McCain’s remarks were unusual because public officials involved in the lengthy public debate about U.S. interrogation practices have rarely made specific references to the CIA’s actions. Instead, they have made general claims about the need for rough interrogations or a desire to stop abusive behavior.
“It’s clear we have to have the high moral ground,” said McCain, a former POW tortured by prison guards in Vietnam, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Whenever I heard of the importance of eschewing certain practices in order to maintain the “moral high ground” I an reminded of the struggle of the Buddhist monks of Cambodia against the Khmer Rouge. They also had the “moral high ground” and were committed to the non-violent methods of combating the carnage, but the Khmer Rouge thought nothing of slaughtering them. In fact they were singled out to be killed first. Fat lot of good that “moral high ground” did them or any of the other victims of the killing fields.
The end of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror came hands of Cambodia’s traditional enemies, the Vietnamese, who had no claim to any moral grounds at all.
I’m reminded of this fable. (there are several variations)
One cold a little bird was flying south for winter, but the bird was late leaving. This winter was especially cold and it was not long before the little bird fell to the ground of a pasture a freezing heap. It just so happened though that cow was passing at that time and dropped a big cowpie on top of the bird. The bird slowly started to warm and it was so happy that it started to sing. The bird was singing so loudly that a passing deer heard the singing bird and thought that it needed help so it went and uncovered it a little so that it could get it self out the rest of the way. But then a fox happened upon the deer and wondered what in the world it was digging in shit for so it ran over chasing off the deer. The little bird not realizing this and still pretty much still covered was still singing and the fox quickly found the little bird and ate it.
THE MORAL: Everyone that shits on you is not your enemy; everyone that pulls you out of shit is not your friend.
And if someone helps you out of a desperate situation, it doesn’t matter if he did it for selfish reasons or not. If the bad guys win they will kill you and it won’t make a damn bit difference whether you had the “moral high ground” or not. Recall the Jewish elders that counseled restraint and acquiescence in the face of the Nazis because they believed that if everyone just went along and didn’t provoke them, then surely the Nazis would let their better nature rule.
There was actually more reason to believe this of the Germans, who had a history of tolerance, than there is to believe this of Islamist extremists who have made no secret of their goal to rule over the land of Dar el-Jarb.
On the other hand, in the Pacific, it was common practice to shoot wounded Japanese soldiers after every battle because of their penchant for blowing themselves up with hidden grenades killing Americans rather than submit to capture. Morally it was indefensible, but practically it was a matter of course. Imagine a commander trying to explain to a wife or mother that her soldier needed to die to “maintain the moral high ground”. He would have been relieved for cause and justifiably so.
General Sherman put it best, not “war is hell” which he never said, but “war is cruelty and you cannot refine it”. Not the most PC of attitudes but one which is supported by history.