Is Torture Ever Acceptable?
Side Score: 56
Side Score: 53
On some occasions 'the end justifies the means'.
For instance, torture administered on a known terrorist to extract information about an imminent atrocity of which he/she has detailed knowledge would be totally justified.
In a dirty terrorist war the kid gloves must come off.
Absolutely, I would go as far to say it's a moral duty at times but yet again individuals who suffer from herd mentality are too afraid to admit that such a thing could be even considered.
Back in the 60's Ian Brady and Myra Hyndley ( the moors murderers ) raped , tortured , and killed several children they taped the screams and pleadings of these unfortunate innocents one poor girl is saying repeatedly " please don't hurt me " it would bring tears to a stone ; these filthy animals refused to tell where they buried their victims bodies the families went through hell on Earth and pleaded for years and Brady or Hyndley would not divulge where the bodies were buried .
I would have gladly tortured theses animals to reveal where the bodies were buried ; if they still didn't reveal and died under torture no loss
Recognizing the importance of context when applying moral principles is difficult for people to grasp and has lead to quite a bit of confusion in moral reasoning.
Some would gladly call you a hypocrite for your application of context and value hierarchy in this case.
Yes , I've been called everything from a monster , a Nazi , a butcher etc , etc , for my views on moral issues in the past and it actually gives me a " buzz " as I detest the one answer fits all mentality and the easy populist view .
Yes , that's it as in context as it's all important
We are after all human and our approaches vary according to the problems we face and in the circumstances I would not feel any remorse for such a decision.
At school we had Philosophy classes twice weekly given by a very engaging tutor who asked the most interesting questions and always challenged the easy conventional views he was very controversial for his time but taught us all to constantly challenge widely held beliefs if we believed they were in error and could be challenged
Ineffective and out dated torture methods would be off limits for failure to achieve desired results in test cases ; any means necessary would be my guiding principle.
It's rather strange to think that torture was deemed a moral good by religions in the past the Catholic Church being probably the greatest exponents of such methods ; nowadays one is called immoral and a devil for suggesting such means which again demonstrates the ever shifting and evolving nature of morality .
Who's to say in a hundred years time it may change yet again ?
Don't you just love the total hypocrisy from the Left?
They turn an eye when late term viable special need's babies are tortured and killed for merely being diverse and different from what they call "normal", yet they scream at the notion of waterboarding mass murderers in an attempt at saving future innocent lives.
Liberals must be truly evil people, because they can not possibly be that stupid.
It isn't acceptable because it is an extremely poor method of extracting reliable information from someone. A person being tortured will tell you anything that you want to hear in order to make the pain stop. Some good examples are:-
These men were all convicted in the UK of terrorism and murder charges on the basis of confessions made to police. But these confessions were tortured and beaten out of them. Every man on that list is innocent and eventually had their convictions overturned.
Another good example is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He is the man held in Guantanamo Bay whom the Americans have been ostensibly claiming for the better part of a decade is to be charged with "masterminding" the 9/11 attacks. The solitary piece of evidence against him is a "confession" obtained after he was waterboarded 183 times:-
On February 5, 2008, the CIA Director Michael Hayden told a Senate committee that his agents had used waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. A 2005 U.S. Justice Department memo released in April 2009 stated that Mohammed had undergone waterboarding 183 times in March 2003
In fact, this is not even the worst of it. The worst of it is the Asia Times reported that the real Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been shot dead during an ISI raid in Karachi in September 2002:-
Initially, the joint ISI-FBI plan was to take Shaikh Mohammed alive so that he could be grilled, especially as he was believed to have knowledge of other al-Qaeda cells in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere. However, as a plainclothed officer climbed the stairs toward the third-floor apartment, a hand grenade was thrown, and he retreated. Reinforcements then arrived, and for the next few hours a fierce gun battle blazed.
The FBI, still keen to take Shaikh Mohammed alive, teargassed the area, and a number of people were captured. However, despite instructions to the contrary, a few Pakistan Rangers entered the flat, where they found Shaikh Mohammed and another man, allegedly with their hands up. The Rangers nevertheless opened fire on the pair.
Later, the Pakistani press carried pictures of a message scrawled in blood on the wall of the flat, proclaiming the Muslim refrain of Kalma, in Arabic: "There is no God except Allah, Mohammed is his messenger"). An official who was present in the flat at the time of the shooting has told Asia Times Online that the message was written by Shaikh Mohammed with his own blood as his life drained from him.
Subsequently, to their surprise, the raiders learned that Ramzi Binalshibh had been netted in the swoop. And nothing further was said of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
But now it emerges that an Arab woman and a child were taken to an ISI safe house, where they identified the Shaikh Mohammed's body as their husband and father. The body was kept in a private NGO mortuary for 20 days before being buried, under the surveillance of the FBI, in a graveyard in the central district of Karachi.
So it does not even look as if the man in US custody is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the first place!! Presumably, this must be known to US authorities, because whoever the man is, he has been incarcerated since 2002 without ever receiving a proper trial. For those who struggle with maths, that's fifteen years.
