Guest submission from Laurie DiPadova-Stocks
I have been astonished by the utter lack of outrage among the American public regarding a number of things, including the treatment of prisoners by Americans in Iraq. While the national dialogue focuses on steroids, Michael Jackson, and gay marriage, we hear all too little about the ways in which Iraqi prisoners have been tortured by Americans, the methods of which have included denigration of sexual purity and religion. This is only one of many issues that, quite frankly, leaves me puzzled at best–and ashamed at worst. I am not only ashamed that fellow Americans committed these acts, but also that the majority of Americans–and Mormons apparently–cannot find it in themselves to regard these acts as outrageous.
Outrage is a welcomed emotion. It denotes response to a fundamental denial of humanity. I imagine that perhaps the deepest pain suffered by the Christians when they were thrown to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome, is that people were cheering in anticipation at their fear and pain. The thread of common humanity was so thoroughly broken that people actually cheered –they were "beyond feeling"–while their fellow humans were terrified. And no one expressed outrage.
Are we today any more enlightened than the Romans at that time?
The brings to mind one of Thomas Jefferson’s personal books by Henry Home, Lord Kames, entitled Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion. Published in Edinburgh in 1751, it is located in the Thomas Jefferson Collection of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
The thesis of the book is that as human nature and society becomes more advanced and enlighted, so will the treatment of prisoners.
Jefferson, as stated in the Library of Congress’s official description of the work, wrote a lengthly response in his tiny handwriting in the book.
Here is the Library of Congress official description:
In Lord Kames’ essay on the Laws of Nations, he observes that they mirror the laws of nature and vary with the nature of man and are refined gradually as human nature and more sense are refined by education, culture, and relection. As an example, he discusses the evolution in the treatment of enemies and prisoners of war, noting that at the current stage of moral development it is a nation that is an enemy, not the individual prisoner. Here, uncharacteristically, Jefferson has written an extensive response, noting this as a "remarkeable (sp.) instance of improvementin the moral sense." He traces the evolution of the treatment of prisioners of war from savage nations putting captives to death to the more humanized Greeks holding captives as slaves for life to the enlightened doctrine that victors have no right to either the life or labor of prisoners. Jefferson suggests that the next step in moral refinement will require the relinquishment of the right of ransom, as well.
Several questions come to mind:
What might Jefferson’s observations be of our society today, as we consider the ways in which we treat prisoners, here and abroad? Are these issues something to be outraged about? Is it appropriate—or not–for Mormons to express outrage over these actions of our government? I live not far from the Liberty Jail. I regard the way the Prophet was treated as outrageous. So do most Mormons when we discuss this topic in Sunday School. Is our silence today less outrageous?