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Dan Wegmueller: Our tortured view of torture
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My friends, I am here to tell you that in 2009, here in the safety and comfort of the United States, we Americans have an incredibly skewed sense of how "torture" should be defined. Is it because for the last century and a half the memory of blood and conflict has been leached out of our soil? It can be said that time heals all wounds, distorts perception into reality. For example, an astonishingly small number of people are willing to explore the fact that the samurai sword killed more people in World War II than did the atomic bomb.

I am not here to get into a debate on how to define "torture," but let's explore what some people are pretending to be up in arms about: A slap in the face, placing a fuzzy caterpillar in a confined space with someone, and my favorite - forcing a prisoner to watch South Park.

Yes, my friends; in case you have not heard, following the capture of Saddam Hussein, U.S. Marines forced him to watch the South Park movie, repeatedly. Now, consider this - you are one of the most ruthless and cruel dictators on the planet. You have promised the "Mother of all Battles." You are captured by your enemies while hiding in a hole. In captivity, you learn that American pop culture depicts you as a squeaky-voiced, bobbing-head little lunatic involved in a purely physical, sadistic love relationship with Satan.

Folks, there is seriously something out of whack here, in the discussion of torture. A fuzzy caterpillar is not cruel. A slap in the face is not torture (there are plenty of jerks right here in America that deserve much more). And, South Park is brilliant satire - if we wanted to "torture" Saddam Hussein, he should have been forced to watch Sex and the City.

My friends, this is all fun and somewhat humorous, but let's look at the issue of torture seriously. Like it or not, the United States has a history of treating captured enemy combatants (in some ways) better than its own soldiers. In Iraq, POWs were given food, water, medical attention and shade. Overseas in recent months, Somali pirates have been brought aboard U.S. Navy vessels and been given dental and medical care. Of course, we have all heard about the horrific, barbaric method known as waterboarding. I have actually spoken to an individual who was subjected to this subhuman experience: "(Waterboarding) is scary. You know they are not going to let you die, but it's still terrifying."

Yes, my friends, my own brother experienced waterboarding as part of his Navy survival school. We do it to our own troops because, as even the most limp-wristed middle-class free-thinker must admit, should someone like my brother actually get shot down and captured by the enemy, waterboarding will be the least of his worries.

Throughout this series of articles on World War II, I have repeatedly referenced bestselling author James Bradley's tome, "Flyboys." Although I would highly recommend this book, be warned - it is disturbing in its portrayal of human brutality. Several people who read it on my advice "had trouble sleeping" upon finishing Bradley's work. My friends, as we debate the inherent nastiness of the evil fuzzy caterpillar treatment or the slap in the face, consider how captured American soldiers have been treated in the past:

As B-29s bombed the Japanese mainland, American POWs were subjected to hideous acts of revenge. According to Bradley's "Flyboys," Professor Fukujiro Ishiyama strapped eight American crewmen to operating tables. He did not administer anesthetic when he began to cut. Ishiyama "sliced out one Flyboy's lung and placed it in a surgical pan. The patient was alive. Then he slit his lung artery and watched the boy gurgle to death in his own blood. Another boy had his stomach cut out - while conscious. Professor Ishiyama then cut five of the boy's ribs, slit an artery, and watched to see how long his heart would pump before he died. Professor Ishiyama bored a hole in one Flyboy's skull. Then he inserted a knife and twisted it around in his brain. The professor wanted to see what parts of the boy's body jumped and jerked with each turn of the knife" (Flyboys, 295).

Other nationalities were not spared in the Pacific onslaught. As retaliation for Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Japan following the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces marched 200 miles into East China, murdering and burning everything in their path. In just three months, a quarter of a million Chinese civilians were executed - more lives than were lost in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined. During this three-month orgy of death, "Chinese men were machine-gunned, the women raped and skewered, and children were thrown down wells. ... When Japanese troops discovered a farmer who had helped the Doolittle flight surgeon, 'soldiers wrapped him in a blanket, soaked it in kerosene, and forced his wife to set her husband on fire'." (Flyboys, 111).

My friends, what has become increasingly evident to me is that the United States has been, and continues to be, the "good guy." This is not to say that everything America touches is inherently perfect, or that we've never made mistakes, but seriously folks - a fuzzy caterpillar? A slap in the face? Forcing someone to watch South Park? Give me a freaking break.