Geschrieben am 18. Mai 2013 von für Crimemag, Kolumne

Thomas Adcock: Two Shades of Evil in the U.S.A.

Thomas Adcock untersucht in seinem Essay den Unterschied zwischen „Evildoers“ und „Evildoers“, also zwischen Übeltätern und Übeltätern. Da gibt es schon welche …

EVILDOERS & EVILDOERS. Clockwise, from top left: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, mastermind of the Boston Marathon bombings; gun monger Wayne LaPierre; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, confessed terrorist; George W. Bush, public face of the Cheney administration; former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza “Mushroom Cloud” Rice; Halliburton honcho & former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Two Shades of Evil in the U.S.A.

Respectable & Repugnant

by Thomas Adcock

Copyright © 2013 Thomas Adcock

NEW YORK, near America

 On Thursday the 25th of April in the Texas city where John F. Kennedy was assassinated fifty years ago come November, President Barack Obama told an assembly of world dignitaries that his immediate predecessor in the White House, George W. Bush, is a “good man,” possessed of “generosity” and “personality.” The occasion was a private, heavily secured, closed-to-the-public dedication of the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, erected at a cost of $250 million (€193 million).

“To know the man,” Mr. Obama added of former President Bush, “is to like the man.”

Among the ex-president’s chums in attendance were former Vice President Dick Cheney, who wore a jaunty Stetson as a possible reminder that his junior partner in power from 2001-09 was called the “cowboy president” by a smirking press corps; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, dubbed “Mr. Bush’s poodle” by The Guardian newspaper of London; former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who claimed in 2002 that only a full-blast military invasion of Iraq could prevent a “mushroom cloud” of global annihilation; and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who exhibited the day’s rare note of decency in being filmed asleep during the proceedings.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, no cemetery would accept the corpse of Tamerlan Tsarnaev due to his role in the Boston Marathon bombings ten days earlier, a crime that killed three bystanders and a police officer, maimed hundreds, and terrorized a city. (Ultimately, he joined the company of slugs and earthworms, with interment on the 8th of May in Muslim funerary grounds near an amusement park in rural Virginia.)

The late Mr. Tsarnaev’s live brother and confessed accomplice, Dzhokhar, remains shackled to a prison hospital bed, pending federal trial on charges that well might result in his execution. Until then, detectives are busy amassing evidence they believe certain to implicate both in a drug-related triple homicide in the Boston suburb of Waltham in September 2011—said murders having occurred on the tenth anniversary of air strikes on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., in which knife-wielding al-Qaeda operatives hijacked commercial jetliners in suicide sorties that killed more than three thousand innocents.

While president, Mr. Bush referred to terrorists as “evildoers.” Few would disagree with that characterization, and most would apply it to the brothers Tsarnaev. While I am in tune with those majorities, I would ask: Ought not the pejorative “evildoer” be broadened?

I would suggest that the fraternity of evildoers includes a president who peddled deliberate falsehoods as casus belli for a nine-year war that killed some four thousand American soldiers, produced a suicide rate among returned veterans of twenty-two per day, crippled scores of thousands of other veterans, created deadly “collateral damage” (Pentagonspeak for innocent death) involving well more than a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians, and brought national shame by way of military dungeons and torture chambers.

How about senior cabinet members who promulgated the Big Lie culminating in the invasion and occupation of oil-rich Iraq? Are they not similarly engaged in evil?

And what of an oil industry executive turned military contractor turned American vice president? Dick Cheney—the man behind the curtain, as L. Frank Baum’s allegorical “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” informed us about clandestine power behind public bumblers. Dick Cheney with his mechanical heart, permanent snarl, and a significant monetary stake in Halliburton Corporation, the world’s foremost war profiteer.

