Monday, December 22, 2008

The Danger of High Positions

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked  Vice President Cheney to name the high point from his years as Vice President.  Cheney answered by stating that 9/11/01 was the most important.  Various commentators have blasted for the Vice President for this answer.

I am not sure the Vice President deserves condemnation for his answer.  People become politicians because they want to be at the center of events like 9/11.  They want to shape world changing events, and so they enter politics to do just that.

However, Cheney's words do reveal a danger that comes from the people who lust over positions at the center of great events.  That danger is they lose all perspective on the results of their actions.

Let me illustrate with an example.  In World War 2, Winston Churchill had a map room in his underground bunker.  As an aside, Liturgygeek and I saw Churchill's Bunker on our honeymoon in London.  When the US entered the war, President Franklin Roosevelt thought he too needed a map room and he created one on the ground floor of the Whitehouse.  In this room, Roosevelt could track the movements of fleets and armies, and he could communicate with the various theaters of the war.  Roosevelt could also find out the current location of the allied leaders.  A cigarette holder marked Roosevelt's current location, a cigar stood for Churchill, and a pipe represented Stalin.  Access to the map room was limited to Roosevelt and a handful of aides and military chiefs.

Eleanor Roosevelt did not usually have access to the map room but one day she got a peek and what she saw disturbed her.  The First Lady saw President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill studying the maps.  She described them as "two little boys playing soldier.  They seemed to be having a wonderful time, too wonderful in fact.  It made me a little sad somehow." 

That's the issue that the Cheney interview brings out.  It's not that Cheney is a uniquely evil man.  It is easy to to believe that some Democrats approved what the administration did.  What Cheney demonstrated is that it is easy to commit evil when the results are an abstraction or pins on a map.  It's not a real human being that we are torturing but an "enemy combatant."  There is no such thing as the Iraqi people but just people in Iraq.  

The key is not to view Cheney as the disease but as a symptom of country that pursues a policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace.

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