My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


On The Wilful Inability to Recognize Evil

There is a very good Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer by the name of Terry Goodkind (Tor Books) who writes some very insightful stories. Let me give you an example.

In the book Naked Empire (2003), the story centers around a community that is basically exiled in a secluded mountain region, and which openly welcomes among them a people who profess to want to destroy them, and who then seek to do just that. Entrance to this region is guarded by a magical barrier inscribed in an ancient language thusly (and here I will excerpt the novel, from p. 457):

[ed note: most of the words you don't recognize are names--deal with it! By the way, don't try to make any judgement about the quality of TG's writing from just that little excerpt; this is one page of some 700 from one novel, in one novel from nine in the series.]

"Oh, it was about them, all right, but not in that respect. Richard tapped a finger to the carved words. "It doesn't say 'for beyond is evil: those who cannot see,' but something profoundly different. It says 'Fear any breach of this seal to the empire beyond . . . FOR BEYOND ARE THOSE WHO CANNOT SEE EVIL.' "

Kahlan's brow drew down. " . . .those who cannot see evil."

Richard lifted his bandaged arm up toward the figure towering over them. "That's what Kaja-Rang feared most--not those who couldn't see magic, but those who could not see evil. That's his warning to the world." He aimed a thumb back over his shoulder, indicating the men behind them. "That's what this is all about."

Kahlan was taken aback, and a little perplexed. "Do you think it might be that because these people can't see magic they also can't recognize evil," she asked, "or that because of the way they're different they simply don't have the ability to conceive of evil, in much the same way they can't conceive of objective magic as having nothing to do with mysticism?"

"That might in part be what Kaja-Rang thought," Richard Said. "But I don't."

"Are you so sure?" Jenssen asked.


Before Kahlan could make him explain, Richard turned to the men. "Here, in stone, Kaja-Rang left a warning for the world. Kaja-rang's warning is about those who cannot see evil. Your ancestors were banished from theNew World because they were pristinely ungifted. But this man, this powerful wizard, Kaja-Rang, feared them for something else: their ideas. He feared them because they refused to see evil. That's what made your ancestors so dangerous to the people of the Old World."

"How could that be?" a man asked.

"Thrown together and banished to a strange place, the Old World, your ancestors must have clung desperately to one another. They were so afraid of rejection, of banishment, that they avoided rejecting one of their own. It developed into a strong belief that no matter what, they should try not to condemn anyone. For this reason, they rejected the concept of evil for fear they would have to judge someone. Judging someone as evil meant they would have to face the problem of removing them from their midst. . . ."

Better to deny the existence of evil than have to eliminate the evildoer in their midst. Better to turn a blind eye to the problem, ignore it, and hope it went away."

Why is my mind, and my writing, drawn to this excerpt?

Because my mind just flew there as I was re-reading Hugh Hewitt's interview with Michael Ware.

Let me just pull a few key quotes out of the interview for you, to illustrate my thinking.

Exhibit A:

HH: But more importantly, going to the Islamists, about whom...you'll agree with me, they're evil. Won't you, Michael?
MW: Well, I certainly...I mean, one has to be careful that as the Islamic army of Iraq reminded just last week on Al Jazeera, the insurgent groups study very closely everything that we hear, say and write. And given that we're within their grasp, one always must be diplomatic. Suffice to say, it's very hard to relate to the goals or tactics that the hard-line Islamists employ.

Exhibit B:

MW: Well, actually, in the course of this war, we've had a translator assassinated four blocks from our house. Our house has been hit by, or subject to car bombs twice. I've had two of my stringers who deal with the insurgency kidnapped, one of whom was rescued by the Marines when they overran Fallujah in November, 2004. The other one was tortured for five days as al Qaeda tried to get information on me before he was finally released,

Exhibit C:

HH: No, but it does, however, get to the question of whether or not media from the West should be...what's the right word, Michael Ware? It's not assisting, but providing information flow to the jihadis about whom I'm quite comfortable, and I think most Westerners are quite comfortable, just declaring to be evil, because they kill innocents, and that killing of innocents is evil, is it not, Michael?
MW: Well, absolutely. And I think you'll find that that's the source of one of the greatest divisions amongst all the insurgents here.
HH: And so, is it easy for you to do good journalism with the threat of reprisal hanging over your head, perhaps even greater, because you've been given access over and over again to the bad guys?
MW: Well, yeah, it's still more than able to be done. Nothing is easy in this country. But it's just like how when you're writing about, let's say, an American unit that you're embedded with. You get into some very heavy, some very nasty combat. And I've done that so many times, I can't even begin to count. And something happens, something that may not exactly play well back home. And yet, it's something that you know, well, people outside of this experience would never understand that. I mean, how do you relay that without betraying the trust and the confidence of the troops? And for some journalists, they have to bear in mind well, if I write a negative story about the military on this embed, will they give me another embed? So there's always these pressures from all the players.

Exhibit D:

HH: Now this brings me to the interesting issue that we talked about on CNN, and that is the morality of doing that [embedding]. Why do you do that?
MW: Well, there's a number of reasons. I mean, you can look at it very, very cynically. One is know thy enemy.

It becomes clear to my thinking that Michael Ware would have been very comfortable in the society banished behind the barriers in Terry Goodkind's novel. Not only does he make an effort to avoid agreeing with Hugh that the jihadis are "evil" (a dodge which could be understood in the context of the danger he is in), and not only does he compare the propaganda used by teh terrorists to the pressure the military puts him under, but even after relaying that his people--his friends, his employees--were killed and tortured by the insurgents, he is unwilling to acknowledge that there is a profound difference between us and them.

And, more offensively, he continues to be willing to make himself a tool for evil.

Of course, to his mind, he is merely chasing the story. He is simply doing the job.

And that, my friends, is what is most frightening. If Michael Ware--and, for the sake of argument, let's say that a large percentage of the journalists covering the war--is UNABLE to recognize the evil of the terrorists then there is NO WAY we will ever get the real story. Because Ware can go out with the 1st Marine ID and see horrible things, and maybe see some bad bahavior, and he will be free to report on that; but he goes out with the Jihadis and sees those same type of things, and NOT ONLY will he not be able to recognize the profound difference between the intentionality of the Marines vs. the terrorists, but he will be prevented under threat of bodily harm from reporting on that--AND HE STILL WON'T SEE THE DIFFERENCE!

Which means that he will continue to be available to the Jihadis as a conduit of information in the information warfare that is going on. And he won't recognize that that's a problem.

This is a much bigger problem than simply arrogance or partisanship; this is suicide.

And, sadly, this attitude is not unique to Michael Ware, and it does go a long way towards explaining why the coverage from Iraq seems so unbalanced. To extend Hugh's analogies, imagine if the journalists covering the Nazis ONLY thought that Hitler was a nationalist; then try to imagine those reporters covering the discovery of Bergen-Belsen or Auschwitz.

This is dangerous, and that is why the Michael Ware interview matters.

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