J and D's Corner

From the Letters Archive

I frequently like to point out that we live in a universe that is not rendered in stark black & white as most people would prefer.  I hate the idea that America can't always be the good guy but sometimes it is necessary...

To:  AV Press

Date: 12/2005

Re:  To Torture or Not

I found quite interesting the poll (AV Press, Dec. 7) that reveals a majority of people in the USA, Britain, France & South Korea…with Canada & Spain on the borderline…feel that torture of suspects to gain information is permissible if the stakes are high enough.

I think a majority of the "never, ever" contingent would come over to the "sometimes" side if the situation in question directly involved them personally, as in certain life or death for themselves, loved ones, etc.

My wife faithfully watches the TV show "Boston Legal", and on a recent episode there was a plot involving a known child molester and killer who kidnapped a 4-year old. Finding the suspect before the child was killed was imperative and the hands of law enforcement were tied. Two of the legal firm’s lawyers proceeded to grossly violate the law, terrorizing the suspect’s brother and a priest to successfully extract the needed information. The legal opinion they relied on went something like "if obeying the law would lead to a greater harm than violating it, then violation of the law is justifiable".

Life is not TV, but the point is well taken. In a more mundane example, an airplane pilot is justified in violating FAA regulations where necessary to insure the safety of his or her flight. Of course, later you will have to convince the FAA your judgment was correct.

The bottom line is, our social world is not black and white, but built of infinite shades of gray. Certainly terrible things sometimes happen when the "grayness" of a situation is misjudged, but bad things ALWAYS happen when people force the grayscale into black and white.