Jewish World Review March 17, 2003 / 13 Adar II 5763

Paul Greenberg

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The sleepwalkers

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Listening to the debate over what is to be done about Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it's all too easy to understand the dictator's defenders -- those who share his hatreds, his delusions of grandeur, his visions of eternal revenge on all those who have ever stood in his way. Hate we have seen, hate we can understand. You can see, even feel, it today in the Arab press, in the sermons out of the mosques in Cairo and Riyadh and Gaza, in the speeches at the United Nations "Security" Council from the Syrian and Iraqi and Libyan delegates . .

So, yes, I understand all those who feel the world has not rendered them their due, and that this is somehow America's fault. I can understand those who would like to see the West divided, America neutralized and the way open for them to do as they will to others. They're as transparent as hatred.

An American can also understand the resentment in the statements of our "friends" at the U.N., the French and Germans. We may not like it, but we understand it. Great power and good fortune breed resentment. So does anyone who can see danger coming and keeps warning against it. They don't want to hear what we're saying.

Think of the sheriff in "High Noon," and the reception he got when he tried to gather up a posse of oh-so-respectable citizens. Many discovered they had better things to do; they even started to resent him. Soon they just wanted him to leave town.

Americans can certainly understand those Western leaders who appreciate -- and apprehend -- the nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. They can foresee what will happen if the world continues to let him get away with the games he's played for the last decade and -- can anyone honestly doubt it? -- is playing now.

You'd have to be a U.N. inspector to believe Saddam Hussein is cooperating or willing to cooperate in his own disarmament. Or that the containment we've tried for years will someday work, instead of blowing up in our faces. Or that, even if he does destroy a few missiles now, the world would then remain forever on guard against him, night and day. You'd have to be Jimmy Carter to believe that. So, yes, we can understand those of our friends -- like Britain's Tony Blair -- who would prefer to stop Saddam and stop him now, before it is too late.

But it's not as easy to understand the almost invisible middle ground in this debate -- the assumption that, however grave the danger, it will go away if we do nothing much. Like pass another U.N. resolution against it.

What I'm trying to describe is less a policy than an attitude, a mentality that sees no evil and certainly isn't eager to challenge it.

I'm thinking of all those who have nothing in particular for or against Saddam Hussein. They walk, they talk, they carry on with their affairs, but they're moral sleepwalkers. It's as if all this were none of their concern.

Is it because evil has never really touched them? Oh, they might have heard of it, and might even acknowledge it exists in the abstract, but they don't really believe in it. Or that it could ever affect them. Their well-insulated lives, their well-insulated minds, remain impervious. Even after Sept. 11.

I wonder where these people came from, and how long they can have observed the world and not realized how swiftly evil can overtake their own. To these people, events simply happen, and they have no responsibility for shaping them.

The morally neutral are never very explicit about it. They're not very noticeable at all, and they prefer it that way. Their attitude is just part of the background of politics. You almost have to be aware of it to see it.

I hadn't thought much about all this until spotting a yellowed clip in my files. It was a quote from Elie Wiesel, the student of the Holocaust:

"This, this was the thing I had wanted to understand ever since the war. Nothing else. How a human being can remain indifferent. The executioners I understood; also the victims, though with more difficulty. For the others, all the others, those who were neither for nor against, those who sprawled in passive patience, those who told themselves, 'The storm will blow over and things will be normal again,' those who thought themselves above the battle, those who were permanently and merely spectators -- all those were closed to me, incomprehensible."

I read those lines shortly after Mr. Wiesel visited the White House to express his support for acting against Saddam Hussein now. But not many people may have noticed.

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