Re: [sixties-l] Todd Gitlin on the war (fwd)

From: Jeffrey Blankfort (
Date: Mon Nov 05 2001 - 00:31:18 EST

  • Next message: "[sixties-l] Antiwar News...(# 24) (fwd)"

    Ever since Gitlin refused to sign an ad condemning Israel's invasion of
    Lebanon in 1982, his politics have been indistinguishable from the
    liberal-Judas wing of the Democratic Party. I remember watching NBC
    during the Gulf War and there is old Todd, shown giving blood. Does
    anyone think that the cameraman just happened to be at the blood bank or
    did Todd give them a call. While the Old Left made many major political
    errors, they did them with the sincere belief that they were doing the
    right thing. In the case of New Left Gitlin, he is nothing but a pure,
    up-for-sale 24-7 opportunist.

    Jeff Blankfort

       Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2001 12:46:21 -0800
    > From: radtimes <>
    > Subject: Todd Gitlin on the war
    > Liberal Activists Finding Themselves Caught Between a Flag and a Hard Place
    > <>
    > by Todd Gitlin
    > Published on Sunday, October 28, 2001 in the San Jose Mercury News
    > Generals, it is said, are always fighting the last war. Facing a war that
    > is neither World War II nor Vietnam, against an enemy neither Nazi nor
    > Communist, Washington has sometimes sounded blustery and lost since Sept. 11.
    > The same is true of America's anti-war movement. The movement is a child of
    > the Vietnam era and has viewed every subsequent conflict through that
    > prism. To many liberals, meddling in the world's business was taboo because
    > when America put its own interests first, other nations suffered.
    > Now, the left is summoned to show not just foreboding, or which the war in
    > Afghanistan is certainly ripe, but originality. Just as the Bush
    > administration has scrapped its reluctance to intervene abroad and declared
    > its readiness for "nation building," American liberals need to re-examine
    > their doctrines if they hope to influence events.
    > Peace activists need to grapple with the difficult questions of whether any
    > war can be justified, or just, and what the practical alternatives are.
    > Then they can decide whether they agree with U.S. military actions or not.
    > Whether the left will rise to the occasion is questionable.
    > Consider, first, the fights over the American flag, evident in the days
    > after Sept. 11.
    > Splits quickly developed between those on the left who felt the unfamiliar
    > passion of patriotism and those who didn't. Feminist Katha Pollitt, a
    > columnist for the Nation and a veteran of the movement against the Vietnam
    > War, wrote that her teenage daughter wanted to fly the flag, but Pollitt
    > said no.
    > A veteran of the same movement, I felt otherwise. A few days after the
    > World Trade Center massacre, my wife and I hung out a flag on our balcony
    > in Greenwich Village. Our desire was visceral, to express solidarity with
    > the dead, membership in a wounded nation, and affection for the community
    > of rescue that affirmed life in the midst of death, springing up to dig
    > through the nearby ashes and ruins.
    > 'True patriotism'
    > In this spirit, I liked the sentiments of the New Jersey flag-factory owner
    > who told ABC that he sold 27,000 flags in one day, but added this about the
    > mood of his customers: "It's not like the gulf war. That was, 'Get 'em, get
    > 'em.' This is more solidarity. I'm very happy to see true patriotism. This
    > is so much warmth."
    > In the 1960s I, like most radicals, felt the furious fire of national sins
    > and crimes burn away love of country. Even then, I thought the flag-burners
    > stupid and self-defeating, but I watched, paralyzed, as the war supporters
    > ran away with the flag, and thus with the aftermath of the '60s. Many
    > Americans were willing to hear our case against the war, but not to forfeit
    > love of their America.
    > The terrible paradox of the late '60s and early '70s was that as the war
    > became less popular, so did the anti-war movement. Partly because of the
    > movement's cavalier anti-Americanism, pro-war Republicans emerged
    > triumphant. Ronald Reagan took over in 1981, and conservatives have wielded
    > enormous power ever since.
    > Last month, then, I refused to surrender the flag.
    > On the left, division over the flag has now translated into division over
    > the Afghanistan war.
    > Anti-war demonstrations rally numbers in the low thousands, or smaller. A
    > few hundred people marching in traditionally anti-war Madison, Wis., cannot
    > convincingly claim that they march in the name of democracy when they
    > represent a tiny minority.
    > Even in the Bay Area, the American left's base and home of the sole
    > Congress member to vote against war authorization, division is evident. The
    > Berkeley City Council voted 5-4 to call for a halt in the war, but paper
    > flags are pasted on the windows of many homes there. And even some
    > left-wing journalists have criticized today's anti-war activists; Marc
    > Cooper, in a recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, called the
    > first major peace rally "a self-caricature of an American left that has
    > struggled unsuccessfully since the attacks to find its proper national
    > voice and posture."
    > So why does much of the left look, in Cooper's words, "traumatized and
    > dysfunctional"? Because anti-war absolutists cannot leave behind the
