On my way out the door to take our 3-month old for a walk this morning, I glanced at the headlines in the Post. Former Vice-President Cheney is vociferously debating the current President on the issue of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. (Not to sound curmudgeonly, but I remember when it was considered poor taste for past Presidents and Vice-Presidents to publicly criticize their successors– though I can see that Cheney is only defending his untenable turf, so fair enough.)
But what I thought of as I was walking were two things that Obama can not say:
1. Cheney is probably right: torturing suspected terrorists likely makes ‘us’ safer. Yet who is the ‘we’? By mistreating ‘them’, ‘we’ are safer, true. But is that any way to live, and any way to be? And what happens when ‘we’ leave ‘here’ and want to go anywhere else? Will we be safer, or more imperiled? Will we continue to wonder why the rest of the world just doesn’t appreciate our great American way of life? Why they don’t appreciate our ‘freedom’?
2. There is a price to be paid for high morals. This is something that I realized shortly after 9/11 (on which day my wife prepared her hospital for triage as she was legally compelled to stay on duty, and when I felt our building shake when the plane hit the Pentagon. When we talked for one minute on the phone, we thought we might not speak to one another again.). In those days, I walked through the city as armed troops and military vehicles patrolled the streets. I considered the efficacy of putting duct tape on our windows, and wet towels under our doors in the event of chemical warfare. I felt the winds and knew that a dirty bomb detonated downtown would send a toxic cloud right over our heads. I did all of that, and thought, “Well, this is how much of the rest of the world lives– it is only fair that we take our turn, too.”
Obama can’t be expected to say this for anyone else, so I’ll just say it for myself: I’d rather the lives and health of me and my family be imperiled than people be tortured in the name of ‘safety’ (and I know what it is to make weighty ethical/health decisions on behalf of my children). I’d much rather explain to my kids that their lives are endangered by distrustful, hateful, violent people than to try to explain to them that their apparent safety was brought about by hate and suspicion and violence. I’d rather raise them in a dangerous world than in one that is ‘safe’.