Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hating America

Last year, I wrote a post asking whether or not people would have thought it morally justified for Blacks in 1856 to engage in a full-on revolution in America, violently marching on Washington and overthrowing the government. Most people, somewhat to my surprise, agreed that it would have been.

In my post yesterday on the detainee rights ruling, I noted that -- in response to reports that some released Guanatamo detainees had committed acts of violence against American troops -- it's entirely possible that they were radicalized by their time in American detention. Limitless, lawless detention mixed with torture does tend to have that effect, as countless authoritarian dictatorships can testify.

So off of that, my question for today is: what would have to happen for us to say that an individual person is justified in "hating America", to take up arms against her and seek to ruination (the same way an Iraqi might have rebelled against the Hussein regime)? It seems to me that detaining and torturing someone in an isolated, extra-legal prison with no legal proceedings or due process rights would easily cross that threshold, such that, even if I had no particularly negative feelings towards America prior to the ordeal, I'd sure have some rage at the country afterwards.

The type of activities we engaged in when we authorize these detentions and allow for this torture, these are terrorist methods. They are the sort of things that are worthy of hate. Which means that when we sanction them, we are rendering ourselves worthy of hate. It is terrifying to me to watch as so many in my country -- people who claim to be patriots -- want to make America into an object deserving of contempt and rage.


Matt said...

what would have to happen for us to say that an individual person is justified in "hating America", to take up arms against her

Our loves and hatreds are emotional not rational. It's rarely possible to justify them and as rarely appropriate to ask for justification. But to hate America and to act against it are different things. Once you hate America, then what's the best way to try to change things? So long as there's a real chance to work through politics, through media coverage and similar means, then I doubt violence is easily justified. (We might have great difficulty criticizing such an action, but that's not the same as a moral justification.) Though I could be wrong, I think we're, fortunately, a long way off from that.

schiller1979 said...

As a psychological matter, I suppose prisoners don’t tend to be well-disposed toward their jailers, whether they are legitimately jailed, or otherwise. Stockholm Syndrome may come into play, but I suspect only in isolated instances. Violence against jailers is understandable from that standpoint, but that doesn’t justify it.

Aside from that, what most interested me about your post was your tone (not that you’re alone in this) which seems to acknowledge no justification whatsoever for Guantanamo. It’s as though George Bush woke up one perfectly ordinary morning and decided it would be fun to lock up a couple thousand Muslims at one of our offshore naval bases, and deprive them of due process.

The key question, as I see it, with due process is whether to err on the side of letting guilty people go, so as to minimize the number of innocent people being punished, or to go in the other direction. Our system (and rightly so, in my opinion) errs on the side of letting guilty people go free, with Miranda, right against self-incrimination, etc. That’s not to say that people are never wrongly convicted, but it’s a delicate balance, and I think we have it roughly correct.

That balance changes in wartime, because the stakes are higher. A state at war needs to deal with those who pose an existential threat to the state. A person allowed to go free might not just commit a run-of-the-mill crime on the streets, but might go back to being part of a force dedicated to that state’s destruction.

I acknowledge that not everyone agrees that the September 11 attacks constitute an act of war, or that the Islamists pose an existential threat. My analysis hinges of those questions, so we will have to agree to disagree, to the extent anyone disagrees with me on those points.

I believe that the Bush Administration got that civil liberties balancing act wrong with Guantanamo. But that’s different from calling them “terrorist methods” and “worthy of hate”. Their having got it wrong is not insignificant, but I think the issue needs to be put in better perspective.

Also on the question of “hating America: I remember reading an op-ed piece during the Vietnam War. I’ve long since forgotten who wrote it. But the gist was how extraordinary it was that Americans who disagreed with their government’s actions in Vietnam often phrased their position in terms of hating America, or denouncing American patriotism. The writer contrasted that with Russian feelings of patriotism during World War II. After Stalin had caused the deaths of millions of their compatriots, and conspired with Hitler to start the European war, Russians still tended to be patriotic, even though they had much more reason to hate their government than Americans ever have.

David Schraub said...

I remember during the warrantless surveillance debate that some folks pointed out that, had President Bush just done it in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when everything was in chaos, then went to Congress and tried to get explicit authorization, nobody would be that upset. It's the breadth of time elapsed and the insistence on extra-legality that was so risible.

Likewise with Gitmo (and the "Black sites"). If we had established it right after 9/11 for a few months while trying to figure out a workable system for handling detainees, it'd have been one thing. But the Bush administration wasn't even interested in getting it right or making it work. It seemed to think it a perfectly reasonable "solution" to chuck folks into prison with no notion of whether they were guilty of anything and no way from them to prove their innocence and torture them for awhile. That's horrifying.

By the time a year, two years have past, this stops being post 9/11 panic, and starts becoming a conscious action. Was there a justification for Gitmo in the first year of the conflict? Perhaps. Is there any justification for it now? No, I don't think there is.