In the first week of May, 1965, I was the second to last man on a patrol along the southern DMZ in South Korea. Short-timer PFC Hendrix had less than a week to go before he was scheduled to rotate back to the US. PFC Hendrix was point. A few hours into the patrol, I heard a huge explosion that came from up front. Whether it was one that was deliberately, remotely triggered by North Korean soldiers, or a just a matter of Hendrix being in the wrong place at the wrong time when an anti-tank mine from the 50's went off was long in dispute, and has since been, along with Hendrix, forgotten.
For more than four decades I have mulled whether Hendrix was lucky to have been evaporated. He knew no pain, experienced not a moment of suffering. On the other hand, he could have been left to survive the rest of his life with only half a body, or a face so terribly disfigured that he'd never again venture into public, or a mind that no longer served much of a human purpose. Or, he and the rest of us might have been captured, taken prisoner by North Korea, and forced to endure whatever brutalities they wanted to visit upon us, just as they did a handful of years later to the crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo.
Whatever the various fates were, I have concluded there are fates far, far worse than death.
One of the things that fit that category distill from the love I have, not only for the geography that is my country, the United States of America, but much more the idea and the ideals that compose the essence of what is 'America.' Through travelogue films I am aware that the People's Republic of China has terrain that rivals that of any nation for dramatic beauty, even ours. But the People's Republic sure as hell ain't America.
Dick Cheney and others on the right have tried to defend the use of torture (Yeah: "torture," as defined in the Geneva Accords that George Bush claimed we followed, to the letter.) on "high-value" detainees because it provided "useful information."
For starters, the decision to resort to such techniques, techniques that every politician and citizen in this country would have screamed to the heavens in protest, had the tables been turned and the subjects were American military, were not instituted because of any firm knowledge the detainees at the time had knowledge of anything disastrous in the immediate offing.
Those who not only gave the okay, but who participated in the mockups in the basement of what was intended, at the most only conjured "maybe" there was "some valuable" information held by the prisoners. Such paper-thin excuses - the ticking bomb, and only minutes before a major US city, like PFC Hendrix, is evaporated - are the stuff of which Hollywood movies are made. And for me to suppose that any 'American' could ever coolly concoct such anti-American, 17th century Inquisition era schemes is totally abhorrent. It is a move that strikes at the very love I have for what I treasure above anything and everything else: my country, what it is supposed to strive to be!
What such miscreants, when they're trying to defend the indefensible, have always neglected to acknowledge is the equal chance that other interrogation techniques, completely humane and dignified and long proven as most potentially successful techniques were never first attempted. With apologies to Parker Brothers' Monopoly, they didn't pass Decent, they didn't Collect alternatives, they went directly to the Bad.
The other reason I detest it is because it also strikes at what could be the only defense a captured American might cling to: We just don't do that, so if you do that to one of ours, you do it with the full knowledge that you may be held to answer for your behavior.
What strikes me most, however, is the common thread of the most tawdry cowardice that the defenders of harsh interrogation techniques manifest. From George –I'm-too-frightened-to-even-complete-my-Guard-service Bush and Dick –can-I-just-have-one-more-deferment-because-I-have-other-priorities Cheney to everyone in the Bush cabinet, save for Colin Powel and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, to every discordant squawker on the right side of the dial is a gutless, cut-and-run, yellow-bellied coward! Not them, and not their kids: all too good to serve. "Send José's son and daughter, the military experience will be good for them, it'll open up opportunities for them."
It bothers me as well when I hear military veterans defending the use of these demeaning atrocities. What I've never heard was a defense of same that was issued by a combat veteran; marine or army grunt. Service shipboard or on an Air Force tarmac in some forlorn region, while honorable, just does not compare, for risk of life and limb, to military service in the Marines or in an Army Infantry company. It just does not.
If anyone pretending to any particle of honor and love for this country encounters another who is attempting to defend the abuse of those we have taken and hold prisoner, there is incumbent upon that person the obligation to vociferously slap the offender down. At least for the two reasons I provided, and for as many others as one can summon, Americans just don't do that!
- Ed Tubbs