Idea Of The Day

Fool’s Gold

Politicians habitually believe that their natural charisma or their brains allow them to outrun problems, though when and if a problem finally catches up to them, they resort to that well-tested law of practical political theory and remain silent. They might also recall Thomas Carlyle’s well-known remark: “As the Swiss inscription says: Sprechen ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden—‘Speech is silvern, Silence is golden’; or, as I might rather express it, Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.” Suspicious observers of Rep. Gary Condit’s behavior would argue that the eternity defense isn’t the best way to convince the public of one’s innocence. Some observers of Henry Kissinger argue much the same thing. It’s six months since the first part of Christopher Hitchens’ “The Case Against Henry Kissinger” appeared in Harper’s magazine ( Part 2 appeared the following month, while the complete article appeared a few months later in book form as The Trial of Henry Kissinger) and as Peter Kilander’s immensely informative Web site attests, the debate about the former secretary of state’s conduct in Vietnam, Chile, and East Timor that Hitchens’ article provoked has not ceased. ( James Fallows’ lively discussion with Hitchens on the nature of Kissinger’s crimes appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in February and March.) On the contrary, the debate seems to become louder with each passing week. Kissinger believes and/or hopes that Hitchens and his book will just blow over—“I’m not going to do him the favor of getting into a debate with him,” he told reporters some months ago. Silence, he hopes, is golden, though if Hitchens has his way and Kissinger is asked to answer the allegations made against him, then that silence, auric as it may be, will not be of eternity.