War. Torture. Espionage.
So the Trumpster has had something to say about waterboarding. In classic double-speak, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Gets its own acronym and everything: EIT. We’re going to do all that, and more. This is a man who knows his audience: all around the country, armchair operatives cheer and then carry on with all the things that they would do were they in charge; were they combatants; were they younger, fitter, or remotely acceptable to the CIA’s applicant screening process.
It’s so easy to know what you’d do, how you’d react, and how wildly successful you would be, just as long as you can keep your tired ass settled into that comfortable chair of yours. Easy to talk about winning, doing whatever it takes to win, including torture or letting India and Pakistan nuke each other.
So what if the extensive study of the data shows that information extracted under duress is unreliable. So what if we jeopardize our own people by walking away from international standards. There is an ache in that place where testosterone used to flow that can only be filled by this fantasy of a world in which inflicting pain on another human being is satisfying. Justified. Reasonable. Defensible. Without negative consequence.
My father. Love him to death, but he’s an armchair operative. He wishes he’d been able to go to Vietnam. He thinks another life where he was a sniper, offing people who needed to be offed, would have brought him a different kind of satisfaction. He thinks he could have taken an “enemy” life and come out of it unscathed. We don’t argue this point, because … why? The point is moot. He’s one vote, one man, one Fox News consumer, and the truth is that he doesn’t own a gun, isn’t a sharp-shooter, never made it to Vietnam… He can believe what he wants to believe, fantasize all he wants about what it might feel like to wake up in a Clive Cussler novel, break a man’s arm for information, then execute him anyway, because that’s what the morally ambiguous good guy does in the books.
Thing is, how many killers do you know? Accidental, convicted, pre-meditated, secret, soldier, spy… Here’s what is missing from the conversation: forget about the suicide bombing mastermind who lived to plan the next attack and got caught. That isn’t a humanity that I’m particularly interested in. The argument against armchair operatives isn’t because said mastermind is defensible. The argument is about what these acts do to the soldier who isn’t in the armchair fantasizing, but is patrolling the halls of a military prison? What impact does inflicting significant pain on another human have, not on the prisoner, but on the person wielding the power?
An individual who can take another’s life without remorse, without empathy, is someone with a pathology. Those without empathy may come out of such situations no different than they were when they started. Everyone else, those who sign up for military life out of patriotism, need for structure, desperation, ambition, or a sense of adventure… what do acts that counter empathy do to those people?
How many real life killers have you talked to? I’ve interacted with three. One might have been borderline sociopath, but that might have also been an aftermath instead of an original condition. Not one of them came away unscathed from an interaction that left one of the two participants dead.
These armchair operatives, warmongering politicians first and foremost, don’t know what it costs. Forget international law. Forget morality. What does it do to the individual inflicting pain? What does killing do to the killer? Killers live with it, forever. It is the psychic equivalent of the Roman torture where a corpse was lashed to a living human until the decay of the corpse ate into the flesh of the live victim. They carry that shit around. Anyone with any capacity to feel empathy carries the memories around: the broken cries, the smell of fresh blood, the literal deadweight of a body no longer animated by spirit. And that memory eats away at literally everything.
My uncle killed his first man in the Battle of the Bulge as a 16 year old. Hand-to-hand combat and he was the one to survive. 60+ years later, he told me the story, his memory as perfectly formed as if the whole event had been caught from multiple angles in high definition video. He killed a German soldier, vomited, and then took the dead man’s coat so he could keep on with the mission.
A friend and once-upon-a-time lover wouldn’t talk about it, but every year around the anniversary, he inevitably disappeared into a black hole of self-loathing. And that’s how he described it.
An acquaintance who talked about how those soldiers who couldn’t handle “the life” were pussies, the further he got from “the life,” the harder he worked to stay distant from himself. The men from his unit were categorically unable to form lasting bonds with anyone but themselves. They lied compulsively, hurt those who dared to love them, drank heavily and dangerously… The acquaintance was not a happy man, his friends were not well-balanced people.
You can’t expect good people to commit violent acts and come out of the exchange unscathed. Nevermind what we do to those who plan suicide bombings or massacres. My empathy and concern is first absorbed by what we do to ourselves in the process of dealing with the monsters of the world. You do not eliminate monsters by creating new monsters.
And any armchair operative who thinks that killing or torture is without consequence, so long as you aren’t the one being killed or tortured… I don’t recommend gaining the experience just to find out how wrong you can be. Ghosts are only a fiction if you have a very narrow definition of what makes a ghost.