It's been an honor
On dueling culture, Joseph McCarthy's lack of decency, and the diplomat resigning from the Russian foreign ministry with a flourish
It takes a lot of guts to speak out against a political regime that is notorious for dispatching its dissidents and sending activists to prison, so surely it must have taken some fortitude for Boris Bondarev to have resigned his post at the Russian mission to the United Nations in Geneva with an open letter condemning "the aggressive war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine".
■ Acts of dignified behavior in the face of meaningful personal or reputational risk are worth praising. We ought to praise them in real-time, and we ought to continue to praise them long after the fact. The memory of honorable acts in the past -- like attorney Joseph Welch eviscerating Senator Joe McCarthy with his legendary demand, "Have you no sense of decency?", or of Dwight Eisenhower's insistence that any failure on D-Day was his responsibility alone -- reassures people in the present that taking the honorable path will earn them the right place in history.
■ This perspective on honor is different from silly codes of honor like the one that gave dueling a place in history (and prematurely deprived the young United States of the benefit of the counsel of Alexander Hamilton before he had even reached the age of 50).
■ Honor is earned in the present, but an honorable reputation often doesn't truly pay off until long after death. We revere Abraham Lincoln in the present, but nearly 45% of the popular vote went against him in 1864. Tens of thousands of people are remembered today as the Righteous Among Nations for saving lives during the Holocaust, but many were themselves imprisoned or executed for their acts.
■ That is why we have to learn thoroughly and expansively about history, paying special attention to commemorate the honorable acts that weren't rewarded in their own times. Likewise, we should curse (and conscribe to the dustbin of history) the names of those who sought power or praise in their day by committing sinful acts against others -- Che Guevara, for instance, was a torturer who belongs anywhere but on a t-shirt.
■ But it also means that as we learn from history, we ought to highlight the honorable acts we see in the present. And using a worldwide platform to speak against an unjustifiable war is just such an act of real honor.