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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Kyle Cupp
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    says:

    …he uses it because he knows the example of President Truman will automatically elicit a sympathetic reaction from his audience.

    This speaks to the power of our mythologized images of historical figures: mentioning them in a debate can temper an opponent’s moral outrage at present immoral decisions and behavior. When this happens, maintaining the mythology takes priority over condemning present crimes.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I’m not sure it’s a “mythology” issue.

    Folks, on all sides, tend to identify with this side or that one. The side they don’t identify with gets criticized harshly and, when other people defend it, it’s pointed out that the folks on the other side are too close to the issue, incapable of objectivity, etc.

    The side one identifies with, however, gets “well, you have to understand”.

    For example, bring up the Black Book of Communism and discuss, say, Stalin’s gulags. Watch what happens. Watch who will say “well, you have to understand”.

    Compare the sets of people saying “well, you have to understand” regarding this particular excess of government to the sets of people saying “either you’re part of the solution or you’re part of the problem”. Then look at, say, Israel/Palestine. Then look at WWII. Then look at the gulags. Look at any given division and see if a pattern emerges.

    The patterns are where I see the most interesting parts of the debate. Watch where people switch between Righteousness and “well, you have to understand”… and see if there is a general principle that causes them to make such switches.

    I find that principle to be the interesting part of the debate.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    On another level, one wonders if it is truly “fair” (trying to find a better word, feel free to make suggestions) to judge the past by today’s standards.

    Abraham Lincoln, for example, mused whether slaves and former slaves ought to be sent back to Africa. His letters and speeches are full of statements that point out that the races are not equal.

    And yet… calling him a “racist” doesn’t really… it doesn’t seem to fit, does it? It almost seems to fundamentally misunderstand the dynamics of the time.

    I’m wondering if a similar thing ain’t going on with this.Report

  4. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    It seems the problem is people use analogies simply to win an argument without going through the thought work of explaining why their analogy is good. No analogy is perfect. If it was exactly the same as the situation we are facing, then it wouldn’t be an analogy. And when you bring in an analogy it often also brings in other issues that just muddy the waters instead of clarifying arguments. Especially highly charged analogies.

    I’m all for control of analogies. They are like guns, they should be legal but with strict controls.Report

  5. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    RE:

    On another level, one wonders if it is truly “fair” (trying to find a better word, feel free to make suggestions) to judge the past by today’s standards.

    Abraham Lincoln, for example, mused whether slaves and former slaves ought to be sent back to Africa. His letters and speeches are full of statements that point out that the races are not equal.

    Jaybird, I think this is a good point – however – I think that we judge past actions not so much to simply lay blame at the long-dead leaders who made them, but to help us evaluate how we move forward with our own decisions. This is one reason why mythologizing our own history – sanitizing the actions of our leaders (be they Lincoln, Wilson, or Truman) – is a dangerous habit. Something about being doomed to repeat history and all that….Report

  6. Avatar Patrick
    Ignored
    says:

    Stewart has apologized to the ghost of Truman.

    I make little of that. You should take of it what you will. My main observations, which pretty much anyone can make for him or herself, are that Stewart is a coward who will back down from what he (pretty obviously) believes when ratings and network pressure are on the line, and that as you point out, the morality of Truman’s decisions (before the bomb had been used in field conditions and with the record of Japanese last-man-standing fighting before Nagasaki) make this a complex moral question indeed.

    So complex that Stewart’s an unworthy introduction, but I blog too. You work with what you have, and Freeman Dyson hasn’t said anything about Truman recently.Report

  7. Avatar Will
    Ignored
    says:

    Patrick –

    I don’t see malice or avarice behind Stewart’s decision to walk back his remarks; I think his (bad) explanation betrays how little we examine our political heroes.Report

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