Karl Marx, that old shyster, must be chortling in his beard (somewhere near the bottom rung of Hell): Communism may be as dead as its founder, but one of Marx's more memorable aphorisms has certainly proved all too true. "Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another," averred Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. "He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." Suddenly, it seems, we are hearing all the old bromides of the 1960s, regurgitated by a whole new generation of deadheads or, in many cases, some of the very same deadheads. "America, love it or leave it!" "You hippie, get a job!" Anyone who dissents from the prosecution of the war is denounced for being "anti-American." You should see some of the hate mail we get at Antiwar.com "Why, you traitor, I only hope you're drafted and sent to the front lines in Afghanistan!" Traitor, fifth columnist, the "hate America crowd" and these are just some of the milder epithets that come in over the wire. It's the sixties all over again and, this time, it truly is a farce .
There is a nightmarish quality to this whole scenario, one that I find particularly frightening.
For, you see, I just turned 50 the other day, the age at which everything is supposed to come together and finally finally! we're all grown-ups around here. And yet, suddenly, it seems as if I'm going back, back, back in time, so that I'm forced to relive (and re-fight) the controversies of yesteryear. Except that, this time, instead of being exciting, the whole thing seems about as interesting as reruns of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
The dreariness of life in wartime is multiplied a hundred-fold by the oddly repetitive quality of the rhetoric. Now, in looking to document this contention, I figured all I had to do was go to Lucianne.com, and I wasn't disappointed: the second posted item from the top of the front page was a screed by one Lisa De Pasquale, program director of something called the Claire Boothe Luce Policy Institute, entitled: "Is Patriotism Dead on America's College Campuses?" It seems Ms. De Pasquale is shocked shocked! that "more than 100 campuses in America have held anti-war demonstrations." Furthermore, pro-war sentiment is supposedly being stifled, and there follows a long litany of outrages De Pasquale seems to think are so self-evidently horrific that she has only to describe them.
At Florida Gulf Coast University, faculty members were supposedly told to take down their "Proud to be an American" stickers because they might offend international students; at San Francisco State University, the obviously subversive "Students for Peace" has raised a typical pinko-commie slogan: "Fight War, Not Wars!" And imagine this! at Wittenberg College, in Ohio, "students are displaying the peace sign rather than the American flag." The problem, says De Pasquale, is all those pinko college professors.
Is that Dick Cheney or Spiro Agnew I hear, denouncing those "nattering nabobs of negativism"? Any minute now, Abbie Hoffman is going to leap back into the spotlight, reincarnated, perhaps, in the body of the Wittenberg College student who explained the peace sign is better than the flag because its circular shape "promotes a more inclusive atmosphere." Hey, Abbie, is it really you?"
Ms. De Pasquale, for her part, could be the reincarnation of whom? Perhaps those infamous little old ladies in tennis shoes who, like Ms. De Pasquale, were convinced back in the 1960s that American youth were all in on some insidious commie plot, although, today, I guess you might call it an "Islamist" plot. "These campuses," she moans, "were once a haven for the exchange of ideas. But today flags are being torn down, ROTC offices are being closed and students are being silenced. Anti-American sentiments are tolerated under the protection of free speech while ideas on unity and patriotism are called 'intolerant' and 'oppressive.'" What's next will "Up With People" make a comeback?
Oh, the horror of it all! Just when it seemed the human race may have made some progress, with the cold war ended and Communism impaled on its own sword, we seem to have been thrown back in time by the sheer force of the 9/11 explosion. It's as if the shock of the extreme violence that occurred that day tore open a hole in the space-time continuum, and time went into reverse. We are now living, post-9/11, in this retrograde reality, doomed to relive endlessly! what has gone before, like characters in some tiresome Existentialist play.
At the height of the Vietnam War I was a rather precocious junior high school student who had joined the major and the only national right-wing youth organization, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). When I wasn't writing unpublishable short stories and even worse poetry, I was churning out screeds demanding that the US bomb Haiphong harbor. Among us young rightists, for some reason, the whole solution to the Vietnam war question seemed to be tied up with the utter destruction of that commie harbor. If only the President would unleash the military, and perhaps even consider the use of nuclear weapons then and only then would the commies be defeated, rolled back, and the South (and, perhaps, the North, too) would be "liberated."
