In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I wonder at the ability of people in power to accept the enormous consequences of their decisions. Bad leaders sacrifice their humanity for power—simple enough. But what about good and scrupulous people who must make the same decisions?

When Barack Obama decided to run for president, he accepted that he would be the one to make calls that were not merely “hard”—the standard American political euphemism—but actually repugnant. To pick just one example, he continues to authorize drone strikes in Pakistan, with the attendant civilian casualties. As sensible as this decision may be, it’s difficult to understand what process would reconcile a sane person to ordering civilians dead in the real world. And if there’s no process, why isn’t there?

Perhaps good leaders accept this kind of moral responsibility as a sort of martyrdom—the personal cost of improving a hideously imperfect world. But at the end of the day, they’re still signing off on the deaths of innocents, which is not part of a normal martyr’s repertoire. Is this fortitude a component of “greatness” or just callousness, and does the former contain an element of the latter?


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