May 15, 2010

(II) A Story for the Children: Making Friends with Evil

Part I: What the Monster Said


The mother tries to calm her two young children. They've been in their beds for almost an hour and are still very upset. At school earlier in the day, they heard another rumor about some teenagers who had gone missing in a town several miles away.

"Now, now, we didn't even know them. And you can't believe everything you hear. You know the Council has forbidden talk about such things. You shouldn't listen when other children try to tell you such tales. Besides, even if something did happen to them -- and I'm sure it didn't -- they probably had done something very, very bad. That's why it's so important for you always to be good children."

She prides herself on being a good mother, and she tells herself that what she sees in her children's eyes isn't terror. "Now, the Council has distributed a news story for you to hear before you go to sleep. Just close your eyes, and I'll start reading it. We can talk about it at breakfast in the morning."

She notices the desperate look the children exchange before they close their eyes. She remembers that until a few years before, the children had sought comfort from her. They don't do that now; they seek reassurance only from each other, and they've begun to shrink from her touch. But the Council Subcommittee on Education tells her this is another proof of how well she's raising her children. They are learning to rely on themselves, and they're learning how to be hard and unfeeling. In a world where weakness of any kind is the worst sin of all, being tough is the primary virtue.

The mother begins reading. Her tones are soft and expressionless, as gentle as the rain falling outside as darkness gathers. Over several years, she has conscientiously eliminated any trace of emotion from her voice whenever she speaks to the children. She hasn't noticed that she never expresses any emotion to anyone now, young or old. And there is no one to tell her of the change, for everyone else is doing the same. There is only one exception to the requirement that no one show any intense emotion: they are all encouraged to express anger and rage, but only at those the Council has designated as enemies. Then, anger and rage are not just encouraged: they are required. The greatest anger and rage is reserved for those enemies who had appeared to be friends.

"The Good Ogre administration's decision," the milky smooth voice begins, "to authorize the killing by the Secret Signal Agency of a child suspect who is a citizen of Ogre City has set off a debate over the legal and political limits of mystery weapon strikes, a mainstay of the campaign against child terrorism."

The mother pauses and looks out the window. She sees the stars beginning to appear as the clouds disperse. She hears the breeze in the trees. It's all the same, she thinks. Nothing's changed. The world appears just as it always did. For a brief moment, she remembers similar stories from a few years before, when they concerned adults. As it turned out, there were very few adult terrorists. Those who had thought of protesting against what they considered to be the monstrousness of the new policies -- although they weren't actually new at all, they were only practiced openly now -- learned the lesson quickly enough. If they did protest, they would immediately disappear. Besides, almost no one objected, and almost no one wanted anyone else to object. It was easier just to go along. Finally, that's what everyone did, if they were adults.

For reasons no one understood, some children continued to resist. A few people talked about the indomitability and the resilience of "the human spirit," but they didn't talk about it for long. Besides, that kind of pseudo-poetic garbage was a sure sign that someone was a terrorist or at least a terrorist sympathizer. The Good Ogre and his designated agents might talk about "the human spirit" once in a while, but only insofar as that spirit was devoted to eliminating the Ogre's enemies.

To the extent the mother allows herself to be aware of the terror in her children's eyes, she knows that it reveals their failure to accept fully the Good Ogre regime. This is a sign of great danger. She wants her children to be safe and to remain alive. Isn't that what every parent wants? When the children's eyes are as expressionless as hers, they will be safe. We make ourselves dead, so that we may remain alive. An infinitesimal flicker at the corner of her mouth indicates the beginning of a bitter smile. Once, the mother thinks, I would have appreciated the horrifying irony of that idea. She stops the thought, and the flicker disappears. She continues reading.

"The notion that the Ogre council can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, makes some legal authorities deeply uneasy."

The use of "in effect" is a nice touch, the mother muses. As if the Ogre isn't actually ordering the death of one of his own citizens, not really. Except that he is. And if he can order the death of one of them, without any judicial process or evidence, he can order the death of any of them, even of a vast number of them. Stop it, she orders herself.

The mother has read the supplement to this story distributed by the Ogre Council. Tomorrow morning, she will point out to the children how this story demonstrates the openness and freedom of the new regime. "Some legal authorities" are "deeply uneasy." You see, children? she will say to them. A few people -- a few very bad people -- say that you cannot challenge the Ogre. But that's obviously not true. People do challenge him, and their objections are even printed in the official Ogre paper.

