Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fools Rush In

I should not be getting in the middle of this. Plain and simple.

But here goes.

Mark Shea relates a story wherein a friend of a friend of a friend alleges that American interrogators have been pushing detainees out of cargo planes (which, according to the story, were being flown by a civilian contractor; also, the "intelligence agents" were non-military).

Patrick Archbold says that relating this story is stooping to rumor mongering.

Mark is saying that it doesn't matter if the story is true or not, but that because we know this administration has condoned torture, murder, and the cover-up of murder we can't dismiss this out of hand.

Patrick, and others, are saying, in effect: hold on. We do know the administration has done some bad things (although speaking for myself how can we know about murder and cover-ups if the cover-ups were successful? I'm probably being dense, here, but I missed the news proving that the Bush administration is guilty of the murder of Iraqi prisoners, so I'd be grateful for further information about that before I say anything specific). But knowing that the administration tried to use all sorts of legalistic wiggle-room about how waterboarding really wasn't torture, not really, and cold cells aren't really torture, not really, etc. seems to me to be a far cry from saying that we know for certain that our non-military intelligence officers are routinely shoving forty-plus prisoners out of cargo planes (despite the enormous difficulty in doing any such thing while the plane is in flight--these aren't skydiving planes, after all) as the sort of thing which is All in a Day's Work, so to speak; or at the very least, that we can't say that the story is impossible.

Now, Mark appears to be saying (and I'll be glad to be wrong) that the only way you could object to this story is because you're bound and determined to give the Bush administration a pass when it comes to torture and murder, and you're so blindly partisan that you can't even accept for a moment that things have deteriorated so much that we now must face the possibility that it might be true that we have members of the CIA hiring civilian contractors to fly cargo planes out of which they plan to push three or four dozen prisoners en route. In other words, he appears to be saying that raising objections on the grounds that this story seems highly implausible, could not be kept a secret if it really were occurring, and might not even be physically possible are all a smoke screen for one's determination to bow down to Moloch and ignore torture and murder so long as it's Our Guy doing it.

But that's a bit unkind. I, for one, don't condone torture, and would be outraged at any proof that our government has been committing wholesale murders of people just as I suspect most of us would be. But I don't read this story and think, sadly, "How terrible it is that we can't categorically deny this!" Instead, I read it and think "Sounds like somebody along the line had Way Too Much to drink, and was determined to tell an impressively horrific tale!" And I don't think I'm covering up for Bush in reaching that conclusion; if anything, I'm employing God's gift of reason, and failing to fall for the latest fashion in conspiracy theory.

Now, none of this means that atrocities don't occur in this as in every administration (bombing of an aspirin factory, anyone?). We can't claim for a moment that the American Government has, prior to Bush, had completely clean hands any time it was even remotely involved in the prosecution of a war. It is sad to realize that it has never been possible to say that our government couldn't act in complete opposition to the Law of God; it has never been possible to say that of any government that has ever existed on the face of the earth. That the Bush administration has been guilty of serious wrongdoing is a sad reality, one that should keep us as Catholics from becoming too caught up in the quest for temporal power, which as a corrupting agent knows no equal.

But I'm a bit worried, because Mark and some others like him seem to be in the grip of a powerful anger directed against this past administration--the anger of betrayal, and of repudiation. I'm not saying that this isn't righteous anger, or that it didn't at least begin as righteous anger. But as I wrote last year, even righteous anger can be turned by Satan into the sin of wrath; we are never more in danger of condemning our neighbor as when we are angry with him, however justified that anger is at its inception.

There is nothing wrong with being angry at the Bush administration for the many evils it allowed to flourish. But there is everything wrong with feeding that anger, and coming to hatred for the people themselves, such that we would be outraged if we learned that God had let any of them enter Heaven. The anger that begins righteously can so easily be warped into an anger that blinds our intellect and calcifies our hearts, leading us to reject God's image in the people we find worthy of our anger and contempt.

None of this is to say that Mark, or anyone else, has reached that point--I'm not in a position to know. But what I do know is that people in the past have reached that point. Perhaps they were angry with the Church over the Scandal, and ended up leaving the Church; perhaps they were angry with their bishop for allowing liturgical abuse, and ended up hating the Novus Ordo Mass and all who attend it; perhaps they were angry at our involvement in unjust war, and ended up hating America, and those who love her in spite of her many flaws. Being angry with the soon-to-be defunct Bush administration may be perfectly justified, but when that anger sees in a very dubious tale something that might even possibly be true, the willingness this implies to believe that one's fellow countrymen are so depraved, so wicked, as to be capable in significant numbers of committing these acts of murder and mayhem gives me pause; surely as Christians we ought not be so willing to so condemn our fellow men as to accept, without strong corroborating evidence, as even remotely plausible a story like this one, regardless of our political leanings or our hatred for the evils of the present administration.


Monkey Face said...

