October 1, 2001

In wartime, everybody has one

The cloud of dust and ash had yet to clear from the Manhattan skyline before politicos, ideologues, and pundits of every stripe were using the tragedy to push their agendas. Peter Beinart, writing in The New Republic, set the tone. Attacking the "anti-globalization" movement's allegedly ambiguous attitude toward America, Beinart demanded that antiwar protests be canceled immediately:

"On Tuesday that ambiguity became impossible. This nation is now at war. And in such an environment, domestic political dissent is immoral without a prior statement of national solidarity, a choosing of sides. By canceling the upcoming protests – and acknowledging that it is less important to ruin the meetings of the IMF and the World Bank than to let Washington recover – that is exactly the statement the anti-globalization movement would be making. And when peace returned and it came time to resume the globalization debate once more, their fellow citizens would remember."


As it is, the IMF/World Bank meetings were canceled, but the protests – more relevant than ever – were not. What is interesting here is the new kind of political correctness that Beinart and his fellow warriors of the word want to impose on a nation in shock – a nation just emotionally exhausted enough and fearful enough to fall for it. Dissent is immoral? Oh, there's that qualifier, of course – it's okay if you preface your dissent with a "statement of national solidarity." But what, precisely, does this mean? No doubt the editors of The New Republic will issue their "Guidelines for Dissenters," just as every magazine has a set of guidelines for its writers, a kind of style sheet or template that we must all bend our views to fit.


The New Republic is quite used to this sort of thing: prior to World War I, they agitated ceaselessly for American entry into the conflict, with editor Herbert Croly averring that the US needed "the tonic of a great moral adventure." In the prelude to World War II they played the same role, only more so: opponents of intervention were regularly denounced as traitors. Back then, New Republic essayist (and New York Post columnist) Samuel Grafton wrote:

"If we look for traitors, we shall not find the real appeasers. We must seek, instead, for those men and women who are afraid of social change and social planning, afraid of the democratic power of labor, afraid, in a word, of the future…"

[The New Republic, January 6, 1941]


I, for one, am afraid of the future – if it's anything like the past, that is. We are in for a repeat, it seems, of the same enforced political and social conformity and rampant scapegoating that characterized the last world war. Back then, as today, writers and other opinion-makers who did not toe the interventionist line soon found themselves out of work – and under investigation by agencies both official and unofficial.


Bill Maher, a pompous fool, slipped up and called the American military "cowardly" for bombing at 19,000 ft. while the terrorists were "brave" – a much-deserved backlash nearly has him out of a job. The truth is that, far from being a peacenik, Maher has always been a warmonger: when I appeared on his show, in 1996, he praised the war-making powers of the State and was a faithful cheerleader for Bill Clinton's extended spate of military adventurism. That's why David Horowitz, and other pro-war conservatives, are leaping to defend him. In spite of Maher's real views on this matter, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer declared that this should serve as a reminder to all Americans "that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." The White House has made Beinart's dictum on dissent into official policy: now, if only Maher had uttered "a prior statement of solidarity," he wouldn't be frantically calling his agent looking for his next gig. I must say, lightning couldn't have struck a more deserving target – but it's frightening, nevertheless, to see it strike so randomly and with such destructive power.


That's right, says the presidential spokesman: watch what you say. Somebody, after all, might be listening – and noting it down. Don't talk about the possibility of bioterrorism in the checkout line – you don't want to spread panic, do you? How dare you go to an antiwar rally without first signing a "statement of solidarity"! And how come your house is flag-less? Get with the program, buddy, and while you're at it why don't you buy some stocks? It's the patriotic thing to do, you know….


War hysteria is blazing white-hot in the American media, which is now busily purging itself of dissenters, and groveling before the War Party, begging their forgiveness for any "anti-American" views that may not have been filtered out: Reuters is being attacked for not identifying bin Ladin & Co. as "terrorists," and there is a major controversy about whether or not television news anchors should all be wearing American flag pins on their lapels. Neocon Andrew Sullivan weighs in on the issue, giving it his own peculiarly bitchy spin:

"Thanks for your suggestions for Reuters to use instead of the dread and terribly unobjective word "terrorists." 'Compassion-challenged advocate' has an Oprah-esque quality. 'Aeronautical Fundamentalists' distinguishes them from the 700 Club, but doesn't quite capture their aggressive tendencies. They could be evangelicals on the shuttle. 'Collateral damage coordinators' has its merits. But I vote for 'casualty facilitators.' Maybe even Peter Jennings could spit that one out."


