History repeats itself

This is the second tidbit in A Prayer For Owen Meany to catch my attention:

May 9, 1987—Gary Hart, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, quit his campaign for the presidency after some Washington reporters caught him shacked up for the weekend with a Miami model […].

Americans don’t want their presidents to have penises but they don’t mind if their presidents covertly arrange to support the Nicaraguan rebel forces after Congress has restricted such aid; they don’t want their presidents to deceive their wives but they don’t mind if their presidents deceive Congress—lie to the people and violate the people’s constitution!

A Prayer For Owen Meany was published in 1989. John Irving was writing about Gary Hart and President Reagan (the Iran-Contra affair) but his comments foreshadow the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Americans disapprove when a President violates his marriage vows, but they look the other way when a President violates the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions.

Talk about straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! That’s what happens when your morality begins and ends with sexual taboos.

I wish [President Reagan] would spend a weekend with a Miami model; he could do a lot less harm that way. […] We ought to find a model for the president to spend every weekend with! If we could tire the old geezer out, he wouldn’t be capable of more damaging mischief.

The quotes are from pp. 268-69 and 274-75 in my edition of the novel.

Advertisements

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MaryP
    May 13, 2009 @ 06:46:58

    “That’s what happens when your morality begins and ends with sexual taboos.” Well said!

    Reply

  2. Jack
    May 13, 2009 @ 17:04:14

    Americans disapprove when a President violates his marriage vows

    I’d like to amend that to read that some Americans have a problem with that. Some have a more nuanced approach to life and the world.

    I have found this topic to be very troubling for me because candidly I straddle the fence upon it.

    The shortest explanation I have is this one. We are fighting a war against terrorists who have no boundaries in what they are willing to do.

    So the obvious question is how to most effectively combat this. When it comes time to interrogate them I don’t feel badly about them being tortured, especially if it leads to actionable intelligence that saves lives.

    However it is clear that there is moral issue here that cannot be so easily dismissed. Let’s assume that the person being interrogated is without question a terrorist. We know that we have the bad guy.

    What am I doing to myself by jumping into the mud and saying that no holds are barred.

    I have been thinking about this quite a bit and haven’t come up with a definitive conclusion. Mind you that the methods I have in mind are waterboarding and sleep deprivation. I am not including any sort of medevial gadgetry or techniques in this.

    911 was very personal for me for many reasons. Daniel Pearl went to my high school, grew up in the same neighborhood as I did.

    So what I am trying to establish for myself are lines that are more black and white than the current shades of gray.

    Reply

  3. Stephen
    May 14, 2009 @ 07:33:27

    Jack:
    I’m glad you clarified your comment by saying, “Let’s assume that the person being interrogated is without question a terrorist.” At the beginning of your comment, you hadn’t made that assumption clear.

    Because that’s the first, enormous problem. In some cases, the government knows to a 99.9% degree of certainty that the detainees are terrorists. But do we know that only those individuals were tortured? No — rather the reverse. It seems that the policy was applied rather indiscriminately.

    Americans have tortured innocent men:  in some cases, tortured them to death. That’s a big moral blot to have on your record.

    After that, we get into a host of other issues. Does torture work, in the sense that it produces accurate, reliable intelligence? Was the Bush Administration even after accurate intelligence — or were they after a false “confession” of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda? What about the cost/benefit analysis — what does this do to America’s reputation with enemies and allies alike? When American soldiers are detained and tortured, how can the USA object and claim to have the moral high ground? And what do you do about the news that KSM was waterboarded 189 times, and Zubaydah 89 times — doesn’t that sound like torture for the sheer, sick pleasure of it?

    I’ve always been sympathetic to the “ticking time bomb” scenario. If we knew that some guy was a terrorist, and we knew there was imminent, catastrophic harm coming, and we knew this guy could give us the information we need to stop it, but he wasn’t talking … yada yada yada. That was just a canard, and the actual practice of torture looks nothing like that.

    I understand your response to 9/11 — I walked around in a depressed daze for two weeks afterward. But at some point, we have to move beyond the emotions of the immediate aftermath and ask ourselves some pragmatic questions. Even aside from the moral issue, torture is bad policy for all kinds of pragmatic reasons.

    Reply

  4. Jack
    May 14, 2009 @ 15:57:34

    You are correct. It is a very difficult issue and there may not be any moral high ground to stand upon. Perhaps I am foolish to try any.

    And what do you do about the news that KSM was waterboarded 189 times, and Zubaydah 89 times — doesn’t that sound like torture for the sheer, sick pleasure of it?

    Honestly I could care less that these men suffered because they deserve to suffer. But I agree that the number of times seems to go beyond the pale.

    They are bad men and one might even say evil. All that being said there are limits. Even if we all agree these individuals deserve to be tortured there is place that we shouldn’t go beyond.

    In my mind I ask myself at what point have we sold our souls and at what cost.

    I think that the place I am going to find myself at is a definitive no to torture, but a very rigorous and harsh response to any who support these acts against us.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: