Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Providing a word

People have been commenting on Ross Douthat's essay today. I haven't seen anyone provide a particular word that is emphatically important in this discussion.

But with great power comes a lot of pressures as well, starting with great fear: The fear that through inaction you'll be responsible for the deaths of thousands or even millions of the Americans whose lived you were personally charged to protect. This fear ran wild the post-9/11 Bush Administration, with often-appalling consequences, but it wasn't an irrational fear - not then, and now. It doesn't excuse what was done by our government, and in our name, in prisons and detention cells around the world. But anyone who felt the way I felt after 9/11 has to reckon with the fact that what was done in our name was, in some sense, done for us - not with our knowledge, exactly, but arguably with our blessing. I didn't get what I wanted from this administration, but I think you could say with some justification that I got what I asked for.

Okay. People were scared. And they did something bad, something that they shouldn't have done, but god, people were scared, and they had reason to be scared, right?

There's a word for that. It's a really common word, and it's one that gets misused a lot, so a lot of people might not recognize that it fits, perfectly and properly here.

That word is "cowardice". And the noun form, "coward", is the proper word to apply to those who chose this course... or even who approved of it.

When you let fear drive you, when you let it lead you to do something wrong, based upon that fear, you are showing cowardice. If you continue to let fear drive you, week after week, month after month, year after year, you are being a coward.

While I have some sympathy for people who are driven by fear, that sympathy dries up for those who choose to lead our nation. They have a simple choice: either to consider our most precious values to be more important than their fear, or quit, and let someone with courage take over.

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