Under Western Lies

One hot evening at the end of August I was walking up South Michigan Avenue with an Irish-American linguist on the way to eat in a German-American restaurant. The news was filled with reports on the NATO bombing raids against the Bosnian Serbs, but no one on the street seemed to care that an American President had declared death and devastation against a people whom neither he nor his principal advisors could locate on a map. Looking out at all the smiling faces of rich proletarians on their way home to thaw out the suppers that would complement an evening with Friends, I thought of how unfair we had been to blame the Germans who lived through the Third Reich, oblivious to the crimes committed by the Nazis.

The Germans did not know because they did not want to know, any more than their American cousins wanted to think about what their own generals were doing to Dresden, to Milan, to Hiroshima, any more than the well-dressed serfs out here on the streets of Chicago are willing to listen, even for a minute, to the crackpot on the corner denouncing the Serbian genocide. "We didn't know; Peter Jennings never told us."

You might want to argue that this indifference to foreign policy, criminal or not, is a sign of health, along the lines of "Lord give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change." But there is a difference between serenity and this bovine placidity that blinds us to our own government's...

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