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Leni and Eddie

NPR lumps a nuclear scientist and a Nazi aggrandizer into the same afterlife.

1:45 PM, Sep 16, 2003 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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"MY GUESS IS that Edward and Leni are together in the next world. They have eternity to work out the implications of their work," said Andrei Codrescu in a segment titled "Leni and Eddie" on NPR's "All Things Considered" last Friday.

Codrescu's vision of "Eddie" (Teller) and "Leni" (Riefenstahl) sitting side by side as the flames tickle their toes is clever imagery, but the musings that lead up to this snapshot of the afterlife are jumbled at best and, at worst, declare a moral equivalency.

Edward Teller and Leni Riefenstahl both died earlier this month--one day apart, as it happened--and this coincidence prompted Codrescu to share his thoughts on the similar results of the lives of the "Father of the Hydrogen Bomb" and the director of "Triumph of the Will."

He opened his segment with references to their shared "evil genius" and closed with the specter of an eternal debate on who did more harm to humanity in the twentieth century. Enlarging on his theme, he opines that this terrible pair are not just evil, but that they were also losers. "Happily, they both failed," he says, and "neither Teller nor Riefenstahl created anything truly original." But, he reminds us again, "they uncovered the latent powers of the originals to bring them, and us, to the brink of extinction."

Perhaps concerned that he has been too quick to lump the two together--as indeed he has been--Codrescu sketched a quick distinction: "From an intentional standpoint there is no equivalency between them" and carefully pointed out that Teller was working for the good guys, while Riefenstahl never even admitted she was working for the bad guys.

But this attempt at balance was quickly lost when Codrescu closed in on one of those trademark pithy NPR wrap-ups. As far as Codrescu is concerned, it seems, Teller, a Hungarian Jew who emigrated in 1934, might as well have worked for Stalin, or (had he been a bit more precocious) Hitler himself: "The H-bomb," Codrescu reminds us, "still has the power to annihilate us, as do neo-Nazis just waiting to be unleashed by the right movie."

You can listen to the whole thing here.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.