powerful washington post essay on the torture at abu ghraib

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It's worth registering on the Washington Post's web site to read A Wretched New Picture Of America, an extraordinary, powerful essay by Philip Kennicott. I didn't think US newspapers still published pieces like this. I'm grateful that the Post did.

Every American should have to read it, and think about it.

Here's an excerpt:

But these photos are us. Yes, they are the acts of individuals (though the scandal widens, as scandals almost inevitably do, and the military's own internal report calls the abuse "systemic"). But armies are made of individuals. Nations are made up of individuals. Great national crimes begin with the acts of misguided individuals; and no matter how many people are held directly accountable for these crimes, we are, collectively, responsible for what these individuals have done. We live in a democracy. Every errant smart bomb, every dead civilian, every sodomized prisoner, is ours.

Read it. Read the whole thing. Think about it. And then think hard about what responsibility you and I have for changing the direction of this country and bringing us back from this moral abyss.

(Update: Via David Weinberger, I found (and signed) this MoveOn.org petition calling for a full, impartial investigation.)

2 TrackBacks

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2 Comments

Here, here. Bravo. Thank you. All students: please, please register to vote, and then exercise that right/responsibility.

That is indeed a powerful, sobering op-ed piece, Liz. Rhetorically, it relies on a single dominant trope: synecdoche, the ability of the part to stand in for the whole. There is, though, an ethical dimension to synecdoche to carefully consider: we surely wouldn't, by its logic, want to argue that the atrocities of 9/11 redound upon all of Islam, for example. It seems Kennicott, by applying the synecdochic standard exclusively to democracies, may have anticipated such an objection: each of us as Americans bears personal responsibility for the depraved acts that took place at Abu Ghraib by a sort of chain of association: the troops that committed them were deployed by the federal government whose employees, by virtue of the ballot box, are themselves avatars of the American people.

Yes. And it is this same logic--the logic of synecdoche--that Bin Laden himself invokes to justify the mass killing of civilians in Western democracies. At root, terrorism is a synecdochic ideology.

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