"The question we should explore is not who we should bomb or where we should bomb, but why we were targeted. When we have the answer to why, then we will have the ability to prevent terrorist attacks tomorrow."
--Rania Masri, speaking at "Understanding the Attack: an Alternate View," held at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, September 17, 2001
AT THE UNIVERSITY of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on September 17, while smoke still rose from the rubble that was the World Trade Center, a teach-in was held titled "Understanding the Attack on America: an Alternate View." The event’s sponsors were groups typical of those found on many campuses: the Progressive Faculty Network; Carolina Seminar on Bridging the Divide; Academics, Activists and the Struggle for Social Justice. Also on board were the office of Student Affairs and the University Center for International Studies. In its content and tone, the event sadly typifies the response of the campus left nationwide.
It is hardly news that America’s college campuses are filled with intellectual nihilists, cultural relativists, and mediocre activists of every stripe. For decades, academics have denied the existence of truth (except for their own pieties), questioned the possibility of communication (in writings designed to advance their careers), and attacked the intellectual moorings of Western culture (from their lucrative posts in Western institutions). Recently, signs were hopeful that their power was weakening, although no succession was yet discernible. A public always suspicious of egg-head culture tuned out the universities in favor of popular writers, public intellectuals, and cable TV.
Yet our nation’s day of death, September 11, has given the academic left new reason to live. Enraged that a people could so unite behind their president and flag, left-wing professors, students, and vagrant activists are holding rallies, teach-ins, demonstrations, and vigils to protest America’s will to defend herself against the war the terrorists have brought to our shores. Much of the language and affectation smack of the Vietnam-era, when white collar students condemned the world forged by their formerly blue collar parents from the ruins of depression and war. One is reminded of the pro-Viet Cong propaganda of the ‘60s, of photos of Jane Fonda posing in an anti-aircraft cannon used to kill U.S. servicemen, and of the knee-jerk tendency to blame America for all the world’s ills. Disingenuous charges of moral equivalency, mass rallies attended by self-righteous youth, and sympathy with the enemy again give meaning to the lives of thousands.
The charges at the Carolina event are not only intellectually vacuous; they are anti-American in the extreme. Catherine Lutz, a UNC professor of anthropology, said that the "international police" should be sent in to pick up bin Laden, and that these forces should "pick up Henry Kissinger and Augusto Pinochet on the way home." Furthermore, she restated the tired left-wing claim that the U.S. began the Cold War and that killing thousands of innocents in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania was something we brought on ourselves. "The parallel to [September 11] is not Pearl Harbor. It is February, 1947, when a new war was declared." William Blum, an "investigative journalist" and founder of the Washington Free Press, a far-left ultra-green rag, remarked glibly on the President’s promise to go after nations that harbor terrorists: "[T]here are few if any nations in the world that have harbored more terrorists than the United States." He added that terrorism against America would not stop "as long as we are intervening in civil wars that are none of our business besides serving the interests of U.S. corporations." The moral equivalency, comfortable cowardice, and convoluted logic of these statements are drawn not only from old left cant, but from the new left’s expanded arsenal of ideas.
For radical thought has in fact changed over the past 30 years. Today’s protestors draw upon decades of corrosive academic theory: deconstruction; critical legal studies; pseudo-disciplines based on victimology – the unholy trio of race, class, and gender; and the New Age religion of environmentalism. Indeed, William Blum’s Washington Free Press is filled with the writings of radical greens, for whom human life is little more than contamination of planet earth. Add to this the throngs of professional thugs posing as anti-global trade protestors who periodically loot and pillage cities, and the degree of change since Woodstock becomes clearer. We’re faced today by a fusionist left eager to overlook internal differences to form a unified front.
Public response to this new fusion of malcontents is reassuringly negative; opinion polls place President Bush’s approval rating at around 90 percent, and most Americans demand a military response to the terrorist bombings. Even the elite media presented a unified, pro-American face in the first week after the bombings, perhaps more from sheer shock than from a genuine sense of patriotism. But that visage has fractured with each passing day, so that as September draws to a close America’s intellectual elite appear less resolute in their dedication to principle. Overcoming the toxic seepage of academic opinion into the mainstream will require a significant counteroffensive that takes its strength from the patriotism and self-sacrifice so evident among our citizens over the past few weeks. The struggle before us will be long and at times frustratingly obscure. Let us take this opportunity to ensure that the deaths of innocents will not be compromised by the fatuousness of the professors.
Winfield Myers is director of communications at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Candace de Russy is a writer on educational and cultural issues.