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Old 05-10-2010, 08:42 AM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: The sylvan exurbs west of Boston Massachusetts.
Posts: 1,328
Default Wiesel vs. Moral Authority

When I hear the words "Moral Authority", I think of the infamous Bitburg incident in 1985. Ronald Reagan, in his effort to support a friend in Western Europe, planned a trip to Germany which included a brief stop at a large cemetery where many WWII soldiers and citizens are buried. The German Chancellor was struggling with internal divisions, and Reagan wanted to bolster German unity by making a show of American solidarity with the German government and German people. This, of course, was before the Wall fell.

The problem was the presence of a small number of graves of Nazi soldiers, clearly marked as such. The American Jewish community objected. Elie Wiesel, in particular, argued forcefully that an American President had no business setting foot in a cemetery housing Nazi dead. The Democratic-leaning press, always eager to challenge Reagan, amplified these complaints into a domestic political embarrassment, citing Wiesel's "Moral Authority".

Reagan, out of either stubbornness or principle, persisted with the planned visit, with an additional stop at the Bergen-Belsen death camp as some kind of weird compensation. The New York Times reported that Reagan's staff "looked grim" at the cemetery and called the visit a "fiasco". The Nobel Peace Prize committee, always eager to tweak a Republican president, responded by recognizing Wiesel in 1986.

I had reason to be sympathetic with Wiesel's cause, yet this is where he lost me. It was clear that Reagan was acting in the interest of strengthening Germany and US/German ties at a critical time in German history. The spectacle of Elie Wiesel telling my President where he could and could not walk in his pursuit of foreign policy objectives was highly offensive. (I say "my President" as a statement of fact. I had voted for Mondale.) Reagan may have been dumb as a soap dish, but in this case he was acting on the side of the angels, encouraging European strength and stability, while Wiesel was shamelessly peddling parochial self-interest.

Subsequent events in Europe have reinforced my convictions. Therefore I have my own views about who had the real "Moral Authority".

There's a significant difference between moral authority and scientific authority that some commenters overlook. Scientific authority accrues to those who understand the science, regardless of their role in the process. Moral authority is bestowed on those who are personally involved in fighting the bad guys, those with skin in the game. The former is boring and the latter is admirable. But with respect to where truth lies, the former is dependable; the latter is merely the chimera of celebrity.

Last edited by Simon Willard; 05-10-2010 at 03:41 PM..
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