Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

The Root Cause of anti-Americanism:
the Homegrown Version

Part 3

August 25, 2003   

“The intellectual most associated with the view that America is the great Satan is MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky…. He is now easily the most influential figure in the radical movement….The heroic dimensions of Chomsky’s status derive from his performance of an absolute critical service to the contemporary Left – developing the devil theory that holds America  and the West responsible for all the world’s evil.” (Peter Collier & David Horowitz, Destructive Generation, p.228) 

If you were listening only to the strident voices of the left of the American intellectual and political landscape, you would think that America is fast becoming a totalitarian country where all dissent is smothered by the juggernaut of the sinister, conspiratorial occupants of the White House. Here are a few samples of a prevailing mindset filled with bitterness and loathing, as reported in David Brooks’ Weekly Standard column of June 30. 

“This republic is at its greatest danger in its history because of this administration,” according to Democratic senator Robert Byrd. 

“I think this is deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States of America,” says liberal commentator Bill Moyers. 

Thomas Frank, writing in Harper’s, has called the Bush budget “a blueprint for sabotage.”  

Hendrik Hertzberg, in the New Yorker: “ It’s tempting to suggest that the Bush administration is failing to provide Iraq with functioning, efficient, reliable public services because it does not believe in functioning, reliable public services- doesn’t believe they should exist, and doesn’t believe they can exist.” 

 American Prospect editorial: “The suspicion will not die that the administration turned to Iraq for relief from a sharp decline in its domestic prospects.”  

Comments Brooks: “In this version of reality, Republicans are deviously effective. They have careful if evil plans for everything they do. And these sorts of charges have become so common we’re inured to their horrendousness-that Bush sent thousands of people to their death so he could reap government contracts for Halliburton, that he mobilized hundred of thousands of troops and spent tens of billions of dollars merely to help secure favorable oil deals for Exxon.” 

This small sample of venom spouted, not by the mad fringes of the malcontents but by the mainline political and media spokespeople, is proof that anti-Americanism is alive and well right on its home turf. There exists a deep current of alienation and contempt among the American elite. In fact, it is right within the major opinion-shaping cultural institutions of America that one encounters some of the most vicious attacks on that country. This applies especially to the major spokespeople within the media, the academy, the Hollywood entertainment industry, and even some churches. 

One notable institution where anti- Americanism has not taken root is the United States military –though it did not entirely escape its influence. The reason for that is at once obvious, for if it had been otherwise there would be no effective American military. Just look at what has happened to the military in this country, but that is another story.

Let’s be clear about the meaning of anti-Americanism. We are not talking about the free flow of confliction opinions, the open and vigorous debate of opposing viewpoints. Such is the legacy of an open and free society where all viewpoints can be tested in the public marketplace of ideas and beliefs. This kind of exchange happens in the best of Western democracies where responsible government is coupled with a clear distinction between the state and civil society. 

Anti-Americanism is something quite different because it is an ideology, as explained by James Ceaser in my July 28 article, that  rests on the singular idea that something associated with the United States, something at the core of American life, is deeply wrong and threatening to the rest of the world.” 

Paul Hollander in his book Anti-Americanism uses this term “to denote a particular mindset, an attitude of distaste, aversion, or intense hostility the roots of which may be found in matters unrelated to the actual qualities or attributes of American society or the foreign policies of the United States.”  

In this light, it should not come as a surprise that public debate in the United States is not about careful yet vigorous testing of ideas. On the contrary, now the stakes are very high and those on the other side of an issue are not just mistaken but evil;  they endanger the right order of things and are a threat to society.  

This development is obvious in the relationship between the Republicans and Democrats. President Bush for a number of reasons, mostly having to do with his determined leadership in the war against terrorism, is at the receiving end of vicious attacks. These are no normal, reasonable critiques. On the contrary, they do not even stop short of the outrageous charge that President Bush and the “warmongers” in his administration want to destroy the country. 

What has happened that has led to such blind hatred to thrive in a country to which the stream of refugees from the truly awful, murderous regimes continues to flow? Many are even risking their lives to reach America, which to them is a place of freedom and opportunities, an escape from the horrendous evils they have witnessed first hand. How to explain this anomaly? There are no easy, quick answers, but a closer look at a few of the main denigrators of the United States may provide some clues.   

 One of the most prolific if not garrulous critics of the United Sates is the darling of the radical left Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the ever-ready pundit commenting on all things pertaining to the character and role of the United States - and on every other question you care to ask him. He is best-known for his many interviews, speeches and books in which he details the evils of the American ”empire” as the epitome of capitalism and oppression. He lectures and is interviewed all over the world and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and prestigious awards.  

