Tuesday, June 23, 2009
WFB on Iran
"...it was a grand event viewed purely as testimony to the human spirit. The thought of dislodging a despot who superintends the whole modern appartus of suppression is—eo ipso—exciting. The very thought of its being doable seems almost reactionary. We are trained to believe that totalist governments cannot be overthrown by the people, only by coups d'etat....Electronic communications, which are the century's gift to totalitarian states, played paradoxcically into the hands of the insurgents."
No, this is not WFB writing from the grave, but the lede of a column he wrote January 27, 1979 on the overthrow of the Shah. (It appears in Right Reason, a collection I edited for Doubleday in 1985). Bill suspected that things would not end well (he seemed to fear more from opportunistic Soviet aggression than from Khomeini's religious tyranny), but his willingness to be stirred by the spectacle of the first Iranian revolution in its early days shows his libertarian, even rebellious streak.
He wrote many such paeans in his life, often sorrowful because when the crackdowns they were successful: Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in 1981. But there were also times he tilted the other way. I remember a haggard column during the Tiananmen Square protests, inspired I have no doubt by Henry Kissinger, arguing that no great nation could tolerate the open-ended occupation of the streets of its capital by protesters. This was political philosophy as traffic control, and what a wretched argument it was. Everything in such a situation depends on how truly great the nation is, and what the protesters want.
His turn against the Iraq War, the last time he was feted by liberals, showed some of the same indifference, amounting to scorn, for Iraqis. I discuss it on pp. 231-6 of Right Time, Right Place. The virtue of being open to all arguments was that Bill was open to good arguments against his bad arguments, and he came around to the surge at the end.
Today's protesters in Iran deserve the encomiums he bestowed on their parents—doubly deserve them, because they know they want liberty.
06/23 02:31 PMShare