At age 62 I have become more cynical over time, as I’m sure most of us do. Cynicism is the result of watching your idealized view of reality crumble as beliefs and images you were raised with are destroyed with actual events.
The first shock to my comfort zone was the assassination of the American president back in 1963 followed a few years later by the murder of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Add to this the brutal years of the Vietnam war I was part of during the height of its worst atrocities of the Tet offensive, which included the My Lai Massacre and you will find someone who had not yet reached the age of 20 and was already losing faith in the decency of mankind.
I was still able to sustain myself by thinking these were more the exception than the norm and in fact regained some of my hope that the better angels of our nature were still prominent when the U.S. Congress took the steps to deal with the unpleasant but necessary task of impeaching Richard Nixon, a man who I would have likely voted for in 1968 had I been of age then. His decision however to escalate the Vietnam war and send troops into Cambodia forever and authorize the Watergate break-in separated me from the camps of conservative Republicans and that gap has grown as time has shown that their’s is a Party of corporate self-interests and the very wealthy.
Yet overtime I would come to view both major Parties as mere vessels for the status quo and the eight years of Bush/Cheney would only heighten my sense of what was wrong in American politics. What hope I had left for a change to a better time with the election of Barack Obama has pretty much been dashed with his inability to stand up to the fringes of extremism within the GOP.
We view our world in positive and negative terms at several levels. There is the personal where you see your self-interests satisfied by achieving fame, financial success, material well-being, social popularity and to a lesser but very important extent, sexual satisfaction. At the familial and community level you view yourself as part of a social structure that shares similar values and goals and at the national level there is the sense of pride in your country, it’s achievements and how that reflects on you as one of its citizens. It is this latter view as an American that I have of late become more cynical about than the other two levels.
In the last decade I have watched so-called Christians vilify and injure people of different faiths and life styles, Muslim extremists ram commercial jets into places where we work and capitalist devise financial products that served to destroy our economy for their personal gain. All of these events have effected the three different levels in how we view our world. My cynicism cup runneth over but there was still more to come.
Perhaps the most egregious violation of my sense of American pride occurred when I discovered that we had lowered ourselves to what I had always viewed as the villainous acts of tyrants; the use of torture to another human being for reasons that are too often fogged in a cloud of “national security”. I have much contempt for cowardly acts by those who kill innocent civilians in their zealous attempts to promote an ideology and might even look the other way once captured if they did endure some of the pain and suffering they bring from their inhumane acts of violence. But that is a baser instinct that is often gratified by simply ignoring what we are capable of rising above it.
Unlike the lower physiological life forms that tend to react out of survival instincts, we are capable, because of our more complex brain, of making decisions that are either less brutal and more humane or go to the other extreme and make us the lowest of all animal life in terms of our sensitivity to other life forms. On the latter extreme, having devolved into the dark side of our human nature, like the scent of blood to a wild creature, our reflexes become conditioned to adapt these ugly behaviors and carry them to extremes that were once thought unthinkable. Torturing other human beings is at the level that deprives us of our humanity whether you think it be a God-given characteristic or part of a natural evolutionary process.
There are those who will argue themselves blue that the actions we took in the form of torturing were justifiable in light of what we were up against. There may or may not be some truth to that with a few examples. But close scrutiny of our actions in this depraved form will show that our actions were not only excessive but questionable in the light of our own historical stand at such behavior. Too many cases of torture have been shown to occur with people who were innocent and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Its use on those not so obviously innocent has also failed to prove its value.
But where we stand the guiltiest of forever emasculating our moral superiority, if we really ever had it, is in the actions we took to outsource our heinous acts against many who were detained in our “war on terrorism”. Obviously there was a flicker of conscience within the intelligence community that was assigned to this dubious task because those in positions of leadership felt that our honor would somehow be spared if such actions occurred in a foreign country known for such atrocities and in part by those familiar with such undertakings.
Even when the general public discovered rendition was occurring in foreign ports of call it seemed only fitting to some that they took place in countries that we had friendly ties with like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Jordan. But would it have stuck a nerve even with those if they knew that we allowed it to occur with a nation who had ties to anti-western terrorists and where the American president ordered the assassination of its leader with the use of missals fired from an American fighter jet.
Say what you will about the Wiki-leaks exposés that have been released recently and earlier this year revealing details about representatives of the U.S. government in some rather compromising actions. I am not a fan of those secret documents that get revealed where it endangers the life of innocent civilians of any nationality. I do take serious issue though with actions that have less to do with national security than we are led to believe and are found offensive by most standards that we hold as a society.
Certain information has been made public recently, not by the reviled Wiki-leaks organization but by journalists and the Human Rights Watch people following the rebel victory in Tripoli, Libya where forces there invaded the once heavily fortified sanctum of MohammarQaddafi.
Documents found at the abandoned office of Libya’s former spymaster appear to provide new details of the close relations the Central Intelligence Agency shared with the Libyan intelligence service — most notably suggesting that the Americans sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya despite that country’s reputation for torture.
Although it has been known that Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after it abandoned its program to build unconventional weapons in 2004, the files left behind as Tripoli fell to rebels show that the cooperation was much more extensive than generally known with both the C.I.A. and its British equivalent, MI-6. SOURCE
Libya is country who has aided and abetted known terrorists for years with the worst event connected with that regime – the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. From 1979 until 2006, Libya was on the U.S. State Department’s list of states that sponsored terrorism. It was removed after Qaddafi “agreed to abandon its fledgling WMD program. Perhaps most important, Libya agreed to cooperate with the United States in new anti-terrorism efforts. On May 15, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced normal diplomatic relations would resume.” It appears that these “new anti-terrorism efforts” consisted of rendition. Clearly too we know longer hold a favorable view of Libya’s sociopathic leader.
They say politics makes strange bed fellows and that sometimes a few must suffer that most will survive. That’s a debate that has flaws in it but one that I’ll not tackle at this time. Civilized nations have recognized that torture in and of itself is a cruel, inhuman and degrading form of treatment and “is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application”.
When we start making exceptions to such rules we slip back into the forms of barbarism that we have extracted ourselves from over the centuries. To me America is a country that led the way not only in gaining personal freedoms for all people but who would condemn and punish such acts against humanity when it was discovered. It has not been that long ago that we held a world tribunal to prosecute those who instigated and participated in the atrocious acts of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan during WWII.
To read this report about our acquiescence in behaviors that not only violates the morality we helped define in the Geneva Conventions but did so with a known state that supported terrorism, rips away any pretense that we are somehow superior to those nations we have condemned throughout our young history for their part in such acts. The fact that we are still better than the likes of Iran and North Korea in many respects does little to conceal the fact that we are no longermuch better than China and Russia who have never really abandoned such tactics to protect what they felt were in their best national interests.
In a court of law that stands above national prejudices and judges all men and women equally “WITHOUT PREJUDICE”, American exceptionalism suffers and loses its claim to be that shining city on a hill. It is such actions that diminishes my esteem for our nation and increases the cynicism that has come to replace it. Others may refuse to concede such a view but time will wear that away unless this government and its leaders start recalling that which used to set us apart from most other countries.