Has ‘First Things’ died with RJN?

RJN is the late Richard John Neuhaus. First Things is the distinguished journal of religion and public life that he edited from 1990 until his death this past January.

Today, the new associate editor Russell Saltzman attacks the enhanced interrogation methods used on captured terrorists and does so with an assortment of moral equivalencies right out of sophomore year.

I responded immediately, during, not after, morning coffee, which might explain the high granularity of my sentences:

Russell Saltzman’s note on “torture” [quotation marks added here] in the Observations and Contentions daily article, with the standard argumentum ad Hitlerum centerpiece, is as disappointing and superficial as it gets.

A terrorist has already dehumanized himself through a commitment to the murder of unsuspecting civilians as a means to reach a “political” goal. He has willingly become part of a terror organism outside of the boundaries of civilization. His chief weapon is neither a bomb nor a stolen airliner, it is information.

He carries that weapon in his mind and he must be disarmed. He is an ongoing participant in a conspirarcy to murder. His humanity, wherever it has gone, is as secondary to the matter as is the humanity of the gunman entering a school to shoot as many unsuspecting students as possible.

Terrorism is neither simply a criminal offense in the terms of civil law, nor an offense against the laws of war in the conventional sense of men under arms in furtherance of their nation’s defense. It is a “state of nature” predatory act of mass murder.

The primary moral imperative of those charged with defending the lives of their fellow citizens is to stop it. Where information is the weapon, it must be taken from the mind with as much vigor as a gun is taken from a hand.

Moral confusion occurs when that is not distinguished from the actions of state terrorism of the Nazi or Stalin variety. The failure to make such distinctions is a characteristic of moral and intellectual laziness. The willingness to positively make one the other adds the deadly pride of moral vanity to deadly sloth.

Neuhaus may or may not have objected to the use of these techniques, but he would never have let that sloppy thing by Saltzman be published at First Things. Perhaps it is impossible to get this sort of question clear unless you’ve had a loved one sitting in a terrorist target that was luckily passed over, as I have. I would hardly concern myself too much with the “humanity” of someone who knows something that would help me stop that. Russell Saltzman, meanwhile, engages in the most shallow moral reasoning available and slanders those who have had to engage in this unpleasant business to protect and save the lives of their countrymen.

Later: As the day moved on Saltzman’s slander more fully irritated and angered me. Note above in the quote of my response the characterizations of terrorist murder in three consecutive paragraphs:

* “commitment to the murder”

* “conspirarcy to murder”

* “predatory act of mass murder”

All three references are to the real phenomenon of murder committed against innocent men and women.

Saltzman calls his piece “The Mental Murder of Torture,” which is the initial attempt at drawing a moral equivalence between the heinous real murders committed by terrorists and the sometimes necessary attempts to get captured terrorists to spill their guts by playing rough with them. It doesn’t end there, or with the items I cited in my response. Saltzman’s piece reeks of an intellectual dishonesty that I never saw displayed at First Things previously.

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