A few weeks ago, I watched one of Rod Serling’s great scripts for The twilight Zone, “Death’s Head Revisited,” in which a former Nazi officer returns to Dachau, the site of so much human suffering and cruelty. In the episode, the officer is confronted by the long-dead ghosts of his past, who have returned to exact a justice that the officer has managed to thus far escape.
As he is being driven mad, the words of his accuser echo in his ,mind:
"This is not hatred. This is retribution. This is not revenge. This is justice. But this is only the beginning, Captain. Only the beginning. Your final judgment will come from God."
Justice, for those CIA officers who just “followed orders,” and tortured on orders from higher ups, will have to come from God, because at the moment when it most counted, when the eyes of the world were truly upon us, our country blinked.
For one shining moment we had the moral high ground in sight, and we cast our eyes downward, and turned our horses away.
Befehl ist Befehl, is German for “order is order,” the mealy-mouthed whine of every man who has ever put another human being through agony so severe that most of us can not even imagine it. This may be the first time in history that a society has ever debated torture openly, and had pundits and politicians declaring their fondness for it.
“I’m a Christian and I approve of torture,” is not unheard of.
Even Starlog, the science fiction magazine, had a not-so-funny cartoon about waterboarding Aquaman in some time ago.
I’m sorry; every time I see any of these people profess their enthusiasm for torture, I always see them in an SS uniform.
Befehl ist Befehl.
They had a choice, each and every one of them, and they chose to ignore whatever was left of their soul, screaming for attention in their back pocket, and set about their masters’ work, safe in the knowledge that they were merely following orders.
It’s not merely a time for reflection, but is a time for accountability, and a time to own up to our national shame and even obsession with torture, and behaving like characters in a movie.
By shoving all of this under the rug, and welcoming the torturers back into the fold, we are telling them that it really is okay, and we are telling the next president that is’s okay. And we’re telling the rest of the world that we don’t give a damn about their quaint notions of justice, or morality, or even weeding out the bad apples, as long as we all get along - in this country, that is.
At the end of The Twilight Zone episode, a doctor angrily asks why Dachau is allowed to remain standing. No one present seems to have an answer, but as the cars drive away, Rod Serling renders his final judgement:
There is an answer to the doctor's question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes - all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.
Quote of the Day
All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination? - C.J. Jung, "Modern Man in Search of a Soul"