The hidden price America pays for its dark deeds (a high price, but not immediately visible)

Summary:  Another in a series of posts about the long-term price America pays for dark acts.  Like the condition of our prisons, and torture.  People are policy, and here we discuss the kind of people we’re letting in our government.

A comment received to The long-term consequences to America of torturing Bradley Manning:

“Being inconvenienced is not torture. Not having access to ESPN is not ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. …”

Monday’s post will discuss the effects of solitary confinement, which is more serious than losing TV privileges.  But there’s a broader lesson — a warning — here.  Conservative websites contain thousands of comments like this.  Mocking Manning’s treatment, rejoicing in the torture of US prisoners at Gitmo and elsewhere.  As do comments to the posts about torture on the FM website.  See this post for some horrifying examples.

Some of these comments imply that the authors aspire to join a US secret police agency (esp if they get to waterboard prisoners).  A sad lesson of history:  no matter how far our law enforcement and intelligence agencies descend into the darkness, they’ll find it easy to recruit.

Allowing these practices into our public policy toolkit means bringing into the government people who like to do these things — and allowing them to advance.  This is another form of the revolutionary’s dilemma:  allowing into the movement people who like violence (even terrorists) increases the odds of victory, but puts at risk the values for which the revolution is fought.  It’s an intangible price paid, but real nonetheless.  With no refunds.  Allowing them in is easier than rooting them out.

None know this better than Russians, as they have seen these things so often in their history.  Most recently in the evolution of the Russian revolution from Marxism to Stalinism, founding the Soviet Union on the worst practices of the Czar.  As in this haunting passage by Dostoyevsky:

I maintain that the very best of men may be coarsened and hardened into a brute by habit.  Blood and power intoxicate; coarseness and depravity are developed; the mind and the heart are tolerant of the most abnormal things till at last they come to relish them.  The man and the citizen is lost forever in the tyrant, and the return to human dignity, to repentance and regeneration becomes almost impossible.

… Society which looks indifferently on such a phenomenon is already contaminated to its very foundation.

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Memoirs from the House of The Dead (1861), about the life of convicts in a Siberian prison camp

For more information

Posts about our prisons:

Posts about torture:

  1. Something every American should read – about torture, 25 March 2009
  2. We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009
  3. So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?, 30 April 2009
  4. Dispatches from the front lines in the war for America’s soul, 11 May 2009
  5. The Reverse Nuremberg Defense – “We were just giving orders“, 20 May 2009
  6. Our government does torture, but it is just like the treatment of young reporters by newspapers, 16 February 2010
  7. The US government at work, doing dark deeds in our name, 13 March 2010
  8. Reading about American torturers is a bummer. Let’s close our eyes and pretend it didn’t happen, and will not happen again., 22 March 2010

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