Saturday, September 04, 2010

Moral Equivalence: A Presidential Memo

I just read the following sentence in a pretty good editorial in the New York Times: "Iran’s leaders, ruthless as they clearly are, are not crazed men looking for a 10-megaton exploding belt." It reminded me of a passage in Norman Mailer's Presidential Papers:

It could be argued that the impetus to America's cold war with communism has come from a collective psychosis, from a monster which has borne almost no relation to the objective cold war going on in these years, a particular real cold war which has been concrete, limited, ugly, detailed, and shrewd in its encounters. The Russians have shown a tough tenacious sly somewhat dishonorable and never-tiring regard for local victory in each of their episodes with us. We have dealt with this international opposition in terms which were schizophrenic. On the working diplomatic level any adjectives applied to the Russians could have applied to us. We also have been tough tenacious sly somewhat dishonorable and have hardly ever slackened in our regard for local victory; but at the level of domestic political consumption we have presented the Russians to the American public as implacable, insane, and corrupting. We could have talking equally of of the plague or some exotic variety of sex. (161)

That may have been a long detour for the simple point I want to make. I long for the day when the New York Times writes, simply, "Iran’s leaders, though clearly as ruthless as ours are, are not crazed men looking for a 10-megaton exploding belt." That is, I wish we could bring what we say at "the level of domestic political consumption" into line with what we say and do "on the working diplomatic level". It would make our culture more sane.

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