A few days after 9/11, I wrote an essay to vent my outrage at some of the rhetoric coming from Noam Chomsky and other intellectuals of “the Left.” The essay began:
When I was a yeshiva student in Israel, a classmate told me of a tour he had taken in Hebron. As the tour bus passed a certain monument, the guide had said: “This is the grave of Dr. Goldstein, who was killed by the Arabs. —Not that I’m defending what he did….”
This is the postmodern response to a politically inconvenient atrocity. When someone affiliated with your favorite cause does something indefensible (e.g., when Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish resident of the West Bank, kills 29 Arabs in cold blood in a mosque during Ramadan), it can be hard to deny that the atrocity happened at all, or argue that it is actually a good thing, or insist that someone else had their finger on the trigger. But you can always utter the appropriate platitudes of shame, in as few words as possible, and direct the audience’s attention to the convenient atrocities, i.e., those committed by your enemies.
Chomsky demonstrated his mastery of this form with his brief note “On the Bombings”:
The terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale they may not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it). Not to speak of much worse cases, which easily come to mind…
Professor Chomsky, meet Cal Thomas, former spokesman for the so-called Moral Majority:
Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way first: If members of America’s armed forces violated any rules and mistreated prisoners of war, they should be punished in accordance with accepted military law. That having been said, there are several other things that also need to be addressed….
Did they have and withhold information vital to the protection of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians? War is nasty business, and the rules don’t always comport with a book of etiquette…
[W]here was the world’s outrage when mass graves, rape and torture rooms and other evidence of Saddam Hussein’s genocide and other inhumanities were revealed? There was some initial horror but nothing like the vindictiveness reserved for the United States and Britain.
I wonder how many people, back when Saddam was in power and doing business with the West, dismissed reports of his atrocities in the same way: “Yes, it’s awful that he gassed all those Kurds, but you’ve got to understand…we need to support Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, because Iran is so much worse…”