One Israeli’s views on Zionism and the path to Peace

Einat Wilf, Telling Our Story: Recent Essays on Zionism, the Middle East, and the Path to Peace (self-published, 2018)

Einat Wilf is a former Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Independence and Labor Parties. She served as a foreign policy advisor to Shimon Peres and has written frequently for “left-wing” media include Haaretz, but her essays have also appeared in “right-wing” media such as The Tower Magazine.

Most of the essays in Telling Our Story appeared in 2016 and 2017. One observation reading these essays three and four years after they appeared in print is how much has changed . . . and how little has changed.

The big change since these essays has been the impact of the presidency of Donald Trump on Israeli politics. By moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, by recognizing the Golan Heights as a legitimate part of Israel, and by submitting a peace proposal early in 2020, Trump has re-defined some of the issues Wilf discusses. Additional factors Wilf could not have foreseen were the three inconclusive elections held in 2019 and 2020 and the impact of the corona virus pandemic.

Yet there is been almost no movement on underlying problems that have prevented a peace agreement from being forged between the leaders of the organizations that claim to represent the Palestinian people and the Jewish state of Israel. The primary issues where little or no movement has occurred are setting permanent boundaries between the two sides and the “right of return” issue.

On the question of boundaries, Trump’s peace proposal calls for inclusion within the boundaries of Israel virtually all of the West Bank settlement communities. Wilf on the other hand only proposed 75% of the population should be included.

On the ‘right of return’ issue, Trump and Wilf both recognize the Arabs’ demand for a ‘right of return’ for any and all Arabs who claim ancestry in land now occupied by Israel is incompatible with a two-state solution.

Wilf’s essays were directed mainly at the Israeli Left, believing the Left’s positions on the Palestinian question were a roadblock to a solution. Whether she still holds that position today is an open question. However, it is clear the Left no longer holds a strong enough political position in Israel to have much of an influence on the outcome of negotiations. A large majority of the Jewish Israeli public side with Likud on the topic. Even a majority of supporters of the centrist Blue and White Party that entered into a coalition government with Likud in the spring of 2020 hold strong defense-first views on the issues.

Wilf is probably the hundred and first person to try to define in writing the details of a territorial-specific peace agreement. None though written in good faith, seeking to be fair to the Palestinians, have yielded the desired results. Such is the problem when one side wants peace and the other side wants all or nothing.

The Trump proposal struck a new direction in permitting Israel to take steps to apply sovereignty to specific communities that would be part of Israel under any agreement on the theory that this would pressure the Palestinian’s leaders to get off their behinds and agree to negotiate.

I have little hope that this tactic will succeed. The reason? Any Palestinian official who accepts the premise has just consigned himself and his entire family to the nearest cemetery. That is why the majority of Israelis have reached the only rational point of view. They favor those policies that maintain maximum security and reject any that jeopardize security. Who can blame them?

 

Schooling’s False Promises. A Review of Fredrik deBoer’s “The Cult of Smart” (St. Martin’s Press, 2020)

What major federal policy has every president from Lyndon Johnson to Barak Obama agreed on? Answer: Advancing educational opportunity as a path to societal equality. They may have differed on how to expand schooling, but not that it was a goal to be achieved in order to reduce social inequality. Why then have the results not lived up to the promise? The answer is simple according to Fredrik deBoer: schooling can never produce social equality––not because we don’t spend enough or because teachers aren’t good enough. It’s because not all people are academically talented.

Marshaling studies that expose the raw underbelly of schooling’s failures on top of insights from his personal experience as a teacher, and capping that off with a measure of behavioral genetics, deBoer concludes, “as long as our education system creates winners, it will also create losers.”

The problem with those seeking equality of results from schooling deBoer asserts is that that goal is built on a myth of equal inherent ability––the idea that each child’s mind is a blank slate capable of being filled with the necessary knowledge. When children don’t succeed, therefore, people either blame teachers or the schools or both.

deBoer dismisses the notion that source of schools’ failures is racial and gender differences. Differences of potential between groups are insignificant, he asserts, but within each group there is great variation. Some kids are just not cut out to succeed academically.

