Perhaps somebody is familiar with an old Bob Dylan song, 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll'. In it, the narrator tells the (true) story of the wealthy, white heir to a tobacco farm, 24-year old William Zanzinger, who kills his black servant, Hattie Carroll, 'with a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger'.
The two central figures of William and Hattie are placed in sharp contrast throughout the song. William Zanzinger is the privileged son of politically-connected parents, and is bailed 'minutes' after being arrested for the killing. Hattie Carroll, on the other hand, is depicted largely in her status qua servant, and in her familial roles; she 'gave birth to ten children'.
The contrast between the two characters emphasises the sense of injustice that characterises the murder. No motive is given for the senseless killing, except that Zanzinger 'just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'. Nonetheless, depictions of injustice give way to a pending justice. At the end of each verse but the last, the narrator sings the refrain -
'But you who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears/Take the rag away from your face. Now ain't the time for your tears.'
The justice of those who 'philosophise' and 'criticise' however, is not merely deferred, but does not arrive at all. The legal system dealing with Williams' crime, eager to show that 'the courts are on the level', delivers a judgement that is 'handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance'. This retributive 'justice' turns out to be a mere 6-month sentence, at which point the narrator closes: 'Now's the time for your tears'.
I was reminded of this song by some of the many articles one finds in The Australian and other papers on a regular basis. I'm not referring to articles on black/white inequality, or class difference, (one doesn't find these in the Murdoch media in any case), but the so-called 'war on terror'.
Our philosophers of disgrace remind us of the need to remain vigilant to the forces of senseless brutality, of the would-be terrorist that could be hiding in any mosque. One of our stalwart and evergreen keyboard crusaders, Greg Sheridan, put it this way:
The war on terror, the long war, just now is going badly. Very badly. Our
enemies are making solid progress, geographically, organisationally and in their
brilliant public relations campaigns. The West is divided and in key
battlefields losing resolve.
Mr Sheridan explains in greater detail just how the weakened West is being 'divided':
The Western commentariat, not least in Australia, has embraced the pro-terrorist
proposition that almost the only people not morally responsible for terrorism
are the terrorists. Downer's comments also show how very difficult it is to make
a strategic assessment of Iraq...The ability of the terrorists to create
dramatic international events that feed into its single narrative, and play on
pre-existing Muslim paranoia, which is greatly amplified by the anti-Western
bias of much of the Western Left and media (as outlined in the seminal book
What's Left by Nick Cohen), makes it extraordinarily difficult for the West to
win the hearts and minds battle at the centre of the war on terror.
I shall pass by the supposed 'pro-terrorist' tenets of the 'Western Left', and I will not ask, for the time being, what precisely it is the Mr Sheridan means by 'pre-existing Muslim paranoia'. Sheridan explains that the mission to put Right the injustice of Islamic terror had one, apparently self-evident and inevitable conclusion:
The US was thus impelled to go into Iraq for three separate sets of
reasons: traditional geo-strategic concerns about the extreme danger of Saddam
with WMDs; war on terror reasons concerning the danger of Saddam co-operating
with al-Qa'ida; and humanitarian reasons to rid the Iraqi people of the worst
and most brutal dictator of the past several decades.
Is it even worth the time of critiquing such a statement? About non-existent WMD's, or ties to terrorist groups? Or the even more brutally non-existent lack of humanitarianism in Iraq at the moment, as reported, for instance, by a fellow blogger? Or the fact that the chief architect of this 'humanitarian' intervention, the US government, has a track record on foreign policy that is only marginally better than Saddam's? Perhaps we intellectual ingrates should be content in the knowledge that the Great Powers are so concerned safety and justice.
Let us turn instead to another writer who philosophises disgrace, to the shame of the "western Left'. I refer here to Melanie Phillips, in self-imposed exile from progressive intellectuals, and, apparently, in self-imposed exile from reason and reality (which, like our ABC, reportedly has a 'Leftist' bias). Melanie presents an acute diagnosis of the malaise that has infected those who question Coalition tactics:
So much of our political class is paralysed by guilt for what it perceives
to be the West's original sin of colonialism. Throughout the West, there is
currently a major problem of political leadership. The political class is
incapable of disinterested statesmanship because it is no longer sure in what -
if anything - it still believes.
She cites, by way of counter-example, that man who is the very paradigm of principled politics; none other than our own John W. Howard. The courageous Howard, 'comfortable in his own cultural skin', like the US liberators in Iraq, is a role model sufficiently worthy to put the decadent Western Left, with their questioning, hesitations, and introspection, to shame.
After reading all this, I then, fortuitously, turned my attention to a non-Murdoch paper, paralysed by guilt at how the ever-divisive Left had impeded the noble missions of Howard and the US, and how intellectuals had wilfully hindered justice. Obviously, the mighty Coalition doing the killing is doing so for security and justice, and courageously, without fear or favour, as evidenced by this article:
One October day in 1976, a Cuban airliner exploded over the Caribbean and
crashed, killing all 73
people aboard... Investigators in Venezuela, where the doomed flight
originated, quickly determined that a famous anti-Castro terrorist, Luis Posada
Carriles, had probably planned this attack. More than 30 years later,
however, Posada remains amazingly immune to prosecution. Instead of going to
jail, he went to work for the CIA.
The author concludes:
"If you harbour a terrorist, you are a terrorist," President Bush famously
declared after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States is now
harbouring Luis Posada Carriles. His continued freedom mocks victims of
terrorism everywhere. It also shows how heavily the "war on terror" is overlaid
with politics and hypocrisy.
So there you have it. Justice is entirely relative, and its appreciation requires that one be relaxed and 'comfortable' in one's own 'cultural skin'. Our system for dealing with international crimes is 'on the level'. Our lone prophets in the wilderness, such as Phillips or Sheridan, are warning the intellectual Left of its wicked ways. May these treasonous peaceniks heed that warning!
Or, perhaps, like Hattie Carroll, some victims are merely worth more than others, or are not even considered victims at all. As our troubadour might conclude:
'Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears.'