Moral preening

Suzanne Fields:

Evil is never banal. Hanna Arendt was wrong. Evil is fascinating and provocative and focuses the mind. Adolf Eichmann may have been a boring man to know. He may have thought he was merely a bureaucrat following orders, but his acts forever fascinate the human mind in our attempt to understand how he could have done what he did without a conscience, without remorse.

What is banal is moral preening by those who judge others who stand up to evil, who judge those who may have been compromised in their human fallibility to fight evil so that others may enjoy the good (life). What's banal are all those pundits and ideologues on the sidelines who only get their hands dirty when they change ink cartridges on their printers.

What's banal are all those preeners calling for revenge against those acting in good faith, who did what they believed to be the right action at the time in thwarting evil. What's banal are the men and women who enjoy making those who are less than pure in fighting evil look as though they're commensurate with the evildoers themselves. They round up the usual suspects, the cliched villains of Nazi Germany and Bosnia and trot them out for a show trial of their imagination.

Of course, logic requires that these moral purists make distinctions, sort of. "I know it's offensive to compare almost anything to the Nazis," Richard Cohen writes in The Washington Post, as he does just that in a discussion of the Third Reich: "but the Bush-era memos struck me as echoes from the past."

Mark McKeon, who was a prosecutor against the war crimes perpetuated in Bosnia, concedes that the level of our leaders' crimes does not approach the level of the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, but we must punish "the most senior government officials responsible for [our torture] crimes."

The debate about the so-called torture techniques in interrogating enemies is not one of good vs. evil. It's about moral abstraction vs. grim reality. It has moved from saying that "torture is wrong," something with which most people will agree, to seeking revenge against those falsely perceived as moral enemies in our midst.

...

I don't accept the premise of the preeners that what was done to get information to save lives was torture. Obviously that is an issue over which there are varying opinions. But to suggest that those who did something that resulted in the saving of American lives should be punished is the perversity of liberals who would have let the Americans be killed to save their conscience. I think the latter is the immoral position.

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