will have a favorite moment in David
Talbot's breathless interview with Susan Sontag, the much-touted
"martyr" in what many persist in viewing as a wartime
inquisition aimed at "censoring" dissent. For some, it
will be Talbot's attempt to cast Sontag as a political maverick
who "has offended the left as often as the right." His
evidence? Well, she denounced Soviet Communism in the early '80s,
and she "strongly supported" America's bombing campaign
against Serbia. How bold! How daring! How visionary! Why, she's
practically a neoconservative!
it will be Sontag's ability to spin webs of paranoia and pass them
off as serious commentary. "Who decided that no gruesome pictures
of the World Trade Center site were to be published anywhere?"
she wonders, and then goes on to suggest that there was "a
kind of self-censorship by media executives who concluded these
images would be too demoralizing for the country." As for the
anthrax mailings, she is "99 percent certain" that they
are "just domestic copycat crazies on their own war path."
No evidence to buttress this claim is offered, needless to say.
Meanwhile, asked about President Bush ("our ridiculous president,"
she calls him), Sontag notes darkly that "what we obviously
have in Washington is some kind of regency, run presumably by Cheney
and Rumsfeld and maybe Powell, although Powell is much more of an
organization man than a real leader. It's all very veiled. And Cheney
has not been much seen lately is this because he is ill?
It's all very mysterious. I hate to see everything become so opaque."
Yeah, it's tough.
is Sontag's hand-wringing, her dithering and vacillations, as she
tries desperately to avoid staking out a real position of any kind.
"I'm not a pacifist," she insists, but "I am against
bombing," because the Taliban are just "a lot of kids."
She doesn't think that bin Laden really cares about Israel, or that
a "unilateral withdrawal" from Palestine would "make
a dent" in the terror networks but she thinks that the
U.S. should pressure Israel to pull out of Palestine anyway. She
wants the Taliban gone, but she doesn't want any of the other factions
to take power, because they're all "absolutely no better when
it comes to the issue of women."
So what should
be done? Well, Sontag rules out bombing or military action or anything
else that would cause "further trouble in that part of the
world," and then insists that we can accomplish all our goals
peacefully, through diplomacy of one kind or another (or maybe through
a series of group hugs). She's a little vague on the details, sure,
saying only that "it's a complicated and long process
and the United States is not very experienced in these matters."
But she knows that the media and the government have all been selling
us a "fairy tale," and that what's needed is a little
"bright and hard-nosed" realism. Kissinger, Metternich,
Sontag ... it has a definite ring to it.
Oh, and she
insists that everyone needs to read an essay in The New York
Review of Books by Harvard's Stanley Hoffman because Hoffman
is so "confident" and "orotund," and Sontag
felt that she "could agree with every word he was saying."
No details of what Hoffman actually wrote, of course save
that "bombing Afghanistan is not the solution," and that
"we have to understand what's going on in the Middle East,
we have to rethink what's going on, our foreign policy." Which
are, of course, Susan Sontag's thoughts (or non-thoughts) exactly.
In the end,
Sontag is just baffled as to how anyone could think her unpatriotic.
"I mean, look," she says plaintively, "I cry every
morning real tears, I mean down the cheek tears, when I read those
small obituaries that the New York Times publishes of the
people who died in the World Trade Center. I read them faithfully,
every last one of them, and I cry. I live near a firehouse that
lost a lot of men, and I've brought them things. And I'm genuinely
and profoundly, exactly like everyone else, really moved, really
wounded, and really in mourning."
lacking in anything approaching a constructive opinion, apparently.
But hey at least she cares.