Mark Shea has an axe to grind. Why, I don't know, but he harps on this enough that I have to think there's something underneath it all that pushes him on this issue. I don't think he even knows what it is.

I stopped reading his blog several years ago. I could feel the hatred behind his posts and it made me uncomfortable in that I knew something else was afoot other than his claim to expose the Bush Administration.

Someday we may know what's driving the man. Until then, I steer clear.

Mark said...

Monkey Face:

Actually, I have no ulterior motive. I just think torture is bad and I'm astonished at the resistance I have, for years now, found to that elementary proposition among Catholics, including your strange bit of soul-reading. Red, to her great credit has always seen this elementary moral truth.


I appreciate what you wrote. I'm still rather dazed and amazed by the huge response to that post. I took the email from my reader as illustrative of the way in which Bush policy has corroded trust. That was basically my point. I still don't get the wild reaction to it.

One minor quibble. You write:
Mark is saying that it doesn't matter if the story is true or not, but that because we know this administration has condoned torture, murder, and the cover-up of murder we can't dismiss this out of hand.
Actually, I think it matters immensely if the story is true. I simply point out that I don't know that it is true or false, whereas four years ago I (and my reader) would have instantly dismissed it as unthinkable. Now, thanks to current policy, we no longer live in a country where it is instantaneously unthinkable.

That, Monkey Face, is all that is "driving" me.

LargeBill said...

"Now, thanks to current policy, we no longer live in a country where it is instantaneously unthinkable."

Actually it is still instantaneously unthinkable except to the clinically unhinged folks of the far left. Something is wrong with folks who are so incredibly partisan that they can latch onto crap like that and do anything besides dismissing it as ravings of an idiot.

Mark said...

Actually it is still instantaneously unthinkable except to the clinically unhinged folks of the far left.

Glad to see you're learning that whole thing not making rash claims of fact. Now I'll have to go home and cry to my gay lover that I met on Obama Inauguration Abortion Rights Support Chat Group. How I miss Che Guevara!

Red Cardigan said...

Mark, I think the reason for the response is because of this--you write, "I simply point out that I don't know that it is true or false, whereas four years ago I (and my reader) would have instantly dismissed it as unthinkable. Now, thanks to current policy, we no longer live in a country where it is instantaneously unthinkable."

That's the point of disagreement for me. On the one hand, despite the truly evil actions of members of this administration, I still can't see that you can look at a story involving allegations of forty prisoners being pushed out of an airplane and see those as even remotely plausible. On the other hand, the Bush administration has not, to me, had a corner on "evil administration" status, and plenty of wartime atrocities can be traced to government or quasi-government forces in administrations from Lincoln's onward, and probably before; perhaps the *myth* that Americans "don't do X" has been shattered, but frankly I find it impossible to say of a country that dropped atomic weapons on civilians in WWII that we were always above such things up till George W. Bush took office.

So, has the Bush administration corroded trust to the point where allegations that forty or so prisoners would routinely be shoved by non-military agents out of cargo planes flown by civilian contractors cannot be dismissed out of hand? You say yes; I say no, or at least, that that "trust" has been pretty well shattered since August 6, 1945--which still doesn't make highly implausible scenarios all that profitable to speculate upon.

But the fact that I'm a bit concerned here doesn't change the fact that I admire your writing greatly; not doing any dust-shaking here.

With that in mind, folks, I want comments to be kept civil on this one. I'm leaving the ones left so far, but let's watch the tone, guys--words like "unhinged" don't belong. Mark is hardly a partisan for the left, and if we can't disagree on the substance of this without devolving into personalities I'll just start deleting comments or close comments altogether on this thread.

Patrick Archbold said...

On my post, I specifically said that the plausibility/implausibility of the anecdote was irrelevant to the point I was trying to make. So of course, 80% of the comments were about whether you can throw a body out a c130. Ugh!

I also have respect for Mark and I did my best to stay respectful in my post. (in part because I didn't want you to yell at me for being mean).

I am now going back to my blog to write a post about how Mark has admitted (on your blog) to being Gay with Che in Guantanamo Bay. That should really get the combox humming.

Red Cardigan said...

Patrick, :)

I know the plausibility factor isn't what's on everybody's mind, but it is on mine. I mean, I know that abortionists kill unborn babies, and I wouldn't find it hard to believe that they cheat on their income taxes should that be alleged; but that they secretly murder random two-year-olds and serve them at private Planned Parenthood luaus is the sort of thing I'd find unbelievable without strong proof--just like the anecdote Mark related.

Patrick Archbold said...

Don't get me wrong, I agree with you 100%. I avoided only because I wanted to avoid the argument in Mark's combox that was raging with dualing vets debating the impact velocity of the average Iraqi dropped at 10,000 feet. Alas, my effort was in vain.

That said, I agree with your point as well and as always you made it very well.

Phillip said...

