The Right Coast

June 14, 2004
Pretty lame discussion of torture in the Washington Post
By Tom Smith

Here's a piece in the Post on torture. Notice how it skirts the issue of whether torture would be justified if you could save thousands of lives by torturing a terrorist to find out about an impending attack. I think the answer to that question is yes. What the writer says is that it would be difficult to limit torture to situations such as that, and that may be true. But suggesting that would be a problem requires some argument of its own.

He also alludes to the observation that another catastrophic attack might get rid of the inhibitions we have left against extreme measures of warfare. I think this is obviously true, and bears more thinking about. For example, if a US city is destroyed by a nuclear bomb, there will be difficult to resist calls to retaliate in kind against Tehran or Damascus or some other perhaps only peripherally related target. Attacks on civilian targets in the UK and France led to the firebombing of Dresden, Tokyo, Hamburg and other cities. I know I'm repeating myself here, but it is very, very important for civil liberties and our constitutional order that a catastrophic attack against a US city(or a major European target) be prevented. Such an attack would transform our politics instantly, and all the various critics of war in Iraq, harsh treatment of detainees, etc. would be immediately irrelevant. Japanese internment would look like an ACLU picnic. Impeachment of a President and replacement with a wartime leader, martial law and many other horrors are quite plausible.

The terrorists may be tactically clever, but they are strategically stupid or nihilistic or both, and so are people in the US who think or hope that somehow Vietnam War style demoralization can lead to a Vietnam War style victory for the enemy they sympathize with, or at least defeat for the Amerika they hate. The islamo-fascists are not fighting to make some third world country safe for socialist revolution. They are fighting for a fantasy objective, the revival of a long dead Islamic civilization to replace the West. They are a lot more like the Nazis than third world revolutionaries in that sense. The US could live with defeat in Vietnam; we cannot live with being defeated by islamo-fascism. Their objective is impossible to achieve. All they can possibly achieve is to arouse American democratic ire to the point that we will use unrestrained warfare, including our huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, not to mention much else, against everyone who even looks like a terrorist. We can take Saudi Arabia, Iran and so on, split it up with Russia, and make a desert of any country that dares oppose us. This may sound implausible, but think of how hearts and minds in this country will change if a million died in New York or LA, and hundreds of thousands are dying of related effects. It would be the end of the first American republic, and the next one would be a far harsher place. This is why the left-liberal civil rights crowd needs to think carefully about national security, something they have shown little evidence of so far.

On a related point, this is also why we cannot let Iran get nukes.