Letters

Readers respond to Charles Taylor on "Our Monica, Ourselves" and William Ian Miller on cowardice and courage.


Salon Staff
October 13, 2001 12:08AM (UTC)

Read "Our Monica, Ourselves"

I'm always amazed by the political naivete of left-leaning journalists like Charles Taylor. Taylor contends that impeachment was a political disaster for the Republicans. This seems bizarre considering that just two years later the Republicans (albeit briefly) controlled the presidency, the House and the Senate. While it would have been nice to impeach a sitting Democratic president, that wasn't really the point. Right from the beginning it was quite obvious that impeachment was about giving Bush, Jr. (even then the presumptive nominee) a chance to be president. The Republicans needed some way, any way, of tarnishing the Clinton legacy. Impeachment was a high risk strategy and it almost blew up in their faces, but they mostly seem to have pulled it off.

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-- Burl Horniachek

I'm still waiting for someone to second my feelings on the subject. At one point during the Monica idiocy, Clinton said, in one (unfortunately, I've since forgotten within which media format) of his many interviews, "What can I do? I've tried to shut my body down." I do remember that it was said in an offhand way while in the midst of some press barrage. No one ever picked up on it, but to me, that statement summed it all up. He is a normal sexual being who, with that remark, was almost certainly referring to being in some state of sexual frustration at times within his marriage (what spouse isn't at some time in their life?). Now, I don't know about anyone else but, when I'm sexually frustrated, especially if I'm lusting after a guy who works in my office, I have a really hard time concentrating on my work.

Since the beginning of that debacle all I could think was: Would the American people really prefer a possibly distracted, pent-up, sexually frustrated horny person handling the nation's complicated domestic and international matters? If people want to pretend that they don't masturbate or know what "69" refers to, that's fine with me. But as far as I'm concerned, if it could have helped Clinton to use his undisputed intelligence and wide-ranging knowledge in a more focused manner, I say: get him a daily blow job. I could care less about the sexual morals he practices within the bonds of his marital dynamic. Like I told my dad: I'm glad he was president for two terms, almost as glad as I am that he's not my father. That pain belongs only to Chelsea, Hillary and Bill -- no one else.

-- Miranda Ford

I was interested in the "code" words used to express "anti-Semitism" per Taylor. Whenever I read those English words about someone, I either attach no more than face value to them or in the case of words like "zaftig", "tush" or other Yiddish words, I assume the writer is a Jew making the assumption that "cute" Yiddish words are now universally known. A case in point would be the linked article re Jewish American Princesses (a term originated by a Jew). I was further interested to know that "Beverly Hills" means "Jewish." Hmmm. Why's that?

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I have a feeling that this purported "anti-Semitism" falls pretty much in the same category as the "racism" purportedly employed by NY cabdrivers who "don't pick up blacks." As a cab-oholoic, I cannot tell you how many times I've pointed out to black people on the street flailing away trying to get a cab, that the cab they were trying to get was occupied, "See, if that center light isn't on, the cab isn't available. No, when the outer lights are on, it means that one is 'off duty.' The center light only has to be on. You see? It isn't racism." Particularly the assumption that her name was a giveaway of her background -- I've known Polish Catholics with similar names -- that's just goofy.

I'm not saying that there's no such thing as anti-Semitism or that it may not have been present in this situation -- but I wish I had a nickel for every negative thing said or implied, even in this article, about WASPs (another term made up by a Jew -- probably the same Jew: Philip Roth). In fact, because of its origin and meaning, WASP (and by the way, have you ever known of a non-white Anglo Saxon?)is by definition derogatory. However, those of us who actually fall into that category don't look at every adjective (blond? -- most of us aren't, of course, but is that some snide way of identifying us? blue-eyed? -- again, most of us aren't, but ditto? rich? -- ditto, ditto -- in fact, we're the Bill Clinton trailer-trash more often than not. Tight-assed? ditto, ditto, ditto) as anti-WASPism -- even though, generally, they're meant that way (blond is WASP-dumb; blue-eyed is WASP-favored, spoiled; tight-assed is, well, tight-assed -- and must be WASP) maybe because the stereotypes just actually don't really apply and we know it.

And by the way, until I read the article and then looked her up on the Internet, I was one (of the few? I doubt it) who didn't know who Jenna Jameson was. I kinda sorta suspect that, just like 90 percent of the nation's money belonging to 5 percent of the people, probably 5 percent of the population (or a similar low number) is involved with 99 percent of the porn. REALLY involved.

-- Ardis Wade

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Does anyone else wonder whether Clinton might have been able to go after bin Laden more effectively, preventing the loss of thousands of lives, if he hadn't been caught up in that Ken Starr trap that practically emasculated him in office?

-- Kathleen McConn

Read "Terror and Cowardice"

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A very thought-provoking piece, but I sense contradictions at the end. Bill Maher's later statement was very specific in assigning cowardice to the way of thinking that sent expensive missiles rather then personnel to do the fighting. He apologized for the implication that the military personnel themselves weren't up to the task. All this sounds to me to be in conformity with the themes discussed in the rest of this story and not something cheap or contrived.

-- Duane Kilian

I'm surprised not to see any mention of the most obvious reason for calling the hijackers cowards: They didn't want to live. Which is to say, they didn't want to face life. Nietzsche attributes cowardice to any such martyrdom, seeing it (and much religious sentiment generally) as the end result of dissatisfaction with life's gritty realities -- a dissatisfaction exacerbated by a lack of power or social status. This dissatisfaction includes envy and the desire for revenge.

