Saturday, August 2, 2014

Opie Does Guantanamo

I just can’t get over Obama’s statement the other day: “We tortured some folks.”
We tortured some folks.  Is that okay? Does anything about that strike you as wrong? Do you find that phrase as jarring as I do? I’m not the slightest bit surprised we’ve tortured people. I’d be surprised if we didn’t.  And I’m glad Obama used the word torture and didn’t hide behind some bullshit euphemism like “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But there is still something grotesque about that sentence and none of the articles I’ve read mention it. In fact, a lot of the commentary makes the same mistake. What am I talking about? Let me show you by way of a brief illustration:
“Say, Harlan, what er y’all doin’ down there?”
“Hey, Hollis, not much. We’re just down here torturin’ some folks.”
“Good deal. You been torturin’ a lot of folks lately?”
“Got a new shipment just last week. Around here we call that job security.”
“You must be doing somethin’ right.”
“We’re doing a lot of things right, and we’re torturin’some folks.”
“Good deal. Say, Loretta wanted me to invite you over tonight for some pie, but I don’t want to bother you if you’re too busy torturin’ folks and all.”
“Shoot, Hollis, you know I can always take a break from torturin’ folks for some of Loretta’s rhubarb pie!”
See what I mean? Using “torture” and “folks” in the same sentence isn’t just bad style. It’s a slimy way of soft-peddling bad behavior. Folks don’t really hurt folks. There are just folks doin’ the stuff folks do, and if they occasionally make mistakes and accidentally harm folks, well, most folks don’t mind. Least ways not around here in America, where folks know how to forgive and forget.

It’s even worse when you consider that Obama’s whole statement is aimed at letting the torturers off the hook. How? They were just folks!
“It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had,” Obama said. “A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots. But having said all that we did some things that were wrong,” he said. “And that’s what that report reflects.”
It’s important that folks don’t put on airs and become sanctimonious about the good folks at the CIA, who are just workin’ hard to keep us folks back home safe. You get the idea. And don’t for a second think this effect is incidental. People torture people. Folks are jes folks, tryin’ their hardest in this gosh durn crazy world. People have faces that express pain. Folks are just, well, folks, an abstract mass of sunny beings in a fundamentally benign universe. You’re a folk. I’m a folk. The vicious sadist who pours water up the nose of a naked man upended on a gurney is a folk too, and folks will honor his service when he gets back from the wars. 

This harmless politician’s word is, in fact, a nasty little euphemism that absolves the guilty and coaxes us into forgetting the victims. 

Susan Jacoby in The Age of American Unreason admirably bashes this annoying — and potentially dark — habit that modern presidents have acquired. She invites us to insert the word folks into some famous American locutions and observe the effect. Thus we we get government of the folks, by the folks and for the folks. Folks have nothing to fear but fear itself. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for folks to dissolve the political bands which have connected them …

It reduces every statement, no matter how important, to the level of a speech at a Mayberry city council meeting. It puts everything on the same bland, hokey plane, whether its Enlightenment philosophy or defending odious criminals like John Brennan. It invites our brains to stew in a warm puddle of blueberry compote while slithery careerists like Brennan turn the country into something dark beyond all recognition. 

Mayberry, my ass. This country is Rome under the Emperor Caracalla, an unloved and unlovable military despotism whose best days were long over, never to return; a tottering wreck of its former self incapable of building anything more edifying than a giant bathhouseNo folks around there, and none around here neither.

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