A reader writes:
I'm sure that your post will generate its share of outrage from southerners who feel unfairly singled out for blame for the cultural roots of torture in America, so I commend you to a book called "The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity" by Jill Lepore (now a professor of history at Harvard). Professor Lepore describes a conflict with some eerie similarities to the post-9/11 "war on terror." After a period of engagement, in which the British settlers of New England tried to engage and "civilize" the native population, the Wampanoags turned on the settlers in a series of brutal attacks (including the murder and kidnap of women and children on isolated farms).
In their resulting terror, the settlers retaliated with an extraordinary level of brutality, nearly exterminating the native population in southeastern New England. The specific accounts of torture are sparse because, as Professor Lepore relates, subsequent written accounts seem to gloss over the specifics of how the campaign was conducted -- the intellectuals who came to build a "city on a hill" were clearly ashamed of what (they agreed) had to be done. Indeed, the very existence of the Wampanoag was glossed over, as Indian place names were systematically changed to familiar English ones. But Lepore's excellent book shows that it's not only American southerners who have perceived attacks by dark-skinned people as an existential threat, and have jettisoned their principles regarding human rights in response.