Torture and Masculinity - Anxiety on the Right

September 3, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

What’s with conservatives and their junk (junk in the current sense of male genitals)?

The Attorney General is looking into whether government employees – specifically CIA agents who tortured people – broke the law. Conservatives are outraged. It’s not just that conservatives think that torture is O.K. (not all torture, of course, just torture when we do it). It’s the imagery that bubbles up from their psyches.
“Emasculating US Intelligence.” (Headline on a blog at Commentary)

“Castrate the CIA, and Americans will die.” Ralph Peters in the the New York Post.
Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of the Weekly Standard on Fox TV fears that there won’t be a CIA agent left who’s able to pass his DNA to the next generation:

“They are emasculating the entire CIA.”

And of course, Charles Krauthammer:

“Panetta [head of the CIA] had his agency emasculated . . .”

These are just a few from the mainstream. If you searched blogosphere, you’d find lots more of them, anxiously lined up like soccer defenders on the free kick wall, their opposition to the attorney general being just one more example of their cojones-centered approach to legal interpretation and government policy.

I blogged about this a year ago (in what I thought was one of my better posts – here), after watching the Republican convention.
The Republicans seemed to view torture not just as a regrettable but necessary tactic. Torture became a romanticized test of toughness, the ultimate chapter in the Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche version of masculinity.

Their reactions further convince me that running just under the surface of the rational justifications for torture is the conservatives’ fear that if they reject torture, they will be less virile, less manly. They seem to have the fantasy that torturing and being tortured is a fraternity initiation – it tests a man and ultimately makes him a better person. They hold up John McCain as their exemplar.

It’s similar to the Dirty Harry fantasy about killing people. The reality of torture, as with killing, is far different from the movie and TV version. In many cases, for the victim, torture is permanently devastating. For the torturer, unless he has a bit of the psychopath in his character, it is permanently troubling.

(It’s tempting, when you actually see Fred Barnes and Krauthammer and the boys from Commentary, to make a psychoanalytic interpretation. I mean, they remind me of the wimpy brainiacs in high school who became the manager on the football team, tagging along and carrying the equipment for the muscular jocks they literally looked up to. Tempting, as I say, but I just don’t have enough information.)


maxliving said...

I think the latest photos out of Kabul might further add to your theory:

veganelder said...

Compensatory behavior is a fairly well-known phenomenon. I suspect any historical survey of non-defensive war advocates that occupied political power positions...especially here in the United States would bear out that the "chicken-hawk" syndrome is exhibited quite frequently, especially by a flurry of mostly right-wing politicians since the end of WWII.