Robert E. Sullivan


On his book Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power

Cover Interview of January 28, 2010


Those pages are subtitled “The Sensibility of Power.”  The condition and its consequences are inescapable human realities—I believe in original sin.  At the end of 2008 while finishing the manuscript, I read Richard Holbrooke’s review of Gordon Goldstein’s Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.  Long ago in Saigon, Holbrooke, now our special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, encountered Bundy.  After serving as a uniformed noncombatant during World War II, Bundy became self-confidently one of “the best and the brightest” and then an architect of the Vietnam War, hopelessly but unwittingly out of his depth.  Holbrooke still blanched at Bundy’s encompassing emotional “detachment.”  It fed on the deficient self-knowledge that enabled him to reduce groups and individuals to bloodless abstractions.  To some extent, so must everyone who wields power over life and death.  Imbued with the sensibility of power and brilliance, Macaulay was nearly complete and potentially lethal in his detachment.