11 December 2014

"Shocking honesty"

Vesti's report (in Russian) is here.
Actual PDF report with original cover is available on this page.
... is the way the Russian Vesti network titled its coverage of the release of the Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program. Reporter Alexander Khristenko ends his introductory paragraph this way: "... Some have already called the publication of this report 'scandalous.' Will more good or more harm come from this shocking honesty?"

At this moment, I doubt any good would come from repeating my own outrage at having my tax dollars fund torture. I've written on this topic several times, including this summary of my responses to the usual excuses for using torture. (Scroll down to "Sunday No. 2.") If we don't already agree, it probably wouldn't be persuasive now.

I have a different question, and am hoping for a specifically Christian answer. My question is: what is so mesmerizingly attractive about violence and cruelty that we keep using violent and cruel methods repeatedly after they utterly fail to produce the desired results? What is gratified by those methods, and what can we do in the name of Christ to confront that gratification?

I confess that there are at least three assumptions in my question that are themselves arguable:
  1. Torture is simply a specific application of violence, and is an expression of belief in what Walter Wink called "the myth of redemptive violence."
  2. The power of God is sufficient to overcome any situation in which we're tempted to apply that myth.
  3. Those who torture are worth redeeming. Nothing is ultimately gained by simply demonizing the CIA and its contractors and absolving ourselves of any responsibility.
The power of the myth is vividly shown by the excuses provided by the CIA and its apologists for the use of torture in extracting information and preventing future terrorism. It's hard for me to imagine how such powerful, intelligent, and well-paid people can resort over and over to such wishful thinking. If there is any more powerful evidence of the deceptive power of the myth over its practitioners, and danger of soul-death from the practice of torture, I can't imagine it.

My fondest hope is that the Christian community will feel more than just outrage at the abuse of human beings in the supposed service of our defense. As we work out our response, I'd love to believe that there will be a new alliance of activists and evangelists. Torture is evidence of a spiritual vacuum, not just in national leaderships but maybe in all of us who don't confront the ones who torture in our name. Don't we truly believe that God can pull down the strongholds of evil that oppress us and our "enemies" alike? Are we content to let "patriotism" and "defense" and "enemies" be defined only by those who insist on violent answers, generation after bloody generation?

If we believe that the power of God is greater than our violent solutions, and the people of God can take the initiative in meeting evil with that power, let's say so publicly, winsomely, persistently, creatively, and urgently! And let's do it without smears and insults. Let's turn our evangelists loose with this wonderful implication of living with Jesus in our midst, and let's turn our activists loose to teach us about war tax resistance and every other way to say "no!" in the name of Jesus. My guess is that evangelists and activists will reinforce each other in ways we may never have seen since the anti-slavery and women's suffrage movements of the past.

Coincidentally with the release of the Senate report on the CIA and the resulting controversy, I've been reading John Kenneth Galbraith's autobiography, A Life in Our Times. At the end of World War II, Galbraith was an economist on the team that conducted the Strategic Bombing Survey to analyze the military effectiveness of the vast bombing campaigns on Germany and German-occupied Europe. His team assumed that so much bombing (of cities by night and of strategic objectives by day) must surely have caused great damage to the German war economy. However, even before the end of the war in Europe, they were seeing production figures that told a very different story:
In 1940, the first full year of war, the average monthly production of Panzer vehicles was 136; in 1941, it was 316; in 1942, 516. In 1943, after the bombing began in earnest, average monthly production was 1005, and in 1944, it was 1583. Peak monthly production was not reached until December 1944, and it was only slightly down in early 1945. For aircraft ... and other weaponry the figures were similar.

Very soon George Ball's investigations of the attacks on the cities would produce some equally disturbing conclusions. Thus, for example, on three summer nights at the end of July and the beginning of August 1943, the RAF came in from the North Sea and destroyed the center of Hamburg and adjacent Harburg. A terrible firestorm sweeping air and people into the maelstrom caused thousands of casualties. Destroyed also were restaurants, cabarets, specialty shops, department stores, banks and other civilian enterprises. The factories and shipyards away from the center escaped. Before the holocaust these had been short of labor. Now waiters, bank clerks, shopkeepers and entertainers forcibly unemployed by the bombers flocked to the war plants to find work and also to get the ration cards that the Nazis thoughtfully distributed to workers there. The bombers had eased the labor shortage.

We were beginning to see that we were encountering one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest miscalculation of the war.
Two things really impressed me in Galbraith's story. First of all, he gives a vivid account of how hard some in the Pentagon and the Congress worked to suppress the survey's conclusions. Thousands of brave pilots and crews (not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent "enemy" civilians) perished because Allied leaders took it on faith that the bombing campaigns were effective. And even after evidence was produced to disprove this belief, that evidence was ferociously discounted. Is this anything different from the responses of Bush-era CIA apologists to the criticisms in the Senate report?

The other major surprise emerging from the survey team's research--and particularly from the questioning of prisoners of war--was how wrong the image of Nazi Germany and its economy had been. Allied leaders and people had this idea that Germany had been fully mobilized, its economy militarized and polished to a high sheen, and everything was managed with total Teutonic competence. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Mobilization had been lackadaisical, production in the early stages of the war was low (on the assumption that resources expended on Blitzkrieg offensives could be replenished between campaigns) and there was plenty of gross incompetence, laziness, and ignorance at all management levels. Promotion to higher pay and responsibility in the Nazi government frequently led to hedonistic lifestyles and corruption. It's just interesting to think that the myth of redemptive violence probably goes hand in hand with mythical enemies.

"This graphic shows that torture is a global problem," and the CIA's actions may have contributed to its persistence.

"Why it's so rare to hear an apology for torture."

"'Helping Without Hurting': The Global Missions Health Conference." "For all the less charitable stereotypes fulfilled at the GMHC, there were many more endearing impressions...."

If you're an uncritical fan of the U.S. government space program, don't read this article.

"Unseen C.S. Lewis letter defines his notion of joy."

An update on a subject we've mentioned before: "Teaching Orthodoxy in Russian schools."

"Isis: the inside story." Thanks to Jim Forest (Orthodox Peace Fellowship).

"Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see You." OSLO Gospel Choir.

No comments: