"Are you saying we are expected to perform torture?" I asked. "You are expected to perform whatever is required," the senior officer replied. Then I responded: "I will never, under any circumstances or for any reason, participate in torture."
This dialog took place at a seminar on Interrogation Techniques in Colorado Springs, in the late 1950's, that I as a young military intelligence specialist was assigned to attend.
I had always been a good soldier, and got good evaluations. My arguably unsoldierly position on this issue sprang from no more than the normal personal reserves of courage and compassion, and not from any religious persuasion, which in fact I totally lacked, but simply because it was clearly the Right Thing, whereas abiding or participating in torture was clearly inhumane and personally repugnant to me, i.e. the Wrong Thing. The decision was not difficult. To borrow a recent perhaps unfortunate expression from a famous American, it was a Slam Dunk.
Not long after my return from Colorado Springs to Washington, I left the military after nine years of service . I enclosed my Class "A" blue uniform in a garment bag and hung it in my closet, where it resides today, fifty years later. Then I went on to complete my college education, and then to pursue a career in manufacturing management. I worked hard and was committed to succeed.
Somehow in the first ten years of that track it seems I may have suffered a loss of clarity of the higher moralities, i.e. in the arena of life and death and human suffering. What I can remember of this most clearly was when my then grade-school sons asked me why was "America doing such bad things in Viet Nam?" to which I replied something to the extent that our country had made a decision and, right or wrong, whether we personally liked or disliked that decision, we must now support it. This, I now know, was terribly wrong. And I now owe my middle-aged sons an apology.
I am not a religious person, more succinctly I do not believe in a god. But I do have a hero, among others, in Christ, and do believe from a multitude of perspectives that All Men are Brothers, and that – beyond our pedestrian transgressions – when it comes to the essential welfare of our fellows that we should always try to Do the Right Thing.
My government is not doing the Right Thing now, but has progressively across the last twenty-odd years sold out our people and humanity. For what? Greed? Lust for power? Madness?
The list of our government's transgressions grows longer now with each passing day: the invasion of Iraq based on lies, the prolonged slaughter in Afghanistan with no clear or decent objective beyond greed, the drone attacks on Pakistani civilians, the toleration of atrocities against the Palestinian people, here at home the trashing of our Bill of Rights, the income tax relief for millionaires, the bonuses for the banksters who caused the flood of foreclosures that put thousands of unfortunate Americans on the street, the debate of competitive deceptions re the worst national medical program among the world's more prosperous nations, the no-bid contracts awarded the weapons makers, the engineered decline of the middle class and the enrichment of the greed merchants, and – yes, damn – the torture!
And then there is the insult of the never ending charade of the politics that supports these crimes against the American people and humanity, the partisan fingers pointing at each other and hoping for some oh-so-slight edge for their side in the furtherance of the treachery, when since the election of 2006 with a Democrat majority in both houses of Congress and now a Democrat president – it is clear that the treachery continues unabated with no difference beyond the names posted along the corridors of power, and the people remain the constant losers.
The partisan packaging is exquisite in that it lacks or is a lie to any difference in the content. There are never ending but finely tuned debates, on torture, for instance: has it helped spare us more grief, or is it or not "useful," is it an atrocity or merely a necessary evil, and is it really torture when it is labeled "enhanced interrogation techniques," and can what was done be revealed as the first step in seeking redemption, or must it be forever hidden to protect us, the people? The Devil himself would blush through his scarlet hide at such treacherous, greed and power-mongering manipulations and theater at our expense and to the disgrace of America's future history.
And, lamentably, the biggest and worst part of the historic tragedy before our very eyes is that the people have permitted all this to proceed year after year. The progeny of Jefferson, Franklin and Tom Paine have looked upon this scene, with perhaps just a relative few thinking that it's simply grand, a larger number, one suspects, simply not to be bothered by it, and also too large a number of the persuasion that "we can't do anything about it." Yes, there have been some parades in the park with signs – actually ongoing for years – but nothing of the magnitude or determination that would have worried the gatekeepers of the Bastille.
What will I do? I will make every possible effort to get my public moral compass aligned most purposefully. I will start here with admission that I don't like today's America, that – although far from perfect – the old America was better, but what I need to work for is a new America, an America beyond the influence of political shysters, one that will rise above obeisance to the greed mongers and power meisters, and which will champion the best interests of its people and be the friend of humanity.
This compels me to sever the umbilical cord to the artifact now disgraced by the more recent managers of America's governance. Tomorrow morning I will go to my closet. I will finally retrieve my old uniform, unzip the garment bag, and carry that uniform into my backyard.
And there I will burn it.