The Greeks had a saying that “the iron draws the hand toward it,” which encapsulates, as well as anything can, the idea that weapons and armies are made to be used.
It’s consoling, in a way, to discover that those who waged the Vietnam War found [Howard] Wilson almost as contemptible and fantasy-sodden and solipsistic as did those who opposed it.
Now that this stupid [Cold War] is over, and a certain amount of daylight has been let in, we ought to be reading a grown-up account of what was done in our names, what was known, and in each case by whom. We ought not to be viewing history through the optic of penny dreadfuls, yellow journalism and adventure stories for boys.
A few weeks ago, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, the state finally got round to recognizing the only physical hero of the [My Lai Massacre] story, a decent guy named Hugh Thompson who saw what was going on, landed his helicopter between Lieutenant Calley’s killing squads and the remnant of the inhabitants, called for back-up and drew his sidearm. His citation had taken thirty years to come through. It was intended as part of the famous healing process which never seems quite to achieve closure.
I propose that [Isaiah] Berlin was somewhat haunted, all of his life, by the need to please and conciliate others; a need which in some people is base but which also happened to engage his most attractive and ebullient talents. I further propose that he sometimes felt or saw the need to be courageous, but usually—oh dear—at just the same moment that he remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere.