Sunday, August 07, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Our Moral Compass

In an article about torture, a Washington Post writer said, "I don't think America is in immediate danger of losing its ethical compass and abandoning its principles."

I don't either. We are in no immediate danger of losing it; we lost our ethical compass some while ago, and the question is: How do we get it back? I have often wondered just when we lost it. Perhaps it was when, in a fit of Christian ignorance our earliest Pilgrim leadership determined that American Indians were subhuman savages, unfit to occupy lands the Pilgrims desired, and that it was God’s will that they be exterminated. If that is the case, perhaps we never had a moral compass. Or was it when we decided that Blacks only counted as three/fifths human?

Perhaps it happened when General Sherman wired General Sheridan after Captain Fetterman lost 81 men (including himself) to Red Cloud: "We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children." Or perhaps when we decided to send disease infected blankets as gifts to American Indians. Or was it in our decision to firebomb Germany and Japan, deliberately focusing on citizens rather than soldiers, or perhaps it wasn't till we opened the School of the Americas and taught a host of Latin American dictators how to oppress and control their people for our benefit. Or decided that a properly elected President of Guatemala was too liberal and sent the CIA to make sure he was taken out of office. Or when the SoA taught the Contra how to torture, rape, and kill in Nicaragua, engaging in a low intensity war of attrition against a country the size of Wisconsin, half of whose citizens were under sixteen, and providing the Contra a nifty little handbook they could carry with them in case they might forget how best to do that. Or was it when we decided that we were free to control Nicaraguan elections to assure the Sandinistas lost? Or was it merely when we approved the removal from office of a weak dictator by "Shock and awe," and killed somewhere between 35,000 and a 100,000 Iraqi civilians in revenge for the loss of 3,000 Americans killed by Saudis? Or was it when we decided that there is no need for us to stand against genocide?

On a quieter, less newsworthy front, was it when we decided it is all right that 1.5 million children around the world die every year from starvation? Or that food insecurity for 13.6 million American children is acceptable? Or was it when eradicating hunger never even became a conscious choice though we know we could eradicate it if we wished? Or when we figured out that if we get our trade relations right, corporations can rule the world and the Constitution and sovereignty of the United States are not as important as corporate greed, or that the Constitution doesn't really matter as long as we have the greatest military might? Or... one could on and on here. I know we lost our moral compass somewhere -- maybe here under the table, or under this chair… I know it’s here someplace, hiding down there with the weapons of mass destruction we can’t find either, and where our concern for it is just another political joke…

Sorry. I greatly appreciated the thrust of the article, but must admit that one sentence set me off... The CIA has been torturing people since it was the OSS. That was partly why it was created. We've known it for generations. Our government – with our citizens' complicit silence -- has no intention to do anything but protect the CIA practice, and extend the President’s freedom to order torture at will.