In August 2002, a homo sapiens known as Ariel Castro abducted 21-year-old Michelle Knight, the mother of a two-year-old boy. In April 2003, he abducted Amanda Berry, a day before her 17th birthday. And in April 2004, he abducted 14-year-old Gina DeJesus.
For the next ten years, these girls were regularly raped, kept in chains, beaten, humiliated, and almost never allowed to see the light of day. When Michelle Knight became pregnant, Castro starved her for two weeks and kicked and punched her in the stomach to induce an abortion. He repeated this method of pregnancy termination on Knight four additional times.
It is important to try to understand the magnitude of the sadism and other forms of cruelty and suffering inflicted by this creature.
First, there is the horror and suffering of being kidnapped; of being taken away from everyone you love. Even if no torture, rape, solitary confinement, etc. were involved, that would be enough to weep for these girls. And in Michelle’s case, she was taken from her baby boy, whom she never got to see grow up, and had every reason to fear she would never see again.
Second, there is the nightmare inflicted on the families. One day, their daughter, sister, and, in one case, mother, disappears — seemingly forever. Was she murdered? Had she suffered? Is she suffering now? Day after day, year after year, those questions haunted the families.
Third, now add the torture, beatings, grotesque humiliations, rapes, permanent state of terror, and confinement much of the time to a basement — for ten years.
Mercifully for us, we humans cannot completely assimilate the totality of the suffering of victims such as these three girls.
But we can at least intellectually perceive the monstrous behavior that went on in that Cleveland house.
Now, what about Castro?
What is he?
The answer is that he is a monster.
I use this word deliberately. Years ago, I interviewed a Holocaust survivor named Leon Radzik, whom I had known for decades. He told me, among many other such stories, of a young Jewish boy in the concentration camp who, because of the terrible hunger he was suffering, had licked a candy wrapper discarded by a Nazi guard. A guard noticed this and, taking offense at a Jew licking a candy wrapper that had been used by a German, took a shovel and slowly pushed the sharp edge into the boy’s neck until it severed his throat.
I asked my older friend how he explained such people. He had an immediate answer: “They were monsters that looked like humans.”
Ever since then, I have found that to be the most accurate way of describing the Nazi guards and the Ariel Castros of the world — monsters that look human.
Not everyone agrees.
Castro doesn’t agree. Nor do his lawyers.
In his long rambling statement after being found guilty, Castro denied a half-dozen times that he was a monster. He was “sick,” he said. He himself was a victim — of an addiction to sex and pornography.
Though loathsome, Castro’s statement is not only an indictment of himself but of the amoral vocabulary of our time.
The elites have taught for generations that most violent criminals are victims, and therefore not fully responsible for what they do.
Poor and non-white violent criminals, we have been assured, are victims of poverty or racism. Likewise, all alcoholics are victims. That’s why Castro repeatedly compared himself to alcoholics. In addition to its moral confusion, this violent-criminal-as-victim rhetoric has increased evil: Nothing produces evil — both on a national and individual level — as much as perceiving oneself or one’s group as a victim.
We have substituted therapeutic language for moral language. That’s why we have substituted “sick” for “evil.” And in that way, too, we have transformed monsters into victims.
Listen to Castro:
What I’m trying to get at is these people are trying to paint me as a monster, and I’m not a monster. I’m sick. . . .
I am not a violent predator that you are trying to make me look like a monster. I’m not a monster. I am a normal person. I am just sick. I have an addiction — just like an alcoholic has an addiction. Alcoholics cannot control their addiction. That’s why I can’t control my addiction, your honor.
Unfortunately, Ariel Castro is not the only moral fool here. So are his defense attorneys, one of whom, Craig Weintraub, told the press after a three-hour meeting with Castro, “The initial portrayal by the media has been one of a ‘monster,’ and that’s not the impression that I got when I talked to him for three hours.”
How can someone speak to Castro for three hours and announce that he didn’t “get the impression” that Castro was a monster?
The answer is that this, too, is a symptom of the moral confusion in our society. People increasingly assess individuals by the “impression they get” of the individual rather than by the individual’s actions.
So, let’s be clear about this. As a general principal of life, we are what we do. If we do overwhelmingly good things, we are good; and if we do monstrous things, we are monsters. Perhaps most people are in the middle and cannot — and should not — be easily judged. But if Ariel Castro isn’t a monster, then no one is a monster, and no one is good.
— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.