How about identifying these people by name, or organizational affiliation, without any adjectives, qualifiers, or propagandistic jargon? Sullivan has the nerve to call those who resist this "patriotic" correctness"Orwellian" – but what is this other than an argument for inserting a kind of "Newspeak" of his own into otherwise purely journalistic accounts? And what are we to make of newscasters who wear their country's flag – there is more than a touch of the totalitarian style in this curious fixation of the Fashion Police. If news anchors are being intimidated into wearing what the professional super-patriots require, when how long before they are intimidated into saying what the Andrew Sullivans of this world would love to make them say?


Here is where the unbearable preachiness of life in wartime comes into play, and the unbearable Sullivan is an expert at it: pontification is his specialty. Among his other specialties is his homosexuality, about which he writes and speaks often: certainly his niche as the gay voice of the neocons is assured. One particular hobbyhorse he's been riding for a while is the absolute necessity of allowing open gays in the military, and he exults in the recent relaxation of the rules in the interests of the wartime emergency. In an article on Gay.com, Sullivan bloviates at length and ad nauseum:

"War changes everything. If there are lessons we can learn from history, this is one of them. And, above everything else, war changes the home front. It churns us all up, it scrambles social norms and makes what was once unthinkable possible. So the First World War was the critical moment for the breakthrough of the movement for women's equality, especially in Europe. The Second World War in America was perhaps the most racially integrating event in this county's history – it is no accident that only three years after it ended, racial segregation was abolished in the armed forces. And the Vietnam war also clearly turned this country's social order upside down, before it regained equilibrium."


Who cares if millions died, untold wealth was destroyed, and untold suffering endured – what matters is that racial victimology and feminism were legitimized. Aside from being grotesque, Sullivan's paean to war as a transformative agent recalls Grafton's indictment of right-wing dissenters during World War II: they were, Grafton declared, "afraid of the future." The same old song is being played today: if you are afraid of the future as envisioned by Sullivan, you are an enemy of progress – and quite possibly a traitor. Oh, there's a brave new world a comin', and social conservatives, in Sullivan's view, are going to be stampeded into all sorts of "unthinkable" compromises:

"And so this war could also do something similar. In fact, it already has. This is the first major war in which the open visible presence of gay and lesbian Americans cannot be denied. Already, the military has suspended its discharges of homosexual servicemembers, because in a war, we cannot afford the waste of resources such pointless persecution incurs. Openly gay soldiers will now fight for our freedom in a way never seen before. Now is not the time to argue for immediate changes in policy. We have a war to win."


You don't endorse gay rights? Then you're obstructing the war effort. "We have a war to win" indeed! Oh, yes, everyone has their little agenda, both political and personal: while Sullivan gets to be butch, Jerry Falwell takes the opportunity to blame the attack on American sodomites. And suddenly everyone is talking and acting as if they are characters in a grade-B war movie, circa 1943. War, as they say, is hell.


"War changes everything," proclaims Sullivan, and he's right. It is the social engineer's dream-come-true, a condition to be wished for, and even provoked, so that we can all be "chummed up" – integrated and homogenized by the great coercive Mixmaster of the State. We are now seeing record out of wedlock births, the end of marriage, the breakdown of the family and the social disintegration of the primarily black underclass – aren't social norms "scrambled" enough? Not, apparently, enough for Sullivan. His exegesis of global mass murder – on the grounds that it advanced the cause of "civil rights" and got urban gays in the same barracks as 18-year-old corn-fed farmer boys from Iowa – is eerie and perverse.


