Telling Stories — Obama & The Banality (of Fighting) Evil


Politically, maybe it’s true and there’s nothing the Unites States can do or wants to do in the world today. But the words used by President Obama and his spokespeople to save moral face don’t square with the desperate human need these words are supposed to address. Apparently, it can “seem” like there’s a lot of evil in the world, that words show determination to use force, and that instead of using American power, we save lives by telling stories.

Having already accepted a Nobel Peace Prize before not doing anything to advance peace, now President Obama has received an award from the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation.

You can read it here at the NYT:

It was an unusual confession for a president, and Mr. Obama made it at an event where he was receiving an award, presented by the director Steven Spielberg, for his efforts in fighting genocide around the world.

The use of American power — as some in Washington have insisted is called for in Nigeria and Syria — is not enough, and it is not the only option, Mr. Obama said. Instead, he said, “by keeping memories alive, by telling stories, by hearing those stories, we can do our part” to save lives.

“I think drop by drop by drop that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive, that we can tell a different story,” the president said. The dinner was held… 


In a briefing with reporters in Los Angeles, Josh Earnest, the deputy White House press secretary, said the president’s words had shown his determination to use American power “as a force for good in the world.”

“I think the point that he is trying to make is that at times it can seem like there’s a lot of evil in the world, that there are a lot of bad things happening,” Mr. Earnest said, “and that every morning you’re waking up and there’s a new thing that’s coming across the television screen that seems shocking in a modern 21st-century world.”

Mr. Earnest said that did not mean that the United States should use military force in every global crisis.

“But what we can do is look for the ways that we can leverage the resources and expertise and experience that we have in this country to benefit the Nigerian government to track those girls down,” he said. “And just because he didn’t wake up the next morning and read in the newspapers that those girls have been found, it doesn’t mean that we should stop or give up.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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