What a week! North Korea hacks SONY – the Torture Report is under discussion –there is a flurry of activity on Cuba (welcome home Alan Gross) – Andrew Cuomo bans fracking in NY (thank you Governor Cuomo) – four prisoners are released from Gitmo and sent to Afghanistan – CRomnibus secrets are unveiled – poignant demonstrators carry signs saying “I can’t breathe, and “Black Lives Matter” – two policemen are shot dead in NYC in their patrol cars by someone who has nothing to do with the demonstrations, but seems to have been set off by them. Hate seems to have the upper hand once again and chaos seems near. It feels as if we must answer every important philosophical question right this very minute and it also feels as if the debate could drag on forever.
The Hack of SONY
How will we deal with hacking when it involves terrorism or the threat of terrorism?
Should our reactions take into account who is doing the hacking or will one policy fit all?
How can we respond to Kim Jung Un so as to forestall future attempts to interfere in American activities?
The Interview is a comedy film, a sophomoric satire full of earthy humor that most Americans find either goofy or offensive. Does it poke fun at Kim Jung Un? Yes it does. Are the people he rules likely to see this film? I doubt it. If he had reacted differently would movie goers around the globe be laughing at his expense? Probably. Would it change the fact that he is the undisputed leader of North Korea? No. It would have showed strength and confidence if he laughed off this piece of silly business. But he did not.
Instead he had his people hack into the SONY computers and release the gossipy snark that passes for private business communication in Hollywood. Embarrassing. And he threatened attacks on theaters in America if they show the film. This response took what should have been a simple reaction to satire and turned it into a threat against a nation where freedom of speech is treasured. We have escalation! It’s our move… If we smooth things over we appear weak. Is it OK to appear weak when you are not? Or is it better to let someone provoke a fight we do not want to fight unless we absolutely have to.
It’s easy to see why choosing the perfect response to this situation is more complicated than it should be given the nonsensical piece of business that caused it. Satire, at its base, is not just comedy; it is also social commentary and, however goofy the vehicle that delivers it, there are barbs which only the strong will laugh off. How will America respond to the actions that turned a comedy into a serious international incident? May the coolest heads prevail.
We all believed that Americans do not torture. Well, we sort of believed this. Given what we know of human nature it is difficult once past our idealistic years to think that no Americans have ever practiced torture before.
We were certainly provoked. The events of September Eleventh made us angry but they also made us afraid. For awhile America stood still and we were uncertain that we would find our footing once again. Did the terrorists find our weak spot, we wondered, the spot that could topple America? During those silent days of mourning and shock, when no planes were heard in our skies except the jets leaving to patrol over NYC, we worried that this blow might have been fatal, and then the clock started ticking again and, although we had reeled, we slowly recovered and our anger eventually outweighed our grief.
We needed to avenge our dead and reassert our strength. Would it have been better if our vengeance had been purer than our enemies’ hate? The Patriot Acts may have been passed to protect us from enemies without and within our borders but they took away rights Americans had come to hold dear including our right to privacy.
We had to decide if Iraq colluded with the terrorists or not. We decided we couldn’t afford to assume they were innocent. We decided this based on lies we were given as facts and we suspected these “facts” were lies, but we did not dare to take a chance on our gut feeling. This war in Iraq went against our American grain, another compromise or a necessary evil, hard to know which. Abu Ghraib added another link to the chain of American moral compromises that robbed us of a bit more of our pride. Embarrassing. But I doubt that we were innocent of such practices in other wars and hostilities; we just didn’t have selfies.
Does that mean we should accept such behavior as our standard practice in wartime? I don’t think so. Hearing our tortures paraded before the world for their disdain reminds us that we are human; that we are, individually and collectively, all capable of immoral acts if our survival is at stake. We also are reminded that we admire people who are able to win over evil without compromising high moral standards. We want to be heroes, larger than life, permeated with goodness and yet with a “goodness” that enhances our power rather than weakens it.
We are embarrassed once again to have people perceive our imperfections. As a nation we aspire to more, much more. Who will we be from now on? Will we restore past glories of ostensibly untarnished morals or will we be ruthless because we must be perceived as such given the state of this world in the 21st century.
I loved believing that we do not torture people, that we do not discriminate against anyone, that we are gentlemen and ladies, civil even when dealing with prisoners of war (or terrorism). I still think we should adhere to the high moral ground as often as we can. About 60% of Americans feel that torture is fine when needed. If torture doesn’t provide useful intelligence does it at least inspire fear in our enemies? Are we becoming barbaric or realistic? Will we take the risk of appearing squeamish about being cruel if it seems necessary? Will we recommit to a humane code of war?
Flurry of Cuban activities
A lot of stuff happened last week between Cuba and America. I don’t really know yet how I feel about this. I have friends in Miami and Cuban refugees or exiles were a big deal there. They changed the whole tenor of Miami almost overnight. Many Cuban people who came to Miami had been wealthy or at least comfortable in Cuba; leaders in the Cuban economy. They were not humble. They pushed other Miami residents aside as they established their new neighborhoods. They lost a lot, but they kept their skills and began again. They do not all favor normalizing relations with a Cuba still in the hands of the Castro dictatorship. But people miss their relatives in Cuba and would like to see them. They are perhaps homesick. Are the Castro brothers still too wily and stiff-backed to deal with? Will we be the only ones “normalizing relations”? Will all the bending be one way. It remains to be seen and that makes us nervous. Are we baring our necks to the enemies’ sword or are we the Trojan Horse that will improve a society from within?
Everything that happened this week and this month has been fraught with more questions than answers. We have more on our plate than we can easily manage. Why are we at this nexus? Why are all these issues arising at this particular juncture in time. Is this all our post 9/11 philosophical moment? Is this where America moves up a notch to a future wisdom and glory or falls back into an age-old barbarity and decline? Can we have barbarism and glory at the same time? Do the ends reflect the means used to reach them?
Those are the issues we must choose among in spite of our seeming human blindness. Just because I didn’t go into detail about each item in my list of issues that we had to deal with last week doesn’t mean that each situation isn’t just as rife with differing viewpoints or that it will not affect our future in the same ways as our other imminent decisions. This article is getting longer than I would like so I will take up the other topics later.
Perhaps the nexus will not ever be broken apart by decisive moments. Perhaps we will sort of glide into our future as pieces fall into place. We don’t really believe in the easy way though, do we?
By Nancy Brisson
<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>