WE WERE ALL suffering from a bad-news fatigue, and some of us were even keen to know what Henry Kissinger would have said about the bleak house we were trapped in. He breathed, till his hundredth year, the whirlwinds of a world divided by ideologies and attitudes shaped by bitter histories. In the great brain games of Cold War diplomacy, he was always one strategic step ahead of the others across the table—or the borders. If George F Kennan was the diplomatist-philosopher who provided an intellectual foundation to America’s policy towards the Soviet Union with his theory of “containment”, Kissinger was the most high-profile practitioner of national interest as he argued and negotiated with a world pitted against America. From Russia to Vietnam to China, he was there, as America’s Interlocutor, to disentangle hostile histories and choose the path, brutally pragmatic and cleverly thought-out, that suited his country most. He wrote big books, he spoke with the authenticity of a witness as well as a participant—and, till the very end, tried to decipher the ideas that made the world a little more complex to his liking. The last Kissinger insight I read was his long essay in the Wall Street Journal about AI. He was all for it.
This column is not about Kissinger (an obituary of whom appears in the next pages of the magazine). It is not about the bad news that continues to wear the world down either. We may no longer bother to add a numerical signifier to the wars of the 21st century or qualify them with an uplifting adjective. What these wars share with the ones from the last century is the banality of injustice. Then, too, a mobilising fantasy of injustice was a prerequisite for the consolidation of power. And it didn’t matter whether it was a fantasy made inevitable by an extreme form of national emotionalism. The annihilation of the enemy only accentuated the killer’s sense of victimhood. That was the paradox of wars: crime was the outcome of simulated punishment. Every genocide was propelled by a counter-narrative of suffering. Peeved Putin’s story of Russia Betrayed and Hamas’ justification of its bloodlust are sustained by the power of storytelling with the familiar themes of hurt and humiliation, pride and struggle, and the illegitimate other in an occupied space.
For a while Gaza became more visible than Ukraine because, in the relentlessness of TV footage, the images of October 7 from Israel after the Hamas savagery were relegated to the archives by the images of the dead and the orphaned, of destruction and dispossession, in Gaza, and the humanitarian crisis that followed. And as numbers shot up and pictures became grimmer, the dispute centred on two versions of saving lives. Forget for a while the hierarchy of morality the Left built, which made Hamas the victim and Israel what Hamas thinks it is. The pictures made a pause inevitable. We all needed a break from bleakness. The exchange of hostages provided that. In the war of images, the dead and the dispossessed were replaced by the released and the reunited. Good news was big news. A small window was opened in the bleak house to let sunlight in. After such a long stretch of cruelty, even incremental kindness was bliss. It was as if the world was desperate for images that don’t break hearts, even if they won’t spare the streets elsewhere from anti-Semitism.
Good news, in the past week, was not generated by political realism alone. A happy ending to a survival thriller, played out inside a collapsed tunnel in the treacherous hills of Uttarakhand, was pure national catharsis. Those 17 days, with 41 lives trapped in subterranean debris, had the making of the warmest Indian story: when life looked tentative, suspended between tenuous hope and the deepening unknown, they, the trapped workers and the rescuers, would not give in to the worst of nature or to the limits of technology. When life was an uncertainty deep down there, there was only one certainty: the spirit of togetherness. Or the unifying diversity of the will.
Good news, from the ravaged ghettos of Gaza to the Silkyara of a survival epic, even if it carries memories of a long ordeal, is also stories that both nations and individuals want to pass on. There is a moral there, and it comes from a convergence of loss and perseverance, faith and conviction, and the fundamental decencies of being human. It is worth sharing, and in each retelling, it opens another window in the bleak house. That’s all we can hope for when the best comes from what began as the worst.