Politics & Policy

I Suspected That About You

Our minds during war.

Suspicion, suspicion everywhere. Sometimes it’s phony — the guard frisks the 6-year-old girl at the airport. The rules are that everything and everybody is suspicious, so that includes 6-year-old girls. Sometimes it’s sinister — you charge that 9/11 was a Jewish-inspired contrivance. This suspicion comes in with details: All the Jews in the World Trade Center slinked away just in time before the planes crashed! Sometimes suspicion is intended to bring tendentious focus. The caption in Morocco’s Al Alam reads, “The attacking forces of the Americans plunder and steal the money of Iraqi civilians.” Does the editor really believe it? Conceivably, but he wants to arouse feeling, and encourage suspicion of U.S. military motives.

Jonathan Brent of Yale and Vladimir Naumov have produced their Long-awaited book, Stalin’s Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors 1948-1953. We are at Stalin’s dacha on March 1, 1953, and with him at dinner are his closest associates, Beria, Malenkov, Khrushchev, and Bulganin. They sit down to eat and drink at about 10 P.M., and continue to do so until about 4 A.M. Fourteen hours later the great Stalin hasn’t risen, but a light suggests he is now awake. Well, he is lying on the divan speechless and Khrushchev is summoned. But — he says, later, after the monster finally died on the 5th — he didn’t want to call the doctors right away because his impression was that Stalin was suffering from a hangover, and you don’t want to call in doctors to minister to an embarrassing complaint.

But . . . but. Beria said he wasn’t drinking that night, just a little light Georgian wine. Why was he not drinking? Because Stalin liked it for others to drink so that he could probe his suspicions. But there is the suspicion that what he was given to drink was poison. They didn’t want to unearth the actual cause of death because to administer poison to the leader of the Soviet Union was one big bourgeois-cosmopolitan act of treason. Speaking of cosmopolitanism, the suspicion against Jewish doctors was ripening. Did he die of conventional heart and brain problems? Was he properly treated? A commission was set up to report on the entire thing, and filed a huge study in June, but nobody much bothered to examine it; it just sat around. The drama in the Kremlin had worked itself out and suspicions weren’t needed on that question, at that time.

Of singular notice in the world of suspicion is the story of the Iraqi soldier, a veteran of the first Gulf War, who speaks of his companion who disobeyed orders by wearing white underpants. Disobeyed by doing what? Yes. “In the Iraq Army we cannot wear white underpants. It’s forbidden, like wearing white vests or white socks or white handkerchiefs. Do you know why? Because with white underpants and white vests and white socks and white handkerchiefs soldiers can make white flags and surrender.”

How did his friend Abdul handle that problem? “Abdul never took off his white underpants. Never. Not even to wash them. If an officer confiscated them, goodbye white flag.” Perhaps the Morocco paper will run a picture of a pair of rancid underpants, with a caption, “U.S. invaders require rancid defense measures by brave resistance soldiers.”

We suspect, and not at all without reason, that there are millions of people in nations we accept, or have accepted, as civilized and friendly, who really do welcome any bad news for the coalition forces. Germans and French who opposed U.S. military action, and they are the majority, have progressed not so much to suspicion that their advice ought to have been taken, as to an appetite for proof positive that it should have been taken. This is normal, or better, not abnormal. An adviser to President Truman who counseled against dropping an atom bomb on Hiroshima might have felt furtive satisfaction if it had precipitated not Japanese surrender, but Japanese resolve.

But in such situations what one does is refrain from expressing such satisfactions. If John, spurned, is convinced that Mary will not be happy marrying Jim, his challenge is to participate gladly at the celebration of Mary’s happy 25th wedding anniversary. Our suspicion that Germans and French — and Russians and Hollywood actors — would actually take satisfaction from reversals in Iraq, we must suppress. Though it would be nice if Chirac were to appear in due course at the White House, drop his pants, and wave his white under drawers, surrendering to the superior statesmanship of President Bush.


The Latest