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In today’s New York Times, John Burns has a top-notch obituary for Eileen Nearne, a woman who served as a British spy in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Nearne was “an insistently private woman who loved cats and revealed almost nothing about her past,” so that her own neighbors in Torquay had no idea they were living next to a person who could have been, and should be, a legend. Burns’s recounting of her life is marvelous, and it merits being read and circulated. But I paused over a couple of lines:
As she related in postwar debriefings, documented in Britain’s National Archives, the Gestapo tortured her — beating her, stripping her naked, then submerging her repeatedly in a bath of ice-cold water until she began to black out from lack of oxygen. Yet they failed to force her to yield the secrets they sought: her real identity, the names of others working with her in the resistance and the assignments given to her by London. At the time, she was 23.
As Andrew Sullivan notes, these lines must have escaped Bill Keller’s blue pencil, because they can’t be squared with existing Times policy on the word “torture.” Here’s how those lines might read, if they were brought into conformity with Mr. Keller’s policies:
As she related in postwar debriefings, documented in Britain’s National Archives, the Gestapo subjected her to enhanced interrogation techniques, sometimes referred to as “torture” by critics of the German government. She was beaten, stripped naked, and then submerged repeatedly in a bath of ice-cold water until she began to black out from lack of oxygen.
No techniques were used on Ms. Nearne that were not also applied with authority of the Bush Administration to prisoners in the “War on Terror.”
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”