine wheels, the rack, and burnings at the stake are not quite as ordinary as they once were. Maybe in our own country, at least, we can finally admit that it is not possible to torture the world into being good.

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