Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Exposed the Worst that America Has to Offer

George WashingtonI was going to write a thoughtful post on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and why it’s important to 1) not torture him, 2) give him a fair trial and 3) not kill him, but I lost my way. In lieu of my now aborted (though thoughtful) piece, I leave you the following piece of history.

While the Revolutionary War raged, a certain General George Washington left these very unambiguous instructions regarding the treatment of British prisoners of war:

“Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,’ he wrote. In all respects the prisoners were to be treated no worse than American soldiers; and in some respects, better. Through this approach, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries, and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause.”

Yet, Americans in 2013 don’t seem to share this sentiment. In fact, even our highest elected officials are calling to 1) torture him, 2) NOT give him a fair trial by denying him protections afforded under the Constitution, and 3) seek the death penalty.

Not to be insulting to insects, but it’s like turning over a rock and exposing the unpleasant for the world to see. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother may have killed several and injured many, but within a week they have exposed the awful underbelly of the United States and given it power.

Washington knew how the mistreatment of prisoners by the British galvanized the hatred of the colonies. In this respect, I’m sure that Washington was speaking practically. I suspect, however, that the General (who eventually freed his slaves even), considered human dignity to be essential to a free state. In fact, he had this to say about slavery:

Not only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity, but I can clearly forsee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union, by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.

How unfortunate that Americans 200 plus years later may have forgotten this important lesson, preferring mob violence to order and vengeance to the preservation of human rights.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

One response to “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Exposed the Worst that America Has to Offer”

  1. stumpwater says :

    We have become a fearful and small-minded people. I’m sure that strain has always been among us, but it’s a celebrated facet of our culture now.

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