“National Socialism–which, to be sure, could not claim a single [new] idea, but did possess a whole arsenal of confused, crackbrained notions–was the only political system of [the 20th century] that had not only practiced the rule of the anti-man, but had expressly established it as a principle. It hated the word ‘humanity’ like the pious man hates sin, and that is why it spoke of ‘sentimental humanitarianism.’ It exterminated and enslaved. The Nazis tortured because they wanted to obtain information, but they tortured with the good conscience of depravity.…[T]hey tortured because they were torturers. They placed torture in their service. But even more fervently they were its servants.”
-Jean Amery, “At the Mind’s Limits” (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Ind. 1980)
“Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased. Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, …in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained. That one’s fellow man was experienced as the anti-man remains in the tortured person as accumulated horror. It blocks the view into a world in which the principle of hope rules. One who was martyred is a defenseless prisoner of fear. It is fear that henceforth reigns over him.”
-Jean Amery, “At the Mind’s Limits” (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Ind. 1980)
Jean Amery (1912-1978) was born in Vienna and emigrated to Belgium in 1938, where he joined the Resistance Movement against the German Nazi (Nationalist Socialism) regime, when, under Adolf Hitler, it sought world domination. Amery was caught, passing out flyers and pamphlets protesting Hitler, by the Nazis in 1943, tortured by the SS-Einsatzgruppen (death squads), and survived the next two years in concentration camps. He is one of most highly regarded of Holocaust writers. In comparing the Nazis to a government of sadism, Amery says it is the sadist’s nature to want “to nullify the world.”
Alice Miller, the controversial (but mostly correct psychologist) who passed away in 2010, in the book “Free From Lies: Discovering Your True Needs” (W.W. Norton, New York 2010) explains how people’s propensity towards violence, even after the horrors of World War II, remains their major solution to violence done to them. She says the nearly universal acceptance that beating or spanking or starving or humiliating young children “to make them worthy of God” or to “rid them of the devil” only creates subconscious bodily knowledge that the more powerful, bigger person (the parent) has the right to nearly kill (or kill) the weaker, smaller person (the infant). The child is taught that “might makes right.” The abused child’s body retains subconscious memories of the blows or the violation and the grown person then compulsively seeks scapegoats (usually his or her own children) on which to avenge his parents’ cruelty.
Just look at Americans’ response to the violation of their “homeland” on 9/11. Oddly enough, Miller wrote, it has to do with the universal (including Islamic) belief that grown-ups should “honor their fathers and mothers” even though they neglected the grown-ups when they were born or growing up or horribly sexually or physically abused them, she says.
Miller, before she died, unswervingly compared suicide bombers and torturers to Hitler’s henchmen, who often couldn’t move fast enough to join the SS so they could rape, torture and murder, thus, avenging the wrongs done to them as infants and releasing the repressed rage they, as children, had felt when they had had to suppress their screams in order to live. She said the 9/11 bombers most likely were subconsciously trying to prove themselves worthy to parents who never wanted them or couldn’t accept them simply as they were, warts and all.
Did the U.S. government’s civilian officials, at Guantanamo Bay, when then-President George W. Bush on Nov. 13, right after 9/11, signed the order essentially declaring it a lawless place, create a fortress hidden from Americans’ views at which those officials “tortured because they were torturers. They placed torture in their service. But even more fervently they were its servants.”
In a story by Ed Vulliamy, published on Oct. 30, 2011, in The Guardian/UK, retired air force colonel, Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, accused the Obama administration he served of still operating a “law-free zone” there, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the order to establish the detention camp on Cuba. Davis resigned in October 2007 in protest against interrogation methods at Guantanamo, and has made his remarks in the lead-up to Nov. 13, the anniversary of Bush’s executive order setting up military commissions to try terrorist suspects.
Davis said that the methods of interrogation used on Guantanamo detainees – which he described as “torture” – were in breach of the U.S.’s own statutes on torture, and added: “If torture is a crime, it should be prosecuted.” The U.S. military, he said, had been ordered to use unlawful methods of interrogation by “civilian politicians, and to do so against our will and judgment”.
Davis was speaking at a conference on human rights law at Bard College in New York. After resigning from the armed forces, in a dramatic defection to the other side of the raging debate over the camp, he became executive director of, and counsel to, the Crimes of War project based in Washington, D.C. The speech was to launch the project’s 10th anniversary campaign and to protest against the existence of the camp and the torture there and at so-called “black sites” run by U.S. intelligence around the world.
