Write us

February 2002 • Vol 2, No. 2 •

America’s War on Terrorism–
Whither the “Left?”

By Art LeClair

I was sitting in the living room, looking out the window with what a friend who had spent too many tours of duty in Vietnam calls, “The thousand-yard stare,” when suddenly, noise from the all but forgotten television set snatched me back into the real world.

The noise was the voice of Bill O’Reilly, Rupert Murdoch’s head cheerleader of the “Uncle Sam Can Do No Wrong And Screw Anybody Who Thinks Otherwise”–Fox News Network. Having witnessed the early years of O’Reilly’s meteoric rise to mediocrity in Boston, I occasionally listen to his ranting and raving, purely for its comedic value.

This time he was complaining about what he perceives as the “constant and unyielding whining” of people he calls the “darlings on the left,” who in his opinion, fill the majority of air time with second-rate arguments against, and unfair attacks on great men like George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, just to name a few.

O’Reilly went on to label these unnamed “leftists” traitors, at a time when American men and women were on the field of combat, risking their lives defending the United States and the “free world” from those no good, dirty rotten “Islamic terrorists.”

As an aside, it wasn’t all that long ago that self-proclaimed “super-patriots” like O’Reilly were foaming at the mouth at the very thought of women being placed in a “combat role.” Fortunately for O’Reilly and his ilk, the “conservative,” read reactionary, dance team of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell came along and helped them “see the light.”

Having heard enough for one day, I switched off the tube and went out for some fresh air. Finding myself at Borders Books, I picked up a copy of the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly, grabbed a cup of coffee and opened the mag to the table of contents.

There I found listed an essay by a man who must surely be on Mr. O’Reilly’s list of “darlings of the left,” Christopher Hitchens titled, “Stranger in a Strange Land: The dismay of an honest and honorable man of the left.”

The essay was a narrative of sorts, telling of the author’s being on a panel on October 6, at the New York Film Festival discussing the art of political cinema. Sharing the podium were noted film director Oliver Stone and one of America’s most admired critics and writers, bell hooks.

Given the political history of Stone and Hooks, along with Hitchens’ long tenure as a columnist with The Nation, I delved into what would undoubtedly be a thought provoking discussion on the subject at hand, particularly in light of September 11.

Hitchens: “I thus sat on stage with Oliver Stone, who spoke with feeling about something he termed ‘the revolt of September 11,’ and bell hooks, who informed a well-filled auditorium of the Lincoln Center that those who had experienced Spike Lee’s movie about the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church in 1963, would understand that ‘state terrorism’ was nothing new in America.”

After referring to Susan Sontag’s “disdainful geopolitical analysis in the pages of the New Yorker,” Hitchens points out to those, “who don’t read The Nation, the New Statesman and the London Review of Books,” that the views presented by Stone, hooks, Sontag and countless others are, “sadly not uncommon on the Left.”

In retrospect, Sontag’s comments, written only days after the numbing events of 9/11 must have struck Hitchens like a bolt of lightning when she said, “The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing.”

“The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public,” Sontag continued. “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing bombing of Iraq?”

In closing, Ms. Sontag, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head when she states, “And if the word ‘cowardly’ is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.”

Now, I can understand how words like these might make media hype-masters like O’Reilly a little weak in the knees, but Christopher Hitchens? Ultimately, however, I think his reaction will become rather self-explanatory. Meanwhile, back at Lincoln Center, Hitchens is once again thrown into a state of disbelief.

He shares with his readers how astounded he was that, by their applause indicating agreement with the insights of Stone and hooks, “three weeks after a mass murder had devastated the downtown district” of his beloved isle of Manhattan, and at that very moment, “when the miasma from the site could still be felt and smelled, a ticket-buying audience of liberal New Yorkers [emphasis added] awarded blame more or less evenhandedly between members of al Qaeda and the directors of U.S. foreign policy.”

And as if that wasn’t enough for the beleaguered Hitchens: “Stone drew applause for his assertion that there was an intimate tie between the New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington attacks and the Florida ballot recount,” which was, he asserted, “a complete vindication of the fact that capitalism has destroyed democracy.”

Quick to stake a claim to his new found homestead, Hitchens assures the reader that: “I was the first person on the political left that they had met who did not echo or ratify their view.”

Fortunately for all who read his essay, especially those of us who lack Hitchens’ credentials as the scholar of Marxism that he informs us he is, he graciously takes us by the hand and explains, “without overmuch reservation that capitalism, for all its contradictions, is superior to feudalism and serfdom, which is what bin Laden and the Taliban stand for.”

Thanks for the tour, Chris! I think we are finally starting to get somewhere now. According to Hitchens, “the left” as he now perceives it, is unwilling to take the events of, leading up to, and subsequent to the carnage of September 11 and let them stand on their own, independent of any and all atrocities designed, created and carried out by U.S. foreign policy makers, throughout the entirety of history, prior to that date.

