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Andrew Jackson Lives
Americans Still Support Torture

Support for torture has been growing in the United States and elsewhere lately, The Daily Beast reports:

Bombarded by President-Elect Donald Trump’s election rhetoric promising to step up the campaign against the so-called Islamic State, Americans are more likely to accept torture and indiscriminate bombing of suspected terrorists than they were two decades ago, according to a poll by the International Committee of the Red Cross released Monday.

The majority of those surveyed across more than a dozen countries including the United States still think bombing of populated areas and torturing detainees is wrong, according to the WINS/Gallup International poll, released by the ICRC. But rising numbers of people, especially Americans and Britons, said they are willing to accept less humane practices if it means winning the fight faster.

The insinuation that President-elect Trump persuaded Americans to be more pro-torture has cause and effect backwards. In fact, Americans have long been more likely to favor the use of torture than citizens of many other countries. Trump’s view on torture is a popular and very typical Jacksonian viewpoint which likely helped him win; it’s elites and “normal” politicians who are the biggest outliers here.

As WRM has written here before, many Americans view war rather differently than other people do. Americans tend to feel that if they are attacked, they have the right and prerogative to use whatever means necessary to defeat the enemy:

The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans.  The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree. [UPDATED NOTE: Many Americans consider the classic concept of proportionality — that the violence used must be proportional to the end sought — as meaningless when responding to attacks on the lives of citizens because the protection of citizens from armed and planned attacks is of enough importance to justify any steps taken to ensure that the attacks end.]

From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the advocates of just and proportionate warfare would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids. An endless war of limited intensity is worse, many Americans instinctively feel, than a time-limited war of unlimited ferocity. A crushing blow that brings an end to the war—like General Sherman’s march of destruction through the Confederacy in 1864-65—is ultimately kinder even to the vanquished than an endless state of desultory war.

The European just war tradition springs in part from the reality that historically in Europe war was an affair of kings and rulers that hurt the little people without doing anything for them. Peasants really didn’t care whether the Duke of Burgundy or the Count of Anjou was recognized as the rightful overlord of their village, and moralists and theologians worked to limit the violence that the dukes and the counts and their henchmen wreaked on the poor peasants caught up in a quarrel that wasn’t theirs.

With no feudal past in this country, Americans have tended to see wars as wars of peoples rather than wars of elites and in a war of peoples the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate targets tends to collapse. The German civilian (male or female) making weapons for Hitler’s Wehrmacht was as much a part of the enemy’s warmaking potential as the soldier at the front. Furthermore, in a war of peoples in which civilians are implicated in the conflict, the health and morale of the civilian population is a legitimate target of war. This justified the blockades against the Confederacy and against Germany and German occupied Europe during the world wars, and it also justified the mass terror bombing raids of World War Two in which the destruction of enemy morale was one of the stated aims.

When it comes to war, Donald Trump’s victory is a return to form for America. Countries around the world would do well to note the shift. Jacksonians aren’t very interested in humanitarian wars or wars for democratization, but when they do feel like an attack is justified, they believe in doing whatever it takes to defeat their enemies quickly and completely.

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  • ——————————

    When the enemy is beheading with small knives, blowing up the public, setting people on fire, and driving trucks through crowds…yeah, Americans are supporting torture!

    I say make ’em listen to loud rap music! The worst death possible!

  • Frank Natoli

    The majority of those surveyed across more than a dozen countries including the United States still think bombing of populated areas and torturing detainees is wrong
    No country has area bombed populated area in seventy years, soon beyond living memory.
    Western countries have imposed rules of engagement on their own forces which encourage enemy combatants to use populated areas as human shields. This is something Trump and Mattis will address.
    Someone who is not a uniformed combatant under Geneva Conventions has no rights whatsoever. Whatever interrogation is necessary to elucidate information necessary to save American lives, military and civilian, from such an individual, is morally correct.

    • Tom

      Syria has done so–or has attempted to, as they don’t have the capacity to pull a raid like Hamburg or Dresden.

  • Proud Skeptic

    I don’t support torture but I’m OK with waterboarding. It may be very unpleasant but to me it isn’t torture. And, yes, others may disagree with me. I don’t really care. It is a personal decision.

    • Beauceron

      Waterboarding used to be part of SERE training (maybe still is in some courses).

    • Angel Martin

      Anything which is used in special forces or airforce pilot capture training should be fair game.

      If it is good enough for Navy Seals it is sure as hell good enough for ISIS and Al Quaeda !