Chomsky’s worldview is hard to pin down. He has described himself as an anarchist, yet one who sometimes favours electoral politics.  He has advocated a system of workers’ control with no “state” or “government” institutions. In his Reasons for the State  Chomsky  argues for a society without paid labour. In a series of interviews after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, he denounced the U.S. as “a leading terrorist state.”  

In a New York Times article of March 13, 2003, Chomsky presents his case against U.S. adventurism in Iraq, as follows: 

 “ The most powerful state in history has proclaimed it intends to control the world by force, the dimension in which it reigns supreme. 

“President Bush and his cohorts evidently believe that the means of violence in their hands are so extraordinary that they can dismiss anyone who stands in their way. 

“Right now, Washington is teaching the world a dangerous lesson: If you want to defend yourself from us, you had better mimic North Korea and pose a credible threat. Otherwise we will demolish you.” 

In a March 9,2003 interview with Cynthia Peters, posted on the Znet website, Chomsky stated that the Bush administration is “even more extreme and forthright [than the Reaganites] in telling the world to get lost: either you authorize us to do what we want and remain ’relevant,’ or you refuse to do so, in which case we will do what we want anyway and you will be kicked into the ashcan of history.” 

In the same interview Chomsky said that the Bush government is escalating the assault on the American people. Since these policies are very unpopular, the government can only maintain power by keeping the population frightened – “very much as in the 80s. They are following the same script very closely. That leads to more aggressive and violent policies, and a confrontational stance in world affairs.” 

Although Chomsky is an extremist and some are inclined to dismiss him as a self-promoting crank, his influence is obviously considerable. Besides, the point of this article is that he is by no means alone in issuing his denunciations of America. There are many who belong to the “blame America first” club, reaching even into the churches. Tom Driver of the Union Theological Seminary (New York) quoted Jesus’ words “Those who take the sword will die by the sword” as a way to understand the events of 9/11.  

He continued: “The violence that America has long exported has now come back upon us in a covert operation of masterly, although diabolic, planning…. Although our beloved America is a great and powerful nation, it is also a violent one both at home and abroad…. We have cultivated for ourselves a way of life that requires the impoverishment of others.” (IRD, “Straight Answers to Moral Confusion in National Crisis,” November 8,2003) 

Susan Sontag, another member of the blame America firsters has described American culture as “inorganic, dead, coercive, authoritarian” She believes that the white race is the cancer of human history and that America deserves to have its wealth taken away by the Third World. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11 she wrote an angry letter in The New Yorker castigating  “the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures,” including our ‘robotic President,’ who failed to understand that those attacks were “undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions.” (Roger Kimball, “The New Anti-Americanism,” The New Criterion, October 2, 2001) 

Andrew Sullivan, in his posted article on July27, 2003, quoted from the left-wing website, Democratic Underground, a statement on the death of Qusay and Uday Hussein. “It’s sad, really, that as despicable as they are, Saddam’s family seems to be the lesser of two evils when you compare them to the wretched little bastard occupying the White House and destroying America in the process…” 

Some one else had this to say on the same website: “What I really hate about the way our government has been taken over is that I’m at the point where I almost DON’T want any good to happen in Iraq, I WANT them to screw up, I WANT them to fail.” 

It would be nice to think that such outrageous opinions find no entrance into the American halls of higher learning. But such would be mistaken. The truth is that in the world of American academics the very same anti-American ideology is firmly entrenched. Chomsky is no exception 

Assistant professor at Columbia University Nicholas De Genova told a  teach-in” that he wished for “a million Mogadishus” on the American soldiers then fighting in Iraq.” He explained: “ The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military. 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.” (National Review, April 21, 2003, p. 11). If times were normal, such advice would be deemed to be treasonous and would lead to serious consequences. But these are not normal times in the United States, and Mr. De Genova’s position is safe. 

I have great difficulty understanding how people come to the opinions of contempt and loathing as quoted here. What is most disconcerting is that these opinions are not restricted to a lunatic fringe, but are now part of the American mainstream- at least in the major opinion-shaping cultural institutions. But how does such hatred take root? What is the deepest motivation for the outpouring of such unrestrained feelings of bitterness and alienation? Who is responsible for nurturing such hatred of one’s own country and government? 

 These are questions for which there are no easy answers, for they concern the rot at the root of the spiritual sickness that is afflicting the United States – and all the other western nations. These critics make some valid points, but their underlying worldview and resulting diagnosis instead of pointing to a cure is part of the disease. I will attempt an assessment in part four of this series.

continued