From the unusual vantage point of a combination physician-psychiatrist with a keen interest in political theory, Charles Krauthammer brings to the forty essays of Cutting Edges: Making Sense of the Eighties the perspective of one who not only theorizes about human beings but also has treated their physical and psychic wounds. Because of his work with the afflicted, Krauthammer knows that there are many ways in which people try to rationalize antisocial behavior or excuse it altogether and that his fellow Americans will too often follow the latest intellectual fad without giving it proper scrutiny. Too often, therefore, people are gulled into believing the most unproductive, spiritually destructive notions imaginable, ideas put forth by governmental officials, celebrities, advertising firms, or even certain television evangelists.
The essays found in Cutting Edges represent a challenge to those who would foist upon Americans concepts that Krauthammer finds intellectually bankrupt: moral equivalence, terrorism as a legitimate weapon against injustice, passivity in the face of the Communist threat in Central America, and antinuclear deterrence positions.
In these essays, published during the first five years of the 1980’s in such publications as The New York Times, the Washington Post, and The New Republic, Krauthammer crusades with wit, charm, and erudition rather than with raw and unrefined emotion, always asking the reader arresting questions, demanding some sort of response (such as, “If Star Wars is as useless a system as it seems, why are the Russians so afraid of it?”), and deftly and vividly making his point (“So for the definitive case against atheism, I suggest a radically modern experience: watch a Soviet funeral”). Despite his tongue-in-cheek manner and casual method of deflating opponents’ positions, Krauthammer is a serious observer of the contemporary scene, his perspective that of one who believes in the existence of God, in the common man’s essential decency, and in democratic values.
Time and again, Americans are enjoined by the author to beware those self-styled savants or architects of the future who would lead them astray down perilous paths. In particular, those in opposition to President Ronald Reagan’s defense buildup or his support of the anti-Sandinista forces (Contras) in Nicaragua are among the liberal-humanist Pied Pipers who far too frequently give aid and comfort to Communist regimes by preaching American inaction. One of the author’s working premises is that for democracy to survive the decade, it must be upheld by more than mere verbal support or vaguely worded resolutions. It must, in fact, be supported by force if necessary. Thus, Krauthammer will defend President Reagan’s ultimate antiballistic missile system (nicknamed Star Wars) against those who find it provocative to America’s enemies as well as the decades-old concept of nuclear deterrence if it helps fend off Communist expansionism.
What particularly offends the author is the widespread present-day acceptance of a moral equivalence, a phenomenon perhaps best illustrated, in the author’s estimation, by what he terms the “Bitburg Fiasco,” wherein President Reagan came up with the idea of laying a wreath at Bitburg, West Germany’s World War II era military cemetery, a gesture that the president hoped would help salve old wounds in Germany and bring about a reconciliation between former enemies. To Krauthammer, this gesture not only was a wholly empty one, born of poor planning and judgment, but also a vivid example of the kind of deadly moral equivalence found rampant in the modern world. Many persons who initially applauded the wreath-laying gesture were later horror-struck to find that the cemetery in question contained not only the bones of regular German army troops but also those of the dreaded SS Corps, Adolf Hitler’s personal soldiers trained in massacre and mayhem.
In his essay entitled “On Moral Equivalence,” the author makes it clear that in the past decade, too much evil-minded behavior has been passed off too lightly or excused with language of a pseudopsychological nature, placing blame for destructive behavior not on the perpetrator, where it usually belongs, but upon the offender’s twisted childhood or upon the crime’s victim. Too often, people pass over differences between criminals and normal persons, assuming that, after all, everyone is basically alike and that whatever differences exist can be explained. To Krauthammer, however, it is painfully apparent that there are vast differences between normal people and career criminals, between victims and victimizers, and between Communists and capitalists. Even our language frequently betrays an inability to make crucial distinctions. For example, Krauthammer notes that the word “holocaust,” a term for the near elimination of Europe’s Jews in the death camps of World War...
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