Home > Essays > Letter to the Editor about Michael Scharf’s “Statesman or War Criminal?”
George Scialabba
Published: Tue Oct 15 2002
Art: Paul TheriaultSwimmers (detail), 2019, acrylic and found paper on scavenged wood
Letter to the Editor about Michael Scharf’s “Statesman or War Criminal?”

Dear Editor:

Michael P. Scharf dismisses Christopher Hitchens’ The Trial of Henry Kissinger as “not a serious scholarly work” but merely a blast of “high moral outrage.” That is an accurate description but not a fair complaint. Hitchens’ short, coruscating essay does not pretend to be either scholarship or a legal brief. It is a reasoned appeal by a (quite properly) outraged citizen to the human rights community to help teach the public an extremely valuable lesson: that international law will no longer be “victors’ justice,” applicable only to the defeated. The Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, the Hutu, Milosevich, Hussein—according to Scharf, “these are the types of perpetrators” against whom international law should be invoked. Undoubtedly it should. But why shouldn’t it also be invoked against someone who, at one or two removes, countenanced, or even instigated, grave crimes that may (argument is at least possible on this point) be in the same league as those of some of the monsters mentioned above? And why isn’t it far more useful to arraign one’s own leaders, for whom one bears political and moral responsibility, and who are now rich and respected and obstruct access to the evidence of their crimes, than to add one’s voice to the universal chorus condemning the Nazis, Khmer Rouge, etc.?

George Scialabba, Cambridge, Mass.

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George Scialabba, a contributing editor of AGNI, is the author of six essay collections: Slouching toward Utopia (2018), Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews 2980–2015 (2016), For the Republic (2013), The Modern Predicament (2011), and What Are Intellectuals Good For?(2009), all from Pressed Wafer, and The Divided Mind _(2006) from Arrowsmith Press. James Wood chose The Modern Predicament for The New Yorker’s roundup of the best books of the year. Scialabba is also a past winner of the Nona Balakian Excellence in Reviewing award from the National Book Critics Circle. His work is archived at georgescialabba.net. (updated 10/2018)

Scialabba’s What Are Intellectuals Good For? was reviewed in AGNI Online by Mark Oppenheimer.

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