  • Andrew Allison

    “when they do feel like an attack is justified, they believe in doing whatever it takes to defeat their enemies quickly and completely” would make a nice change from the history of the past 50 years.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Key words from third paragraph, “if it means winning the fight(s) faster.” The problem is, plenty of knowledgeable people have learned this is usually not the case with “enhanced interrogations”. So, what you’re mostly left with is the same mad voices who want to kick butt on everyone and everything under the sun just saying they want to waterboard people too. It’s the same spirit that years ago would turn out a crowd for a public hanging.

    • Mark Hamilton

      But waterboarding isn’t done in public and it is not done for punishment, so I really don’t see the comparison to a public hanging.

      Although you didn’t raise the “torture doesn’t work” argument, I might as well dispense with that too. Of course it does and everybody knows it. Now, if you want to argue we should not do it on moral or policy grounds, fine. But let’s be honest about the trade-offs.

      • FriendlyGoat

        It is done for punishment in the minds of its absent supporters. Not much different than the old medieval idea of torturing people until they admit guilt of most anything. Coerced confession.

        As for not working to make “winning fights” faster, the reason it does not work is because people being tortured will say anything to get the torture to stop. That is just as easily misinformation as real information. The best intelligence is obtained by getting people to cooperate with you, not by making people afraid of you.

        • Mark Hamilton

          I know plenty of people who support water boarding. Not a single one of them supports it as a form of punishment.

          While I agree that getting people to cooperate is the best option, the whole point of water boarding (or sleep deprivation or [insert EIT) is to make uncooperative people cooperative. In other words, enhanced interrogation is still fundamentally interrogation.

          So you are interrogating a terrorist nicely. Having a smoke and a coffee and talking about the best falafel stands in Beirut or whatever. The terrorist answers all your questions and he does so nicely. But as you put it, “That is just as easily misinformation as real information.”

          So how does once solve this problem?

          By asking them questions to which you already know the answers. By cross-checking answers you are not sure of against other intelligence sources. By, you know, being a competent and not simply believing a smiling terrorist that is smoking your cigarettes and drinking your coffee.

          The only difference in EIT is getting the person to a place where they are willing to talk.

          • FriendlyGoat

            People have been arguing in earnest for standards of conduct with respect to human rights for a couple of centuries now in contrast to the arguments against having any such standards from all the rest of history. By one tenth of one percent of the vote (110,000 scattered over Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania out of 125,000,000) you just saw the country flip away from human rights talk of all kinds for the time being.

            This is a practical political outcome, not vindication of arguments about interrogation techniques. Please don’t bother trying to convince me on the propriety and efficacy of torture. It is always a counter-social argument which belongs in a dustbin.

          • Mark Hamilton

            Sorry, but when you treat terrorists who deliberately ignore the laws of war as if they are abiding by them, you undermine the very “standards of conduct with respect to human rights” that you claim to support.

            In other words, you have to obey the law to reap its benefits. Otherwise you are an outlaw and outside the law’s protection. Want to strengthen human rights? Don’t award serial human rights abusers by granting them Geneva Convention protections that they do not grant to others.

            Perhaps you can’t be convinced otherwise, but based on the two arguments you have raised so far it appears you haven’t actually given this topic much thought.

          • FriendlyGoat

            If you want to shoot terrorists, shoot ’em. That’s not the same subject as “we’ll find a way to make ’em talk” and that will help us win.

          • Mark Hamilton

            I don’t understand your response. If you don’t want to talk about this, that is fine. Most people don’t. Just stop posing as if you’ve given it so much thought and your position is unassailable. You’ve yet to explain your stance or even defend its morality. If you’re interested, you can start with the “ticking time bomb” scenario and why waterboarding (or if you prefer, loose as a goose drugs) shouldn’t be used. If you are not interested, move on.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Why should I move on? I’m the original commenter and you’re the pesky replier. Look, I’m a liberal, but it’s my understanding that my position is the same on torture, including waterboarding, as General James Mad Dog Mattis, Trump’s new Defense Secretary. That should be enough to get some consideration from both left and right.
            The general calls it “not useful”, okay? Me too.

          • Mark Hamilton

            You should move on because you are out of your depth and haven’t given this issue any thought. Here we are, 4 posts deep and you have yet to explain yourself. Instead you offer up an appeal to authority.

            General Mattis is wrong. If you think he is right because he is General Mattis, then you have to adopt every position General Mattis has ever held. Just say so and I’ll compile the list of things you now support despite being a liberal.

            On the other hand, if you think he is right because you happen to agree with him, explain why you agree with him Put it into words. Defend your position. If you cannot do that, then you should move on. Learn something. Maybe reevaluate your smug certitude about this issue until you have figured out why you believe whatever it is that you believe.

