Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Gap between what’s said and what’s meant

“Or, the shame of cheapening and trashing perfectly good words, eventually causing them to become worthless and unusable.”

The Belmont Club’s Wretchard discusses a post from The Smoking Gun (careful, some images may be crude and shocking) describing the content of documents allegedly recently captured from al-qaeda in Iraq. The problem with the subject matter is that in former years it could reasonably have been called a “torture manual”. But alas, that term no longer seems to work.

The world is apparently no longer interested in hearing about “torture” per se, probably because we dirty rotten Yanks are hands down the acknowledged leaders at “torturing” large quantities of common prisoners taken in warfare, and the topic is no longer of international interest - unless, of course, more US troops are thought to be caught up in it again. Then it becomes important to discuss.

The problem is quite simple. The rest of us permitted the warm-hearted fuzzy thinkers of the world to misuse and misapply a perfectly good word, “torture”. They were describing - for the most part - torment or humiliation, but were overstating the case - as seems to be the wont of certain overly-liberal wonks - as if what was occurring was actually harming or maybe even permanently disfiguring the subjects of the interrogations and so-called “torture”. I hold that in all but a few rare cases, it wasn’t.

Was it fun to undergo? No! Was it nice and polite? No! Was it reasonably applied? Can’t tell! Has it worked? Probably pretty well! Was it actually “torture”? With few exceptions, No!

The question I have for my liberal friends - the same ones who “tsked, tsked” over Abu Ghraib prison and the camp at Guantanamo Bay - how are they going to respond to (and classify) what is being done by AQ per the “manuals” referenced in The Smoking Gun ? What should they (or we) call that level of interrogation? Or do they even care?

Looking up the word “maim” in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006, shows the following synonyms and explanations:
“—1. Maim, lacerate, mangle, mutilate indicate the infliction of painful and severe injuries on the body. To maim is to injure by giving a disabling wound, or by depriving a person of one or more members or their use: maimed in an accident. To lacerate is to inflict severe cuts and tears on the flesh or skin: to lacerate an arm. To mangle is to chop undiscriminatingly or to crush or rend by blows or pressure, as if by machinery: bodies mangled in a train wreck. To mutilate is to injure the completeness or beauty of a body, esp. by cutting off an important member: to mutilate a statue, a tree, a person. 2. injure, disable, deface, mar.” In my view that is what is being proposed by the found documents.

Yes, I know the current definition of "torture" can be stretched to include tormenting and causing anguish, but should it be spread over so wide a plain? I conclude a word applied so thinly soon loses its value.

So my question again is, “What should we call torture when it mains, lacerates, mangles or mutilates its subject”? It certainly cannot be considered merely “torment”, can it? And yet that’s what the sloppy and over-reaching politicalization of certain English language terms has seemed to have brought about.

As ever, I await correction and rebuke. Cheers

Cross posted on