“But who versus? Who are we doing it versus?”


William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar nporiger says:

    Nice piece, Mr. Brafford.

    I'm not sure what I appreciate most, aside from the piece itself: That Larison deemed it to be worthy of linking and commenting, your superb contrasting of ideology and tradition, or that you managed to go from Sunny to Bacevich. Remarkable! Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Excellent debut, William. Keep raising the bar. More thoughts when I'm not so tired…. Report

  3. Avatar nporiger says:

    I'm incredibly troubled by this line from Schaeffer:

    "“The dishonor that was foisted on our military by President Bush, who turned some of our men and women in uniform into torturers, is being reversed. "

    To condemn President Bush for permitting/approving certain morally abhorrent policies is one thing, and a fair one at that. However, to suggest that he turned anyone in a tortures seems to be beyond the pale, to me anyway. Ultimately, the decision to torture or not to torture is one of conscience. A soldier can be loyal to a superior officer who offers an unconscionable order or he can be loyal to his conscience.

    I can't fathom what enduring court-martial might do to one's external honor as a soldier; however, I'm well aware of the ineffable sorrow one experiences when he dissents from his conscience on such a grave issue. I'd take my chances with the former, knowing that I'd done right by God and by country, before I'd go with the latter, knowing that I'd done right by the state. Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I don't buy it, Nathan. Look, if the order hadn't come down the pipeline to begin torturing prisoners then nobody would have tortured prisoners and hence nobody would have been or have become a torturer. But the fact is, in an organization like the military you're going to be able to get it down, no matter how many consiencious objectors refuse. The individuals who did the torturing are of course complicit and guilty, but their superiors all the way up to the top are equally responsible, and probably more so. Report

  5. I wouldn't try to parse Schaeffer's statements too closely. Most of what he says on the blog is too broad to be worthy of a close response. Click through and you'll see what I'm talking about. Report

  6. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    Great job, William (is there a ceremony where you go from "Honorary" to actual "Ordinary"?). I need to second Nathan's comment about going from Sunny to Bacevich — and you've given me yet another reason to regret not having watched more than half an episode of that show.

    As far as "Who's responsible?" — I'm verging on repeating conventional wisdom that there's a dual guilt, applicable to both superiors and those carrying out the orders, but I don't think I could PROVE that E.D. is more right than Nathan — I don't know I could say HOW they're "equally responsible, and probably more so." (I've got a friend who's fascinated by that very question and is trying to set up a research project of some sort to look at it — I'm waiting for him to start and then finish, mostly so I can mooch off of his results — whether I'm agreeing or not — without having to do the tedious parts of the research myself.) Report

  7. Avatar nporiger says:

    E.D.: "The individuals who did the torturing are of course complicit and guilty, but their superiors all the way up to the top are equally responsible, and probably more so."

    I don't disagree at all, and perhaps in my late-night, Scotch-fueled haze was problematically unclear. I don't mean to clear President Bush, or any other "superior" officer, of culpability. Not in the least. I'm just not comfortable with the verb employed by Schaeffer: Bush, et al. may have given the order, but, ultimately, the soldier forced to obey either conscience or c.o. turned himself into the torturer.

    Unless one makes the probably defensible argument that, before any particular situation arose in which he had to make this choice, the psychological impacts of serving (specifically in certain scenarios) already contributed to a certain moral deadening, or dormancy, a more direct result of decisions made by Bush and officers that turned the soldier into a torturer, or at least predisposed him to become one given the opportunity. Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Nathan, why don't you just make my argument for me. Or, in other words, yes – what you said. Exactly. 😉 Report

  9. A lot to unpack here, but I'm really busy right now. One thing that seems pertinent to the discussion between Nathan and E.D. would be the argument in Philip Zimbardo's Lucifer Effect. There he makes a compelling case, based on an all-too-real experiment that he conducted (the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment), that systems can be set up in ways that make widespread abuse inevitable even where the abusers are otherwise good and ordinary people. I can't sum up the whole explanation, but it's a fascinating argument. He doesn't absolve the abusers of blame, but he makes a compelling case that it takes very little to make one of us into an abuser, even if the person setting up the system does not actually order the abuse. The people who are able to overcome these systemic incentives turn out to be rare indeed. Report

  10. Avatar Kyle_M says:

    Thanks for reading my rather complimentary semi-related response.

    In thinking about your post, I wonder if ideology represents a sort of permanent vacation from the uncomfortable winter of our own cognitive dissonance. If that is the case, I wonder (and ask), if the role of ideology, pejoratively used in a political sense, is meaningfully different from the role of faith, more benignly used in a spiritual/religious sense? Report

  11. I'm sure other commentors will disagree with me here, but I have to say that, although faith can be and often is used to avoid facing difficulties and contradictions in one's way of thinking, my reading of theology has me convinced that the faithful have just as often grappled deeply and subtly with the moral, philosophical, interpretive, and plainly theological weaknesses of their predecessors. Most of the theologians we remember, we remember because they resolved or redescribed an extant problem in such a way that progress was made towards its resolution. John of Damascus, Anselm, Aquinas, Newman, Barth: these men were not ideologues. You can think the revelation from which they claimed to take their bearings was utterly (even transparently) false, but the practice of reasoning from that revelation (and, I would argue, still is) a living tradition. Report