And look at how much space is given to those objections:

"Ms. Divoll, the former Secret Signals Agency lawyer, said some judicial process should be required before the Council kills an Ogre citizen away from a traditional battlefield. In addition, she offered a practical argument for a review outside the executive branch: avoiding mistakes.

"She noted media reports that Secret Signals Agency officers in 2004 seized a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, and held him in Afghanistan for months before acknowledging that they had grabbed the wrong man. 'What if we had put him on the kill list?' she asked."

The mother knows that her children will think that objection makes a lot of sense, especially the older one, the girl. So she'll have to emphasize the response of the Ogre's agent:

"Another former Secret Signals Agency lawyer, John Radsan, said prior judicial review of additions to the target list might be unconstitutional. 'That sort of review goes to the core of Ogre power,' he said.


"Ogre officials say an arrest may not be possible. 'If we need to stop dangerous terrorists who hide in remote parts of the world, inaccessible to U.S. troops, law enforcement, or any central government,' said the counterterrorism official, 'what do you do — cover your ears and wait for a truly devastating explosion in Ogre Square?'"

The Good Ogre only wants to keep you safe, the mother will say several times. And he has information we don't have. We have to trust him, children. She knows the children will agree with her in time.

The rain has stopped. The world outside the window looks so wonderfully peaceful. If only those few people, now just those few children, would stop causing trouble. No one wants to think about certain questions any longer. She remembers how angry a friend of hers was the week before. One of the friend's children had come home from school repeating a question a classmate had asked. The child had wanted to know why, if it was true that the Ogre was as successful in eliminating terrorists as he and his agents repeatedly claimed, all the rules about what everyone could say and do kept getting more restrictive, instead of less. If the threat was being reduced and if they were safer, couldn't the rules be relaxed? But the rules kept getting stricter, and the punishments kept getting worse. The child said that didn't make sense to him.

The mother's friend went to the school administrator and furiously demanded that the troublesome child be silenced, even removed from the school entirely. No one has seen the child since.

The mother hears a voice in her head, as if from a great distance. You didn't always live this way, the voice says. Don't you see how insane this is? For one brief moment, the mother feels blindingly intense rage. It only lasts for a second, but the heat of it causes her to gasp. She's so unused to spontaneous, intense emotions that she can't tell what triggered it. A thought begins to form in her mind: perhaps she's enraged at a regime that would order children killed simply because the Ogre said so, enraged that she and her children, that all of them, have to live this way.

No, she tells herself. No! Ah, the mother thinks. I know what it is. I'm furious at myself for having such doubts, even for a moment. Yes, yes, that's it. The Ogre has said rage at oneself for thoughts of that kind is good, for it shows what a good Ogre citizen you are. That's why I'm so angry, the mother tells herself. I'm a good citizen, and my children will grow up to be good citizens, too.

The mother grows calm again. The children have fallen asleep. The boy's hands are knotted into tight little fists, and his eyelids flutter uneasily. The girl's body twists in on itself, as if she is trying to protect herself from an indescribable terror in the night. But, mercifully, they sleep. They look fine, the mother thinks. They're sleeping, and they're relaxed after a hard day. They're fine, she repeats to herself.

Besides, the mother tells herself, those other stories aren't true. They're an awful lie, the worst lie of all.

We've always lived this way.


The actual story is here. As you will see, I've changed very little, and nothing of substance. Read Chris Floyd on the nature and meaning of this assassination program.

I offer the story above, and I presented the previous article in the way I did, in an effort to try to break through the massive denial and resistance that suffocates our culture. I well understand that this is almost entirely a futile endeavor. Still, for some of us, the effort must be made.

I've been writing about this denial and resistance for a very long time. As just one example out of many, consider the opening of "We Are Not Freaks," written in February 2007:
I fear that many, if not most, of you who read this, will not fully understand what I'm about to discuss. Very tragically, this is unavoidable, for we live in a culture that suffers from severe emotional repression. Those issues that matter the most, that are genuinely sacred in the most profound sense of that word, are kept at a distance. To the extent we contemplate them at all, we forbid them to achieve their full reality.

