Dear Aunt Sophie,
There is something I have to get off my chest and I can’t think of anyone better to confide in than you. Even though I wrote a piece for the Newspaper of Record in which I already said pretty much what I’m going to say to you, writing it didn’t give me the sense of self-forgiveness I’m looking for.
So here goes.
For quite a few years I’ve been chief news executive of a world-wide TV news network. In order to keep our Baghdad office open, I had to do a little, well, what ill-bred people call ass-kissing. And I had to forego reporting certain stories that I really, really wanted to write. It isn’t in my nature to do this, but I had to for the sake of my job and my company. I should think anyone could understand that – sacrificing one’s private satisfaction for the greater good.
Everywhere I went I kept meeting people who told me they’d been tortured and that their family members were being killed, but I knew that if I reported these stories my network would be denied access to some of the most important stories of the millennium. I mean, could I have caused my network to miss covering Saddam Hussein’s unanimous re-election and inaugural ball?
In my essay I did talk about my fear for the safety of the people who were working for us, and that was the truth, but let’s face it - when push comes to shove translators are a dime a dozen and who really cares if somebody’s fourteenth daughter gets raped by Uday Hussein? One must be realistic about such things.
But now a lot of second-guessers who wouldn’t recognize an authentic moral dilemma if they tripped on it are saying I should have revealed what these people were telling me. Anyone with a pulse should be able to grasp the asymmetry between the satisfaction of a vast worldwide audience and the perceived welfare of a few people whose lives are going to be miserable anyway. If I’d known my story was going to provoke this sort of hostility I certainly would never have written it.
Even though I explained how horrible I felt at having these stories bottled up inside me, people are still talking as if they despise me. I can’t stand it. The fact that I myself suffered tortured thoughts for twelve years doesn’t seem to mean anything to them. I made a painful choice. And for twelve years I was tormented! And it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone!
How can I make people understand? I’m certain anyone would have done the same thing, but how can I get them to see it?
Your letter leaves me in shock and awe.
How did you ever manage to maintain your heroic silence while all the time carrying the burden of this appalling knowledge?
Surely there can be no one who does not instantly grasp why you had to go tongueless – figuratively speaking, of course - about the horrors you were made privy to. Any moron can see that the lives of a few Iraqis can’t compare to a grand slam - Pulitzer, book, screenplay, movie. And maybe even a Presidential Medal for keeping your mouth shut for twelve years – oops! - wrong president.
In fact, now that I think about it, you could probably squeeze a self-help book or two out of this experience, in which you could enlighten your fellow man as to where you found the courage to endure those twelve bottled-up years. Perhaps you will also be kind enough to share the clever little mental tricks you must have devised to keep from hearing the screams of the real torture victims in your sleep.
Until then, get used to being despised. Perhaps someday you’ll even come to despise yourself. That would be a start.
Good luck and God bless.