Jewish World Review April 9, 2003 / 7 Nisan, 5763
Vichy America: Not anti-American --- just pro-fascist
Professor Eric Foner, of Columbia University, stood on the same stage as the Professor Nicholas DeGenova, who memorably celebrated the genocidal warlords of Somalia, to denounce the war which is liberating Iraq - to "thunderous applause and whistles." To the applause of the same audience, Professor Foner quoted the great artist Paul Robeson, in order to put Americans to shame. Robeson, like the Columbia students at the teach-in, had a warm spot for mass murderers. He troubled himself to travel all the way to Moscow to kiss his Jewish friends goodbye, before Stalin put them to death - as Robeson seemed to have known he would.
Long after Stalin was revealed in all his horror as the biggest mass murderer of the 20th century, Robeson threw in his lot with him. In fact, in 1950, Robeson encouraged Black Americans not to fight against the North Korean Communists, who proceeded to set up what a hideous dictatorship - but which, thanks to the nuclear arms it procured under the protection of the international arms control establishment, is in a position to dictate terms to the rest of the world for its protection.
This is the far left. But allied with it are decent liberals, exemplified by another Columbia historian, Alan Brinkley, who spoke at the same teach-in to the Columbia mob canting about Bush's crimes and calling for the protection and extension of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. Two weeks earlier, I saw Professor Brinkley on another platform. At issue was how much the intellectual and moral firepower the editors of Commentary magazine provided helped Ronald Reagan to overwhelm the USSR's evil empire. Poor Professor Brinkley looked rather uncomfortable to be in the company of people who actually wanted a victory over tyranny.
In the mean time, European leftist intellectuals in London, Paris and Berlin are saying that America seeks an empire. What do they do at home? The French and Germans are busy trying to erect a political structure around the European Union that will be the closest thing to a Roman-style empire the modern world has seen. In the plan on offer, citizens of the various European nations will be deprived of the powers of self-determination and self-government, and subject to a central authority in Brussels that is responsible to no-one. The only citizenship that will matter will be the power to vote the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany. This rush to discard the most basic rights - the right to self-determination which even Germany accepted at the end of the World War I - bodes ill for Israel, which was founded at a time when self-determination was still a la mode. Poor Israel - it's so Fourteen Points!
What's happened to the left? Curiously, Professor Foner's magnificent book Reconstruction describes a similar mood overcoming liberals earlier in our country's history. At a crucial moment after the Civil War, northern Liberals suddenly grew tired of the struggle to protect the lives and property of southern blacks from white mobs. It was time, they said, for the freed slaves "to work out their own destiny." What this meant in practice was that all promises would be broken, Federal troops would be removed from the scene and the newly freed Black communities would be exposed to the tender mercies of the KKK and its allies in government. Today's liberals, from their comfortable armchairs, are equally tired of helping the oppressed. They have lost faith in socialism. They are silent as Castro carts away intellectuals by the score to secret trials - last week! - instead sobbing "censorship" when anyone has the temerity to argue with them. They admire only one thing: power, because they envy it. And the more obscenely power is displayed, the more drawn to it they are. So the petty tyrants - like Gorbachev, the tiny butcher of Lithuania - hastens to the defense of one of a much more efficient tyrant, Saddam.
On the other hand, the international left abhors order, civility, security, freedom of expression and a settled, peaceful life - and most of all it abhors a civilized society deploying its power to secure these virtues against enemies that would destroy it. Hence the next target: Israel.
Israel is a small country in a vast region whose liberty was secured by the sacrifice of soldiers from Western countries, but most of all from Britain. The allies made these promises to secure the allegiance of Europe's "non-aligned" peoples to the cause of the democracies struggling against the German and Austrian imperialists. A place for Jewish self-determination was promised by the same Western powers who promised to created states for Czechs, Arabs, Assyrian Christians, Poles, Kurds, Armenians, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Rumanians, and Maronite Christians. Many of these promises were kept - some were broken immediately, like that to the Assyrians and Kurds. Others were kept in imperfect fashion, like that to the Maronites. The promise of a homeland in Palestine for the Jews was whittled down, first by dividing Palestine into near- and far-Jordan regions, and then dividing the western half of Palestine again into Jewish and Arab areas. The Jews accepted each of these divisions - the Arabs never did.
Now Israel faces the wrath, not only of the Palestinians, who reject its very existence even within the unworkable pre-1967 borders, but of the international left. Why? Because in Israel freedom is appreciated yet under siege. America supports Israel instinctively because the traditions of democratic freedom in America are too strong to destroy.
Freedom in Western Europe has become so little fancied - perhaps because it was won not by the ancestors of the Frenchmen and Germans who enjoy it, but by the deaths of Britons and Americans of our parents' generation - that it's being cast aside. Freedom in Eastern Europe may survive, because it was so hardly and recently won, in spite of the insults the French who believe they should speak for Europe cast at them in February.
But Israel's freedom is too fragile and too easily assaulted for the left to resist. When you hear the voices calling for "justice," remember who is speaking - the same voices that now weep over the death-throes of fascism in Iraq. The left, if comfortable, can always make peace with fascism - as it did in Paris during the German occupation. But democracy willing to defend itself enrages it.
JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.