Sherman was right: War is Hell. The current war against the Judeo-Christian world waged by al-Qaida and other radical Moslems is no different. War is Hell and Hell is full of torments. Our role, as children of a Loving God, is to make that Hell and those torments as quick, as slight, and as limited as possible. But it is not in our power to end pain, to make peace, or to stop torture.
We cannot stop a Holocaust without inflicting pain. We cannot end the Gulag without hurting people. We cannot free slaves without the horror of civil war. We can be silent, passive, and helpless in the face of evil, and, perhaps, survive. But we cannot stop evil without fighting evil, and that battle cannot be conducted without hurting people.
There have been many hypothetical questions raised about the conduct of great democratic leaders in wars against past evils. Was Truman a "war criminal' for dropping two fission bombs on Japanese cities? Did Churchill authorize severe methods to extract information from German soldiers? All of this rather misses the point.
Churchill authorized the fire-bombing of Hamburg, which resulted in the burning to death of many tens of thousands of innocent German women, children, and old people. Truman authorized the slow starvation of Japan by submarine blockade. The victims of these actions were more innocent than al-Qaida operatives, the pain they endured was much greater than water boarding, and the number who suffered was incomparably greater than the handful interrogated by American intelligence forces.
Who, in war, is not a war criminal? George McGovern dropped heavy bomb loads on innocent Europeans. Jimmy Carter was perfectly prepared, if the order had come, to incinerate many millions of innocent Soviet citizens as a naval officer on nuclear submarines. Clinton ordered the bombing of Serbia, which tormented many innocent Serbs, and Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan, who will use bullets and bombs to inflict much more pain on our enemies than they ever endued in American military custody.
In the struggle between good and evil in this life, evil will use violence to force good men to use violence as well. The critical questions are not whether this violence constitutes something which decent, sane men would consider as "torture." It does. War itself is torture. Men in combat suffer in ways which make water boarding look like a roller coaster ride in a theme park. War maims, burns, starves, cripples, traumatizes, humiliates, and destroys.
We pretend that there are rules in war, but that is all we do "pretend." Decent, sane people, forced into war, can only make their own rules. These rules are fairly straightforward and easy to understand.
Inflict the pain on the guilty as much as possible and on the innocent as little as possible. America does this better than any nation in the history of the world. Desert Storm in 1991 was the first example of "smart weapons," the much-maligned "gold-plating" of American weaponry. Since then our forces have used such precision in combat that even when our own troops' lives are in jeopardy, we have tools and technologies which allow us to almost surgically take out the bad guys. This, of course, is just what our interrogation was intended to do.
Nazis, Soviets, or Japanese imperialists did not look carefully and cautiously at those who held vital war information or those who might fight them when they interrogated. Instead they used savage violence with a broad brush. They slaughtered the general population of villages until information was provided. They, and radical Moslem enemies as well, do not care about who is innocent, who is a combatant, or who has crucial information.
Inflict only as much violence as is necessary to win. The intelligence and security organs of totalitarian regimes tortured without reference to guilt, to hidden secrets, or even to potential civilian hostility. They starved, beat, froze, and did things much worse not because that level of coercion was needed, but because it was in the nature of their evil. The purpose of the brutalities of these regimes was, specifically, to cause human suffering.
Violence, force, pain, terror - these are all dreadful aspects of life which we associate with torture - can only be minimized and not eliminated. We do that when the elements of coercion are targeted only on the guilty, when we only use what is necessary, and when we grasp that goodness should always win these battles.
On September 11, 2001, thousands of innocent men, women, and children were tortured to death - that is the blunt fact - and since then America has operated using its own, compassionate rules of combat to liberate captive, tortured populations in Iraq and in Afghanistan using the mildest means at our disposal. If we grow sallow, puerile, vain, and pompous, then the suffering on planet Earth will not diminish: It will, instead, return with a vengeance.