That quote from FDR has been running around my head for the past week or so. As more details of the Bush administrations torture program come to light and more conservatives raise their hands and gesture wildly when anyone asks, “who thinks torture is good”, I’m lead to the conclusion that FDR’s words have been the rallying cry of the Republican Party since 9/11. By this I mean that from Bush on down they were, and have been, scared out of their wits since that terrible morning. Scared to the point of irrationality. Scared to the point of throwing large chunks of the Constitution away, if only that would make the fear go away too.
Historically the GOP have been the greatest cheerleaders for American Exceptionalism and America’s unfettered military power. It is somewhat surprising then to realize that as the twin towers fell that day our leaders’ very guts were awash with abject terror. Anger was apparent, as was the bitter need for revenge. But underlying it all was fear. The fear that we would be struck again. The fear that the enemy was among us. The fear of the unknown and the fear of the “other.”
We knew that the fears were real to a greater or lesser extent, but I don’t think most of us realized that the fear was all consuming and pervasive. The leaders in whom we had placed our trust, and their followers in the media, began to suffer from a wide ranging case of PTSD. No matter what they did, the terror wouldn’t go away. They even gave it a name: The Global War on Terror.
The fear showed itself in the actions taken to protect us. Look back at the language the President and others in the administration used. Bush told us repeatedly that he had “taken an oath to protect us.” Of course, he hadn’t. The Oath of Office of the President of the United States says: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Preserve, Protect and Defend the Constitution. Not the citizens of the United States, the Constitution. From the very beginning, before the fires stopped burning at Ground Zero, Bush and his administration misstated their duty and expressed their fear. The terrorists had no chance of overturning our form of government, but if the President could stand on the smoldering rubble in New York City and tell us how he’d protect us because he swore an oath, well then maybe the fear would lessen. Then the real damage began.
The Patriot Act, wiretapping without warrants, rounding up thousands of Arab named or Arab looking people. All done to protect us from the fear. Send our troops into a sovereign nation (Afghanistan) to bring the evil doers back “Dead or alive.” We were at war. Those who objected were called traitor or worse. We were at war but the enemies we captured on the battle field, or those turned over to our forces by helpful warlords, weren’t prisoners of war. They were Enemy Combatants, therefore the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply. About that time maybe we should have been concerned. Maybe we should have asked more and better questions. But the fear just burned deeper.
They started to remodel Gitmo to handle all of the Enemy Combatants. Why didn’t we wonder why? We have plenty of prisons in this country. We sure know how to house prisoners. With 5% of the world’s population we hold 25% of the world’s prisoners. Yet why didn’t we see that housing captured combatants at a leased Naval base in Cuba, of all places, was somehow wrong? Then came the drum beat to attack Iraq. The entire endeavor was based on fear. WMD and mushroom clouds of fear. The Bush Doctrine of preventive war can be restated: “If we’re afraid of you we can attack and invade your country.” No real proof was needed and none was offered. When Saddam claimed to not have WMD we refused to believe him. The fear was everywhere.
I won’t outline the whole sad history of the past eight years. But it is important to reflect, as each new revelation of torture by agents of the United States of America comes to light, that there were reasons that our leaders went that far. Listen to the pundants. Listen to Rush and Hannity and O’Reilly as they tell us, on the one hand, that what was done in our name wasn’t torture, while also claiming that it was highly effective. Listen to the fear underlying Chaney’s words as he tells us that we are now less safe because we’ve stopped using torture. Listen to the interviews of citizens who don’t want Gitmo prisoners relocated to their city or state. These people are still deathly afraid. Why?
I think, in a way, that it goes back to the very nature of the enemy. Americans are the most religious people in the developed world. We understand the power, and duty, of faith. Ask your average church going born again Christian if he or she would defend their faith to the death and they would most likely say yes. Now look at the enemy. We know that they’re very religious, but we don’t really understand what Islam is. But the single most important factor is: THEY’RE WILLING TO COMMIT SUICIDE AS A TACTIC! That terrifies us and really terrified the Bush administration. You can’t talk to a suicider. How can you negotiate a peace treaty with folks who strap bombs around their waist and blow themselves, and some of us, to kingdom come? In WWII when the Kamikaze pilots dove their planes at our ships we could at least try to shoot them down. Not these guys. They hijack jetliners and fly them into buildings.
Our fear has imbued our enemy with superhuman powers. They must be stopped by any means. Listen to the torture defenders. Why, we have to torture them and, by god, if we tell them how we do it they can prepare and we’ll never expose the next plot until it’s too late. Fear is the only explanation that makes any sense. The torture defenders would take away all of our civil rights, all of our moral high ground, all of our constitutional protections just to stop these unstoppable terrorists. They are that afraid.
I am not. What the torture defenders forget is that the true price of freedom in a free society is freedom. Freedom from the torturer’s horrible tools. Freedom from the pounding on the door in the dark of night. Freedom from being strip searched in order to board an airplane. Freedom from the wiretap and the spying camera eye. Mr. Bush, Mr. Chaney, Mr. Hannity, et al, need to understand this. I sure hope Mr. Obama does.