Crimes against humanity come large now--wars, holocausts, ethnic cleansing--but sometimes a small horror rises from the past and pierces the heart. Such is the case of a man convicted last week of harvesting and selling body parts, including those of the most civilized man I ever knew.
For several generations of Americans, Alistair Cooke was the Englishman who loved America, writing about life here for the Manchester Guardian, doing "Letter From America" radio broadcasts that were heard around the world and finally sitting in an armchair in front of Public TV cameras as the cultivated host of "Masterpiece Theater."
I interviewed him in 1953 when he was doing a CBS TV venture into culture, a short-lived series called "Omnibus," which was shown on Sunday afternoons when nobody would watch. Undaunted, Cooke introduced opera, ballet and dramatic performances with suave charm. As I followed him through a maze of narrow sets, he told me, "It's like making movies in an iron lung."
He had become a naturalized citizen only days before Pearl Harbor, and he loved his new country as only someone who volunteered to live here could. He spent his life answering what he called the "slanders" of those who looked down their British noses at American culture:
"It will be a great day when you ask an Englishman what comes to mind at the mention of America and he replies, 'The beautiful white villages of New England, the neighborly warmth of Midwesterners, the great contributions of American scholarship, the outdoor life of California, the fine style of modern American architecture, the God-given glory of Bryce Canyon, the man-made marvel of Boulder Dam."
He died in 2004 at the age of 95, and when American ghouls dug up his body and sold the parts for organ transplants, they lied about his age and the cancer that killed him.
"He was a reporter," Cooke's daughter said last week. "I have no doubt he would have written about this." And he wouldn't have made it an indictment of American greed.