Saturday, April 21, 2007

Not All That Long Ago

Power Line reacquaints us with the POW who beat his face into a ruin so he could not be used in a North Vietnamese propaganda video.

The recent episode of the British hostages in Iran brought to mind the late Adm. James Stockdale. He spent seven years in Hoa Lo Prison, a.k.a. the Hanoi Hilton. For his valor and leadership while captive he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Though tortured 15 times, though kept in leg irons for two years, though held in solitary confinement for four, he would not aid his captors. Refusing to be paraded in front of foreign journalists, he slashed his scalp with a razor blade and beat his face with a wooden stool, rendering impossible that disgrace. Few are capable of such feats of will — Admiral Stockdale was a student of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus — and we could probably not have expected such bravery from the British sailors and marines. Yet we must remember the standards our greatest warriors have set if we are to prevail in this and coming wars.


Blogger Gator said...

Your blog is one of my daily reads! I teach NROTC and the last class my seniors take is about Adm Stockdale. I had the privilage of meeting him and his bride when I was in graduate school and, much later, in Coronado. Thank you for your tribute to this Great American!

4/22/2007 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Gator, you keep up the good fight.

4/22/2007 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


Your comparison and contrast between the heroism of Admiral Stockdale and the behavior of the British hostages illustrates one of the principal reasons why torture exists in the first place. Our admiration of Admiral Stockdale as a manly warrior suggests that the principal reason for torture is to show an audience that the prisoner is really a boy and not a man.

In North America, it was standard practice for Indians to torture their captives to death. To point was to see if the captive would scream. If he didn’t scream, he was admired as a warrior. If he screamed, his death would become all the more horrible as his screams would become an amusement for his audience. Likewise, the way early Christians died in the Forum was impressive in comparison to the cowardice of most other captives.

Beyond using torture to elicit information or using torture to turn a captive into a character in a puppet show, the principal reason for torture is to show the captive to be less than a man, to unmask his pretensions to manhood. Within this context, the televised torture of Samuel Doe was his crowning defeat, for his squealing like a pig unmasked his pretensions to manhood and by extension his claim on the power he craved. The message was, “You say you are such a big man, such a powerful man. You say you are a man, yet we can make you scream.”

One wonders if the reason for suicide bombing lies less with its theological justifications and more with a desire to avoid torture and its concomitant unmasking of a male’s pretensions to manhood. And yet, the very existence of suicide bombing sets into motion a logical reason to torture the perpetrators, for if a young man truly believes he will go to paradise if he blows himself up, he may still be deterred if he faces the certainty of humiliation if he doesn’t succeed in his mission.

In this light, look at the hands of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden. They are soft hands. They are soft men. In personality, they look like the kind of people who would easily be induced to squeal like a pig. Remember the video where Ayman al-Zawahiri screams against the tortures he endured from the Egyptian government. And he calls himself a man?

After the September 11 attacks, I was shocked how so many members of al-Qaeda didn’t hold up under interrogation, how they spilled the beans to their interrogators. The point isn’t what tortures (or lack thereof) were used – the point is that they buckled under at all. And they call themselves men? Here you have a bunch of boys playing with their toys lacking the manhood of Admiral Stockdale.

It is easy to say whether one would or would not hold up under torture, but one doesn’t really know unless one has been through it. And I’m wise enough to know I really don’t know. All I can say is that I feel at least as much fear of eliciting the contempt of other men as I do from anything else. Better to die with honor than to live in disgrace. Better to die with honor than to die in disgrace.

This may not make any sense to those of the civilized persuasion, but the principal reason why I would feel the urge to torture the leadership of al-Qaeda would be to say the following:

You say you are such a big man,
such a powerful man.
You say you are a man,
yet we can make you scream.

4/22/2007 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

And what kind of man does it make you that you can make another man scream? I suspect Stockdale had contempt for his captors. I don't think he wished to emulate them.

4/22/2007 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

I can make the march, and I can make Georgia howl.

--General William Tecumseh Sherman

jj rollo:

And what kind of man does it make you that you can make another man scream? I suspect Stockdale had contempt for his captors. I don't think he wished to emulate them.

Exactly. That's part of my larger point.

4/22/2007 08:51:00 PM  

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