Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
Author and critic Susan Sontag has died at the age of 71. Sally Greene discusses Sontag's life and legacy at Greenespace. Greene wrote about Sontag for The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
Sontag became notorious for her reaction to the 9/11 attacks. She argued that hijackers had political and military objectives and that the attacks were not simply irrational acts of inscrutable malice. Predictably, her critics misconstrued her remarks as a defense of the hijackers.
Sontag wasn't apologizing for the hijackers, of course. She was arguing that evil is an ineffective explanatory device. If you caricature your enemy as crazy or evil, you do yourself a disservice. If you know your enemy's beliefs and desires, you can predict his behavior. Sontag's remarks enraged the right who assailed her as a treacherous radical.
(It is ironic that the FBI profiler is a latter day folk hero. Americans love fiction and non-fiction about brilliant forensic psychologists who crack a baffling crime by "getting into the head" of a serial killer. I have never heard anyone argue that profiler shows generate sympathy for serial killers by acknowledging that they act for reasons.)
I hope Sontag's later years weren't blighted by knee-jerk jingoists.