So no, torture is not acceptable. Its solitary ostensible purpose is as a method of extracting important information and the facts show that it is not effective for that purpose.
Any information gathered under torture would be useless in ascertaining the truth. But, invaluable in corroborating a pre-determined narrative. A good example would be when my younger brother declared me the king of the universe while admitting that he was actually a girl, while simply being tortured with a dangling loogie to the face..
Except when they're pro abortion right? You're a fucking Hitlarian eugenics mother fucker that literally wants to sterilize everyone who doesn't agree with you about abortion so STFU because just reading your posts when you're trying to sound compassionate is torture to me. You're a fucking fat hag that looks like a confused sperm whale and you literally make me want to become an abortionist.
In my experience (and trust me I've known real gangs) you are much better off turning the hostile into your guy and offering them a 'we don't tell the others in our gang what you are if you help us' way out rather than raw torture.
There, of course, are truly dedicated terrorists and/or enemy combatants who will simply never turn and with these you're better off killing them plain and simple because I guarantee you the only thing torture will do is drive them to give you fake information and opens you up to a planned lie misleading you.
In summary, those that would break under torture would break if you showed them a kind way to join your forces.
The following is a former term-paper I wrote for an English Literature course at University a few years ago concerning the topic of torture.
In Literature and the World
The Committee makes the following findings and conclusions:
#1: The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.
-CIA Torture Report
On April 3, 2014 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to send the Findings and Conclusion as well as the Executive Summary of its final study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to the President of the United States for declassification and subsequent release which occurred on December 3, 2014. While the full six thousand page report remains classified, the Executive Summary released to the public details the Interrogation Program’s use of torture, euphemistically referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, on detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba during the “War on Terror”. Moreover, the report describes other actions by CIA officials such as providing misleading or false information in regards to classified CIA programs to the media, impeding government oversight as well as internal criticism, “mismanagement” of the Interrogation Program and violations of International Law. The first claim the report makes is that the use of torture was an ineffective method of extracting useful intelligence. The United Nations banned the use of torture in the 1980’s with the United States amongst the multitude of countries who signed the agreement binding the country to this international law. Part 1, Article 2 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states:
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial, or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture (Convention Against Torture, 1).
Furthermore, the CIA Torture Report revealed breaches in several of the United States own Constitutional Amendments including the sixth and eighth amendments. Respectively, these amendments state, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial…to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation” and “Excessive…nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” (The Amendments of the Constitution).
Various callous acts of torture were exposed due to the declassification of the Torture Report. Included amongst the list are reports of forcing detainees to stand on broken legs, confinement in total darkness, sleep deprivation for periods of up to one-hundred and eighty hours at a time while required to stand or with their arms shackled above their heads. Furthermore, prisoners were subjected to “rectal feeding”, mock executions, threats of murdering or sexually abusing family members, and waterboarding. It was also found that at least twenty-six out of one-hundred and nineteen detainees, or nearly twenty-five percent, were held despite not meeting standards for detention (Rushe, MacAskill, Cobain, Yuhas, Laughland, 1).
Pew Research Center conducted a poll to United States citizens shortly after the release of the torture report in order to ascertain the public’s reaction to the matter. Pew found that 51% say that the CIA’s interrogation methods were justified to 29% that say that it is unjustified with 20% who say they do not know. Also, that same poll revealed that 56% of US citizens believe that the interrogation techniques provided intelligence that prevented terror attacks to 28% that said they did not and 16% who said they do not know (Pew Research Center, 1). In response to the release of the report, Dick Cheney, former Vice President, amongst others defended the program, Cheney made the following statements; “It worked, it absolutely worked.” “I’m more concerned with the bad guys that were released than the few that were, in fact, innocent.” “Waterboarding, the way we did it, was in fact not torture.” “I’d do it again in a minute.” The Interrogation Program was ostensibly established shortly after 9/11 in order to defend innocents against acts of barbarism from morally depraved individuals. However, in light of the aforementioned account, it seems reasonable to pose the question that in this instance, who are the barbarians?
J.M. Coetzee’s novel Waiting for the Barbarians presents a story with an allegorical message in regards to the human condition. The book works to challenge humanity, and imperialism by investigating the limits of human cruelty and compassion. Coetzee undertakes this from a unique perspective; the novel itself transcends any one historical framework and allows the author to deal with history on his own terms. This structure provides a platform to deliver a deeper, more general message to the reader that in principle applies to myriad societies throughout history, present day, and possible future civilizations as well as to the individuals within these societies. Amongst the most salient concepts Coetzee explores in his work deals with pain, oppression, and empathy. Coetzee tacitly urges the reader to question and challenge dogmatic systems, societal structures, tribalism, and pervasive ideologies of devaluing the lives of other sentient beings. Furthermore, Coetzee makes a statement about one’s own role within frameworks of systematic injustice and implicitly argues for embracing truth and extending one’s circle of compassion. Thus, the intent of this paper is to analyze these messages Coetzee accentuates in Waiting for the Barbarians within the context of the novel.
