A new book about Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and their role in the horrors associated with the events which led to the creation of Bangladesh is frightening. A Times Literary Supplement (10 January, 2014) reviewer writes of it:
Bass (the author) deploys White House recordings, including several new transcripts, to excellent effect, and although the bigotry and small-mindedness of Nixon and Kissinger are widely understood and known, the book contains enough material to make the reader sick. As Bass recounts in one instance, “Nixon bitterly said, ‘The Indians need – what they really need is a – . . .’ Kissinger interjected, ‘They’re such bastards.’ Nixon finished his thought: ‘A mass famine’”. The bigotry and rage are not limited to Indians, either (‘they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Muslims’, Nixon says of the Pakistanis).*
There are three great realms of intolerance in this world – and probably always have been: cultural intolerance, religious intolerance and racial intolerance. Of the three, racial intolerance is the most irrational, blind and obnoxious. In these utterances of this supposedly wise and powerful duo we have all three mixed up together.
This is naked evil. There is no other way to judge it. A commandment forbids that we judge as evil the men who uttered these words and harboured these thoughts. But if this is the consequence of the political philosophy of realpolitik then that is an evil philosophy and we must call it such.
I don’t know if there is anything as genocidal as these remarks on record from the administration of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland which presided over the Irish Famine in the 19th century. I don’t think so. That these words should come from the mouths of an elected representative of a civilised people, and his learned and widely admired aide, is truly shocking. The prevailing laissez faire economic philosophy of the 19th century is offered as an excuse for government neglect of the starving Irish. It is a weak enough excuse. But what can excuse the racism, the callousness and the arrogance of these two – and how many more – in the middle last quarter of the 20th century, in living memory.
The grounds for disillusion – even disgust – with the political class are hard to cope with. Is it really true that “all power corrupts”? It seems that we should worry much less about absolute power than about power in its more ordinary manifestations. This is where the real rot lurks.
What is the antidote to this poison? Our only hope of escape from this evil would seem to lie in the spirit of these words:
People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that ‘responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation’. Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter.**
That is an excerpt from the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, recently given to the world by Pope Francis whom the incumbent successor of Richard Nixon is due to meet shortly. We can be sure that the White House has by now dealt with the dreaded leakage problem which opened the world’s eyes to what went on in the mind and heart of Nixon and his advisers. We may have mixed feelings about Edward Snowden and his ilk but there is an upside as well as a downside to their approach to ‘open government’. Do we really think that we now enjoy a purer, selfless and more just exercise of political power than we did half a century ago? We would be naive to think so.
In the modern state, even in states which proclaim themselves of the people, for the people and by the people, our only hope of integrity, honesty and dignity is in remembering and living by those words, ‘responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation’.
*THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide. Gary Bass, 475pp. Knopf. $30.
**Excerpt From: Francis, Pope. “Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation”, 220. 24-XI-2013.