Furthermore, he insists that the attacks on the World Trade Center and elsewhere on that fateful day, can in no way be misconstrued as being, “revenge for the crime of past indifference to, and collusion with the Taliban.”

Adding to what Hitchens views as the general rigidity and dogmatic approach to unfolding world events, “the left,” is guilty of not supporting the drafters of U.S. foreign policy at a time when they are removing the Taliban’s ability to enslave the Afghan nation, as well as its desire to expand the breadth of its power and influence. A noble endeavor in the eyes of one Christopher Hitchens.

To this eloquent interpreter of Marxism, leftists are foolishly trying to muddy the waters of effective dialogue by constantly changing the subject by harping about such unrelated issues as Clinton’s bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in 1998 because according to U.S. “intelligence” sources, it was really a “front” for developing weapons-grade chemical and biological agents. Oops!

The fact that the neo-liberal Clinton’s “boo-boo” continues to be responsible for the deaths of countless thousands of Sudanese infants, children and elders due to the lack of the much needed life-sustaining medicines produced at that facility is of little consequence to the intellectually advanced Hitchens.

After revealing his contempt for the likes of Stone, hooks and Sontag, along with other no-talent critics of Washington’s New World Order like Noam Chomsky, unenlightened fools that they must surely be, Hitchens articulately disparages all like-minded simpletons across America and around the world.

“Members of the left, along with the far larger number of squishy ‘progressives,’ have grossly failed to live up to their responsibility to think; rather they are merely reacting, substituting tired slogans for thought. The majority of those ‘progressives’ who take comfort from Stone and Chomsky are not committed, militant anti-capitalists (like Hitchens?). Nothing so muscular. They are the sort who, discovering a viper in the bed of their child, would place the first call to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.”

A word about why Noam Chomsky has fallen into disfavor with Hitchins. Chomsky says in part, “There are certain questions about the use of language, that’s a very important question but you don’t have to be a professional linguist to say anything about those. Those are just common sense.” (See appended text of Chomsky’s statement.)

Clearly, Christopher Hitchens, that is the newly redesigned and upgraded 2002 model Christopher Hitchens, finds himself in need of a new language. Given the impossibility of that task, however, he is now in the process of redefining and re-characterizing everyone and everything in the universe that doesn’t jive with his new reality.

Having at long last put the rest of us in our place, the audacious Hitchens concludes his tutorial by stating; “All the learned and conscientious objections, as well as the silly or sinister ones, boil down to this: Nothing will make us fight against an evil if that fight forces us to go to the same corner as our own government.” By Jove, I think he’s got it!

In his column in the Dec. 17, 2001 edition of The Nation titled, “The Ends of War,” Hitchens states rather boastfully, “The United States of America has just succeeded in bombing a country (Afghanistan) back out of the stone age.”

He celebrates this as a noteworthy achievement of America’s imperial resolve. Next he tells us that; “We are rid of one of the foulest regimes on earth, while one of the most vicious crime families in history has been crippled and scattered.”

Feeling his oats, Hitchens now boldly asserts that, “No possible future government in Kabul can be worse that the Taliban, and no thinkable future government would allow the level of Al Qaeda gangsterism to recur. So the outcome is proportionate and congruent with international principles of self-defense.”

This once vilified spokesman for “the Left” now preaches the timeliness and above all, the propriety of walking down a dark alley, armed to the teeth with the most horrific weapons of mass destruction ever conceived, shoulder to shoulder with the ruling class of the most ruthless war machine ever, to destroy a handful of punks recruited, trained, armed and deployed by those same creatures he now calls friend, and all in the name of progress. He is not alone! Enter Todd Gitlin. Gitlin is a professor of journalism, culture and sociology at New York University, and was also president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1963, and as such, participated in the organization of the first national demonstration against US Imperialism’s war against Vietnam.

In an article published in the January 2002 issue of Mother Jones magazine titled, “Blaming America First: Why are some on the left, who rightly demand sympathy for victims around the world, so quick to dismiss American suffering?” Gitlin commiserates with Hitchens.

Referring to the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center catastrophe he writes, “Plain human sympathy abounded amid a common sense of grief and emergency.” That this experience was shared by myself, as well as the editorial board and supporters of Socialist Viewpoint, goes without saying.

“Soon enough, however,” Gitlin continues, “old reflexes and tones cropped up here and there on the left, both abroad and at home–smugness, acrimony even schadenfreude, accompanied by the notion that the attacks were, well, not a just dessert exactly, but...damnable yet understandable payback...rooted in America’s own crimes of commission and omission...reaping what empire had sown.”

Next Professor Gitlin states; “And soon, without pausing to consider why the vast majority of Americans might feel bellicose as well as sorrowful, some on the left were dismissing the idea that the United States has any legitimate recourse to the use of force in self-defense—or indeed any legitimate claim to the status of victim.”