Waiting for the Barbarians is written from a first-person viewpoint of a character who becomes known to the reader as the Magistrate, an officer of the state referred to as “The Empire”. The Magistrate proves to be a highly dynamic character that evolves throughout the course of the novel. This perspective provides the reader with direct access to the voice of the colonizer as he undergoes a process of self-reflection, requiring him to question the ethical tenability of his actions as well as the Empire’s (Spencer, 1). At the start of the novel, the Magistrate, who is in charge of a once sequestered outpost of the Empire, is living in relative comfort and feels content to continue his work under the Empire until the age of retirement. Colonel Joll,, the antagonist and higher ranking official, visits the Magistrate’s location toward the beginning of the novel which proves to be the first destabilizing factor for the protagonist.
Upon Joll’s arrival, the Magistrate is first confronted with the questionable activities of the Empire when he is subjected to hear the cries of tortured prisoners being “interrogated” by Colonel Joll. This event makes the Magistrate slightly uneasy about the practices and causes him to start a conversation with Joll about the subject of torture, which manifests as an important interaction. The Magistrate asks, “What if your prisoner is telling the truth…yet he finds he is not believed? Is that not a terrible position…How do you ever know when a man has told you the truth?” (Coetzee, 5). In response, Colonel Joll goes on to state, “There is a certain tone…First I get lies, you see-this is what happens-first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truth. That is how you get the truth.” (Coetzee, 6). The Magistrate then thinks to himself, “Pain is truth; all else is subject to doubt. That is what I bear away from my conversation with Colonel Joll.” This dialogue reveals the divergence in thought between the Magistrate and Colonel Joll, which grows to be amongst the central focuses of the story. The Magistrate is beginning to question the practice of torture, both by its effectiveness and the ethical implications. His line of questioning indicates that he views the prisoners’ lives as holding value, however remote, and thus worth averting unnecessary harm. Colonel Joll however, sees no such potential moral conflicts and believes he is entirely justified in his implementation of torture to prisoners that he holds with no regard aside from their official status as enemies of the Empire. It is clear that torture is made possible by an ideology of dehumanization and the split between the torturer and the pain of the victim (Spencer, 1).
For the individual experiencing pain the sensation is effortlessly understood however, for a person outside of the sufferer’s body pain is effortlessly not understood and therefore can easily remain unacknowledged (Scarry, 4). Physical pain deconstructs the individual experiencing the phenomena in proportion to the level received in relation to one’s tolerance level. Deconstruction commences with the initial physical act of inflicting pain and the verbal act of the interrogation. The use of physical force is rarely used without the pretense of the interrogation (Scarry, 28). This correlation is no coincidence for “the Question” (supposed information sought after) is professed to be the motive for the use of torture in interrogation settings is in fact the veneer raised to obscure the more sinister truth of their real agenda. Moreover, pain and the interrogation ineluctably occur together in part because the prisoner and torturer experience them as opposites (Scarry, 29).
It is often purported that torture is an efficient mechanism of information-gathering and is thus motivated on this behalf. However, intense pain is world-destroying. It removes language and entails an immediate reversion to a state prior to sophisticated expressions, with primitive bellows and cries in response to the overwhelming state of the suffering body (Scarry, 4). Mathematically, it can be represented that the amount of pain the sufferer withstands is proportional to the diminution of their world. Moreover, the world of the tortured is felt inversely proportional to the world of the torturer. Given this context, it is quite unlikely that the victim is in a proper position to divulge valuable intelligence that they may or may not be withholding. Therefore, it is to be recognized that the disintegration of the victim is the principal goal of the torturer, not the potential of extracting information. Opposingly, the incompatible goal of the victim is to endure the treatment, holding on to their world, until the abuse is over. It is for this reason that the perpetrators of torture are not necessarily concerned with the content of the prisoner’s answers but instead the form of the answer is of singular importance (Scarry, 29). The torturers intend to ensure that all connection to the victim’s world has been expiated and power conceded to them. Author Elaine Scarry explains in her seminal book The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, “…the most crucial fact about pain is its presentness and the most crucial fact about torture is that it is happening (Scarry, 9).
As previously stated, throughout the course of the novel, the Magistrate undergoes a process of confusion, self-reflection, and progressive moral (as well as intellectual) evolution, although he never arrives at a fully clear nor comprehensive position. In the first half of the novel, the Magistrate encounters a barbarian girl that was captured and subsequently brought in by Colonel Joll and left behind. During his relationship with the barbarian girl the Magistrate undergoes a deep process of self-reflection. He spends a considerable amount of time with the girl and learns that she was made partially blind while subjected to interrogation with officers of the Empire. The Magistrate’s connection to the barbarian girl has again confronted him with activities of the Empire but now from the other side by assigning a face to the people that are left damaged in the Empire’s wake. This greatly furthers the Magistrate’s process of humanizing the barbarian girl, and thus taken from microcosm and expanded to the barbarian people generally. More dissenting thoughts to the Empire then begin to surface in the Magistrate’s consciousness which becomes clear when in dialogue with another man in service under the Empire who leads, “what are these barbarians dissatisfied about? What do they want from us?” The Magistrate replies, “They want an end to the spread of settlements across their land. They want their land back, finally. They want to be free to move about…I will say nothing of the recent raids carried out on them, quite without justification, and followed by acts of wanton cruelty, since the security of the Empire was at stake, or so I am told” (Coetzee, 57).
