There are a lot of questions that Todd Gitlin left unanswered
in his column titled "Liberal Activists Finding Themselves
Caught Between a Flag and a Hard Place." Here were a few that
struck me as I read his column:
--Who on the Left has ever said, or even implied, that Al
Qaida should be counted, in Gitlin's words, among the "noble
white hats in the 'Third World' at war with imperial black
hats"? We do not need Gitlin to tell us that Al Qaida and
the Taliban are not the Viet Cong or the Sandinistas.
--Why does he need to broadcast to the world that he draped
an American flag on the balcony of his apartment in
Greenwich village? If patriotism is so sacrosanct to him,
then he should have enough respect for it to observe it in
humble silence rather than publicize his support of it.
--Why, in his effort to trivialize the antiwar movement,
does he mention an antiwar rally with only a few
hundred people that attended in "traditionally anti-war
Madison, Wis.", but not the much larger rally of
15,000--which about rivaled in size the rally his own
beloved SDS organized in April 1965?
--Why doesn't he have the courage of his convictions to
just come out and say: "I support the war in Afghanistan
and everybody else on the left should too"? I would
respect him more for taking the more direct approach
rather than the touchy-feely one he adheres to in his
--Does he really think that anybody--ANYBODY--on the
Left who is committed to peace and ending this awful
war unfolding in Afghanistan is going to burn the
American flag??? How many peace rallies in the United
States have featured activists burning the flag? Does
he think this is a tactic that any serious Leftist
has even considered?
I swear by Gitlin's work. His book "The Sixties" is
still one of the finest volumes out there, and I was
heavily influenced by his "Twilight of Common Dreams,"
which I recommend to my students. But I have to
respectfully part ways with Gitlin on this matter.
This war in Afghanistan will probably drag on, and
if it does, Marc Cooper and Todd Gitlin are either
going to regret the position they have taken,
or they're going to sink into that sad tar pit of
ex-radicals-turned-neo-liberals, which includes
Norman Thomas (who Gitlin fondly quoted), Bayard
Rustin and the leaders of SANE, who, incidentally,
tried to obstruct the very movement Gitlin was so
instrumental in building.
Department of History
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1
519.888.4567, ex. 2767
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