by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 6, 2003
"For a long time, indeed, the admiration of Orwell has been one of the most encouraging features of our political and cultural situation," writes Leon Wieseltier. Would that it were true. No doubt new generations of undergraduates are still discovering Orwell. But the virtues that secure Orwell’s place in the pantheon of 20th century intellectual heroes have never been so absent from much of academic and intellectual life.
Chief among those virtues was a healthy respect for empirical observation. Surveying the intellectual landscape in 1942, Orwell already lamented the passing of "the very concept of objective truth . . . – the belief that `the facts’ existed and were more or less discoverable."
Few are granted Orwell’s clear-sightedness. Not by accident does Winston Smith, the hero of 1984, define freedom as "the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."
Orwell was one of the first intellectuals of his generation to break with the fellow-traveling Left. While those intellectuals and writers who would later repent of their romance with the Soviet Union in The God That Failed were still in the heat of passion, Orwell had seen the truth up close in Spain. Orwell went to Spain to fight on the Republican side. There he observed the Spanish Communists, under orders from Stalin, turn their guns on other left-wing factions. The Communists preferred to see the revolution fail than to lose their complete control of the masses.
In time, however, the ardor for the Soviet Union cooled in intellectual circles, though it was never entirely extinguished. Even those intellectuals most impervious to facts eventually reach a point where the weight of evidence becomes too overwhelming to ignore. For many the Moscow Show Trials of the late ‘30s, in which Stalin purged leading members of the Politburo and almost the entire upper echelons of his army, proved to be the breaking point. For others that point would not come until the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
Today, as well, there are signs today of another awakening on the intellectual Left. The nature of the demonstrations on behalf of Saddam Hussein has caused some to finally recognize how pathological hatred of America masquerades as high principle.
Orwell once remarked that there are some ideas so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. Were he still alive, he might have been speaking of the arguments against removing Saddam Hussein. The quality of those arguments demonstrates the extent to which infantile rebellion, expressed as reflexive hatred of one’s own society and contempt for the freedoms one enjoys as a matter of course, and the need to perceive oneself as a morally superior being still animate much of intellectual life.
Hundreds of thousands of (mostly) well-meaning people have marched around the world on the basis of arguments that barely rise to the level of risible.
The United States, it is alleged, seeks to grab Iraqi oil. If oil were the goal, the simplest way to obtain it, and that consistently urged by the multinational oil companies, would be to simply lift U.N. sanctions. Only because Bush the first failed to remove Saddam in 1991 is his son forced to complete the task today, under less favorable conditions. Yet Bush senior’s ties to big oil were every bit as tight as his son’s.
Others argue that there are bigger threats than Saddam: North Korea and Al Qaeda to name two. Perhaps. Yet American options vis-à-vis North Korea are so limited precisely because North Korea already has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Hardly an argument for allowing Saddam to obtain the same.
The distinction between the war on Saddam and that on terrorism is a false one. The two are closely linked. Terrorists do not operate in a vacuum. They require state sponsorship. Thus combating the terrorist threat requires draining the swamps in which terrorists breed. No one argues Al Qaeda’s operational capacities were not significantly lessened by the loss of its Afghanistan sanctuary. Removing Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism will serve notice on Iran and Syria as well.
If cornered, Saddam or his allies may well turn loose sleeper terrorist cells throughout the Western world (one reason why Jews are probably safer in Israel than anywhere else in the world once the fireworks begin.) But hundreds of such cells have long been in place in every Western country. Iraq would at most be a pretext for attacks bound to come someday. For those who have forgotten, September 11 preceded American plans to remove Saddam.
The terrorist threat can only be reduced by an overwhelming demonstration of power and determination. If Islamist fanatics perceive Western foreign policy as shaped by the desire to avoid treading upon their notoriously touchy sensibilities, their desire to humiliate the West will only be whetted. In this vein, it is worth recalling that Bin-Laden’s call to arms prior to September 11 was based on the assumption that a corrupt and soft America would flee in the face of casualties, as it had in Somalia.
Others demand that the inspectors be given more time to do their work. They seem to think that Security Council Resolution 1441 demanded from Saddam permission to conduct a treasure hunt rather than that he disarm. Even under the far more professional and vigorous UNSCOM inspection regime, Saddam was able to largely thwart inspectors for nearly seven years. The major breakthroughs were almost all serendipitous or the result of information provided by Iraqi defectors.
No greater clue to the feverish quality of the anti-war protesters’ mindset exists than the stench of anti-Semitism wafting from their ranks. A sign at the San Francisco demonstration showed the familiar Uncle Sam recruiting poster with the message: "I want YOU to Die for Israel. Israel Sings Onward Christian Soldiers." The refusal of the march organizers to allow the "pro-Israel" editor of Tikkun, Michael Lerner, to speak would be funny were it not so telling. Nor are the dark, anti-Semitic murmurings confined to the lunatic fringe. Once and future Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart worries that some American Jews [i.e., neo-conservatives] are unable "to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands [i.e., Israel] from their loyalties to America."
But of all the arguments against war to remove Saddam none is so repugnant as that based on images of "Iraqi babies who will be bombed to smithereens." For if there is one thing about which the demonstrators manifestly could not care less it is the fate of the Iraqi people. Not one Iraqi exile could be found among the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Exiles were denied the opportunity to speak lest they "confuse" the self-righteous demonstrators with an account of life under Saddam. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in the American attack will likely be less than the number Saddam kills per month.
The stupid and immoral arguments raised against President Bush have had the same sobering effect on some intellectuals today that the Moscow Show Trials had on an earlier generation. Stephen Pollard, writing in the Times of London, was shocked to find that so many of his friends "would rather a brutal dictator remain in power than support military action by the United States." His address book was the first casualty of the discovery that friends of a lifetime are "either mindless, deluded, or malevolent."
(Last year the same Pollard discovered that his left-wing friends from university days make no distinction between Israel and Jews, and dislike both heartily. Apparently each intellectual insight, like each mitzva, leads to others.)
Christopher Hitchens, author of Why Orwell Matters, and another recent British refugee from "many years spent on the Left," notes that those marching under the banner "peace is better than war" would also have spared the Taliban regime, under which women were not allowed to leave the house, attend school, or visit a doctor, and that of Slobadan Milosevic.
He might have added Hitler.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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