The last temptation of Ivan Karamazov
Is torture ever justified? That is the dirty question left out of the universal protestations of disgust, revulsion, and shame that have greeted the release of photos showing American soldiers tormenting prisoners in Iraq. It is a question that was most unforgettably put forward over 130 years ago by Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. In that novel, the saintly Alyosha Karamazov is tempted by his brother Ivan, confronted with an unbearable choice. Let us suppose, Ivan says, that in order to bring men eternal happiness, it is essential and inevitable to torture to death one tiny creature, only one small child. Would you consent?
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