Friday, September 04, 2009

Is torture ever acceptable? What about Hitler?

Jeffrey Goldberg has a provocative piece in the Alantic about the moral dimensions of Tarantino's new flick, Inglourious Basterds |RT|. ** Spoiler Alert - Don't read Goldberg's piece before seeing the movie if you don't want to learn about plot elements. **

Early in [Inglourious Basterds], Aldo the Apache announces the goals of his unit:

“We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. They will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us.”

Soon enough, the Basterds are committing war crimes, beating prisoners to death and collecting the scalps of dead Germans. “Every man under my command owes me 100 Nazi scalps,” Aldo demands.

The horror-movie director Eli Roth — his film Hostel is the most repulsively violent movie I’ve ever seen twice — plays a Basterd known as the “Bear Jew,” whose specialty is braining Germans with a baseball bat. Roth told me recently that Inglourious Basterds falls into a subgenre he calls “kosher porn.”

“It’s almost a deep sexual satisfaction of wanting to beat Nazis to death, an orgasmic feeling,” Roth said. “My character gets to beat Nazis to death. That’s something I could watch all day. My parents are very strong about Holocaust education. My grandparents got out of Poland and Russia and Austria, but their relatives did not.” ....

The recent Ed Zwick movie, Defiance, about a group of Jewish partisans in German-occupied Belarus, featured armed Jews engaging in vigorous self-defense, in a way that most Holocaust movies don’t. Tarantino said he had not seen it. “My guess is, that doesn’t go far enough,” he said. “My guess is that it’s frustrating in a whole different way.”

He is correct that Defiance doesn’t go as far as he would go, but it is something of a corrective, not only to Schindler’s List, which is a story of Christian redemption and Jewish passivity, but to the schmaltz and vulgarity of most Holocaust films, from Jakob the Liar to Life Is Beautiful. The Jews in Defiance kill Nazis, but they periodically stop to debate the merits and drawbacks of killing. When I described this, Tarantino argued that it would have been unrealistic to expect the Jews of Europe to debate the morality of killing Nazis.

I asked Tarantino if he thought the over-the-top violence of the Basterds might offend people. “Why would they condemn me?” he said. “I was too brutal to the Nazis?” |Hollywood’s Jewish Avenger - Atlantic|

I certainly take the view that killing can be justified, even righteous. But torture never is.

Although I can see the appeal of torture from a vengeance standpoint. It might seem justified, but torture is beyond the pale.

Of course, that doesn't deal with the more difficult question of the morality of enforced sensory deprivation... but that's a blog post for another time, although Salon has an essay on the CIA's favorite form of torture.

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