I Started This as a Comment
The previous post on torture and SERE training has been provoking some great responses. Thank you for your thoughts. It's good to hear from people like Mike that SERE training has evolved. It's still something that sorrows me when I realize that something that was designed to train people in resisting maltreatment has become the basis for our own behavior.
That goes against the wisdom of men like Pericles, who warned the Athenians at the beginning of the war with Sparta that if they allowed the war to change who they were as a city and a people that the Spartans would be the victors regardless of any outcomes on the battlefield.
It goes against the wisdom and actions of great leaders and generals like Grant (let 'em up easy, was his watchword with the defeated southerners), and Sherman (not many folks know that the legendary "40 acres and a mule" policy was Sherman's. He did not have the supply lines capable of dealing with former slaves, now liberated who wanted to tag along with his army sweeping through the south. Sherman's policy was to first burn the great houses, and then divide the property up among those slaves who had worked it for the profit of others. Rough justice indeed, but very just to my thinking).
Mike: so what really needs to be taught? In a combat situation folks should already be aware that there are people who will fuck with them. It wasn't so much the lessons, but the relish with which the guys in the opfor conducted them. that was the most disgusting part. Also, these lessons were given to prepare us to resist some of the vilest motherfuckers on earth. The men who did these things in Pongyang, Hanoi, Haiphong, Laos and other shitholes of despair were the pure banal face of evil. My outrage also rests with Ranger, in that these assholes are now doing this to others in our name.
Torture and mistreatment produces lies. It hardens the resolve of the enemy and ensures that any of ours who are captured will be treated with all the violence at the command of angry and wronged people. When they know that they will be raped with brooms and plumbing tools in Abu Ghraib or disappeared into a vacuum of offshore dungeons or third world battery shops no soldier with an ounce of will would ever surrender. My main lesson from SERE was that there was no fucking way in the blue eyed world that I would ever allow capture. I would not assume the passive, get along/go along stance that they tried to instill. I would fight with every loose limb, every last tooth, I would make it easier for them to fucking kill me. I would do that fast, hard, and unceasingly. That's where torture took me. Right fucking there.
Washington, by taking his stand, proved that point. During the battle of Long Island and New York, the Hessians especially, were brutal and violent to captured or wounded Continental soldiers. They tormented them with shit like heated bayonets, tying them naked across the barrels of artillery pieces which were then fired, the report of the guns would permantly deafen the unfortunates while they were horribly burned by the brass barrells. Often, a wounded soldier would be hauled to a sitting position and spiked to a tree or a wall with a bayonet and left hanging there to die painfully and slow.
Needless to say, when a Hessian surrendered, the captors often felt like they possessed a justified and reasonable agenda to give back the same treatment.
We were all, as a people and nation, lucky that among Washington's favorite books was Thucyides' The Pelopponneisian War. Washington could cite passages from that work. He could quote Pericles' warning to the Athenian Assembly. He would cite the passages that showed how the Athenians time and again ignored that advice to their own detriment and damage.
Washington issued orders forbidding the torture or mistreatment of prisoners. He established a system for the Hessians which would allow them to lay down arms and move onto the then frontier of Western Pennsylvania where there were already communities of German speaking settlers and farmers.
Word travels fast in war. When it spread among the Hessian rank and file that there was land for the asking, decent treatment and aid in establishing a new life as a property owner from the rebels, the next flogging dealt out by a drumhead court, or the next beating from a Sergeant began to weigh heavy. The Hessian privates began to ask themselves "Why should I endure these hardships for the profit of a Duke I have never met?" Hessian squads and companies began to desert en masse as units, bringing their arms and stores. Their descendants still populate the hills of Western Pennsylvania and the entire Ohio valley.
Think what might happen instead if we were to not just stop the tortures, but repudiate those who did the torturing, those who commanded the tortures be done. These people need to be hauled out of their dungeons into the light of the bar of justice. This needs to be done for all the world to see.
I doubt that it could be something done under the U.S. legal system. That might have been already too degraded and too hopelessly corrupted. Our own system of legal justice might not have any credibility left in the eyes of the world. I would suggest that the torturers and their bosses be arrested and turned over to the World Court of the Hague. Let justice prevail.
That is the only way out of this for our nation. I doubt that any among us have the moral courage, much less the will to do the dirty work of drawing the lines and taking the stands for what used to be simple human decency.
I truly grieve more than I rage. Something that was a thing of beauty and spirit has been discarded.