Subsequently, the Magistrate ventures a considerable distance in harsh weather conditions along with several service men to the Empire under his command to return the barbarian girl to her people. Upon his return, he is imprisoned on charges of treason in which he was held in a cell for considerable time until ultimately being subjected to an episode of torture himself. Prior to his torture, and very likely the cause, during an “escape” attempt, the Magistrate intervenes on the barbarians’ behalf during a public display of torment. Colonel Joll holds up a hammer with the intent of striking the barbarian prisoners with the weapon when the Magistrate declares, “No…You are depraving these people…Look…Look at these men…Men!” (Coetzee, 123). In this passage, the Magistrate has now taken a more radical stance against the Empire’s ideological stance by revealing powerful sympathies with the “enemy”. This event demonstrates his progression in thought that has expanded his circle of compassion to include members of the barbarian tribe, at least under extreme circumstances. It is noteworthy that the Magistrate emphasized in his pronouncement for everyone (most specifically Colonel Joll) to look at the barbarians and recognize that they are people, just like themselves. This philosophy is considered as a high offense against the Empire which proceeds to have the Magistrate tortured into silence, thwarting the spread of his message by deconstructing him and tarnishing his reputation (Wenzel, 1). The reader is witnessing a sort of reverse-engineering of the Empire’s tribalistic dehumanizing ideology through the perspective of the Magistrate. That is to say, the Magistrate began the novel still heavily indoctrinated by the Empire’s biased view of who the barbarians are and the justness of the Empire’s cause. Now, after going through a series of events, the Magistrate is slowly unravelling the lies (or half-truths) he has been expected to accept, thinking independently and recognizing the injustice of the Empire’s actions as the aggressors and tyrannical imperialistic power against the barbarian people. When the Magistrate now contemplates the acts of barbarism that the Empire wages against the much weaker group of people labeled “the barbarians” by the state, he wonders if the Empire is the true barbarians.
Towards the end of the novel, the Magistrate begins to have thoughts that go beyond mere repudiation of the Empire’s ideological position and begins to acknowledge partial guilt in the Empire’s crimes against humanity by affiliation to the perpetrators. The Magistrate states, “When some men suffer unjustly…it is the fate of those who witness their suffering to suffer the shame of it.” (Coetzee, 160). In this quote, the Magistrate is essentially charging that individuals who are complacent during overtly gratuitous actions toward another individual or group of people are partially culpable for the crimes committed against the victim. This is a powerful concept because this philosophy rejects neutrality as a morally sound position to take, and instead exposing neutrality as apathy that ultimately helps empower the victimizer and is detrimental to the victim. Furthermore, the Magistrates newfound sense of accountability is further illustrated in the final chapter of the novel when he crosses path with Colonel Joll one final time through the other side of glass structure lying between them. The Magistrate says, “I have a lesson for him that I have long meditated. I mouth the words and watch him read my lips: “’The crime that is latent in us we must inflict on ourselves,’ I say. I nod and nod, driving the message home. ‘Not on others,’ I say: I repeat the words, pointing at my chest, pointing at his.” (Coetzee, 170). Colonel Joll however, does not understand that he may be writing, and not reading the threat of the barbarians (Wenzel, 66). Finally, in the closing few pages of the story the Magistrate thinks to himself, “I wanted to live outside of history. I wanted to live outside the history that the Empire imposes on its subjects, even its lost subjects. I never wished it for the barbarians that they should have a history of the Empire laid upon them…There has been something staring me in the face, and still I do not see it.” (Coetzee, 178-179). The last few lines read, “This is not the scene I dreamed of. Like much else nowadays I leave it feeling stupid, like a man who has lost his way long ago but presses on along a road that may lead nowhere.” (Coetzee, 180).
In Waiting for the Barbarians J.M. Coetzee presents an allegorical story that maintains independence from any one set of historical or contemporary framework. However, the novel contains powerful philosophical messages with clear socio-political implications. These implicit philosophical arguments about pain, oppression and empathy are the common thread that weave this work of fiction into real world statements that transcend time and location, expanding the novel into an examination of an arbitrary number of societies. The CIA Torture Report, discussed at the start of this paper, serves as one point of contact amongst a sea of potential real world events that demonstrates the pertinence of Coetzee novel. Coetzee urges the reader, through the perspective of the Magistrate, to challenge conventional wisdom by blurring the lines between oppressed and oppressor, forcing one to consider the ideologies at work in the mind of both parties.