            As for your attempt to misdirect this into some sort of Trump taunt, sorry, not interested. You don’t know anything about me and neither of us know much of anything about what Trump is or isn’t going to do.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I have already explained my position. Many people believe waterboarding is not the most effective way to interrogate. Mattis apparently is one of those. I am too. That is the most straight-forward explanation. The first and main argument is about what is most effective for the purpose of eliciting useful intelligence from adversaries. What works BEST?

            BEYOND that, there is a messaging aspect to public positions of the USA on matters such as this. You are from the school of thought wishing to demand that the world fear us as tough hombres. I am from the school of thought wishing us to be respected for being on the side of what is right.

            As for a Trump “taunt”, you can pretend you don’t know what Trump is going to do if you want. I am telling you that wealth and power are both shifting irretrievably upward as a result of the Trump alignment with Republican Congress. The entirely unnecessary debate over waterboarding is one of the dozens of head fake reasons this has happened.

          • Mark Hamilton

            Your position doesn’t make sense. There is no such thing as a single method that “works best” on all people. The choice is not between asking everybody nicely and water boarding everybody. Nobody is advocating that we water board every single terrorist detainee regardless of circumstance. The question is whether the USA should ever, under any circumstances, use water boarding or [insert method of EIT].

            You cite Mattis as if he is an authority on the subject. He isn’t. There are people much more knowledgeable about it that disagree with him. But I don’t think it is very helpful to play a game of “appeal to authority.” God gave you a brain. Use it.

            As for the “messaging” angle you bring up. I am well aware of that. Go back to my first post and you will see that I said if you want to argue on policy grounds, you can do so. Just be honest about the trade offs.

            Your claim that those that disagree with you are motivated by a desire to look tough is BS. It’s a desire to save lives and protect our country and our allies from acts of terrorism. You identify yourself as a liberal. Act like one. Stop assuming the worst about people that disagree with you while patting yourself on the back for being so enlightened.

            I’m not interested in discussing Trump with you. My reply was about water boarding. You are trying to change the subject.
            Also, I am not badgering you. I am engaging you in discussion about something that we disagree on and you are getting frustrated. So stop responding. We can agree to disagree. I think you are wrong and quite ignorant of the topic. You think I am wrong and while you cannot explain why you think you are obviously right and so obvious the matter needs no further discussion. And you’re a “liberal.” Yeah, it shows.

          • FriendlyGoat

            There is nothing which will satisfy you but more actual waterboarding “tests” in practice on real individuals with accurate reporting of the results to the general public . Whether any of those are performed by the USA in the future at all is an open question. Whether you ever hear accurate reporting of results from them, if any, is another open question due to the usually-classified nature of such activities. Whether this whole debate from Trump’s public campaign podium (the reason this subject is up for discussion) inspires more determined terrorism is a third question you’ll never be able to answer.

            Of course you don’t wish to discuss Trump. I’m a liberal, alright, and I know what is happening. You know too, and just as so many people apologized for him before the election, you are beginning to see the damage which can easily be foretold from the start of the transition. Stay Tuned. Unless everyone in your world is already well-to-do, there is going to be a lot of ‘splainin’ due to society from the people who cheered for this.

          • Mark Hamilton

            The discussion is about EIT, not your Trump fetish. I see zero evidence that trump is friendlier to the “haves” than hillary. But im not having that discussion right now. At any rate, your predictions are noted. I disagree. Time will tell.

            Back on topic. The argument that trump’s rhetoric causes terrorism is absurd. What did trump say to cause 9-11? Nothing. Islamic jihadists are not sitting around minding their business and suddenly radicalized by something an american politician says.

            Moreover, Mr Liberal, there is this thing called the first amendment i happen to think is important. Muslims dont like gays either. Did barney frank cause the tampa shooting? Should gays get back in the closet lest they fuel terrorism?

            The question remains: under what circumstances, if any, are you willing to permit water boarding? If your answer is never, that is ok. Tell me what EIT you do support, if any.

            If you never support it under any circumstances, that’s certainly ok. But that principled stand comes with a price. People die. Sometimes countries even overreact in response both domestically and abroad.

            Think about it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) I am in no position to “permit” or “not permit” waterboarding. Even all citizens, taken together as in our political expression via elections, do not really make these decisions.
            Trump, Mattis, maybe CIA, maybe Congress, will decide what field procedure is. My first opinion is that we won’t be doing a lot of it, due to regs now in place. If those change, it won’t be because they called you or me and asked us what to do. My second opinion is that you have been captured by the “ticking time bomb” scenario and are now obsessed with it. The desired effect of ginning up your mind to think of little else has been achieved by Mr. Trump. For some, it’s flag burning that lights their fire. For you, it’s the need to “get back to” EIT.

