Sunday, May 9, 2004

Moral Authority

While taking his anguished apologies at face value, what seemed to bother Donald Rumsfeld most was the fact that the gruesome photos got out.  It reminded me of how we all feel after some accidental event, kicking ourselves that we could let such a stupid thing happen; if we only had...  Rumsfeld contended that photographing and the release to CBS, The New Yorker and other media were illegal renegade acts, and you can be sure that, if he can find a way below the radar screen, they won't go unpunished.  Punishing the chain of command is another thing altogether which is exactly what troubles Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican known for his prosecution of Bill Clinton during the increasingly beside-the-point days of Monicagate.  Perhaps I misjudged him because he certainly is less partisan than might have been expected.

I've noticed in talking to people about this that, after mouthing the appropriate horror, strong supporters of our invasion of Iraq are eager to place it in the proper context: terrible things happen in war.  True, which is precisely why many of us are so reluctant to engage in it.  But even if you accept war, which sometimes is unavoidable, what happened in this prison can't be construed as one of those spontaneous combustible acts in the heat of battle.  Getting people to undress and into suggestive embarrassing positions, leading them by dog leashes, is something that doesn't just happen.  It takes planned intentionality.

We simply can't let ourselves off the hook with the things happen in war argument, the kind of reasoning that in a profound way is at the heart of what makes our times so troubling.  Perhaps it is overstating it to say that we've proven ourselves no better than our adversary, but to deny it entirely misses the moral point.  Morality is one of those pesky things that demand absolutes.  The country I love claimed the moral high ground in sending its daughters and sons into battle to fight for democracy and decency against the evil one.  We tell the world that we don't do those terrible things done by others because that's not what we're all about.  Having found no WMD's the President justified our action by pointing to torture chambers like Abu Ghraib in what now appears to have been a compare and contrast shell game.  I don't suggest that Bush knew the specifics, but rather that it is all part of a claim of moral certainty – I'm right and everyone else is wrong – that is emblematic of the neo-con rhetoric to which he so closely adheres. 

The Conservatives that hold sway in America, so certain that theirs is the right way, are clearly not terrorists, but like them claim to act on  on behalf of The Almighty.  It is the same proprietary pipeline conceit used by those who bomb the innocent around the world on instructions from Allah or of Orthodox West Bank settlers who claim Divine Right in withholding lands from Palestinians who lived there for centuries.  Everyone with a gun it would seem claims to be carrying out a mission of a "Higher Authority."  If all the terrible things going on these days are the result of what God really wants, I want no part of Her.  The fact that I view all these claims as self serving and bogus is the only thing that permits me to hold on any modicum of belief.  My father was born 102 years ago today and based upon his lifelong work and thinking most assuredly would have shared this sentiment.  Had he voiced it in one of his sermons, he might have concluded with this prayer: May God protect us from the many divergent forces that claim to hold the absolute Divine truth

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