No Place at Dartmouth

by Abraham Clayman | 10/28/05 5:00am

I think most students at Dartmouth would agree that we are a fairly tolerant and respectful place. We try not to shoot people down even if they disagree with what we have to say. We make an effort to combat racism, sexism, poverty and homophobia. Sometimes we come up short. Sometimes we do not try hard enough. Sometimes we do not care, but as far as most places in the United States are concerned, Hanover, N.H., is probably one of the more tolerant and respectful of diversity. Dartmouth prides itself each year on having the "most diverse class to date." As well we should. A diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds and ideas creates a vibrant community. This belief lies at the heart of a liberal arts education -- an institution that strives to educate students through exposure. As Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg told my education class on Wednesday, Dartmouth's goal is to produce graduates that are aware of and knowledgeable about the world around them.

But now let us talk about torture. There is a debate going on about whether or not we should have debated the use of torture in this country. I think a lot of people have been missing Professor Ronald Edsforth's point: Torture is wrong and we should never use it in this country. Some cry "Foul!" and "Free Speech!" and "What about the First Amendment?" and tell Edsforth, in the words of the Dude, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man." But maybe they should take a step back and think about what it is this debate centers on: a democracy -- our democracy -- that promotes liberty and justice for all, torturing people. Does that really sound like a good idea?

But, wait. Maybe "it is our responsibility to allow for discussion of every issue, and to evaluate our position on that issue by thoroughly considering various arguments" as one columnist wrote in these pages on Thursday. Is this really a good idea either? Do we really need to debate every issue, as if we are discussing it for the first time? Do we need to debate the justice of the Holocaust? Or the rightness of the attacks on Sept. 11?

I think that our society has already made a judgment about the above topics. The Holocaust was unequivocally wrong and the attacks of Sept. 11 were not and never will be justified. If such a debate came to Dartmouth, I would hope that students would be up in arms over it and pronounce it superfluous, dastardly, unnecessary and wrong. No one should try to have the debaters arrested, no one should deny them their right to debate, but such a debate would have no place at Dartmouth. Free speech is not an absolute right. Speech is, and always will be, limited by its time, place and manner. Let them find another forum.

Now, the recent debate was not strictly about whether torture was justified. Perhaps Edsforth overreacted. The debate was about "coercive interrogations" and "targeted assassinations" not specifically torture as we think of it. So his protest was a bit of an overreach. But his point should be well-taken. Torture is wrong, which is a fact we do not need to discuss. We already have.

We need to move beyond this moral relativism that tells everyone their opinion is justified merely by its existence and say that, yes, some things are not allowed in our society. Torture goes against the high-minded ideals that our country (and Superman) tries to espouse: truth, justice, and the American way. We decided that a long time ago when Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, when Abraham Lincoln turned a civil war into a moral crusade against slavery, when Woodrow Wilson tried to make the world safe for democracy, and when we led the free world against fascism and totalitarianism.

We have signed treaties outlawing torture, and these treaties carry the same weight as the Constitution. We really do not need to go over it again. Torture is wrong. It has no place in our country.

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