These days I let most things go by that I used to stop and argue about, but a few things can still wind me up. At the top of the list is the way people sometimes say “No offense…” in order to escape the consequences of a supremely offensive remark.
What got me started on this was a little sidebar in the current issue of Newsweek. The story involves a few drunken Serbs holding forth in a suffocating cafe in New Belgrade. The conversation as recorded is basically in praise of Radovan Karadžić, the Serbian nationalist leader who was arrested last week after 13 years on the run from the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.
Remarks around the table consist mostly of that special blend of bullying, bigotry and noxious self-pity that is business as usual for Karadžić supporters. I skimmed over most of it because I’ve heard it all before, but then my eye caught something that I couldn’t ignore.
A drinker known as Misko, speaking nostalgically of Karadžić, says to his American interviewer, “One educated Serb is more precious than a million educated Americans. No offense…”
No offense? NO OFFENSE? Sorry, Misko, you crossed a line there. Actually you crossed a million lines, one for every American you slandered with your self-aggrandizing delusion. Do you expect to get away with it just by asking that we not be offended? Put another way, how much better than you, who neither forgive nor forget anything, do you need to have us be?