There are those who would disagree with me. In a ZDF documentary series about the history of Europe, Cristopher Clark, “Cambridge historian” (that is how he boldly presents himself), more than implies that what propels change is competition.
I am being a little unfair to Mr Clark, as he does admit that what he values, what he believes was achieved through competition (almost synonymous with greed), has often been won at a terrible price.
There are those who believe that the price has already been paid by past generations and is thus no longer worth grieving about. Again, in all fairness, I do not think that Mr Clark is that foolish. In fact, he makes it clear that he is not.
There are others who believe that the price is insignificant, given what has been achieved. I put it to them that either they have been grievously misinformed, in which case they should consider taking action, together with all their fellow-victims, against whatever news outlet they have relied on, or they have committed auto-lobotomy.
There are reasons for committing suicide (for instance that of being subjected to torture) and even more reasons for committing auto-lobotomy. The world is a cruel place. Admittedly, films shown during the Christmas season tend to present kind people, people with laughing children and adoring spouses. Most of us, however, are neither adoring nor all that kind. Where Dickens found models for his self-effacing heroes in Tale of Two Cities is truly a mystery to me. I don’t believe people like Doctor Manette and his daughter Lucie exist (though I consider Dickens one of the greatest and most effective authors of all time). But we want to believe in them, and we don’t want to know too much about torture, which is being practised more widely than we wish to know.
Torture is a distant concept for most of us, until we for some reason or other have to witness it. I happen to have some knowledge of the matter, although I myself have never been tortured. From time to time I am reminded of what I know and – well, let me put it this way … on second thought, I won’t.
In the event, then, that you refuse to admit to yourself
- that torture is not an exception, and
- that the price, in hours of torture, having been paid, currently being paid, and yet to be paid is unspeakably grim, or
- that you have committed auto-lobotomy;
I suggest you read an excellent book called “Mistakes were made but not by me” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.
Most torture victims are unable or unwilling to “talk about it”. Simple as that. So we don’t know much about torture, except that at a certain point, which varies from person to person, all tortured persons will admit to anything under the sun, including crimes they never committed, unless they faint or are killed. And the subsequent shame they suffer is indescribable.
The United States of America have perfected scientific torture methods aimed at keeping the victim alive and without visible scars, that have been and are still being used, not only in USA’s backyard – Central and South America – but all over the world. The USA is a world leader in almost all fields, including torture. My reference from the NY Times is old, but valid.
In the US backyard, state-sponsored killings and torture were the rule rather than the exception during the second half of the twentieth century, a period during which the population of the US felt particularly pleased with itself. In Central America, where democracy has been rubbished completely by bog brother USA, human rights activism, for instance, is a fatal occupation to this day. I suspect that if the US wanted the practice of state-condoned torture to end in Central America, it would end. There are those who believe that the US still actively (if unofficially) supports torture in all of Latin America.
But USA did not invent torture in the Middle East. Certainly not. Running a country by means of torture is addictive. I suppose rulers argue that “what worked well for Alexander the Great surely cannot be all that bad. And after all, I don’t torture people – I have officers to do it for me.”
The problem is, however, that torture generates nothing (certainly not truth!) except hate, shame and evil. It is contagious; if others do it, you will probably be induced to do it, too, confer the Milgram experiments. Moreover, it is addictive. Once you start, you find it hard to stop, cf. the Stanford Prison Experiment. You’ve become a monster. Can we really afford to produce monsters? Don’t we have enough murderers and sadists without adding to the number?
Wars tend to mass-produce monsters. Almost all of us react with fury and hate if our loved ones are killed or mauled. I certainly cannot vouch for myself if anybody hurts my children or even my dog. Would I turn into a monster? I really couldn’t say.
Actually, it is all the more surprising and wonderful that there are so many nations that unequivocally prohibit torture both officially and unofficially. Think about that for a moment, please. You may laugh at me, but I actually think that good old Dickens had something to do with our newly-gained abhorrence of torture.
Mr Clark, though very aware of mankind’s capacity for cruelty, probably does not share my gloomy general outlook, and I assume that he and I would disagree on a number of issues. Nonetheless, I warmly recommend his series “The Story of Europe” because he makes an almost impassioned appeal to us Europeans to keep our hats on, to not degenerate into a pack of sectarian, squalling, pre-war howler monkeys. The route from strife to war is short. War is not heroic! It is merely instrumentalised torture on a grand scale. It’s sick.