While deBoer relies on a variety of sources to justify his analysis, few would deny that that there is a broad variation of academic talent within any ethnic or social group. The conclusion that politicians and educational reformers refuse to accept, however, is that a large proportion of the variation in academic achievement is “permanently outside the hands of schools and teachers.”

Where Liberals and Conservatives Agree

DeBoer doesn’t see much difference between conservatives and liberals in terms of the (false) hopes they place on schooling. He worries that economically privileged liberals––more so than conservatives––are resistant to coming to terms with the fact that by passing their genes on to their children they make it harder for those beneath them to advance.

Preaching schooling as a means to economic opportunity for the disadvantaged allows wealthy parents to ignore the fact that they are part of an aristocracy of the talented and that their status represents a barrier to children born of less academically talented parents. The more schooling is based on academic achievement, deBoer tells us, the poorer a job it does of social leveling.

If schooling can’t solve societal inequality what should it be doing? As an avowed Marxist, deBoer wants American society to undergo a total transformation to a socialist utopia, but until that happens, he offers a number of short-term proposals to do justice to the “untalented” and undercut our false hopes for schooling as the means to economic equality. These include two measures that run contrary to universally supported policies of the recent past: loosening public school standards and allowing students as young as 12 to drop out of school. He would also provide universal after school care in addition to universal childcare at a cost of hundreds of billions annually, although he admits all these “reforms” will have trouble gaining adherents.

Fredrik deBoer’s Marxist Alternative

DeBoer’s trust in Marxism leads him astray in understanding the role schooling has played in American society over the past one hundred plus years. Universal public education was not implemented to provide a right for all children to learn as he suggests, but rather to Americanize the large immigrant population that had flooded our shores over the last decades of the 19th century.

Public education (k-12) had little connection to employment until after World War II when an educated workforce was needed to continue the momentum brought about by the mobilization to defeat the Axis Powers. That led to a major expansion of the number of higher education slots. Thus, while my mother got a master’s degree at the State College for Teachers in Albany in 1963, three years later, when I enrolled in a graduate program there, it was now the State University of New York at Albany on a new campus with a vastly enlarged curricula.

The expansion of higher education from the 1960s on fed the growth of the public sector, creating employment openings for blacks and women who hitherto had few opportunities to use a college degree. Higher education growth, however, inevitably led to over expansion as politicians from both parties continued to demand public schools prepare more and more children for college. Expecting almost all young people go to college has had a detrimental effect both on colleges and the workplace. Colleges have succumbed to political pressure to increase graduation rates by lowering academic standards. That has hurt graduates in the market place as more and more employers demand advanced degrees in order to identify applicants with necessary knowledge and skills.

DeBoer is correct that academic talent is linked to economic status, but a missing ingredient in his analysis is motivation. Children of immigrants have historically done well, while the recent college admissions bribery scandal suggests a percentage of upper middle class children are opting out of the competition.

Variation also follows college graduates into the work place. The academically talented don’t all succeed and those with other skill sets, such as leadership, initiative, and perseverance enable those not at the top academically to be successful economically and career wise. The biggest lacuna in deBoer’s vision, however, is his notion that merit should be set aside in the name of a doing justice to those who are not academically talented.

He portrays a socialist utopia that resembles a sci/fi world where robots do all the work and people lounge around doing artistic things like composing music and painting landscapes. This is based on his belief that scarcity is a thing of the past. Of course, deBoer came to that conclusion before COVID-19, but even without factoring in the impact of the pandemic as evidence for how thin a margin the world’s most advanced economy rests on, only an academic who hasn’t spent a day working on a farm, in a factory or policing a crime-ridden neighborhood would assert we have reached a point where we have enough for everyone if we’d just be willing to share.

