The New Yorker Magazine Illuminates Racial Violence of the American Security State, Then and Now.

By Seth Freed Wessler Mar 05, 2008

I read the New Yorker Magazine a bit ambivalently. Written in sometimes verbose, usually pretentious prose, the magazine is pegged for postgraduate degreed liberals and post-political hipsters. Despite this, the magazine has a proclivity for pushing the line. The past two issues have done just that, publishing two articles on under-reported episodes in America’s history of racial violence in the name of security. Two weeks ago, the magazine put out a well researched, bitingly written piece by Paul Kramer on US torture in the Philippines a hundred years ago. The piece, which reports on the history of imperial America in the Philippines and the practice of torturing people with the “water cure”, drew an implicit moral parallel between the United States today and the United States then. Without ever mentioning the present, the piece could not but be read as an indictment of current policies of torture. The article concludes, “the question it implicitly posed—how much was global power worth in other people’s pain?—was one no moral nation could legitimately ask. As the investigation of the water cure ended and the memory of faraway torture faded, Americans answered it with their silence.” Last week, the magazine published another striking piece by Margaret Talbot, this one on the T. Don Hutto detention center in Texas. Hutto is one of two family detention facilities in the US where children are held along with their undocumented parents. The detention of children has been exposed as of late by several articles, reports and a film project. Despite these, it has remained largely below the radar. As a county commissioner said, “The thing we forget is the adults who are being detained have broken the law.” Unfortunately children, she went on, “have to suffer with the sins of our parents”—“to suffer, if you can call it that, because of their parents’ choices.” These stories have arrived in the mainstream, on the coffee tables of Audi drivers and back pockets of Williamsburg dwellers. The question remains though, will we answer with our silence?