Columbia prof's comments anti-American

Posted: Apr 02, 2003 12:00 AM

By now you've probably heard about Nicholas De Genova, the obnoxious professor of anthropology and "Latino/a studies" at Columbia University, who reportedly told students at an anti-war "teach-in" that he wishes America would suffer "a million Mogadishus."

He was referring to the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" incident in which 18 American soldiers were killed. He also added, according to the Associated Press account, that "the only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military." He also said that Americans who call themselves "patriots" are white supremacists.

We could certainly stop here and spend all day whacking at this piñata of asininity. After all, anybody who cares about the well-being of non-white Third Worlders might want to rethink calling for a million Mogadishus where nearly 100 Somalis died for every American killed in action.

You have to wonder about a self-declared champion of non-white peoples who's willing to trade 100 million lives to teach America a lesson. And, of course, calling patriotic Americans white supremacists is not merely a slander at white people -no doubt his intended targets -but it's also a base insult to millions upon millions of patriotic non-white people, including not only Colin Powell, but the thousands of blacks and Hispanics who are serving in Iraq right now.

For instance, Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, who came to America as an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, "joined the Marines to pay back a little of what he'd gotten from the U.S.," said his foster parent Max Mosquera. "For him it was a question of honor." Guiterrez was one of the first Marines to die in Iraq. Presumably he didn't feel he was giving his life for "white supremacy."

But again I digress. Suffice it to say De Genova's comments were 20 pounds of manure in a five-pound bag.

What I want to get at are his motivations. In a letter to the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper, De Genova defended himself, explaining that he didn't really mean to say he wanted a "million Mogadishus" (maybe someone pointed out to him the math I mentioned above). What De Genova really meant to say is that while a million Mogadishus are possible, the war in Iraq is more akin to Vietnam. And, he said, "Vietnam was a stunning defeat for U.S. imperialism; as such, it was also a victory for the cause of human self-determination."

Let's not waste any time dissecting that nonsense. De Genova then responds to the charge, made by the Spectator's editors, that he is anti-American. "Is this a tirade against `anything and everything American'? Far from it. First, I hasten to remind you that `American' refers to all of the Americas, not merely to the United States, as U.S. imperial chauvinism would have it. More importantly, my rejection of U.S. nationalism is an appeal to liberate our own political imaginations such that we might usher in a radically different world in which we will not remain the prisoners of U.S. global domination."

The second part of his answer is just more proof that academia is rotting from a cancerous form of cosmopolitanism. The word cosmopolitan hearkens back to the Greek thinker Diogenes who explained that he wasn't a citizen of any nation or city, but a citizen of the world. Too many professors believe that being a good citizen of the world requires being a bad citizen of America.

Which brings me to the first part of his answer. De Genova says he can't be anti-American because "American" refers to the countries to our north and south as well. Not only is this a point most of us learned in third grade, it's a cop-out.

Consider the word "anti-Semitism." I receive lots and lots of anti-Semitic email. When it's from Arabs (who are also Semites), they'll often say, "I can't be anti-Semitic, I am a Semite!" Non-Arabs will often say something similar about how they have friends who are Semites or some such.

Well, the word "anti-Semitism" was coined by a German racist named Wilhelm Marr in 1879 to replace the word Judenhass (Jew hatred), which had become unfashionable. The only "Semites" in Germany at the time were Jews and the word was never intended to mean anything other than Jew hatred.

I bring this up because De Genova -with a level of cleverness only he recognizes -is playing a similar game. He doesn't like America, by which I mean the America all of us understand to be the United States. Saying, in effect, "I can't be anti-American! I like Peruvians!" is not an honest response. It's a cowardly semantic dodge.

Look: it's dumb to say that opposition to war automatically makes you "anti-American." But it's also obvious that some opponents of this war are profoundly anti-American and there is no shame in saying so. The only shame is that so many of them are teaching our kids in our best schools.