Monday, May 28, 2007

If torture is wrong, what about '24'?

I have to be honest: I have never watched an entire episode of '24,' and I don't plan to. The show is, without my help, wildly popular in Brazil, where I live right now, and, of course, throughout the US. One place it is especially watched is West Point, and here is where an interesting story unfolds. A story that illustrates the power of TV to shape discourse, culture and the Army's own mentality. The Raw Story brought it up with an article about Dick Cheney's speech to cadets at West Point, and he definitely didn't help things with regards to torture. He just backed up what Jack Bauer has been teaching soldiers for seasons now.

Here is an excerpt from the article: "Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States," the Vice President said in the Saturday morning speech. "Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away."

As the piece points out, this quote was stated in connection with moral and ethical lessons to be learned in war. The vice-president, a leader of the self-proclaimed light of democracy and civilization, the US, offers an interesting point of view. His ideas, however, do not stray far from what West Point dean General Patrick Finnegan deals with daily at the Academy. He spoke to The New Yorker in February, and described what could be called "The 24 effect."

Here is what The Raw Story reported: "This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind '24,'" wrote Jane Mayer in the magazine. "Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors - cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by '24,' which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, 'The kids see it, and say, ''If torture is wrong, what about '24?''"

On this Memorial Day, something to chew on.

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