From my earliest memories, I was taught to believe that we Americans were the guys in the white hats. We were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger. We were Superman and Jack Armstrong. We were John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. We even came to believe that we could be James Bond, and that blowing the shit out of everything was okay as long as it was "for the cause of freedom," and it was accomplished without mussing the crease in one's tuxedo or spilling one's martini. We have been fed this line of bullshit as long as I can remember.
Of course, we got warnings; hints about who we might really be. We saw it in the books and films that began appearing in the late fifties and early sixties - "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," "The Ipcriss File" - the books of LeCarre' and Deighton. Sure, they were fiction and they were mainly about the Brits. But the implications were there. The whole world of spies, acts of sabotage, acts of torture - physical and mental. All the elements were there. They were, by extension, about us, too.
The trend continued with a plethora of books and films which made hay with plots laden with implications of government involvement in a variety of nefarious and covert acts, even and including plots carried out against our own people by the CIA, the NSA, the FBI or other usually fictitious super secret agencies variously called things like "The Shop," "The Firm," "The Office," or a number of other sometimes clever euphemisms meant to indicate super deep cover intelligence and espionage groups, often answerable to no one. Again, all fiction. But one can assume that where there's smoke...
During the long years of the cold war, we faced what we believed to be a formidable enemy in the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent China, both of which were at least as deeply involved in spying, sabotage, espionage and other undercover acts as we were. Tit for tat. It was a dangerous game with potentially itchy fingers hovering close over those buttons to oblivion.
Of course, that particular danger is more or less history. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have not had a monolithic and clearly defined enemy against which to cross swords. China, at least for the moment, has made such a sharp and intense turn into the world market place, that they have little time or inclination to give much consideration to war or world domination, at least not by military means. They may one day dominate the world economically, perhaps sooner than most might imagine. But that's another story.
Much has been learned over the last 40 years or so about how deeply this country has involved itself in the affairs of other countries around the world. How we have encouraged, and aided the overthrow of governments, how we have insinuated ourselves into the economies and exploited the resources of other countries to the benefit of US government, military and business interests, all with little concern for how badly our actions may have affected those countries and/or their citizens.
Americans have long assumed our superiority to other peoples and other countries. We still hear ad nauseam how the US is the "greatest country in the world," and by that "fact" alone we assume that we deserve more than anybody else. That if we exploit the lion's share of the world's resources, well, hell - we're Americans, it is our due. We're the good guys. Screw the rest of you. You're all just green eyed jealous bastards! Get the fuck in line!
Now that our seat on the throne has been openly challenged - not by another "super power," but rather by a seemingly rag-tag bunch of cave dwelling, towel headed, sand niggers. (The last there a loathesome bit of pejorative phraseology I heard used to describe a fellow, a Jordanian, who was the director of operations of a modest sized fast food franchise back in the early 1980s.)
So, now we have been forced to apparently turn over a new leaf - albeit a rotten one. It is naive to believe that we have not, all along, through much of the cold war and before, made use of the tactics of torture whether as defined by the Geneva Convention or not. But, now it's all become public. No longer is it hidden away in some windowless cell in the bowels of a towering and forboding concrete government monolith.
In the aftermath of WWII the US tried, convicted and put to death about a half dozen Japanese officers who were found to have used waterboarding on US military prisoners. It was said then to be torture. The six Japanese soldiers died for using it.
But, hey. It's different now. Now that we have chosen to make use of the technique, it's okay. It's NOT torture. I wonder what has changed? Is it magically rendered less heinous in the hands of Americans? Is it that the end justifies the means? Should we retroactively pardon those Japanese officers - maybe send their surviving family members to Disney World in a gesture of contrition? Oh, no, of course not. They were evil. Their goal was evil. Our goal is good. We're good.
Are the manner in which other prisoners have been treated to be likewise overlooked or forgiven? Is our "cause" of such greatness that we have a perhaps "god given" greater latitude in such matters?
I'm sure there are other methods of torture which far outstrip waterboarding in the level of pain and suffering they inflict. I'm sure Americans and others who have been imprisoned as war criminals have endured far greater hardships and humiliation at the hands of their captors than those at Abu Garib or Gitmo. But that doesn't excuse us, now does it? We are supposed to be above all that. Our dazzling white hats supposedly reach the heavens, touching god. We are the pristine! We are the chosen!
Of course, we're none of that. But we have been looked upon as the leaders of the "free" world since at least 1945. We set a higher standard in our treatment of POWs and the manner in which we carried out our post war occupations of Germany and Japan. I'm sure there were ugly incidents to be sure, but overall we did an admirable job of assisting those war ravaged countries to rise from the ashes. The obvious success of those efforts couldn't be more stunning. How did it all turn to shit?
I know, I know. This is all "old news." I am displaying to all my incredible naivete. Guilty as charged. But, either we must accept that we're NOT god's gift to humanity, or we must change our ways. Actually, we must do both.