Notes on the Atrocities
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Saturday, March 29, 2003  

David Remnick on Humility

Good stuff from David Remnick in this week's New Yorker. It's rumination on the difference between triumph and triumphalism, and the current administration's failure to grasp the difference.

"The Administration hawks seem oblivious, too, of the consequences of a unilateral, imperial-style occupation of Iraq. They welcome it. By embracing imperialism frankly—by proclaiming that the goal of their policy is the maintenance and expansion of unchallenged power—they congratulate themselves as honest and hardheaded. The Administration hawks seem oblivious, too, of the consequences of a unilateral, imperial-style occupation of Iraq. They welcome it. By embracing imperialism frankly—by proclaiming that the goal of their policy is the maintenance and expansion of unchallenged power—they congratulate themselves as honest and hardheaded."



The article has the quality of an historical account written in the present tense. Much as histories are written, Remick describes the context from which failures arise for the administration.

"Russia, which is led by a former colonel of the K.G.B., still deeply resents its decline, and what it sees as a string of broken American promises. At various points, we promised not to hasten the unification of Germany, not to expand nato, not to dispense with the A.B.M. treaty. In each case, we did what we wanted, simply because we felt it was in our interest and because we could. The new conservative theology too often seems to combine power with a preening delight in brandishing it; the very notion of coöperation is suspect."



His analysis is underscored by a wonderful quote, which might have sufficed on its own (except that he's not paid to locate quotes, but to make them). From Eisenhower's speech in London on June 12, 1945.

"Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.

"Conceivably a commander may have been professionally superior. He may have given everything of his heart and mind to meet the spiritual and physical needs of his comrades. He may have written a chapter that will glow forever in the pages of military history. Still, even such a man—if he existed—would sadly face the fact that his honors cannot hide in his memories the crosses marking the resting places of the dead. They cannot soothe the anguish of the widow or the orphan whose husband or father will not return.

"The only attitude in which a commander may with satisfaction receive the tributes of his friends is in the humble acknowledgment that no matter how unworthy he may be, his position is the symbol of great human forces that have labored arduously and successfully for a righteous cause."



The President seems to love to imagine himself pyschic kin to Churchill and Roosevelt. Eisenhower's speech and Reminck's article remind us that there was a lot more to those figures' stature than valiant armies.

posted by Jeff | 8:56 AM |
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