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June 24, 2008

Motherhood, Apple Pie, and Waterboarding

By: Bernard Chazelle

New poll:

All torture should be prohibited:

* 82% UK, Spain, France

* 73% Mexico

* 66% China

* 54% Azerbajian, Egypt

* 53% USA

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at June 24, 2008 12:40 PM

So the next time you're wondering what country, what god-awful police state has the most pervasive and successful propaganda machine, remember that more people are against torture, as a percentage of population, in China than in the U.S. The ancient Egyptians can take their state religion and suck it: none know better how to cow their own population than us.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at June 24, 2008 01:43 PM

a big majority of Murkins--upwards of 60%--approve the death penalty even when they are told it is CERTAIN innocent people will be executed by the state...

apparently, as with torture, most folks think they themselves will not be victims...

I truly detest a large majority of my countryfolk...

Posted by: woody, tokin librul at June 24, 2008 01:57 PM

The optimistic read on this ugly stat is that this is the lingering result of 9/11. The article cites the timing of specific terrorist attacks as possible explanations for the variations over time or between countries. I hold out hope that, 10-20 years from now, we can get the US back to where we should be, even if that takes longer than it should.

It's interesting that the top three torture-rejecting countries -- UK, Spain, France -- all have had well-known experiences with torture in the last half century. If there is optimism for us, it would lie in knowing what percentage of the British approved torture during the IRA's peak, the Spanish that approved torture during Franco's reign, and the French approved torture during Algeria. I'm guessing it was much higher than 18%.

Of course, for us to get these numbers back where they belong, we have to keep challenging the fear-mongers. I'd rather spend time doing that than complaining about how impossible Americans are.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at June 24, 2008 02:38 PM

Woody already undermined the optimistic read, Whistler. :-( Hell, I sat in a classroom (graduate school) and watched my classmates happily endorse the death penalty even after acknowledging that it was inherently racist. I can understand shrugging off the fact that we off innocent people -- hey, price of doing business. The justice system is gonna fail somebody. But when someone points out that the POINT of the system is to fail, consistently, such that CERTAIN innocent people are slaughtered, the proper response is "that's Satanic!" not "hey, what'r'ya gonna do?"

And Whistler, if we keep challenging the fear-mongers, your method of getting people to reject torture will be proved: challenge the fear-mongers enough and they'll torture you. That's what's coming soon.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at June 24, 2008 03:04 PM

We WILL be tortured. And then We WILL get it. Not until then.

Posted by: Baldie McEagle at June 24, 2008 05:03 PM

Damn, I hate it when we're beaten by those pesky Azerbajianians.

Posted by: namvetted at June 24, 2008 05:39 PM

All Americans should be prohibited:

79% Liechtenstein

72% Azerbajian

67% Germany

65% Japan

64% Syria

53% USA

Posted by: moo moo moo at June 24, 2008 08:22 PM

The many homages to George Carlin include his scathing statements: You're f**ked by the owners of Murka. You don't get it!
Michael Parenti recently asked (Alternative Radio)--why is this so? Why do Murkans insist this is the best nation while they're being skewered viciously?
Certainly it has to do with the denial of our history detailed by Blackmon, but preceded by histories by Ward Churchill, Howard Zinn, Parenti, Chomsky, Steward Ewen, Walter Karp, Gabriel Kolko--many derided by the authorities.
Now Stanley Wolin presents us with Inverted Democracy and Morris Berman tells about Dark Ages America.
Today Winter Patriot shows us the neat collectibles from Guantanamo!
Albert Silber and Chris Floyd are flooding the aether with the madness of our nation's perversities that are energetically offered as normalcy!
I am reaching very high blood pressure limits!
What is the point of the madness? And what happens when the realization that it's madness reaches "the percentages"?

Posted by: Woodyeofalb at June 25, 2008 10:05 AM

I'm with Whistler Blue. I'm frankly pleasantly surprised to see that a majority of U.S.ians support an absolute ban on torture.