            2) The reason you may be assured that Trump and the Trump era is friendlier to the “haves” than Hillary Clinton is the announced commitment after this election to cut high-end federal taxes of all kinds in such dramatic fashion that Trump probably won’t even submit a budget to Congress in order to avoid having to estimate their effect in revenue reduction. Hillary ran on entirely different tax policy. Then there are probably twenty other things—–but, heck, you know what they are if you are following the news. The regular stuff—–kill unions, appoint pro-corporate judges, abandon any regulations that “haves” find inconvenient, suppress the future vote of poor people, throw the poor off of health insurance, assault Medicare, stalk Social Security.

          • Mark Hamilton

            Your first point is a dodge. They aint calling you for advice on economic policy or supreme court picks either. Yet i bet u have opinions.

            Your second point about ticking time bombs also misses the mark and is another dodge. Im using that scenario for a reason and you are avoiding answering it for a reason. It is quite telling. As for trump, i suggest you work out your issues with him directly. Try twitter. I dont share your obsession with the man and my views on this issue are unrelated to him.

            Im not taking your bait on all the lib talking points. I dont see the world that way and frankly ur just spouting talking points of the sort that any 20 something liberal policsci major has memorized. Im not interested in having that discussion with you.

            If you find this conversation so tedious, you can stop responding at anytime. There is no obligation on your part to respond to my “badgering.”

          • FriendlyGoat

            Only to point out that I am not in the habit of caving to mouthy bullies and that I have already talked circles around you on the specific topic. You are asking me to tell you when I would “permit” waterboarding. I am telling you that “they” (not me) will decide on this and very likely not in the manner you were goaded by election hype to believe.

            The reason you are using “ticking time bomb” is because you think it is an inescapable trap. I am telling you that I was smarter than to fall for it—-both in the election and in this thread. You, unfortunately, weren’t. They played you like a violin.

          • Mark Hamilton

            I havent bullied you at all and you clearly have some maturation issues.

            Nobody is reading this but you and me- 2 total strangers.

            This isnt about the election, hillary or trump. its not even a right v left issue.

            Hopefully, this discussion has led you to think a bit. If not, you should give it a try when you are through with ur violin.

          • FriendlyGoat

            When you accuse other people of being “out of their depth” for having an opinion, that’s bullying. When you barge in uninvited and THEN tell other people to “move on” (out of a space that wasn’t yours to begin with), that’s bullying. When you tell others that your opinion “dispenses with” theirs, that’s bullying. When you taunt that others have “not given a subject much thought”, that’s bullying. When you accuse others of “smug certitude”, that’s bullying. When you compare others’ opinions to those of a “20-something policsci major,…. spouting,….. lib,…. talking points”, that’s bullying. When you demand answers to trap questions such as the ticking time bomb scenario (which happens to not exist), that’s bullying. When you tell others they have “maturation issues”, that’s bullying.

            Thanks for allowing me the unexpected opportunity to take on one or more of the roles of your psychologist, your pastor, your coach, your counselor or your Mom. I enjoyed aggregating and displaying some quotations back to you in the proverbial mirror. (No charge for the consultation.)

          • Mark Hamilton

            There is no invitation required to a public discussion forum snowflake. Words have meanings. Go re-read our exchange and you’ll find snotty responses by yourself smearing my motives, asserting you are obviously right and my argument is “counter-social” (whatever that means), etc. You were treated as you deserved, probably better. Stop whining.
            You need to grow up. You could also use a set of balls. Best of luck.

          • FriendlyGoat

            And,………I really didn’t think you had functional ears. But I did the best I could for you.

  • Disappeared4x

    Pundits really need to drill down to the primary source. TAI quotes Daily Beast’s spin, adds in Mr. Mead’s TAI spin from 2012 on Gaza, when the poll methodology provides more than enough insight for a Dec. 6, 2016 ‘conversation’.
    “indiscriminate bombing” and “torturing detainees” were very separate questions in the actual ICRC WIN/Gallup poll. Those polled live in USA, China, Russia, Britain, France, Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Palestine, South Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

    Download the 20p pdf here:

    “Between June and September 2016, over 17,000 people in 16 countries were asked about their views on a range of issues relating to war. The survey was carried out by WIN/Gallup International and their partners in the respective countries. Some of the exact questions as asked in the survey are reproduced in the following pages, alongside infographics showing the breakdown of the respondents’ responses. …”

  • jeburke

    It’s cringe-worthy every time TAI suggests Trump has anything in common with Andrew Jackson. Trump is a vulgar, ignorant, cowardly clown. Jackson was not.

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