Let's just take one example: The Bengal Famine of 1943. Scholars still dispute what exactly caused the famine--and whether there were in fact sufficient amounts of food, amounts which went unused--but there can be denying that the Churchill government's response to this disaster was, in the historian Peter Clarke's word, gruesome. Upon learning that people were dying at a rapid rate (the total death toll was around 3 million) Churchill simply asked, in an infamous letter, why Gandhi had not yet starved. Eventually the government responded adequately, but this was of little solace to the millions of dead Indians. I mention this story not because it should distract us from the torture issue, but because it is worth keeping a little perspective. We do not need to idealize the past in order to make clear moral judgments.
One wonders what on earth he's talking about. The Murrow quote is about established norms of justice and due process in the British legal system in the Second World War. Murrow does not argue that Churchill was not an imperialist, as he certainly was, or that he was an angel, which he certainly wasn't. The quote was, moreover, about a collective belief that certain things were sacrosanct - like due process and the prohibition of torture.
In the last few years, Americans have shown that they do not hold such principles in such high regard - and throw them away for the illusion of security. After 9/11, Cheney panicked and abandoned whole swaths of constitutional tradition. After 1940, Churchill didn't. They responded to 9/11 by throwing such notions out the window and adopting the most heinous interrogation practices of police states throughout history. Yglesias adds his two cents:
World War II was something like the nadir of humane conduct in world history. Back then you could be deliberately targeting enemy civilians for mass death and still be the good guy in the war. Heck, you could be Stalin and still be the good guy. It was a bad time. What’s so disturbing about Bush isn’t so much that his misdeeds have reached an unprecedented level of badness, it’s that much of his conduct seemed to reverse a trend toward better behavior developing over time.
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