America’s 21st century economic status reflects technological advances from steam engines to gasoline powered motors, from the assembly line to robotics, from microscopic discoveries to nanotechnology, and, of course, thanks to computers which keep rewarding society with opportunities to make work more productive and while less time need be spent on the mundane. In a society without competition based on merit where everyone’s basic needs would be met by some mysterious process, there would be no incentive to do work of any kind. Evidence of the problem are people who refuse to go back to jobs that pay less than the government is sending them.

If deBoer’s analysis is correct that schooling cannot accomplish the kind of leveling we desire, equalizing academic placement and its subsequent economic rewards, do we as a society give up the notion of equality? If that’s the alternative then most people would stick with a flawed academic meritocracy, but of course there’s another choice: continue to grow the economy such that other paths exist to the good life.

It’s interesting that deBoer doesn’t mention sports or entertainment––two highly remunerative career paths where intelligence plays a role, but not necessarily academic intelligence. Entrepreneurship offers another avenue. While not every young person hoping to become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs will reach that level, hundreds of start-ups have emerged in recent years as the capabilities of a computer-based society reach into new crevices of our complex world. Israel, for example, has been labeled “start up nation” as entrepreneurs have produced systems to extract water from air and enable self-driving cars. A factor in Israel’s success has been attributed to mandatory military service before college, suggesting something other than academic aptitude can play a role in motivating young people to create solutions to human kind’s endless supply of medical, economic and social needs.

The message I’d send parents is to downplay deBoer’s insistence that academic success is more and more the only ticket to economic well-being by reminding them that a growing standard of living has been capitalism’s gift to the world, including a reduction in poverty in the “third-world” in recent decades. While deBoer emphasizes the negative impact on young people who feel compelled to participate in the academic rat race and labels most work demeaning, the list of choices people have for employment today is so much greater than ever before. Smart is good, but free and unrestricted is just as good, if not better.

The Media’s War Against Israel: A Review

Stephen Karetzky and Peter E. Goldman, eds., The Media’s War Against Israel (Steimatzky, 1986)

It can be hard in the midst of an international political crisis to evaluate the media’s coverage. Events are happening haphazardly. Reporters are playing catch-up. Opinions may reflect partial information . . . which is why when time goes by it’s desirable to reflect on the media’s job, and to give it a score.

The authors of The Media’s War Against Israel published in 1986 had the benefit of four years after the events being discussed––i.e., Israel’s conflict with the PLO as it impacted neighboring countries. Stephen Karetzky and Peter Goldman took advantage of the time to assemble opinion pieces from several sources to complement Karetzky’s focused analysis of the New York Times and Peter Goodman’s “lessons learned” piece. Their conclusion is an indictment, as the title clearly states. The media didn’t just do a poor job; it engaged in a biased attack on Israel’s role in the events.

What events are we talking about? The primary issue was Israel’s foray in the summer of 1982 into Lebanon to root out the PLO, which had, with the help of the Soviet Union, amassed a huge arsenal of weapons with the intent of stepping up the guerilla war it had been waging against Israel. Complicating the events of that summer was the morass that was Lebanon at that time.

Created in 1943, Lebanon was weakened from the start by being divided almost equally between Christian Maronite and Muslim populations. Adding to that division was the conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims, but the primary disruptor of peace and tranquility was incursion in 1975 into southern Lebanon of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

That mixture erupted in a 7-year civil war, which among other consequences allowed Syria to insert its forces into Lebanon. The result was anarchy, lawlessness and thousands of casualties, a story largely unreported in the Western media. What got Israel involved?

Tired of incursions into Israel by the PLO, the Israeli government allied itself with the Phalangists––a Christian Maronite group––and invaded southern Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of driving the PLO out of the country.

