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Such Men Are Dangerous

Author: Frances Hill
Genre: Non-Fiction
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

544British author Frances Hill is best known for her work on the Salem Witch trials. In 2003, she writes in her introduction, she began to see striking parallels in the personalities of the men who instigated that infamous persecution and high-level members of the Bush Administration in their response to terrorism.

“In both incidents,” she writes, “leaders of government faced what seemed to them deadly dangers from enemies bent on the total destruction of the most industrious, most moral—in every sense simply the best—society and people on Earth. They say no way of responding but with violence. They say no outcome but total victory or defeat. Both believed God was on their side against evil. In both cases, panic, simple-mindedness, and religious and nationalistic fervor predominated over calm, nuanced thinking and reason.”

This book, which provides a comparison between Bushites like Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld—and the President himself—to those she feels are psychological and political counterparts from three centuries earlier. Both factions, she says share the common denominator of fanaticism that arises from both their backgrounds and their characters.

Let it be said that in her desire to make the parallels Ms. Hill’s analysis occasionally becomes strained. This often leads not to a careful examination of the facts but a rather heated polemic that clearly reflects her personal views of the war in Iraq. For example, in seeking to compare Colin Powell to Judge Samuel Sewall, she stoops to attacking him for belittling his wife in his autobiography but offers on additional proof that this indicates he’s some kind of male chauvinist.

There is also the problem that there is no 17th century counterpart to Condoleeza Rice, with the result that except for mentioning her in relation to the men Ms. Hill essentially ignores her part in the current situation. Given George W. Bush’s reliance on her and her position in the administration, that seems something of an oversight.

Based on Ms. Hill’s observations, there are parallels to be seen between the two situations, but it’s likely the same could be said for many other periods in history. It isn’t so much that she fails to make her case with this book as that her case was rather weak to begin with. In a way, one might say her work simply reinforces Santayana’s statement that those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.

Witch hunts tend to have a lot in common. That the current administration embarked on one after September 11, 2001, is apparent to anyone willing to take the time to look at it closely. By the same token, fanatics of whatever stripe invariably behave in certain ways, whether they be Puritans, born-again Pentecostals or Islamic fundamentalists. And Ms. Hill’s book does offer food for thought, even if the meal does fall a bit short of a banquet.

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May 7, 2004 in Nonfiction | Permalink

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