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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Gibson and His Critics

(Reprinted from the issue of August 14, 2003)

Capitol BldgThe Passion, Mel Gibson’s new film of Christ’s suffering, continues to get negative reviews a year before its release. It has now been attacked as anti-Semitic by several people who haven’t seen it yet: Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, a writer for The New Republic, and Frank Rich of The New York Times.

Interesting that the Times should be leading the anti-Gibson vendetta. The Paper of Record has consistently defended, on “freedom of expression” grounds, publicly subsidized blasphemous art insulting Christ and the Blessed Virgin. The Passion is privately funded — by Gibson himself — and it sticks closely to the Gospel texts. Of course the Gospels themselves are often accused of anti-Semitism these days.

On the other hand, those who have seen advance screenings of the film have found it vivid, convincing, and almost unbearably moving. My own hunch is that this will prove a sensationally successful film. It defies all attempts to defame and squelch it; they will backfire by increasing publicity and public curiosity. Oddly enough, Gibson is violating a very real taboo.

The entertainment industry is profoundly hostile to Christianity, and this is the first movie in years to be aimed directly at a Christian public that is starved for artistic expressions of its faith. Yet some have asked whether Gibson will even be able to find a distributor for his film in this predominantly Christian country. Is Christianity up against a combination in restraint of trade?

Hollywood has been seeking shock and scandal for so long that its public has become jaded with sex and violence. Now it is spirituality that shocks and scandalizes. Commercially, The Passion may benefit from a reverse “Banned in Boston” effect, boosting the box-office appeal.

Beyond that, the movie may achieve a greater kind of success, one that can’t be measured in box-office receipts: It may help lead viewers to salvation. If it converts even one viewer, it will have achieved more than even the greatest Hollywood blockbuster.
Mike Tyson, American

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has filed for bankruptcy. The most explosive and terrifying boxer ever, he earned staggering sums in the ring — some estimate as much as half a billion dollars. Now the money is gone, and he is $23 million in debt.

How could a man who had so much throw it all away? Tyson is apparently as self-destructive as he is destructive. He has won more publicity for his feuds, obscene tirades, scrapes with the law, wild spending, and general excesses than for his awesome accomplishments in the ring. His career was interrupted for three years by a rape conviction; his comeback was disgracefully ruined when he bit off a piece of an opponent’s ear in the middle of a bout. A year ago he was soundly whipped by Lennox Lewis in what may have been his last shot at the heavyweight championship. (He had earlier said he would like to “eat [Lewis’s] children,” a sentiment only slightly palliated by the fact that Lewis has no children.)

It’s hard to pity an ugly thug who has gone out of his way at every turn to make himself loathsome. Yet Tyson’s story is not without pathos. At 22 he became one of the youngest boxing champions ever, with much sympathy for his promise and seeming good humor. Now he is 37, well past his peak, and full of self-loathing: “You can’t hate me as much as I hate myself,” he said recently. A glimpse into a strange soul.

One is tempted to disown Tyson as one of America’s least charming aberrations, the consummate ghetto brute. Yet I can’t help thinking there is something unsettlingly and typically American about him. Not so long ago America’s image was that of a young, prosperous, all-conquering nation. Its future seemed boundless. It became the richest and most powerful country of all time.

And today? Much if not most of the world sees America as an ugly, arrogant bully, seeking brawls with weaker countries. It exemplifies what the Pope has memorably called the Culture of Death. Its prosperity is threatened by a national debt on an almost inconceivable scale.

Both Shakespeare and Edmund Burke remind us that those who despise their ancestors will hardly cherish their posterity. America has forgotten its Christian forebears and is putting its own children to the sword. How atypical is Mike Tyson?
The Bomb

By now it seems pretty clear that no “weapons of mass destruction” are going to turn up in Iraq. If they existed, hundreds or thousands of Iraqis would have had to know about them. After the U.S. conquest and the ousting of Saddam Hussein, there were strong incentives for anyone with such knowledge to turn it over to the victors. So why hasn’t there been a single Iraqi turncoat? Are they all, every man jack of them, so fanatically loyal to the memory of Saddam that they will keep his military secrets even now?

August marks the 58th anniversary of the first use of the greatest WMDs of all: nuclear weapons. And the debate continues over whether the United States was justified in dropping them on Japanese cities. More and more Americans think not. So did many American military leaders at the time.

Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof of the aforementioned New York Times disagrees. In an interesting new twist to the debate, he cites Japanese historians who have found startling evidence that the atomic bomb did indeed shorten the war.

The Japanese militarists were so fanatical that they opposed surrender even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been nuked. They wanted to keep fighting even when they believed that the U.S. had more than 100 more atomic bombs — and even when they expected that Tokyo itself would be the next target.

Still, says Kristof, the two nukings strengthened the hand of the Emperor Hirohito and the peace faction in the government sufficiently to allow them to prevail. Japan surrendered. Kristof draws the moral that “restraint would not have worked.... [The] greatest tragedy of Hiroshima was not that so many people were incinerated in an instant, but that in a complex and brutal world, the alternatives were worse.”

If a quick victory with minimal American casualties was the goal, then atomic bombing certainly “worked,” and killing more than a hundred thousand noncombatants achieved its purpose. But it remains a terrible crime against humanity that we should profoundly regret.

One aspect of the tragedy of Hiroshima is that it has inured us to such callous calculations. Atrocities against the innocent often “work,” in terms of their own goals. That’s why terrorism is catching on around the world. This shouldn’t surprise us, given the precedents states have set. If raisons d’etat can justify random mass murder, so can other raisons.

So much hysteria about imaginary Iraqi WMDs, while the U.S. government keeps its own stupendous nuclear arsenal and ignores Israel’s unacknowledged nukes. Robert Novak reports that President Bush is afraid to confront Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But then, I think we already knew that.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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