Saturday, June 18, 2005

Thinking Clearly, Thinking Rationally

“Ignorance of history destroys our judgment. Consider Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), who just compared the Guantanamo Bay detention center to Stalin's gulag and to the death camps of Hitler and Pol Pot — an astonishing, obscene piece of ignorance. Between 15 million and 30 million people died from 1918 through 1956 in the prisons and labor camps of the Soviet gulag. Historian Robert Conquest gives some facts. A prisoner at the Kholodnaya Gora prison had to stuff his ears with bread before sleeping on account of the shrieks of women being interrogated. At the Kolyma in Siberia, inmates labored through 12-hour days in cheap canvas shoes, on almost no food, in temperatures that could go to minus-58. At one camp, 1,300 of 3,000 inmates died in one year.” “Gulag” must not go the way of “Nazi” and become virtually meaningless. Europeans love calling Israelis “Nazis” — a transparent attempt to slough off their guilt like rattlesnakes shedding skin. (“See, the Jews are as bad as we were!”) I'd like to ban the word “Nazi” except when applied to … Nazis. Lawbreakers would be ordered to learn what Nazi actually means.”

David Gelernter

If statistics mean anything, I’m batting five hundred right now. On my post about Dick Durbin and Fred Phelps a couple of days ago there were two comments supporting my views and two dissenting. Not bad at all in a free marketplace of ideas.

I rarely do this, but I thought I’d take a few moments to respond to those who disagreed with what I had to say.

Before I launch out, let me say that I appreciate comments, either pro or con. I recognize that the stuff I write doesn’t generate a lot of “heat,” but when it does I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, nor do I expect those who disagree with me to put on kid gloves when they comment. The only guideline I have is civility. In the case of the two that disagreed with the picture I painted of Senator Dick Durbin the tone of the response was indeed civil. So, if they have the chance to read today’s post I want to thank them for that, but to also say that I disagree with their assessment for a few reasons.

In both cases the “con” commenters chided me on my lack of intellectual honesty. I re-read my post and, knowing myself, didn’t see it as an intellectual exercise. It was an emotional response, and I think a fair reading of what I said would see it for what it was.

Now, that’s not to say that an emotional response is a bad thing. One of the things that really bothers me is hearing, at the most inappropriate times, “Don’t respond emotionally. Let’s let cooler heads, impeccable logic, and reason prevail.” Now I can be as cool headed and dispassionate as anyone I know, but there are times when my emotions do get engaged. Such was the case when Dick Durbin called American soldiers Nazis and Fred Phelps picketed the funeral of an American soldier killed in the line of duty in Iraq. After reading what the senator said and about what the “reverend” was doing I didn’t immediately say to myself, “Phil, think clearly. Disabuse yourself of your emotions and make this an intellectual exercise.” I simply responded from the gut and I stand by what I said.

There’s an implication in the responses of my critics. In order to have been right, my response should have been intellectual, because “intellectual” thinking is “honest” thinking. Now I’ll grant that intellectual thinking can be a good thing. Most often it is. But I will not grant that in making an emotional response to these two men is a bad thing. In fact, I believe in the whole man concept, that the emotions and the intellect can fit smartly together. To that end I’ll now try to put the two together and respond a bit more dispassionately than I did the other day.

First, this isn’t an intellectual exercise in the purest sense. That type of thinking I leave to good men like David Gelernter, who I quoted in my introduction.

Here, then, is my “clear-headed” take on these recent events.

First, I do not believe that what “purportedly” occurred at Guantanamo comes even close to the work of Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot. It doesn’t even come remotely close!

I’ll make a comparison now for my critics. The U.S. military has a code of conduct, called the U.S. Fighting Man’s Code of Conduct. Much of the code deals with expectations for those who are captured. The last article of the code, article six, is a blanket statement that covers expected conduct at all times:

VI “I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America. (my emphasis added)”

Compare that with the code of sorts that Stalin and his underlings operated under:

“The “sword-bearers” had to believe with Messianic faith, in order to act with the correct ruthlessness, and to convince others they were right to do so. Stalin’s “quasi-Islamic” fanaticism was typical of the Bolshevik magnates: Mikoyan’s son called his father “a Bolshevik fanatic.” Most came from devoutly religious backgrounds. They hated Judeo-Christianity – but the orthodoxy of their parents was replaced by something even more rigid, a systematic amorality: “This religion – or science, as it was modestly called by its adepts – invests man with godlike authority.”

The fruit of the two philosophies can be clearly seen in the numbers. At the risk of being accused of faulty exegesis I’ll paraphrase from Holy Writ – “American soldiers have made a hundred or so terrorists crap their pants while “Uncle Joe” has slain his millions.”

There is, I submit, no comparison to be made, and to say otherwise is ludicrous. I agree with Professor Gelernter that a history lesson is in order for Senator Durbin.

