Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Remember Our History

This is a little bit late, but still relevant. Some time ago, the news informed us that the United States was indeed running interrogation (torture) camps in a number of other countries so that American laws need not be applied. This is supposedly necessary to win the war against terrorism. In my opinion, it is simply proof that we are being governed by a corrupt regime and that we have fallen as low, in principle if not in degree, as our 20th-century enemies.

If you cannot believe that statement, consider this. When we were fighting against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan for the very existence of our way of life in the early 1940s, we never needed such torture camps to get information or to win the war. When we were in a cold war against the Soviet Union, from Stalin's regime on, we never needed such camps either. In both cases, against enemies whom we conceived to be almost as powerful as we were (thus a cold war policy called MAD - mutual assured destruction), we believed that our rule of law, that our sense of justice and fair play, that our ethical and polite (if firm) treatment of prisoners of war, and that our interrogation practices were completely and properly defined by the Geneva Conventions on conduct in warfare (or the equivalent that was operant at the time). We need to remember our history.

And we won, at least in some part, because of that behavior. I once met a man in Naples who had been a soldier in North Africa. He was captured and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp in New Jersey. He said he never felt threatened and was never fearful because he knew that the Americans would treat him right. How many other Italians and Germans, when things got bad in their own countries, were willing to surrender because they knew they would be well treated by the Americans, British and French?

Now, Al Qaida or any other such terrorist organization, is definitely nowhere near as powerful as Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the Soviet Union. There is no need to change the way we behave in response them. Let's recall the experiences of two countries who have gone through similar (actually, worse) terror-related situations. Israel lives with terrorism as a daily part of its existence. How do they handle it? And in the 1950s-60s France suffered horribly from terrorism (Algerians fighting for their independence). How did they handle it? It boggles my mind that we condemn France for not blindly following us, rather than conferring with them to learn how they lived with terrorism on a daily basis. We need to remember our history....

Also, by treating our prisoners humanely, and allowing them to let their families know how they are being treated, we may just negate some of their propaganda. This has worked before. Over and over again. Review our history.

Why has the administration changed the way we treat prisoners of war? Even with the abuses during Viet Nam, the government made a show of maintaining a legal stand against those abuses. It seems to me that the recent aberrant behaviors, beginning in 'Nam and escalating to what is now going on, might be because our leaders know that there is no way to win wars like these: grass roots conflicts based in the desire of a people to govern themselves in accordance with their own principles and beliefs. We need to remember history....

My God! America exists because it fought exactly the same kind of war against Britain from 1776 to 1783! Again, we must remember our history....

I want my country to return to its honorable and ethical behavior of strict observance of the Geneva Conventions.

Oh, yes, just for the record - I served in the US Navy from July 1960 to October 1969 (longer than required or requested) and achieved the rate of Chief Petty Officer (which I declined in order to leave the service). I served at a time when we were indoctrinated with the Geneva Conventions and worked at how we could follow them, even though we knew that if we were ever captured we probably would never have their protections in return; even so, the Geneva Conventions still dictated OUR practices.