“No court has jurisdiction over Guantanamo,” said Davis. “Some senior civilian Bush administration officials chose Guantanamo to interrogate detainees because they thought it’s a law-free zone where we can unlawfully… handle a very small number of cases. We have turned our backs on the law and created what we believed was a place outside the law’s reach.” He added that America was “great at preaching to others, but not so good at practicing what we preach. There is a point when enough is enough, and you have to look at yourself in the mirror. Torture has no place in American courts.”
Davis’s Crimes of War project is leading pressure on the administration of President Barack Obama during Guantanamo’s 10th anniversary, with firm reminders of Obama’s unequivocal pledges to abolish military commissions and close the camp.
Amery’s efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust focused on the terror and horror of the events in a phenomenological and philosophical way, with what he characterized as “a scant inclination to be conciliatory”. His explorations of his experiences and the meaning and legacy of Nazi-era suffering were aimed not at resolving the events finally into “the cold storage of history”, but rather keeping the subject alive so that it would not be lost to posterity, as an abstraction or mere text. As he wrote in 1976:
“I do not have [clarity] today, and I hope that I never will. Clarification would amount to disposal, settlement of the case, which can then be placed in the files of history. My book is meant to prevent precisely this. For nothing is resolved, nothing is settled, no remembering has become mere memory.”
Amery became one of the most-respected writers about the Holocaust not merely because of his determination that the subject “be kept alive,” but because his ability with words makes readers feel his agony. From “At the Mind’s Limits”:
“In the bunker there hung from the vaulted ceiling a chain that above ran into a roll. At its bottom end it bore a heavy curved iron hook. I was led to the instrument. The hook gripped into the shackle that held my hands together behind my back. Then I was raised with the chain until I hung about a meter over the floor. In such a position, or rather, when hanging this way, with your hands behind your back, for a short time you can hold at a half-oblique through muscular force. During these few minutes, when you are already expending your utmost strength, when sweat has already appeared on your forehead and drips, and you are breathing in gasps, you will not answer any questions. Accomplices? Addresses? Meeting places? You hardly hear it. All your life is gathered in a single, limited area of the body, the shoulder joints, and it does not react; for it exhausts itself completely. But this cannot last long. As for me, I had to give up rather quickly. And now there was a crackling and splintering in my shoulders that my body has not forgotten until this hour. The balls sprang from their sockets. My own body weight caused luxation; I fell into a void and now hung by my dislocated arms, which had been torn high from behind and were now twisted over my head. Torture from the Latin, torquere, to twist. What a visual instruction in etymology! At the same time, the blows from the horsewhip showered down on my body and some of them sliced cleanly through the light summer trousers I was wearing on this 23d of July 1943.
“It would be totally senseless to try and describe here the pain that was inflicted on me. Was it ‘like a red-hot iron in my shoulders’ and was another ‘like a dull wooden stake that had been driven into the back of my head’? One comparison would only stand for the other and we would be hoaxed by the merry-go-round of figurative speech. The pain was what it was. Beyond that there is nothing to say. Qualities of feeling are as incomparable as they are indescribable.
“The pain was the border-violation of myself by the other, which can be neither neutralized by the expectation of help nor rectified through resistance. Torture is all that, but in addition very much more. Whoever is overcome by pain through torture experiences his body as never before. In self-negation, his flesh becomes total reality. Only in torture does the transformation of the person into flesh become complete. Frail in the face of violence, yelling out in pain, awaiting no help, capable of no resistance, the tortured person is only a body and nothing else.
“Torture blocks out the contradiction of death and allows us to experience it personally. Whoever is tortured, stays tortured. Torture is ineradicably burned into him, even when no clinically objective traces can be detected. The permanence of torture gives the one who underwent it the right to speculative flights, which need not be lofty ones.”
Those words echo the words in Alice Miller’s many books in which she says “the body never lies.” In other words, the torture or humiliation or violation the infant or young child felt and had to repress in order to survive-because his torturer was his own mother and/or father, his source of bread and water and shelter-stays within a closet in his mind or within the muscle memory of his body. The tension remains all of his life until he accidentally finds a release in the form of violence or perversion.
Amery continued with his own view of the Germans who eagerly volunteered to torture or, at least, complied, “The torturer believed he was exercising God’s justice, since he was after all purifying the offender’s soul; the tortured heretic or witch did not at all deny him this right. There was a horrible and perverted togetherness. In present-day torture, not a bit of this remains. For the tortured, the torturer is solely the other and he will be regarded as such.”
