Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our Shameful Past, Present and Future

This opinion letter in the Philadelphia Inquirer perfectly exemplifies this country's shameful past and illuminates our country's current shame, which will serve to frame our future shames.

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I read with dismay the inspector general's report concerning enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA to extract information from al-Qaeda terrorists. Buzzing power drills, gunshots, threats - all utterly appalling.

I write not to add to the informed legal opinion that supports your decision to investigate the CIA for these atrocities. Instead, I am asking that you expand the scope of your investigation to include similar horrors that occurred right here in the United States.

I am referring, of course, to the mistreatment I and millions like me suffered while undergoing Catholic primary and secondary educations in the period from 1950 to 1962 (hereinafter "The Reign of Clerical Terror"). I cannot begin to catalog all the violence inflicted on me and others by the nuns and priests who taught us. But a few examples may be instructive.

In 1955, I was a fifth grader in Catholic school (hereinafter "Indoctrination Center X"). One day, while in the cloakroom adjacent to the classroom, I was engaged in a creative, albeit nonacademic, pursuit - i.e., preparing a spitball that I intended to use as a means of self-expression by splatting it on the back of Dave Beckley's head. (Beckley was a known collaborator with those who ran Indoctrination Center X.)

I was almost finished chewing the paper when either Sister Mary Mark or Sister Margaret Mary - it was dark in the cloakroom, and they all dressed alike, so I'm not sure which - grabbed me by the throat, slapped me hard across the face, and made me swallow the spitball. This not only caused me a great deal of physical discomfort - I experienced a simulated choking sensation not unlike that caused by waterboarding - but it also denied my right of self-expression.

Similarly, at my all-male Catholic high school (hereinafter "Indoctrination Center Y"), the priests subjected us to daily assaults with paddles, drumsticks, closed fists, open hands, books, or anything else that was heavy, handy, and capable of getting our undivided attention when applied with force to our heads.

Put aside that most of my classmates went on to outstanding careers in business and the professions. This inhumane treatment undoubtedly stifled our creativity and deadened our sensitivities. I mean, how many choreographers, lyricists, and poets were lost in the cauldron of abuse and suffering that was Indoctrination Center Y?

Mr. Holder, my fellow internees and I would have gladly traded getting slapped or whacked with paddles for someone merely buzzing a power drill at us or making some other empty gesture. You see, unlike the CIA, the nuns and priests actually delivered on their threats. And sometimes they delivered spontaneously - without making any threats at all.

American principles and basic humanity demand that you expose the Reign of Clerical Terror.

L. George Parry, Esq.

P.S. It occurs to me that, if these al-Qaeda guys stop talking, you may consider having them spend some quality time with Sister Margaret Mary. She is getting along in years and may have lost some of her wallop, but I am sure she would still be up to the task.