This is where Professor Gitlin and other representatives of the liberal wing of the American intelligentsia, Christopher Hitchens among them, do indeed part company with “the left.” Let me try to elaborate.

They would all most likely agree with Gitlin’s point that: “A reasoned, vigorous examination of U.S. policies, including collusion in the Israeli occupation, sanctions against Iraq, and support for corrupt regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is badly needed.” (My emphasis) “So is critical scrutiny of the administration’s actions in Afghanistan and American unilateralism on many fronts.” (My emphasis). Here comes the killer, if you’ll pardon the expression.

“But in the wake of September 11 there erupted something more primal and reflexive than criticism: a kind of left-wing fundamentalism, a negative faith in America the Ugly.”

Can I Get An Amen?

I have heard from, and about many on the left, some of them cherished friends and comrades, who share in the sentiments woven into the writings of people like Hitchens and Gitlin.

Some of them have gone so far as to voice anger and shock that we at Socialist Viewpoint don’t get it. That we don’t understand how “different” the attacks on New York and elsewhere on September 11 were.

Like Gitlin and Hitchens, some are dumbfounded by what they perceive as our inability to equate the actions of the hijackers, and the organizations and individuals responsible for the training of the hijackers and the development of their plans, with evil. It is they who are confused, or missing the point.

In the October 2001 (Vol. 1, No. 5) issue of Socialist Viewpoint, From the Arsenal of Marxism, we reprinted Leon Trotsky’s “Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism.” I don’t know how we, as Marxists, can be any clearer in expressing our understanding about, and characterization of, the horrific events of September 11.

The problem with Hitchens and Gitlin, as well as most who follow their lead, is that not only are they not Marxists, perish the thought, they are liberal apologists for the ruling class of the United States of America, who are truly the most blood thirsty and merciless terrorists that this planet has ever seen. Bar none!

They waste countless tons of paper and ink trying to convince people like you and me that the Taliban and al Quaeda are as bad as, if not worse than, dear olde Uncle Sam. Who the hell are they trying to kid?

Referring to his version of the “left’s” perspective, Gitlin says: “In this cartoon view of the world, there is nothing worse than American power—not the women-enslaving Taliban, not the unrepentant al Qaeda committed to killing civilians as they please—and America is nothing but a self-seeking bully.”

“It does not face genuine dilemmas,” he continues. “It never has legitimate reason to do what it does.” I’m not sure which of America’s “genuine dilemmas” Gitlin is alluding to.

I have to believe, however, that way back in 1963 at least, when he presided over the Students for a Democratic Society, citizen Gitlin must have taken exception to something that “American power,” to use his words, was doing, that was in some way less than “legitimate,” vis-a-vis the Vietnamese Revolution, to the point that he helped build the first ever national demonstration against it.

Given his new spots, if you will, I wonder which side of the “barricades” Professor Gitlin would be standing on today?

I’m not going to bore you with a litany of heinous and dastardly crimes against humanity by one American administration after another, regardless of party affiliation. You already know them better than I do.

However, Hitchens and Gitlin it would appear, in their ardent desire to ditch their past “indiscretions,” have opted to forget most of them. So, in the final analysis, all the confusion that has arisen of late, can be traced to the tongues of bombastic icons, formerly leftward leaning, scurrying to cover their tracks in the quest for the Holy Grail, however they might envision it.

You can follow the literary adventures of Mr. Hitchens, not just in The Nation, he has another address these days. You can now find his prose in the pages of Vanity Fair, sprinkled between ads for Victoria’s Secret Miracle Bra Collection and Mikimito of Paris, New York and Beverly Hills.

The author of this piece was 12 years old when Professor Gitlin directed the forces of SDS. At the age of 18, he became convinced of the insanity of U.S. foreign policy, only after a boyhood hero, who had left the seminary to, “do what he was expected to do,” returned home in a bag seven months later.

Although totally against the war, he was isolated and alone in a town where words like “honor,” “duty,” and “country” were branded into the psyche of children, and still are to this day.

Had he been even aware of the existence of “the left,” in America at the time, he probably would have embraced it. Unfortunately, that awareness did not occur until a day in 1981, when he “miraculously,” pardon the expression, ran into a young man, who in time became his best friend, comrade, mentor and brother.

Never before have I understood just how fortunate a day that was. It is with the utmost gratitude and humility that I dedicate this piece to him.

In closing, I must return one last time to my friend George. He of the two-plus tours of duty as a mud marine in Vietnam (1965-67). In spite of his unfaltering patriotism, and misguided fear and distrust of people who look and speak differently than most of us, he understands full well what he refers to as the “payoff” from adventures like the ones in which he participated in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Knowing my political view of the world, and as the hysteria and flag waving re: 9/11 began to ebb, he confided: “Artie, I hate to admit it, but I think you are right about the government. The only ones they care less about than the people they tell us to kill, is us.”





Write us