September 11, 2003

Airbrushing the Terrorists Out

Harry Hatchet provides some interesting, insightful commentary on the newly complicated intellectual, moral, and emotional world that confronts Leftists/"Internationalists" in the post-Cold War era. The springboard is this article by Roger Burbach, which casts post-9/11 US policy as a failure to have drawn the proper political and moral lessons from the Pinochet coup thirty years earlier, in effect presenting Saddam Hussein as merely the latest in a long line of Allendes. Whether or not that comparison is quite as thoroughly crazy as it sounds, it is clear that the impulse to react to contemporary events as though it were still 1973 is a strong one in some quarters and that indulgence in it doesn't often result in the clearest or most useful thinking about contemporary affairs. Harry thinks he knows how and why, and it seems to me he has a point:

Both events merit remembrance, both tell us something about the US, the world and how it has changed but the coincidence of the two anniversaries is unfortunate in one respect - it allows some people to escape from the uncomfortable truths about the atrocity at the World Trade Centre and take refuge in the comforts of old cold war certainties...

When the method of hegemony meant the US supporting Pinochet, Saddam or the Contras against 'our people', then it was easy for the left to decide where it stood. But when the method involves liberating Afghans or Iraqis (our people?) it makes things complicated. It involves a rethink and rethinking is not something a large part of the left seems to have much capacity for.

Aside from the intellectual challenge, the aftermath of September 11, 2001, was difficult for many on the left for emotional reasons. It was not hard to declare your solidarity for Chileans. it was strange to be in a position where your sympathy was with the America people, to see the citizens of the world's powerful nation as victims - we hadn't been there before.

Clearly some have found their 'solution' by airbrushing the terrorists out of the story of September 11.

We should remember Chile and honour the victims of the coup. But the coincidence of anniversaries cannot be used to escape from the complex realities of the present into the safety of an era that has ended.

It is a complex situation but surely not that difficult for internationalists?

When the US moved against Chilean democrats it struck against all those who hoped for peaceful social change in the world - we stood with the Chileans.

In the same way, the terrorists of 9/11 struck not just against America but against all of us who wish to live in a peaceful and free world.

They are not just America's enemy.

Posted by Dr. Frank at September 11, 2003 08:24 PM | TrackBack

Hmm...maybe it just speaks to the quality of my friends and family, but I can't think of a single person I know (who identifies as "left" or otherwise) who felt "it was strange to be in a position where your sympathy was with the American people." I do notice that folks in the blogosphere seem never to get tired of reconsturcting Guardian articles as embodiments of the characteristic pathologies of the collective mind of The Left, underlying psychological structures etc., that, so far as they mean anything, still won't support the personal connections that you draw.

Posted by: spacetoast at September 11, 2003 09:49 PM

Mr. Spacetoast.
You, much like the Guardian you claim to read, have made a sweeping statement about "the folks in the blogsphere" that discredits the personal connections that you draw.

Posted by: Michael at September 12, 2003 12:23 AM

I really don't understand what you're saying, Michael. I did make a kind of generalization, but mine admits of verification. I could pretty easily dig up a couple hundred blog-cites to prove my point, i.e. to show how often Guardian articles are springboards for psychoanalyzing "THE LEFT." But Harry's generalization doesn't admit of verification and is contrary to my experience, which is exactly what I said. I don't think there should be a problem there. In any case, I just don't have much use for the argument by psychoanalysis stuff..."you just think/feel the way you do because (insert psychological speculation)."

"...much like the Guardian you claim to read..."

Ok. I get that you think I'm like the Guardian, but I'm really clueless on "you claim to read."

Posted by: spacetoast at September 12, 2003 02:06 AM

One only needs to go back and look at the myriad of articles from that time to see the general tone of "yes, but" hedging from the American left. There was always a qualifier about how we deserved it, about root causes, etc. So it's not out of line to suspect the sympathy was not particularly wholehearted, or if it was, it certainly did not translate into support for whatever needed to be done in such circumstances, which is the real issue.

Posted by: JB at September 12, 2003 04:50 AM

"One only needs to go back and look at the myriad of articles from that time to see the general tone of "yes, but" hedging from the American left."

I recall very little "yes, but" hedging in terms of identifying and sympathizing with the victims of 9/11, and whatever there was isn't generalizable to "The Left," anymore than the sentiment expressed in (e.g.) Ann Coulter's perverse saber rattling is generalizable to the hawks.

