L. Neil Smith's
Number 270, May 9, 2004

Hi Mom!

Torturing the Truth
by L. Neil Smith

Exclusive to TLE

There is a common chemical test in which a small portion of the stuff being tested is heated to incandescence and the resulting light put through a prism device that spreads it out for examination. Dark "absorption lines" in the spectrum indicate what elements the stuff contains.

War is like that, especially idiotic, unjust, and illegal wars like the one the United States government has chosen to fight now in Iraq, Afghanistan, and enough other places around the world to boggle what few remaining minds on the planet haven't been boggled already. War heats the populace, leaders and followers alike, to a kind of incandescence, until it becomes fairly easy to see what they're made of. In the present case, the experimental results are pretty damned discouraging.

As you no doubt know, digital photos and movies have leaked back to the United States (if you consider Niagara Falls a leak) that show American military personnel treating Iraqui prisoners in way, if the victims were animals instead of human beings, they could be jailed for themselves.

As you may also know, the same sort of thing—and possibly worse—has been going on for at least two years in the concentration camp the government maintains at Guantanamo, Cuba. There, Moslem captives—most of whom have never been charged with anything or granted the status protected by treaty and international law of prisoners of war—are exposed to the elements, chained, beaten, drugged against their will, starved, deprived of sleep, subjected to terror tactics we first heard about when the other side was doing it in Korea, and generally treated in ways that are especially painful and humiliating to devout Moslems.

I wrote a column on Guantanamo a little while ago. Since then that entire story has been thoroughly spiked by the whorish American mass media. The suppression of this information has been so effective that it didn't come up again, even as a sidebar, when the Iraqi torture story broke—in media that, to milk every drop from a story, would interview the ex-wife of the salesman who sold a serial killer his shoelaces.

At the moment, I happen to have a family of raccoons living in the chimney of my living room fireplace. (Yes, I know this seems like a digression, but it isn't; stick with me for a moment.) I can't begin to describe the smell coming out of the fireplace, a vile combination of urine and fish. There are half a dozen chimney technicians in town, some claiming to handle animal removal, but they're all tree-hugging animal lovers of one kind or another, and proving to be extremely unhelpful.

At the suggestion of one of them, I placed a bright light in the fireplace, pointing upward, and a radio tuned to the most powerful and aggravating talk station on the dial. That would be KOA, the 50,000 watt "blowtorch" in Denver, soapbox, among others, to Rush Limbaugh, to an annoying little morning prick of a neoconservative named Mike Rosen, and to some fascist moron at night whose name I hope I never learn.

I stopped listening to conservative talk radio on September 11, 2001, because I knew that, for all their mouthings about liberty, what they're really all about is punitive, paternalistic socialism. Now that I'm compelled to listen to them again, I see that I was right. The commentators issuing their pronouncements from inside my fireplace have certain characteristics in common. To begin with, they refuse to acknowledge the single most important truth of the last three years, since the fall of the New York towers, indeed the most important truth of the last thousand years regarding western dealings in the Middle East.

That truth is simply this: it isn't the Moslems who came to the west to push us around, steal our resources, sneer at our customs and beliefs, depose our leaders and replace them with puppets, reshape our political institutions, or redraw our national borders to suit their own foul purposes. No, that's what we Europeanoids have been doing to them.

Get this through your head right now, because it's not going to go away, no matter how much you may hate being compelled to recognize it. It's a fact that will largely determine the shape of the 21st century. Americans and Europeans are the aggressors in this conflict, and what happened in New York on September 11, 2001, was an act of long-delayed retaliation.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not one of those liberal detractors of Western Civilization we hear of from time to time, mostly from their entrenched positions within academia. I happen to like most aspects of Western Civilization. The problem is, what this government is doing in Iraq and Cuba is not what Western Civilization is supposed to be all about. In fact, it represents a hideous slide backward into the Dark Ages.

