Last week, I lost my ability to say ‘I’m proud to be an American.’
I’ll have you, there are many wonderful things about America, aspects of this nation, for which I am incredibly thankful. But if the mutation of justice surrounding Eric Garner’s death weren’t enough, then the CIA torture report finished off what little pride I place in my citizenship.
By way of contextualization and self-disclosure, allow me to say the following: first off: I am a third-generation military officer. I am also a pacifist (I serve in the medical corps). Which is to say that nothing I’m about to write is intended as a general condemnation of those serving in the military, who believe that violence used in protecting our nation is an honorable and necessary pursuit. Though I may disagree, I still respect and admire these men and women who bravely put on the uniform.
Secondly, I remember 9/11 vividly- who doesn’t? I remember the footage of people jumping from the towers; I remember something deep within me twisting into a knot; I remember thinking how possible it was that I could have been in that tower, that someone I loved could be the one jumping to avoid unspeakable horrors from within. And I remember thinking no one should ever have to go through pain like that. Ever.
That said: last week, I thought the exact same thing as I read the Senate’s CIA torture report; no one should ever have to go through pain like that.
And yet the startling fact remains: few people seem to truly care about this report. A poll from the Pew Research Center run after the report’s release last week shows only 29% of Americans think the CIA’s interrogation methods were “not justified.” And this isn’t a partisan problem; the report notes that “even Democrats are pretty split on the justification for the program”- less than half say it wasn’t justified.
What’s truly disconcerting is how un-startling this is to a majority of Christians. Another Pew Poll found that among white evangelical Protestants only 16% said torture can never be justified, while 44% said it sometimes can be justified. Among those who attend church services on a weekly basis, over 50% said that “torture against a suspected terrorist in order to gain important information” is sometimes/often justified.
The reasoning for this is simple: we care more about our safety than we do about embracing Christ’s call to self-abandonment and love for our enemies. And with our values prioritized as such, American Christians have been convinced that a “war on terror” is necessary, justified and even godly. Take this quote from Joe Carter, writer for the Gospel Coalition:
“We must never hesitate to defend our culture, our future, and our lives against those who seek to destroy us. The liberal cosmopolitan elite appeal to tolerance and understanding in the face of such an enemy is suicidal.”
My concern with this is that the majority of Christians hardly bat an eye at these things. We readily point out that the majority of us are neither witnesses to nor directly implicated in the torture outlined in the Senate report. Inasmuch, we choose to view the report less as a moral red flag and more as a partisan motivated political tactic. And shouldn’t Christians be more concerned about things like gay marriage?
To this line of logic, I’d like to point out two things: first: we should remember that there’s a group of people recorded in the Bible who approved of torture but otherwise led upstanding and morally flawless lives: they’re the Pharisees and Jewish high court, the religious leaders who had Jesus (tortured and) killed.
Secondly, this is not the first time in history that Christian rhetoric has been utilized and implemented as the foundation for egregious, systematic evil under the guise of national security, nor is it the first time for such actions to be met with half-hearted apathy or turning of a blind eye by the general public. This has happened numerous places, but most poignantly in Nazi Germany.
To make this point, I’ve compiled a handful of quotations. The list consist of quotations from Adolf Hitler interspersed between several justifications for the use of torture presented in light of last week’s report. Please understand: I intend none of this as a partisan attack on any specific party or person. Furthermore, I understand there is not a direct correlation, but there is a correlation nonetheless. And that should be disconcerting enough for us.
In testimony to such, take a moment to read these and see if you can properly assign an author to each quote:
- “Think thousand times before taking a decision. But – after taking decision never turn back even if you get thousand difficulties.”
- “They have absolutely no legal rights that they can claim anywhere. So whatever treatment we give them, if there is any mercy involved in it, they have no right to that; that is simply because we are a merciful people who are driven by Christian principles.”
- “As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.”
- “It is morally correct to protect innocent lives from barbarians…. It’s not theory it’s reality. We are a nation of laws, but we are involved in a brutal on-going war.”
- “If I were (in charge, they) would know that water boarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
- “My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers…summoned men to fight …and who, God’s truth, was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.”
- “I know what they were asked to do and I know what they did. And I’m perfectly comfortable that they deserve our praise. They deserve to be decorated. They don’t deserve to be harassed. No pardon needed. No crime was committed.”
- “It matters not whether these weapons of ours are humane: if they gain us our freedom, they are justified before our conscience and before our God.”
- “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty.”
- “I’d do it again in a minute.”
Now here are the authors of the above quotations, in subsequent order:
- Adolf Hitler; Mein Kempf
- Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
- Bill O’Reilly, Political Commentator on Fox News Channel
- Sarah Palin, addressing the NRA annual convention
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
- Dick Cheney, in reference to the CIA operatives who executed torturous interrogation techniques
- Hitler’s Speech in Munich, August 1923
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
- Dick Cheney in an interview with NBC News
In his book Ordinary Men, historian Christopher Browning studies the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, a battalion of mostly civilian soldiers in Germany who were tasked with the implementation of the “Final Solution” in Poland, the systematic execution of thousands of Jewish citizens. The Reserve Police Battalion 101 consisted of nearly 500 men, most of which were in their 30’s and 40’s making them too old for conscription. A minority of them were members of the Nazi Party, a sparse few belonged to the SS. But for the most part they were businessmen, dockworkers, truck drivers, construction workers, waiters, pharmacists, and school teachers. They were, as Walter Reich puts it: “truly ordinary men.”
As ordinary citizens, they were instructed by their leaders that the extermination of Jews was an on-going and necessary action for the safety, protection and sustainment of their great nation. Following which, Browning describes the methods by which these men assembled, transported and shot thousands of Jewish women, children, infants and elderly citizens (all Jewish men capable of labor were separated and shipped off to work camps). Ordinary citizens, from a population of Christian majority, learned how to properly set the muzzle of their rifles at the base of a child’s neck and pull the trigger, day after day, victim after victim. All members of the battalion were allowed to opt out of executions if necessary; but Browning cites disturbing first hand accounts saying that very few of them took leave.
Perhaps, you might say, this tangent is hardly relative. The torture listed in the CIA report was not my fault; it was the product of someone who was a trained killer working against terrorists, national threats. A few innocent men might have died in the process, but I had nothing to do with that.
And this is true: you didn’t pull any trigger, didn’t waterboard anyone. But if we, as Christians, adhere to the kind of logic necessary to approve or become apathetic to the possibility of our government using tactics such as those listed in the report, then we are being naive to think that we, given the right motivation, couldn’t also become killers.
And that, I would suggest, is something to consider very deeply. For as Browning states in his closing line:
“If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group (of us) cannot?”