Saturday, April 25, 2009

Assorted torture laughs and facts


I'm outsourcing this week's torture commentary to a couple of guys who are much funnier than I am. At least on that subject:

First, Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America.
I have now lived through three major episodes in my life where the political elite have told me quite plainly that neither I nor my fellow citizens are sufficiently mature to suffer the public prosecution of major crimes committed within my government. The first was when Gerry Ford told me I wasn’t strong enough to handle the sight of Richard Nixon in the dock. Dick Cheney looked at this episode and determined that the only thing Nixon did wrong was get caught. The second time was when the entire government went into spasm over the crimes of the Iran-Contra gang and I was told that I wasn’t strong enough to see Ronald Reagan impeached or his men packed off to Danbury. Dick Cheney looked at this and determined that the only thing Reagan and his men did wrong was get caught and, by then, Cheney had decided that even that wasn’t really so very wrong and everybody should shut up. Now, Barack Obama, who won election by telling the country and its people that they were great because of all they’d done for him, has told me that I am not strong enough to handle the prosecution of pale and vicious bureaucrats, many of them acting at the behest of Dick Cheney, who decided that the only thing he was doing wrong was nothing at all, who have broken the law, disgraced their oaths, and manifestly belong in a one-room suite at the Hague. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m sick and goddamn tired of being told that, as a citizen, I am too fragile to bear the horrible burden of watching public criminals pay for their crimes and that, as a political entity, my fellow citizens and I are delicate flowers encased in candy-glass who must be kept away from the sight of men in fine suits weeping as they are ripped from the arms of their families and sent off to penal institutions manifestly more kind than those in which they arranged to get their rocks off vicariously while driving other men mad.
And Dear Leader (unexcerptable, go take a look)

Speaking of idiot America, I bet you thought Michelle Bachman was the dumbest person in congress. Here's some cracker named Joe Barton giving her a run for the money (he's schooling Energy Secretary and Nobel laureate Stephen Chu on the sources of oil).

And here is IOZ pointing out that we've tortured and committed other assorted imperial crimes for many years, so what's all the big fuss about torture?
The idea that our interrogations are a unique moral stain is cracked and insane. Waterboarding is not the disease, merely one observable symptom of a deeper and more pernicious pathology.
Well, yeah, sort of. Torture is not uniquely immoral, it's just the most glaring and obviously evil form that state power can take. It's been targeted (by me, at least) because it is so obvious. It is not a subject that permits any debate, any nuance, any wishy-washiness. Most political questions are not simple moral questions; there is usually at least a little bit of merit on the other side. Not so with torture, either you oppose it or you aren't a decent human being. Not really complicated. Just like in Harlan County, there are no neutrals here. You are either opposed to torture or a thug for the worst aspects of the state.

Of course, there are a quite a few indecent people out here on the intertubes. I tried to school them in some basics, and didn't get very far -- read the prior and follwing comments if you feel like seeing a bunch of people in deep denial:
  • To be opposed to torture is not to be on the side of the terrorists. It is to be on the side of civilization and law.

  • It is not only deranged leftists who describe US torture as torture. There is, for instance, former Army Major General Taguba.

  • Even if you believe terrorists are sub-humans who deserve to be tortured, there is no guarantee that all of the people we have tortured were guilty of terrorism. There were no trials, no judicial review, no due process, no checks and balances. Even when the law is being followed scrupulously, innocent people get convicted and set to prision. How likely is it then, under the lawless conditions of the Bush/Cheney war on terror, that innocents were swept up and tortured? Here's one who was tortured to death, and there are a great many more like him.

  • It is doubtful that any useful intelligence has been produced by torture in the War on Terror. It is, however, a very good tool for extracting false confessions to justify government policies. That appears to have been its chief purpose:

    A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration...There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said...The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that Chalabi and others had told them were there."

  • Torture is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While naturally it is more important to bring to justice the higher officials who ordered these illegal acts, the Nuremburg Tribunals established the principle that following orders is not a valid defense for war crimes, so the soliders on the ground have to answer as well. I have some sympathy for soldiers in the very difficult position of having to choose between following their orders and following their consciences, but to deny them culpability is to deny their status as moral actors, which is a grave insult. Here's a story about one who was apparently driven to suicide over the choice.
I'm getting pretty damn sick and tired of torture as a subject. It has ceased to interest me; I don't see much more I can learn about it. Reading detailed reports on prisoner abuse is not uplifting. I feel some sort of awful duty, though, to do my small part to bring these facts to light, to confront torture supporters with them. I need to be able to say, when and if justice is done, that I did what I could to stop this most egregious abuse of government power.

31 comments:

Mike O'Malley said...

mtraven said... It is because I have kids that I bother to be somewhat activist on this issue. Before, I'd probably settle for smug cynicism, on the order of "oh well, torture, that's just what governments do, what do you expect?" Having kids makes me feel more obligated to what small part I can do to make this a better world. And a world where the US abides by the rules of civilized nations, rather than like a clone of the NKVD, is a better world.If the Bush Administration behaved like a clone of the NKVD Pinch Sulzberger would have "jumped" to his death from to of the New York Times headquarters building in late 2003...

.


So Mtraven you want a world where the US abides by the "rules" of civilized nations?


Is it safe for us to presume that you MTraven duly teach your children about that Rwandan genocide. Do you teach your children how the US was under treaty obligation to intervene to stop the genocide? Recall that the UN and Clinton Administration had six months of warnings about this genocide. They had been given the secret locations of the Hutu weapons caches. The UN Peace keeper force commander in Rwanda, a Canadian general, asked for 25,000 additional troops to confiscate the cached weapons. This request was refused by President Clinton. In April 1994 when the genocide began President Clinton determined to ignore his legal obligation to intervene. President Clinton and now UN ambassador Susan Rice dishonestly argued that they did not know that genocide was going on in Rwanda, the said that the only knew of "acts of genocide"; so they could not intervene. (Human Rights Activists and the CIA told them that genocide was going on - Clinton lied, so did Susan Rice.). The current Rwandan government's estimates of the number of victims of the genocide is 1,174,000 in 100 days (10,000 murdered every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute). It is estimated that only about 300,000 Tutsis survived the genocide. Thousands of widows, many of whom were submitted to rape, are now HIV positive. Rape was a prominent aspect of this genocide. "In his 1996 report the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rwanda, Rene Degni-Segui stated that "rape was the rule and its absence the exception." The report also stated that "rape was systematic and was used as a "weapon" by the perpetrators of the massacres. This can be estimated from the number and nature of the victims as well as from the forms of rape." The Special Rapporteur estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Rwandese women and girls had been raped. A 2000 report prepared by the Organization of African Unity's International Panel of Eminent Personalities concluded that "we can be certain that almost all females who survived the genocide were direct victims of rape or other sexual violence, or were profoundly affected by it".".