Terminal velocity for a human is 124 mph and should be reached well before 10,000 feet. Vets think about such things. Part of our training. ;)

Phillip said...

Actually all the vets commenting thought Mark's comments were improbable. Quite heatedly so at times. No duelling involved between each other.

Anonymous said...

With regard to the brouhaha--don't know the promulgators of the rumour nor have enough time to look up the basis of the rumour, but do agree with the out-of-context words 'no longer
instantaneously unthinkable'.

In the current political climate (wherein one never knows in what context another is truly reflecting, nor under what duress of thought intensity), 'possibly instantly thinkable' must for all cognisant intellectuals go hand-in-hand with whatever implausibility is suggested.

Whoever would've thought that Vincent Chin attending his own bachelor party in 1982 would've been beaten to death by two disgruntled auto workers in Detroit, Michigan and the killers slapped with $ 3,000 fine, manslaughter charge, and no jail time? Hate is hate is hate is hate... ad infinitum


Phillip said...

Tawana Brawley. Possible, but not true.

Mark said...

Gay with Che in Guantanamo Bay

That is a Cole Porter/Noel Coward tune if ever there was one.

Anonymous said...


Don't know why TB is mentioned in reference to the validity of hate crimes...it was later shown that much of what was done could've been self-inflicted.

Mr. Chin did not beat himself to a coma with the force of two grown male autoworkers with a baseball bat. There were witnesses to the initial assault and battery, as well as the subsequent 'huntdown' for him, as well as the man they offered the 20'pieces of silver'. This was an example of an outrageous hate crime, but in the 'Detroit' climate of anti-Japanese car manufacturing in the early 80's fortified by societally-condoning hate-mongers e.g. Lee Iacocca (who could think that this 'leading Bicentennial promoter' could serve as instigator with 'innocent-sounding' snipes about Sayonara? and so, where's Mr. Iacocca now that Chrysler could use a little of the retirement package benefits from the company?)

However, the point is this...Red brought out the implausibility/plausibility factor as mentioned in another forum, and it is very valid--as a country (which Mr. Bush still represents), we do not condone the types of things suggested, but by individuals they might occur. Our country is built on a foundation where things will eventually right themselves. We best not forget how things happen by individuals to individuals, but the plausibility of something happening or not is NOT entirely related to the present administration.


Phillip said...


Just pointing out that even things that seem plausible are false. Now as pointed out by many responsible vets, things are implausible...

Charlotte said...

I always find it amazing that people think they actually do know or can know what our government (or any government) is actually up to or doing. (In saying this, I am not saying I believe the airplane stories.) What I'm getting at is that there is a secret service, FBI, and CIA, etc., for a reason.

As Americans, we have been taught to believe, starting with our 4th grade government class, that this country operates on a principle of freedom, thereby implying freedom (and rights) to know what the government of the people for the people is doing. It's a lovely, sentimental notion and I totally wish it were so. But the pessimistic side of me says NO, it's not true. We have no clue what all goes on.

Obama annoyed me through the whole campaign with his promises to pull the troops out of Iraq. What does he know about Iraq? NOTHING until he's elected President and then is briefed by those in the know as to what's REALLY going on in Iraq. For this very reason, I will not be surprised if what Obama actually ends up doing as concerns Iraq will be a far cry from what he promised. He will surely dissapoint alot of people, I predict.

Likewise, allegations of people being pushed out of airplanes are likely just that - allegations - except to those very few people in our government who actually know if it's true or not. I can't fault Mark for alerting people to this allegation - and I'm sorry to sound so sensationalistic - because I think it's interesting to entertain the possibility and discuss potential ramifications, etc., if it was indeed true. But on the flipside, to present the allegations as more potential "proof" of an evil Bush administration, well, that might be wrong. Then again, I don't know how Mark could have presented these allegations without it looking any other way.

The internet is still filled with "conspiracy" sites, heavily researched, still alleging that about a hundred or so people were suspiciously murdered or died during the Clinton administration, and yet, those allegations still hang out there, unanswered, and Bill and Hilary move throughout our world as virtual American royalty.

Nixon is now seen as a novel "hiccup" in the history of the American presidency - he, too, has a presidential library, his funeral procession, etc., was aired on national TV.

Someday, though maybe a long way off, Bush will also surely be regarded with just as much respect and/or interest. Even if the airplane story is true. Because in the end, American culture always wins out. Not saying this is right, just saying this is how it is.

Anonymous said...

This just illustrates why I quit reading Mark Shea. As good as some of his other (apologetics, etc.) stuff is, he is just too loony-nasty-bitter on the torture issue. Something in that issue knocked something loose in his head, methinks -- why that and not some other issue? It is entirely unjustifiable to pass on rumors just because one thinks they are "believable." Isn't there some name for that -- calumny or detraction or suchlike?

There is no end of reasoned discourse out there in the 'sphere to replace the good he provides.