During the course of my career as a right-winger, however, I soon came to know better, in part due to my contact with libertarian ideas, and specifically the worldview of libertarian theorist Murray N. Rothbard, but that was only much later. My conversion to non-interventionism came, in even larger part, from the mere sight of the war as it unfolded on national television. I remember seeing the famous execution of a hapless Vietcong sympathizer by one of our noble South Vietnamese allies: the gun put right to the side of the guy's head, and BLAM!, his brains were blown out as cameras clicked and whirred. Is this what we're supposed to be fighting for? I thought and so did millions of Americans, who turned away in horror from that monstrous sight.
My own evolution from traditional conservative with libertarian leanings to a consistent advocate of a noninterventionist foreign policy is not really the subject of this column: I bring it up only to illustrate a point about the evolution of foreign policy ideas in general. For the reality is that, at least up until 9/11, the conservatives had long since given up their reflexive belligerence and adopted a policy often derisively referred to as "neo-isolationism."
The hebephrenic hyper-interventionism of the Clinton years, combined with the growing realization that the cold war had led to the creation of a Welfare-Warfare State, inspired many conservatives to take a noninterventionist stance. It had suddenly dawned on many of them that, with the cold war over, the Right could get on with its original mission: reducing the size and power of government and unleashing the power and productivity of the free market economy. Furthermore, they began to understand the intimate correlation between freedom at home and peace on the international front: the great leaps in the power of government, they noticed (albeit in retrospect) had always occurred during wartime. As liberals like Al Hunt triumphantly declare that the era of antigovernment activism is over, these conservatives are having the peace-and-freedom correlation shoved in their faces even as President Bush and the Senate Republicans capitulate to the left and federalize the airports, while John Ashcroft tramples the Constitution underfoot.
The post-cold war Left, on the other hand, evolved in the exact opposite direction, becoming increasingly militaristic. Many former leftists, having "converted" to the Rightist cause, repented of their sins and jumped on the neo-conservative bandwagon. Post-9/11, these former peaceniks are now the biggest warmongers on the block. The paradigmatic example is David Horowitz, the former leftist turned rightist, who once blasted the Vietnam War from the pages of Ramparts magazine, and is now libeling the antiwar movement as "traitors," "fifth-columnists," and "anti-American" becoming a parody of what he used to hate.
When Horowitz was marching against the Vietnam War, Pat Buchanan was on the other side of the barricades, advising Richard Nixon on how best to discredit the commie-peacenik-Black Panther popular front that filled the streets with protesters. Today, they are still on opposite sides of the barricades, but have switched positions: Horowitz, the former antiwar writer and activist, ceaselessly agitates for extending the Afghan war to Iraq and beyond. Buchanan, on the other hand, denounces the War Party and avers that declaring war against 1 billion-plus Muslims is not putting America first:
"Without evidence of Saddam's collusion in the terrorism of Sept. 11, an attack on Iraq would be seen as an unprovoked, unjust war that could bring Arab and Islamic mobs into the streets from Morocco to Indonesia, risking the survival of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. What would it profit America to march to Baghdad, only to have Cairo fall to anti-American mobs?"
While the specifics of the story-line are different, and many of the players have switched sides, what we're seeing is the sixties scenario reenacted in all its essentials. Once again, the War Party is intent on launching and, this time, winning an unwinnable war in Asia. On the other hand, we have a Peace Party that sees the threat of a wider war poses to civil liberties at home, as well as our real interests abroad. Once again, the War Party charges the Peace Party with "treason," and raises the specter of state repression. The weird sense of déjà vu is heightened as all this takes place against the backdrop of an economic downturn and looming social and political upheaval. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it this is an old aphorism that advocates of yet another invasion of the Asian landmass would do well to keep in mind.
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