Every movement has its moment of truth. At an "anti-war" teach-in at Columbia last week, Anthropology professor Nicholas De Genova told 3,000 students and faculty, "Peace is not patriotic. Peace is subversive, because peace anticipates a very different world than the one in which we live--a world where the U.S. would have no place."
De Genova continued: "The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military. I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus."1 This was a reference to the ambush of U.S. forces by an al-Qaeda warlord in Somalia in 1993. The Americans were there on a humanitarian mission to feed starving Somali Muslims. The al-Qaeda warlord was stealing the food and selling it on the black market. His forces killed 18 American soldiers and dragged their bodies through the streets in an act designed to humiliate their country. In short, America can do no good, and nothing that is done to America can be worse than it deserves.
The best that could be said of the crowd of Columbia faculty and students is that they did not react to Mogadishu remark (perhaps they did not know what "Mogadishu" referred to). But they "applauded loudly," when the same professor said, "If we really [believe] that this war is criminal ... then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine."2
In other words, the American left as represented by faculty and students at one of the nation’s most elite universities wants America to lose the war with the terrorist and fascist regime in Baghdad. In shorts, the crowd might just have well applauded the professor’s first statement as well.
The phrase "a million Mogadishus," has a resonance for those of us who participated in an earlier leftist "peace" movement, during the war in Indochina. In 1967, at the height of the conflict, the Cuban Communist leader, Che Guevara (still an icon among radicals today) called on revolutionaries all over the world "to create…two, three, many Vietnams," to defeat the American enemy. It was the Sixties version of a call for jihad.
In the late Sixties, I was the editor of Ramparts, the largest magazine of the New Left and I edited a book of anti-American essays with the same title, Two, Three, Many Vietnams. Tom Hayden a leader of the New Left (later a Democratic State Senator and activist against the war in Iraq) used the same slogan as he called for armed uprisings inside the United States. In 1962, as a Marxist radical, I myself had helped to organize the first protest against the war in Vietnam at the University of California, Berkeley. At the time, America had only 300 "advisers" in Vietnam, who were seeking to prevent the Communist gulag that was to come. John F. Kennedy was President and had been invited to speak on the campus. We picketed his appearance. Our slogan was, "Kennedy’s Three R’s: Radiation, Reaction and Repression." We didn’t want peace in Vietnam. We wanted a revolution in America.
But we were clever. Or rather, we got smarter. We realized we couldn’t attract large numbers of people by revealing our deranged fantasies about America (although that of course is not how we would have looked at them). We realized that we needed the support of a lot of Americans who would never agree with our real agendas if we were going to influence the course of the war. So we changed our slogan to "Bring the Troops Home." That seemed to express care for Americans while accomplishing the same goal. If America brought her troops home in the middle of the war, the Communists would win. Which is exactly what happened.
The nature of the movement that revealed itself at Columbia is the same. When the Mogadishu remark was made, it was as if the devil had inadvertently exposed his horns, and someone needed to put a hat over them before others realized it. That someone was the demonstration organizer, Professor Eric Foner, the prestigious head of Columbia’s history department. Actually, when Foner spoke after De Genova at the teach-in, he failed to find the Mogadishu remark offensive. Instead Foner dissociated himself from another De Genova comment to the effect that all Americans who described themselves as "patriotic," were actually "white supremacists."
But the next day when a reporter from New York NewsDay called Foner, the professor realized that the Mogadishu remark had caused some trouble. When asked now about the statement he said it was "idiotic." He told the reporter, "I thought that was completely uncalled for. We do not desire the deaths of American soldiers." Foner did not say (and was not asked) how he thought organizing an anti-American demonstration to protest America’s war in Iraq and express the hope that we lose would not encourage the enemy and possibly lead to American deaths.
Eric Foner is the scion of a family of American Communists (and American Communist leaders) at that. In the Sixties he was an anti-American Stalinist. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he wrote a piece in the London Review of Books saying, "I’m not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House." After receiving much adverse reaction, he wrote a self-exculpatory piece for The New York Times explaining that his uncertainty was actually patriotic.
Eric Foner’s cover-up reflects a powerful tactical current in the movement to derail America’s war in Iraq. Until now, the largest organization behind this movement has been "International ANSWER," which thanks in part to the efforts of the War Room and www.frontpagemag.com has been revealed as front for a Marxist-Leninist party with ties to the Communist regime in North Korea. According to a comprehensive (but partisan and sympathetic) report in The New York Times,3 some factions of the left became disturbed that the overtly radical slogans of the International ANSWER protests were "counter-productive." Last fall, they met in the offices of People For The American Way to create a new umbrella organization called United for Peace and Justice that would present a more palatable face to the American public.
As it happens, the name of the new organization was similar to that of one of the two main groups behind the national protests of the anti-Vietnam movement. It was called the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice and it was a run by the American Communist Party. (As it happens, the other organizer of the national demonstrations was the MOBE, which was run by the Trotskyist Communist Party.)
The groups that People for the American Way assembled to create the new Iraq protest organization picked Leslie Cagan to be its leader. Cagan is a veteran of the old Vietnam left -- a pro-Castro radical who was still a member of the Communist Party after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ms. Cagan’s politics were no less radical and anti-American than International ANSWER's. But Leslie Cagan understood the problem of too much candor. "If we’re going to be a force that needs to be listened to by our elected officials, by the media," Ms. Cagan told the Times, "our movement needs to reflect the population." In other words, we have to keep our horns hidden. According to the Times, since that meeting, the left has been hiring Madison Avenue firms to shape its messages and has been putting up billboards with the slogan "Peace Is Patriotic" to make its point.
At the Columbia teach-in, Professor Foner had this to say about patriotism. "I refuse to cede the definition of American patriotism to George W. Bush," Foner said, drawing a cheer from the audience. "I have a different definition of patriotism, which comes from Paul Robeson: The patriot is the person who is never satisfied with his country." It’s true that Paul Robeson was never satisfied with his country. He was an icon (and member) of the American Communist Party, who received a Stalin Peace Prize from the dictator himself. 4
Plus ca change,…plus c’est la meme chose.
The war in America’s streets is not about "peace" or "more time for inspections." It is about which side should lose the war we are now in. The left has made crystal clear its desire that the loser should be us. Even if the left had not made this explicit, a "peace" movement directed at one side makes sense only as an effort to force that side to retreat from the battle and lose the war. Which is exactly what the Columbia professor said. If this is patriotism, what is treason?
1. Ron Howell, "Radicals Speak Out At Columbia ‘Teach-In,’" NewsDay, March 27, 2003.
3. Kate Zernike and Dean E. Murphy, "Antiwar Movement Morphs From Wild-Eyed to Civil," NYT, March 29, 2003, B1.
4. Columbis Spectator article.