MTraven, you will, we can trust, tell your children about how you personally demanded that America's failure in the Rwandan genocide be investigated by a "Truth Commission" and the those Americans who were responsible for this horrible betrayal of American treaty obligation and American heritage were brought to justice. You Mtraven could not rest because of the US's failure to abided by the rules of civilized nations in Rwanda in 1994.

You will course explain to your children why the genocide to 1,174,000 people and the brutal rape of between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls is ALMOST AS EVIL as water boarding three genocidal illegal combatants for as much as two minutes at a time.

Michael said...

Two points:

1) How is torture to be defined? It is not simply the infliction of pain on an unwilling person. This makes no distinction between, say, tearing a person's tongue out with red-hot pincers and spanking an unruly child. If it be defined as coercing a person to provide certain information under threat of unpleasant consequences should he fail to do so, then everyone who files Form 1040 is an implicit victim of torture. Where is the line to be drawn?

Apropos of waterboarding, I noted a recent news story in which one detainee was allegedly waterboarded 183 times. If he could survive 183 such treatments, however unpleasant it must be, waterboarding must not significantly threaten life or health. The same could not (for example) be said of the brodequins, the pilniewinkis, the strappado, the rack, or most of the other historic methods of torture (including the real water totrure, of which waterboarding is a pale simulation).

2) If Congress wants to act decisively on the issue of waterboarding, why is there now no move to ban it? In 2006, when the Republicans were in control of Congress, Democrats introduced a resolution to do so, knowing that it would probably be defeated on party lines, and if not, it would surely be vetoed by President Bush. That fall, Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. Is it not striking that such a measure has not come forward now when it could surely be passed, and Obama would surely not refuse to sign it?

The reason it has not, I submit, is that Democrats really don't want to take such a step now that they actually can. They would prefer to leave the legality of waterboarding undecided; now to pass a law banning it would implicitly recognize that it wasn't heretofore illegal.

That would take away the opportunity for show-trials of Bush administration officials by 'truth commissions' or congressional committees, which is what the left really wants. In other words, no one really cares about what torture is or is not, or about whether it happened to some wretch at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. It's all about exploitation of the issue for partisan advantage.

mtraven said...

How is torture to be defined?It's not complicated. Everybody with any experience of modern, non-invasive torture techniques recognizes that it is in fact torture. This includes such leftwingers as Menachem Begin (subjected to sleep deprivation torture by the KGB) and Christopher Hitchens (who had himself waterboarded for a magazine article).

If it's not torture, then what the hell is it? What do you call having someone stand for days with their arms shackled over their head so they get edemas and shit on themselves? If it's not torture, then why in the world is it being done?

I really hate this kind of stuff. If you want to defend torture, go ahead, but this mincing around the concept and pretending it's something else really pisses me off. It's adding an assault on plain language to the assault on human dignity.

If Congress wants to act decisively on the issue of waterboarding...Who said that they did? Democrats (Obama included) have been dragging their feet on this issue for a variety of reasons. Politicans like power; they do not like constraints on their power. Some Democrats may be complict in the crimes of Bush administration. I'm sure everyone in Washington would like the issue to go away. It is acivists, not the politicans, who are keeping this issue alive. Glenn Greenwald has a good commentary on this.

They would prefer to leave the legality of waterboarding undecided; now to pass a law banning it would implicitly recognize that it wasn't heretofore illegal. There is no question that it is illegal. The Geneva conventions and the Torture Convention (signed by Reagan) have the force of law. The only issue seems to be whether the criminals should be brought to account, or whether we are operating in the Nixonian "if the president does it, that means that it is not illegal" model of government.

Michael said...

Your approach to defining torture is akin to Felix Frankfurter's approach to the definition of pornography - "I can't say what it is but I know it when I see it."

Unfortunately, this is a poor basis on which to make law. From a judicial point of view, knowing pornography "when we see it" has, since Frankfurter's time, led to the present effective desuetude of laws forbidding pornography. Knowing torture "when we see it" will, in exactly comparable fashion, lead with equial inevitability to the desuetude of laws forbidding torture.

I am not defending torture. I have repeatedly said, and right here in this forum, that I agree with Pat Buchanan that our country should be a republic and not an empire. In that connection, I merely observe that torture or something bordering on it has historically proved a necessity in the course of ruling 'lesser breeds without the law,' and those who are squeamish about employing it should not attempt to govern an empire. Needless to say, that will leave the business of imperialism to people with less delicate sensibilities, of whom there are plenty in this world.

The problem with the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of modern international law is twofold - jurisdictional and penal. If violations have been committed, who has jurisdiction to prosecute and try them? and how shall the guilty be punished? These things cannot simply be made up as we go along - they need to be defined in advance.


If the congressional leadership that now so enjoys pontificating about the awfulness of waterboarding wants to act decisively, then let it enact a law defining it as torture, forbidding it, and setting penalties for its violation. Federal statute, unlike the amorphous globaloney found in treaties and conventions, has real force in the courts of the United States of America. If our elected representatives are unwilling to do this, we must conclude they are just showboating.

It would be quite interesting to see a Republican who has a consistent record of opposition to waterboarding (John McCain comes to mind) introduce such a bill. I predict it would never even see a committee hearing.

Michael said...

Further to your point - you write "If it's not torture then what the hell is it?"

It so happens that the European Court of Human Rights ruled on several techniques you have mentioned in this or previous posts, in the case Ireland v. the United Kingdom (1978). Wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink, the Court ruled, "did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture." It did, however, rule they "amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment" in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. You may find further details in the Wikipedia article "Five techniques," including a link to the text of the Court's judgment.

Needless to say, the United States is not part of the European Union, not signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, and not subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Hence this judgment is without force or effect in connection with this country. However, perhaps you will agree with your fellow left-winger Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that foreign precedent may at least be informative. Learn something before putting on the tone of high moral dudgeon.

mtraven said...

Your approach to defining torture is akin to Felix Frankfurter's approach to the definition of pornography...That's complete bullshit. Everybody who has studied this issue, save Bush administration apologists, recognizes that waterboarding is torture. The UN Convention on Torture, to which the US is a signatory and carries the full weight of law, says:

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third personIt also bans not only "torture" but "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

The Senate when ratifying this treaty made some declarations that were intended to clarify (narray) the meaning of torture, but one of their criteria for "severe mental suffering" were acts that created "the threat of imminent death". This is exactly what waterboarding is intended to produce, so even under the Senate's narrowed definition of torture, it is torture. This is written into the United States Criminal code.


