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April 17, 2009


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Jussi Jalonen

About the comment that "giving in for peace's sake" is probably not the best thing to do, I'd tend to agree. I've encountered similar disappointing events in my own professional life; some female colleagues have encountered gender discrimination, but have chosen not to complain about it, because "they just want to avoid trouble".

But on the other hand - "evil needs to be countered when it is still small"? And "there cannot be any excuses or exceptions"? This line of thinking, of course, assumes that it's possible to have some kind of an objective, universal definition of "evil", which would justify jumping the gun.

Not that I disagree with your main point, but you may wish to reconsider if that Manichaean rhetoric actually captures your thoughts. Because quite frankly, at the moment, it sounds like something from Savonarola. Or George W. Bush, for that matter.

As for Obama's announcement, what did you realistically expect? Prosecuting all who were involved in the authorization or cover-up of torture or war crimes during the Bush administration would place some rather prominent people on the dock, starting from Ashcroft and Rumsfeld. That was never going to happen.

And frankly, it's nothing new. In any post-conflict situation, national concord is everything that matters to the ruling class, even if it has to take place at the expense of legal requirements or common morality.

The usual method is to forget, move on, and try to bury one's traumas. After twenty years, it's time to get new ones. Standard pattern throughout history, and not just in the United States.


J. J.



That's a logical fallacy you're committing here -- you're putting "standing up against" on par with "stomping upon". The latter is George Bush, the first is what I am talking about.

I do believe one has to stand up against evil, yes. That bully on the schoolyard? When he's five, he can still learn not to bully, if only someone doesn't duck. That's does not mean to fight him, to punch him in the face, or even use his same methods. That never works, and that is what George Bush has been doing. But I have not said to do so.

As to the twenty years, I'm not sure what you mean here. I'm talking about the last eight years, when soldiers who blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib had to be taken into protective custody. When following a criminal order is an excuse for unspeakable crimes.

It's easy to point fingers afterwards. It's not easy to be courageous and name the deeds when everybody says you're unpatriotic for doing so.

That's what I'm talking about. The true heroes have long been forgotten, and are still being quietly punished for their courage to stand up. The evildoers go away without a chink in their armor. The moral lesson herein is highly questionable. I don't care for my children to learn it.

Jussi Jalonen

Let's just say that I always get just a little bit sceptical when people - any people - are arguing that they can objectively recognize "evil", and use corresponding rhetoric.

A few weeks ago, there was a rather hapless demonstration in Helsinki, consisting of a small number of Russian youth activists. It was a protest against a book, a recently-published anthology of essays describing the post-war experiences under the Stalinist rule in the Estonian SSR. In the opinion of the said youth activists, the book was, of course, "fascist", "evil", and they had also decided to "make a stand against it", in order to "fight the beginnings".

I'm not suggesting that you belong in the same category. However, personally, I try to avoid using similar rhetoric, precisely because, well, that's what _those_ people do. As you said yourself, why succumb to using their methods, even on the rhetorical level? Usually, I've heard words such as "evildoers" only from American right-wingers. I don't particularly want to use the same language that they do, because I don't want to have anything in common with them.

The reference to "twenty years" regarded historical processes - although I could have just as well said thirty, or forty. The historical intervals during which the traumatic experiences of the war and the defeat are buried and forgotten; after that, they rise again, or are surpassed by new ones. That's what happened with Vietnam, and that's probably what will happen also with the so-called "War on Terror".

In light of that, Obama's announcement is, quite frankly, nothing new, and it's exactly what one would have expected.

As for "without a chink in their armor" - the people in question who were ultimately responsible for issuing the criminal orders at least did lose power, no?

Other than that, in the world that we live in, justice simply isn't always politically feasible. I don't have children myself, but I'd venture to guess that there'd be nothing wrong in explaining this to them, in the appropriate manner. Hey, perhaps they'll manage better than the previous generation.


J. J.


I don't know, Jussi. Remember, we're talking "only" about torture here. I find torture fairly easy to recognize - in fact, we have excellent definitions of torture, just in case you are not sure. The moment a nation says "these definitions don't apply to X [a certain group of people] because we are on a higher moral ground", things become very ugly very fast - as we've seen.

A show trial for Lyndie England and then no consquences for Rumsfeld and his friends? Simply loosing power isn't enough. It's not even necessarily a consequence of having condoned torture. The mere fact that there is no nation-wide outcry over the torture memos points in this direction.

There is a reason why entire nations think of Rumsfeld et al. as war criminals.

There's an excellent piece in todays NYT that expresses my thoughts very well.

Doug (not Muir)

After the fall of the Wall, how many people said they had been secret dissidents? How many said that in their hearts, they had always hated the regime? Earlier, how many Party members claimed to have been part of the "innere Emigration"?

A couple of weeks ago, I looked back at my copy of The File by Timothy Garton Ash (his book about his Stasi file, and the Stasi files more generally), because I remembered him writing that when confronted with their past as Stasi IMs, people almost invariably denied it at first. People want to remember themselves in the best possible light, whether it's having opposed torture, or not having cooperated with (or indeed worked for) the Stasi.

One of the bloggers at the Reality-Based Community said a lot of smart things on the topic of ongoing investigations in the US: http://www.samefacts.com/archives/the_obama_presidency_/2009/04/outrage_patience_and_perspective_all_needed_re_bush_administration_torture.php

In particular, I think that we are best served by a view to let all the facts come out, and the chips fall where they may. Even if the administrations says now that it is not in favor of prosecutions, that's a view that can be changed. "No one is above the law" is a principle that has deep public support in the US. More and more is going to come out, and that's all to the good.


Hi Doug,

That link was broken, so here's another one that leads to the same post: Click here.

As my poor husband can attest - outrage I can do, patience is not my strong suit. I'm also not a smart tactician, so it's much for the better that I've never even considered running for any office. I'd make one bad politician, and the world has plenty enough of those.

Doug (not Muir)

Outrage helps! As FDR is often quoted "I agree with you fellows. Now get out there and make me do what you're asking for."

Unrelatedly, aren't Petterson and Findus great? Almost like fafblog for the young'uns.

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