Rhetoric versus action

Excuse me if I’ve come a little late to noticing this, but isn’t this latest pattern a bit alarming?

-Congress is moving toward approval of a constitutional amendment barring the desecration of the flag

-Dick Durbin is criticized and apologizes for comparing the torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay to those used by Nazis and tyrannical communist regimes

What’s the suggestion here? That the protection of a piece of cloth is worthy of a constitutional amendment? That Durbin is doing more harm by criticizing torture than the torturers are by inflicting it? Why wasn’t there a similar uproar when the evidence of the torture was revealed? I’ll tell you why — because it’s all about the rhetoric, baby.

Was it wrong that the Koran was “mishandled” by interrogators at least five times at Guantanamo Bay? No, it was wrong when Newsweek might have misreported a single such incident.

Was it wrong when hundreds of prisoners were abused at Abu Graib? No, it was wrong when the photos of the abuses were released in the press.

Why do we remember the World Trade Center disaster when arguably the attack on the Pentagon was a more significant blow to the nation? Shouldn’t we be more concerned when our national military headquarters are attacked than when a couple of ugly office buildings are? Certainly, more people died at the WTC, but wasn’t it also the visual image that hurt even more: the fact that these giant monuments could be brought down by a few zealots with boxcutters? After all, if we were only worried about saving lives, wouldn’t Darfur, or automobile safety, or heart disease be a more obvious target of our national attention?

Americans are moved by the power of rhetoric every day, and they grasp futilely at ways to restrain its power: chastising Durbin, banning flag burning, literally fanning the flames of the phenomenon they’re trying to control, instead of exerting their influence to solve real problems. We can’t stop rhetoric, but we could probably stop torture.

Or at least we could stop our government from using torture to preserve the “freedom” we so readily give up in order to tame the untameable beast of rhetoric.

But fuck that, let’s go after those bastard flag burners.

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