Funny Business

by Clifford D. May

Cornerites may be amused by this article in New York Magazine on conservatives (and/or neo-conservatives — the reporter, Jacob Gershman, doesn’t distinguish) who appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — and like it. (Also linked in Politico.)

I’m quoted quite a bit — perhaps because I returned Gershman’s phone call?

Actually, I think it’s a pretty fair piece, but I do have one quibble. Gershman says conservatives try to “trip up Stewart” and he quotes me saying of Stewart:

“As soon as we finished, he leaned forward and said to me, ‘I can’t believe you got me to say that Harry Truman was a war criminal.’” (Stewart later recanted.)

But I was not trying to trip him up. I was trying to make a serious point which I don’t think should be so difficult to grasp. To wit: If Truman is not a war criminal for using atomic weapons against Japan, how can those who subjected Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubayda to a few hours of discomfort be war criminals?

Or, conversely, if the CIA interrogators and the lawyers who authorized the use of coercive methods — methods that did not lead to death, mutilation, or permanent disability — are war criminals for doing what they did to save lives, then Truman also must be a war criminal for inflicting so much death and destruction in order, he believed, to spare a greater number of American and Japanese lives.

Sure, I’m pleased that Stewart changed his mind about Truman. But I think the logic here is irrefutable. If moderate liberals can square this circle — explain why Truman is not a war criminal but John Yoo is — I’d love to hear their reasoning.