Monday, September 18, 2006


My great-great-great grandfather (I’m not sure how many greats back) fought the British in the Battle of Ticonderoga in May of 1775. So did his son, my great-great (or so) grandfather. The family took a few wars off after that, moved from Vermont to the South Side of Chicago, and was minding its own business when World War Two came along.

My father served as a scout in an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon in New Guinea in that war. He caught what poet ee cummings called “a nipponized bit of the old 6th avenue el” – a “million dollar wound” that got him a ticket home, then tormented him every day for the next 45 years.

Two of his brothers served in the Army in Germany. One was wounded. Twenty-five years later, my older brother and I went to Vietnam. I went over as soon as he got home.

I have a niece on active duty in the Navy. Her brother spent several years on active duty with the Army. He finished his reserve duty just before the Army instituted a stop-loss program that might have kept him on call to return to active duty at the whim of the Pentagon.

These are the family bona fides. We went when we were called. Some of us even volunteered. We weren’t thrilled about it, but there we were, bored stiff or scared shitless, according to the moment. Other families have done much more, but then other families have done much less.

Now the Bush Administration wants to sanction torture by getting Congress to say it is not torture. They want to tighten up (they say “clarify”) America’s interpretation of the Geneva Convention’s definition of torture. The tighter the definition, the more a number of questionable techniques can be said to be legal.

My guess is the Bush people behind this atrocity never served in the military in a war zone. My guess is they never had family serve in a war zone either.

If they had, they might feel some compunction about exposing captured Americans to a similarly-relaxed definition of torture.

They don’t feel any compunction. They don’t care that, should they get their way, your kid or my kid or our grandkids in the military will be just that much more vulnerable to torture themselves.

They don’t feel any compunction because they - and their families - don’t go to war.

Apologists will say that the people on the other side are terrorists; that those people will feel no compunction about torturing captured Americans – why should we care about torturing them?

If handing terrorists predisposed to torture another reason to torture isn’t enough of a reason, then how about because we are America? We are supposed to be better than the terrorists. That’s what we citizen soldiers fought for. That's what we always fight for.

If neither one of those reasons is good enough, then join up and head for Iraq or Afghanistan. Get yourself captured. Or better yet, let your son or daughter get captured. See if that changes your mind.

Put up or shut up. If you’re not willing to subject yourself or your family to an increased risk of torture then don’t back the thugs who would subject all service men and women to it. Support the troops. Tell the Bush Administration torture is torture.

I am certain the majority of 231 years of American citizen soldiers would agree.


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