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18. Susan Sontag's comments in "The New Yorker" magazine

From: Yoko Umezawa

The Talk of the Town section of New Yorker magazine (Sept. 24 issue) lists comments from various writers, including John Updike and Susan Sontag, in a column entitled TUESDAY AND AFTER. I entirely agree with what Susan Sontag writes. Following is a summary of her comments.

Appalled by "the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators," Sontag raises an objection to "a campaign to infantilize the public." She claims that "this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American bombing of Iraq."

She posits: "And if the word 'cowardly' is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."

Sontag questions the character of "a robotic President who assures us that America still stands still" and a wide spectrum of public figures "who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush."

She urges: "A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy."

Sontag criticizes a "manipulative" task -- "confidence-building and grief management" -- of those in public office, claiming that "the politics democracy -- which entails disagreement, which promotes candor -- has been replaced by psychotherapy." "Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together," she appeals.

Over and over again Americans have been told, "Our country is strong." However Sontag refuses to easily accept such manipulation. "I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be."