The problem with the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of modern international law is twofold - jurisdictional and penal. If violations have been committed, who has jurisdiction to prosecute and try them? and how shall the guilty be punished? These things cannot simply be made up as we go along - they need to be defined in advance.More bullshit. The Convention on Torture makes it very explicit that every signatory is required to prosecute or extradite persons who violate the law, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. There is no need for new legislation; there is a need for prosecution.

I looked at the article on the "Five Techniques". It doesn't give much support to your position, since the Court declared those practices illegal even if they fell short of their definition of torture.

Michael said...

My point is that the "Five Tecghniques" are not torture. They fell short of the ECHR's definition of it, as you admit; the convention under which they condemned the UK for employing them is not, however, one to which this country is signatory. The informative part of the precedent is the court's determination that the techniques were not torture; the remedial or injunctive part of the precedent is not informative, as it concerns provisions not applying to the United States.

If there is a need for prosecution, as you say, then it should be brought by the Attorney General of the United States, or one of his subordinates. I wouldn't advise you to hold your breath waiting for this to happen.

If no new legislation is necessary, then it wasn't back in 2006 when Democrats proposed it knowing it could not be passed and would not ber signed. Do you condemn their hypocrisy? The suggested "Truth Commission" or congressional hearings are also presumably unnecessary. Why does the left propose them? Because it wants to engage in political showboating for partisan advantage, that's all. These people don't give a damn about the purported victims of U.S. 'third degree' tactics; they after all cosy up to people who have done far worse, like Castro. I venture to suggest that the righteous indignation you wear so prominently on your sleeve is very likely of the same stripe.

mtraven said...

They are clearly torture; one bad court ruling doesn't change that. And whatever the practices are labelled, they are clearly illegal under British, European, and American law.

If no new legislation is necessary, then it wasn't back in 2006 when Democrats proposed it knowing it could not be passed and would not ber signed. Do you condemn their hypocrisy?I see: you are the kind of person who is quick to condemn the above "hypocrisy" (which is nothing of the sort, of course), but eager to excuse all sorts of horrific and illegal acts as long as they are committed in the service of power.

Re: Castro, I'll repeat something I said elsewhere:

For one thing...there are many leftish groups (like Amnesty International, which I support) that work for human rights in all countries. But more importantly, there is a fundamental difference between torture in Uzbekistan and torture committed by the US government, in that the latter is being done in my name and yours, paid for with my tax dollars, by people who (in theory) work for me, and thus I as a member of the American electorate bear responsibility for those actions. So that's why "the left" (actually, anybody who retains a moral compass) spends more energy talking about torture committed by the US than other places. Understand?

Michael said...

I suspect that in any court proceeding on the subject, the ECHR is going to be given more weight than your opinion - and I do not doubt that the ECHR's ruling was considered by the U.S. government in formulating the interrogation techniques it employed. Legal reasoning proceeds according to a formal logic, and it is that logic you - or anyone else wishing to discuss the law - must use and expect authority to use. Your self-righteousness and moral hauteur are not sufficient.

In considering the behavior of the U.S. government you seem to be making the perfect the enemy of the relatively good. While I find many policies and activities of the U.S. government to be wrong, it is at least not as bad as that of Cuba, Uzbekistan, or Zimbabwe. The U.S. government is, for all its faults, relatively good, compared to them. Thus I find less, rather than more, reason to criticize it.

I reflect also that the only real-political reason for things like the Geneva Conventions is to govern the conduct of the signatories towards other signatories with which they may find themselves in conflict. As an example, during World War II the Germans and Italians treated Allied prisoners of war comparably to the way the Allies treated German and Italian prisoners. This was not because the Nazis and Fascists were honorable and decect people - plenty of examples attest to the contrary. It was rather the case that each side understood that to violate the laws of war would invite reprisals against their own personnel held prisoner by the other side.

Such a real-political consideration does not obtain in the behavior of al-Qaida, the Taliban, etc., toward Americans they take prisoner. There is no reciprocity.

Our tax dollars are exacted from us involuntarily - or at least those I pay are. I have next to no influence over how they are spent, and cannot therefore feel any great responsibility for their being misspent. At least dollars spent on war are not being spent in a way that directly undermines the rights of private property and the tranquillity of our civil society, which is more than can be said of most domestic government spending.

I suspect what you, and most others of the 'blame America first' crowd really at bottom believe is a corollary to the late Susan Sontag's belief that the white race is a cancer on the world. Your belief is that the United States is a cancer on the world, the stronghold of reaction, and the instrument thwarting the socialist dream wherever it occurs. Therefore you wish to see it diminished if not destroyed, and to make constant apology (as Obama has done on his recent tour of the world) for its past transgressions. To the extent you do so because it has done as it did with your tax dollars, you wish to voice your distance from such intentions. Yours is the prayer of the Pharisee, who thanked God he was not as other men.

mtraven said...

I suspect that in any court proceeding on the subject, the ECHR is going to be given more weight than your opinion...Well, duh. But do you suppose that if the ECHR's opinion had gone the other way, would you and the rest of the wingnutosphere been so ready to grant respect to the opinion some obscure European Union entity? Hardly: they'd be ranting about how the US shouldn't be paying attention to the findings of foreign courts. And you accuse me of hypocrisy.

While I find many policies and activities of the U.S. government to be wrong, it is at least not as bad as that of Cuba, Uzbekistan, or Zimbabwe. What high standards you have.

I reflect also that the only real-political reason for things like the Geneva Conventions is to govern the conduct of the signatories towards other signatories with which they may find themselves in conflict.Well, since you are so big on respecting court opinions you will be interested to know that the US Supreme Court has ruled (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) that the Geneva conventions apply even to unlawful combatants held as prisoners.

At least dollars spent on war are not being spent in a way that directly undermines the rights of private property and the tranquillity of our civil society, which is more than can be said of most domestic government spending.That's one of the more idiotic things I've heard this week. I don't even know where to begin.

I suspect what you, and most others of the 'blame America first' crowd really at bottom believe is a corollary to the late Susan Sontag's belief that the white race is a cancer on the world...B7 on the jukebox.

Michael said...

You are the sort of person that might be expected to care about a globaloney body such as the ECHR. That's why I bothered to mention it. You would have cited it if it bolstered your argument; now you say it is irrelevant. You, not I, are the devotee of expediency in defending your positions.

Whatever the courts may say about the Geneva Conventions, the fact remains that the real-political reason behind such treaties is to encourage reciprocity between signatories in the 'civilised' conduct of war.

