Here is the good news about the president's planned excursion to Bitburg: It will be over soon. That may not put an end to all of the questions that have been raised, but, with luck, it will put an end to the outpouring of fatuous efforts at mitigation we have witnessed. Of these surely the most fatuous is the White House assurance that the Bitburg sojourn will get only 10 to 15 minutes as compared with over an hour at Bergen- Belsen.
Of the welter of material that has come out in the past few days, we would cite merely two elements that need comment. One is the newly emphasized stress on what a good friend Ronald Reagan has been to the Jews over the years. The implication here is troubling. It is that some sort of ingratitude is now being shown by them in return. This is an awful line to pursue. As with practically everything else that has been said in the debate it 1)misses the point, and 2)has implications that those purveying it undoubtedly have not thought through and would disown if they had. It should be dropped.
One other (we hope) final observation: over the weekend we heard a radio call-in show carrying the SS-versus-ordinary soldier argument to new heights of absurdity. It described the SS as the "extremists" among the Nazis (were the others "moderates"?). Well, it was only a matter of time until someone said that. Already we had been treated to explanations by various analysts of how there was a good SS and a bad SS -- the Waffen ones being thought less horrible than the plain old gas-chamber kind. Can any of this be happening? Are we really, as a political culture, as ignorant and ingenuous as this sounds?
Mr. Reagan has evidently decided, without happiness, to go forward with his Bitburg journey. Let his sidekicks stop making the situation worse with their half-baked efforts at amelioration. Let his critics and defenders stop talking as if the issue were how many of which kind of SS are buried where. Mr. Reagan is not going to Bitburg to honor evil. Presumably, he is going there to acknowledge it, to remark upon the way it insinuated itself into the institutions and daily lives of a civilized people and to affirm our commitment and that of the present day German nation that this should never be forgotten and never be permitted to happen again. Mr. Reagan has much to say in those 15 minutes.