A reader writes:
I just glanced at the clock and realized it's 5pm and I've done almost nothing related to my job today -- I've been clicking through link after link, reading and watching all I can from the reports trickling out of Iran. I am so overwhelmed with emotion I can't find the words to properly describe it. My heart reels for these people -- at the same time, I am almost dumbfounded by their courage and bravery and ideals. It's an incredible thing to watch history unfold in real time. I feel confident that one day my children will see these photos and read these accounts in their history books, and I take some solace in the fact that history is on the side of these protesters. But as the day winds down, I find that the emotion I feel most vividly is frustration.
I can't stop thinking about my visit to a concentration camp in Germany a few summers ago and the raw emotion I felt walking slowly down the hall in to the gas chambers. I have some German-Jewish heritage so the moment was especially poignant for me, but you didn't have to be a Jew to appreciate the significance of the surroundings. I remember asking myself over and over again how the world let something like this happen - how good people could stand by and watch as people were slaughtered. I know the comparison isn't fair -- and I know that it's oversimplifying the situation to say that good people are standing by doing nothing. Still, besides turning my twitter avatar green and donating money to tehranbureau.com (god, those sound even sillier writing them out) I don't know what I can do. I know the answer is nothing. It just doesn't seem like enough.
I understand the feeling. My own sense of helplessness is abated by blogging manically. It's all I know to do. But watching a boot come down on a human face in real time is ... well more than frustrating. But this is the fallen world we inhabit in which power always trumps freedom if it is ruthless enough in the short term. What we look for is the long term, the arc of history, and the rightness of the cause. Our job cannot be to end tyranny or evil, for that is impossible and the attempt can be counter-productive. But we can expose it, explain it, witness it and through the march of time chip way at it.
So that's what it has come to. The American Left, traumatized by the Bush years, has receded to the cynical and egotistical isolationism of the American Right in the 1930s. Yes, there's lots of evil out there, but no, there's nothing efective we can do about it, so we'll live our fine lives over here and pity the poor folks over there.
I'm not saying one should always set out to slay whatever dragons can be seen on the horizon. Yet it seems to me the story of American policy between 1939 and 2004 was an attempt to find the right balance between effectively promoting freedom and destructively not suceeding. No longer, if it depends on the people in Andrew's camp. They'll have compassion, yes, and green tweets, but don't expect much more from them.