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Failure of a Mission was the title of Nevile Henderson's book. He had been British Ambassador to Germany (1937-39), and hoped to the end that he could bring peace. He had some heartening talk with Germans in high places, but their rulers had other plans. Last week Theresa May's visit to Salzburg merited the same title as Henderson's, but I doubt that May will choose it as a chapter heading in her memoirs. She had been massaged with warmish words from the EU satraps beforehand, and had some hopes of a compromise deal, but it all turned turned into an ambush—rather confirming the line, “a sadist is one who is kind to a masochist.” In Salzburg the potentates stopped being kind, and threw out her plan. They left May in visual and real isolation—one red-jacketed woman in a crowd of identikit suits. She was given a ten-minute slot to make her pitch, and no discussion followed. It looked like a job interview, after which the executive says, “Thank you. We'll let you know.”
And this for the leader of a great country which had been, with its great allies, responsible in living memory for liberating all the EU countries now sitting in judgment on Britain. No wonder May looked furious at the news conference. She came back home to read in the day’s newspapers: “HUMILIATION” (The Times), “HUMILIATING” (Guardian), “CHEQUERS IS DEAD AS A DODO” (Telegraph). May obviously had hopes of nice Sebastian Kurz of Austria, currently heading the EU. I would rather cite with a slight difference of spelling Conrad's line: '”Mistah Kurz—he dead.”
The key word to understand the Kavanaugh hearings is “emotional.” This quality now dominates the airwaves and will always do so. The testimony of Dr. Ford seemed utterly convincing, even though offered without supporting evidence. But the same quality resonated with the raw anger of Justice Kavanaugh's testimony. Both, taken separately, were striking and convincing pieces of theatre, and made for memorable TV.
But “theatre” should alert us. What grips us in the theatre is, on occasion, the high quality of the acting. I do not at all mean that last week’s main personages were faking it, or “acting.” I mean that an actor needs to believe totally in the truth of the role to which he/she is committed. They live their parts. Manifestly Dr. Ford and Justice Kavanaugh were totally immersed in the truth of their experience and projected their truth with absolute conviction. Their sincerity is unchallengeable.
So where, objectively, does the truth lie? The sober quest for facts will take us only part of the way. I prefer to go with Francis Bacon: “What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.”
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