Memo to Buchanan: American culture isn't eroding

Posted: Feb 20, 2002 12:00 AM
I bought Pat Buchanan's new book, "The Death of the West," on Valentine's Day (though if I'd given it to my second-generation American wife as a romantic gift, she'd have beaten me to death with it). I can think of few books that contain a greater mixture of the compelling and the absurd, the persuasive and the outrageous. A brilliant writer, Buchanan's book is so full of arguments -- good, bad and ugly -- that it's hard to know where to start. Rather than write a review, let's do something different. Let's talk about Valentine's Day. Consider Jai Bhagwan Goyal, a leader of one of India's major right-wing parties and a would-be Pat Buchanan of the subcontinent. He hates Valentine's Day. "This is just European culture being imposed on our Hindu culture, which we will not take lying down," he declared earlier this month to the Chicago Tribune. Goyal led in the organized burning of greeting cards bearing smooching hippos and lovelorn doggies. Last year, the holy war against the unholy holiday included the ransacking of Western fast-food restaurants in New Delhi. St. Valentine himself was burned in effigy in Bombay. This year, the protests were a bit more restrained, perhaps owing to post-Sept. 11 restraint or maybe due to the recognition on the part of Goyal and his cadres that this is a lost cause. Hell, the same greeting card company that launched Valentine's Day on the subcontinent 17 years ago now wants to bring Thanksgiving Day to India. Similar stories unfolded all across the globe. In Saudi Arabia, the religious police banned stores from selling red flowers -- or anything else remotely "romantic" -- also to prevent any nod to Valentine's Day. Motorists were banned from putting flowers on their cars. Children were even forbidden to wear the color red to school Feb. 14. OK, you might say Valentine's Day isn't really that important a holiday in Western Culture. (Even though the Catholic Church recognizes three different St. Valentines, we all know it was created in a secret pact between needy women and Hallmark.) How about Christmas? Surely, no holiday better represents the culture and traditions at the heart of the "European civilization" that Buchanan adores. Well, from China to Lebanon, millions, if not billions, of people around the globe celebrate Christmas, even if they're not Christian (when I was a kid, we hung a "Santa Knows We're Jewish" sign from the tree). In Japan, less than 1 percent of the population is Christian, but Christmas is a huge, unofficial holiday. Or consider birthdays. In China, McDonald's is not merely popular, but it's generally credited with introducing the very idea of celebrating children's birthdays. "Prior to the arrival of Mickey D's," wrote Harvard China scholar James Watson in Foreign Affairs a couple years ago, "festivities marking youngsters' specific birth dates were unknown in most of East Asia." It's not just gift giving either. Watson also reports that McDonald's is largely responsible for teaching much of East Asia how to wait in lines. According to Chinese culture, a mob storms the butcher counter and whoever demands service the loudest gets it. Of course, in Europe - where most movies and best-selling novels are American imports - they know that it's not so much "European" culture washing across the globe, but American culture. That's why Frenchmen like to read books with titles like "No Thanks, Uncle Sam" and "Who is Killing France? The American Strategy." Bowing to the undeniable fact that English is the international language of business, science and politics, a French minister of education reluctantly declared not too long ago, "English should no longer be considered a foreign language. ... In the future, it will be as basic (in France) as reading, writing and arithmetic." So what does any of this have to do with Pat Buchanan? Well, Pat thinks Mexicans are taking over America, and that through the "reconquista" -- a cultural and demographic assault -- they will take back California and the Southwest. He believes our country is becoming a "Third World America" (not because we are getting poorer, but because we are getting darker; you can be a rich Third Worlder, according to Buchanan). He feels we've lost our culture and our heritage. These people cannot - as a group - become real Americans, according to Buchanan. He frets that the Fourth of July will be replaced by Cinco de Mayo. He believes America is "unraveling" because an "invasion" by a "foreign enemy" is taking place and the enemy is already "within the gates." Now, Buchanan is too smart and too gifted a writer to be dismissed with a wave of the hand. He makes many good points, and he makes good use of many bad developments, like our outrageously ill-guarded borders and the left's insidious multiculturalism. Buchanan's data is basically good, though his interpretation of it is often bizarre (he blithely equates babies not conceived to men killed by war) and a few times simply repugnant (suggesting "Euro-Americans" are a "species," for instance). Before you buy his whole argument about the swamping of American culture, consider one thing. Everywhere else in the world -- be it Tehran, Beijing or Paris -- cultural chauvinists are scared that their kids -- who pray in Iranian mosques, work in Chinese jobs, or attend French schools - are becoming "too American." Pat, though, believes that if these kids start their lives over in America - with all that that entails - they will still never become American enough. Somehow, I don't buy it.