A new study by the Red Cross on American attitudes toward torture is highly revealing, hugely terrifying, and very, very depressing (via The Daily Beast):
A new study by the American Red Cross obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast found that a surprising majority—almost 60 percent—of American teenagers thought things like water-boarding or sleep deprivation are sometimes acceptable. More than half also approved of killing captured enemies in cases where the enemy had killed Americans. When asked about the reverse, 41 percent thought it was permissible for American troops to be tortured overseas. In all cases, young people showed themselves to be significantly more in favor of torture than older adults.
Torture has been around as long as there have been wars, but media coverage of enhanced interrogation techniques has risen the visibility of torture since the attacks of September 11. Could the generation who came of age since the towers fell have a different notion of what’s acceptable in a time of war? “Over the past 10 years, they’ve been exposed to many new conflicts,” says Isabelle Daoust, who heads ARC’s humanitarian law unit. “But they haven’t been exposed to the rules.”
What have they been exposed to? Entertainments like 24, in which torture isn’t torture, it’s just a good time in front of the TV in the evening. They’ve also been exposed to ideas about what torture is and what it isn’t by a mainstream media that has been complicit in the redefinition of torture. As Glenn Greenwald wrote last month:
[A]ccording to The New York Times, it’s journalistically improper to call waterboarding “torture” — when done by the United States, but when Nazi Germany (or, more generally, China) does exactly the same thing, then it may be called “torture” repeatedly and without qualification. An organization which behaves this way may be called many things; “journalist” isn’t one of them.
Now, kids, don’t read The New York Times. But they do live in a culture that is fostered, in part, by a mainstream media that helps create this intellectual environment.