Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 and Sylvester Stallone

In the movies, at least, it's the bad guys who torture.
Ben and I consider the legacy of 9/11 in our Scripps Howard column this week. Ben lumps Venezuela and China in with Al Qaeda, which perplexes me. And I conjure up a discussion that will surely keep me from ever truly entering the ranks of serious, respected, and well-known pundits: 

It was common in 2001 to hear that America had “lost its innocence.”
Certainly, the country did seem to lose some of its nobility. Look no further than the films of Sylvester Stallone.
Laugh, if you like. For those of us who came of age during the 1980s, though, Stallone’s B-movie blockbusters also served as morality tales — fantasies that illuminated the stakes of the Cold War against the Soviets. In “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” Communist evil was demonstrated when a Russian officer strapped Stallone to a metal stand and tortured him with electric shock.
The message was clear: Torture was for the bad guys. We were the good guys. That stance was affirmed in real life, when Ronald Reagan signed the U.N. Convention on Torture — in part to shame the Soviets — which prohibited the infliction of “pain or suffering” for the purposes of obtaining information.
We know now that America resorted to torture in the first years after 9/11, inflicting pain and suffering on terror suspects — some of them bad guys, yes, but some of them innocent — and almost never in a “ticking time bomb” scenario. At least three men were “waterboarded;” many others subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, and worse. Some of them died.
None of this is disputed. But Americans seem mostly fine with it.
Nobody has ever been prosecuted.
Stallone’s latest hit, incidentally, was “The Expendables.” In that movie, the villains strap an innocent woman to a table and poor water on her face and down her throat — all but drowning her. It is a perfect demonstration of waterboarding. In some movies, at least, the bad guys are still torturers.
America is not the villain of 9/11: That distinction belongs to Al Qaida and the 19 men who hijacked planes that day. But are we the heroes of this decade? That’s tougher to say.

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