Thursday, October 1, 2015

What Do Camelot and Hell Have in Common?

Camelot was the court of King Arthur, but it also was term given to the Kennedy White House. The knights in shining armor were of course Jack, Bobby and Teddy and there were a cast of characters that included the Harvard professor, Arthur Schlesinger who might be equivalent of Merlin, the press secretary Pierre Salinger, the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara with his signature rimless glasses and off-center part and advisors like Ted Sorensen. But what would the opposite of Camelot be? Inferno? “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate” (“abandon all hope, ye who enter here”) were the words above the entrance to hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy. "Arbeit macht frei" were the words that greeted the unfortunates who entered Auschwitz. The Times recently ran the obituary of Ieng Thirith (“Ieng Thirith, Khmer Rouger Minister in Cambodia, Dies at 83,NYT, 8/22/15). If nothing else the piece will disabuse you of the idea that Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was at least a meritocracy. Reigns of terror have their own blue bloods, their own best and brightest. According to the Times, Thirith “was the most powerful woman in the Khmer Rouge.” Her husband was Iang Sary the foreign minister and deputy prime minister and most remarkably “she graduated from the Sorbonne, majoring in Shakespearean studies.” As anyone who studied Shakespeare will tell you, it’s hard to get a job in that area, even with a degree from a good school and that may have radicalized Thirith. It wouldn’t be surprising if she hadn’t done some of her scholarship on Titus Andronicus which was one of the bard’s bloodiest plays. But getting back to aristocracy, according to the obit, her sister, Khieu Ponnary, was married to Mr. Big himself, Pol Pot. Well there’s not really much to say. “The rest is silence” are  Hamlet’s last words. But one thing that Camelot (the Kennedy White House) and Hell (Cambodia under the the Khmer Rouge) had in common was this: they were both run by a clubby little group of people who were either related or met at elite institutions like Harvard or the Sorbonne.

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