The Corner

The Witness Business

In my Oslo Journal today, I speak about the power of witness — one man’s testimony and its power to rock a tyranny. A reader writes in to say, in essence, Witnesses, shmitnesses. And he has a point, I’m afraid — a very good one (and one that I myself, if I may, have made many times in the past):

By the Thirties, if not before, there was a plethora of witnesses who could attest to the actual nature of the Soviet Union and tell us that the New Soviet Man was a soul who was browbeaten, terrified, and silenced. But against this, scholars such as the Webbs could be trotted out to say that the witnesses were liars, that the show trials were justice, that the Soviet people loved their government, and so on.

Nor has anything changed. Remember the howls of outrage when Michael Moore produced a movie that lauded the Cuban medical system? I don’t either. Spielberg can talk about his visit with Castro in the hushed tones that Catholics use about meetings with the pope or that I use about my visits to Cooperstown. No one among his friends suggests he is being bamboozled by a murderous dictator. How many people know the name of Armando Valladares?

Yes, yes, well said. Then the reader talks about the Iranians who took to the streets en masse, defying a brutal regime, and shouting — among other things — “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them!” And what did our president do? He said, almost as an aside, that he was “bearing witness” to the struggle in the streets. What does that mean? That he noticed it? That it was in the New York Times?

I have a lengthening list of questions I think the president should be asked, if the president took questions from the press (which he very seldom does). One of the questions is: What does it mean when you say you “bear witness” to democratic aspirations? You drastically cut our funds to democracy groups in the Middle East — funds that the previous administration thought right and helpful. You are determinedly patient with the dictatorships in the Middle East (while publicly hammering Israel). But you are “bearing witness.” Could you explain?

He’s a very good talker. I imagine he would have a very good answer. Right?

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