On the centennial of 9/11—the day the Tsarnaevs likely murdered a Waltham drug dealer and two cohorts, and seven years after Mr. Cheney’s bumbler declared “mission accomplished” as regards the U.S. incursion into Iraq—the following statement regarding Mr. Bush and his mendacious colleagues was released to the press by Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies and Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice, headquartered here in New York:

The U.S. war against Iraq was illegal and illegitimate. It violated the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions…U.S. laws and our Constitution—with impunity. And it was all based on lies: about non-existent links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, about never-were ties between Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden, about Iraq’s invisible weapons of mass destruction, and about Baghdad’s supposed nuclear program—with derivative lies about uranium yellowcake from Niger, and aluminum rods from China…

[L]ies about U.S. troops being welcomed in the streets with sweets and flowers…lies about thousands of jubilant Iraqis spontaneously tearing down the statue of a hated dictator.

[T]he lie that the U.S. could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars worth of weapons across the world to wage war on the cheap. We didn’t have to raise taxes to pay the almost one trillion dollars the Iraq war has cost so far; we [were told by President Bush to] go shopping instead.

The foregoing was printed in much of America’s alternative press, and a handful of comradely foreign outlets—publications rich in integrity, though poor in readership. Mass media ignored the Bennis-Cagan statement. America’s most widely circulated broadsheet—USA Today, an easy-to-read journal of news briefs and Hollywood titillations—ran a short interview with Mr. Bush, accompanied by an iconic newswire photo of a righteous commander-in-chief posed amidst smoking ruins of the World Trade Center and vowing revenge through an electric bullhorn.

“Time is quickly dimming our memories,” Mr. Bush told USA Today, adding, darkly, “Evil exists still—in the form of people who murder innocent people to advance a point of view.”

Mr. Bush had the Tsarnaev ilk in mind when admitting that neither he nor his bullhorn had vanquished evil. (There is a certain school of psychiatry that would consider his remarks as indication of psychological projection.)

Mr. Cheney summarized his sentiments about the high-priced U.S. war on Iraq—$2.2 trillion (€1.8 trillion), according to Pentagon figures—in a March television documentary. After defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” invented during the Spanish Inquisition, he said of his war policy leadership, “I did what I did. It’s all on the public record, and I feel very good about it. If I had it to over again, I’d do it in a minute.” (The term “enhanced interrogation techniques” is English for verschärfte Vernehmung, the Nazi-era torture methodology prescribed by Gestapoführer Heinrich Müller.)

What Messrs. Bush and Cheney personify is one of the two shades of American evil:

• Respectable evil—as recently illustrated by the Texas presidential library dedication, attended by memory-dimmed celebrants who never mentioned warfare or torture or the decimation of the American exchequer, the signature accomplishments of the Bush administration.

• Repugnant evil—as seen most recently by the religion-addled Tsarnaev terrorists, and as evidenced time after time, ad nauseam, by aggrieved thugs and lunatics legally armed with military-style assault weaponry.


Wayne Shelton is a professor of ethics at Albany Medical Center in upstate New York. He holds a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He defines evil as “the causing of innocent people to suffer at a large level.”

By the usual underlying motives for war—high profits and low politics—Mr. Bush and company kindled massive fires of suffering in Iraq and here at home, sufferings that still burn.

Had sufferers been invited to April’s gathering in Dallas, they might have spat in the public face of the Cheney administration. But the Praetorian Guard in service to Mr. Bush was mindful of an embarrassment in December 2008: During a Baghdad press conference, Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi became disgusted by an American president’s lies, whereupon he hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush.

Accordingly, the honest rudeness of popular opinion was unseen by the élites of Dallas.

Rude reaction to evil is reserved for the repugnant class; few Americans will shed tears when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal chemicals. With impotent exceptions, such as Mr. al-Zaidi’s performance, the respected class is shielded; its members are made comfortable, and rich, and they are formally praised.

Social conditioning causes us to edit moral outrage. I asked a philosopher why.

“Evil is a matter of perspective,” Mr. Shelton told me. “In the same way that Americans think of George Bush as a good guy, the mother of the Tsarnaev brothers tells us that her sons couldn’t possibly have done what they’re accused of doing.”

In time, Mother Tsarnaev may be convinced that her sons are criminally culpable. No matter, said Mr. Shelton, “She might still say, ‘I love them, even as murderers.’”

He added, “This reflects the human capability for enormous blind spots in our moral perspective, the inability to see ourselves or those close to us—or our national leaders—doing damage to values we hold dear.”

Mr. Shelton is a devotee of the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), who saw education and critical reflection as the bulwarks of democracy, which he championed ceaselessly. Mr. Shelton sees American democracy as a social system akin to the scientific approach, and philosophical calculus.

“The idea that you never reach final answers, that you’re always seeking a better state of living,” as he put it. “Always adapting to the environment, developing better strategies and methods of achieving justice—always evolving in a healthy direction.”

On the 22nd of November 1963, JFK was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. The murder weapon was a bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano, an Italian military surplus rifle that Mr. Oswald purchased weeks earlier, by mail, for $19.75 (€15). The cover of Life Magazine published Mr. Oswald’s proudly kept memento of man and gun (above, center).

Thanks to political lobbying by the National Rifle Association, gun zealots continue to purchase Mr. Oswald’s choice of assassination tool—via Internet, at prices ranging from $203 to $395 (€156 to €304).

One week after dedication of the Bush library in Dallas, the N.R.A. commenced its annual convention in another metropolis of Texas—Houston. The most popular convention souvenirs offered by N.R.A. vendors were two life-size plastic “zombie” shooting targets—a man and a woman, each African American—that spurt blood when impacted by bullets. One zombie was a mock-up of President Barack Obama (above, left); the other was the “ex-girlfriend” model (above, right). At $89 the copy (€69), sales were brisk.

Back in ’63, the N.R.A.’s Franklin L. Orth testified before Congress in favor of quickly drafted (and later rescinded) legislation to prevent civilians from trading in rifles of the Mannlicher-Carcano category. Said Mr. Orth, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”

That was then, now is now. It would seem the N.R.A. has not evolved in a healthy direction.

A professional paranoic named Wayne LaPierre now heads the N.R.A. He is hell bent on seeing to it that Americans—the Tsarnaevs included—have unfettered access to contemporary battlefield weapons that make Mannlicher-Carcanos look like slingshots. A highlight of Mr. LaPierre’s habitual invective directed at anyone opposed to his ethos was an entry in the organization’s April 1995 newsletter.

“Not too long ago, it was unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens,” Mr. LaPierre wrote. “[I]f you have a badge, you have the government go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.”

For the past twenty years, Mr. LaPierre’s rhetoric has pleased a disturbingly large and growing crowd. In the cause of gun sales by the firearms syndicate he represents, Mr. LaPierre’s lobbying skills are nonpareil: Despite an overwhelming majority of American voters in favor of the kind of gun control legislation that has substantially lessened the incidence of mass murder elsewhere in the world, the Congress of the United States refuses to do the right thing—never mind JFK, the near assassinations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, or Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords having been shot in the head at point-blank range two years ago.

Never mind that since the December 2012 massacre of twenty first-graders and six teachers in Newtown, more than three thousand Americans have died from gunfire, according to a tally kept by Vice President Joe Biden. And never mind the continuing carnage, as recently as a gunman opening fire on a street carnival in New Orleans on Mother’s Day, the 12th of May .

More important than all this, evidently, are the millions of dollars given to Washington politicians by the N.R.A., mouthpiece for an industry that profits far, far more from the sales of military-style semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines that fire organ-melting ammunition than from rifles and pistols appropriate for hunters and sportsmen.

Amoral as they may be, the semi-respectable Mr. LaPierre and the politicians he owns must occasionally realize that they are an integral part in the causing of innocent people to suffer at a large level.


The psychologist Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus at Stanford University in California, urges ordinary Americans to “deviate” from social conditioning and recognize that respectable and repugnant evil share the same fundamental: Knowing better, but doing worse.

Mr. Shelton sees such evil as coming from a “place of darkness” that shadows all the world’s humanity.

In his novel, “The Master and Margarita,” the Russian author Mikhaíl Bulgakov (1891-1940) asked the question that damns humanity:

“What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword.

“But shadows also come from trees and living beings. Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid.”

Thomas Adcock

Thomas Adcock is American correspondent for CulturMag. Zum Essay: Suicide by Stupidity: How the Republican Party is Killing Itself.

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