War is torture, torture is war

John McCain is once again getting solemn props from a lot of liberals and Democrats for breaking rank and speaking out against torture. This time, in the context of his defense of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture.

Why is he being given any kind of moral credit for this? He’s given his heart and soul to creating the perfect storm for torture. He has, from the beginning, been one of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars’ most loyal supporters. He’s perpetuated the idea of a War on Terrorâ„¢. He’s continually spoken about terrorism in the good-guy/bad-guy narrative of a Tom Clancy novel. The CIA’s torture program did not spring into being one day from the ether. John Brennan did not say to George W. Bush one morning at the breakfast table “You know what would be cool is if we…”

Those torture programs were bricked together gradually beginning at about noon on 9/11/01. Every demonization of Muslims, every dehumanizing remark about Arabs, every assertion of America’s inherent moral superiority contributed. Every call for unnecessary violence, every righteous defense of an Islamic exceptionalist view of global threats, every breathless exaggeration of the threat of Islamic terrorism…every time, another brick in the wall.

This has always been the most frightening thing about John McCain as a potential Commander in Chief. He believes the glory of war can be had separate from the filthy, evil parts. He believes that war can be honorable. But has there been a war in human history that didn’t come with insane brutality? Even if one believes the good-guy American mythology of WWII, the American military that liberated the concentration camps is the same American military that tortured and mutilated Japanese soldiers. The America that recoiled in horror over lampshades made of Jewish skin is the same America whose soldiers mailed ashtrays made of Japanese skulls back home to their wives as keepsakes. This is the horror of war. It dehumanizes everyone involved. Everyone, the victors, the losers, the torturers and the tortured, they are all reduced to an animal state. And via the mental anguish of its survivors, the awfulness lasts long into subsequent generations.

LIFE Magazine "picture of the week" from 1944. A young woman writes a note to her boyfriend serving in New Guinea thanking him for the "Jap skull" he sent her.


Supporting war means supporting that. That’s why war is a last resort. You don’t send your son or daughter into a torture chamber unless your and their survival depends on it, and even then you think twice. But not John McCain. To him, and many others, war is an easy call. If you can point to good guys and bad guys then what else is there to think about? Nothing but the glory, the honor, and the gentle feeling of your fears being soothed by those brave men across the world doing brave things. And when it gets ugly, as it inevitably does, we can just tell ourselves we never meant for that to happen, right?

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