Israel’s goal was accomplished in four months. The PLO was dispersed after suffering heavy casualties. The PLO, however, won the public relations war by exploiting the Western media’s lack of understanding of the conflicts in the region. The coup de grace was the PLO’s blaming Israel for the massacre of residents of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee communities by the Phalangists. (The media called these locations “camps,” but they were not tent cities. They were large communities replete with permanent housing and other structures.)

Let’s look at how the media covered these events. In the first paragraph of the foreword to The Media’s War Against Israel, Rael Jean Isaac writes “In reporting the war in Lebanon, the media behaved like a lynch mob, with print and TV reporters, columnists and cartoonists vying with each other in misstatement and calumny.”

Each piece in the book backs up Isaac’s assertion. Stephen Karetzky­––one of the editors––focused his analysis on three months of reporting by the New York Times prior to the war, detailing an anti-Israel bias even before the events of the summer took place. The book also reprints pieces published elsewhere:

  • Norman Podhoretz analyzes the media’s response in general to Israel’s foray into Lebanon.
  • Frank Gervasi adds insights from his first-hand visit to the region.
  • Ze’ev Chaftets examines the problems the Beirut press corps faced trying to provide unbiased reportage.
  • Rael Isaacs singles out Time Magazine’s adversarial approach to Israel, and
  • Edward Alexander dissects NBC’s antagonistic coverage.

A few of the most flagrant examples of bias are worth repeating

  • After his election as prime minister Time Magazine informed its readers that Menachen Begin’s last name “rhymes with Fagin”––the name of the villain of Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.
  • Time Magazine totally made up a story claiming Ariel Sharon urged the Phalangists to attack Sabra and Shatila, and then refused to disavow the story when the author was proven to have lied.
  • President Reagan berated Prime Minister Begin personally when the caption to a UPI photo claimed a seven-month old child had been severely burned and lost both arms as a result of an Israeli bomb dropped on civilian housing. It turned out the child had not lost either arm nor had she suffered any burns, and her slight injuries were the result of a PLO shell.
  • NBC accepted the Red Crescent’s claim of 10,000 people slaughtered by Israel and 600,000 made homeless. The Red Crescent was hardly an objective organization, however, as it was run by Yasser Arafat’s brother. By the way, the Red Crescent’s homeless number exceeded the region’s total population.
  • Before investigating the cause, CBS accused Israel of intentionally killing two of its cameramen. After investigating it turned out the men were in a combat area and the tank that fired the missile was over a mile away.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this entire affair, however, is the PLO’s success at neutering the foreign press corps that was stationed in Beirut. The PLO had asserted the authority to determine who would be allowed to report from Beirut and evidence suggests they were responsible for the deaths of eight journalists and explosions that put two independent Lebanese newspapers out of business. Worse, however, was the fact that some of the foreign press corps was decidedly pro-Palestinian and didn’t have to be persuaded to present the PLO as the victims of Israel’s aggression.

Several of the authors in this compendium touch on the subject of why the press corps was hostile to Israel. They point to the impact of the war in Vietnam on the Western media, after which the general narrative of international affairs presented the view that the U.S. and its allies were the oppressors and third world countries its victims. They also point out the practice of the TV networks showing selective footage that backed a biased interpretation of events.

Israel became the “fall guy” for the Western media’s new worldview. It had been viewed positively from 1948 until 1967 when it defeated Soviet backed Egypt and Syria as well as Jordan, which was fooled into joining the battle. After ’67, the media started labeling the PLO as protesters and demonstrators rather than terrorists despite the fact that they were engaged in acts of war against Israel.

The media also bought the PLO’s lie that they represented the oppressed residents the West Bank despite the fact the organization had been formed in 1964 when the West Bank was under Jordan’s control. As The Media’s War Against Israel conclusively documents, the media’s distorted coverage of the Lebanese war was just another sordid chapter in their failure to understand when they were being used and when the information they were being given was propaganda.

