“A million Mogadishus”

Those antiwar leftists who equate Bush with Saddam and cheer U.S. military setbacks bring moral squalor to their cause.

Topics:

The coming weeks are going to be critical for the left in this country for a very simple reason. Legitimate, important, valid or even extreme and hyperbolic arguments before a war are one thing. But they have a different salience when they are made during a war — especially one that has barely even begun. There are already polling suggestions that the antiwar movement is at this point bolstering public support for the war. But if the antiwar rhetoric among the extreme left continues in the same vein as it has this first week, the marginalization of the left in this country, already profound, might become irreversible.

Let me take two comments this past week. In the Boston Globe, James Carroll explicitly denied any moral difference between the regime in Baghdad and the administration in Washington. He described the “shock and awe” air campaign as if it were the direct equivalent of 9/11:

“And what, exactly, would justify such destruction? What would make it an act of virtue? And is it possible to imagine that such violence could be wreaked in a spirit of cold detachment, by controllers sitting at screens dozens, hundreds, even thousands of miles distant? And in what way would such ‘decapitation’ spark in the American people anything but a horror to make memories of 9/11 seem a pleasant dream? If our nation, in other words, were on its receiving end, illusions would lift and we would see ‘shock and awe’ for exactly what it is — terrorism pure and simple.”

This lazy form of moral equivalence is not rare among the radical left in this country. But it is based on a profound moral abdication: the refusal to see that a Stalinist dictatorship that murders its own civilians, that sends its troops into battle with a gun pointed at their heads, that executes POWs, that stores and harbors chemical weapons, that defies 12 years of U.N. disarmament demands, that has twice declared war against its neighbors, and that provides a safe haven for terrorists of all stripes, is not the moral equivalent of the United States under President George W. Bush. There is, in fact, no comparison whatever. That is not jingoism or blind patriotism or propaganda. It is the simple undeniable truth. And once the left starts equating legitimate acts of war to defang and depose a deadly dictator with unprovoked terrorist attacks on civilians, it has lost its mind, not to speak of its soul.



9/11 and our current campaign against Saddam are, if anything, polar opposites. With overwhelming firepower and complete air command, the allies in Iraq could reduce Baghdad to rubble if they wanted to. Instead they are achieving what might be an historically unprecedented attempt to win a war while avoiding civilian casualties. Even if you take Iraqi numbers of dead at face value, even if you believe that every explosion in Baghdad has been the result of allied air power, the number of civilian casualties is still minuscule, compared to the force being used. On 9/11, in contrast, the entire aim of the exercise was to kill as many civilians as possible. For James Carroll to equate the two is a moral obscenity.

How big a leap is it from decrying allied warfare as terrorism to actually actively supporting the Baghdad regime against U.S. troops? In the past two years, we have indeed seen some misguided Americans fighting for the Taliban; we have seen human shields attempting to support Saddam’s war crimes; we have seen an American soldier try to kill his own fellow service members; we have seen extremist Muslim Americans murder people in sniper fire and at airport counters. These people are very few in number, and should not be conflated with the “antiwar” movement as a whole. But observing “peace” rallies where Bush is decried far, far more passionately than Saddam — where, in fact, Saddam is barely mentioned at all — suggests that something not altogether different lurks beneath the surface among many others. Nick Kristof this week bemoaned the fact that “in some e-mail from fellow doves I detect hints of satisfaction that the U.S. is running into trouble in Iraq — as if hawks should be taught a lesson about the real world with the blood of young Americans.” (When you read Eric Alterman’s blog, and see him almost high-five every allied setback, you can see what Kristof is worrying about.)

Then last week, someone actually came out and said it. Columbia University professor Nicholas De Genova hoped at an “antiwar teach-in,” hosted by left-wing writer and historian Eric Foner, that there would be “a million Mogadishus” in this war. To translate: This guy wants to see a million young American troops subjected to war crimes, shot and mutilated, and paraded through the streets. No one in the crowd objected. “The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military,” he elaborated. And to loud cheers from an Ivy League college audience, he thundered, “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.”

Notice how de Genova parroted Saddam’s propaganda that the dictator and the “Iraqi people” are indistinguishable. But notice something far more obvious. If de Genova’s comments aren’t an expression of a fifth columnist, someone actively supporting the victory of a vicious dictator over the troops of his own countrymen, then what, please tell me, is? And please, don’t give me the old McCarthyite “J’accuse.” De Genova has every right in the world to say what he believes; and I would defend his right to say it anywhere, free from any governmental interference. By the same token, I am allowed to say that his views are morally repugnant.

But then again, he has a point, doesn’t he? The rhetoric of the “antiwar” movement has consistently argued that this is indeed a criminal war: that it is being conducted by an illegal president for nefarious ends — oil contracts, the Jews, world domination, etc., etc. When you have used rhetoric of that sort, when you have described your own country as indistinguishable in legitimacy from a Stalinist dictatorship, when you have described the president as the equivalent of the Nazi SS, when you have carried posters with the words Bush = Terrorist and “We Support Our Troops When they Shoot Their Officers,” then why shouldn’t you support the enemy?

Before the war, such hyperbole could perhaps be dismissed as rhetorical excess. During a war, when American and allied soldiers are risking their lives, it is something far worse. Before the war, it was inexcusable but not that damning for the mainstream left merely to ignore the rabid, immoral anti-American rhetoric of some of their allies. But during a war, ignoring it is no longer an option. In fact, the mainstream left has a current obligation to declare its renunciation of what amounts to a grotesque moral inversion, to disavow the sentiments that were cheered at Columbia University.

You can see why they might be reluctant. De Genova’s rhetoric — and that of the rest of the far left — describes President Bush as an unelected, maniacal tyrant, a caricature that is useful to Bush’s political enemies. But indeed, if the president is what de Genova says he is, if he is, as the posters have it, the same as Hitler, then why indeed isn’t Saddam indistinguishable? Why should we back one unelected dictator against another? Those are questions the rest of the antiwar left never answered categorically before the war, because they didn’t have to. Now they do.

Salon columnist Andrew Sullivan's commentary appears daily on his own andrewsullivan.com Web site.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>