2.20.2009

what i'm watching: taxi to the dark side

We watched "Taxi to the Dark Side" last night, or tried to, anyway. I only got about halfway through.

Torture is the one deal-breaker for me. I watch and read about and hear about all manner of horrors, but anything about torture will give me nightmares and worse. Even the suggestion of torture in a fictional film is enough to make me leave the room. Descriptions of torture perpetrated by the United States, funded by USian taxpayers' dollars, is too much. (One of those invasions and subsequent torture chambers is staffed by Canadians, too.) Twice I had to pause the movie to unclench my stomach and cry, then finally I told Allan he should watch the rest on his own.

I'm going to assume there was nothing in the second half of the movie that I don't already know. Bagram, Abu Ghraib - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Yoo, Gonazales - the Torture Memo - the Nuremberg Trials - the Geneva Conventions - the United States Empire. It's an excellent and important movie, but on the other hand, I wasn't learning anything, only remembering. We need to remember. I know that. But I also know my limits.

About a third of the way through, a US soldier who participated in the torture in Bagram Prison says: "Sometimes I feel that I should have gone with my own morality, more than what was common."

Sometimes I feel that I should have gone with my own morality...

Look how we punish soldiers who go with their own morality! They are not allowed to leave the military, they are hounded and beaten up and persecuted, they are court martialled, they are imprisoned. They are treated like criminals, when they should be welcomed as heroes!

A soldier who finds his own morality against the pressure of violent groupthink is society's only bulwark against the horror of torture.

Canada, Let Them Stay!

10 comments:

Kevin said...

I feel horrible for the women and men in uniform. They go into the service thinking they are becoming heroes, putting their lives on the line for freedom. Then, they are putting in places where they have to sacrifice their morality for their paycheck; or suffer life-stopping consequences for their beliefs. Its not a surprise that many chose a wrong path.

L-girl said...

Then, they are putting in places where they have to sacrifice their morality for their paycheck; or suffer life-stopping consequences for their beliefs. Its not a surprise that many chose a wrong path.

And they are put into situations without laws, morals or guidelines, encouraged to abuse people (as this movie makes clear), and often become something they never imagined they could be.

I think of ordinary college students who become gang-rapists at a fraternity party. Most of them would not normally rape a woman. But they check their morals at the door, and become someone else. It's very scary phenomenon and produces very, very results.

Cornelia said...

OMG...However, I'm glad and relieved you didn't continue to watch that distressing movie because maintaining boundaries and taking care of oneself is very important.

deang said...

I understand your inability to look at the facts of torture. At least you're one who can truly feel the enormity of it.

The first time I read real descriptions of people tortured (in Guatemala in this case), I could not stop sobbing for hours, was convulsed with grief, and would start to tear up again at random times over the following week or so. To this day, thinking about some of it can still make me have to lower my head from nausea.

I'm glad I made myself read about it, though. Before that, "human rights abuses" had seemed like some bureaucratic abstraction; I really didn't know what it meant. Now I'll never forget.

M@ said...

they check their morals at the door, and become someone else. It's very scary phenomenon and produces very, very results.

It's even worse in the military, where this kind of thing becomes institutionalized. Not only that, but it's drummed into you that if you don't become this scary amoral version of yourself, you are putting yourself and your friends at risk. (Unlike the frat party scenario, where there's only (hah) peer pressure involved.)

And Kevin, I'd disagree slightly with your comment (though I absolutely agree with your general point) -- I think most people join the military not thinking they'll be heroes, but thinking that it's something they can do that's 100% objectively right. It tends to be something that seems selfless and positive. I certainly joined up with that kind of thinking, and I'm very, very lucky I wasn't born 100 miles south and 10 years later.

L-girl said...

The first time I read real descriptions of people tortured (in Guatemala in this case), I could not stop sobbing for hours, was convulsed with grief, and would start to tear up again at random times over the following week or so. To this day, thinking about some of it can still make me have to lower my head from nausea.

I remember talking about this with you in another context. I had a similar reaction as a child when, in Hebrew School, we saw films about the Holocaust.

I'm glad I made myself read about it, though. Before that, "human rights abuses" had seemed like some bureaucratic abstraction; I really didn't know what it meant. Now I'll never forget.

Right. I feel the same way.

L-girl said...

It's even worse in the military, where this kind of thing becomes institutionalized. Not only that, but it's drummed into you that if you don't become this scary amoral version of yourself, you are putting yourself and your friends at risk.

Excellent point, thanks.

(Unlike the frat party scenario, where there's only (hah) peer pressure involved.)

There's a bit more involved, I think. There's proving one's masculinity - which means proving one's heterosexuality. I think that must play into the torture and abuse scenarios, too. Are you "man enough" to be this brutal? If you back down, are you soft?

I think most people join the military not thinking they'll be heroes, but thinking that it's something they can do that's 100% objectively right. It tends to be something that seems selfless and positive.

I do hear that in a lot of the resisters' stories. But remember, in the US, there's also the poverty draft. When the only other options are working at the 7/11 or Wal-Mart, which means poverty, no money for education and no health insurance, your motives may also be basic survival.

I certainly joined up with that kind of thinking, and I'm very, very lucky I wasn't born 100 miles south and 10 years later.

*shudder*

M@ said...

There's proving one's masculinity - which means proving one's heterosexuality. I think that must play into the torture and abuse scenarios, too.

Absolutely. I was going to say -- there's no coincidence about the overt masculinity involved in both situations. Which reminds me that I really want to read Hedges again. So glad you pointed out that book!

But remember, in the US, there's also the poverty draft.

Yes, there's no doubt that that's the impetus for many, many US enlistees. But part of it, surely, is that they're joining what is perceived to be a basically decent and positive organization. And of course the recruiters are making that exact case -- c'mon, you'll be joining the best army in the world, you'll be in the national guard helping people, etc. etc. It's not like you're selling drugs, getting involved in violence in the street, killing children... well, we know how well that holds up.

*shudder*

You think you're shuddering! :) Well, I was 17 at the time. Prime candidate for patriotic bullshit. (Self-generated, I now blush somewhat to add. No one was trying to drag me in -- I joined up as soon as I could.)

L-girl said...

Yes, there's no doubt that that's the impetus for many, many US enlistees. But part of it, surely, is that they're joining what is perceived to be a basically decent and positive organization.

Absolutely. Many people use the expressions "a chance to be part of something larger than myself," or "an opportunity to help my country". I hear it all the time.

Well, I was 17 at the time. Prime candidate for patriotic bullshit. (Self-generated, I now blush somewhat to add. No one was trying to drag me in -- I joined up as soon as I could.)

It works out great for us - you're like a double-agent, come back from the other side. Like the former fundies who are now atheists and progressives, you can report on what really goes on behind the curtain. :)

Cornelia said...

It works out great for us - you're like a double-agent, come back from the other side. Like the former fundies who are now atheists and progressives, you can report on what really goes on behind the curtain. :)

Or liberals and humanists, haha...
Yeah, it's great to hear from somebody who has had actually personal experience (reminds me of professional experience, something our welfare and potential employers really like a lot, haha, just kidding) and can testify to that, like if somebody turns state evidence for police and court...