Facing Up To It

James Fallows on what Liz Cheney owes her country, and herself:

Through American history, there have been episodes of brutality and abuse that, in hindsight, span a very wide range of moral acceptability. There is no way to "understand" lynchings that makes them other than abominations. But -- to use the extreme case -- America's use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will always be the subject of first-order moral debate, about whether any "larger good" (forcing an end to the war) could justify the immediate suffering, the decades-long aftereffects, and the crossing of the "first use" frontier that this decision represented.
My point now is not to go through the A-bomb debate. It is to say that anyone who is serious in endorsing the A-bomb decision has to have fully faced the consequences. This is why John Hersey's Hiroshima was requisite basic knowledge for anyone arguing for or against the use of the bomb. The OPR report is essentially this era's Hiroshima. As Hersey's book does, it makes us confront what was done in our name -- "our" meaning the citizens of the United States.

If you want to argue that "whatever" happened in the "war on terror" was necessary because of the magnitude and novelty of the threat, then you had better be willing to face what the "whatever" entailed. Which is what this report brings out. And if you believe -- as I do, and have argued through the years -- that what happened included excessive, abusive, lawless, immoral, and self-defeating acts done wrongly in the name of American "security," then this is a basic text as well.

One of my biggest problems with those who support water-boarding isn't simply that torture is un-American, but the essential cowardice inherent in their Orwellianism. Their may not be a more evil phrase in our post-9/11 vocab then "enhanced interrogation." Instead of deploying language to reveal, "enhanced interrogation" uses words to conceal that which its agents are too weak to see.

The inability of water-boarding's supporters to come out and say, "Yes it's torture, and yes it's awful, but here's why we have to do it," is the corollary of death penalty advocates who can not bring themselves to admit that innocent people will die. I don't know that I agree with Obama's predator drone strikes. But at least we don't go around pretending only "bad people" will be killed, and that there are never mistakes.

You probably can't convince me to support torture. But I don't ask for a society that does everything I think is best. I ask for a society that doesn't deceive itself. I don't think I agree with dropping the bomb on Japan. (I think it qualifies as what we, today, call terrorism.) But I get the argument. And it's important that I get the argument. It's important that I'm able to put myself in Truman's shoes, and in those shoes, not have any certain idea of what I would have done.

We need more moral complexity in our lives.