By way of getting to Firestone and the controversy over its remarkable radial tires, it might be good to begin with acne. This is done for two reasons, the first being that acne is nearly a universal experience and thus of widespread interest. But it also is because acne illustrates the principle that when all else fails, you can always blame the victim.
The thing about acne, you may recall, is that it was somehow your fault. It was either that you were over-dosing on chocolate or washing your face with hair tonic, or, in the worst of all possible worlds, doing both. Either way, you were to blame for the state of your face.
The fact of the matter is, of course, that about the only thing that cures acne is getting older. That brings on complications of its own but it does, most of the time, clear up your skin. Even that, however, is treated as if it is something you can control as in the statement that you have acne because you are young. If you say that in the right tone of voice, it makes it sound as if it was also your fault for being young. The same tone of voice, incidentally, can be used on what is now called the aging. That, too, is their fault.
The principle is a basic one and once you identify it, you can spot it at work almost anywhere. It is applied frequently in rape cases where women are sometimes blamed for their own rape. They are said to have dressed provocatively or to have hitchhiked or to have had the temerity to, say, have gone out alone at night. In some cases they are sort of blamed for being women but in all cases the notion is that they got what they had coming, a mind set that brings you up to the grammatical but not biological, possibility that they raped themselves.
Lately, you see this sort of thing crop up in conversations about cancer deaths. If the victim smokes, it was his fault that he died, this being the case even though most people started to smoke in the good old days when celebrities told you it was the thing to do. Another example of the blame-the-victim syndrome is the ulcer diet which like Saint Christopher, has only recently been discredited as largely superstition.
There was a time, however, when ucler victim's were put on a diet that, to simplify matters, banned all foods not colored white or, at the very least, a pale cream. An ulcer victim could not eat anything colored red, anything sold at a ball park, like hot dogs or beer, anything with spice in it and all booze and coffee. No person alive ever stuck to this diet consistently. Everyone strayed sooner or later, something every doctor knew. It was thus possible to blame the next ulcer attack on the victim's failure to adhere to his diet - something that was done.
You could go on like this, the list being almost endless. I remind you of the time a while back when housewives were being blamed for inflation and the time before that when we were all convinced that all auto accidents were the fault of the victim when, in fact, the car itself was often at fault. Whatever the reason for this, it appears to be deep-rooted and basic, maybe something having to do with the doctrine of free will. But it has been taken so far as to blame the victims of the Holocaust for the Holocaust - that business about them not resisting.
Now we come to Firestone, which has taken the concept about as far as it can go. Firestone for a time marketed a tire called the "500," which could only be defended as an export item for Ida Amin's army. It has been cited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as being involved in 14,000 individual tire failures, 29 deaths and 50 injuries. Not counted here are hundreds of accidents involving only property damage.
Firestone can explain all this. In the first place, it is unimpressed by the numbers and unimpressed by the number of complaints that federal agencies and Congress have received about the tire. The company said that the 600 letters received by a House committee was a pittance, a nothing, and he said that if the company had run an ad campaign similar to the one directed against the tire, he would have considered 600 letters a sign of failure.
Then, getting down to business, the company explained that radial tires were an "entirely new concept, a very sophisticated concept," not, to mention a wonderful tire. If there was a problem here it was that the consumer was sometimes under-inflating the tire, sometime by as much as four to six pounds. You always had to close your eyes not to see it coming. It was acne and ulcers and all the rest rolled into one. The fault, you see, was not in the tires, but in the victim.
This is really what can give you ulcers.