What it Means to Lose the Moral High Ground

I’ve been spending the last couple of shifts at work serving during screenings of Unbroken, a new movie about a man who was captured by the Japanese during World War II and subjected to all sorts of horrible torture. As I was watching a bit of it during some down time, I saw some of said torture. People being hit and beaten and things like that. Then I thought to myself, “We killed Japanese officers who did this to our people.” Then I remembered that we’d recently done worse than that, with the revelations of things like breaking people’s legs and forcing them to stand on them, waterboarding someone over a hundred times, torturing someone until they died, and the lovely “rectal feeding”. And as I remembered that, I realized we can no longer feel outrage when we see Americans being tortured, because we’ve done the same.

That saddens me. I can no longer shake my head and think about what a horribly twisted, evil thing it was the Japanese did during the war, because the United States, far more recently and with far less at stake, did even worse things.

How can we, as a nation or as individuals, express outrage when we see scenes of torture given what we know of our own country’s actions? We just can’t, not without being serious hypocrites. We’ve utterly and completely lost the moral high ground on the issue.

But all is not lost. We can regain the high ground. How? Prosecution of those involved in torture. We can show the nations of the world that, yes, the United States erred, but we can also show them that we can learn from our mistakes and punish those involved. If we are to ever have any hope of being a moral leader in the world ever again, we must do this. To do anything less is just wrong.


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