Many pointed out the criminal hagiography of leading media obituaries of Donald Rumsfeld, who died two days ago—particularly the AP’s, by Robert Burns. The troubling truth is that these obituaries are essentially mundane, and would say the same about any of these people—Bush, Cheney, etc—even as leftists react with horror (or glee). The mainstream media is incapable of seeing these individuals as agents; they are instead figures embedded in institutions at distinct moments in history, synthesized into a sort of ‘great man’ theory of everything, updated for the spectacle-ized circus of the Western 21st century. Thus Rumsfeld’s downfall is (at worst) predicated on ‘mismanagement’ of the Iraq War, or poor politicking in its wake—not on criminal, sadistic cruelty, murder, pillage—and obviously, deceit—actions that by definition make him a war criminal, not to mention an atrocious human.
It will be the same when Bush is gone—if he died tomorrow, his obituaries might focus on his being a leading ‘anti-Trump voice’ in the GOP. If Kissinger ever dies, he will be noted (maybe) as controversial, after being described as one of the leading statesmen of the 20th century.
In other words—Rumsfeld is absolved, because everyone in power is absolved (except for the rare scapegoat, into whom is distilled some vague and dislocated societal sense of collective sin). In doing so the country is absolved, its agency denied, instantly forgiven, permitted no reckoning with the consequences of the horror and evil underlying it, the destruction it has wrought—and the perverse criminality of the men and women who do after all direct it is diluted into bureaucratic hum. Why? To do otherwise is anathema to the American creed of always being virtuous, maybe.
Rumsfeld of course is virtue-less but his death becomes basically meaningless. In their statement, his family said: ‘History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service…’ I doubt it. I don’t think history will remember him; in the ongoing crack-up of the reigning consensus only those in the political-media elite will, and they only for a short while. He’ll probably be forgotten like all of these people. Which is sort of a shame, because despite how the Iraq War is collectively understood today (banal, misguided), the catastrophic crimes for which Rumsfeld was distinctly responsible are anything but mundane. To the extent he’s remembered, God willing, people will hold onto that.