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Forgiveness and Redemption

Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Let me preface this blog post by saying that, by being born late in the Carter administration, I missed the Vietnam war in its entirety and almost missed most of the relevant career of Michael Jackson. So how is it that this post came to be only after ruminating on Michael Jackson's death and yesterday's passing of Robert McNamara?

I'll admit that I don't know a lot about Robert McNamara. Aside from his position of Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson and the documentary Fog of War that I haven't yet seen, I know only bits and pieces of his life - and that he died yesterday at the age of 93. But I have heard his name discussed with a vitriolic hatred that I was compelled to know more.

The Vietnam War - also known as McNamara's War - is the central point of contention. It is the disastrous outcome of this conflict upon which the majority of judgement is laid. It is the death of over 58,000 Americans (and countless more wounded) that are blamed on him that seem to be at the crux of this hatred.

Robert McNamara, photo from LIFE via Google

And yet, writing of McNamara in his book Thirteen Days, Robert F. Kennedy indicates that McNamara heavily favored the (eventually successful) blockade solution of a direct military conflict; believing that the blockade would leave options on the table that direct conflict never could. There is nothing in the pages that indicates warmongering, but rather a careful approach designed to maximize options, minimize consequences, and achieve national goals.

I don't know a lot about the Vietnam war, but I can say that McNamara appeared to have understood the mistakes that he made. His book In Retrospect: the Tragedy and Lessons from Vietnam appears to be an honest attempt at helping the United States and the world learn from his blunders.

Does his work at the World Bank and his later efforts towards nuclear disarmament earn him redemption in the eyes of history? Can someone make the hard decisions that need to be made at the level he was making them ever sleep at night knowing the effects? Or is he finally resting only now? I can't answer these questions, but I think about them all the time.

Look, then, at Michael Jackson. Undeniably the "King of Pop", his contributions to the world - artistically and through charities - are numerous. His cultural influence was unimaginable. And, at the tender age of 50, he died.

Michael Jackson/Captain Eo, from MJJ Pictures.com

Yet, Michael Jackson was also an accused pedophile. While not convicted in a court of law, there seems to be enough uncertainty about the topic that the truth is less relevant to the discussion than the consequences.

Does the stain of being an accused pedophile outweigh the artistic and cultural gifts left to us? Can a balance be struck between the two opposing extremes? Would it be possible to be judged in two separate contexts, praised for the good and condemned for the bad? Is forgiveness possible?

These questions have all been on my mind lately. I certainly don't know the answer to them, but I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of others...

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