HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

October 15, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


Here in north central Vermont we've reached the middle of October with no frost. Ten years ago, that would have been incredible, and, I confess, it still seems strange to me.

For the man of the week we doubtless should nominate Iain Murray of the National Review, who announced that Al Gore should share the Nobel Prize with Osama bin Laden because they have many opinions in common.

Graeme Frost, the twelve-year-old who made an appeal to George Bush not to veto renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, was in the news quite a bit this week. E. J. Dionne, Jr., columnist for the Washington Post, assured us that the right-wing attacks on the boy from Baltimore won't make his story go away. I hope Dionne is right, but I don't have as much faith in journalists' ability to keep an issue like this alive as he does.

Even David Brooks is having a hard time stomaching the current set of Republican candidates. In his column titled "The Hamiltonian Ground," he said the candidates in the Dearborn race sounded as if they were running for a ceremonial post. Kevin Drum had the best comment I've seen about them recently. He noted that when he considers them, one by one, he can't find anybody who has a chance of getting the nomination. I suppose somebody will get it, though, hard as it is to imagine.

Over the weekend I was browsing in the Barnes and Noble in Burlington, and suddenly it dawned on me that certain terms in book titles or advertising copy are making me increasingly nauseated. The three that hit me hardest on this occasion were "sacred, commonsense, and the good war." I saw them plastered throughout the store and in each instance where I encountered them they were being used to support completely fatuous arguments. I'm especially irritated by the frequent comment that the Second World War was the last really good war. I'd like somebody to tell me what was good about it. Fifty-five million dead people: that's really a wonderful outcome, isn't it?

I've continued reading a good book by political theorist George Kateb. I'm now in the midst of his essay on courage, which is generally cited as one of the cardinal virtues, but which Kateb notes can be employed to support any sort of wickedness. And when you think further that courage is, itself, a fear -- the fear of shame -- it becomes an even more perplexing characteristic.

I was reminded of all this watching John McCain answer Bob Schieffer's question about the duty of top military figures to question decisions they believe are bad for the nation. McCain said that if a general actually thinks a policy will cause serious harm to America, he should resign rather than carry it out. But, then, he went on to note that he knew such a decision would be hard for a general officer and that we can't expect many of them to take it. Military courage seems to apply only to bodily risk and doesn't pertain to any other sort of sacrifice.

By next week, I'm almost sure to be frosty. So, I'll need your letters to warm me up.


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