If there is no reciprocity - if the U.S. giving up harsh interrogation techniques in dealing with captured terrorists, is not going to lead to terrorists giving up targeting innocent civilians or torturing and beheading captured Americans (like Danny Pearl) - and you cannot seriously believe it will - then what is the point?

Someone like John McCain might credibly say it would exemplify America's national honor, but I can't imagine you expressing such a thought. You don't give a fig for the concept of national honor.

Such domestic programs of government as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (both creations of liberal Democratic congresses) have wrought the present havoc on our economy. They have far more directly undermined the rights of private property and the tranquillity of civil society in this country than have the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Can you deny this?

I don't expect much of the US government - it started going the wrong way in the nineteenth century, and (as I have repeatedly said) went much further wrong under Wilson and FDR. It has not deviated very far from the primrose path since then. So maybe I don't have very high standards. I am happy the U.S. isn't as bad as Cuba or Venezuala yet, and though Obama will probably make matters worse, there is a lot of ruin in a nation. I wish this country actually had been the stronghold of reaction the left thinks it is. It and the world would have been a better place.

mtraven said...

I didn't say it was irrelevant; I said it was a bad decision. Surely you know the difference.

If there is no reciprocity - if the U.S. giving up harsh interrogation techniques in dealing with captured terrorists, is not going to lead to terrorists giving up targeting innocent civilians or torturing and beheading captured Americans... then what is the point? First of all, it is not "harsh interrogation techniques", it is torture and abuse. Second, the point is that we do not want our goverernments having unlimited power to detain and torture people, regardless of what they may have done. Such power is inevitably abused. We do not limit the state's power to use cruel and unusual techniques on criminals like Charles Manson or Ted Bundy because we expect them to reciprocate the courtesy. Third, there is no guarantee that everyone the government decides to torture is in fact a terrorist, in fact it is certain that many of the people who were outright killed by your "harsh interrogation techniques" were innocent.

Someone like John McCain might credibly say it would exemplify America's national honor, but I can't imagine you expressing such a thought. Either the use of torture impacts America's national honor, or it doesn't (assuming there is such a thing). You don't have to be John McCain to argue the affirmative. What do you believe? You seem more interested in scoring cheap points against me than in arguing seriously about this deadly serious issue. Are you really that frivolous?

You don't give a fig for the concept of national honor. What the fuck do you know about it?

I will admit that "national honor" is a concept that I have given very little thought to. It does not seem like a very coherent concept. Individuals can have honor; I don't really see how nations can. Nations can, however, have a reputation, just like a corporation or other collective entity. And it is an undisputed fact that the use of torture has done enormous damage to the reputation of the US.

Michael said...

I expect, as I say, very little from the government of the United States. It has not treated the Iraqis or Afghans as badly as it did my ancestors in the valley of Virginia, during Sheridan's campaign there, so I don't see why leftists who idolize Lincoln should be so unhappy with Bush.

I do happen to live in this country and have some affection for the land and its old-stock settlers, like the families of both my parents, which have lived here since it was a British colony. Gore Vidal once said (I think) to Norman Podhoretz that because his (Vidal's) ancestors had helped to found this country, it was his country in a way that it could never be Podhoretz's. Although I agree very little with either of those two, I have to say that Vidal was right in that case, and I repeat to you what he said then - this is my country in a way it can never be yours.

I think I know what national honor is, because my ancestors fought for it, right from the beginning - including two officers of the Continental Line, and about a dozen militiamen and common soldiers, one of whom was present at the surrender of Cornwallis. I also know that whatever is left of that national honor was badly tattered long before I was born.

Your breast-beating about torture - basically it was not much more than the third-degree tactics cops once used all over this country used to extract confessions from the local villains - seems to me to contain a great deal of sanctimonious posing, mainly occasioned by partisan opportunism, and very little grasp of historical or political reality. That is why I bother to argue about it with you. This 'deadly serious' issue would not be so deadly serious to you if it did not seem a handy stick with which to beat a now-defeated opposition and to distract from the astonishing assault your man in the White House is currently mounting on the residue of the United States Constitution.

mtraven said...

Your descent into ad hominem indicates a real lack of intellectual firepower. No wonder your kind no longer can claim ownership of the country. Good thing too, or your remark in the other thread about there being "nothing new under the sun" would no doubt be true.

If you want to lament the lost world of 18th century agrarian gentlemen, or whatver earlier state you pine for, why do you direct your lamentations to me? As you point out, that is not part of my heritage and I couldn't care less. But that is not what America is today and it will never be that again.

Also, why do you do your lamenting on the Internet, which owes its existence to the Cold War era expansion of the state into scientifc research (which I assume you deplore) and large amounts of Jewish ingenuity (half of the six people commonly credit with inventing the Internet are Jewish). Any of those men have done more to make this country great than you with your kvetching. It's our country now, WASP-boy, and we have the Presidential Medal of Freedom to prove it. Not to mention a delightfully multiracial president, who benefitted mightily from the contrast with his predecessor, one of those supposed rightful owners of the country.

Your citation of Gore Vidal in an argument in defense of the torture bespeaks either a truely awesome shamelessness or just more ignorance. Vidal, whatever faults he might have, has been a consistent critic of the imperial state and the techniques it uses to engorge itself, of which torture is only the most obviously evil component.

Michael said...

You completely misunderstand me if you construe me as a defender of torture. I am not. It is just what empires do. Those empires that are squeamish about doing what is necessary to stay in power, won't. This is not a matter of opinion, but one of fact. French squeamishness about the use of torture lost Algeria. British squeamishness about it lost Kenya. For my part I believe, as I have told you many times, that the United States was intended to be a republic, not an empire. But that is not what it has decided to be, and my opinion counts for nothing. Why therefore should I lacerate myself?

The principal positive advantage of the United States at least used to be that governmental respect for private property and the obligations of contracts which used to prevail here. With your "delightfully multiracial" man in the White House, we are already on our way to becoming another Argentina.

What rankles me about the torture issue is that you are a sanctimonious poseur, and that is why I bother with this argument. I like to puncture such bloated bladders of unwarranted self-esteem.

What did I ever say about Jews, other than that I wish more of them were like the late Lord Jacobovits? As far as "your" presidential medal of freedom, you seem to me more to resemble Julius Rosenberg (who did not, as I recollect, get one) than Robert Elliot Kahn. If you want to attack a real defender of torture, go after your co-religionist Alan Dershowitz, who argued in 2002 that it should be permitted if a court issues a torture warrant.

mtraven said...

