Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sullivan Writes to Bush on Torture

You can find much to disagree about with Andrew Sullivan. You can find his style and mode of thinking things through shrill, at times even hysterical. There's something about him of the True Believer - that glazed-eye expression of total acceptance of the party line, and lack of comprehension of people who don't likewise hew to it. Large numbers of people apparently read him fervently; others, such as me, wander by his blog from time to time to see what the party line is on this or that, shrug their shoulders, and wander on.

Still, you've got to give him credit for being willing to switch the partly line from time to time. He does his best to think things through, and has allowed facts (or perceived facts) to impinge upon his position to the extent he'll jettison it. Not many people are willing to do that, and even fewer are capable. Of course, some of his jettisoning and new believing could have been avoided were he more capable of holding a complex, nuanced and non-party-line in the first place. Well, no-one's perfect.

One of his main themes the past few years has been torture. He's been obsessive about it, to put it mildly, to a degree that hindered clear thinking even as the deliberation itself was important.

Now he has published an open letter to President Bush, in September's edition of The Atlantic. Unlike blogging, he clearly sat down, organized his thoughts, sought the best tone for the matter, and worked with an editor. The result shows the clear advantage of such a slow but meticulous method over the get-it-out-the-door-already method of blogging. It's a fine piece of writing, thought provoking, and worthy of attention.

Are his facts all right? I'm not certain. Are his value statements the only ones possible? I doubt it. He's over the anti-Bush vituperation, which is good, and sees some of the complexity of the conditions in which decisions were made or evolved. To my mind, he's still too quick to compare American methods with those of its enemies, who are the enemies of us all, and if you follow his logic to its end, you may find it hard to wage any war at all, even a justified one of defense: causing harm and depriving people of dignity are, unfortunately, inevitable aspects of war. The dignity one is also subjective, and thus slippery.

Still, I recommend reading the article. It's a serious issue, it's not going away, and we should always be open to arguments we don't instinctively agree with. Sometimes we'll even find sections of them compelling.


Anonymous said...

It is the October Atlantic.

Yaacov said...

I checked again, and you're right. It's the October Atlantic. Which reached me in the mail about a month ago, in Spetember - and it reaches me in Israel a week or ten days after it reaches subscribers in the US. So while it says October, it really means September. Heh.