Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Edward Teller IV

National Public Radio approaches a new low with this Commentary: Lena and Eddie by Andrei Codrescu, an ignorant, libelous and appalling near-equation of Leni Riefenstahl, Adolf Hitler's mistress of propaganda movies, and Edward Teller, the Hungarian genius and polymath.

Mr. Codrescu's screed lacks basic morality, imagination and all understanding of his topic. It's bland presentation by NPR as just another incidental All Things Considered "thought piece" is a true fluorescence of the banality of evil.

He begins and ends by morally equating Riefenstahl and Dr. Teller as "evil geniuses" of the 20th Century - slandering Dr. Teller in the process. There is a grudging acknowledgement of their ethnic differences and the fact that Dr. Teller opposed dictatorship while Riefenstahl advanced it. But those distinctions are raised merely to minimize their significance. They are mere "intentional" differences. Indeed, Mr. Codrescu seems to regard Riefenstahl as the lesser of the two "evils," since her work has been neutralized (he "hopes"), where the H-Bomb can still do damage.

We are told by Mr. Codrescu, for example, that we would all be dead if Dr. Teller had not "failed" - as if Dr. Teller had attempted to destroy the world with H-Bombs. Mr. Codrescu could not be more wrong: freedom and civilization probably continue to exist exactly because Dr. Teller did succeed exactly as he intended. In retrospect it was inevitable that the Soviets would develop the H-Bomb. Dr. Teller's determination to secure this weapon for the United States is likely the main reason it has never been used.

Dr. Teller's unique, penetrating intelligence is all but dismissed as mere "brilliant mathematical brains that showed up quite frequently among Central European Jews born near the dawn of the last century." Sure. A dime a dozen. But Mr. Codrescu does make one think - at least to the point of asking where he signs up to be able to get away with that kind of sweeping, racist dismissal of this singular intellect. Dr. Teller is also described as not having created anything "truly original." It is hard to imagine Mr. Codrescu's research for this embarrassment extending beyond a quick read the New York Times obituaries, although even the slighting treatment that appeared in the Times noted that Dr. Teller was A creator of quantum physics.

Mr. Codrescu closes with a passage hovering near the boundary of the sacrilegious and the insane, as he smugly asserts his confidence that Leni Riefenstahl and Edward Teller are neighbors in hell. Not likely. Leni Riefenstahl can count it as her last stoke of luck that she was awarded a single in that particular dormitory.

One is tempted to remind Mr. Codrescu of the old Italian proverb: Dei morti parla bene. But I have heard that the proverb doesn't apply to criticisms by a fool or by one whose heart, moral sense and judgment have already entered the same state as the person criticized. So Mr. Codrescu may be exempt.

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