Saturday, January 31, 2004


I have seen or heard nothing else about the BBC's story about North Korean gas chambers in the American media so far. The story speaks for itself and, as I read it, the only suitable descriptive term that came to my mind was "evil." The current President's frequent use of the word since 9/11 (often in a specific North Korean context) has seemed to annoy certain people--annoying them much more than, for example, the idea of putting entire families in gas chambers as a science experiment. A brief traipse down memory lane is worthwhile, as we catalogue reactions to Bush's use of the word:

"A bad mistake" (Madeleine Albright)

"Moral leprosy" (the government of North Korea)

"Overheated rhetoric" (former Clinton Korea negotiator Charles Kartman)

"Radically dumbing down the language of international relations" (the L.A. Weekly)

"Ludicrously contrived" (Counterpunch)

"Simplistic and absurd" (Hubert Vedrine, French Foreign Minister)

"Incoherence" (Robert Scheer)

"Too heavy and radioactive a word" (Joseph Montville)

"Deeply unhelpful" (Chris Patten)

"Incendiary" (Robert Wright)

"Counterproductive" (Jimmy Carter)

"Moral[ly] immatur[e]...callow" (The Boston Globe). The linked article reminds us solemnly that "There is no ridding the world of evil for the simple fact that, shy of history's end, there is no ridding the self of it." I don't doubt it, but the thing is, to say something so distant, so soberly intellectual in the face of

"I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. The parents, son and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing," he said.

is, well, simplistic and absurd.

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