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The Pfaffian Code

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To the editors:

Over the years, syndicated columnist William Pfaff has marred any number of curious tales in telling them. His work ranks among those most heavily indoctrinated with Cold War ideology, often to the point of sheer embarrassment. To cite just one of his many ludicrous examples: Back on June 11, Pfaff's "The power of myth: Beijing and the Paris Commune" ran in The Chicago Tribune. In it, he argued that whereas the slaughter of the Chinese dissidents in early June can teach us important lessons, the slaughter of the Paris Communards in 1871 cannot--and what lessons the Commune has taught its students, Pfaff relegated to its mythical, not historical, value. Incredible.

Of course the moment one breaks the Pfaffian code, one recognizes that his harsh judgment against the Communards vis-a-vis the Chinese dissidents reflects a simple binary distinction, operative throughout his entire opus. Idealizing somewhat, Pfaff's entire message breaks down as follows: When a state controlled by "Communists" (or any other official Cold War enemy, Martians, etc.) slaughters dissidents calling for "democracy" and "freedom," there's no end to the historical significance of the event; but when one of the states of the civilized West slaughters its anarchic social reorganizers, the event is void of historical significance. "Its myth is closer to Beijing's reality than to the actual events of 1871," as Pfaff dismissively said of the Commune, exhibiting his usual blind adherence to a doctrinal system quite remarkable for its simplicity.

Evidently, Michael Miner would like to take up the same torch: His "Watching Our End: A Conversation With William Pfaff" (Hot Type, July 14) didn't even flinch when Pfaff expressed some of the same old tired ideas as he always has. "When I came out of Notre Dame," Pfaff told Miner, "it was a period when America was straightforwardly confronting totalitarianism," not to mention invaders from outer space. Etc. &c.

It is one thing to give Pfaff the intellectual rope he needs to hang himself. It is quite another to not even notice when he does it. I had expected more. I was wrong.

Debra Mecher

W. Crystal

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