Down With Power Audiobook!

L. Neil Smith's
Number 801, December 14, 2014

Every culture that discourages or discounts
gun ownership is a culture where women are
trained to be sacrificed to violent men.

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A is A: A Thing is Itself
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I spent three hours yesterday playing Solitaire on my computer and listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio, trying to justify the use of torture by the government in its war against ... against what? We'll go easy on the state and say its a war against those who want to blow people and things up. Like the government, we won't ask—for the moment—why they might want to do that, and what makes them feel justified.

My wife and daughter can't stand the blustering, pompous, formerly fat flumpus, and don't really understand why I listen to him. It is by no means because I agree with what he says. Nor because I have somehow become hypnotized by his rhetorical brilliance, I have two reasons: first, because he is a conservative, his interests and mine as a libertarian, sometimes run parallel (we share an enemy: RINOs like Mitch McConneln and John Boehner) and it's especially important to recognize when they do not; and second, what he has to say often becomes fodder for essays, articles, and columns exactly like this one.

Torture can be generally defined as deliberately hurting someone under your control, of making them think that you're about to kill them, of subjecting them to extreme discomfort, of depriving them of food, water, warmth, or sleep, of taking away their dignity and honor. That last technique doesn't really count as torture to most Americans, because, after more than a century of public schooling, government propaganda, and media manipulation, the cocept of honor is beyond them.

Limbaugh's rationalizations for torture boiled down to three assertions, I think, each one more absurd than the other two: first, that what the government does to its helpless captives isn't really torture; second, that even if it is torture, what they have done to us is even worse; and third, that it yields information that can save lives.

The first of Limbaugh's pathetic assertions can be dealt with by experiment: let the so-called Doctor of Democracy submit to something easy, say, waterboarding—pouring water over his cloth covered face unil he's afraid he'll drown—or just keep him up all night for three days in a row. The fact that he hasn't volunteered for this kind of treatment, and yet feels perfectly entitled to make pronouncements about it, is solid proof that he knows it's torture and won't admit it.

I can sympathize, to a degree, with Limbaugh's second assertion. I have never swallowed the pacifist/Christian proposition that revenge is always and automatically wrong. Revenge, in fact, has Darwinistic survival value: if a potential enemy knows for sure that you're going to give back as good as you'll get, they'll likely leave you the hell alone.

Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo (a conservative with whom I frequently disagree) would say that the proper response to the fall of the Twin Towers (if we choose to believe the government's story about that day, which I do not) would have been to drop a small atomic bomb on Mecca and, with certain ethical caveats, I agree. It certainly wasn't to invade two other countries that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. Tell me, precisely what does an enemy learn when he smacks you a good one, and you inerringly sock the fellow standing next to you?

There is also another argument against torture, one that recently seems as futile as scratching glass with chalk: we are the good guys. We are civilized. Civilized good guys don't torture people no matter the provocation. Both my uncle and my grandmother supervised groups of German and Italian prisoners-of-war during World War II. Both groups said their leaders had told them the Americans would torture them if they were captured, and admitted enormous surprise that this didn't happen.

"Americans don't torture people," My uncle and grandmother explained, something that, sadly, couldn't truthfully be said of us today.

My uncle watched German POWs doing agricultural work in Weld and Larimer Counties, Colorado. It was work to which thwe mostly peasant levies were long accustomed. He wouldn't carry the shotgun he was offered, but just cut himself a heavy switch—and let the workers know that his brother, my future dad, was a prisoner-of-war in Germany. He never had an escape attempt. Many of the Italians loading and unloading freight trains in Ogden, Utah under my grandmother's charge, wept openly, when told the war was over and they had to go home.

The third excuse is pure, epistemological silliness: that you can obtain useful information by systematically mistreating people. They may hold out for a while, but eventually they'll break down and tell you exactly what they think you want to hear. I know that I certainly would. And our many "successes" in Aghanistan illustrate that pretty well. The government, to my knowledge, has never offered an example of torture saving the day—and there are so many unanswered questions about the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is too contaminated for such use.

I was brought up by my mother and father believing that only the bad guys torture people. The Spanish Inquisition, Italian fascisti, the Nazi German Gestapo, Darth Vader threatening Princess Leia with a floating torture machine. And guess what, Rush. My mom and dad were right.

We're the bad guys.

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