“Who were the others who pulled me up by my dislocated arms and punished my dangling body with the horsewhip? One can take the view that they were merely brutalized petty bourgeois and subordinate bureaucrats of torture. Were they sadists then? According to my conviction, they were not sadists in the narrow sexual-pathological sense. In general, I don’t believe I encountered a single genuine sadist during my two years of imprisonment. But probably there were sadists if we leave sexual pathology aside and judge by the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade. Sadism as the disordered view of the world is something other than the sadism of usual psychology.
“We will then perhaps see not only that my tormentors lived on the border of sadistic philosophy, but that National Socialism in its totality was stamped less with the seal of a hardly definable ‘totalitarianism’ than with that of sadism.
“Torture was the essence of National Socialism-more accurately stated, it was precisely in torture that the Third Reich materialized in all the density of its being. Torture was no invention of National Socialism, but it was its apotheosis. The Hitler vassal did not yet achieve his full identity if he was merely quick as a weasel or tough as leather. No ‘Golden Party Badge’ made him a fully valid representative of the Fuhrer and his ideology, nor did any Blood Order or the Iron Cross. He had to torture and destroy, in order to be great…. He had to be capable of handling torture instruments, so that [Hitler’s concentration camp commander, Heinrich] Himmler would assure him of his ‘Certificate of Maturity in History’; later generations would admire him for having obliterated his feelings of mercy.”
Has torture, since 9/11 and the Bush-Cheney administration become the essence of so-called American democracy? Has Obama already become its ‘servant’ [as Amery wrote]?
Amery’s book again reminds one of Miller’s many books. He writes, “With the very first blow, [the prisoner] loses something we will call ‘trust in the world.’ That trust includes: the irrational and unjustifiable belief in absolute causality perhaps. But in our context what is solely relevant is the certainty that by reason of written or unwritten social contracts the other person will spare me-more precisely stated-that he will respect my physical, and with it my metaphysical being. The boundaries of my body are also the boundaries of myself. My skin surface shields me against the external world. If I am to trust, I must feel on it only what I want to feel.”
“At the first blow, this trust in the world breaks down. The other person is on me and thereby destroys me. It is like a rape, a sexual act without the consent of one of the two partners. If there is even a minimal prospect of successful resistance, a mechanism would [be present to] enable me to rectify the border violation. ‘An eye for an eye.’ If no help can be expected, this physical overwhelming by the other then becomes an existential consummation of destruction altogether.
“The expectation of help, the certainty of help, is indeed one of the fundamental experiences of human beings and probably also of animals. ‘Just a moment,’ the [nurturing, accepting, loving] mother says, ‘a cup of tea is coming right away, we won’t let you suffer so!’ ‘I’ll prescribe you medication’ the doctor assures you, ‘it will help you.’ But with the first blow of a policeman’s fist, against which there can be no defense and which no helping hand will ward off, a part of our life ends and it can never again be revived.”
Miller writes in “Free From Lies,” “Religious education teaches us to forgive our tormentors. Should we really forgive them? Is it in fact possible to do so? It is understandable that we want to forgive and forget and not to feel the pain, but this outcome doesn’t work. It turns out sooner or later that this is not an outcome at all. Take the many sexual abusers among the people of the Church. They have forgiven their parents for sexual abuse or other abuses of their power. But what are many of them doing? They are repeating the ‘sins’ of their parents BECAUSE they have forgiven them. If they could consciously condemn the deeds of their parents they wouldn’t be [compelled] to do the same, to molest and to confuse children by forcing them to stay silent — as if this was the most normal thing to do and not a crime.”
“They just deceive themselves. Religions can have an enormous power over our minds and force us to many kinds of self-deception. But they have not the slightest influence on our body, which knows perfectly well our true emotions and insists on respecting them.
“Is compassion for Milosevic or Saddam Hussein acceptable?
“I have always had compassion for children but never for an adult tyrant. Here, I have sometimes been misunderstood, especially when I described the childhood of Adolf Hitler. Some readers didn’t understand that I could feel compassion for the infant but never for the adult Hitler, who became a monster exactly because he denied how he suffered from being severely humiliated by his father (who by the way was an illegal child of a Jew). [See “For Your Own Good” by Alice Miller]. As a child Adolf Hitler was of course unable to defend his dignity but he also remained submissive in adulthood. He feared and honored his father his whole life, suffered from attacks of panic at night, and his immense hatred was directed at all Jews and half-Jews.”
“The fiercest adorers of their parents are those who were the most emotionally deprived by them. There is a very cruel mechanism at work here,” Miller concludes.