June 18, 2005

Not Quite a Gulag...

Armando offers up one of the better quotes I've seen yet on Dick Durbin:
The issue isn't whether or not we are the same as the Nazis, the issue is that we aren't different enough.
That's Israeli historian Avi Schlaim. The outrage over Durbin's remarks—and Amnesty's "gulag" report before that—is, to be honest, one of the most asinine and depressing episodes I've had the misfortune to witness. Cut the crap. Durbin very obviously wasn't calling American soldiers Nazis; no one more sentient than a deepwater sponge was genuinely confused about this point. It's also clear that Durbin's words, whatever you think about it, isn't a "propaganda victory" to the terrorists. I know it's in vogue for "serious" thinkers to believe that "the terrorists" are slumped around headquarters, devoid of propaganda material, and waiting, just waiting for the Senate Minority Whip to give them something that will reinvigorate the movement. It's a grand little theory with just one minor flaw—it's not true.

Back to Durbin. I'm all for Nazi and gulag comparisons, as you know; used correctly, they can be fairly illuminating—see this post for instance—but perhaps its time to put them to rest, at least as far as public official are concerned. There are more eloquent ways to speak out against torture. Or blunter ways. (Q: Why shouldn't we torture detainees, even scumbag detaineees? A: "Because we're the fucking United States of America, that's why.") The word "Nazi" is a blunt and inflammatory instrument, and using it needlessly hijacks the debate, even if Durbin did point out something that needed pointing out. The detainee abuse he described was not the sort of thing anyone should expect of the United States of America. Don't like the Nazi reference? Fine, try "Baathist Syria" or "Mubarak's Egypt". The point is the same, and no less damning.

When actions carried out by our military interrogators can be confused with even the most "minor" of atrocities carried out by some of the worst regimes in history, then no, that doesn't make our soldiers Nazis or a Soviet thugs, but it does mean it's time to worry. When our op-ed pages are filled with academics and other pseudo-intellectuals taking pains to point out exactly how we differ from Nazi Germany—how our torture is quantitatively different from their torture; how our enemies are worse than their enemies; how at least we haven't killed 13 million people yet—then yes, it's time to worry. The issue isn't whether or not we're the same as Nazis, because we're clearly not; it's whether we're different enough.
-- Brad Plumer 1:33 PM || ||