Here’s a fascinating statistical anomaly. Every Canadian soldier killed during the twenty year occupation of Afghanistan was eulogized as the finest human being who ever walked the Earth. Not a single asshole among them! Oh, and don’t forget that “He believed in the mission!”, notwithstanding that no one, least of all him, had the faintest idea what the mission was.
My guess is that, to encourage enlistment in the first place, there’s an unwritten understanding that if you do get yourself killed, the rest of us will pretend you weren’t an asshole. Small consolation to the asshole. But imagine being sent into battle and told that, if you’re killed defending your country, your countrymen and family are more likely to celebrate than grieve. Not exactly what you need to know just before you throw yourself in harm’s way.
But that’s not what I want to talk about here. Rather I want to talk about the passing on Boxing Day of Desmond Tutu, arguably the greatest anti-Apartheid figure in South Africa save for Nelson Mandela. And I want to suppose, as a thought experiment only, that I had only recently acquired irrefutable evidence that, in addition to his myriad virtues, Tutu was an incorrigible and unrepentant pedophile. When, if ever, would be the time to reveal this evidence?
This is a very different question from the one my wife is asking about calling out the ignorance and stupidity of university presidents and deans, having rushed to judgment with no evidence other than a headline, expressing outrage, on behalf of all of us, over the mass graves, of which there were none, unearthed, which none were, on the grounds of the Kamloops residential school. Her argument – which I’m inclined to endorse – is that this kind of stupidity should be called out immediately, if we’re to have any hope of discouraging it.
By contrast, here I’m wondering to what end would I be intent on besmirching Tutu’s legacy given that, his ex hypothesi pedophilia aside, his is the kind of laudable service we’re all intent on encouraging? In other words, if, as I’ve often espoused, truth bears only instrumental value for us, this is probably one of those occasions on which its revelation is counter-indicated.
The problem, of course, is that regarding truth instrumentally, at least doing so publicly, undermines its instrumentality. This seems not to be the case with our fallen soldiers. We all know Uncle Beelzebub was an abusive asshole, and that Aunt Beatrix is well rid of him. But his funeral is not the occasion to say so. But what if none of us did know that Tutu was, ex hypothesi, a pedophile? If it’s later revealed that I alone did know but kept my silence, what happens to my credibility next time I call wolf and there really is one?
A couple of weeks ago the widow of Augusto Pinochet passed away, and the media reported the Chilean people dancing in the streets. So sometimes people do have long enough memories that the spirit of Pinochet, as it writhes in Hell, can be retroactively shamed by the dishonour his behaviour in life brought upon his wife. So though time heals all wounds, thankfully sometimes it can re-open them. And that’s at least, some consolation.