"So it's not out of line to suspect the sympathy was not particularly wholehearted..."

Frankly, I think this is out of line.

"...or if it was, it certainly did not translate into support for whatever needed to be done in such circumstances, which is the real issue."

You're right, this is the real issue. This is the view that any objection or reservation about whatever the current foreign policy line is amounts to callousness about 9/11 because whatever the current foreign policy line is is "what needs to be done." This is also why I'm gonna change my name to Major Major one of these days...

What I'd like to hear more people on the right acknowledge is the real complexity of choosing in this environment, i.e. that it is not the case that American foreign policy constitutes a single real-world choice between the forces of darkness and the forces of freedom.

I don't pretend to any kind of authority, but it honestly looks to me like they're making a mess with the war on Iraq, that they acted capriciously to get there, and that they haven't and aren't being straight with the facts, and I'm tired of hearing sermons about how holding that view amounts to moral failure or incomplete patriotism or some kind of reactionary impulse that's beyond my control, or whatever...and I especially resent the implication that that view entails not caring properly about 9/11. If my view is wrong, so much the better, but it's absolutely not wrong for any of the reasons suggested by those trashy platitudes.

Posted by: spacetoast at September 12, 2003 07:23 AM

Spacetoast says he doesn't know leftists who have the problem Harry Hatchet describes. I know what he means.

Most of my friends are left-liberals and none of them share the Guardian's pathologies. But the coffeeshop I hang out in is full of strangers who do. I hear their conversations, and they are very different from the people I hang out with even though we are all "left."

The freaky left is real. And so is the normal left. It's okay, Spacetoast, for Harry to write about it. Feel free to personally exempt yourself, as I do.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 12, 2003 10:20 AM

I just stumbled across this journal of yours and i was reading back on when you came to hell(Arizona). Anyway, you seem to be very full of interesting things to say. It's always nice to have something good to read at 4 am. I'd like to say something smart right now but my brain isn't working as fast as my fingers are so maybe i'll post something later.

Posted by: Amy 80 at September 12, 2003 12:04 PM

Michael J-

I surely do exempt myself. And I agree that it is of course okay for Harry to write about anything he wants, and certainly the "freaky left"--and in that case, with that explicit qualification, though I'd probably still have reservations about his methodology, I wouldn't take his speculations personally. However, Harry maintains that "The Left" doesn't know how to deal with the fact that when the trade center fell, the victims were Americans, and so it (The Left) looks for a way to blame America, and, I think the implication is, objections or reservations about Bush's foreign policy, the war in Iraq, etc. just follow from that. In other words, left-of-Bush politics are just the natural consequence of a collective psychology that looks to blame America first. I don't know about the UK, but as far as the US is concerned that notion is ludicrous to the extent that it means to describe more than a small and peripheral group of people who identify as "left." I've had some experience with the coffeeshop stuff too, but, as I said, that's not representative any more than Ann Coulter is representative of the right. And anyway, lets see some poll data supporting Harry's conclusion about "The Left." For starters, I'd like to see how it squares with the data showing that ~70% of Americans believe Saddam was responsible for 9/11.

Posted by: spacetoast at September 12, 2003 06:35 PM

Ah, yes, the inimitable JB. He/she starts with an undocumented reference to a "myriad" of articles about how "we deserved it"; dismisses any attempts to understand why the attacks happened and how we can prevent them; implies that his/her opponents are incapable of the most basic human emotions; and tries to emotionally blackmail anyone who disagrees with a specific policy. You have learned well from your Fox News masters, JB.

Spacetoast takes JB on and makes excellent points, which the intellectual coward JB will be conveniently too busy to engage (bet on it). And so another short chapter is written in the long history of the complete degeneration of American conservative thought.

Posted by: Jason Toon at September 12, 2003 06:45 PM


I appreciate the endorsement, but you're launching exactly the kind of homily I object to in the first place. Make your point without calling people names.

Posted by: spacetoast at September 12, 2003 07:01 PM

Frank, I'm sorry but the point of the Guardian article is not that "Saddam Hussein is the latest in a long line of Allendes." To the extent that it makes any comparison, it's that bin Laden is the latest in a long line of Pinochets: that is, enemies of our enemies during the Cold War whom we supported despite their brutality and commitment to international terrorism, which we knew about while we supported them. As for the US being on the side of democracy since 9/11, well, tell that to the Saudi and Pakistani citizens who breathe the air of freedom overseen by the House of Saud and Gen. Pervez Musharraf. You may think that our war on terrorism is fully justified and is genuinely motivated by our desire for democracy, but you must admit that many of our allies against AQ don't give half a damn about democracy and human rights.