You completely misunderstand me if you construe me as a defender of torture. I am not. It is just what empires do.Give me a break, you've done nothing but defend torture here, ie by implying that waterboarding is OK (or not torture) because it isn't as bad as the strappado, and other lame arguments or pseudoarguments.

One thing about torture -- it is not an issue that permits a neutral position. Either you oppose it, or you support it and are complicit in it. So choose a side and stop trying to play cute; you aren't fooling anybody. There are conservatives who have taken a principled stance against torture and the other appurtenances of empire, so you won't be alone if you should choose to follow the pricklings of whatever conscience you might retain.

...my opinion counts for nothing. Why therefore should I lacerate myself? You certainly make your opinions known here. If they count for nothing, why bother?

What rankles me about the torture issue is that you are a sanctimonious poseur, and that is why I bother with this argument. I like to puncture such bloated bladders of unwarranted self-esteem.Good luck with that.

Honestly, you take the time to write these innumerable lengthy posts just to mess with my self-esteem? I'm flattered -- so I guess your efforts are having the opposite of the intended effect.

What did I ever say about JewsHow else am I supposed to interpret an utterance like "this is my country in a way it can never be yours," especially since you analogized it to a remark of Gore Vidal's to Norman Podhoretz?

Michael said...

You once (I recall) said that you were the child of immigrants - in other words, a first-generation American. That your familial association with this country is of such brevity compared with mine is what makes this country mine in a way it can never be yours. It wouldn't matter whether your parents were Chinese or Armenian rather than Jewish - the point would be just as true.

I have, incidentally, met in the Sons of the Revolution a gentleman of Sephardic Jewish descent whose family settled in Newport, Rhode Island in the seventeenth century, and who fought for American independence in the eighteenth. This is his country, as well, in a way it can never be yours. Its soil has been wet with the blood of our ancestors, shed in its defense. You cannot say that.

We are now witnessing the moral gymnastics of politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller on the question of when or whether they knew about the use of waterboarding and other 'enhanced interrogation tactics.' All evidence suggests that they were aware of it years ago and raised no objection at the time. The use of these tactics - whether or not they really are torture - only became an issue when such politicians thought that it could be used as a stick with which to flog their partisan opponents. The hum of the humbug, like that of the cicada in late summer, has been constant - and you are part of the chorus.

Now that the protestations Pelosi et al. make of their innocence and ignorance look increasingly flimsy, I suspect that they will want to make the issue go away. It will be interesting to see if they can. The only question I have is whether you are just another hypocrite like they are, echoing the party line du jour, or whether you really are the colossus of moral vanity you present yourself as being.

It seems to me that it should be possible to discuss the conduct of war and statecraft calmly, realistically, and without constant self-righteous posturing. I commend to you the examples of your co-religionists Herman Kahn and Edward Teller. They were interested in how the world really works rather than in proclaiming their superior personal virtues.

mtraven said...

So what? I've been an American for my entire life, and so have you. The geographic characteristics of your ancestry don't impress me. There is a lot of nonsense spouted about American exceptionalism, but one thing that is exceptional about this country is that citizenship is not based on ancestry or ethnicity.

I repeat, your descent into ad hominem indicates you have no valid arguments to deploy.

The issue of what Nancy Pelosi knew is a smokescreen. Is there no lame right-wing talking point you won't dredge up? Torture is not a partisan issue, it is a moral and legal issue. The people who are making the principled case against torture are appalled at the recent actions and inactions of the Obama administration that serve to maintain or cover up the failed policies of their predecessors, and are saying so, for instance here and here. Greenwald has been especially thorough in covering this.

Now that the protestations Pelosi et al. make of their innocence and ignorance look increasingly flimsy, I suspect that they will want to make the issue go away.Pelosi has called for the establishment of a truth commission, so I suspect you are full of shit. And even if Pelosi is found to be waterboarding prisoners herself in her basement, it is still a side issue, an obvious attempt at diversion (one which seems to be temporarily succeeding, thanks to the fact that we have a deeply retarded media that will chase whatever pseudo-issue the spinners will flog, while letting the real story escape).

...the colossus of moral vanity you present yourself as being.You really do not understand me at all. You'll never puncture my self-esteem if you flail away at shadows.

It seems to me that it should be possible to discuss the conduct of war and statecraft calmly, realistically, and without constant self-righteous posturing.It is a sophomoric notion that morality and pragmatism can be decoupled as you suggest. Most of the arguments against torture are quite firmly grounded in the reality of the phenomenon; in the observed and expected effects that such practices have. To take two examples, it is a great recruiting tool for our enemies, and it is also a great tool for corrupt leaders to obtain false intelligence the better to lead the country into disastrous and unnecessary wars.

Michael said...

You are a fine person to complain about descent into ad hominem. I do not think that my mention of my ancestry and the familial recollections of American history that are my heritage constitute an ad hominem attack on you. Rather I think they give me some insight - insight you do not have - into such a concept as "national honor," and, as you asked, "what the f*** is that supposed to mean" If you knew, you wouldn't have to ask. Furthermore, descent into profanity - such as you habitually exhibit - typically bespeaks a lack of argumentative merit.

In a fine example of what really constitutes ad hominem, you referred recently to Sen. Jeff Sessions as "R, Jesusland." I can only imagine your howls if someone was crude and juvenile enough to refer (for example) to Sen Charles Schumer as "D, Jew York."

Your moral vanity is impregnable to reason. However, an important purpose of any debate is the edification of third parties - the audience. If my posts have made any reader of these comments perceive the monumentality of your humbug, then I have succeeded. You don't have to know your bladder has been deflated, for the reader to see that it has been.

As for whether waterboarding constitutes torture, or whether the 'five techniques' that the ECHR decision ruled did not, actually do - I am genuinely uncertain how an objective court, ruling on the basis of extant law and precedent, would decide. When you dismissed the ECHR decision as "bad," what did you mean by that? That you disagreed with the result is not sufficient to make it bad. Was its reasoning formally flawed, relying on (for example) invalid syllogisms or committing some logical fallacy? Did it fail to take all applicable law and precedent into consideration? Was evidence wrongly suppressed?

A good jurisprudential decision relies on valid formal reasoning, due consideration of law and precedent, and knowledge of what the original intentions of the drafters of the law, as well as the common interpretation of its purpose, were at the time it was adopted.

Since Congress refused to define waterboarding as torture in 2006, when it had the opportunity to do so, does that not now render moot any attempt to criminalize it?

I suspect that - if there is to be any criminal trial arising on this subject - the applicable law will be the act of Congress giving force to the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment of 1994. We note that this was passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress, under a Democratic administration.

It so happens that Congress made some exceptions to the instrument, notably by striking the original provision prohibiting the use of these techniques under any circumstances, even during time of war. Thus, under the Convention as enacted by the U.S. Congress, a defense of necessity during wartime can be offered.

Furthermore the definitions of torture given in the convention are somewhat specific and it is questionable whether they will be found to apply to waterboarding. Waterboarding is a simulation of torture - the technique is used during training of U.S. armed forces as such. In other words, what Abu Zubaydah and others were subjected to is nothing more than what American troops were subjected to in the course of training. Whether that constitutes torture under the Convention is hardly an open-and-shut case. I suspect any court involved will give weight to the ECHR's precedent.

Also, the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" prohibited by the Convention will likely be regarded in light of the longstanding precedents regarding "cruel and inhuman punishments" prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. Thus, under In re Kemmler (126 U.S. 436 [1890]), electrocution, though unusual (no one had been executed thereby before, as Kemmler was the first to be condemned to it), was not prohibited as a means of execution, because it appeared to be no more cruel than hanging or musketry. In re Kemmler suggests breaking on the wheel as an example of cruel and unusual punishment.

It is not clear whether a punishment that does not cause death with protracted suffering, or in non-capital applications, lasting and serious injury to a prisoner, is cruel and unusual by the standard of the Fifth Amendment. Delaware, for example, provided whipping as a punishment for various offenses until it was legislatively abolished in 1948. It was never struck down as cruel and unusual, and it is doubtful whether a whipping that did not cause lasting and serious injury could be so called. If Abu Zubaydah could have sustained the 83 waterboardings he is supposed to have done, he cannot have suffered even as serious an injury as a session with the cat might have caused in Delaware before 1948.

The usual definition of cruel and unusual punishment includes "...treatment so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community." This is pretty spongy language. What - in the context of the destruction of the Twin Towers - is "disproportionate to the offense" that has been or might be committed? And which community's "moral sense" is to be shocked?

Indeed, here we get back to the business of community standards - which, as we have seen in cases involving pornography, constitute so open-ended a proposition as to provide virtually no restraint.

By the standards of Iraq, where Saddam Hussein fed his opponents through a wood chipper, certainly water-boarding is a negligible thing indeed. We, of course, recognize that Iraq is not a civilised country, but what about standards in some of the other signatories to the 1994 U. N. convention? Surely, police third-degree tactics were in use in many if not most of them even that recently. They were certainly routine in continental Europe in 1929, when the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war was signed. If you don't believe that the Allies during WWII used 'enhanced interrogation techniques' of severity equal to or greater than that of waterboarding, you are simply naive.

The relevance of Pelosi, et al., is not their culpability for whatever has been done, which I agree is secondary and small; it is rather their tacit complicity. Good luck to Ms. Pelosi with her truth commission. Her reputation may not be able to stand the truth. It is not only right-wing talking heads, but the present administration's CIA director, a former Democratic congressman from California, and the CIA director originally appointed by Bill Clinton, who are challenging her pious denials that she knew 'enhanced interrogation' was being used, and just what it constituted.

We now witness Obama's reversal of his campaingn position on the issue of military commissions; his refusal to release photographs of the purported tortures, despite calls from the far left for them; congressional Democrats refusing to appropriate funds for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo until the administration presents its plan for doing so (which is nowhere in sight); and one congressional Democrat after another protesting that he does not want detainees relocated from Guantanamo into his district or state. Finally - contrary to your linked claims - Obama's own aide Dennis Blair has publicly stated that Bush-era 'enhanced interrogation techniques' yielded 'high-value informsation.'

All these phenomena reflect that Democrats are finally recognizing that the time for campaigning is past, and it is time now to govern.

Implicit in that recognition is the acknowledgment that many of the positions they took on these issues during the campaign amounted to a sanctimonious charade. Of course some of us - those who understand, from our long familial participation in American history, how long the 'national honor' has been a debased currency - knew that all along. It always takes some time, though, for the humbug chorus to get the word and pipe down.

mtraven said...

I do not think that my mention of my ancestry and the familial recollections of American history that are my heritage constitute an ad hominem attack on you. Oh, bullshit. You started this by positing arguments against torture that John McCain could make but for some reason I could not, then started with claiming that this isn't my country. It's classic ad hominem in that it addresses the proponent of an argument rather than the argument itself, and it's another feeble attempt to evade the real issues at stake.

In a fine example of what really constitutes ad hominem, you referred recently to Sen. Jeff Sessions as "R, Jesusland."I thought you were educated enough to understand what an ad hominem argument was, but I guess not.

The usual definition of cruel and unusual punishment includes "...treatment so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community." This is pretty spongy language. What - in the context of the destruction of the Twin Towers - is "disproportionate to the offense" that has been or might be committed?You have conveniently elided the issue that none of the people we have been torturing have been convicted of a crime in any court of law. While some of the victims of torture were almost certainly guilty of crimes, others almost certainly were not. The torture is not "cruel and unusual punishment" in the legal sense because it isn't punishment at all; it is allegedly interrogation, not punishment. And what's that curious clause about "or might be committed"? We are torturing people for what they might do now?

If my posts have made any reader of these comments perceive the monumentality of your humbug, then I have succeeded.I doubt there are many people interested in following this tedious back and forth. If you are out there, speak up! And feel free to declare whose hum is being buggered, in your opinion.

When you dismissed the ECHR decision as "bad," what did you mean by that? I meant I disagreed with it, because it is on its face inconsistent with the facts. Also note that this precedent you like to wave around found the techniques in question to be "cruel, inhuman, and degrading", even if they fell short of the scope of the word "torture". So either way, they are still illegal under US law. And of course the scope of US torture practices went way beyond the five tecnniques in the ECHR ruling. So this is yet another smokescreen.

Implicit in that recognition is the acknowledgment that many of the positions they took on these issues during the campaign amounted to a sanctimonious charade. Maybe so. I however have not changed my position an iota. And you can't seem to articulate a clear position, prefering instead to dance around torture practices, blow smoke, and resort to personal insults.

So, if you really want this to continue, I must insist that you state your position clearly and unambiguously, ie: "I believe that the military and intelligence agencies of the US government should be permitted to torture anybody they feel like, without limits on technique or duration, and without any sort of judicial review". If that's not your position, then say what it is.

Michael said...

An ad hominem argument is of course an attempt to demean one's opponent rather than to address the issues he raises on their merits.

Your hatred and contempt for Christianity is, presumably, shared by some of your readers, and you signal to them by identifying Sen. Sessions as "R - Jesusland" that no further refuation of his arguments is necessary - it's sufficient to point out that he represents a Bible Belt state to dismiss any position he might possibly take. That's classically ad hominem.

Your ancestors did not have the experience mine did, of being civilians under the military occupation of U.S. armed forces. It is not an ad hominem attack on you to make that point - it is a statement of fact.I don't have to read in the history books what it was like - I heard from my older relatives what happened to members of my family. Thus I am neither surprised nor shocked at the behavior of U.S. armed forces in other theatres of combat. It is no more reprehensible now than it was then. If George Bush is guilty of war crimes, then so was Abe Lincoln. Such 'national honor' as the federal Union ever possessed was lost somewhere between 1861 and '65, and there's no profit in pretending otherwise.

The behavior of states has to be compared to realistic alternatives, and not to unrealizable ideals. Yes, the French used enhanced interrogation. or torture - whichever you want to call it - in Algeria. The same may be said of Britain in Kenya and some of its other overseas possessions. Some politicians in France and Britain saw advantage to themselves in appealing to public squeamishness about these tactics, and as a consequence, France and Britain no longer control their former overseas possessions.

But in comparison to French rule, can it really be said that the present government of Algeria is kinder and gentler? In comparison to British rule, are the present governments of (say) Kenya, Zimbabwe, or Pakistan kinder and gentler?

Let's consider what the realistic concequences are if, like Britain and France, the United States, in a fit of squeamishness, should wash its hands of the messy business of dealing with "lesser breeds without the law." I suggest the outcome will be similar.

Your concerns for the reputation of the United States are so much hot air. This country has been hated and envied by foreigners for at least as long as I have been aware of such things. It never will be otherwise. That is its fate as a superpower. The maxim of Cicero, "oderint, dum metuant" (let them hate us, so long as they fear us) must be the guiding principle of any state in this position. It is nothing in which to take pride, but it is still better for those who happen to live here than the likely alternatives. How might it be, for example, to be hated WITHOUT being feared?

On the point of 'cruel and unusual punishment," you apparently miss the point I was attempting to make, which has nothing to do with whether the persons subjected to enhanced interrogation committed any crimes. It rather has to do with how a court would construe "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" as understood under the terms of the 1994 convention. Interrogation techniques are of course not punishments, but the determination of what constitutes a "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" interrogation technique would doubtless be informed by what extant precedent has identified as "cruel and unusual" when those descriptions are applied to a punishment.

Precedent under the 1994 convention is scant. Legislative history might shed some light on what was thought to be covered under it. Treatments mentioned specifically in testimony at the time included needles under the fingernails, application of electric current to the genitalia, and other tornents that caused or could potentially cause lasting and serious injury. Waterboarding was not mentioned.

Of course I don't believe that military and intelligence branches of the U.S. government should be permitted to torture anybody without limits on technique or duration and without any sort of judicial review.

First of all, whether the word torture can be applied to the techniques used by those bodies in the cases at hand has not been determined. Your calling them torture does not make them so. Who appointed you to judge?

Secondly, we are not talking about 'anybody.' Enemy combatants taken on the field of battle have never been entitled to the procedural treatment provided for ordinary criminal suspects being prosecuted before civilian courts. For example, a lawful enemy combatant - i.e., one serving in the uniform and under the regular command of a recognized belligerent at war with the United States - has never been entitled to the writ of habeas corpus. He may be detained indefinitely without judicial review. The Bill of Rights generally does not apply to him. The situation is even murkier when unlawful combatants - irregular forces, behind enemy lines, not in uniform, not under the command of a belligerent state - are involved.

If the protections afforded by the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to anyone, they ought to apply to citizens of the United States. Here we see your double standard. You are more concerned for the welfare of a bunch of savages bent on destroying the lives and property of American citizens than you are about your fellow countrymen. As Obama ran roughshod over the rights of Chrysler bondholders - which ought to be protected by the Constitutionally mandated uniform law of bankruptcy - you blithely dismissed his wholesale expropriation, without due process of law, of their property.

My heart, in all candor, bleeds more for my fellow Americans who are Chrysler bondholders than it does for any foreigners - especially a gang of foreign fanatics who seek to kill or reduce to dhimmitude me and my family, and to destroy or steal our property.

mtraven said...

An ad hominem argument is one that attempts to win by attacking the character of the proponent rather than the argument itself. My mention of Jesusland was not an argument at all, and had no impact on the point I was making (and has very little to do with Christianity -- it's a reference to the political polarization of the country along geographic lines). Contrast that with your effort to undermine my arguments by claiming that I could not have any concept of national honor or that this wasn't really my country.

Your ancestors did not have the experience mine did, of being civilians under the military occupation of U.S. armed forces.My ancestors, and rather more recently than yours, had the experience of living under a government that bent the law in order to declare them non-persons so they could strip them of their rights and their lives. So kindly don't lecture me on the subject.

My heart, in all candor, bleeds more for my fellow Americans who are Chrysler bondholders than it does for any foreigners...I really can't imagine what sort of depraved inner logic could lead someone to say something like that. Well, actually I can -- you clearly have a constricted view of the boundaries of humanity, you limit it to your countrymen, and presumably even further to those who are real Americans in your eyes, those your particular ancestry. Everyone else is a non-person who doesn't really count in your moral calculus. So it's no wonder you are on the side of the torturers and murderers and against the side of humanity.

Michael said...

You were the one who asked "what the f***" was meant by national honor. In the time that I have read your blog, I have never found any of your posts suggested you had the slightest ken of what it was. In my observation, it is something about which someone like McCain might speak with naive sincerity, but the left has never believed in the concept. So I ventured a suggestion as to why this was.

This is your country in the sense that you were apparently born here. Your family didn't help to found it. As that sainted liberal FDR once said to an interlocutor under similar circumstances, you are here on sufferance.

"Humanity" in your view apparently includes fanatical enemies of this country, who do not observe the laws of civilised warfare, but does not include your fellow citizens whose property has been expropriated by the current regime. I find that very curious.

When I read that part of the Declaration of Independence in which Jefferson complains that George III had sent forth hordes of his officers to harass us and eat out our substance, I often wonder, were my ancestors revived to see the present circumstances, would they not weep at what the country has done with its independence? Would they have thought the result worth their effort, or pehaps have concluded that poor mad old George was not so bad by comparison?

mtraven said...

For someone who has deep roots in this country you certainly seem not to understand what it is about. I am not here on your sufferance any more than you are here at mine.

Your attitude seems more appropriate to the nationalist right wing parties of Europe then to present-day America. Although I guess there are domestic nativist precedents like the Know-Nothings and the KKK. A proud tradition to be sure.

Your underlying antisemitism, like your racism, is all too visible. It must be frustrating for you that your ugly opinions are no longer socially acceptable and you are reduced to exposing yourself in pseudonymous blog comments.

Michael said...

This country was begun, as Hugh Trevor-Roper observantly notes, "as a revolt, not of a people but of a planter class." It was a settler's movement, not unlike those of Ian Smith in Rhodesia or the Boer republics of South Africa, in which white colonists who chafed at the restraints placed upon them by the colonial power, threw off its yoke. You probably find it unappealing, but it is the historical truth.

The old constitution of Virginia, under which Thomas Jefferson lived contentedly until his death, and which his cousin John Randolph of Roanoke valiantly defended, restricted the franchise to freeholders, with one exception - those veterans of the American Revolution, and their free male descendants in perpetuity, were entitled to the franchise whether freeholders or not. This was a good system. It ought still to be thus. It was discarded, with great unwisdom, at the behest of unscrupulous politicians. I do not think we have had a truly legitimate government since then.

I have nothing against Jews as such. I think it is unfortunate that some persons of Jewish ancestry, deracinated from their religious tradition, have embraced bolshevism or some variant of it. The reasons for this are outlined by Slezkine whose book you know. Both the reasons and their consequence (secular-"ethnic" Jewish collectivism) are alien to this country. That the government of Russia under the tsars treated your kinsmen badly is no reason for you to promote in this country a political system under which my property is expropriated by the government.

You are a fine person to say that "everyone esle is a non-person who doesn't really count in your moral calculus." You have, on this blog, expressed your approval of the termination of the innocent lives of unborn babies, right up until the moment of parturition, by a procedure which pierces the skull, sucks out the brains with a vacuum tube, and extracts the mangled little body from its mother's womb. And how do you justify this? By the claim that they are non-persons, even if they would have been viable were they to be born naturally or by caesarean section.

Anyone callous enough to apologize for such slaughter of the innocent has no credibility to moralize about how Uncle Sam has treated perhaps a couple of hundred enemy aliens, who have actively made war on this country and its citizens, a bit too roughly.

mtraven said...

You are repeating yourself. I recommend as a corrective Gordon Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution.

I do not think we have had a truly legitimate government since then. Fortunately your opinion about what is legitimate counts for very little, despite your self-image as the only sort of real American.

Nice attempt to divert the issue by bringing up abortion. It seems you are willing to share your opinion on everything but the subject at hand. I'll take that as additional evidence that you are unwilling or unable to articulate an honest opinion on the torture issue.

The issue of fetal personhood is interesting in and of it itself, but wholly irrelevant to the treatment of adults, whose personhood is not (or should not be) in question.

Michael said...

Why should I look at some book by a left-wing professor when I have original documents left by my ancestors? One I might cite is the affidavit of one who had been a soldier of the Virginia line, made in the late 1830s following the belated provision by Congress of pensions for the few remaining Revolutionary soldiers. In his pension application he recounts with great indignation an occasion during his service in which the redcoats were "stealing our negroes," and a fight in which he participated against the offending British unit. Not too much jacobinism there.

Then I can always refer to contemporary publications left by old revolutionaries or the generation that followed them - e.g., Fisher Ames in Massachusetts, or John Taylor of Caroline in Virginia. A handful in New England might have adhered sincerely to egalitarian abstractions, but most of this was just high-flown phraseology of the sort that prompted John Randolph of Roanoke to nickname his cousin "St. Thomas of Cantingbury." When we examine Jefferson's writing about subjects he knew from experience - such as his "Notes on Virginia" - we find no such effusions.

Primary sources are always best, but if you must rely on a secondary one, try my old friend Mel Bradford's "A Better Guide than Reason."

mtraven said...

Well, obviously because a historian bases his work on more than one source. Your ancestors' writings represent their point of view only.

Wood is very well-respected in his field, which of course doesn't make him automatically right but does suggest that he is worth reading (I've only skimmed his book myself). One of its theses, I gather, is that the American Revolution let loose social forces that produced far greater change than the original instigators intended.

Michael said...

One historical fact you have apparently not considered is that for more than half a century after the American Revolution, the franchise was with very few exceptions confined to freeholders. This is a broad historical pattern and not just an expression of the opinion of my ancestors.

If the patriots of the American Revolution were really as jacobinically egalitarian as you and your professor believe, why did they make a government, not "of the people, by the people, and for the people" but rather "of the landowners, for the landowners, and by the landowners" - and why did this remain the case until well after they were pushing up the daisies?

The opinions of my ancestors are not, in any event, the only primary source from the period or its immediate aftermath that may be consulted to explain this phenomenon. For the Revolutionary generation, we have the laws framed by Madison and Jefferson, "The Federalist," and Jefferson's "Notes on Vinginia." From the period following we have Taylor's "Arator," and Randolph's speeches to the Virginia Convention of 1829, particularly those "In Defense of Freehold Suffrage" and "On King Numbers." Lest the foregoing be deemed too exclusively Virginian, to represent the views of New England, you may see the works of Fisher Ames, and for those of the deeper south, Calhoun's. Have you bothered to read any of them?

mtraven said...

for more than half a century after the American Revolution, the franchise was with very few exceptions confined to freeholders.Sadly, not.

Michael said...

Of the original thirteen colonies, Maryland abolished its property qualification in part in 1801 and part in 1809; Massachusetts and New York did not abandon theirs until 1821; Delaware waited until 1831; New Jersey, 1844; Connecticut, 1845; Virginia, 1850; North Carolina, partially in 1854 and coimpletely in 1868; South Carolina in 1865; and Rhode Island in 1888, with the exception of some local elections confined to rate-payers.

Georgia was the only state to abandon the property qualification in the eighteenth century, doing so in 1798; but it retained a tax-paying qualification, as did Delaware after 1831. New Hampshire and Pennsylvania from the beginning had only tax-paying as a qualification, but because local taxes were assessed on property, these requirements amounted to indirect property qualifications.

Accordingly, in practice, there were 'very few exceptions' until about fifty years after the Revolution. In any event, the war had been fought over the principle that there should be no taxation without representation. Property qualifications and direct tax qualifications (many of the latter remaining until well into the twentieth century) show that the converse, that being taxed was what entitled one to the franchise, was also a guiding principle.

It is inconceivable that the Founders dreamt of a situation in which politicians could contrive that a permanent minority paid the vast majority of taxes, whilst a substantial majority of the electorate had little or no tax liability. Our country would be more responsibly governed today if a modest net-worth requirement of, say, $100,000, were set for entitlement to the franchise.