Thursday, May 07, 2009

This week's lesson: sin

It would seem that Americans are human, after all.

Foreign visitors to this blog may smile -- but for a long time, an important part of our self-identity was the idea that some things were just plain un-American.

In the movies, for instance, it was always the character with a sinister foreign accent who would threaten that "We have ways of making you talk." Americans -- true Americans -- did not do this. No, we did not torture prisoners . . . and if prisoners were "mishandled" every now and then, this was obviously the fault of a few low-level prison guards.

Now it turns out that American officials at the highest levels of government agreed that it was time to bring back the Spanish Inquisition. These were not a few National Guardsmen running wild. No, these were important people -- people with nice suits, good manners and expensive educations --who debated just how much pain our captives should go through.

And yes, some of the people who made these decisions were people whom I admired and respected.

And yes, the people who made these decision believed they were justified by events.

That's what torturers always believe.

But whatever else we may have learned by doing this, we learned something even more important about ourselves: we learned that we may be Americans, but we are just as capable of sin as any other human being.

And no, this should not have surprised us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn pointed out:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
Or as someone else who'd also done time as a captive would say, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

Even in America.

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