I'm for heavily publicizing the results, because Americans so want to believe that they're better than the rest of the world that I think they will actually tell themselves, and then the next pollster, that they, too, think torture is always wrong.

It's a place to start, not a point to make anyone throw up their hands.

That point would be if future polling were to shows that opposition to all torture had moved below 50%.

Full exposure and acknowledgement of the torture that's been done in our names will increase opposition to it. Accountability for it is possible and a necessary demand.

@Baldie McEagle and NoOneofConsequence: We already are being tortured, if your sense of 'we' is expansive enough to include immigrants, arrestees held in police lockups, particularly inconvenient protestors, and residents of nursing homes and mental hospitals.

The first step is the conviction that torture is always wrong, the next is exposing it whereever it occurs.

Should woody's point about poll support for the death penalty (for which I'd be interested to see a cite, though I'm not questioning it in the least) mean that active opposition to the death penalty should end, because it's hopeless? That flies in the face of the actual progress being made nationally.

Posted by: Nell at June 25, 2008 02:36 PM

I object to the post title, too.

Yes, 47% is way too high a proportion to deny that many Americans accept torture when it's Americans doing the torturing. But it's not high enough to justify the smear against the 53%.

And if a rhetorical ploy can move me to anger on behalf of "good Americans"... that's a helpful test of its usefulness in wider discourse.

Posted by: Nell at June 25, 2008 02:45 PM

Just went to look at the linked poll results, interested to see which countries had only a minority opposing torture absolutely:

Russia 49%
South Korea 48%
Iran 43%
Nigeria 41%
Turkey 36%
Thailand 36%
India 28%

India was the biggest surprise to me.

Biggest percentages declining to answer, which I read as fear of trouble rather than indifference:

Iran (21%)
Thailand (20%)
India (13%)
Azerbaijan (12%)

Posted by: Nell at June 25, 2008 03:01 PM

We're definitely high on the list of countries with a lot of cultural work to do -- the ones with more than ten percent thinking that torture should be allowed generally:

Turkey, China (18%)
Nigeria (15%)
U.S., South Korea (13%)
India (12%)

But the political job, showing people the consequences and wrongness of allowing torture even the "terrorist exception" cases, is much more doable. We can reclaim at least another ten percent from that 33% through the process of public accounting (a process that we should go through for many additional reasons).

Posted by: Nell at June 25, 2008 03:32 PM

Thanks for the responses. Sometimes I think it would be interesting for this blog to address one question head on -- "if America sucks, then what?" I'm not satisfied just dwelling on the first part of that phrase.

And I heard today of one small victory in the effort to get those poll numbers to where they should be. The "ticking time bomb scenario" is nonsense, but the phrase instantly conjures up a powerful reason to allow torture, and is probably responsible for more than a few of those pro-torture percentage points. But I heard Bill Clinton refer to the "Jack Bauer Syndrome," meaning there's now a brief phrase that emphasizes the fictional nature of the pro-torture argument, and makes it sound like a disease.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at June 25, 2008 04:20 PM

Nell, I'm willing to accept correction on that score. Being an American means the definition of "we" must change under certain contexts. One's education and wealth may put one in a different "we" than one's ethnicity. Let me put it this way: white, middle-class Americans are rarely tortured and, horribly, until they are we will not see a huge backlash against torture. :-(

Posted by: No One of Consequence at June 25, 2008 05:29 PM

No One of C,
The French "only" tortured Algerians (that is, not middle class white French), but they've built a pretty good consensus against torture there. I think we can do it here.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at June 26, 2008 12:03 PM

Regarding Indians, (1) India has a LOT of terrorism. There are regular bombings in major cities, Maoist guerrillas all over the place, and Muslim extremists in the north. (2) Indians are generally pretty conservative and are likely to adopt the attitude that good people have nothing to fear from abusive powers. The liberal tradition hasn't really penetrated very far into the Indian psyche, so notions of basic human rights and so on don't have a tremendous influence.

Posted by: saurabh at June 26, 2008 09:59 PM