1. "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." Convention Against Torture. United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commisioner for Human Rights, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
2. "The Amendments to the Constitution." The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, and The Articles of Confederation. 1st ed. Radford: Wilder Publications, VA. N. pag. Print.
3. "About Half See CIA Interrogation Methods as Justified." Pew Research Center, 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
4. Wenzel, Jennifer. "Keys to the Labyrinth: Writing, Torture, and Coetzee's Barbarian Girl." University of Tulsa, 1996. Web.
5. Robert Spencer (2008) J.M. COETZEE AND COLONIAL VIOLENCE, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 10:2, 173-187, DOI: 10.1080/13698010802145085
6. Scarry, Elaine. "Introduction, The Structure of Torture: The Conversion of Real Pain into the Fiction of Power." The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: U of Oxford, n.d. 3-51. Print.
7. Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Usnews. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 9 Dec. 2014. Web.
8. Rushe, Dominic, Ewen MacAskill, Ian Cobain, Alan Yuhas, and Oliver Laughland. "Rectal Rehydration and Waterboarding: The CIA Torture Report's Grisliest Findings." The Guardian, 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Spartacus Disputed Banned
The following is a dissertation I completed several years ago about the agricultural origins and physical characteristics of the onion. PM me for the bibliography.
The onion (Allium cepa L., from Latin cepa "onion"), also known as the bulb onion or common onion, is a vegetable and is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Allium. Its close relatives include the garlic, shallot, leek, chive, and Chinese onion.
This genus also contains several other species variously referred to as onions and cultivated for food, such as the Japanese bunching onion (Allium fistulosum), the tree onion (A. ×proliferum), and the Canada onion (Allium canadense). The name "wild onion" is applied to a number of Allium species, but A. cepa is exclusively known from cultivation. Its ancestral wild original form is not known, although escapes from cultivation have become established in some regions. The onion is most frequently a biennial or a perennial plant, but is usually treated as an annual and harvested in its first growing season.
The onion plant has a fan of hollow, bluish-green leaves and its bulb at the base of the plant begins to swell when a certain day-length is reached. The bulbs are composed of shortened, compressed, underground stems surrounded by fleshy modified scale (leaves) that envelop a central bud at the tip of the stem. In the autumn (or in spring, in the case of overwintering onions), the foliage dies down and the outer layers of the bulb become dry and brittle. The crop is harvested and dried and the onions are ready for use or storage. The crop is prone to attack by a number of pests and diseases, particularly the onion fly, the onion eelworm, and various fungi cause rotting. Some varieties of A. cepa, such as shallots and potato onions, produce multiple bulbs.
Onions are cultivated and used around the world. As a food item, they are usually served cooked, as a vegetable or part of a prepared savoury dish, but can also be eaten raw or used to make pickles or chutneys. They are pungent when chopped and contain certain chemical substances which irritate the eyes.
The onion plant has been grown and selectively bred in cultivation for at least 7,000 years. It is a biennial plant, but is usually grown as an annual. Modern varieties typically grow to a height of 15 to 45 cm (6 to 18 in). The leaves are yellowish- to bluish green and grow alternately in a flattened, fan-shaped swathe. They are fleshy, hollow, and cylindrical, with one flattened side. They are at their broadest about a quarter of the way up, beyond which they taper towards a blunt tip. The base of each leaf is a flattened, usually white sheath that grows out of a basal disc. From the underside of the disc, a bundle of fibrous roots extends for a short way into the soil. As the onion matures, food reserves begin to accumulate in the leaf bases and the bulb of the onion swells.
In the autumn, the leaves die back and the outer scales of the bulb become dry and brittle, so the crop is then normally harvested. If left in the soil over winter, the growing point in the middle of the bulb begins to develop in the spring. New leaves appear and a long, stout, hollow stem expands, topped by a bract protecting a developing inflorescence. The inflorescence takes the form of a globular umbel of white flowers with parts in sixes. The seeds are glossy black and triangular in cross section.
The geographic origin of the onion is uncertain because the wild onion is extinct and ancient records of using onions span western and eastern Asia. The first cultivated, farmed onions are the subject of much debate, but the two regions that many archaeologists, botanists, and food historians point to are central Asia or Persia. They were probably & almost simultaneously domesticated by peoples all over the globe, as there are species of the onion found the world over. Food uses of onions date back thousands of years in China, Egypt and Persia.
Traces of onions recovered from Bronze Age settlements in China suggest that onions were used as far back as 5000 BCE, not only for their flavour, but the bulb's durability in storage and transport. Ancient Egyptians revered the onion bulb, viewing its spherical shape and concentric rings as symbols of eternal life. Onions were used in Egyptian burials, as evidenced by onion traces found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV.
Numbers, the fourth book of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, and also believed by scholarship to have been initially composed around the 50th century BCE, mentions onions when recounting scarce foodstuffs available before the Jewish exodus but unavailable at the time of its composition: 11:5 — "We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic."