Sure, sure, I know, Western Civilization used to feed whoever was politically incorrect at the moment to the lions in the Colosseum. It used to throw people who believed in semicolons instead of periods in the current holy book in the dungeon to be broken on the rack. But over the centuries, we learned better, and we just don't do that any more.

"We", excluding the government, apparently.

Now the radio pundits presently entertaining the unwanted guests in my chimney want you to believe that this scandal is the result of a few bad apples, and doesn't represent government policy. The problem with that is that I remember, almost from the moment the airliners struck the towers, that there were various individuals, in and out of government, saying that suspected terrorists should be tortured to get information.

Another problem is that Guantanamo, half a world away from Iraq, and the masked and Kevlared thugs of the "Extreme Reaction Force" used to terrorize those who won't comply and cooperate, proves that it's policy.

And what happened near Waco, to the Branch Davidians, eleven years ago, proves that it isn't just the policy of any particular party or administration (those barbaric atrocities were planned and approved by Bush Senior's mob, carried out by Clinton's, and never made right under George Junior's), but of the government that's always there no matter who's happens to occupy the Congress or the White House at the moment.

As these facts becomes harder and harder to gloss over, the next radio talk show excuse is that what's going on in Iraq is simply the result of "youthful high spirits". The young soldiers that we've sent there would much rather be home. They're bored, and they're "blowing off steam" by taking out their frustrations on Iraqis who deserve it anyway, because of their weird religion, because they mistreat their own women, because they've done similar things to our side when they could.

Again, there are problems with this "argument". The first is that conservatives are infuriated whenever the violent excesses of inner city goblin gangs are written off by liberals as "youthful high spirits".

In Iraq, we've fielded one of the oldest armies in our history. The average age of GIs in Vietnam was nineteen. That figure for Iraq is twenty-six (which makes them the first of the "politically correct" generations). If you don't know how to cope with boredom and "high spirits" by the time you're twenty-six, why the hell did they let you enlist?

The guilty themselves are wailing that they had no training or instructions. I'd like to know what training or instructions you need to tell you that you don't drag helpless naked captives around on a leash or force them to simulate sex with each other while you take pictures.

If you remember nothing else from this essay, remember this: the torture and abuse of prisoners happening in Iraq isn't about Iraqis or Moslems or Arabs, it's about us. Nor would it matter if the other side cut our people into strips and served them grilled with scrambled eggs for breakfast. This isn't about them, it's about us. Is Western Civilization so feeble that it succumbs to the first bad example it encounters?

The most popular pronouncement of the past couple days is the most demented. Rosen, for example (although he's following an official line I've since heard parroted by others) skips right over the atrocities themselves, to declare that release of the damning pictures was wrong because they show a female abusing prisoners. This, they're saying, fulfills the worst nightmares of woman-hating Moslems everywhere, and will make them more determined to kill every westerner they encounter, impairing the grand efforts of this government to consolidate its new empire.

Let me repeat that: exposing America's war crimes to the world is bad because it will make survival harder for those who were sent to Iraq to commit them. And here I never thought I'd ever hear anything to make the Lyndon Johnson Administration's claims—that anti-war demonstrations prolonged the Vietnam war—seem sane and logical by comparison.

Lord Acton, who said famously that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely", also observed that, in the end, no one is fit to rule anyone else. The torture and abuse going on in Iraq and Guantanamo and elsewhere is the kind of thing that always happens when you give people power over other people. Everybody should know that by now.

If anyone wanted to deliberately destroy America—and Western Civilization with it—this war would be the way to do it. The only real alternative is to abolish that power as quickly and completely as possible, to break it down into such minuscule particles that it can no longer be called power, but must simply be called individual responsibility.

Three-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith is the author of 23 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collection of articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at www.lneilsmith.org. Autographed copies may be had from the author at lneil@lneilsmith.org.

Neil is presently at work on Ceres and Ares, two sequels to his 1993 novel, Pallas, a decensored and electronically published version of his 1984 novel, Tom Paine Maru, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May. A 180-page full-color graphic novel version of The Probability Broach will be released this summer.

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