    > melodramatic imagination of noble white hats in the "Third World" at war
    > with imperial black hats. They have a hard time seeing America as a wounded
    > party and seeing totalitarian Islamist groups like Al-Qaida as world-class
    > menaces.
    > These liberals are still stamped by the awfulness of the Vietnam War, along
    > with ill-conceived American covert and semi-covert interventions in Iran,
    > Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Angola, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
    > If American policy is, in their minds, forever motivated by nothing but
    > imperial overreach, forever guilty of napalm and death squads, then all
    > American wars must be opposed with an absolute "No."
    > Justifying slaughter
    > One version of liberal dogma, at least a consistent one, is the pacifist's
    > view that force must never be used. But the fundamentalist left does not
    > oppose the use of force absolutely. Some go so far as to treat the
    > slaughter of thousands at the World Trade Center as an event in the history
    > of revolt by the oppressed against their oppressors. These hard-left
    > supporters act as if Saudi Arabian and Egyptian fundamentalists were
    > entitled, as victims of imperialism, to a touch of vengefulness. (But if
    > injuries at American hands were the causes of revenge attacks on the United
    > States, then Vietnamese or Guatemalan suicide bombers might have
    > materialized.)
    > For others on the left, American interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, on
    > behalf of oppressed Muslims, and against "ethnic cleansing," concentration
    > camps and massacres -- marked a definitive end to the idea that all wars
    > merited an absolute "No."
    > Many of these liberals were sufficiently ambivalent about war and American
    > power that they were reluctant to feel patriotic after Sept. 11. But they
    > do. The nation that was grievously wounded is theirs.
    > In the main, they consider a regime that denies schooling for girls and
    > harbors mass murderers repulsive. They are convinced that patriotism,
    > sanctioned by international law, imparts a right of self-defense. They do
    > not believe that love of country binds them to hot pursuit of the White
    > House's strategies or tactics. But in the fight at hand, they share the
    > goal of a president whom they did not, to put it mildly, support.
    > Impractical alternative
    > Thus, many on the left, myself included, feel varying degrees of queasiness
    > with this war, but still forswear anti-war rallies. When our friends argue
    > that war is unnecessary, and that, instead, Osama bin Laden should be tried
    > by a world court, we have trouble seeing this as a practical alternative.
    > The principle of legal recourse in justice's name is attractive, but we
    > can't imagine who is going to find, serve legal papers on, capture, bring
    > to trial, and punish well-armed criminal conspirators who dwell in caves.
    > No one on the left thinks U.S. foreign policy is close to faultless. Many
    > doubt the sanctions against Iraq are effective, let alone just. We worry
    > that the war will turn more Muslims, ultimately, to terrorism; that bin
    > Laden has laid a trap and the United States is marching into it. Many
    > liberals fervently oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian
    > territories, and hope the United States will impose a just peace in the
    > Middle East. But such opinions do not entail the conclusion that if
    > millions of people hate America, they must automatically have good reason.
    > Like it or not, we live in a new world that we did not choose. Whatever
    > flimsy new world order materialized at the end of the Cold War vaporized
    > with the World Trade Center. We live now in a new world chaos, lacking maps
    > or certitudes. To claim moral authority and political trustworthiness now,
    > we liberals must break up our frozen, encrusted dogmas.
    > When civil liberties concerns confront security concerns, both have to be
    > taken seriously. On a world scale we need to be, to paraphrase a slogan of
    > British Prime Minister Tony Blair's, tough on terrorism, and tough on the
    > causes of terrorism. This means we need to do more than destroy Al-Qaida.
    > It means we need to pursue a long-term foreign policy that doesn't create
    > more ready recruits for murderous terrorists.
    > To break habits is desperately hard. If the left is able to face reality,
    > all the mess and danger of it, it will gain standing for the conflicts
    > ahead. To argue effectively for people who need health insurance but have
    > been abandoned by our leaders in Washington, we have to stand with the
    > nation that those same people love.
    > In the mid-1960s, one of the few orators of renown willing to oppose the
    > Vietnam War was the longtime socialist Norman Thomas. Worried that the
    > anti-war movement would squander its moral credit with self-destructive
    > tactics, he said: "Don't burn the flag. Wash it." That is a mission worth
    > fighting for.
    > - ---------
    > TODD GITLIN is a professor of culture, journalism, and sociology at New
    > York University. He is also the author of "The Sixties, The Twilight of
    > Common Dreams" and "Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds
    > Overwhelms Our Lives," to be published in March. Gitlin wrote this article
    > for Perspective.

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