If We Judge a Man by His Words

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published March 27, 2008, issue of April 04, 2008.
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Things are not always what they seem, but sometimes they are. Public rhetoric is sometimes over the top. The same person can speak hateful words and words of beauty. Context isn’t everything, but it is a lot.

Herewith, some quotes of more than passing interest. You may want to see, as you’re reading, whether you can identify the source.

1) “So we will mercilessly, viciously, effectively attack and destroy all kinds of symptoms. When the rubble has settled and the dust is gone, the disease is still going to be out there untouched. Because we don’t want to look at why, why it is that all of these people hate us. It’s not because of freedom. It’s not because Britney Spears has a belly button or because we export hamburgers. They hate us because of things they see us doing to their part of the world that they definitely do not like.”

The source: Edward Peck, former chief of mission at the American embassy in Iraq, former ambassador to Mauritania, deputy director of covert intelligence programs at the State Department and deputy director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan Administration, in a CNN interview on October 11, 2001.

2) “Happy [is he] who pays you back in kind for what you did to us. Happy [is he] who seizes and smashes your infants against the rock.” The source: The Psalmist, from Psalm 137, the very one that begins with, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion.” As Robert Alter observes in the magnificent translation and commentary, “The Book of Psalms,” “No moral justification can be offered for this notorious concluding line.”

3) “Prior to Abraham Lincoln, the government in this country said it was legal to hold Africans in slavery in perpetuity… when Lincoln got in office, the government changed. Prior to the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, government defined African as slaves, as property. Property, people with no rights to be respected by any whites anywhere.

“The Supreme Court of the government, same court, granddaddy of the court that stole the 2000 election. Supreme Court said in it’s Dred Scott decision in the 1850s, no African anywhere in this country has any rights that any white person has to respect at any place, any time. That was the government’s official position backed up by the Supreme Court — that’s the judiciary; backed up by the executive branch — that’s the president; backed up by the legislative branch and enforced by the military of the government. But I stop by to tell you tonight that governments change.

“Prior to Harry Truman’s government, the military was segregated. But governments change.

“Prior to the civil rights and equal accommodation laws of the government in this country, there was backed segregation by the country, legal discrimination by the government, prohibited blacks from voting by the government, you had to eat and sit in separate places by the government, you had sit in different places from white folks because the government said so, and you had to be buried in a separate cemetery. It was apartheid, American style, from the cradle to the grave, all because the government backed it up.

“But guess what? Governments change. Under Bill Clinton, we got a messed up welfare-to-work bill, but under Clinton blacks had an intelligent friend in the Oval Office. Oh, but governments change.

“Where governments change, God does not change. God is the same yesterday, today and forever more. That’s what his name I Am means. He does not change.

“God was against slavery on yesterday, and God, who does not change, is still against slavery today. God was a God of love yesterday, and God who does not change, is still a God of love today. God was a God of justice on yesterday, and God who does not change, is still a God of justice today. God does not change.”

The source: Reverend Jeremiah Wright, until recently Senator Barack Obama’s pastor, considerably more complex than the endlessly broadcast and often repellent snippets suggest.

4) “God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war…. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation. But God has a way of even putting nations in their place.” [And then God will say], “And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.”

The source: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the Vietnam War, February 4 1968.

5) “They [my people] shall die grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented, neither shall they be buried. They shall be as dung upon the face of the ground, and they shall be consumed by the sword and by famine. And their carcasses shall be meat for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.”

The source: The Prophet Jeremiah, 16:4.

6) “There is no term in Jewish law that states one must consider innocents during war. Of course we must stop terrorists from shooting, even if the only way to do so includes harming civilians.” And “We must inform IDF commanders that we will refuse to carry out orders that are illegal according to the laws of the Torah and which involve evacuating settlements and giving away our forefathers’ lands to our enemies.”

The source: Rabbi Dov Lior, chairman of the Yesha rabbinical council and a leading Religious Zionist scholar.

Yes, life can be complicated. And crazy-making. And infuriating. And beautiful.


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