June 15, 2018

"But we don’t get to decide which world we live in. We only get to decide whether or not we try to do anything about it."


I don’t know how long I was awake when a key card unlocked the door and a man in a military uniform entered. Behind him two other men entered and quickly, efficiently handcuffed my wrists and ankles and then left, throwing me to the floor as they did so. The first man then said that I should be worried, I was really in trouble. I had ended up where I shouldn’t be. On the wrong side of the war. And I would tell them what they wanted to know, everything they wanted to know, or I would be tortured at great length. Then he left the room and I passed out again.

When I come to it’s because something wakes me. Five young men are being shoved into my room. My wrists and ankles feel like they’re on fire. The cuffs cut into them like dull knives. I wonder if I’ve ever been in so much pain in my life, then think perhaps I’ll soon be in considerably more when I’m tortured. That’s the first thing I remember, they said they were going to torture me. The five men, who I somehow understand to be my five new cellmates, have their arms and legs free. They sit around me, their backs pressed against the wall, like a family sitting around a Christmas turkey, if the turkey lay on the bare floor in front of them. They talk to each other, not much but a little, and do their best to ignore me. There is barely room for all six of us in the cell, they’re almost on top of me, and yet it seems strangely normal that they don’t acknowledge my existence. I feel that if I were in their place I might do the same. I understand that they are young soldiers being court martialed. Their crime is refusing to get in the planes and fly their assigned missions. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers are refusing to fly their missions not because they’ve become pacifists, or because they’re against these wars, but because they’re afraid their planes will explode. Being shot down by enemy fire means being a brave soldier, and what’s more it almost never happens, but being in a plane that explodes for no discernible reason seems stupid and makes them feel almost supernaturally afraid. That’s why they’ve been crammed into this cell with me. All the other cells are completely full. Overfull. Over-packed. Because so many soldiers are now refusing to explode in the sky for no reason.

In general, I don’t read books that feature torture. My nervous system simply isn’t strong enough. The fact that torture is happening, that it is likely that someone, somewhere is being tortured right now, as we speak, often feels to me like one of the main reasons I don’t want to live in this world. I don’t want to read about torture and I certainly don’t want to write about it, but what happened ridiculously, sadistically, happened, and if I’m going to tell my story there is really no way I can avoid the topic completely.

If humanity is ever put on trial – and I have no concept who or what might make such a thing possible – the fact that we commit genocide should be enough to condemn us. But the fact that we torture would condemn us in some condemnation of infinite overload. I can think of no more convincing evidence that we represent a universe gone wrong. A species that tortures is a kind of evil, a kind of animal, I will never understand. There are plenty of other books that give the details, I will not give any of them here. The fact that we torture would be enough to condemn us. But, as most of us know, condemnation and judicial punishment depend not on the crime committed but on the values and worldview of the authority that sits in judgment. When I think of why I want to die, so many of my reasons are weak and self-pitying, but one reason I always find convincing is that I don’t want to live in a world where some people imprison and torture others. I don’t want to live in a world that contains torture. But we don’t get to decide which world we live in. We only get to decide whether or not we try to do anything about it.

I remember, a long time ago, reading a definition of sanity. Sanity is knowing that to be a full person one must behave differently in different situations. That one behaves one way in bed with a lover and a completely different way when being interrogated by the Gestapo. That with a lover one was honest, truthful, one opened ones heart. But with the Gestapo one said nothing or skillfully lied. Lying there on the floor of the cell I thought I had devised a strategy to get through the torture and interrogation. I do not think this strategy would work in reality. This book is not reality. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay silent so I would talk and talk and lie and lie. For everything I said that was perhaps factually true, I would make sure I said at least ten things that were factually untrue, and do my best to make the untrue things sound considerably more plausible then the true ones. (Once again, I don’t think this strategy would work in reality but as literature, I thought, I told myself, we can see what it does.) And that is what I planned to do. How I had planned to write about it here. But when the time came I did no such thing.

- Jacob Wren, from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim


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