EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the July 18, 2005, issue of National Review.
A few years back in London, I caught a delightfully bad lounge act who, in contrast with the overwrought tremulous chanteuses one finds in the Oak Room and such these days, specialized in a blithely bouncy cheerfulness when it came to even the most lugubrious lyric. He sang the theme from M*A*S*H — you remember, the TV show about the Korean War that was really about the Vietnam War and ran longer than the Hundred Years War. Johnny Mandel’s theme music was wistful and ambiguous on the sitcom, and accompanied by landing choppers. But in that little boîte in Knightsbridge, our singer was entirely unperturbed by the dark lessons of war. He shrugged off Mike Altman’s lyric with a careless finger-snappy breeziness:
Suicide is painless, It brings on many changes, And I can take or leave it if I please . . .
Since 9/11, confronted by the smug indestructible conventional wisdom of the multiculti counter-tribalists in America and Europe, I’ve often found that loopily swingin’ “Suicide is painless” swimming up from the recesses of my memory. “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder,” wrote Arnold Toynbee in his now mostly forgotten work on the subject. But surely it’s never been embraced quite so insouciantly as by our present-day elites. Guantanamo is denounced around the world as the gulag to end all gulags because of shocking torture revelations such as this:
“A female interrogator took an unusual approach to wear down a detainee, reading a Harry Potter book aloud for hours. He turned his back and put his hands over his ears.”
Good grief, what next? Will they force detainees to sit through PBS pledge-drive weeks, watching the same Peter, Paul & Mary reunion specials over and over, punctuated only by local announcers touting the complimentary Bill Moyers mug you receive for a $200 “level of membership”?
If J. K. Rowling is the Torquemada de nos jours, nothing should surprise us . . .