When I was a teenager in the 1960s, one of the most profound influences on my developing Cold War world view was stories about how the “evil communists” tortured people – a practice, which in our Cold War time, was the very definition of evil. Notably, I read books by Dr. Tom Dooley about the horrible torture tactics of the communists in Southeast Asia – in Laos and Vietnam – as the Vietnam war was starting, then escalating through my youth. I also read the shocking recounts of the torture-and-death machine of the Nazi Holocaust, coming to public awareness via the Adolf Eichmann trials at that time. As a fundamentalist Appalachian-mountain Christian, I took my religion very seriously – and these torture practices offended every moral precept I had garnered from my upbringing. For the rest of my life, I have defined other countries’ morality by how those countries treat their people – and I believe that torture is the ultimate evil a country can perpetrate.
Today, I believe that torture is still the defining moral mark of any culture or country. I believe that a culture or country that practices torture practices the utmost evil. “Torture” is a word people do not wish to discuss, to acknowledge, to even think about – but it exists. Torture is transformative – it transforms people from good to evil. Torture hurts and kills it victims and its perpetrators. If defines a culture.
For many years, I have wondered “Where were the good Germans?” I knew they were there – but where were they during the Holocaust? How could they stand by and let it happen? When I see a country torturing people today, I know that that country has its good people. I know they are there. Yet they stand by. Any country can be a Germany. We are all “good Germans” if we stand by and allow torture to happen.
In addition to torture killing both its victims and its perpetrators, it brings back to an otherwise moral people the perpetrators – their torture practices just might not stop when they return to their normal surroundings. They will live in neighborhoods, have spouses and children, live in communities. But their torture practices do not die. They are forever twisted by their experiences – and we will have them living amongst us.
Torture changes society, and it is changing our own society in this country. The torturers live amongst us. If we do not stop torture, we are the torturers.
This I believe.
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