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The solution to the impossibility of having an influential life, of mastering some of the elements within life, is to master life itself by withdrawing from it. One might do that through religious asceticism, or perhaps through martyrdom. Martyrs finally get in the afterlife what they didn't have the power to accomplish in life.

It's no accident that according to witnesses Mohammed Atta complained about his inability to find a wife or to make the kind of career he wanted. What made that lethal was his ability to identify his worries with broader grievances (e.g., America) and then turn it all into a religious parable (i.e., Islam vs. America).

Every person who commits suicide wants to die. The trick is to dress up suicide in enough trappings to make it possible in light of the natural fears involved. Doing that by making your mission the massacre of others is indicative of the immensity of the cowardice, because it substitutes the fortitude it takes to withstand the pain of being alive with a desire both for escape from life and for revenge. It says: "No, I can't face life; in fact, life is so intolerable and worthless that killing it off in myself is not enough."

-- Wes Alwan

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This interview is confusing. Sometimes it takes courage to shoot, sometimes it takes courage not to, and the only thing that seems to unite them is to do whatever is healthy morally. This of course begs the question of when violence is morally justified -- It's required when it calls for courage!

Dr. Miller is careful not to actually call the terrorists cowards, yet it is suggested. But if those who are willing to give up their lives to accomplish something, such as maintenance of the state, are courageous, why aren't the terrorists? Martyrs don't pick something to do in order to die, but choose a task which requires the sacrifice of their lives in its accomplishment. To say that it is not courageous because there is no real element of risk, since they believe they cannot simply die and cease to exist, is to beg the question (again) of the value of life and death. And it is not sufficient to bury it by saying to value death over life is culturally backward.

Anyway, it's not even clear anyone does value death over life in this case. The terrorists, from all indications, didn't embrace death but rather heaven. If someone doesn't believe in heaven and so doubts the genuineness of their belief, so be it. But this suspicion hardly counts as a proper understanding of their motives from which to make a moral judgement of their action.

-- William Stafford

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Why do people talk so much about "courage" now? Isn't this simply because it is such a convenient word when you need an excuse for doing something that you know is going to be unpopular?

So now it's all about "courage to fight for justice" even if will cost the lives of innocent people. I think we are dealing with double standards here -- it is courageous when Americans go to war in high tech equipment, knowing that the only likely casualties on the American side are going to be consequences of accidents. But it is not courage when people who are hopelessly outnumbered and equipped with old weapons stand up to an enemy, like the Taliban are going to do. Why not? Simply because they are Bad People.

It is very easy to do what everyone else does -- right now it's waving flags and other nationalistic rubbish. If you ask me, this takes no courage. It takes a lot of courage, on the other hand, to do what is really hard, to disagree, to criticize where criticism is due.

Another kind of courage I don't see is the courage to admit your own faults and turn away from them. This, by the way, is a good, Christian virtue, if I'm not much mistaken.

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-- Jan Anderson

One of my favorite quotes on the subject of courage comes from the Analects of Confucius: "To see what's right and not do it is cowardice" (literally, "without courage"). The converse of that statement is that courage is seeing what's right and doing it. Which raises an interesting question: How much of courage lies in doing what's right, and how much of it lies inseeing what's right? I think there are many people among us who would spare themselves from having their courage tested by choosing not to see. In that very decision, they fail the test.

-- Keith Ammann

Am I the only person who is bothered by the fact that William Ian Miller so very carefully defines courage so that anti-American militants of whatever stripe cannot be courageous, and then accepts without any question at all the courage of American military personnel?

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It seems to me that everything he says boils down to one very powerful statement: "We are courageous; our enemies are not."

By his own definition, the firebombing of Dresden in World War II was a cowardly act. Except that he would probably defend it as an act of courage -- after all, the purpose was to demoralize the German populace and bring an end to the war, which was a noble end.

I guess what bothers me most about the interview is that he, like so many social scientists, cloaks his opinions with a garment of rationality and evidence, having made up his mind ahead of time what the conclusion is going to be.

If the definition of a courageous act is one which is difficult, then an examination one's own faults becomes a courageous act. One of which the U.S. seems to be incapable.

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-- Dan K. Bell

In Laura Miller's interview with William Ian Miller, objectivity drowns in a sea of semantic quibbling and little is elucidated. I concur with Susan Sontag and the recently clipped Bill Maher that the attacks were not cowardly, and, with the evident absence of virtue along our moral plane, I'd describe them as gutsy at least.

While the workers in the WTC could not fight back against the attacks, neither could the families living in Dresden and Tokyo as the U.S. firebombed them into ashes in World War II. Similarly, Americans have as little say over U.S. policy in the Islamic world, Israel and the political and military arrangements ensuring a constant supply of petroleum, as the German people did over Hitler's militarism and genocide.

If German and Japanese civilians could be firebombed into ashes, then under similar Nuremberg principles, similar attacks are theoretically valid against American civilians if our government commits illegitimate mass murder in our name. But clearly, as violence against civilians is not tenable under our consensus morality, we need equitable application of these principles to all parties, not, as with so much of U.S. foreign policy, just when convenient to the U.S. government.

Too many Americans fail our future by analyzing this attack in the vacuum of Sept. 11, rather than viewing it as another link in the long chain of violence expressed as an alternative to legitimate political aspirations repressed by U.S. political and military interventionism in the region.

-- Marc Salomon


Salon Staff

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