A feature of the media’s coverage during this period that deserves attention is the use of Holocaust imagery and terminology to criticize Israel’s role in these events. Both “genocide” and “holocaust” accompanied inflated casualty reports along with quotes from willing European critics such as Mitterrand, Papandreou and Kreisky. China and the Soviet Union both resorted to comparing Israel’s actions to Nazi Germany with regard to Shatila and Sabra, helping to cover up the fact that the USSR had been the primary source of weaponizing the PLO.

The use of Holocaust imagery against Israel is a particularly vile practice. It’s a low blow, akin using the word savage when describing the actions of a Native American or excusing a woman’s behavior due to her menstrual cycle.

Exposure of the media’s biased coverage of Zionism and Israel has been thoroughly documented in other studies. (See my review of Jerold Auerbach’s Print to Fit.) The excuse that coverage of the Holocaust was weak due to the media’s inability to confirm accusations or that a hesitancy to support the formation of a Jewish state by the New York Times was understandable as it threatened the assimilationist aims of some members of the American Jewish community fails to stand up when the record of The Times and other media falls short of their claims of objectivity and impartiality decade after decade. Sadly, biased reporting when contrary views are confined to small opinion journals sways public opinion.

One might ask why should we care about the media’s failures from more than thirty years ago. As one media critic points out in the book, the American people of the 1980s placed a lot of trust in the media. After the deluge of anti-Israeli stories and commentary by The Times, Time, Newsweek, the Networks, polls showed a marked decline in support for Israel. That might explain why some people in the 21st century are prone accept such lies as Israel is an apartheid state and intentionally kills civilians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How America’s Mainstream Media Operate

When Adolph Ochs purchased the nearly bankrupt New York Times in 1896, he added a motto that demonstrated his marketing genius. “All the News That’s Fit to Print” became the industry standard and before long the Times became the most trusted newspaper in the country––a status it retains one hundred twenty years later. Yet, the evidence is clear that the Times violated that standard continuously while pretending to engage in objective, unbiased journalism. I will demonstrate my thesis through a review of how newspapers work, which I’ll follow up with by reviewing two books that prove my point.

Every newspaper is the product of a set of procedures whereby an institutional bias determines what stories are covered, how they are covered and what appears on the paper’s editorial pages. In theory, that bias reflects the staff’s professional objectivity and conscientious impartiality, which is the case for a large percentage of the stories each paper generates. Where papers depart from that professional journalistic bias is in the coverage of issues that owners and their top editors view as especially important.

Ironically, the notion that ownership influences a paper’s coverage is accepted when talking about papers owned by conservatives, but not when referencing papers such as the L.A. Times, Washington Post or New York Times. Yet as I shall demonstrate, ownership influence is just as strong at those papers as in the others.

The owners of major newspapers rarely provide direct instructions on how to cover a topic. They don’t have to. Their influence is more subtle and is the result of long-standing policies that determine who is hired and who is promoted to decision-making editorial positions. As a result, their views influence how issue-critical stories are covered, editorial positions, and who is invited to contribute columns on editorial pages.

The Selection of Reporters Re-enforces a Paper’s Bias

Reporters who get jobs at large daily newspapers have proven themselves to be worthy of that responsibility. For the most part, they have graduated from highly rated colleges and held positions where they’ve demonstrated that they hold the kind of values the hiring newspaper requires. Those values include an understanding that they must stay within the boundaries of the views expressed in that paper in the past.

Reporters who get promoted to editorial positions have demonstrated an advanced degree of loyalty to a paper’s traditional practices and outlooks. If, for example, the top editors of a paper have determined that climate change is a threat to civilization, a reporter who has expressed doubts about that theory will not advance professionally––even if s/he has only expressed that viewpoint in private.

This all sounds very conspiratorial except two recent close examinations of the coverage of the New York Times of critical news stories demonstrate the validity of my thesis. In his 2019 study “Print to Fit,”[i] Jerold S. Auerbach details the Times’ coverage of Zionism and the state of Israel from Ochs’ purchase of the Times through the present day.

