Some of the angry rhetoric flirts with the fringe idea that the United States planned the terrorist attacks. A Purdue professor said "there is no ground to be certain" that America and Israel aren't behind the 9/11 attacks. A Columbia law professor compared 9/11 to the Reichstag fire in Nazi Germany -- Bush is not responsible for 9/11, he said, but he exploited a national disaster to suspend civil liberties, just like Hitler. A Berkeley professor helpfully pointed out that some Indonesian groups think the U.S. planned the Bali bombing.
The rhetoric accurately reflects the current condition of much of the left -- bitter, stymied, alienated, politically impotent, full of loathing for America and the West, and totally unable to address the crisis wrought by 9/11, except to imply (or say) that the U.S. deserved to be attacked.
The left has lost its bearings, Michael Walzer, the political philosopher, wrote in the spring issue of Dissent, the leftist magazine he edits. His article, "Can There Be a Decent Left?" deplored "the barely concealed glee" of the left's reaction to 9/11, and the lack of "any visible concern" about how to prevent terrorism in the future.
"Many left intellectuals live in America like internal aliens," he wrote, "refusing to identify with their fellow citizens, regarding any hint of patriotic feeling as politically incorrect. That's why they had such difficulty responding emotionally to the attacks of Sept. 11 or joining in the expressions of solidarity that followed."
The favorite posture of many American leftists, Walzer said, is "standing as a righteous minority, brave and determined, amid the timid, the corrupt and the wicked. A posture like that ensures at once the moral superiority of the left and its political failure." He said the left needs to discard its "ragtag Marxism" and its belief that America is corrupt beyond remedy.
Solidarity with people in trouble is the most profound commitment that leftists make, he wrote, but even the oppressed have obligations, and one is to avoid murdering innocent people. "Leftists who cannot insist on this point, even to people poorer and weaker than themselves, have abandoned both politics and morality for something else."
An example of that abandonment came two weeks ago (EDITOR: Oct. 12-14) at the University of Michigan's pro-Palestinian conference, which could not bring itself to criticize suicide bombings. Save us from moral appeals that leave room for blowing up families in supermarkets.
Journalist Christopher Hitchens caused a bigger hubbub than Walzer when he resigned from The Nation magazine after 20 years, citing its anti-war stance on Iraq. Saddam Hussein, he wrote in his farewell column, is "a filthy menace" and "there is not the least doubt that he has acquired some of the means of genocide and hopes to collect some more." He thought The Nation had become "the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden."
In another article, Hitchens wrote: "I can only hint at how much I despise a left that thinks of Osama bin Laden as a slightly misguided anti-imperialist. ... Instead of internationalism, we find among the left now a sort of affectless, neutralist, smirking isolationism" and "a masochistic refusal to admit that our own civil society has any merit."
Ron Rosenbaum of the New York Observer said Hitchens' departure from The Nation was sad because he "forced a lot of people on the left to confront their blind spot, their on-bended-knee obeisance to anyone in the Third World who posed as a 'liberator,' from Mao to Castro to Arafat and the Taliban."
Rosenbaum's comments came in an article on his own defection, "Goodbye, All That: How Left Idiocies Drove me to Flee." One trigger: a well-respected academic said he welcomed 9/11 because it gave Americans a chance to reassess their past honestly, as Germans did in the 1960s. "I couldn't take it any more," Rosenbaum wrote. "Goodbye to all that ... the inability to distinguish between America's sporadic blundering depredations" and Hitler's Germany. Goodbye, he said, to the refusal to admit that "Marxist genocides" slaughtered some 20 million to 50 million people in Russia, China and Cambodia. And goodbye to the "peace marches" like the one in Madrid where women wore suicide-bomber belts as bikinis. "'Peace' somehow doesn't exclude blowing up Jewish children," Rosenbaum wrote.
We owe a debt to Walzer, Hitchens and Rosenbaum. Now will they make any difference to our hyperalienated left?