Mark Gauvreau Judge FrontPageMagazine.com August 24, 2004
We've been here before.
That's one reaction to the phenomenon that has come with the Iraq war: the denial of Saddam Hussein's evil. Columnist Nat Hentoff recently expressed outrage when he read, in the New York Observer, that many people interviewed on the streets of Manhattan actually had good things to say about Hussein. Perhaps the most representative comment was this, made by - of course – a journalist: "[Saddam's] committed. Actually, he's not duplicitous. I think he's very much open about what he believes and what he will do with his power, which is actually unlike Bush, who is incredibly duplicitous and lies."
What is so staggering about this is not just the stupidity and moral cretinism of the comment, but the immediate, knee-jerk reaction from people - particularly the grubby "protestors" scampering throughout New York - that such pollution is somehow a form of free speech that deserves respect. When such a ridiculous comment is met with ridicule, liberals are quick so attach the cliché - hey, that's what makes this country great. Everyone can give their opinion.
But this is not as much an opinion as it is hostility to thought itself. That phrase, "hostility to thought itself," comes from the great historian Robert Conquest, author of a brilliant book about totalitarianism, Reflections of a Ravaged Century. Conquest outlines the thought that gave rise to Nazism and communism - and the hostility to thought that led far too many Western intellectuals and artists to defend Soviet crimes. Conquest broke down the arguments defending communism into four basic steps:1) There is much injustice under capitalism.2) Socialism will end this injustice.3) Therefore anything that supports socialism is to be supported.4) Including any amount of injustice.
Some of the things said my Western intellectuals in defense of Stalinism were truly appalling. In the 1920s writer Lincoln Steffens travled to Russia, returned home and declared, "I have seen the future and it works." Playwright Bernard Shaw went to Russia during the height of the famine in the early 1930s, then returned home and described the Soviet population as overfed. In 1934, H.G. Wells had a private audience with Stalin. Wells declared that he, Wells, had "never met a man more candid, fair and honest," adding that "no one is afraid of him and everyone trusts him.
Conquest notes that many American "suckers. did not take in what they saw with their own eyes." Writer Malcolm Muggeridge also saw this phenomenon, describing "Quakers applauding task parades, feminists delighted as the sight of women bowed under a hundredweight of coal, architects in ecstasies over ramshackle buildings just erected and already crumbling away." Most notoriously, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty didn't play down the famine that killed ten million in the Ukraine - he denied it outright, claiming such claims were "malignant propaganda." Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize.
These were not people doing something wonderful, expressing their opinions and adding to the marketplace of ideas. It is what Conquest calls it – a "morbid affliction" or even an "addiction" to an ideology that is so obviously criminal. Yet, as Conquest notes, simply calling these people unpatriotic does not get to the heart of the problem - in fact, it can be a diversion.
Calling someone unpatriotic allows them access to the grab bag of counter-charges: McCarthyism, hostile to dissent, what makes America great is protest, censorship, etc. They immediately don the mantle of victim, and it often works. Conquest points to the real problem: "Many whose allegiance went to the Soviet Union may well be seen as traitors to their countries, and to the democratic culture. But their profounder fault was more basic still. Seeing themselves as independent brains, making their choices as thinking beings, they ignored their own criteria. They did not examine the multifarious evidence, already available in the 1930s, on the realities of the Communist regimes. That is to say, they were traitors to the human mind, to thought itself."
This hostility to thought itself was difficult to shake long after the 1930s. Indeed, it became something of a contagion in the 1960s during the Vietnam war. America was not only in a losing but honorable battle against a totalitarian regime - indeed, an heir of Stalin - but was the evil force in the war. Student protestors didn't call for America's retreat, they openly praised the Vietcong. In the coverage after Saigon fell, and in the recent coverage of John Kerry's anti-wart activism, one angel is absent: an assessment of communism and what it did to that country. This is hostility to thought itself.
This, of course, is exactly what is going on with much of the protest against the Iraqi war. These people aren't as much communists or anarchists - although there are a few of those - as they are hostile to thought and reason itself. Michael Moore can comb through miles of footage to make George Bush look foolish, yet can't bring himself to depict Saddam Hussein's Iraq as anything but a peaceful, kite-flying paradise (Walter Duranty would be proud). To be sure, Moore can think that George Bush is a Hitler who through sheer rapaciousness dragged us into war through lies.
Unfortunately, this "argument" has to ignore certain facts. First and foremost, it must ignore the reality of September 11. That attack led the United States, not unreasonable, to alter it's foreign policy. In the age of terrorist attacks and dirty bombs and Islamic fascism, it would attempt to change the culture of the Middle East - or at least the most dangerous pockets of it. One of those pockets was Iraq, a country we were already at war with. Saddam had attempted an assassination of a president, had harbored terrorists and paid suicide bombers, had attempted to build a nuclear reactor in the 1980s, had used weapons of mass destruction and had flouted the United Nations over a dozen times. This is to say nothing of the environmental devastation of draining the southern Iraqi marshes.
Even the argument that "Bush lied" falls apart when matched with facts. After the United Nations, France, Germany, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the CIA told the president that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction - and as Hussein kept ignoring UN resolutions and his plans kept firing at American airmen in the no-fly zone - the president decided that he had to act. The logical question at this pint is, what happened to the weapons Hussein had? More compellingly, if he had no weapons, why did he lie, thus laying the groundwork for his own destruction? Most importantly - and unasked by the media - is the question of whether Saddam's lost bluff has shown the Middle East or resolve, and thus advanced our own safety in the war on terror. Didn't expect any of those questions to be addressed by the protestors.
Mark Gauvreau Judge is the author of If It Ain’t Got That Swing: The Rebirth of Grown-Up Culture (Spence). He writes for New York Press.