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Thursday, June 23, 2005

 Is this progress?

Regarding the American gulag at Guantanamo, Caleb McDaniel asks why America has to look outside its own history to find examples of torture and injustice:
I do believe that we are, in many respects, better than we were. But I am fearful of our capacity to move backwards as well as forwards, to return like a dog to our own vomit. Why would we do that? Don't we truly want to be better than we were, and if we do, shouldn't it trouble us that reports from our detention centers suggest that our official policy on the treatment of prisoners is regressing instead of progressing? Progress, I am aware, is a loaded term, with conceptual liabilities all its own. But part of me craves the return of a certain usage of the word 'progress' in our political discourse. Usually, when you hear a government official say something like 'we're making progress in Iraq,' it's intended first and foremost as a spatial term: we've pushed back insurgents in this neighborhood, we've secured this city, we've pushed the borders of the Green Zone out a little farther. What I want to know is, are we making progress in time? Are we becoming better? If we cannot ask of our policies whether they are better than the practices of the gulag, let us ask of them: are they better than the practices of our great-great-grandparents, our great-grandparents, our grandparents, our parents? Will we be proud to report this policy to future generations? Or is that question, too, un-American?


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