First published: June, 1989. First posted online: July 04, 2005.
Happy Fourth of July, everyone.
When we penned this strip, which ran in the summer of 1989, George H.W. Bush was President, and torture was a thing of distant lands, and distant times.
Well, it wasn’t, of course. We knew full well Bush had been the CIA chief, and were aware what viciousness US covert ops were capable of in South America, the Middle East, and everywhere… outside the US. Inside the borders we had the FBI and the Constitution. Outside the borders were hell and abandon.
But beyond the obvious hypocrisy of a double standard– one that imperial Europe employed for centuries with all its many colonies– we all knew that real, bona fide torture was wrong. It was a given.
1989 was the early days of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which pretended that bad movies were equivalent to a kind of human vivisection, as mad scientists every week would test Joel Hodgson’s mettle against another old stinker. Many of the movies featured villains engaged in torture. You know, the good guys were against it. MST3K also thanked the authors of the First Amendment every week, and encouraged everyone to swap tapes they made of the show… at first. But torture was always a bit of a lighthearted joke, since in reality, good people would never stand for it.
And that’s the spirit today’s strip was originally written in. If it rings hollow now, consider the echo chamber within us all for letting this torture and murder go on and on and on for no better real-world reason than a high material standard of living for some Americans.
Also ironic is that we hadn’t planned in advance to have this strip post on Independence Day. And yet, here it is.
To help you celebrate the holiday, New York Governor George Pataki applauds the ‘Daily News’: Its headline bawled this week over a political cartoon featuring the head-bagged-and-electroded Iraqi prisoner from Abu Ghraib; apparently someone dared display our torture-sacrifice too near to our world-famous downtown shrine of martyr-sacrifice. This the same week the ‘News’ headlined how Saddam Hussein hungrily munched Doritos. Our reaction to the ‘Daily News’: Why do you even exist?
Of course, they’re conflating Iraq and 9/11 again. Silly propagandists. On the other hand, the two events do have one thing in common: America. So we’d like to remind everyone of our very contemporary thoughts on September 11, 2001: Link.
But Matt Taibbi at the New York Press sagely reminds us of the American tradition of the witch hunt:
“But now we have public officials and the media in the business of deciding who is a loyal American and who is not. You have a museum that has been denounced as anti-American, and effectively rebuked, because it featured an absolutely factual representation of an Iraqi prisoner of war. This isn’t about censorship or even free speech; this is about cultural taboos and the ritual of public denunciations, which have their own politics and their own logical conclusion. And when even facts become anti-American, you know we’re headed there.” Link
As today’s Yamara points out, if you go hunting witches, they might just catch you.