Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Professor Bainbridge, Torture Apologist™

Well not really, but that's exactly the point.

Stephen Bainbridge takes issue with the warmed-over piety that US forces conducted themselves in a pristine way before September 11, especially in The Good War Against Hitler. He's responding to this claim from another, but which may sound familiar to readers of the Torture Pharisee:
Allied propaganda made clear that torture marked our adversaries, but not us. The Greatest Generation upheld our nation's ideals when it went to war. It understood the value of those ideals as weapons. It won the war. And then it did some real magic. By treating our adversaries as human beings, by showing them dignity and respect, our grandfathers' generation created a new world in the rubble of the Second World War. The nations which were our bitterest adversaries - Germany, Italy and Japan - emerged in the briefest time as our committed friends and allies.
Professor Bainbridge goes to town ...
Anybody who's read anything about how the so-called "Greatest Generation" waged war knows that Horton is wrong or, at least, exaggerating.
And he cites a host of historians concluding that various atrocities (or what we today would call "atrocities") were committed against Axis soldiers and civilians. Never on the same scale as the Axis powers, sure, but as we're constantly reminded, that does not affect the moral issue. Nor the historical facts.

I wouldn't harp on this except that it speaks to a couple of Shea memes and The One Thing He Knows about me (namely that I am a shill for Satan). You have to unpack the arguments though, to understand why this stuff was ever relevant or cited in the first place. It's not a "prima facie" argument, rather a rebuttal argument. To rehearse:

Shea constantly insists that the moral world didn't change on September 11 (true) and that the military already regulated interrogation techniques and "torture" was illegal then under US law (true) and so therefore the only reason to want to have new rules post-September-11 would be to gain the right to torture (false ... but that's not really my point). Shea will claim, in support of this position about the how the desire to torture is being pushed by Bush, that the US was able to win World War Two and the Cold War without "torture" -- an example of his making this claim via sarcastic rant (does he have any other mode?) is here, under some of "The Photos" from Abu Ghraib:
Remember, what you see here is not wrong and it's certainly not torture. It's just... ahead of its time. First we need to massage Geneva 3. Then we need to get people used to euphemisms like "aggressive information gathering techniques." Also, of course, is the vital work of agitprop masters whose perfected blend of fear, patriotic bombast, and alleged "realism" helps to get people used to saying things like we need "the clarity and the courage to go all-out in self-defense against those who are going all-out to destroy us." By this means, you can even get lots of Christians to plead for "all of our supporters and affiliated churches to contact their elected representatives and let them know we support President Bush's efforts to update our methods of interrogating terrorist detainees."
Yessirree, what worked during our face off with the two greatest totalitarian systems in history no longer works. Treating prisoners humanely and refusing to adopt the methods of the KGB have suddenly been rendered out of date.
(My rebuttal at the time.)
So ... in that specific context and as a rebuttal argument, not a prima-facie argument (that we be "we tortured during World War 2, therefore we should now"), what sort of practices the US actually did engage in during World War II become relevant (to me at least) for that purpose.

But not to Shea. Because he doesn't understand that other people, whatever his personal style might be, might argue from intellectual curiosity or dissatisfaction (rather than some nefarious "agenda" that he has divined from his charism of being able to read others' minds and know them better than the person know them themselves). And Lord knows, he doesn't have the patience to do more than skim people's posts and see what they are actually arguing. So to substitute for thinking things through, he puts people in boxes ("Akin = good; Victor = bad") and interprets their words accordingly. There is no other way to understand his you-have-to-understand-there-is-a-history-here claims when he tries to distinguish us (actually, me personally, to judge from the links) from Mr. Akin, Dave Armstrong and (apparently) Professor Bainbridge.

So now that Professor Bainbridge is ... how does Shea put it ...
... saying that Army regs on interrogation and just treatment of prisoners were just for show, and that George Marshall's insistence that where US forces went, US standards of civilization and human dignity were to be upheld was just naive hogwash. It appears that [Professor Bainbridge] is saying that what really got the job done was America's can-do willingness to dispense with quibbles about mortal sin when need be. I am, of course, aware of our various war crimes, schemes, plots, assassination adventures, and so forth. Up till now, I had always thought such things were "wrong" in my simplistic, moralizing way. I still do. I even thought the people who did such things knew, down deep, they were wrong, which was why Patton, for instance, covered up the massacre of German guards at Dachau and did not broadcast it to the world as a triumph of Allied justice.
In contrast, I'm not sure what [Professor Bainbridge] is trying to say. He sends very mixed messages. First, he tells us "[I oppose the use of torture or other violations of the Geneva Convention]." But then he reverts to those reliable scare quotes to refer to "[the Greatest Generation]" and distance [as "misleading white wash"] [a war fought "without niceties"] from what that tiresome moralistic proof text Gaudium et Spes defines as torture. ...
In sum, as far as I can tell, he is saying that doing evil that good may come of it is okay, as long as you are professional about it and don't take pictures.

UPDATE: Then some of his combox prags will reliably chime in: "The other sad part is that [Professor Bainbridge] essentially implicated everyone who participated in interrogations on the US's behalf for the past 65 years as war criminal, but it's probably Mark who will stand accused of hating our soldiers.
After all, the evidence for Professor Bainbridge saying that is exactly the same as Shea has for me saying that. As I say ... Shea simply shows himself incapable of thinking with an organ other than his patella reflex.


Donald R. McClarey said...

Mark tends to idolize our country's past in order to demonize our present. Everything that exercises him about the present conflict: people held without charges, civilian casualties, the use of torture was worse, and usually much worse, in most conflicts in our history. For example, tonight I was reading about the record of the Lincoln administration in tossing into jail, often for months, without charges, any prominent individual who voiced any criticism of the administration or the war. The arrests ran into the thousands. This included members of Congress, judges, ministers, etc. If Mark had lived during the Civil War, I assume he would have died of apoplexy at the way the Lincoln administration trampled our liberties. Of course Lincoln was ultimately immortalized and his critics forgotten, but only because he won the war.

Victor said...

How dare you, you cultural relativist!!! You torture apologist!!! How much are the neocons paying you to shill!!! Stop arguing for doing evil so that good may come!!!

Flambeaux said...

It's so pleasant to discover a bastion of sanity in the midst of this weary-ing storm.


Andy Nowicki said...

Lincoln's crimes are still crimes, whether he won the war or not.

Victor said...

But three things, Andy:

(1) They don't delegitimize the Northern cause in the American Civil War. (Aside: I find it curious that the people who harp most on Lincoln's ius in bello faults are those who think him wrong on ius ad bellum grounds in the first place).

(2) They disprove the simple epirical "hearts and minds" claim that "fight dirty and you'll lose," if for no better reason than if the other side fights dirty (as will almost always be the case), then somebody who "fought dirty" will have won, no matter how it turns out.

(3) In this particular context, and this is Professor Bainbridge's point, they prove that Shea is speaking from a stance just barely this side of complete historical ignorance.

Andy Nowicki said...

Well, what's ironic in all of this is that Mark Shea of all people is arguing against unjust aggression against one's eneimes. After all, if ad hominem rhetoric were war, Shea's style would fall somewhere between Sherman's and Tojo's.