William F. Buckley
Suicide can be an effective psychological weapon. In Western eyes, suicide is the ultimate singularist affirmation. This was brought dramatically to mind by an event of 1946. After one year of elaborate public examination, the Western powers said they were ready to hang the 11 Nazis who had been given the death sentence in Nuremberg. When Hermann Goering was discovered dead from a poison tablet he had got hold of, there was dismay. United Press, knocked off kilter, sent out the famous flash, "Goering Cheats Death by Committing Suicide."

The next general experience of suicide as a political weapon came in Vietnam. Goering was pleading no political cause when he took the poison -- he was merely avoiding the ultimate indignity of hanging. The Vietnamese who took their own lives were protesting the Diem government's anti-Buddhist activities. They caused great consternation in America, and of course South Vietnam, and brought on the beginning of the national self-doubt which would end only in 1975 when the last GI was pulled out of Indochina.

There is a call now to clear out of Guantanamo, notwithstanding our formal historical right to remain there. The spotlight glares with special intensity after the deaths of the three men who contrived their synchronized suicides.

We have been in Guantanamo since 1898, and the anomaly survives, our Gibraltar in the Caribbean. The British, in a comparable situation, have had several opportunities to vacate their Iberian foothold and return the acreage to the Spanish. But they have reasoned that their little promontory at the throat of the Mediterranean could serve a strategic purpose in the future.

In Guantanamo, our formal understanding, for over a hundred years, has been that the United States is permanently at liberty to maintain a naval base at the eastern end of the island, and a coaling station. It was not foreseen that Guantanamo would become a useful place to keep prisoners of complicated lineage.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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