Yid With a Lid explains to us that, once again, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., has it wrong!Meet Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens:
PRESIDENT Obama's forays into history, especially European history, are interest ing but not always accurate. Who can forget his description during the presidential campaign of African-American GIs liberating Auschwitz? (It was the Russians.) Or his admission during his recent European trip that he didn't know how to translate a certain word into Austrian? (There is no "Austrian"; Austrians speak German.)Hat Tip: Yid With a Lid
His evocation of Winston Churchill in his press conference last Wednesday took confusion to a new height. The president cited the great British prime minister in support of his ban on enhanced interrogation techniques at Gitmo and elsewhere, noting that Churchill never allowed torture of German detainees in World War II "even when London was being bombed to smithereens."
Strange words of praise from the president -- who in February ordered that Churchill's bust be removed from the Oval Office. (We're told this was because British authorities roughly interrogated Obama's Kenyan grandfather in the Mau Mau rebellion, during Churchill's second tour as prime minister. Not exactly an advertisement for "Winston Churchill, foe of torture.")
Apparently, Obama got his new, sunny view of Churchill not from reading the Churchill biography that Prime Minster Gordon Brown gave him last month but from Andrew Sullivan's blog. Maybe we should be grateful to Sullivan and Obama for their confusion, however, because Churchill's actual position on what is morally permitted against a nation's enemies illuminates much more about the relationship between torture and civilization than their fictitious version.
Churchill recognized that torture -- the cruel, needless infliction of pain as a means of domination and control of others -- was emblematic of man's barbarism, as opposed to the values of what he called "Christian civilization." It was precisely this barbarism that he saw in the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulag -- and that we see among the Muslim fanatics who will stone women to death for refusing to wear the veil or behead reporters.
But Churchill also understood that, if barbarism was one enemy of civilization, another was a moral cowardice disguised as moral qualms -- an instinctive flinching in the face of danger, dressed up as "upholding our values."
Churchill had seen this flinching in such 1930s appeasers as Neville Chamberlain, and he feared that he'd see it again among Britons and their leaders after the war.
"There is no place for compromise in war," Churchill wrote. In choosing between civilized restraint and the British people's survival, he never hesitated. He contemplated using mustard gas if the Nazis invaded England. He authorized the fire bombing of German cities, the so-called terror bombings, in order to cripple the German war effort and morale. He was prepared to let Mahatma Gandhi die during his hunger strike in 1943 rather than be blackmailed into abandoning India, the last bastion against Japanese domination of Asia.
As for German POWs and spies, Churchill left matters in the hands of his interrogation master, Col. Robin Stephens, nicknamed "Tin Eye" because of his monocle and martinet manner. It's true that Stephens told his interrogators that "violence is taboo" -- the source of Sullivan's claim that Churchill didn't allow torture. Stephens, however, felt perfectly free to use every degree of psychological pressure on his detainees, including sleep deprivation and hooding prisoners in solitary confinement for long stretches. He'd have tried women's bras and caterpillars, like our own interrogators, if he'd thought of it.
But there's another, more powerful reason why the British didn't torture their captured German spies. They didn't have to. Thanks to the Ultra code-breaking program, British MI5 had access to nearly every major German High Command decision. Had Ultra not existed, the attitude toward captured German spies would've been a lot less casual. (Sixteen were in fact executed for espionage before war's end.)
Likewise, if America hadn't had the Clinton-era intelligence "wall of separation" that prevented the CIA and FBI from sharing information before 9/11, a place like Gitmo might never have been necessary.
Yet those who today denounce Gitmo as an American gulag -- including our president -- are the ones who complained most bitterly about warrantless wiretaps. They refuse to see that the need for the one resulted from the lack of the other.
"Moral force," Churchill once said, "is no substitute for armed force, but it is a very great reinforcement." On this point, Churchill takes his stand firmly on the side of Vice President Dick Cheney and the Bush administration. Flinching from steps necessary to protect a nation's citizens from barbarous violence doesn't reinforce our moral values. It's a way of running from them.
Unfortunately, too many politicians are willing to take to their heels in that race.