A Haunting Exchange
In October of 1942, a truly remarkable meeting occurred between Jan Karski, a Jew who had escaped from Poland, and Felix Frankfurter, a Jewish Justice on the United State Supreme Court. The subject, as one might expect, was the Holocaust rumors that were being whispered around the world.
Frankfurter wanted to know the truth, and Karski was happy to oblige. In grim detailed, he recounted everything that he had seen back in Europe, while Frankfurter sat in studied silence. When Karski finished, Frankfuter had only one this to say: “Mr. Karski, I am unable to believe you.”
Karski was speechless, and the Polish ambassador, who was also at the meeting, immediately jumped to his defense: “How can you call him a liar to his face?”
“I did not say this man is lying,” responded Frankfurter, “I said I am unable to believe him.” With that, the meeting was over. And when the war ended less than three years later, Frankfurter was forced to accept that Karski had told the truth all along.
The Silent Majority
This haunting little story, I think, explains a lot about the attitudes of Americans toward abortion. Being pro-choice is easy – it’s as simple as believing that America, the land of liberty and justice for all, has not legally sanctioned the killing of 50 million infants. Like Justice Frankfurter, the average American would rather remain apathetic about a genocide than come to terms with its reality.
About five years ago, when Ramesh Ponnuru’s Party of Death was published, John Derbyshire wrote an amazing critical review. Amazing because of how well it seemed to understand the psychology of America’s quiet pro-choice majority. While admitting that Ponnuru’s arguments possessed undeniable cogency, Derbyshire convincingly contends that careful logic means little to everyday people. Two passages in particular stood out:
Our preferred method for dealing with the unpleasant side of life, including topics like abortion and euthanasia, is to think about them as little as possible. In the fuss over Mrs. Schiavo, it was not hard to detect a general public irritation at having had the whole unsightly business forced on our attention…
Some of us are RTL absolutists: “You can’t do that to a living human being!” Some of us are personal autonomy absolutists: “Don’t tell me what to do with my own body!” Most of us are too unintellectual to be consistently absolutist about anything. We just favor one side or the other, more or less strongly. America would be a happier and freer nation if the accursed intellectuals would just leave us alone with our lives, our blunders, our tragedies, and our deaths. (http://www.newenglishreview.org/John_Derbyshire/A_Frigid_and_Pitiless_Dogma/)
Like Justice Frankfurter, it’s not so much that ordinary Americans dispute the claims of pro-lifers. They just don’t want to face the possibility that those claims might be true. If 50 million babies really have died with democracy’s blessing, best to try putting it out of our minds. Best to not face the fact that we’ve routinely elected men and women who condone this killing. Best to keep thinking that America is not like those other countries in the world which violate basic human rights.
Being pro-life is hard. It means coming to terms with some highly unsettling facts about our country and our countrymen. In contrast, being pro-choice is the path of least resistance, an oasis of refuge for those who would rather not be troubled by the magnitude of what pro-lifers claim. Just say “at the end of the day, it’s her choice,” and move on. Write off personhood-at-conception as extremism, and move on. Couldn’t be easier
That, fellow travelers, is what we are up against.