IN HIS book, "Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber," David Gelernter argues that our society has become "too squeamish to call evil by its right name." Mauled by a mail bomb, he is using his own pain to point out the price we pay by shying away from judgment, by refusing to recognize evil and call it by name.
Americans, Mr. Gelernter believes, have become more interested in nurturing victimhood than in using good judgment and denouncing evil. Surely any sane person could agree that the masterminds of the Holocaust were evil, but even that horrific chapter in history spurs some people to hedge their bets, saying only that Hitler was "regarded" as evil.
Last week brought the limelight to another man who surely represents evil on Earth. Yet we wonder how many people read his protestations of innocence and sought to understand or empathize rather than to judge. Now old and ailing, Pol Pot glosses over the turmoil and terrible devastation his Khmer Rouge army wreaked on Cambodia in the 1970s.
In his first interview in almost two decades, he told an American reporter for the Far Eastern Economic Review: "Even now, and you can look at me: am I a savage person? My conscience is clear."
We don't know how Pol Pot defines savage behavior, or the word evil, but in our book the destruction of Cambodian society, the killing fields of a misguided agrarian revolution, the viciousness that decreed the deaths of every educated person or even every person with glasses -- those actions were both savage and evil.
The nightmare visited on Cambodia by the evil Pol Pot and his evil associates will afflict that society for years to come. If Pol Pot now claims to have a clear conscience, we can only assume it is because he has no conscience at all.
Pub Date: 10/27/97