Letters

Readers respond to articles on Middle East studies, Howard Dean's Confederate flag remark, President Bush's macho strut, and reinstating the military draft.


Salon Staff
November 9, 2003 1:04AM (UTC)

[Read "Osama University?" by Michelle Goldberg.]

As a recent graduate of Columbia's School of International Affairs, I can confirm the administration's suspicions that its professors -- and not just those in Middle East studies -- do indeed have a bias when presenting their material. Of course they do. People who have been studying politics and economics, particularly in more unstable parts of the world than our own, all have, and should have, strong opinions on the subject. I would be a little worried if they didn't.

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I can also confirm that, yes, Edward Said's ideas are extremely popular at that school and come up often. So do Samuel Huntington's. And Milton Friedman's. And John Maynard Keynes'. (Please note the balance of what is typically considered liberal and conservative.) Indeed, the ideas of many political and economic thinkers throughout history, including such radicals as John Locke, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham come up quite often. My professors were veritable hotbeds of revolutionary thought.

But I'm actually writing for a different reason. When Kramer and Horowitz excoriate programs like the one I attended, they are making the assumption that the radical thoughts of professors -- if they have them -- are dangerous because they corrupt the minds of their unsuspecting students, who consume and regurgitate what professors tell them like so many unthinking internationally minded cattle. I resent this. Perhaps Kramer and Horowitz found their educations to be exercises in brainwashing; if they did, I am sorry for them. But I can assure them that my experience was quite the opposite. Every idea presented to us was held up for scrutiny. What the professor did not dismantle in class, we students tore apart over meals and beers, judging the ideas against the ideas of others and our own experiences. If I were to lodge a complaint, it would be that everything was so thoroughly criticized that it seemed like engaging in politics or economic policy at all was a hopeless endeavor, fit only for people who thrived on mild to severe disappointment.

But this willingness to consider any idea for acceptance, modification or rejection, is what an education is all about. I hesitate to go on because my argument is so rudimentary as to be condescending, but in this case, Pipes' views are so dangerous to our own security that I must continue. When he says, "I want Noam Chomsky to be taught at universities about as much as I want Hitler's writing or Stalin's writing. These are wild and extremist ideas that I believe have no place in a university," I am frightened and appalled. The ideas of all three of these people should be taught at universities precisely because they are extreme. Chomsky's ideas can be seductive, it's true -- but in figuring out what one dislikes about them, one learns. (For the record, I find his ideas about coordination between government, business and media to be far-fetched, as all three of those actors are not even competent enough to take care of their own business, let alone work in tandem with others.) Meanwhile, the study of Hitler's and Stalin's writings and policies helps one understand how extreme patriotism and ideology can be used to manipulate people to do terrible things to others. Perhaps there is a danger that some gullible souls will swallow the ideas given to them hook, line and sinker. But I think the danger of people not understanding how terrible things happen is much worse.

Apparently Pipes disagrees. All wild and extremist ideas should be purged, he says. Perhaps he prefers that Hitler, Stalin, Locke, Bentham, Marx, Keynes, and other people whose unorthodox thoughts have had a great impact on our world are not to be discussed at all, so that nobody understands how our democracy came to be, or what the Soviet Union was and why the United States was so opposed to it. Perhaps he prefers that we greet each new day without any conception of history at all, so that the events around us remain as bewildering as possible (how convenient that would be both for those who govern us and those who threaten our lives). I have no doubt he argued just these sorts of points throughout the course of his own lengthy advanced education, when he was unfairly assigned radical readings for study. Actually, maybe he did. I just wish I was sitting next to him in class.

-- Brian Slattery

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[Read "Confederacy of Dunces," by Joan Walsh.]

As a ninth-generation Alabama resident and staunch Democrat, I can tell you that Dean was right on target with his Confederate flag comments.

Why doesn't Bubba vote Democratic? Because the Democrats gave up on him. They view him as some barely literate, beer-swilling, racist redneck who'd like to own slaves if it were still legal.

But what's the reality of Bubba's life? He spends it in debt to companies that sell rent-to-own goods, pays usurious interest rates to Payday loan storefronts, and knocks back a couple of beers at the end of the day to forget his dead-end job. It's probably headed overseas any day now anyway. His kids are in underfunded schools trying to learn from textbooks that are a decade old and science textbooks with stickers that carry a disclaimer about the theory of evolution. (I'm not making that one up.)

He doesn't have a lot to be proud of, but by God, he can be proud of his countries (both the U.S. and the Confederacy) and his church. The Democrats don't seem to respect either at times. Although much of that image comes directly from the GOP spin machine, they've done a horrible job of countering it.

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If Dean is willing to try to reach out to these voters, more power to him. If it takes talking about the Confederate flag or wearing a shirt made out of the damn thing, let's do what it takes to get these voters back.

They need Democrats in office working for them just as much as we need their votes to get there.

