RE: Blaming America First (from Mother Jones magazine)

From: Joe Dees (
Date: Fri Jan 18 2002 - 08:17:00 GMT

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    > Vincent Campbell <> "''" <> RE: Blaming America First (from Mother Jones magazine)Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2002 16:08:20 -0000
    Yeah, file a rape charge, babe? Ya shouldn'ta worn that purty dress, hon; yaknow these good ole boyz consider that type of thing an open invitation, or ya shoulda known. But we're gonna haveta book ya fer kickin' 'im in the balls when he got through.
    >Another interesting piece Joe.
    >Todd Gitlin is a good writer, who's written some very interesting stuff
    >about media in the past. I do find the defensive tone of the pieces you've
    >posted interesting in that they get half way in recognising the possibility
    >that the USA was not an entirely innnocent victim of Sep 11, free from any
    >culpability in global affairs, but in fact a global player whose role in
    >many parts of the world (rightly or wrongly) has fostered deep distrust and
    >hatred. Yet they seem to retract from really accepting it. This seems
    >understandable given their position, if not a viewpoint many non-Americans
    >share (check the Pew Center website for its recent poll of attitudes about
    >Sep 11 and its consequences).
    >> ----------
    >> From: Joe Dees
    >> Reply To:
    >> Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2002 21:52 PM
    >> To:
    >> Subject: Blaming America First (from Mother Jones magazine)
    >> >Blaming America First Why are some on the left, who rightly demand
    >> sympathy for victims around the world, so quick to
    >> >dismiss American suffering? by Todd Gitlin January/February 2002
    >> >
    >> >
    >> >As shock and solidarity overflowed on September 11, it seemed for a
    >> moment that political differences had melted in the
    >> >inferno of Lower Manhattan. Plain human sympathy abounded amid a common
    >> sense of grief and emergency. Soon enough,
    >> >however, old reflexes and tones cropped up here and there on the left,
    >> both abroad and at home-smugness, acrimony, even
    >> >schadenfreude, accompanied by the notion that the attacks were, well, not
    >> a just dessert, exactly, butSİdamnable yet
    >> >understandable paybackSİrooted in America's own crimes of commission and
    >> omissionSİreaping what empire had sown. After
    >> >all, was not America essentially the oil-greedy, Islam-disrespecting
    >> oppressor of Iraq, Sudan, Palestine? Were not the
    >> >ghosts of the Shah's Iran, of Vietnam, and of the Cold War Afghan jihad
    >> rattling their bones? Intermittently grandiose
    >> >talk from Washington about a righteous "crusade" against "evil" helped
    >> inflame the rhetoric of critics who
    >> >feared-legitimately-that a deepening war in Afghanistan would pile human
    >> catastrophe upon human catastrophe. And soon,
    >> >without pausing to consider why the vast majority of Americans might feel
    >> bellicose as well as sorrowful, some on the
    >> >left were dismissing the idea that the United States had any legitimate
    >> recourse to the use of force in self-defense-or
    >> >indeed any legitimate claim to the status of victim.
    >> >
    >> >I am not speaking of the ardent, and often expressed, hope that September
    >> 11's crimes against humanity might eventually
    >> >elicit from America a greater respect for the whole of assaulted
    >> humanity. A reasoned, vigorous examination of U.S.
    >> >policies, including collusion in the Israeli occupation, sanctions
    >> against Iraq, and support of corrupt regimes in Saudi
    >> >Arabia and Egypt, is badly needed. So is critical scrutiny of the
    >> administration's actions in Afghanistan and American
    >> >unilateralism on many fronts. But in the wake of September 11 there
    >> erupted something more primal and reflexive than
    >> >criticism: a kind of left-wing fundamentalism, a negative faith in
    >> America the ugly.In this cartoon view of the world,
    >> >there is nothing worse than American power-not the woman-enslaving
    >> Taliban, not an unrepentant Al Qaeda committed to
    >> >killing civilians as they please-and America is nothing but a
    >> self-seeking bully. It does not face genuine dilemmas. It
    >> >never has legitimate reason to do what it does. When its rulers' views
    >> command popularity, this can only be because the
    >> >entire population has been brainwashed, or rendered moronic, or shares in
    >> its leaders' monstrous values.
