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Even More Phonies?

The Washington Post has a report about how we did things, when we did them right: Fort Hunt’s Quiet Men Break Silence on WWII

For six decades, they held their silence.

The group of World War II veterans kept a military code and the decorum of their generation, telling virtually no one of their top-secret work interrogating Nazi prisoners of war at Fort Hunt.

When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects.

Back then, they and their commanders wrestled with the morality of bugging prisoners’ cells with listening devices. They felt bad about censoring letters. They took prisoners out for steak dinners to soften them up. They played games with them.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.

Many of the people involved were refugees from Europe who were selected for their language skills. These were people whose families had been directly affected by the evil that had engulfed Europe, but they followed the rules and produced results.

The overriding concept was simple – we were the good guys and acted like it.

It is a cliché, you get more flies with honey than vinegar, but it works. The only thing you get from torture is false confessions. That is exactly what the Nazis, the Soviets, the Chicoms, and the North Vietnamese used it for. They weren’t looking for intelligence; they wanted confessions.

14 comments

1 whig { 10.07.07 at 4:11 am }

Do they care about confessions, or do they get off on the torture? Confessions aren’t valuable if they aren’t truthful anyhow.

2 jams o donnell { 10.07.07 at 8:02 am }

Fascinating post Bryan. They were obviously honourble and decent men who performed their duties with humanity. I’d be interested to see what Dubya was saying on the other side of the Potomac. One of your worst presidents condoning modern techniques and veterans criticising it deeply.

3 Bryan { 10.07.07 at 11:08 am }

It’s all about the PR, Whig. That’s why the Nazis et al. did it, and that’s why the Hedgemony does it – to convince people there is a threat and the government is making them safer by being thugs.

We were actually trying to win World War II, not trying to steal other people’s countries. We needed intelligence, not talking points. No one wanted to become the enemy, and people were angry, not afraid.

4 andante { 10.07.07 at 2:27 pm }

If there’s one thing we know about the current administration it is that they never learn the lessons of history and don’t even bother to ask.

5 Bryan { 10.07.07 at 2:58 pm }

History is about reality, and they don’t want to deal with reality.

6 whig { 10.07.07 at 8:03 pm }

Reality has that well known liberal bias, you know.

7 Bryan { 10.07.07 at 8:48 pm }

I think I’ve heard that. 😈

8 Badtux { 10.08.07 at 8:52 pm }

I don’t think the Busheviks really care if they get any information. It’s all about confessions. The more lurid the confessions, the better. Then they can trumpet how they have protected us from all these mean evil men in Gitmo (even the 15 year old kid, I suppose, probably confessed to planning a terror attack against the Miami airport by the time they were through with him), and use it to try to scare the American public into voting the Busheviks back into power.

It’s an old act — the Bolsheviks pioneered it in Soviet Russia to scare the populance that the big bad Capitalists were coming and were gonna render every Russian for their fat if the Russian citizenry didn’t redouble their efforts — but as happened in the Soviet Union with the Bolsheviks, it’s getting old. Eventually nobody believed the Soviet propaganda about the mean old Capitalists who wanted to turn the elderly into cat food and so forth, and people are now getting just as wary of the Bushevik propaganda. The only question is whether that wariness is yet to the point where the Busheviks can be driven totally from power…

9 Bryan { 10.08.07 at 10:40 pm }

“There’s no truth in Pravada, and no news in Izvestia” has been a Russian joke for a very long time. One of my instructors said that you had to buy both every day or you would have nothing to wrap your groceries in and toilet paper was always in short supply.

The show trial with appropriate confessions of error is a staple of authoritarian regimes. It convinces the masses that they have enemies and frightens the opponents. Have to ensure that “the people” know that life wouldn’t be so hard if all of the external forces and internal enemies would stop attacking.

You really need a confession to convince people that 15-year-olds and 80-year-old deaf and lame goat herders are threats.

They can’t go to regular courts because they don’t have any evidence other than hearsay, rumors, and innuendo. People are going to be really annoyed when they figure out what was done in their name, and just like the Soviet Union, it will happen.

10 whig { 10.09.07 at 3:42 am }

The truth is like an expanding wave, as it passes through each communication layer it transforms everything in its path.

11 whig { 10.09.07 at 3:43 am }

Some turn against the truth, and fling themselves upon it with great energy. These destroy themselves.

12 whig { 10.09.07 at 3:44 am }

Most try to shield themselves from it somehow.

13 whig { 10.09.07 at 3:46 am }

A few of us, present company most definitely included, try to focus the truth upon the points that are obstructing its wider knowledge. It’s why I like participating here.

14 Bryan { 10.09.07 at 10:48 am }

The truth is. It exists on its own and remains, no matter what you try to do to it. The truth is the most unforgiving and amoral concept around. It doesn’t take sides and is unaffected by ideology. It isn’t in a popularity contest.