Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
Our natural inclinations would have us believe that individual actions, whether errors in judgment or extravagant demonstrations of bravery, generally do not affect the course of human history.
After all, we cannot point to one individual’s act of heroism that accounts for the outcome of World War II. And even without Sergeant York, whom history regards as an incredibly brave soldier, the Allies still would have won World War I.
One cannot imagine what a single individual could have done to prevent the Holy Roman Empire from collapsing when it did; and despite the bravery of many Confederate soldiers they could not change the outcome of the U.S. Civil War: the South had to lose.
Superficially, at least, it would seem as though history marches on impervious to the private choices individuals make or fail to make.
But yet, when we really think about it, there are those occasions where one person’s actions have indeed mapped the course of human history.
The more obvious cases are extreme, criminal or evil. Consider the assassination of President McKinley by Leon Czologosz in 1901. From the (theoretically) simple act of an on-target shot the next three presidencies were all but determined. Theodore Roosevelt became president and pursued policies completely unlike those McKinley would have, which led to the election of President Taft and then to the election, in a political backlash, of the very intellectual President Wilson who led this nation into its first world war.
It is easy to see the domino effect here and it is reasonable to conclude that the history of the United States was changed for decades by one bullet.
That actions as extreme as assassinations and terrorist attacks can impact the fate of a nation is not particularly surprising. Indeed, it is often the case that those who commit such atrocities do so precisely because they want to bring about a substantial change – Yigal Amir’s assassination of Prime Minister Rabin is but one of many examples of this.
So individual acts of evil sometimes do change the course of the world.
But personal choices, even when no larger effect is intended, can also change the course of a nation’s history.
Case in point: Twelve years ago, on February 28, 1997, President Clinton had one of his intermittent encounters with Monica Lewinsky, though this was one that would prove fateful and that he admitted to regretting almost immediately: “I was sick after it was over and I was pleased at that time that it had been nearly a year since any inappropriate contact had occurred with Ms. Lewinsky,” he later said. “I promised myself it wasn’t going to happen again.”
One might ask what difference Clinton’s reprehensible though private conduct made on our national destiny. Certainly his wife and family suffered from his behavior, but people routinely succumb to temptations that adversely affect their families and we do not brand their indiscretions a matter of national import. But sometimes such actions have substantial repercussions. This was one of those times, and it has shaped America’s destiny since.
It was that February 28 encounter that would make Lewinsky’s navy blue dress a household word, leading to Clinton’s impeachment, which in turn forced the Democratic presidential hopeful in 2000, then-Vice President Gore, to distance himself from Clinton, a decision that ultimately deprived Gore’s campaign of Clinton’s active campaigning in areas of the country where his popularity remained undiminished.
Gore lost every Southern state in the 2000 election, including his own state of Tennessee and Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, and President Bush became president in an election so close it was essentially decided by Supreme Court fiat.
The Bush presidency, and the backlash against it, led to the election of our current president, Barack Obama, who stands in near total contrast to Bush in both style and substance. We see that all of this is a just ripple surrounding one fateful indiscretion by Clinton on February 28, 1997.
History could just as easily have come out differently. Had Clinton turned away from his encounter with Lewinsky (as he said he struggled to do), few doubt that Gore would have become president in 2000. These past eight years would have been completely different (maybe better, maybe worse; who really knows?) and the uniqueness of the president elected in 2008 might well have been that he was a Jew, Joe Lieberman – who would have been Gore’s vice president for two terms and the obvious Democratic presidential nominee in 2008.
The choices our nation has made, and the leadership it presently has in the year 2009, can all be traced back, with quite reasonable clarity, to a single person’s decision to succumb to his personal vice twelve years ago almost to the day.
This ought to be a lesson to us all about the moral choices we make. We must never assume that the effects of our actions are limited to ourselves and our private affairs. The choices we make in our personal lives may not impact nations, but rest assured we are not the only ones who pay for the mistakes incubated in our personal frailties.
About the Author: Rabbi Michael J. Broyde is not a member of the IRF but he is a member of the RCA and a dayan in the Beth Din of America. He was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and is a law professor at Emory.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Because let’s face it: Hamas obviously can’t defeat the IDF in the field, soldier against soldier
The Gazans are now paying for the choices they have made.
As Peres retires, Israel fights sour legacy: Insistence on setting policy in line with hopes, rather than with reality.
Our capital was not arbitrarily chosen, as capitals of some other nations were.
UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillay accuses the IDF of possible war crimes in Gaza again, cutting slack to Hamas.
There is much I can write you about what is going here, but I am wondering what I should not write. I will start by imagining that I am you, sitting at home in the Los Angeles area and flipping back and forth between the weather, traffic reports, the Ukraine, Mexican illegals and Gaza. No […]
Should Jews in Europe take more responsibility in self-defense of community and property?
It is time for a total military siege on Gaza; Nothing should enter the Gaza Strip.
Germany’s The Jewish Faith newspaper ominously noted, “We Jews are in for a war after the war.”
The truth is we seldom explore with kids what prayer is supposed to be about.
Almost as one, Jews around the world are acknowledging the day-to-day peril facing ordinary Jews in Israel and the extraordinary service of the IDF in protecting them.
So on the one hand Secretary Kerry makes no bones about who is at fault for the current hostilities: he clearly blames Hamas.
King Solomon said it long ago: “Cast your bread upon the waters” because you don’t know when you’ll hit something. Our job is to do.
Israel – the land and the nation – lost a giant earlier this month with the passing of Justice Menachem Elon, a monumental talmid chacham who served on the Israeli Supreme Court from 1977-1993, and as its deputy president from 1988-93, bringing a deep Torah viewpoint to the highest tiers of the Israeli judiciary.
We know that genuine halachically viable solutions to the agunah problem are hard to come by and might not even be within our grasp. But we also know the agunah problem can be functionally solved in practice, even if not in theory, and the solution is clear and obvious.
This short essay will develop five critical points for responding to the voices within the broader community that seek to accept and legitimize homosexual conduct, an activity that directly contradicts the dictates of halacha.
You may applaud the idea of ordaining women rabbis, or you may recoil in horror at the prospect, but the simple fact remains that women already serve the Orthodox world in clergy-like positions.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/feb-28-1997-the-day-joe-lieberman-lost-the-presidency/2009/02/25/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: