Salem Witchcraft Trials (1692)
Question: What did the terrorist say to terrify Dick Cheney?
If one listens to the words of the former vice president, it is clear that he is telling us that terrorism has worked. We must now live in perpetual fear, which is, after all, one of the main goals of those who seek to terrorize. The danger is so great that we can no longer think about “middle ground” positions, say, those that question the need, value, or morality of torture, for “compromises” of any sort will lead to mushroom clouds in our cities. We can not defend ourselves against terrorism unless we recognize the pervasiveness and unique power of this evil. Enhanced interrogation techniques, a k a as torture, may be all that is standing between us and the abyss.
The [Obama] administration seems to pride itself on searching for some
kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism. . . . But in the fight
against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep
you half exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed
terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear armed
terrorist out of the United States….When just a single clue that
goes unlearned … one lead that goes unpursued … can bring on
catastrophe – it’s no time for splitting differences. There is never a
good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American
people are in the balance. Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced
interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our
country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that
strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and
the terrorist enemy. (Vice President Cheney
Remarks at the American Enterprise Institute
Thursday, May 21, 2009)
You know, we have seen this mentality of before in American history. It calls on us to fight the Dark Side with every means at our disposal. Two instances come immediately to mind: the Salem Witchcraft Trials and the accusations of Senator Joseph McCarthy about communists in government and industry, the Red Scare. In both cases the same sort of categorical, fear driven, mind-set possessed otherwise good people. The fact that there were no witches and that the threat from communism was external, not internal, is irrelevant to the point at hand, namely, that leaders can use fear to drive the public into unacceptable actions. Cheney has been betting on this. And it’s not a bad bet since fear helped drive us into an unnecessary war against a country that posed no threat to us.
Here’s an experiment. With Cheney’s words in mind, read those of Cotton Mather, who sought to defend the persecution of witches back in 1689. Across centuries they reveal themselves as kinsmen who own the Truth and challenge the integrity of those who dare to think differently. As you read Mather’s words, think about Cheney’s claim that we can not jail 245 prisoners from Guantánamo in the U.S. because they are far too dangerous. While no one has ever escaped from a super maximum security prison in the U.S., we must still fear these men. Perhaps they possess powers akin to those of witches, and they will be able to fly over the walls of our prisons or cast spells on the guards. [The idiosyncratic grammar is in Mather’s text.]
But I am resolv’d after this [incident with a witch-M.A.], never to use but just one grain of patience with any man that shall go to impose upon me a Denial of Devils, or of Witches. I shall count that man Ignorant who shall suspect, but I shall count him down-right Impudent if he Assert the Non-Existence of things which we have had such palpable. Convictions of. I am sure he cannot be a Civil, (and some will question whether he can be an honest man) that shall go to, deride the Being of things which a whole Countrey has now beheld an house of pious people suffering not a few Vexations by. But if the Sadducee, or the Atheist, have no right Impressions by these Memorable Providences made upon his mind; yet I hope those that know what it is to be sober will not repent any pains that they may have taken in perusing what Records of these Witchcrafts and Possessions, I thus leave unto Posterity. Memorable Providences, Relating to the Witchcrafts and Possessions (1689)
Of course terrorists are real and dangerous, while “witches” are not. But if one were to believe Cheney, it appears that we are fighting a supernatural power, a fight that requires us to sacrifice the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, and our morality. Witches were so dangerous and possessed such demonic powers that torture was certainly justified, and the same is true of terrorists (or alleged terrorists) for Cheney. I bet he feels just as powerful and self-righteous as those who thought that they were saving us from demons and wizards, for one must be very powerful indeed to fight such foes. But one must also be very scared, perhaps even a bit of a coward, to believe in foes of this sort.