Wars are a test of citizens’ loyalty, commitment and political understanding; in providing this test the end of a war can be as illuminating as its beginning. It was a striking fact of the “anti-war” demonstrations against Operation Iraqi Freedom that the left was able to mobilize more protesters in three months – from the UN deadline of November 7 to the launch of the war in March – than the new left was able to mobilize in the first six years of the war in Vietnam. (The first of these anti-Vietnam demonstrations, which I helped to organize, took place in June 1962 at the University of California, Berkeley with less than a hundred students.) The same was true of the world wide protests against the war to topple the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Both the rapidity and size of the anti-Iraq mobilization indicate that it was not merely – and not mainly – a response to the particular war or the issues that defined it, but the expression of an attitude towards American power itself. Moreover, the same rapid growth of the protests in advance of suitable facts (e.g., the “quagmire” of the Vietnam War, the mounting loss of life without apparent result) indicates that the attitude towards American power is relatively unaffected by the uses to which the power is put. One could see this phenomenon in the demonstrations after 9/11, which mobilized tens of thousands of American college students before America lifted a finger in response. The purpose of the demonstrations was to protest any military response America might consider to the unprovoked terrorist attack.
The same attitude was manifest in an event that took place when the military phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom had been concluded, that is, after the regime in Bagdhad had been swiftly toppled with limited casualties and no significant reaction from the “Arab street.” In April, 2003, less than a week after United States and British forces had liberated Iraq, and after the victors had opened Saddam’s prisons, dismantled the torture chambers, shipped vast quantities of food and medicine to the Iraqi population and had begun to assemble the first Iraq regime in history that would not be a monarchy or military junta, or a fascist dictatorship and chamber of horrors – at this very moment -- the faculty senate of the University of California, Los Angeles voted to “condemn” the “United States invasion of Iraq.” The extraordinary session was convened just for the purpose of expressing the condemnation. The vote was 180-7 in favor, as though in the university such an extremist view was merely conventional wisdom.
The professors also voted to “deplore the doctrine of preventive war the President has used to justify the invasion” and to “oppose the establishment of the American protectorate in Iraq,” even though the President actually justified Iraq’s liberation under U.N. Resolution 1441 (which had called on the regime to disarm immediately) and no American “protectorate” was ever contemplated.
In other words, 95% of the faculty senate of one of America’s most prestigious academic institutions are of the view – without any visible evidence to support that view -- that their own country is a dangerous, imperialistic aggressor, bent on acquiring control of a sovereign nation. They did this in the face of many contrary facts. This was a war that had already demonstrated that not even the Iraqi army or its elite Republican Guard had the will to defend its dictator and that the Iraqi people who warmly welcomed the “invading” troops, considered the Americans and the British to be their liberators.
The co-author of the UCLA resolution, Professor Maurice Zeitlin, is a leftist I happen to have known for forty years since the moment we both arrived at the University of California to pursue graduate studies at the beginning of the Sixties. Zeitlin was a Marxist (like myself) and in 1961 published one of the first books hailing the triumph of the Communist revolution in Cuba. In October 1997, Zeitlin spoke at a UCLA symposium on 20th Century utopias invoking the dead guerrilla Che Guevara, who had once attempted to incite an international civil war, calling for the creation of “Two, three, … many Vietnams.” Zeitlin declared his continuing faith in the cause that Guevara symbolized: “Che [Guevara] was above all a revolutionary socialist and a leader of the first socialist revolution in this hemisphere. His legacy is embodied in the fact that Cuban revolution is alive today despite the collapse of the Soviet bloc… No social justice is possible without a vision like Che’s.”
In other words, for forty years, the co-author of UCLA’s anti-Iraq resolution has remained a small “c” communist, or -- as I prefer -- a “Neo-communist,” by which I mean a political radical and a determined opponent of America and its capitalist democracy. The UCLA resolution is an expression of those commitments rather than a reaction to a particular policy or war.
The faculty resolution at UCLA echoed an equally illuminating event weeks earlier at a Columbia University “teach-in” (a mode of protest invented in the Sixties). During this anti-war protest led by 30 members of the Columbia faculty, one of the professors, Nicholas DeGenova declared that every honest opponent of the Iraq War should want America to lose, and that for his own part he wished for “a million Mogadishus.” (DeGenova was referring to a 1993 incident in which 18 American soldiers were killed in an al-Qaeda ambush in Somalia.) The negative reaction to DeGenova’s statement was so strong that the Columbia organizers, led by Eric Foner, the leftist chairman of Columbia’s leftist History Department, immediately distanced themselves from DeGenova’s image. In Foner’s words, “We do not desire the deaths of American soldiers.”
