Crimes That Go Unpunished


...ironically, some of the defenders of the torture regime are making the best argument for the prosecution of past administration officials by their own invocations of past government illegalities. They are unwittingly reminding us that crimes unpunished today can easily become tomorrow’s conventionally accepted “correct” decisions.

He also tackles Truman:

Because the prevailing view of Harry Truman and his decisions at the present time happens to be favorable, we are all supposed to believe that the “judgment of history” has “vindicated” Truman. This is a nice way of saying that propaganda and hero worship have overcome moral reasoning, and time has caused the moral horror of even a significant part of the American right in the 1940s to fade from memory. This favorable view of Truman is inextricably tied up with the cult of the presidency, our depressing but all too human habit of praising bad wartime leaders at the expense of better peacetime executives, the mythologizing of WWII (and therefore the minimizing or justifying of any wrongdoing on the Allied side) and the implicit devaluing of Japanese civilian lives every defense of both fire-bombing and nuclear strikes includes. None of this seems to occur to the people who continue to glorify Truman and to use Truman as an example of how tainted, bad Presidents may yet be viewed as great successes by posterity. What Truman’s posthumous rehabilitation should tell us is that half-truths and falsehoods, if repeated often enough, can become widely accepted, and that virtually no American political leader, no matter how many blunders he made and no matter what criminal acts he ordered, is beyond redemption at the hands of later sympathetic people who find that leader’s decisions to be useful precedents for their own preferred course of action. The “judgment of history” has, for the time being, ruled in favor of Truman, and therefore challenging this judgment is something to be mocked.