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Making it Very Clear

by Barnabas
June 5, 2002

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Making it Very Clear_Barnabas- ``We are making it very clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve their interests.'' —The President of the United States, May 30.

I’m sticking to my dual theme of absurdity and ethics, but I would appreciate it if our newsmakers were more creative in the absurdity department. Absurdity has a silly grandeur about it, whereas fatuity is merely—fatuous.

I do not believe for a moment that the President is a fatuous person. In a prepared speech, if the theme is universal and not partisan, he can rise to eloquence and greatness.

I do believe that in the next day or two his senior advisors or his wife should convince him of what the rest of the world knows, that he has no gift for public extemporaneous speech. Their attempt will be as daunting as the choir director telling a popular but tuneless minister that he should not sing into the microphone; some people are hard to convince that they really are that bad. In the President’s case, they must try until they succeed.

The President has the habit of starting a sentence grandly and ending it with a truism. In the example above—which also contains our ethical point—he surely intended to say more than that war will not serve the interests of India and Pakistan, but he either forgot what it was in mid-sentence, or he couldn’t formulate it on the spot. So he ran for safety: “that war is not in their interests.” I suspect Pakistan and India know that already. I suspect the average fifth-grade class knows it, if the subject ever comes up.

Even best interests do not concern these nations. If they were interested in serving their interests, they wouldn’t have a million men-at-arms strung out along their common border, waiting for an excuse to vent a rage originating in religion but finding expression in nationalism.

My Great-grandfather’s brother and his neighbor, back in the 1880’s, had a long-standing quarrel over a plot of land. It ended when these two old men shot each other to death on the street of a Mississippi town. That wasn’t about land. It was about hatred. So is the Indian-Pakistani confrontation. Reasonable discourse about “interests” isn’t going to cut it wherever hatred is driving the behavior.

That’s why I earnestly hope that the President intended to say more than what came out of his mouth, and that the next time he will. We can afford some absurdity, but we can’t afford fatuity.

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