Friday, April 13, 2007
Ayn Rand on Forced Confessions
Via HBL, I learned that in 1969, Ayn Rand wrote a letter to the New York Times (which Binswanger thinks did not get published there) about forced confessions and what our government's policy should be when members of our armed forces are held captive by such barbaric regimes as North Korea (or Iran). Her conclusions apply just as well to the recent hostage situation in Iran.
Her letter appeared in The Objectivist. The version I reproduce here comes from this online source.
I disagree with Mr. Herman Wouk's discussion of the "moral dilemma" of the Pueblo case (February 8).I agree with Dr. Binswanger that the next time Iran takes prisoners -- and it will, given how we failed to react -- that this letter should be as widely publicized as possible.
There is no moral dilemma in judging that case. Commander Lloyd M. Bucher has been called, correctly, "a hero among heroes." He should have been given the Congressional Medal of Honor first, and been questioned afterward.
If there are any questions of national dishonor -- and there are -- it was brought on us by the authors of our disgraceful foreign policy with its grotesquely irrational state of cold war or hot peace. Our armed forces today are given more instructions on how "not to provoke" the enemy than on how (and when) to defend themselves. If a miserable little savage country like North Korea attacked a giant like the United States, what was it counting on? On exactly what happened and is happening now: on the moral disintegration of U.S. political leadership, which would push appeasement so far as to abandon the men of the Pueblo under fire, without arms, assistance or instructions, then attempt to make Commander Bucher the scapegoat on the grounds of an immoral and irrational military code.
That code ignores the difference between a voluntary statement and a forced statement, thus endorsing the moral premises of thugs who regard torture as a legitimate method of inquiry.
We recognize the difference in our criminal law -- see the Supreme Court decisions which invalidate the confessions of criminals, if obtained by pressure. Yet we do not grant the same consideration to the protectors of our country when they are in the hands of savage killers.
When we ascribe validity to the "confessions" of men imprisoned by communist governments (Russian, North Korean, North Vietnamese or any other) -- when we do it in spite of the fact that the unspeakable atrocities practiced by such governments are a matter of record -- we endorse and invite the atrocities.
This endorsement has been the moral crime of the West -- ever since the "trial" of Cardinal Mindszenty -- this evasive tolerance which grants the status of a trial to the spectacle of dazed, tortured victims reciting extorted "confessions."
Allow me to suggest a simple way to put an end to that particular kind of outrage.
Let the U.S. government publicly order our armed forces to say, sign, admit or confess anything demanded of them when they are seized by an enemy (i.e., communist or totalitarian) power. (This would not apply to divulging actual military secrets, but only to lying about political-ideological issues.) Let the government declare to the world that we will not accept as true, valid or meaningful any statement extorted by force, i.e., any statement made by an American prisoner in a foreign country -- and that all such statements are repudiated in advance, in his name, by his government.
This would re-establish the moral meaning of freedom and of truth. It would put an end to the martyrdom of innocent victims, to the kind of ordeal Commander Bucher and his men had to endure.
In principle, this was the policy adopted by our government to obtain their release. Let this become our official policy, to be practiced by individual prisoners -- as a proper expression of contempt for the social systems ruled, not by reason, but by brute force.
If Commander Bucher is penalized in any way whatever for the proper moral choice he had the courage to make, thereby saving 82 young lives, then this country will be truly and totally dishonored. But I trust that the American people (including our Congress and our new Commander-In-Chief) will not permit this to happen. [bold and link added]
Panel Discusssion Update
Student of Objectivism reports that yesterday's panel discussion by Daniel Pipes, Wafa Sultan, and Yaron Brook at UCLA went fairly well, with only minor disruptions.
Stranded at the Altar, but not Really Dead
I don't exactly watch the Texas legislature like a hawk, but this is still not the first time I have been surprised at how fast it moves.
Recall that Warren Chisum had recently proposed a change to marriage law in Texas that would have penalized anyone who did not take counseling classes (like those given by many churches) before tying the knot. (A commenter noted that I'd left out one of the worst parts when excerpting: that the bill included provisions to impose a two-year waiting period for some pending divorces.)
Well, the legislature, over the span of just a day first passed it (although it still needed a sponsor in the state senate) and then amended it to remove its primary mechanism: doubling the marriage license fee for those who don't take the classes and waiving it for those who do.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, won a key vote, 76-61, to keep marriage license fees at $30, effectively stripping the bill of its ability to induce Texans to take marriage education classes.I think, given Chisum's unhappy reaction, that this effectively kills the bill, but still....
"No matter how you split it, this marriage tax is wrong," she said. "If we want people to get married, why are you just going to double the fee if they don't happen to go through a course? Let them get married."
That argument, combined with queasiness among Republicans and Democrats about government intrusions into private lives, sealed the fate of House Bill 2685.
I am pretty sure my head would explode if I had to sit through the kind of "debate" our lawmakers went through. To the credit of some, there was mention of keeping the government out of our personal lives, but nobody went far enough. Nobody stated that this is not the purpose of government. It sounds like a huge number voted for the bill because they were afraid of looking "anti-family", only to switch sides when the amendment gave them an easy way to vote the way they really wanted to -- but without having to take a stand.
Such are the "men" with the power to limit our freedom. This, ladies and gentlemen, is part of why our Founding Fathers sought to limit the government as much as possible. They were moral enough to stand for freedom, and practical enough to understand that most politicians are not up to that task.
It remains to be seen whether this bill will get enacted into law, eventually to be reunited with its marriage fee component.
China Scholars Lick the Boot
Via Arts and Letters Daily is an article about how academics who study China avoid upsetting its communist rulers. Its major weakness is that its author appears not to fully grasp the connection between freedom and prosperity:
We see the "ends" -- successful reform -- and don't question the "means." The Party's growth mantra is faithfully accepted as the overarching objective for the country and the one measure of successful reform. Nobody lingers on the political mechanisms through which growth is achieved. The mafia runs China rather efficiently, so why worry about how it is done, and what the "side effects" are? We obviously know of the labor camps into which people disappear without judiciary review, of torture inflicted by the personnel of state "security" organs, and of the treatment of Falun Gong, but choose to move on with our sterilized research and teaching. We ignore that China's political system is responsible for 30 million dead from starvation in the Great Leap Forward, and 750,000 to 1.5 million murders during the Cultural Revolution. What can make Western academics stop and think twice about who they have bedded down with?The fact that China does not have a fully free economy helps no one, for to the extent that its economy is not free, it is being held back from its full potential. China's relative prosperity is not built on cronyism, a legal system that fails to protect individual rights, or the backs of slaves. It has occurred in spite of these things. This fact means that despite what some in the West might want to believe, it is not in their interest to hide any part of the truth about China's regime.
Today: Minor edits.