I promised my wife I would not write another letter to the editor for a while. That was a lie. I am getting away with it, though, because the letter aims to encourage truth-telling, my own included. It does require a change in my tone, however, because the subject is starkly serious.
In his letter of December 9, Dale V. Slaght, “Christian and Ph.D. in International Studies,” faults Phil Boyum for expressing Christian pacifism in his columns of November 23 and 30. Slaght answers none of the specific wrongs Boyum considers about the Bush administration’s war policy — for example, that the financial costs add up to “$30,000 in debt for every man, woman and child in the U.S.” — but, instead, condemns Boyum’s thinking generally as heretical and impractical. By generalizing, rather than by being specific, Slaght takes the easier and the ineffectual route.
He generalizes, too, about the Bush administration. In Slaght’s judgment, the Bush policies receive high, or at least commendable, marks in all respects.
The philosopher John Gray, professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, takes a more educated view. On the question of what the Bush administration and its neo-conservatives have been up to, Gray writes: “Beginning with limited goals, revolutionaries have time and again come to accept violence as an instrument for cleansing the world of evil. The ideologues that have shaped the foreign policies of the Bush administration exemplify this pathology. Like Dostoyevsky’s deluded visionaries, neo-conservatives embraced force as a means to Utopia” (“Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia,” New York, 2007, p. 145).
To understand the underlying pathology of the neo-conservative advocates for violence. Gray recommends especially the reading of Dostoyevsky’s “The Possessed.” Having just read that great novel, I agree with Gray on its continuing insightfulness. In one of the most memorable episodes near the conclusion, the main character confesses: “The worst of it is that I believe myself when I am lying. The hardest thing in life is to live without telling lies ... and without believing in one’s lies” (translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett).
Always being truthful is extremely hard for the individual. And it has been impossible, especially on crucial matters of national policy about war, for the Bush-Cheney administration. Through lies and secrecy the Bush-Cheney administration has thwarted the wise purposes of the checks and balances required by the Constitution.
To further prove this point about the deceptions of the Bush warmongering, I can recommend, not for special literary merit but for its thorough and crucial journalism, “Curve Ball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War” (Random House, 2007).
Telling the truth can be “the hardest thing,” especially, I suppose, for politicians and theologians.