Every few days I become re-amazed, saddened and fearful at the solid and valuable institutions that are being damaged and perhaps destroyed by the march to war that started on September 11, 2001. As a supporter of the president, and a grim but determined endorser of war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, I recognize that mine is one of the many hands holding up the chisel against those institutions. But I wonder whether we will be able to build new structures half as serviceable and enduring as those we may be in the process of destroying.
Of course, I have in mind the United Nations, NATO and our amicable relations with much of Europe, particularly France and Germany. Flawed as those organizations and traditions may be, if they have served their time and must be discarded, we will have to replace them with something, or risk returning to a lonely, every-country-for-itself law of the jungle. The United Nations may be a farce, but it nonetheless embodies the hope of the ages of a brotherhood of nations sharing a common, peaceful vision. Once, European Christendom offered that vision. Then the League of Nations, and after its failure the U.N. assumed the role. If the U.N has come to the end of its utility, so be it. But there must be another iteration of the grand old dream. People rightly cling to a hope of something better than dog eat dog. And if the so-called realists can see only the U.N.'s material flaws and not the dreams that built the edifice, they are no realists at all, but mere fools. The stubborn resistance of most Europeans, and less but still numerous Americans, to support war without a U.N. endorsement is testament to the strength of that vision -- even when its focus is on the derelict tenement of the United Nations.
And there is one other tradition being overturned: the inadmissibility in polite company of questioning the patriotism of Jews. This last tradition, born as the world saw the unspeakable business of the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau, has for a half a century kept at bay the ancient, always-lurking wolf of anti-Semitism. The taboo, the absolute ban, against questioning Jewish loyalty doubtlessly sheltered a few individuals who fit the definition. After all, most people hold some special feelings for their mother country. (My family, which emigrated from England, when applying for American citizenship in the 1950s hesitated before affirming that we were prepared to bear arms against England if America and England were at war with each other.) And for a few of each ethnicity those special feelings may cross over to dual loyalty. I'm sure it is true for a few Anglo-Americans, Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans, Jewish-Americans and fill-in-the-blank Americans.
However, because of the terrible history and ubiquity of anti-Semitism, the Western world spontaneously established the taboo against talking about such things after the Nazi-inflicted holocaust shocked humanity to its core. But now, as the specter of a war of civilizations hovers over the impending war against Iraq (even as we pray ... and have reason to expect -- that the Iraqi war will not precipitate such a cataclysm), the taboo is being violated: first, on the edges of polite society; then whispered in more respectable domains; and finally, on Feb. 23, on "Meet the Press," stated out loud by its host and NBC Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert. He asked Richard Perle, a leading advocate of the president's policy: "Can you assure American viewers ... that we're in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?"
If such a respectable citadel of the establishment as Russert's "Meet the Press" can air such a question, we could expect worse, and soon. And we got it this week. First congressman Jim Moran suggested a successful Jewish plot to manipulate public opinion for the war, and then, my old friend Pat Buchanan published a withering, 5,000-word analysis of the evolution of thought of Richard Perle and other supporters of the president's Iraq policy, the peroration of which was the tasteless question and answer: "Who would benefit from a war of civilizations between the West and Islam? Answer: one nation, one leader, one party. Israel, Sharon, Likud." As a student of history Pat couldn't help but be applying to Israel the old Nazi slogan: ein Volke, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer (one people, one government, one leader.) Nothing good can come of this. Does mankind need yet another lesson of where this path leads? The idea that President Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are risking so many American lives if they didn't honestly believe it was for American security interests (or because they have all been mentally manipulated by a few Jewish staffers) is not only beneath contempt, but is ludicrous on its face. I wish my old friend Pat, even now, would refocus his powerful mental energies at the argument and not at the religion or patriotism of some of the arguers. While I disagree with his argument about the consequences of the war, events may yet prove him right. But no event can make right the manner by which he makes his argument. Tim Russert should never have asked that question.
I will, reluctantly, help hold up the chisel against a dysfunctional United Nations. But when it comes to questioning the motives of Jewish-Americans (or other Americans), count me out.