I experienced a "fearful symmetry," a phrase from William Blake, upon watching the movie "The Railway Man" a day or so after the Senate released a report five years in the making (which I have not read) on "enhanced interrogation techniques," which is a euphemism for torture.
Yes, war (though the "war on terror" was a misnomer from the start, but that's another topic for another day) involves unspeakable, unbearable, obscene acts of treachery and degradation under the guise of honor, cause, duty, or patriotism. And it also elicits acts of heroism, bravery, selflessness, valor, sacrifice, under the same banners.
But don't people (don't I, don't you) have both a right and an obligation to ask:
What are we? What do we espouse? What do we stand for? What defines us?
I do not pretend these are simple questions evoking simple answers. Nor do I pretend to speak with authority, as I type this in a comfortable chair in a public cafe in a free society. (Allow a digression: are you "free" if you are cajoled, motivated, nudged, coerced every day by forces you do not recognize or acknowledge? I'm not talking conspiracy or paranoiac whisperings. I am referring to the relentless onslaught of consumerist stimulation that tickles our fancies and enslaves our wallets.)
At any rate, I propose the asking (and the potential answering) of these and like-minded difficult but profound questions as part of our civic discourse -- beyond pieties, cliches, jingoism, chauvinism, and bromides.
As G.K. Chesteron said, " 'My country, right or wrong' is a thing that no patriot would think of
saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk
or sober.' "