Monday, July 9, 2018

All is quiet on the home front

The Bridle Path sunkissed. 7:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, July 9, 2018. A beautiful weekend in New York. All weather-grumbling is over. At least for now -- the time of this writing -- late afternoon on a bright and sunny Sunday with temps around 80 and a slight breeze here and there. It began with a beautiful, cool Saturday morning with temps in the high 60s.  Aside of the perfect weather, the city has been very Summer quiet and therefore a pleasure to be here.

I even couldn’t resist taking some photos of the river which on Sunday mornings in Summertime is usually busy.  I’ve seen it busier but here’s what I caught in a period of five or six minutes midday ...
A lot of New Yorkers take this up to Yankee Stadium.
North and Southbound.
A tourist boat.
The Admireal Richard E. Bennis heading south.
Another tourist ferry heading north, the Admiral Bennis heading south and farther south heading north is a young man in a hurry.
Stepping on it ...
Moving on ahead. All kinds of lives passing us by.
Aside from dinners with old friends from out of town, I have spent the weekend with myself, my dogs and my books.

The book I finished yesterday was Seymour Hersh’s memoir “Reporter.” I’ve written about it here twice before because it takes me that long to read a book even when I “have time.” Especially if it’s a good book.

Now, having finished it, I am compelled to continue. Hersh’s book is one where I was learning as well as being educated. He could have been a good teacher. As a writer/reporter/ historian, for students of life and history, he’s already fulfilling those needs.

I’m one of those people who talks to the book I’m reading, or makes quick editorial or aside-comments about something within — the way a sports fan starts yelling in the game. Hersh’s book did all of that for me.

Click to order Seymour Hersh’s memoir Reporter.
The Power Playing. I’ve read his dispatches over the years beginning with the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, although I can see from his memoir that I’ve missed a lot. The man is prolific, productive and awesomely clear-headed. I use the word “awesomely” because so much of Hersh’s subjects, the human behavior therein, that is, is not clearheaded. It was Lord Acton, the 19th century historian/politician and writer who clarified it when he wrote in a letter to an Anglican bishop: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Although, more than a century after Lord Acton’s passing, it should be noted that we rarely if ever refer to a contemporary man as “great.” Famous, yes; celebrated, yes; rich, yes, wicked, yes; tricky, yes; smart and clever, yes; idiot, yes; but great? No.

Hersh’s memoir is about just that. It’s not only the major topics he’s covered in news dispatches, magazine stories and books, but it’s how he got the story. The first thing you learn is that people (in power) lie all the time. But not everybody; which is crucial. When we have power – be it in a family, in an organization, we condone our lying as necessary to keep stability.  This behavior begins at the beginning for most of us. It begins when we are taught Authority and Obeisance by those in power (our parents, for example).

What is striking about the men (especially) and women in the subjects of Hersh’s investigative journalism is how often they lie. And why? Usually it’s to protect their own imagined reputations as being above board authorities.  Or avoiding being charged with committing a crime.  It’s actually the kind of thing that many of us first experience (or always experience) in family relationships. “We don’t talk about that.” Of course we don’t. Not responsible and anything you want.
Seymour Hersh  in his office at the Washington bureau of The New York Times in 1975.   (The New York Times)
The lie is acceptable “truth.” I’m reminded of that line from a Paul Simon lyric ("The Boxer") — "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." In story after story that Hersh recounts, involving mainly people in political or military power over the welfare of us human beings, the lying is everywhere; not with everybody, but often from the very top down. And often they’re about matters of life and death that most of us would not lie about it.  Usually having to do with wars, or serious crimes, etc., committed ostensibly for the “good” of the people, i.e., the people in power.

Seymour Hersh goes there, and in this book, he takes you with him. You can’t call him critical because he’s only “observing” and reporting. This isn’t about a political party or one man or two who’s bad news. This is about us. He doesn’t judge; you be the judge. That’s what gets me muttering or yelling at the denouement.  You can conclude, like Lord Acton said: it’s inevitably “corruption,” but of a kind that seems to be programmed in us as creatures acting in self-interest.

Every President from Eisenhower to Trump, and even before them, each was/is personally confronted by those matters of behavior as a matter of course. Power is the magnet.  When you read about it, you can’t help thinking the overall result in the long run will not be kind. But as Lorenz Hart wrote in a lyric for composer Richard Rodgers — it’s “the self-deception that believes the lie.”

Seymour Hersh’s memoir ”Reporter” shows you how and when that happens in our world, your life and mine. And with that you can draw your own conclusions. It’s a page turner. If you like detective stories, this is it in the big time.

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