I've discussed this in many essays with regard to our murderous foreign policy. Even the phrase "foreign policy" becomes a means of preventing ourselves from acknowledging the immense horror that flows from our actions. We murder hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings -- people who never wished us harm and who never threatened us -- and we speak of statistics, and whether and to what extent they are "accurate." That hundreds of thousands of innocent people are dead is not in dispute, just as we know that many hundreds of thousands more are terribly injured and have had their lives altered forever. But the horrors are not to be understood, not completely. This is only a "strategic blunder," perhaps a monumental one, but still just a "blunder." Our murders have been executed "incompetently." Most of those who unthinkingly parrot this line refuse to face what it would mean if we as a nation were competent murderers. In their descent into the amoral abyss, they appear to believe that would be an "improvement."

Our culture is suffused with ironic detachment, overintellectualization, and endless and ultimately futile policy debates -- while the murder goes on every day, as it will go on for at least several more years. Congress could stop these monstrous criminal acts within months, but they will not. Of course, they will continue to debate "foreign policy."

This severe repression is one of the hallmarks of our culture, and it can be found in most individuals. It begins in childhood, as all such mechanisms do (see the final part of my series, On Torture, and all of my Alice Miller essays for much more on this topic).
"We Are Not Freaks" analyzes these issues in more detail, and a number of more recent Alice Miller essays on related themes are listed and described here.

If you wish to see how widespread this repression and desensitization are, even among writers who protest monstrous policies, you can consult an article by Jeremy Scahill that I read only yesterday: "Who Runs the Secret 'Black Jail' at Bagram?" I would say that Scahill's article reads like a weather report, except that I've read and heard weather reports that contain more passion and commitment. Here's a representative sample:
President Obama, upon taking office, issued an executive order requiring the CIA and military to adhere to the Army Field Manual's guidelines for interrogations. "However, under secret authorization, the [Defense Intelligence Agency] interrogators use methods detailed in an appendix to the Field Manual, Appendix M, which spells out "restricted" interrogation techniques," reports Ambinder...
I don't know if Scahill himself has made this claim, but Obama and many of his liberal-progressive fans categorically stated, upon Obama's pronouncement about adherence to the Army Field Manual's guidelines, that Obama had "ended torture."

In fact, I clearly remember an ACLU ad shortly after Obama's inauguration. The ad appeared on many liberal-progressive blogs, and I was so incensed that I made a note of it at the time. This was the text of the brief ad, from the notes I made on January 25, 2009:
You ended torture & will close Gitmo.

We are restoring America together!

Let's thank Obama for these bold first steps! Send him thanks!
The ACLU does much valuable work. But these were shameful, detestable lies. I was enraged because I knew this was a lie then. Every person who was honest could and should have known that these were damnable lies. But you see how enthusiastically so many people believe the Good Ogre's lies. For more on the lie about "ending torture," see "A Deadly Liar and Manipulator," and this article and this one. As I stated in the earlier piece: "there are more than a few additional articles elsewhere making the same and related points."

The fact that Obama's claims on this issue are damnable, monstrous lies has been painfully, horrifically obvious since the time he first offered them. With very few exceptions, no liberal-progressive writers have told you that. More than a few writers -- and Obama himself -- continue to offer these same monstrous lies as truth even today.

Consider again the nature of the subjects under discussion: the immense evil of torture ("Lies in the Service of Evil" might help make the nature of that evil clearer to you), and Obama's claim that he has the "right" to assassinate anyone without judicial process or evidence of any kind whatsoever, simply because he says so. Reread the little story offered above. And then be brave enough finally to state the truth, at least in what should be the sacred space of your own mind:

This is insane.

This is monstrous.

This is deeply, unforgivably, irredeemably evil.

Here is a note for those who write and talk about these issues. If you write on these subjects and if you talk about them regularly on radio and television, and if you do not state -- repeatedly, with all the conviction and passion that you can command -- that actions of this kind are insane, monstrous and deeply evil, you are not opposing the monstrousnessness. You are accommodating it, seeking excuses for it, trying to minimize it -- or, to use the phrase I often employ in my own notes -- you are "making friends with evil."

If you do this, you are not fighting against the monstrousness. You are part of it.