Monday, August 30, 2004


Moral Steyn

Mark Steyn's Irish Times column today was so grotesque that I felt physically nauseous as I re-read it. Maybe I'll go at it sometime, but really, anger and nausea would probably make for an overly long, excessively abusive and insufficiently coherent post. (If I were in the mood for witticisms I'd say something like "but such problems have never held Steyn back, so...").

I happen to think that historical memory is both important and significant. Basically, it can say a lot about present day society, culture, politics etc. It is bad enough that "Vietnam" (by which is of course meant the war in Vietnam) appears to be rembered in America as a tragedy because of the tens of thousands of futile American deaths rather than for the millions - millions - of lost Vietnamese lives. Steyn apparently believes the real tragedy was neither, but rather the besmirching of the good name of the US Army by the likes of John Kerry, who denounced atrocities by US troops when he came home. (Perhaps Steyn would prefer "atrocities"?)

Anyway, I've been meaning for the past few days to write some words of praise for this post from the great Chris Young, relating to more Kissinger revelations (same old semi-hidden collaboration with Latin American dictatorship's terror campaign). Instead I'll just reprint its main three paragraphs, which say pretty much everything that needs saying, and in just the right proportions:

"Why do I highlight these things? I want to make clear that the point is not to vilify the U.S. or to imply that the U.S. is somehow uniquely awful in the world. Evil, I hear, came into the world even before the founding of America, and if the world ever limps along after the U.S.'s passing in some distant future, evil will no doubt limp along with it.

The point is that the U.S. has never really come to terms with its past, and that so long as that remains the case, its ability to understand how others see it will be limited, as will its own capacity to do good. Kissinger is a controversial figure in American politics. But a healthy political culture would not have permitted him to become a controversial celebrity in the first place, and a properly functioning legal system would have brought charges against him long ago. Instead, he gets on television as a respected pundit and is invited to all the swanky parties. Instead, he is the current President's first choice to lead a panel investigating 9/11.

Kissinger is just one figure. Paying too much attention to one man runs the risk of distorting broader patterns of blame, and can lead to superficial analysis of events that had deep structural causes. Still, there he is, prominent, respected by a large portion of the political culture -- and scot-free even though many of his misdeeds are public knowledge. His prominence is a constant reminder of a culture of impunity in Washington, a culture which sees just about every triviality as a topic worth yelling about on national television, but just about nothing as a sufficient cause to shun someone from public life."

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