    >> >
    >> >Of the perils of American ignorance, of our fantasy life of pure and
    >> unappreciated goodness, much can be said. The
    >> >failures of intelligence that made September 11 possible include not only
    >> security oversights, but a vast combination of
    >> >stupefaction and arrogance-not least the all-or-nothing thinking that
    >> armed the Islamic jihad in Afghanistan in order to
    >> >fight our own jihad against Soviet Communism-and a willful ignorance that
    >> not so long ago permitted half the citizens of
    >> >a flabby, self-satisfied democracy to vote for a man unembarrassed by his
    >> lack of acquaintanceship with the world.
    >> >
    >> >But myopia in the name of the weak is no more defensible than myopia in
    >> the name of the strong. Like jingoists who
    >> >consider any effort to understand terrorists immoral, on the grounds that
    >> to understand is to endorse, these hard-liners
    >> >disdain complexity. They see no American motives except oil-soaked power
    >> lust, but look on the bright side of societies
    >> >that cultivate fundamentalist ignorance. They point out that the actions
    >> of various mass murderers (the Khmer Rouge, bin
    >> >Laden) must be "contextualized," yet refuse to consider any context or
    >> reason for the actions of Americans.
    >> >
    >> >If we are to understand Islamic fundamentalism, must we not also trouble
    >> ourselves to understand America, this
    >> >freedom-loving, brutal, tolerant, shortsighted, selfish, generous,
    >> trigger-happy, dumb, glorious, fat-headed
    >> >powerhouse?
    >> >
    >> >Not a bad place to start might be the patriotic fervor that arose after
    >> the attacks. What's offensive about affirming
    >> >that you belong to a people, that your fate is bound up with theirs?
    >> Should it be surprising that suffering close-up is
    >> >felt more urgently, more deeply, than suffering at a distance? After
    >> disaster comes a desire to reassemble the shards of
    >> >a broken community, withstand the loss, strike back at the enemy. The
    >> attack stirs, in other words, patriotism-love of
    >> >one's people, pride in their endurance, and a desire to keep them from
    >> being hurt anymore. And then, too, the wound is
    >> >inverted, transformed into a badge of honor. It is translated into
    >> protest ("We didn't deserve this") and indignation
    >> >("They can't do this to us"). Pride can fuel the quest for justice, the
    >> rage for punishment, or the pleasures of
    >> >smugness. The dangers are obvious. But it should not be hard to
    >> understand that the American flag sprouted in the days
    >> >after September 11, for many of us, as a badge of belonging, not a call
    >> to shed innocent blood.
    >> >
    >> >This sequence is not a peculiarity of American arrogance, ignorance, and
    >> power. It is simply and ordinarily human. It
    >> >operates as clearly, as humanly, among nonviolent Palestinians attacked
    >> by West Bank and Gaza settlers and their Israeli
    >> >soldier-protectors as among Israelis suicide-bombed at a nightclub or a
    >> pizza joint. No government anywhere has the
    >> >right to neglect the safety of its own citizens-not least against an
    >> enemy that swears it will strike again. Yet some
    >> >who instantly, and rightly, understand that Palestinians may burn to
    >> avenge their compatriots killed by American weapons
    >> >assume that Americans have only interests (at least the elites do) and
    >> gullibilities (which are the best the masses are
    >> >capable of).
    >> >
    >> >In this purist insistence on reducing America and Americans to a wicked
    >> stereotype, we encounter a soft anti-Americanism
    >> >that, whatever takes place in the world, wheels automatically to blame
    >> America first. This is not the hard
    >> >anti-Americanism of bin Laden, the terrorist logic under which, because
    >> the United States maintains military bases in
    >> >the land of the prophet, innocents must be slaughtered and their own
    >> temples crushed. Totalitarians like bin Laden treat
    >> >issues as fodder for the apocalyptic imagination. They want power and
    >> call it God. Were Saddam Hussein or the
    >> >Palestinians to win all their demands, bin Laden would move on, in his
    >> next video, to his next issue.
    >> >
    >> >Soft anti-Americans, by contrast, sincerely want U.S. policies to
    >> change-though by their lights, such turnabouts are
    >> >well-nigh unimaginable-but they commit the grave moral error of viewing
    >> the mass murderer (if not the mass murder) as
    >> >nothing more than an outgrowth of U.S. policy. They not only note but
    >> gloat that the United States built up Islamic
    >> >fundamentalism in Afghanistan as a counterfoil to the Russians. In this
    >> thinking, Al Qaeda is an effect, not a cause; a
    >> >symptom, not a disease. The initiative, the power to cause, is always
    >> American.