In the 6th century BCE, the Charaka Samhita, one of the primary works in the Ayurvedic tradition, documents the onion's use on the Asian subcontinent as a medicinal plant: "[A] diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes, and the joints."
A Greek physician of the first century, Dioscorides, also documents the medicinal use of the onion, pointing out its traditional use by athletes for "fortification" before the Olympic Games, when they are said to have been eaten in huge quantities, drank as juice, and rubbed upon their bodies.
Pliny the Elder, also in the first century CE, wrote about the use of onions and cabbage in Pompeii. He documented Roman beliefs about the onion's ability to improve ocular ailments, aid in sleep, and heal everything from oral sores and toothaches to dog bites, lumbago, and even dysentery. Archaeologists unearthing Pompeii long after its 79 CE volcanic burial have found gardens resembling those in Pliny's detailed narratives.
According to texts collected in the fifth/sixth century CE under the authorial aegis of "Apicius" (said to have been a gourmet), onions were used in many Roman recipes.
In the Age of Discovery, onions were taken to North America by the first European settlers, only to discover the plant readily available, and in wide use in Native American gastronomy. According to diaries kept by certain of the first English colonists, the bulb onion was one of the first crops planted by the Pilgrim fathers.
Common onions are normally available in three colour varieties. Yellow or brown onions (called red in some European countries), are full-flavoured and are the onions of choice for everyday use, with many cultivars bred specifically to demonstrate this sweetness (Vidalia, Walla Walla, Cévennes, "Bermuda," &c;.). Yellow onions turn a rich, dark brown when caramelised and give French onion soup its sweet flavour. The red onion (called purple in some European countries) is a good choice for fresh use when its colour livens up the dish; it is also used in grilling. White onions are the traditional onions used in classic Mexican cuisine; they have a golden colour when cooked and a particularly sweet flavour when sautéed.
While the large, mature onion bulb is most often eaten, onions can be eaten at immature stages. Young plants may be harvested before bulbing occurs and used whole as spring onions or scallions. When an onion is harvested after bulbing has begun, but the onion is not yet mature, the plants are sometimes referred to as "summer" onions.
Additionally, onions may be bred and grown to mature at smaller sizes. Depending on the mature size and the purpose for which the onion is used, these may be referred to as pearl, boiler, or pickler onions, but differ from true pearl onions which are a different species. Pearl and boiler onions may be cooked as a vegetable rather than as an ingredient and pickler onions are often preserved in vinegar as a long-lasting relish.
Onions are available in fresh, frozen, canned, caramelised, pickled, and chopped forms. The dehydrated product is available as kibbled, sliced, ring, minced, chopped, granulated, and powder forms.
Onion powder is a seasoning widely used when the fresh ingredient is not available. It is made from finely ground, dehydrated onions, mainly the pungent varieties of bulb onions, and has a strong odour. Being dehydrated, it has a long shelf life and is available in several varieties: yellow, red, and white.
Onions are commonly chopped and used as an ingredient in various hearty warm dishes, and may also be used as a main ingredient in their own right, for example in French onion soup, creamed onions, and onion chutney. They are versatile and can be baked, boiled, braised, grilled, fried, roasted, sautéed, or eaten raw in salads. Their layered nature makes them easy to hollow out once cooked, facilitating stuffing them, as in Turkish sogan-dolma. Onions are a staple in Indian cuisine, used as a thickening agent for curries and gravies.
Onions pickled in vinegar are eaten as a snack around the world, and as a side serving in pubs and fish and chip shops throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. They are part of a traditional British pub's ploughman's lunch, usually served with crusty bread, English cheese, and ale.
In North America, onions are a part of most cuisines, but are most famously sliced, battered, deep-fried, and served as onion rings.
Similar to garlic, onions can show an additional colour – pink-red – after cutting, an effect caused by reactions of amino acids with sulfur compounds.
Onions have particularly large cells that are readily observed under low magnification. Forming a single layer of cells, the bulb epidermis is easy to separate for educational, experimental, and breeding purposes.
Onions are, therefore, commonly employed in science education to teach the use of a microscope for observing cell structure.
Onions are toxic to dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and many other animals.
Considerable differences exist between onion varieties in phytochemical content, particularly for polyphenols, with shallots having the highest level, six times the amount found in Vidalia onions. Yellow onions have the highest total flavonoid content, an amount 11 times higher than in white onions. Red onions have considerable content of anthocyanin pigments, with at least 25 different compounds identified representing 10% of total flavonoid content.
Onion polyphenols are under basic research to determine their possible biological properties in humans.
Some people suffer from allergic reactions after handling onions. Symptoms can include contact dermatitis, intense itching, rhinoconjunctivitis, blurred vision, bronchial asthma, sweating, and anaphylaxis. Allergic reactions may not occur when eating cooked onions, possibly due to the denaturing of the proteins from cooking.