-- Larisa Thomason

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I usually agree with Joan Walsh, and think she's a great writer. But I think she whiffed today.

Howard Dean is wrong for the Democratic Party, and wrong for America. His refusal to disavow his insensitive-at-best, racist-at-worst comments about being "the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks" demonstrates three disturbing things about him: a willingness to pander shamelessly; an insensitivity toward Southerners white and black; and a disturbing propensity for engaging his mouth before his brain is in gear.

When you couple this latest faux pas with Dean's apparent intention to abandon federal matching funds, it paints a disturbing picture: Howard Dean says and does whatever serves him, whenever he feels it's convenient. Worse, he expects his followers to fawningly fall in line with whatever today's position is.

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It seems to me we're looking at a candidate who combines the worst traits of Bill Clinton with the worst traits of George W. Bush. That's not good enough for me, and it shouldn't be good enough for other Democrats, either. Winning is great. But not at any cost.

-- Hugh Gurin

As a white Confederate-American with the Stars and Bars pasted to the tailgate of my American-made pickup truck -- and as an unrepentant liberal -- let me say that Dean got it right.

It's not just the simple recognition that symbols aren't always as easy to read and box as so many of the elitists are eager to do, but Dean has also said that our problem is not so much race as it is economics. Civil rights leaders have been preaching that for years.

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My truck wears the battle flag of the South because -- for good or evil -- that's my heritage, and I want to be reminded that racism was prevalent in my family, and that I don't want it to appear again.

Dean's efforts to appeal to the less affluent, the less educated, and those with fewer opportunities should be embraced by the Democratic field. This is the natural constituency of the party: the downtrodden; those whom the Republicans use as fodder to secure their ill-gotten spoils.

I'll continue to wear the flag on my truck and I'll continue to support Dean. He's a Yankee, but by God, he gets it.

-- Dan Smith

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[Read the latest edition of "Right Hook," by Mark Follman.]

I couldn't stop laughing after reading the excerpt in "Right Hook" of Barbara Amiel's London Daily Telegraph column, in which she described how George W. Bush detractors were threatened by "the president's innate masculine strut." At first I thought she got the joke.

After I stopped laughing and rolling around on the floor, however, I realized she was serious and had mistaken him for the real thing -- because she continued with, "... he swings his arms as if they were hovering over gun holsters. When he heaves into view, his midriff stiff as a board and his smallish head turning to cast stern cowboy looks left and right, he appears to be expecting a posse of Red Indians."

Amiel's mistake is safe from being discovered by the domestic audience of the Daily Telegraph. But anyone who grew up in Texas will tell you Bush is no cowboy. Texans have a name for men like him, who have never done the work of a cowboy but try to cash in on cowboy cachet by wearing western shirts and boots, and smearing cow paddies on their pickups. The name for these men, an artifact left over from the fencing wars between cattlemen and sheep farmers before the days of political correctness, was "goat ropers."

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-- Liz Metcalfe

[Read "Oiling Up the Draft Machine?" by Dave Lindorff.]

While the article "Oiling Up the Draft Machine" is generally well written and eye opening, it presents reinstating the draft as an unavoidable outcome of the war on terrorism. But the draft is not the only option -- instead, we'll send corporate employees to war as soldiers.

Already, the Pentagon is maintaining an army of military contractors in logistical capacities. Companies like Computer Services Corporation are filling positions traditionally performed by professional soldiers.

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It is likely that we will see a massive increase in these positions instead of a reinstated draft. Contract soldiers are unseen politically, since they remain company employees. They do not carry the weight of an Army unit, since their home base is an office tower, not a military base.

The machine of war has already been fueled and set in motion. In previous wars, this has required a massive effort of mobilization, represented by the draft. However, in this war, the massive effort has been contracted to corporations. War has been outsourced.

-- Roman Costello

I'm all for a draft, but only if it's retroactive.

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Let's send all those fellows who got us into this fine mess after having avoided the previous horrors in Vietnam over to Iraq to serve their country. It's about time that draft-avoiders like Cheney and Bush got a taste of real sacrifice instead of simply standing up before select audiences to urge the rest of us to send our kids to die.

-- Deb Schultz

I am a veteran of the Vietnam era draft, and the possibility of reinstating the draft during a time like this really scares me. I have always felt that if the men of our country really thought there was a fight to save our country and our democratic ways, then the draft would be welcomed and the enlistments would be willingly forthcoming. However, in the present situation in Iraq, the president and his staff have not provided the American people with accurate information and reasons for pursuing this goal. There has not been enough information to even tie this war in Iraq with the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11 to convince me of the necessity of this invasion of Iraq.

I feel it is a foolish and an overtly political act to consider the possible institution of a new draft during this time of chaos. I would hope that if this is ever proposed, our congressional representatives would rise up and be counted -- and a lengthy national debate initiated -- before any real consideration of this began.

-- Jim Freeman


Salon Staff

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