The immediate effect of Foner’s gesture was to obscure how universally DeGenova’s actual view of the war – which led to the impolitic remark -- was shared by those present, including Foner himself.
This was made apparent when DeGenova subsequently attempted to explain himself in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education. In the interview, DeGenova categorically denied that he wanted American soldiers to die, and explained why he had referred to Mogadishu in the context of Iraq: “I was referring to what Mogadishu symbolizes politically. The U.S. invasion of Somalia was humiliated [sic] in an excruciating way by the Somali people. And Mogadishu was the premier symbol of that.”
DeGenova’s comment is virtually identical to the reaction of Noam Chomsky to the attacks of 9/11. Chomsky is an intellectual leader of the anti-war left who has written a book with these reflections that has sold over 200,000 copies. In Chomsky’s view, the World Trade Center deaths were regrettable but the unprecedented humiliation of the imperialist power – America -- was an historic victory for social justice and human progress.
In the Chronicle interview, DeGenova explained that at Columbia he had also drawn an analogy between Mogadishu and the “historical lesson” of Vietnam. “What I was intent to emphasize was that the importance of Vietnam [was] that it was a defeat for the U.S. war machine and a victory for the cause of human self-determination.”
DeGenova did not explain how the slaughter of two-and-a-half million Cambodians and a hundred thousand Vietnamese by the Communist victors after America’s defeat, let alone the colonization of South Vietnam and Cambodia by the Hanoi regime was a triumph of self-determination. But he did elaborate on the present relevance of the historical distortion. “The analogy between Mogadishu and Vietnam is that they were defeats for U.S. imperialism…. The analogy between Mogadishu and Iraq is simply that there was an invasion of Somalia and there was an invasion of Iraq.”
Of course, there was no invasion of Somalia – U.S. troops were not sent to Mogadishu on a military mission but to feed starving Somali Muslims. The military engagement was triggered because a local al-Qaeda warlord, named Aidid, was stealing the food before it reached the Somali people and the Americans were sent to try to capture the thief.
It is safe to say that not a single protester at the Columbia event nor a single signer of the UCLA resolution nor many of the 14,000 professors who signed a protest petition against the war would disagree with DeGenova’s reading of this history of Vietnam, Mogadishu and Iraq.
This is confirmed in a representative anti-war declaration by Michael T. Klare, Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire and four other schools, and a signer of the leftwing professors’ petition. Klare is also a regular contributor to The Nation where he was an apologist for Soviet expansion and a staunch opponent of American policy during the Cold War.
More than a month before the hostilities began in Iraq, Klare wrote an article for The Nation titled, “Resist War and Empire.” While the UN inspectors were conducting their searches, while the world was waiting to see if Saddam Hussein would disarm, while the Russians were attempting to get Saddam to step down, and before a single shot had been fired or troop deployed, Klare issued this clarion call: “The peace movement must prepare itself to conduct a long-term struggle against the Administration’s imperial designs in the gulf. These plans must be exposed for what they are: a classic appropriation of political power and material goods (especially petroleum) by material force masquerading as a campaign for democracy.” Vladimir Lenin could not have chosen his words more appropriately.
What the prologue to the war and its aftermath reveal is that the facts of the war are not the issue for the “anti-war” left and neither is the war itself. The so-called “anti-war” left is a Neo-communist movement that was launched forty years ago under the pretense of being a “new left,” and it has been at war with the “American empire” ever since. During these years of struggle with Communists in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, China, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America, and in the aftermath of America’s liberation of a billion inhabitants of the Communist empire, this left has been impervious to every good deed America has done and every bad deed its Marxist and now Islamo-fascist enemies have committed. Instead, this “antiwar” left relentlessly attributes the bad deeds of America’s enemies to America itself – hence the search for “root causes” every time America is attacked.
The Neo-communist left opposes America’s efforts to promote freedom and supports (sometimes “critically”) America’s declared enemies not because of what America does, but because of what they think America is. The Neo-communist left is impervious to facts because it is a political messianism, in essence a religious movement. Its delusions of social redemption are fed on a rich diet of anti-American myths. These myths were once generated in institutions funded by the Communist Party and other marginal radical sects. But that has all changed with the long march of the left during the last thirty years through America’s institutions of higher learning. The Neo-communist left is now entrenched on the faculties of America’s elite universities, where it is a “hegemonic” force. It has converted America’s elite universities into a political base for its radical and anti-American agendas. In the present war with radical Islam, this poses a problem Americans can continue to ignore only at their own peril, and which sooner or later they must address.