    >> >
    >> >But here moral reasoning runs off the rails. Who can hold a symptom
    >> accountable? To the left-wing fundamentalist, the
    >> >only interesting or important brutality is at least indirectly the United
    >> States' doing. Thus, sanctions against Iraq
    >> >are denounced, but the cynical mass murderer Saddam Hussein, who permits
    >> his people to die, remains an afterthought.
    >> >Were America to vanish, so, presumably, would the miseries of Iraq and
    >> Egypt.
    >> >
    >> >In the United States, adherents of this kind of reflexive
    >> anti-Americanism are a minority (isolated, usually, on
    >> >campuses and in coastal cities, in circles where reality checks are
    >> scarce), but they are vocal and quick to action.
    >> >Observing flags flying everywhere, they feel embattled and draw on their
    >> embattlement for moral credit, thus roping
    >> >themselves into tight little circles of the pure and the saved.
    >> >
    >> >The United States represents a frozen imperialism that values only
    >> unbridled power in the service of untrammeled
    >> >capital. It is congenitally, genocidally, irremediably racist. Why
    >> complicate matters by facing up to America's
    >> >self-contradictions, its on-again, off-again interest in extending
    >> rights, its clumsy egalitarianism coupled with
    >> >ignorant arrogance? America is seen as all of a piece, and it is hated
    >> because it is hateful-period. One may quarrel
    >> >with the means used to bring it low, but low is only what it deserves.
    >> >So even as the smoke was still rising from the ground of Lower Manhattan,
    >> condemnations of mass murder made way in some
    >> >quarters for a retreat to the old formula and the declaration that the
    >> "real question" was America's victims-as if there
    >> >were not room in the heart for more than one set of victims. And the
    >> seductions of closure were irresistible even to
    >> >those dedicated, in other circumstances, to intellectual glasnost. Noam
    >> Chomsky bent facts to claim that Bill Clinton's
    >> >misguided attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant in 1998 was worse by
    >> far than the massacres of September 11. Edward
    >> >Said, the exiled Palestinian author and critic, wrote of "a superpower
    >> almost constantly at war, or in some sort of
    >> >conflict, all over the Islamic domains." As if the United States always
    >> picked the fight; as if U.S. support of the Oslo
    >> >peace process, whatever its limitations, could be simply brushed aside;
    >> as if defending Muslims in Bosnia and
    >> >Kosovo-however dreadful some of the consequences-were the equivalent of
    >> practicing gunboat diplomacy in Latin America or
    >> >dropping megatons of bombs on Vietnam and Cambodia.
    >> >
    >> >From the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, who has admirably criticized her
    >> country's policies on nuclear weapons and
    >> >development, came the queenly declaration that "American people ought to
    >> know that it is not them but their government's
    >> >policies that are so hated." (One reason why Americans were not exactly
    >> clear about the difference is that the murderers
    >> >of September 11 did not trouble themselves with such nice distinctions.)
    >> When Roy described bin Laden as "the American
    >> >president's dark doppelganger" and claimed that "the twins are blurring
    >> into one another and gradually becoming
    >> >interchangeable," she was in the grip of a prejudice invulnerable to
    >> moral distinctions.
    >> >
    >> >Insofar as we who criticize U.S. policy seriously want Americans to wake
    >> up to the world-to overcome what essayist Anne
    >> >Taylor Fleming has called our serial innocence, ever renewed, ever
    >> absurd-we must speak to, not at, Americans, in
    >> >recognition of our common perplexity and vulnerability. We must abstain
    >> from the fairy-tale pleasures of
    >> >oversimplification. We must propose what is practical-the stakes are too
    >> great for the luxury of any fundamentalism. We
    >> >must not content ourselves with seeing what Washington says and rejecting
    >> that. We must forgo the luxury of assuming
    >> >that we are not obligated to imagine ourselves in the seats of
    >> power.Generals, it's said, are always planning to fight
    >> >the last war. But they're not alone in suffering from sentimentality,
    >> blindness, and mental laziness disguised as
    >> >resolve. The one-eyed left helps no one when it mires itself in its own
    >> mirror-image myths. Breaking habits is
    >> >desperately hard, but those who evade the difficulties in their purist
    >> positions and refuse to face all the mess and
    >> >danger of reality only guarantee their bitter inconsequence.
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    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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