Cliffs where the fences should be

In Meditations in Green, a novel about the Vietnam war and its aftereffects, Stephen Wright describes a loss of innocence that resonates with the news out of Abu Ghraib. In the book, PFC Claypool is a “new guy” who thinks he’s going to be working as a translator. His mind first begins to drift away from reality when he sits in on the interrogation of a Vietnamese prisoner, who is tortured with electric shocks administered by means of a field telephone.

Sergeant Mars was unraveling a pair of wires which were attached to a mechanical contraption that resembled a bicycle exerciser. Each wire ended in an alligator clip. Weren’t they going to lock the door? Claypool knew what was next. . . . He hadn’t wanted to hear such stories, to have confirmed as true what was printed in leftist magazines, shouted by hysterical war protesters. It was like learning your family dentist overcharged for extractions or drilled into healthy teeth. It meant there were cliffs where he had always assumed there were fences. . . .

“Doesn’t hurt as bad as it looks,” explained Captain Raleigh. “Think of the lives we’re saving.” (p. 106)