That Thin Line Between National Policy and Sheer Lunacy
GREAT NECK, N.Y. — Critics seem to think that Japan's recent effort to re-revise revised history, about its experiment in sexual slavery during World War II, is just a little bit wacky. However, as something of an old Japan hand — familiar with that nation's ongoing ambivalence about denying, admitting, then denying again that it turned some 200,000 captive women into serial rape victims — I'm not surprised.
I tend to reserve my surprise for the critics who emerge during episodes like this, crying out that it's wrong — "Shame on you!" they cry — for a civilized country to enshrine as the national narrative a lunatic assertion that defies the evidence of history, the testimony of thousands of witnesses, and plain common sense. Insanity cannot be adopted as policy, say these critics.
If we examine the record of national policy in numerous civilizations, going back just a handful of decades, it becomes pretty evident that insanity — I mean, good old screaming-meemies, rubber-room, twirly-eyed boogeta-boogeta looniness — is more the norm than the exception among the great strategic minds of the Modern World. For instance, three words: the Third Reich.
Want three alternative words? How about Mutually Assured Destruction?
But why go back that far?
Is it sane, for example, for Israel's superannuated Zionist nostalgics to think that, simply by piling up arms, firing missiles, fomenting universal unemployment and building a giant spite fence, it can hold off the surging population of angry Palestinians that surrounds Israel? By the same token, is it sane for the dominant clerics of Islam to believe they can impose the Puritan/Islamic dietary laws, political culture and sexual values of the Middle Ages on several billion people who need only turn on a TV or PC to access Pizza Hut, C-SPAN, BBC, "American Idol" and 24 consecutive days of Anna Nicole Smith.
The Iranian government's apparent official position on the Holocaust is that it was concocted out of thin air by a bunch of Jewish press agents on Second Avenue. Is this sane?
Sane or crazy, what's the difference? It's policy!
Right now, Iran, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Russia, the USA and probably France have physicists working feverishly in labs and bunkers to develop new — NEW! — forms of nuclear weaponry, the very devices that terrorized the world's schoolchildren from 1945 to 1989 and were supposed to be obsolete with the end of the Cold War. Brand new bombs, capable of wiping out all life on Earth. Is this sane?
Don't matter. It's policy!
You want official insanity? It's everywhere. More or less officially, the "conservative movement" in the United States believes that evolution never happened. It believes that you can end AIDS, venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy and abortion by convincing teenagers and Africans — all of them! — to just say "No" to sex. These conservative opinion leaders also think an unfertilized egg, infinitely smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, is a full-blown human life — more valuable than the apparently less full-blown lives of millions of people suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes whose lives could be saved by sticking a needle into that infinitesimal eggoid speck. Is this sane?
So what? The President of the United States agrees with these freaks, and he is enforcing their delusions as national policy.
What sort of sane nation, in the name of free-market ideology, turns its health care system — old people on fixed incomes who need their prescriptions, and little kids with sickle cell anemia — over to insurance companies? Does a sane government turn energy policy, in the era of global warming, over to oil companies?
Well, we do. What is wrong with us?
I mean, the day that Harriet Miers, White House counsel, Kyle Sampson, chief of staff for the Attorney General, and Karl Rove, son of God, convened in the West Wing and decided it would be cool to fire all 93 U.S. Attorneys and replace them with the Rush Limbaugh Fan Club, what were they thinking?
Here's what: "Whoa, mama! This is crazy, but damn! We just might be able to get away with it!"
In the end, they only fired eight U.S. attorneys (so far). But they almost got away with it. They still might.
Wait. You want to talk serious insanity?
We've got 150,000 American kids slogging around the imaginary nation of Iraq, armed to the teeth but wretchedly outgunned, trapped in a civil war among vicious warring tribes of Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and free-lance nihilists who've been killing one another — with the occasional break for resentful oppression beneath the heel of a cruel empire or a psychotic dictator — for 1400 miserable years. The "dream" these kids are dying for is to replace blood feuds, Muslim fanaticism, gangster territorialism, virulent anti-Americanism and endemic corruption withÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ what?
The Republican Party?
Ask the President "How're things going in Iraq?" on the same day that a couple of helicopters are shot down, ten Marines killed, another 20 GIs crippled for life and, oh, by the way, three suicide bombs kill 85 civilians, destroy a school and burn down a neighborhood in Baghdad. He'll lean across his rostrum, work up that trademark glassy-eyed stare of steely resolve and say, "We're making progress. We'll stand down when the Iraqis stand up. After all, they're the ones who attacked us on 9/11. We won't come home 'til it's over over there. Grrr!"
Insanity? Among the guys in charge right now all over the world (think Robert Mugabe, think Pervez Musharraf, think about Dick Cheney's hydrophobic wife, Lynne), insanity is not mere policy. It's lollipops and moonbeams.
David Benjamin is a novelist and journalist, originally from Madison, Wisconsin, who now divides his time between New York and Paris. His latest book is The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org