In the chic salons where the liberal elite meet and in the less than chic coffee houses of the tenured academics on campus, there's a consistent whiff of sanctimony from the Blame America First crowd.
They drag out the usual straw devils for a session of self-flagellation to explain how terrorism aimed at the United States was inevitable retribution, given who we are. It was we who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and before that there was slavery, and before that we massacred Indians. And now we drive SUVs. No one defends Osama bin Laden, mind you, but they all echo Bill Clinton's mea culpa at Georgetown University, where he told the students that America is "paying a price today."
"This country once looked the other way when a significant number of Native Americans were dispossessed and killed to get their land or their mineral rights or because they were thought of as less than fully human," he said. "And we are still paying a price today." Just who those killed at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon, many of whom were not even Americans, owed a debt to was not made clear.
But the award for chutzpah goes to the Middle East Studies Association, who met the other day in San Francisco to measure Americans for hair shirts. A seminar on "Sept. 11: Responses and Future Implications" provided the opportunity to fault America's war against terrorism as if life were a teach-in. Professors good, America bad. Looking through the wrong end of a telescope, darkly, the learned scholars showed themselves to be more anti-American than anti-terrorist.
"Ironically, while anti-Americanism reigned at the
(San Francisco) conference, it was suffering a serious blow in the Muslim world itself, as Afghans thanked the United States for helping liberate them from the Taliban," reports Franklin Foer in the New Republic. The professors couldn't care less about the joy of the Afghans suddenly free to fly kites, listen to music and throw off burqas and shave their beards.
Professor Michael Hudson of Georgetown described the American response to terror outrage in the drearily familiar terms of moral equivalence: "We have not shown that our actions differentiate us from those who attacked us," he said. A woman in the audience angrily grabbed a microphone and raised the professor: "We have appropriated the Egyptian and Israeli method of dealing with terrorism." She sat down to a standing ovation.
Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Israel-hater of the highest order, continues his hyperbolic attacks on America wherever he is. In a speech in Pakistan, citing the ways America sponsors its own brand of terrorism, he suggested that the American and British forces are themselves terrorists who will "further destroy the hunger-stricken country" for their own selfish purposes.
You have to wonder how these worthies would have responded to threats to the nation in the wake of Pearl Harbor. David Brooks, having researched stories in the post-Pearl Harbor newspapers, observes in the Weekly Standard how the arguments of the left and right were reversed in those war years. The Nation magazine warns against American "jingoism" now, but in the early days of World War II the Nation printed a prominent essay on the need to confront anti-Americanism with aggressive argument. Arthur Schlesinger wrote that the Republican Party should jettison its isolationist wing.
It wasn't long after Pearl Harbor before everyone went to work in the war effort in ways both large and small. Riveting Rosies built tanks and airplanes for all the young men who went overseas to drive and fly them. Children peeled silver paper off chewing gum wrappers, packed up newspapers, collected scrap metal and old tires, and in the springtime of '42 "victory gardens" sprouted in backyards and vacant lots all across the land.
It might help if we had such things to do today to give us a sense of participation, but so far we're only called on to be patient at airports and do our part by hurrying to the malls to shop, animating that famous fighting slogan: "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping." When we don't have enough to do, there's the temptation to go to seminars and listen to professorial drivel.
We're left with mournful feelings of frustration and fear. Buying things and getting on an airplane to demonstrate mastery over anxiety doesn't quite do it. But it's better than blaming ourselves for being Americans.