Freshly cut onions often cause a stinging sensation in the eyes of people nearby, and often uncontrollable tears. This is caused by the release of a volatile gas, syn-propanethial-S-oxide, which stimulates nerves in the eye creating a stinging sensation. This gas is produced by a chain of reactions which serve as a defence mechanism: chopping an onion causes damage to cells which releases enzymes called alliinases. These break down amino acid sulfoxides and generate sulfenic acids. A specific sulfenic acid, 1-propenesulfenic acid, is rapidly acted on by a second enzyme, the lacrimatory factor synthase, producing the syn-propanethial-S-oxide. This gas diffuses through the air and soon reaches the eyes, where it activates sensory neurons. Lacrimal glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant.
Eye irritation can be avoided by cutting onions under running water or submerged in a basin of water. Leaving the root end intact also reduces irritation as the onion base has a higher concentration of sulphur compounds than the rest of the bulb. Refrigerating the onions before use reduces the enzyme reaction rate and using a fan can blow the gas away from the eyes. The more often one chops onions, the less one experiences eye irritation.
The amount of sulfenic acids and lacrimal factor released and the irritation effect differs among Allium species. In 2008, the New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research created "no tears" onions by using gene-silencing biotechnology to prevent the synthesis of lachrymatory factor synthase in onions.
Onions are best cultivated in fertile soils that are well-drained. Sandy loams are good as they are low in sulphur, while clayey soils usually have a high sulphur content and produce pungent bulbs. Onions require a high level of nutrients in the soil. Phosphorus is often present in sufficient quantities, but may be applied before planting because of its low level of availability in cold soils. Nitrogen and potash can be applied at regular intervals during the growing season, the last application of nitrogen being at least four weeks before harvesting. Bulbing onions are day-length sensitive; their bulbs begin growing only after the number of daylight hours has surpassed some minimal quantity. Most traditional European onions are referred to as "long-day" onions, producing bulbs only after 14 hours or more of daylight occurs. Southern European and North African varieties are often known as "intermediate-day" types, requiring only 12–13 hours of daylight to stimulate bulb formation. Finally, "short-day" onions, which have been developed in more recent times, are planted in mild-winter areas in the autumn and form bulbs in the early spring, and require only 11–12 hours of daylight to stimulate bulb formation. Onions are a cool-weather crop and can be grown in USDA zones 3 to 9. Hot temperatures or other stressful conditions cause them to "bolt", meaning that a flower stem begins to grow.
Onions may be grown from seed or from sets. Onion seeds are short-lived and fresh seeds germinate better. The seeds are sown thinly in shallow drills, thinning the plants in stages. In suitable climates, certain cultivars can be sown in late summer and autumn to overwinter in the ground and produce early crops the following year. Onion sets are produced by sowing seed thickly in early summer in poor soil and the small bulbs produced are harvested in the autumn. These bulbs are planted the following spring and grow into mature bulbs later in the year. Certain cultivars are used for this purpose and these may not have such good storage characteristics as those grown directly from seed.
Routine care during the growing season involves keeping the rows free of competing weeds, especially when the plants are young. The plants are shallow-rooted and do not need a great deal of water when established. Bulbing usually takes place after 12 to 18 weeks. The bulbs can be gathered when needed to eat fresh, but if they will be kept in storage, they should be harvested after the leaves have died back naturally. In dry weather, they can be left on the surface of the soil for a few days to dry out properly, then they can be placed in nets, roped into strings, or laid in layers in shallow boxes. They should be stored in a well-ventilated, cool place such as a shed.
Onions suffer from a number of plant disorders. The most serious for the home gardener are likely to be the onion fly, stem and bulb eelworm, white rot, and neck rot. Diseases affecting the foliage include rust and smut, downy mildew, and white tip disease. The bulbs may be affected by splitting, white rot, and neck rot. Shanking is a condition in which the central leaves turn yellow and the inner part of the bulb collapses into an unpleasant-smelling slime. Most of these disorders are best treated by removing and burning affected plants. The larvae of the onion leaf miner or leek moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella) sometimes attack the foliage and may burrow down into the bulb. 
The onion fly (Delia antiqua) lays eggs on the leaves and stems and on the ground close to onion, shallot, leek, and garlic plants. The fly is attracted to the crop by the smell of damaged tissue and is liable to occur after thinning. Plants grown from sets are less prone to attack. The larvae tunnel into the bulbs and the foliage wilts and turns yellow. The bulbs are disfigured and rot, especially in wet weather. Control measures may include crop rotation, the use of seed dressings, early sowing or planting, and the removal of infested plants.
The onion eelworm (Ditylenchus dipsaci), a tiny parasitic soil-living nematode, causes swollen, distorted foliage. Young plants are killed and older ones produce soft bulbs. No cure is known and affected plants should be uprooted and burned. The site should not be used for growing onions again for several years and should also be avoided for growing carrots, parsnips, and beans, which are also susceptible to the eelworm.
