The Banality of Evil: Rumsfeld Edition
Seems like a lifetime ago, in the 1960s, philosopher Hannah Arendt gave us the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s demeanor during his war crimes trial in Jerusalem.
Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a “monster,” but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown. And since this suspicion would have been fatal to the entire enterprise [his trial], and was also rather hard to sustain in view of the sufferings he and his like had caused to millions of people, his worst clowneries were hardly noticed and almost never reported (p. 55).
Arendt has always had critics of her thesis about Eichmann’s “ordinariness.” Still, I find her ironic notion of the “banality of evil” a very useful device for characterizing some of the inexplicable nuttiness afoot in 21st century America.
For example . . . I have usually counted Greta Van Susteren as one of the saner members of the Fox News Crew [not saying much, I know]. And, of course, there’s the whole Scientology thing but, hey . . . First Amendment, right? So, a few nights ago, there’s Greta on the blower, with none other than Former Bush administration Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld . . .
This is a guy that “Tricky Dick” Nixon called “a ruthless little bastard.” A guy who was forced to resign his cabinet position as Secretary of Defense because a gang of top brass launched “The Generals’ Revolt,” accusing Rumsfeld of “abysmal” military planning and lack of strategic competence.” The same guy who plays a starring role in Cobra II, a well-sourced account of blunders made in the preparation, execution and aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The very same guy whom that old warhorse Sen. John McCain, also a Republican, blasted thus:
We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement — that’s the kindest word I can give you — of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously. I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.
Associated Press (2007-02-19). “McCain blasts Rumsfeld for Iraq war missteps”. MSNBC.com. Retrieved on 2007-02-20.
And there sits Old Rummy, a fossilized éminence grise, bloviating about the current President’s “mishandling” of Hamid Karzai, as if Rummy knew his arse from a hole in the ground. And telling Greta how Obama should be making nice to the ineffectual Afghan con-man that Bush & Co. set up as their man in Kabul. The same Rummy who proudly declaimed “I don’t do diplomacy,” in a 2004 ABC News interview.
Now he’s an expert . . .
Most of the attention that Rumsfeld has gotten over his latest outing has had to do with the unfortunate “trained ape” bit that floated out with the rest of Rummys updraft of hot air. I don’t believe, in this case, that was a racist comment—so I can get that out of the way. As Jamelle Bouie has pointed out “trained ape” is just one of this nasty old man’s pet put-downs which he has applied in a broad-brush multiracial way for some years, now, whenever he needs to puff himself up.
I suppose that it won’t matter much to Donald Rumsfeld that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of his own party said, only a month ago, in a Senate Armed Services committee meeting, that Karzai was “singlehandedly destroying the US relationship with Afghanistan.”
Not the other way around.
My point in all of this is—what conceivable value can there be in a national news organization seeking “expert opinion” from a wholly discredited and disgraced man, a man convicted-in-absentia in an International Court, for abhorrent war crimes. A man who stood before the American people, along with his cronies, and blatantly, egregiously lied 935 times, according to the Center for Public Integrity:
President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.
It doesn’t make any sense, to me, to even ask such people what time it is. So, why would a news organization ask notorious liars for their opinion on how the current administration is doing things? That’s like asking Bruno Hauptmann what he thought of the Lindbergh’s parenting skills—irrelevant and inappropriate.
I honestly can’t fathom it. And I’m afraid that there must be something terribly wrong with a society that feeds on such reportage. Do americans want to be lied to?
Or are we just that blase about the banality of evil among us?