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Alex Hinton responds to Paul Mirengoff, Mad Jack Percival makes waves, and more...

12:00 AM, May 25, 2005
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THE DAILY STANDARD welcomes letters to the editor. Letters will be edited for length and clarity and must include the writer's name, city, and state.


I WOULD LIKE to draw attention to a number of distortions and inaccuracies in Paul Mirengoff's essay, Argument By Metaphor.

Mr. Mirengoff uses an op-ed I wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, Lessons from the Killing Fields of Cambodia--30 Years On as a platform to launch a diatribe against "the left," arguing that my op-ed illustrates how "the left" lacks "substantive heft, but [is] not short on figures of speech." This title is ironic, given that, in the Power Line Blog that served as a basis for his essay in The Daily Standard, Mr. Mirengoff described me using a disease metaphor: his blog was entitled A Very Sick Professor. Evidently, Mr. Mirengoff believes that it is fine to use this type of fatuous "argument by metaphor," one that is commonly found in the ideological rhetoric of hate groups.

Mr. Mirengoff's journalism of assertion involves the use of a decontextualized series of quotations to manufacture an argument--in doing so he distorts what I originally said. His first paragraph is typical. He asserts that I am warning that "our government's prosecution of the war on terror may be causing us to resemble the Khmer Rouge" and that "The chief lesson, according to Hinton, is that we risk heading down 'their path to evil' through our conduct 'right now in the war on terror.'" Anyone who reads my original op-ed will see that this summary misrepresents my argument.

My op-ed, published to mark the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge's rise to power, was intended as a reflection on what lessons we might take away--both as individuals and as citizens--from this historical period of war and terror since we, too, are now living in a time of war and terror. This is not a "bizarre analogy," but an attempt to learn from history. One can study genocide and still take away lessons that are useful to understand ourselves and the world in which we live--even if genocide is not taking place. Nowhere do I say that the United States is now engaging in or about to perpetrate genocide. Nevertheless, there are some important resonances between the two historical periods that warrant our consideration as individuals and citizens.

I discuss four of these resonances: the risks of an overzealous sense of certainty that can lead to intolerance and fanaticism, the dangers of political paranoia that can lead to the abuse of the rights of others, the use of torture, which typically yields unreliable information and leads us to abuse both the rights of other human beings and our fundamental values, and the increased prevalence of certain social/psychological processes that facilitate the harm of others. Nowhere do I say there is a "chief lesson," as Mr. Mirengoff contends. Instead, I argue that by learning about the past we may come to better understand ourselves and the world in which we live. My piece concludes that "such understanding can help us become more self-aware, humble, tolerant, and let's hope, willing to act in the face of evil." Most people I know--both conservatives and liberals alike--would consider this a laudable goal.

Mr. Mirengoff conjures up the bizarre assertion that I "think we are coming to resemble the Cambodian mass murderers" because we "are not always politically correct." As proof, he quotes from a subsection of my op-ed where I note that, by studying perpetrators, we "catch reflections of ourselves. Most of us have, at some point, used stereotypes and euphemisms, displaced responsibility, followed instructions better questioned, succumbed to peer pressure, disparaged others, become desensitized to the suffering of others, and turned a blind eye to what our government should not be doing. These sort of things are going on right now in the war on terror."