Posted tagged ‘Easter’

More on Torture, McCain, Sullivan, with some help from Albert Einstein

March 28, 2008

It’s Friday, the traditional blogospheric day for ephemera (that is to say, even more evanescent stuff than usual). I know that this is supposed to be a science-y blog, and what I’m going to write below has exactly zero disciplinary rigor in it. It is a personal note, a follow up to last night’s post on Andrew Sullivan’s inability to grasp what John McCain’s torture dance implies. Feel free to move along.

I finished that post in a very quiet house, around 11:30. My wife and son were asleep; almost all the lights were out; it was just me and the keyboard.

After writing, I thought I’d make the quick dash to join my much more sensible family in horizontality. But I didn’t. Instead, I walked up and down, angrier and angrier.

Thinking about McCain’s dance, opposing torture until he didn’t brought me to the larger problem. People are buying it. Sullivan, at least temporarily, has bought it — and take a look at the first comment on the post for the implications of that kind of acquiescence in the unforgivable.

Round and round I went. My son was still asleep. At the age he is now, my America did not torture. His does. I cannot stand that fact.

As I said, this is not a political blog, though I am fascinated by what science can tell us to inform our politics and our culture. I’m not going to tell anyone for whom to vote. Figure it out for yourselves.

I’ll close with a story, a true one, something I saw when I was the downiest of cub reporters.

My first real news gig came in my first year after graduating from college. I had made my way overseas — and after 6 on the road I had come to Manila.

By odd happenstance, the local Reuters bureau needed bodies and copy so I was “hired” for bus and lunch money. Didn’t matter: I was now a foreign correspondent, with a line to the wire to damn anyone who dared say no.

I covered the usual stuff cubs get — my first phone call really was to ask for a reaction to the murder of a peace corps volunteer . (For those of you not familiar with the hazing rituals of old journalism, an awful lot of reporters got their start asking a brand new widow how she felt. How the hell do you think she felt, asshole?)

I covered a threatened jeepney strike, a coral reef conference — I even got a tour of the Coconut Palace (don’t ask) led by Imelda Marcos herself. It was great, a fabulous way to start becoming a writer.

A couple of months in, Easter rolled around and so my bureau chief sent me out to get a kind of local-color feature for the Asian wire.

Some friends invited me out to their parents’ place, a bit north of Manila. On the way there, we passed some men dressed in rags, carrying wooden crosses across the plain. On Good Friday, three of those cross bearers came to a parish church near where we were staying. One collapsed before his moment arrived. The other two laid their crosses down in the dust and heat and settled themselves into position.

Friends tied their ankles and wrists. Then a man reached for a mallet and hammered nails through each palm. Some strong guys stood the two crosses up. Those being crucified tried to stand as straight as possible to minimize the weight pulling on their arms and hands. They held the pose for a minute or two — not long — and then their friends and family lowered them down again.

I spoke to one of the two resurrected men who was wrapping gauze around his palm as we talked. He had been a member of a youth gang, he said, and he had done unspecific terrible things. He wanted to start over, and this was how he wiped his slate clean. After his moments on the cross, he was calm, satisfied. Fine: good for him. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him from that day to this – 27 years – but I hope it worked out.

I rarely recall that moment. I didn’t think about it last week, when the anniversary might have brought it to mind. But I did last night, wrestling with the anger and shame I felt at the thought of the acts my government performs in my name.

I’m not any kind of a Christian. But remembering that church yard north of Manila reminded me of the brute fact at the core of the Christian story: the man Jesus was tortured to death on his cross. He was brutalized, pierced, felt the metal tearing at his flesh, suffered the pain in his hands and legs that deepened as his own strength failed and he could no longer keep his body from pulling on the spikes through his limbs.

Good Friday came and went a week ago. Believers celebrated its joyful sequel just a few days back.

I’ll let my long-time companion, Albert Einstein have the last thought, taken from one of his very first anti-war essays, written during World War I:

“Why so many words,” he wrote, “when I can say it in one sentence, one very appropriate for a Jew: Honor your master Jesus Christ not only in words and songs but rather, foremost, by your deeds.”*

My apologies to anyone who read this far and is offended either by my presumption, or the wildly off topic nature of the post.

*Albert Einstein “My Opinion on the War,” from the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, vol. VI, document 20.

Images: Torture Chair on display in the Torture Museum in Amsterdam. Source, Wikimedia Commons.

Lucas Cranach, “Crucifixion,” c. 1500. Source, Wikimedia Commons.