Sunday, March 27, 2005

What David (Horowitz) Doesn’t Understand

In an article for his Front Page Magazine, titled ”Why Michael Can’t Read,” David Horowitz tells me, a leftist since earliest I can remember, why I believe as I do. The title of DH’s article refers to Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Berube, a teacher, scholar, and writer who, with Cary Nelson, edited Higher Education Under Fire: Politics, Economics, and the Crisis of the Humanities. Berube doesn’t think much of DH’s “DiscoverTheNetwork, which is a comprehensive guide to the political left,” and has said so, explaining why quite lucidly on his own blog (highly recommended). But DH isn’t just talking about Berube: he believes he knows the minds of the rest of us, too.

Take this comment, for example:

On the other hand leftists don't want to be identified as "left" because they don’t want to be burdened with the history of their deplorable political "mistakes." In particular, they don't want to be accountable for their support for (or appeasement of) our Communist enemies during the Cold War.

Now, I lived in Thailand in 1964 and 1965. I was a kid. My school doubled in size over the Christmas holidays because of the evacuation of civilian Americans from Vietnam. While the US government was claiming no bombing missions originated in Thailand, the Air Force pilots living in my apartment building were disappearing for a few days each week to the north of the country. I was proud of my father when we returned to the US: he was one of the first protesters against the war, participating in silent vigils against the unneeded killings our government was perpetrating. Soon, I was joining him in the protests (though not so silently).

Because of our proximity during the first major escalation, we learned a great deal about what was going on in Vietnam, much of it from people who had lived there. We knew right away how much our government was lying and how little the people of Vietnam supported us. We knew this was no war for “freedom” for anyone and we hated being associated with it due to our nationality.

One of the most important things we learned was that the US/Russia stand-off was not central to much of what was going on in the world. The conflict in Vietnam concerned a great deal more than simply keeping communism from spreading. Only myopic Americans who refused to see the world as anything but “good” (the US) versus “bad” (the Soviet Union) thought otherwise. We got ourselves into a conflict that was, frankly, none of our concern through our arrogance, our belief that everything came down to that one dichotomy. It wasn’t “support for (or appeasement of) our Communist enemies” that we were involved in, but support for human rights and self-determination. It’s simplistic to think otherwise—for the world is far more complex than the Cold Warriors ever imagined. I remain quite proud of my opposition to that war and to the Cold War mentality of the time. We did much to stave off the belligerent nature of much US foreign policy, allowing the Soviet Union space to collapse on its own.

Horowitz, on the other hand, still seems to want to make the American left responsible for all the ills of the world:

When Berube and his friends opposed America’s Cold War with the Communist enemy, the consequences of their actions were dire indeed. In Cambodia and South Vietnam, Berube and his fellow leftists—including John Kerry and Ted Kennedy—are accountable for making it possible for the Communists to slaughter two-and-a-half million innocent people after U.S. aid was cut at their insistence. But what if they had been successful in other campaigns? If the nuclear freeze movement had prevailed over its conservative opposition it is very possible that a billion people in the Soviet bloc would still be under the Communist heel. If leftists like Berube and Kennedy, had been successful in obstructing the effort of America and Britain to liberate Iraq, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, Iraqis would still be disappearing into plastic shredders and mass graves, there would be no democracy movement in the Middle East, and the world in general would be a more dangerous place.

Here again is that reductive, limited thinking. Pol Pot and his minions are responsible for the slaughter in Cambodia. To place responsibility elsewhere is akin to blaming 9/11 on Israel. DH’s argument, also, tries to link the slaughter to a cut in aid, forgetting that the fact of the aid itself set the stage for what later happened. Cutting it, at that point, is not what brough the Khmer Rouge to power.

Here again is that arrogance, that it is “our” (US) actions that have impact upon the world. Nothing else matters. A nuclear freeze would have allowed the Soviet Union to continue? Come on! The reasons for the collapse of the USSR were myriad; the tottering regime was going down no matter what “we” did.

Here again is that assumption of US importance. Though Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, life in Iraq has not improved—and many more Iraqis have died. To call this the spark for a Middle East democracy movement is ludicrous on the face of it. To be inspired to fight for democracy, something inspiring has to be taking place. Nothing the US has done in Iraq is inspiring. What shining example has been established? Whose lives have gotten so much better?

Here again is hubris, thinking that slapping down someone weaker than “we” are, someone who posed no threat to “us,” makes the world a safer place. No. The people who actually did attack the US are as strong as ever, and have new recruiting and proving grounds. The international community has been weakened, making it less likely that a cooperative movement against any real arising threat could be established.

At the start of his article, DH writes:

In a recent attack on our site (on March 2) he [Berube] reveals once again the intellectual laziness of the left when it comes to engaging opponents in, well, intellectual argument. On the other hand, tenured radicals like Berube have lifetime jobs and captive audiences, so what is their incentive not to be lazy?

The implication here is that somehow, tenure just drops on people—a gift from the gods. Clearly, DH has no idea what it means to achieve that status. I can’t speak for Berube, but I suspect he is as active as I am. Now, I don’t have tenure; I teach on a year-to-year contract. Of course, I would love to have tenure and hope to earn it—but having it would not slow me down (I want it because I crave the stability it represents, not so I won’t have to work). In my quest for tenure, I wrote a book last year that is now in print, and did it without the help of a staff like the one DH has at his disposal. In other words, I did all the work myself. Right now, I am working on two other books (not to mention the articles I have completed or am writing). Oh, and in addition to research, writing, and teaching full-time, I run my gift-store/gallery and am renovating a house (by myself). I certainly don’t have time or inclination to sit around the house and do nothing—and neither does Berube, I am sure.

Horowitz believes he is reaching into the minds of the left, but they are minds (and lives) whose workings he cannot comprehend. Lives involved in a complex “real” world of work and thought far beyond the simplicities DH’s blinders allow.

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