I was a bit surprised, albeit pleasantly, to see Jon Stewart nail Harry Truman as a war criminal. After all, Stewart is a typical Hollywood liberal, whose politics are by now a staple of the corporate, anodyne culture that permeates the airwaves, and this naturally excludes everything that might challenge the liberal groupthink that constitutes the conventional wisdom in the Age of Obama.
Certainly, in "respectable" quarters, criticism of anything or anyone connected to the great liberal "anti-fascist" crusade, the "Good War," is strictly verboten, and surely an intelligent guy like Stewart knows this. Yet — contrary to what he said later — this wasn’t an argument that arose in the heat of the moment, in the context of a robust discussion with obnoxious neocon Clifford May on the alleged merits of torture.
No, Stewart had apparently thought this one out, at least to some extent, because when May asked him if he thought Truman was a war criminal for nuking two Japanese cities, he didn’t just say "Yes" — he went into a whole riff about how, if we had first demonstrated the power of this new weapon on an uninhabited atoll somewhere, and then informed the Japanese government that they’d better surrender, or else that would happen in Japan, then and only then would it be okay to drop the Big One. The audience cheered him on, as he took apart the frenetically hysterical May, whose ferret-like features and organizational affiliations make him the perfect spokesman for a policy described by Stewart as "temporary insanity." Yet, a few days later, Stewart was back to the same subject, minus the rabid ferret, this time reversing his stance — and apologizing for calling the little haberdasher a war criminal.
Alas, apparently not quick enough for the executives at whatever network Stewart appears on — yes, I know, I have to be the only person in America who doesn’t watch his show — who no doubt would have preferred that he never said it at all. It was clearly the execs who reined in the freethinking Stewart and laid down the law, and the first law of "controversial," "provocative," and indubitably "edgy" television commentary is to never — ever, ever! — allow a deviation from the conventional wisdom that falls outside the contemporary Left/Right paradigm.
Rule number one in this game is that everybody must play their assigned role. You’ve always got to be "in character." If you’re on the Left, you can take on George W. Bush, murderer of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — but not Harry Truman, killer of even larger numbers of innocent Japanese civilians. Rightists regularly excoriate the crimes of Stalin, yet they are expected to remain silent when it comes to war crimes committed by the U.S., such as the "Phoenix program" during the Vietnam conflict — and they rarely disappoint.
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.