Acceptable Violence

Here’s a phrase for your meditations: “an acceptable level of violence.”

The President said it. I heard him say it for the first time today but when I searched on line I discovered that he’s been saying it since at least April 25. It’s part of an effort to redefine what it would mean to “win” in Iraq. The implication is that some societies can accept more violence than others. May it would be OK with the Iraqis to have one car bomb a day instead of two or three. Maybe we could feel good about it and come home if only ten bodies a day were found with their throats cut instead of twenty.

Here’s a bit of a conversation GW had with Charlie Rose.

GW: I mean, there is an acceptable level of violence in certain societies around the world, and the question is, you know, what is that level? And that’s where the experts come in. I — you know, you and I can’t determine that sitting here in New York, but we can — we can ask people’s advice upon that; David Petraeus would have an option on that. Ryan Crocker, our ambassador in Iraq. But it’s a very interesting way of putting the question, and — because all — there is an acceptable level of violence in all societies, even our own. . . . Even though all violence is to be abhorred, nevertheless, there is — you know, there’s certain violence — levels of violence that people say, “Well gosh, I can go about my life . . .”

The United States has far more gun deaths than any other society, but obviously we can tolerate that since our leaders of both parties see no need to ask the “experts” and offer no alternative. In Blacksburg, Virginia, for example, people should apparently be able to say, “Well gosh, I can go about my life.”

The families of the 32 victims in Blacksburg, and those in Columbine, Colorado, and the Amish community in Pennsylvania, and all the others should be able to say, “Well gosh, I can go about my life.”

Iraqis, of course, are different. We need to consult experts to see how many bombings a day they can tolerate. It would be great if the experts would tell us that the present level of carnage is acceptable to Iraqis so that we could congratulate ourselves on a job well done and come on home.

But what sort of President, what sort of human being, needs to consult experts to tell him how many people can die acceptably?

I should, I suppose, be happy that the administration is finally looking for a way out, is sitting down with Syrian officials after refusing for all these years to do so and condemning those of the other party who did, is trying to redefine what it might mean to declare (again) “mission accomplished.”

But I come back again to that phrase “an acceptable level of violence” and feel a need to ask, “What is an acceptable level of moral confusion in our leadership?”

“How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?” The answer, my friend, is coming from the experts. And meanwhile the dying goes on.

Leave a comment

Your comment