Dead, and not a minute too soon Archives

March 14, 2007

Caliban upon Setebos

Okay, full disclosure: I have a subscription to The Nation. Extenuating circumstances, though. I got the sub, a year or so ago, because I wanted to get onto the members-only parts of their Web site, for the sake of making as much cruel fun of them as I could find time for on the blog here.

So every two weeks, a copy of the mag falls with a soft, pulpy, grayish thump through my mail slot. I seldom open it, unless Alex Cockburn is mentioned on the cover. But in an idle hour tonight, I flipped through the latest issue, and what should I find but Eric Alterman eulogizing Arthur Schlesinger.

Now there, if you please, is a perfect pairing of writer and subject. The late (and not a minute too soon) Schlesinger was the subject of a characteristically mean-spirited kakology from brother Paine here, as soon as the last breath of hot air had left Schlesinger's body, but with all respect to my comrade, I think Alterman's piece unintentionally damns the Kennedys' Procopius a lot deeper than Owen could do. A few vomitous excerpts:

Schlesinger issued warning after warning to the American left about the dangers posed by the US Communist Party. Three years before publishing The Vital Center (1949), writing in Life magazine, he compared Communists to Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, who carry "their infection of intrigue and deceit wherever they go." With their systematic mendacity and duplicity, "Communists are engaged in a massive attack on the moral fabric of the American left.... The Communist party is no menace to the right in the U.S. It is a great help to the right because of its success in dividing and neutralizing the left. It is to the American left that Communism presents the most serious danger."

...The last time I had lunch with Arthur... I asked him if he felt anti-Communist liberals had allowed their hatred of Stalin and Soviet totalitarianism to overshadow their commitment to civil liberties at home. But like Edith Piaf, Arthur regretted rien. "We had a Two Joe policy of opposition back then," he insisted. "We were against Stalin and against McCarthy." True, I tried to argue, but.... After all, while Stalin was one of history's worst mass murderers, he turns out to have presented no genuine military threat to the United States or even, as it turns out, Western Europe. Joe McCarthy untrammeled, on the other hand, did more damage than anyone to America's democratic institutions until George W. Bush. Arthur shrugged and ordered another martini.

Schlesinger's more recent intraleft controversy arose when he made another prescient argument about a danger on the left: this was his short 1991 book on Afrocentrism and multiculturalism, The Disuniting of America....

This almost makes me feel a certain sympathy for Schlesinger. After all the dirt that man handled, to sit and listen to a punk like Alterman moralizing about Joe McCarthy -- Barkeep! Line 'em up and keep 'em coming.

I hope Alterman at least picked up the check.

July 7, 2009

Another one bites the dust

It was almost a royal command that Alex C harrow ole Bob McNamara one more time, and his envoi to the newly-dead monster has AC's characteristic Juvenalian brio:

Robert McNamara, who died yesterday, July 6, served as Kennedy’s , then as Johnson’s defense secretary. He contributed more than most to the slaughter of 3.4 million Vietnamese (his own estimate). He went on to run the World Bank, where he presided over the impoverishment, eviction from their lands and death of many millions more round the world.
But to my ear, the master seems to have ever so slightly missed his opportunity to soar.

The one missing bit of Bobby Mac I expected from Alex -- too exculpatory? -- was Mac quoting -- with a grim agreement -- his then boss Curtis Lemay, after firebombing all of urban Japan in the first half of '45: "if we'd'a lost we'd be the war criminals, eh boys?"

Here's Alex again:

"When McNamara looked back down memory lane there were no real shadows, just the sunlight of moral self-satisfaction"
I dunno, AC. There are shadows -- he sees shadows, each one big as Banquo, but he faces them with an honest incomprehension. Because Mr Mac is precisely, as AC himself sez, no ogre but rather "a perfectly nice, well-spoken war criminal."

Because he was perfectly nice he hardly felt an inner need to "cower in the shadow of baroque monsters like LeMay or LBJ", as Alex suggests. Nope, Bob faces his judgement day alone and unafraid, naked before history. He worked with the tools the system gave him.

Unfortunately I suspect Clio has her own set of tools -- tools with which she'll carve him up in bite sized pieces -- but putting that righteous phantasm aside, Alex accurately observes that

"McNamara never offered any reflection on the social system that produced and promoted him"
Of course not. "The system" after all found ways to reward his brains, and provoked his slakeless ambition over many years, and carried him up to the heights.

Now rangers, I dare you to be totally honest with yourselves: who among us could resist the promise of such a trajectory? Only a spirit far far better than I.

The lesson in his life -- a life he reflected on in his long goodbye years with so much thought and so little emotional intuition -- seems simple enough to me :

We are a gregarious groupy-prone species. A guy like Super Mac you won't find in a Dostoyevsky yarn. He's an organization man. A system able to build him can harness his crystal clock of a soul to any one of a zillion "whatever gets it done" missions -- harness him and ride him and ride him hard -- ride him, if they have the whim, like a carnival mule.

Was it really McNamara's war? Bob is no more sublimely right to be the totemic gargoyle of 'Nam than any other straight-A boy that grew up to do bad things for this globe's reigning cyclops.

About Dead, and not a minute too soon

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