White rot of onions, leeks, and garlic is caused by the soil-borne fungus Sclerotium cepivorum. As the roots rot, the foliage turns yellow and wilts. The bases of the bulbs are attacked and become covered by a fluffy white mass of mycelia, which later produces small, globular black structures called sclerotia. These resting structures remain in the soil to reinfect a future crop. No cure for this fungal disease exists, so affected plants should be removed and destroyed and the ground used for unrelated crops in subsequent years.
Neck rot is a fungal disease affecting onions in storage. It is caused by Botrytis allii, which attacks the neck and upper parts of the bulb, causing a grey mould to develop. The symptoms often first occur where the bulb has been damaged and spread downwards in the affected scales. Large quantities of spores are produced and crust-like sclerotia may also develop. In time, a dry rot sets in and the bulb becomes a dry, mummified structure. This disease may be present throughout the growing period, but only manifests itself when the bulb is in storage. Antifungal seed dressings are available and the disease can be minimised by preventing physical damage to the bulbs at harvesting, careful drying and curing of the mature onions, and correct storage in a cool, dry place with plenty of circulating air.
Cooking onions and sweet onions are better stored at room temperature, optimally in a single layer, in mesh bags in a dry, cool, dark, well-ventilated location. In this environment, cooking onions have a shelf life of three to four weeks and sweet onions one to two weeks. Cooking onions will absorb odours from apples and pears. Also, they draw moisture from vegetables with which they are stored which may cause them to decay.
Sweet onions have a greater water and sugar content than cooking onions. This makes them sweeter and milder tasting, but reduces their shelf life. Sweet onions can be stored refrigerated; they have a shelf life of around 1 month. Irrespective of type, any cut pieces of onion are best tightly wrapped, stored away from other produce, and used within two to three days.
Most of the diversity within A. cepa occurs within this group, the most economically important Allium crop. Plants within this group form large single bulbs, and are grown from seed or seed-grown sets. The majority of cultivars grown for dry bulbs, salad onions, and pickling onions belong to this group. The range of diversity found among these cultivars includes variation in photoperiod (length of day that triggers bulbing), storage life, flavour, and skin colour. Common onions range from the pungent varieties used for dried soups and onion powder to the mild and hearty sweet onions, such as the Vidalia from Georgia, USA, or Walla Walla from Washington that can be sliced and eaten raw on a sandwich.
This group contains shallots and potato onions, also referred to as multiplier onions. The bulbs are smaller than those of common onions, and a single plant forms an aggregate cluster of several bulbs from a master. They are propagated almost exclusively from daughter bulbs, although reproduction from seed is possible. Shallots are the most important subgroup within this group and comprise the only cultivars cultivated commercially. They form aggregate clusters of small, narrowly ovoid to pear-shaped bulbs. Potato onions differ from shallots in forming larger bulbs with fewer bulbs per cluster, and having a flattened (onion-like) shape. However, intermediate forms exist.
I'itoi onion is a prolific multiplier onion cultivated in the Baboquivari Peak Wilderness, Arizona area. This small-bulb type has a shallot-like flavour and is easy to grow and ideal for hot, dry climates. Bulbs are separated, and planted in the fall 1 in below the surface and 12 in apart. Bulbs will multiply into clumps and can be harvested throughout the cooler months. Tops die back in the heat of summer and may return with heavy rains; bulbs can remain in the ground or be harvested and stored in a cool dry place for planting in the fall. The plants rarely flower; propagation is by division.
A number of hybrids are cultivated that have A. cepa parentage, such as the diploid tree onion or Egyptian onion (A. ×proliferum), and the triploid onion (A. ×cornutum).
The tree onion or Egyptian onion produces bulblets in the umbel instead of flowers, and is now known to be a hybrid of A. cepa × A. fistulosum. It has previously been treated as a variety of A. cepa, for example A. cepa var. proliferum, A. cepa var. bulbiferum, and A. cepa var. viviparum. It has been grown for centuries in Japan and China for use as a salad onion.
The triploid onion is a hybrid species with three sets of chromosomes, two sets from A. cepa and the third set from an unknown parent. Various clones of the triploid onion are grown locally in different regions, such as 'Ljutika' in Croatia, and 'Pran', 'Poonch', and 'Srinagar' in the India-Kashmir region. 'Pran' is grown extensively in the northern Indian provinces of Jammu and Kashmir. There are very small genetic differences between 'Pran' and the Croatian clone 'Ljutika', implying a monophyletic origin for this species.
Some authors have used the name A. cepa var. viviparum (Metzg.) Alef. for the triploid onion, but this name has also been applied to the Egyptian onion. The only name unambiguously connected with the triploid onion is A. ×cornutum.
Spring onions or salad onions may be grown from the Welsh onion (A. fistulosum), as well as from A. cepa. Young plants of A. fistulosum and A. cepa look very similar, but may be distinguished by their leaves, which are circular in cross-section in A. fistulosum rather than flattened on one side.