201 CHRONICLESnPublic Radio, you know that the flute and the acousticnguitar are the instruments of compassion and that compassionnis a virtue exclusively reserved for the left and especiallynfor those who most publicly assert that they have compassion;neven the care and cure of dread diseases are politicallynweighted. Fabrics, clothing, and hair styles, bottles of beernand soda pop — it’s a political mine field out there. How cannI possibly say anything that will catch attention and meannanything?”n”You want me to attract their attention?” Towne asked.nIn the end we compromised. From radically differentnpoints of view we both agreed that if our way of selfgoverningnwere to survive much longer — and by the way,nwe even in our absolute privacy allowed ourselves tonconsider whether survival of our ways and means ofnself-government is a hopeful or a baleful prospect; fornourselves, I mean; never mind the multitudes outside of ournparticular traditions and history, for whom all democraticnforms are at the least exotic; anyway — we compromised onnthe choice of a single passage, one example among many,nfrom the words of Thomas Jefferson, one which carries thenimperative necessity of the full and free debate of issues andnassumptions to a logical, if honorable extreme. . . .nHere, then, are his words, taken from a letter written innParis and dated November 13, 1787 (a wink or two beyondntwo centuries ago). You probably remember them wellnenough: “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without anrebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, wellinformed.nThe part which is wrong will be discontented innproportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive.nIf they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is anlethargy, the forerunner of death to public liberty. …”n(I skip a little)n”What country before ever existed a century and a halfnwithout rebellion? And what country can preserve itsnliberties if the rulers are not warned from time to time thatntheir people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them takenarms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardonnand pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century orntwo? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time tontime with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its naturalnmanure.”nNo question but that is a hard saying. No question,neither, but that it is complex, thorny with prescience andnpertinence, and I think eminently relevant to our very timesnand this very occasion tonight.nBut before we go into some of those things, try tonimagine, for a moment, the uproar and outrage whichnwould follow if any contemporary public figure, at any pointnin life, early or late, and in any form from letter to the editornto a diary note, had ever said such a thing.nThe only one I can think of who could get away with it isnJoe Biden. Because everybody would correctly assume itnwas just plagiarism, anyway.nThomas Jefferson said it and seems to have meant it, too,nthough some of the terms he used meant different thingsnthen than now. Take tyrant, the concept of tyranny, fornexample. For somewhat more than 2,000 years, on upnthrough and including the times of Thomas Jefferson,ntyranny was defined and equally applied to the overzealousnexercise of rigorous justice without mercy and to thennnsquandered blessing of reflexive and thoughtiess mercynwithout the context or foundation of rigorous justice. Thusnany leader or statesman, from the citizens of the Greek citynstates, through every kind of emperor and monarch, absolutenor benevolent, on through the rebellious generation ofnJefferson, would surely and easily define our contemporarynAmerican social situation, with its elaborately formulatednindeed codified, absence of any system protecting the rightsnof the law-abiding citizens and their civilization fromnpredatory assaults, as clearly, unequivocably tyrannical.nAnd, as such, it was always deemed worthy of thenstrongest possible kind of resistance.nThe most usual and immediate response to this passagenthat I have received from reasonably thoughtful andnthoughtfully reasonable people is that we must consider thenrelativity of historical context. That in the period (brief ornlong, depending on your own historical scheme) sincenJefferson we have come to value the sanctity of human life,nhave come to view life, in and of itself, as precious.nCertainly more precious than our ancestors viewed at leastnthe lives of others.nThis is an answer, a position which might be regarded asnsimply and brutally laughable, coming as it does out of thisnbloody, bloody century, this century whose appropriatenimage is of rivers, Amazons, Mississippis, Congos of humannblood. Century in which even the Holocaust, defined bynboth intent and execution, can only be claimed to be onenenormous genocidal example among many, first amongnmany parts. . . .nIt is certainly not becoming, it ill behooves anyone fromnthis 20th century to regard Jefferson’s statement as evidencenof a more bloody-minded disposition or blithe disregard fornthe lives of others than our words and acts.nIndeed, once the idea of hypocrisy has been introduced, angood strong case can be made that Jefferson’s approach,neven taken by a literal mind, is closest to that of a goodngeneral, Patton, for example, whose own casualties {and thencasualties he inflicted) were always minimal precisely becausenhis tactics were sudden, ruthless, and anything butntentative.nThus I can see that it can be decently and honorablynmaintained that certain complex and confusing issuesntroubling us in these times probably should have beennsettled in the streets, sealed in the blood of patriots andntyrants, rather than vaguely resolved in legislatures, courts,nor in the press.nAs to the sanctity of human life in our own country, wenmust never allow ourselves to forget that in fact a good manynyears ago we settled for the deaths of roughly 65,000npeople — men, women, and children—on our highways asnstatistically acceptable per year. Sixty-five thousand is annumber our society has somehow agreed to live with. Indon’t need to remind you that that is, of course, more thannthe total number of American dead in all the years of thenVietnam War.nDo you suppose they would consider putting up a seriesnof black walls in honor and memory of all the dead drivers,ndrunk and sober alike, of America?nA possibly more plausible argument, one that is frequentlynheard from intellectual sources, is that (with perhaps thenexception of Israeli preemptive and retaliatory strikes onn