Monday, November 28, 2005

Good guys and bad guys

Like most folks, my concept of right and wrong was established at an early age. While I know the world isn't black and white, I still believe that it's easy to tell between right and wrong -- to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

My concept of how the good guys act was influenced by comic books and television. In comic books, there were Superman and Batman, defending the little guys from the evildoers. On television, it was Superman again (the George Reeves version) and the Lone Ranger, again doing their best to look out for the little guy. What I learned from these characters was that good guys never hit (or shot, in the case of the Lone Ranger) first. They waited for the bad guys to make their move, then they reacted. And they never killed, only wounded. (The Lone Ranger shot a lot of bad guys in the hand.) The good guys didn't think much of big business or big government, they were there to protect the rights of the individual. They didn't beat up innocent people or torture them or behave in any way less than Boy Scoutish. Heck, they didn't even swear.

My concept of how the bad guys act was influenced by the times, which in my case was the Cold War. The bad guys were the Communists, and they did nasty things. The bad-guy Communists banned books and tried to control the activities and thoughts of their citizens. Their secret police spied on their citizens, and arrested them in the dead of night with no cause or warrant. The bad guys tortured people, and sent them to waste away in frozen gulags. The bad guys invaded other countries with no provocation, grinding their freedom under the boot heel of oppression.

In the world I grew up in, it was clear who the good guys and the bad guys were. The good guys were for openness and freedom , and the bad guys were for secrecy and oppression. It was the good guys' job to stop the bad guys wherever they could, but in the good guy fashion; the good guys never used the methods of the bad guys.

To my chagrin, the world today is different. Americans are supposed to be good guys, but we're acting just like bad guys. That doesn't make the real bad guys any less bad, but it does make us that much less good.

In today's world, America invades other countries without any provocation. Even if you believed all the pre-war hype about WMD (and not everyone did), there was still little or no reason to believe that Iraq was on the verge of attacking the U.S. -- or any other country, for that matter. America invaded a country that posed no immediate danger to us. Good guys don't shoot first, but that's just what we did in Iraq.

In today's world, American police can arrest anyone they want, merely by calling them a terrorist. There is no due process. After 9/11, the government locked up hundreds of innocent citizens, deprived them of legal council, and resisted all attempts to either free them or formally charge them. I'm not talking about the Guantanamo detainees; I'm talking about honest, hardworking American citizens, most of Middle Eastern descent, who were swept up in the net of fear. Good guys don't have secret police who arrest people in the middle of the night, but that's exactly what the Bush administration did.

In today's world, American troops can take prisoners in a so-called war, spirit them away to camps in other countries, and detain them indefinitely. These prisoners, held in Guantanamo and in secret camps across the globe, are held in a kind of legal limbo. They're denied prisoner of war status, yet not charged with any domestic crime. They have no hope of release, only a dismal future in these American-run gulags. Good guys don't condemn prisoners to gulags, but that's what the American government continues to do.

In today's world, American troops and agents torture and kill their prisoners. There are no rules, except for those the administration argues to ignore. The Geneva conventions are not followed; military personnel are implicitly if not explicitly ordered to use torture as an interrogation device. Good guys don't torture and kill, but that's what we as Americans are allowing to happen in Iraq and elsewhere.

In today's world, Americans are no longer the good guys. It wasn't 9/11, but rather the Bush administration that turned the world on its head and turned Americans -- all Americans -- into bad guys. We should know right from wrong, and today we are in the wrong. For this, we have George Bush and his cadre of hardliners to thank.

Superman and the Lone Ranger would be ashamed; indeed, they would find us to be the bad guys that need protecting against. How much longer will basically decent Americans continue to support this wrongful behavior? How much longer before the architects of our moral downfall are impeached and tried as the criminals that they are?

I still believe in right and wrong, in good guys and bad guys. And I'm tired of being one of the bad guys.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

No comments: