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Hitchens vs. The Campus Left By: Genesio Zenone
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 04, 2003


Journalist and author, Christopher Hitchens was invited to Berkeley to give a talk at the Mario Savio lecture series. Hitchens is a pleasure to watch because he is consistently witty, provocative, and intelligent. His erudition and logical prowess make up a rhetorical arsenal that few can match. Arguing with him can be like stubbing your toe on the entire western canon.

Lately, there has been another reason to watch him. He is almost always visited upon by radical lefties that show up for the express purpose of antagonizing in the only manner their wherewithal will allow. They are confrontational, inarticulate, and generally obnoxious.

Many radicals in the crowd were hostile, angry that someone they view as a traitor could be associated with Savio. They were relatively quiet in the beginning, when Hitchens was discussing his campaign against Kissinger, but when the topic of war against terrorism and against Saddam came up, an avalanche of boos ensued (they sounded like moos). He was repeatedly interrupted with expletives like "BULLSH-T!" He retorted that the agitators were advertising their wares. Known for not letting anyone get away with anything, he arrived, as usual, ready for an intellectual brawl; instead he got in some target practice. The Q&A period was pathetic. That it took place at Berkley is a testament to an intellectual decline at the hands of leftist ideology (had I suddenly been teleported to a high school full of misty-eyed indoctrinates?). There were perhaps two decent questions in the entire period.

Some among the left state that the reason for why they dislike Hitchens is that he is boorish. They should be reminded that there was a time when the left said of him: "he's a boor but he's our boor!" He really only humiliates people who think they are more clever then they are and whose swollen egos beg for it.

It is really unclear what position Savio would have taken after the world changed. 9-11 acts as a litmus test for the left; it separates those who advocate self-criticism as a responsibility and who are willing to look beyond a stale paradigm for new ideas, from those who are unable to amend or renounce a model of the world that has served them for a lifetime.

The differentiating question asks whether or not one’s world view is dynamic. Is each encounter with historical phenomena going to result in lucid, honest and vigorous deliberation? Or will an event’s ontological status be tampered with (even unknowingly) so that every phenomenon fits into a pre-existing paradigm?

It is clear that Hitchens disagreed very little with Savio's ideas about the U.S. position in the Vietnam War. Perhaps Savio might have shared Hitchens' ability to distinguish between, for example, deposing Allende and removing the Taliban. This ability seems to have been removed from, or worn down in, the minds of so many in today’s anti-war left.

It’s not that those of us who can make the distinction between one act of aggression and another (and who and reject trite moral equivalences) are pro-war; we simply acknowledge that war (or the threat of war) is sometimes a necessary evil, a lesser evil. What’s interesting is that most of the antiwar left would agree with that proposition; they believe (in principle) that there are some things worth fighting for.

Of course, some are antiwar because they are strict pacifists; killing, for them, is never justified. While I am filled with both empathy and disgust for their idealism and naiveté, genuine pacifists exist as a very small group; it will be a long time before Quakers start affecting public policy.

But most people who were and are against the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq are either ignorant or hypocritical, or both (they are not mutually exclusive adjectives). Either they do not know that, for instance, the "Not In Our Name" and "International ANSWER" antiwar movements are fronts for the world workers party (the same group that defended Milosovich’s right to slaughter Muslims) or they do know. Those who do not know are guilty of the sort of lazy posturing that is all too common among those who strike the subversive pose. Those who do know are acting in bad faith, demonstrating anti-Americanism rather then a desire for peace or human rights.

The left's hypocrisy is evidenced by more then a half century of consistent anti-Americanism. Nothing the US ever did was right: Leftist have stood against:

The War Against Nazism; The Korean War; The Vietnam War; The first War in Afghanistan; The Wars in Central America; The first Gulf war; The War Against the genocide of the European Muslim population; The War against the Taliban; the war against terrorism; The Bush Administration's plan remove Hussein from Iraq….

Now, I am against some of these wars and have reservations about others. But the left not only opposes or opposed all of them, it has found ways to sympathize or actively support each enemy.

The inability to make moral distinctions and the insistence on condemning the U.S. is explicitly demonstrated by the anti-war protesters last weekend. Their signs show no degree of originality or sophistication: "BLOOD AND OIL DON’T MIX" or "BUSH IS EVIL" or "STOP AMERICAN IMPERIALISM, GOD BLESS NORTH KOREA, IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN."

How can anyone who demands rigor take this seriously?

If Bush is "evil," then what term could we use for regimes that torture and kill dissidents or for leaders like Kim Jong Il, who has reduced the population in his dystopia to starvation or for Saddam Hussein, who gasses his opponents and murders his "friends"? Do those who throw acid in the faces of women simply demonstrate a different kind of "evil"?

It this the position of the new New Left?


The Taliban has been removed from Afghanistan, and, while there is a long way to go, there is no comparison between life under Taliban rule and life now.

All that which the left foresaw (the "silent genocide," the rush to build the pipeline…) has not happened. In fact, aid organizations are readjusting their projections of how many dead because aid is flowing much more freely.


Many among the left cannot see that a wholly new situation has risen. They insist on translating this fresh, challenging information back into the familiar language they already know, of empire, and oil. What is noticed more than anything else is the overwhelming monolithic and predictable character of their position; everyone strikes the same subversive pose. Nowhere in this group can be found the philosophical calm, the objectivity and the intellectual self-monitoring that one would expect from a well-educated elite. And the sycophantic followers are worse! Their ideological miasma is a confused, haphazard, bitches-brew of platitudes, clichés and nonsense spewing in all directions.




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