Now if the good senator and his supporters want to make some comparisons I suggest they make some between the terrorists who killed three thousand Americans on September 11, 2001. I suggest they draw some comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Stalin or Hitler. I think if they did Saddam would be quite flattered. He was a big fan of these two pariahs, if my memory of history serves me well.

To compare what’s going on at Guantanamo with this sordid history is, intellectually speaking, offensive!

Here’s another comparison the critics ought to make. What are the “detainees” at Guantanamo eating these days? This is the way the menu was described by California Congressman Duncan Hunter:

“For nearly every question that reporters asked about aggressive interrogations and lack of judicial process involving the 500-plus detainees, Hunter's answers were “honey-glazed chicken” or “lemon-baked fish,” served with whole wheat pita, various vegetables and fruit.”

“The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better, they've never been treated better and they've never been more comfortable in their lives. ... And the idea that somehow we are torturing people in Guantanamo is absolutely not true, unless you consider having to eat chicken three times a week is torture,” Hunter said at the news conference.”

“Hunter passed out copies of the daily menus for the detainees and displayed two typical meals. He said the detainees are “fed better than thousands and thousands of our troops in the field.”

I wonder, by way of comparison, what the food was like at Dachau or in the Soviet gulags? I wonder, by way of comparison, if the innocents paraded through these evil systems could ever complain about too much “honey-glazed chicken?”

The questions are only rhetorical, of course. Anyone intellectually honest knows the answers to them.

I’ll speak now from personal experience, a trip Nancy and I took to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. One of the day trips during that time was to the concentration camp at Dachau. It was a chilling, and necessary experience. What was especially chilling to me was the incredible efficiency of the “operation.” There, just outside a small city known for its affinity for the arts, Jews, gays, evangelicals, and other assorted enemies of the state were dealt with brutally. It was there that prisoners of war were immersed in freezing water in experiments to determine what the limits of the human body were. It was there children were used in grisly medical experiments. It was there that thousands and thousands were fed nothing more than bread and water. When the war ended and the camp was liberated the few emaciated living remaining were vivid testaments to the menu at Dachau.

Once again, as Professor Gelernter said, the critics need a history lesson.

For what it’s worth, now, I’m going to try a hypothetical. I’m going to ask my critics what they would have done on September 10, 2001 if they had a terrorist in their custody, a terrorist who knew the intimate details of the plot to crash airliners into buildings like those at the World Trade Center. What would they do? Would they chain them to a wall? Would they let them crap their pants and make them sit in it? What would they do if they knew a son or a daughter was going to be visiting one of the targets on September 11th? What would they do if they knew one of my sons or my daughter or my grandchildren were going to be on top of the Twin Towers that fateful day? Would they tweak the terrorist’s nose a bit to get the information needed? Would they kick him in the groin? Or, would they act in a “civilized” manner and then, after the evil deed was done, excoriate the political administration and the military for not doing enough to protect us?”

Those questions are also only rhetorical, but I think I know what the answers would be.

Honestly, I think there is in the minds of men like Dick Durbin a real thread of deceit. I don’t believe that he really cares what’s going on in Guantanamo or to Americans now serving in harm’s way. This is nothing more to men like him than political capital. That, I believe, is the truth of the matter.

I recognize that there are limits to what can, or should be done. Having served for eight years in the military I also know that military leadership and their civilian counterparts at the Department of Defense know there are limits as well. Knowing that, I remain convinced that Guantanamo is no Dachau, nor is it a gulag or a Cambodian re-education camp. In all honesty I do not believe that being forced to sit in a room with the air conditioner turned up or being forced to listen to rap music while chained to the floor comes close to comparing the historical events I’ve mentioned. In fact, I believe it comes close to being offensive to people of good will, the brave Americans who fought to liberate Europe and Asia, and to the people who survived those grisly days.

Well, I think I’ve had enough dispassionate thinking for one day. It’s time for me to get back to just being my emotional self. To that end, I say now as I said a few days ago, Dick Durbin and Fred Phelps are lunacy’s “A” team.


web_loafer said...

Once again you look at the news of today and help your readers see the complete picture with references to similiar problems that mankind has had in the past. Thanks Phil.
Glad to hear the good medical news.
I notice you at Blog Explosion now and then. I finally got above the 500 mark in the win/lose department at BE.
I can imagine all of the great Americans of the past, being shown Senator Durbins remark. OUCH.
It probably is a plan to help Hillary. If the Republicans have a clear enemy who is drawing fire.......Hillary can pretend to be moderate, and just what America needs.......
Sorry, I just made myself sick thinking about HC as president. I am hoping it will be:

Elizabeth Dole for President
Dr. Rice for Vice-President


Hillary Rodham
the smuck that agrees to bow at her idol, just to perhaps be her VP
In 2008

Guy said...

Senator Durbin and his ilk are driven by an intense hatred of George Bush, his administration, and anything that smacks of coservatism. Additionally, they crave the power that is available to them as the majority party and are willing to do anything to reach that goal....even to the point of placing our troops and their fellow Americans in jeapordy.