We all have our little wartime agendas, in spite of the façade of "national unity" that even now shows signs of peeling away. The Democrats say a tax cut is out of the question due to the wartime "emergency," while Republicans counter that the economic warfare waged by the terrorists requires a break for business. Aside from purely partisan bickering, the ideological factions and lobbies in Washington were quick to take advantage of the nation's sorrow and confusion. Advocates of a police state have come out of the closet, led by John Ashcroft, and are now calling for draconian surveillance measures and police powers. And foreign lobbyists certainly wasted no time in pressing their advantage. As Pat Buchanan pointed out in USA Today – and as I pointed out the day before – Israel's amen corner in the US was quick to react with a proposal to invade not only Afghanistan but also Syria, Iraq, and Iran.


A whole brace of "movement" conservatives were quick to sign a statement, sponsored by Bill Kristol's "Project for a New American Century," demanding an invasion of Iraq. Neocon Charles Krauthammer's Washington Post column on "The War: A Road Map," projected a long-range program of conquest that would end, poetically, in Baghdad, "on the very spot where his own father, ten years ago, let victory slip away." Coincidentally, of course, these nations are all sworn enemies of Israel, and have been funding and encouraging a campaign of bloody terrorism against Israel for years. Krauthammer sees this as not just a war on terrorism, but on Islam – a mindset the President has gone out of his way to deny and denounce. It must have been a rebuff of a particularly brutal kind for Krauthammer and the amen corner when they read the news that the US and Syria are now allies in the "war on terrorism."


Well, then, what's my agenda? It is this: to instill in the American people a basic distrust, a positive aversion for overseas meddling – one so strong that it will keep American soldiers at home, instead of treading the alien sands of Arabia. There is, in this view, a healthy dose of xenophobia, one that welcomes trade but forbids immigration, one that turns away from much of the world in confusion and outright revulsion. Think of what the terrorists did – can you imagine any American fringe group, no matter how loony, even conceiving of such a monumentally evil act? This madness has infected the entire Middle East, the Balkans, Central Asia, and part of South America. It has always reigned supreme in Africa. What do we gain by involving ourselves in the affairs of peoples who cannot and will not live in peace? They say our "national security" is inextricably linked to every continent, but, post-9/11, it is going to be increasingly hard to convince the American people that the alleged benefits are worth the risks.


I envision a wall – an actual, physical rampart, with big spikes on top – designed to keep out not only potential hijackers, but the contagion of a foreign madness that threatens to infect our shores. Let it be known as the Great Wall of America, one to put China's to shame: let it be longer, higher, and more impregnable than the original, lest we share the fate of that Chinese emperor who lost his kingdom and probably his head to the invading Mongols. Oh, we'll trade with the rest of the world: but otherwise we'll keep our distance. No troops stationed abroad, no faithless "allies," no transnational entanglements, no meddling in overseas quarrels that are none of our affair.


Oh, you say, but that's the dreaded "isolationism" we're all supposed to abhor. Well, I have news for the elites who coined the term: the American people are isolationists, and always have been. Every poll, every indication of popular sentiment, shows Americans are overwhelmingly against foreign aid, against increased immigration, and against foreign entanglements. If such issues were ever put to a popular vote, those terrible isolationists would come out on top every time.


It's impossible, you say: not in our "globalized" civilization where geography has been abolished by the Internet and borders are evaporating before our eyes. A wall? Such an idea is not only utopian, but positively reactionary. But it isn't utopian at all: it is the interventionists who are the true utopians. They actually believe they can defy history – and even end it – by founding an empire that will never decay, and fall. It's entirely possible for the US to shift course and pursue a policy of "isolationism" – after all, we're the world's sole superpower, aren't we? We don't need the rest of the world, they need us: our markets, our technology, our vitality. As long as we remain militarily strong, such an exalted status should entitle us to certain prerogatives: and, if not, then what, exactly, are the benefits of our superpowerdom, if any?


Of course it's possible, not utopian at all but eminently practical and necessary. Seal off the US from the world's evils, deadly as they are – if government has a function, then isn't this it? In the wake of the horror from abroad, I say: Isolationism today, isolationism tomorrow, isolationism forever. Let's start putting America first, and attend to our own business, which can be summed up in two key words: homeland defense.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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