Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Termination with maximum prejudice," they used to call it. Michael Bradford ("A Network Disruption Worth Cheering About," Business Insurance, May 23, 2011) has no use for the squeamishness of more innocent times. No, Americans should just let go and revel in the whacking of Osama bin Laden. "If it's OK with everyone," he pleads, "could we just be the good guys this time?"

But that simple descriptive doesn't go nearly far enough. "We" (read: the knaves and nincompoops at the helm) are not the mere good guys, Mr. Bradford. We're the Greater Good guys.

When we decide a particular means, no matter how unsavory, advances the Greater Good, no matter how tenuous, nothing--not Constitutional constraint, international law, financial prudence, common sense, the just war hypothesis, Christian morality or simple human decency--can stand in our way. Madeleine Albright unabashedly endorsed this Marxist-pragmatist mindset in her 1996 Sixty Minutes interview. Widely publicized on the Arab Street, if studiously ignored on Main Street, it goes a long way to explaining, if not justifying, those alleged Islamist high-fivings of the 9/11 atrocity to which Mr. Bradford so bitterly alludes.

Lesley Stahl asked the former Secretary of State to defend brutal U.S. sanctions against Iraq. "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" A pointed question, to be sure, but our Greater-Good Gal didn't miss a beat. "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

Worth 500,000 dead kids? To unseat erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein? In that case, all kinds of not-so-nifty applications ensue. Might not Islamist extremists have deemed the horrific slaughter of 3,000 Americans "a hard choice" but "worth the price"? The price for what, you ask? Well, to get the U.S. to stop meddling in their affairs, for starters.

Isn't that what the Greater Good is all about? To make an omelet, doesn't a chef have to break a few eggs? It all depends on who appoints the chef and defines the omelet, doesn't it? Earth to jingoist: that same Public Enemy Number One (and erstwhile Cold War ally), whose summary execution you now so lustily cheer, cited those same Iraqi sanctions as one of the motivating factors for the 9/11 attacks.

That's the thing about the Greater Good. It may seem a noble and attainable, if distant, abstraction when gazing down the barrel of a gun. It takes on a sharply contrasting flesh-and-blood immediacy staring up.



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