And this is a key point: the Cold War is full of examples of allies of convenience (Bautista (sp?) in Cuba, the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Osama bin Laden) who ended up causing nightmares in the long run because of the "foibles" we overlooked while each one was "our SOB," to borrow LBJ's term. It would be idiotic not to ask whether we're replicating this pattern during the War on Terrorism.

I think the leftwing critique of the War is that "strength" doesn't actually deter terror, as the President asserted on Sunday night. If it did, the Israelis and Palestinians would long ago have stopped brutalizing each other. I want to seek and pursue alternatives to this view of politics and our view in the world, and broadly speaking that, I think, is what the left is demanding.

Rather than blathering on, I'll just post links to 2 recent stories that I've found very articulate and insightful.

Walter Mosely, author of the Easy Rawlins series of novels, on hatred of the US:

And Michael Tomasky on the road Bush should have taken after 9/11 (I don't agree with all Tomasky says, but I still found it worth reading).


Posted by: Nick at September 12, 2003 07:07 PM

Allende was a "democrat"?

Odd. I thought he was an authoritarian Communist who attempted to overthrow the Constitution of Chile, reneged on his promises not to do so, and was actively preparing an armed takeover of the country and a suspension of legitimate government.

I guess he must be a democrat, though, because he spoke pretty words about "the people".

The Allende myth needs to be squashed wherever it presents itself.

Posted by: Sigivald at September 12, 2003 08:39 PM

Allende was a democrat in the sense that, you know, he was democratically elected. Was Pinochet?

How many dissenters were tortured and "disappeared" by Allende's regime? None. How many by Pinochet's? Oh, wait - we'll never know.

Allende "actively preparing an armed takeover of the country" who overthrew the Constitution? No, you're thinking of Pinochet again. I know, these Spanish names are hard to keep straight, aren't they?

Posted by: Jason Toon at September 12, 2003 10:48 PM

The first sentence of the last paragraph above should read:

Allende "actively preparing an armed takeover of the country" to overthrew the Constitution?

My mistake.

Posted by: Jason Toon at September 12, 2003 10:49 PM

Aaarg. overthrow the Constitution?

I really must make use of the "preview" feature. Sorry.

Posted by: Jason Toon at September 12, 2003 10:50 PM


I am no Allendista, to say the least, but the man was a democratic socialist. Some of his comrades were not, but he was a moderate compared to them.

It is possible to be an opponent of both Pinochet and Allende, you know. It's not a binary proposition here.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 12, 2003 10:52 PM

Spacetoast - your objection seems to primarily be related to my use of the term "the left".

I can understand why you object as someone who, like I, considers himself 'on the left'

In the UK we had a big anti-war movement, much bigger and more influential than in the US. That movement is led by what Michael calls the 'freaky left' or the coffee-shop left or whatever. A lot of my arguments are directed against that section of the left - not all the left.

However I think I only used the generic term "the left" with regard to how some in the UK found it strange to be in solidarity with the US. Not because they shouldn't have been after 9/11 but simply because it was very unusual.

The British (and European) left has more often been in solidarity with the victims of America (in Chile for example)and so I was simply pointing out that it was unusual to be in the position of solidarity with the US.

My broader point was that in order to escape from this discomfort some on the UK left have used the coincidence of anniversaries with Chile to return to a more familar and more comfortable (anti-American) position.

In other words they hide behind Chile rather than face up to the fact that Americans were victims.

Hope that clears up any misunderstanding.

Posted by: Harry at September 13, 2003 12:35 AM


That does clear up a lot, and I appreciate the "freaky/coffee-shop" qualification. At least in the US, I think you could make a similar observation that some on the right are so gratified at being in a position to champion innocent victims that they've become very sanctimonious about "the mission," and take, or at least present, a pretty ugly politics as a consequence. I watched several of the "9/11 remembered" things on TV yesterday, and found most of them every bit as emotionally vulgar and inauthentic as the Guardian article you dissected, if not more so. The problem is, imo, that the more debate gets to be about that kind of stuff, generally the more rigid people become, and the less productive. Anyway, that's my sense, and one of the reasons why I'm pretty skeptical about going after that kind of group motive stuff.

Posted by: spacetoast at September 13, 2003 02:59 AM
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