Marchand Chronicles: Senator Durbin's CommentsTortured Logic
The Marchand Chronicles
June 20, 2005
Godwin's Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime —Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
— Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), June 14, 2005
Not only did Senator Durbin breach the real-world version of Godwin's Law, he hit a trifecta.
Since Durbin made his remarks last week, much of the controversy has surrounded what should be done to him: should he be censured? Should he be stripped of his leadership position as Democratic Party Whip? Should he resign from the Senate? Should he be forced to host some of the Gitmo detainees at his home?
To be perfectly honest, I couldn't care less. Dick Durbin was an irrelevant nobody beforehand, and as his words echoed throughout the world, he continued to shrink in irrelevance. What's important now is that this meme of Americans-as-Nazis has now gained some legitimacy. It needs to be countered.
Durbin's statement is wrong even on its own merits. The Nazis, Soviets, or Khmer Rouge were not known for their propensities to bombard prisoners with rap music until they soiled themselves; they earned their places in the dark annals of history for actions far, far worse. Even on their kindest days, their actions are no analogy to what's going on in Camp X-Ray. If Pol Pot popped seventeen Zoloft, guzzled a chai latte, lit some aromatherapy candles and listened to an Enya CD, he still was far more brutal than Gitmo interrogators, on a scale so far beyond in orders of magnitude that the comparison is ridiculous. It's not comparing apples to oranges; it's comparing apples to asteroids.
Most of the time someone attempts to force a crude moral equivalency between the United States and some barbaric regime, they base it on some other equivalency. For example, there was a school of thought during the early days of the War On Terror that if it ever reached a point where more innocent civilians were killed through "collateral damage" than there were victims on 9/11, then the war had lost its moral legitimacy. This was a ludicrous suggestion, but even that outranks this current fallacious argument: sensory deprivation and poor climate control equal three despotic tyrannies that have extinguished more than twenty million human lives between them.
Repulsive as this line of reasoning is, even if we grant that premise, the U.S. still comes out ahead because of context. The palace of human skulls Pol Pot stacked up weren't all of terrorists. The Nazis didn't march six million Jews to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and elsewhere because they threatened to destroy the Third Reich. And while dissident freethinkers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn represented a threat to the gulags in the Soviet Union, it certainly was not a violent one. But that matters not to the moral titans who seem to earnestly believe that how Americans treat hardcore terrorists is in any way comparable to how repressive dictators murder innocents. Making jihadis poop themselves is now analogous to making lampshades from the skin of slaughtered victims. Gotcha.
Worse yet is the undeniable propaganda victory people like Senator Durbin has handed to our enemies. As much as the culture of the jihadi is stunted and backward, they themselves are savvy and clever. Al-Jazeera picked up on the Durbin flap on June 16, with a full account of Durbin's criticism. Thanks to that, any shrewd terrorist, no matter what he does that lands him at Guantanamo Bay, now knows that even a sitting U.S. Senator will rush to his defense if his treatment is in any way insensitive, and liken his captors to the most vile oppressors in all of human history.
Durbin's defenders have risen to state that while his comments might have been over-the-top (and I emphasize "might" — many have lent Durbin their full backing on his entire jeremiad), it is unbecoming of the U.S. military to engage in systematic torture. That is a debate worth having — but it's marred whenever some unhinged loon attempts to spraypaint the swastika on the American flag. The purpose of Godwin's Law (or, more specifically, its corollaries which state that anyone who invokes the Nazis automatically loses the argument) is precisely to discourage foolish and illegitimate comparisons to Hitler so that when the argument is legitimately made, it carries all the weight and gravity that it should.
The U.S. military is NOT behaving like the Nazis, Soviets, or Khmer Rouge. To assert so undermines our cause and slanders our troops — no matter how the asserter might justify his remarks.