5 Best Wednesday Columns
Liu Xiaobo's politics, Kissinger's indifference, Orson Scott Card's shopping habits, and more
- Jeff Jacoby on Genocide and American Obligation In archived Nixon tapes, Henry Kissinger once insisted that a potential Holocaust in the Soviet Union "ought to be a matter of indifference to the United States," writes Jacoby in The Boston Globe. This utterance is "shocking" even 38 years later, but it shouldn't necessarily be surprising. This position--that genocide alone should not be considered "an American concern"--has driven U.S. foreign policy from the Armenian holocaust early in the 20th century through Rwanda during President Clinton's term. Even President Obama once stated that America "cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn't a good enough reason to keep US forces there." This is not to say that the U.S. hasn't accomplished "enormous good" in the world, notes Jacoby. "Yet the good America has done is dwarfed by the good America could have done. Too often we have been willing to disregard unspeakable evil in the mistaken belief that preventing atrocities is not 'an American concern.'"
- Lee Siegel on Julian Assange as the Man of Our Time The Julian Assange saga is not only turning into a real-life political thriller, it is an example of the way in which we uncover and the analyze multiple facets of public figures' personalities. Lee Siegel at The New York Observer comments that iconic public figures, such as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley, used to be famous for personifying certain specific characteristics. Today, he argues, all of the information we read about people like Assange--or Barack Obama, Elizabeth Edwards, or Michael Jackson--comes from various sources and uncovers different qualities, making it impossible to understand who anyone really is and what they stand for. He's not sure being inundated with this information is good, or "whether the new simultaneity of public and private adds up to anything truer than the old romantic opacity. But here's another way of looking at it," Siegel offers. "In the age of Kennedy, Sinatra, Marilyn, Elvis et al., no one was scanning your naked body at airports. Maybe we respond with special horror to the fact of standing there fully clothed while someone is looking at us stark naked because, after all, we expect to be entertained by the same phenomenon the minute we touch down."
- Orson Scott Card on the Evolution of the Internet Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the sci-fi novelist marvels at the ever-changing ways people use the Internet. Cards notes that "the first 'killer app' that made it essential to be online was ... email." Online shopping came next. Now people are falling in love over the Web. Card, for one, sees all this as a sign of progress. "We're still the same human beings we always were," he explains. "Consumers still act like consumers; people still search for love and friendship. But the Internet has freed us from the boundaries of distance and many of the risks of embarrassment in social interactions."
- Paul Miller on the Need For Secrecy Like it or not, writes the Foreign Policy columnist, the United States government guards its secrets for a reason--to keep people safe. This is why--contrary to what WikiLeaks defenders may argue--there have always been limits on the freedom of speech when that speech places citizens in harm's way. "The Supreme Court has never upheld First Amendment absolutism," notes Miller. "There are legal and reasonable restrictions on what people are allowed to say, print, or broadcast. It is illegal to incite a mob to violence. It is illegal to libel others ... And it is, in fact, illegal to reveal information that would cause immediate harm to U.S. national security. This was uncontroversial during World War II, when sailors and their families were routinely trained that 'loose lips sink ships.'" While some rules limiting speech might be inconsistently applied, it remains "flatly untrue that citizens or the press have the right to say absolutely anything, anytime, in any medium." Rather than disingenuously arguing all forms of speech are or should be free, Miller believes the debate over WikiLeaks should be reframed as a discussion on "where the line [for disclosing classified information] ought to be drawn and how to enforce it."
- Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong on Liu Xiaobo, the Western Hero The imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo has received a lot of positive media attention in China, even though, as Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong point out in The Guardian, most people there either know nothing about him or consider him an inappropriate recipient of the award. Many are critical of China for putting Liu behind bars, but Sautman and Hairong argue that "imprisoning Liu was entirely unnecessary. If Liu's politics were well-known, most people would not favour him for a prize, because he is a champion of war, not peace." The two authors go on to detail Liu's support of the U.S.'s involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Korea, as well as his promotion of westernization. Comparing Liu's politics with those of other controversial Nobel recipients leads Sautman and Hairong to conclude that, as Jean-Paul Sarte put it after refusing the award in 1964: "In the present situation, the Nobel Prize stands objectively as a distinction reserved for the writers of the West or the rebels of the East." The Guardian writers add that "that role has been continued with Liu's prize."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.