Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: It’s Only Money

Posted at 12:43 pm, March 22nd, 2009
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

Hundreds of individuals and institutions hoodwinked by Bernard L. Madoff lost tens of billions of dollars. As the saying goes, it’s only money. Lives have been affected by Madoff’s scam, but only a couple are known to have been lost, by suicide. Destruction of human life is incalculably more devastating than money down the drain.

Contrast, then, the toll taken by Madoff’s lies with the cost of the deceptions that were key to the hostilities in Vietnam and Iraq. More than 60,000 American GIs alone died in those wars, in addition to vastly greater numbers of other lives cut short by the conflicts.

The Vietnam war expanded exponentially after Americans were told, falsely, in 1964 that North Vietnam attacked U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The U.S. went to war against Iraq on the basis of equally phony claims.

Say this for Bernard Madoff: he apologized. There have been no comparable mea culpas by officials responsible for the much more costly misrepresentations associated with the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

Granted, Madoff’s contrition is suspect. Even as he voiced sympathy for his victims and declared that he “cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done,” he was attempting to sequester from creditors millions of dollars worth of luxury property in France and in this country placed in his wife’s name.

Nevertheless, he did confess error, plead guilty and give the country the satisfaction of seeing him leave his penthouse for a prison cell. There has been no catharsis even remotely similar for those who lost dear ones in the country’s deception-based wars.

Nor do Americans even seem to demand catharsis. There has been no evident groundswell of support for calls for a “truth commission” to fix responsibility for the misadventure in Iraq.

The uproar over AIG bonuses is a related case in point. Iowa’s senator Charles Grassley went overboard when he seemed to suggest that hara kiri was called for, but, as he explained in elaborating on his suicide suggestion, “I do feel very strongly that we have not had statements of apology, statements of remorse, statements of contrition on the part of CEOs of manufacturing companies of banks or financial services or insurance companies that are asking for bailouts.”

In other words, calls for apology, contrition and remorse are warranted for economic harm but not, so you’d notice, for the damage done by duping the country into two major wars.

Call the disconnect a commentary on the nation’s’ psyche and values. We will know we are reconnected with our better nature when Americans quit being more exercised by losses of money than by loss of lives and demand the full truth about the how and why of the war in Iraq.

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