Sunday, January 28, 2007

When a nation eats its young

I recently blogged about the fact that Iraq is turning against its own young, targeting University students (especially women) for death, and how that cannot help but lead to an atavistic decline in Iraqi culture and society.

In a similar vein, the rise of conservative values in the USA has, in its own way, lead to the brutalizing of America's youth. The Reality-Based Community's Mark Kleiman writes about the abuse of America's children. He quotes from a reader:

These were 13-14-15 year old children, and we tortured them, we tortured each other into proclaiming the desired truth, and we did it at the behest of so called conservatives. I saw broken bones, people covered head to toe in bruises, people who were not allowed to go to the bathroom, people stripped naked in private homes and taunted for 8 hours a night, then taken into the 'building' and taunted for 10-12 hour days, every day for a year, two years, three years. I was there, I saw it, I did it. I live with it everyday of my life. I live with the nightmares of being abused, and the far worse nightmares of being the abuser.

This isn't a rare exception to the treatment of kids at "boot camp", it's the norm. ReasonMag has more about the institutionalised torture at "tough love" boot camps:

The state of Florida tortured 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson to death for trespassing. The teen had been sentenced to probation in 2005 for taking a joy ride in a Jeep Cherokee that his cousins stole from his grandmother. Later that year, he crossed the grounds of a school on his way to visit a friend, a violation of his probation. His parents were given a choice between sending him to boot camp and sending him to juvenile detention. They chose boot camp, believing, as many Americans do, that “tough love” was more likely to rehabilitate him than prison.

Less than three hours after his admission to Florida’s Bay County Sheriff’s Boot Camp on January 5, 2006, Anderson was no longer breathing. He was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead early the next morning.

In no way shape or form am I one of those airy-fairy rose-coloured-glasses romantics who thinks that children are all (or even mostly) sweet innocents who want nothing more than to grow up to give the world a group-hug. "Tough love" isn't an oxymoron: what we want and what we need are not necessarily the same thing. But by his fruits ye shall know him: it is clear that many -- perhaps the majority, perhaps even all -- of the boot camps aren't about rehabilitating children or teaching them to be better people, but about mean-spirited and thoughtless punishment for the sake of punishment. If, at the end of the process you get decent young people, then that's a lucky accident. If, instead, you get brutalised, broken, hardened anti-social thugs, well, you've just guaranteed yourself clients for the next three or four years until they turn 18. And after that? Time to buy shares in the many private prisons (one of the few growth industries in the USA today).

And thus the vicious circle continues: a broken society produces broken children, who in turn grow up to form a broken society.

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