Auerbach documents how the Times consistently engaged in coverage decisions that conveyed opposition to the founding of a Jewish state and then, after the state of Israel came into existence in 1948, the Times has consistently blamed Israel for its problems with the region’s Arab population while minimizing the responsibility of Israel’s enemies.

Auerbach had the unenviable task of reading through more than one hundred years of the Times’ news stories and editorials. He documents story by story how the Times’ coverage reflected the view of its owners. Although the Times occasionally publishes the views of those who disagree with its coverage and has retained columnists who voiced other opinions, those exceptions have been rare.

How Owners’ Views Get Implemented

The Times’ owners’ antipathy to the notion of a “Jewish state,”[ii] was reflected in the selection of reporters and bureau chiefs sent to the Middle East. Each followed the party line, which they demonstrated in their coverage of decades of attacks on Israeli civilians by Arab nationalists. Again and again, post-killing stories featured the murderer and his family, suggesting the bombings, knifings and other methods of shedding Israeli’s blood were justified by the conditions they were living under and/or by Israel’s refusal to give the “Palestinians” a state of their own. In contrast, the stories of the Jewish victims are minimized or ignored.

On the other hand, actions by the Israeli government to counteract this violence were criticized by the Times’ columnists as a departure from adherence to democratic values while the support by the leaders of the Palestinian organizations for suicide bombings was “understandable.” Never did the Times’ admit to this double standard––asking Israelis to turn the other cheek while not expecting Arabs to be capable of restraint.

You might ask why the Times was opposed to Zionism and why it has been antagonistic to Israel for the past seven decades. Their attitude can be explained by the fact that the Times’ Jewish owners did not want to appear that their ownership resulted in undue positive coverage Jews, Judaism or Israel. But the truth is more complicated. It began with Ochs’ connection to the Reform Movement in Judaism.

Why The Times Is Hostile to Israel

The Reform Movement in the U.S. gave Jews permission to see Judaism as a religion divorced from the history of the Jewish people and from the notion of Jews as God’s chosen people. As a result, during the first half of the 20th century Reform Jews opposed the movement that sought to return to the land from which the Jewish people were exiled two thousand years ago. Even today, many Reform Jews prioritize being comfortable as Americans free from the accusation of divided loyalties, which Israel’s existence threatens.

That outlook was carried over in the personage of Ochs’ son-in-law and successor, Arthur Hays Sulzberger. Sulzberger was even more hostile than his father-in-law to the notion of Jews as a distinct people to whom other Jews owed an allegiance. Sulzberger demonstrated his rejection of that allegiance in his relations with top officials in the Roosevelt administration during World War Two giving them cover for their failure to offer sanctuary to Europe’s Jews or to engage in efforts to stop the Nazis’ slaughter. His editors reflected his view in terms of their news coverage or lack thereof of what we today know as the Holocaust.

Laurel Leff analyzed the Times’ WWII coverage in great detail in her 2005 expose “Buried by the Times.”[iii] While, like Auerbach, Leff carefully read through the pages of the Times to justify her thesis, she also had access to correspondence and other sources. Studying the Times from1933 through the end of World War Two, she documents the Times’ downplaying the dehumanizing policies of the Nazi government towards Jews and the paper’s failure to recognize evidence that those policies had metastasized after 1942 into the Final Solution and the death of six million.

Sulzberger did not instruct his editors how to cover the crisis facing Europe’s Jews. He didn’t need to do so. He made his feelings known in hiring and promotion decisions, and by his refusal to bow to pressure from Jewish groups to tell the story of the Jews’ plight. Sulzberger also conveyed his outlook by the organizations he belonged to, such as the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, which received coverage in the Times beyond its import in terms of size and influence.

Perhaps the Times is clean except for its coverage of Zionism and Israel? Believe that and I’ve a bridge in Brooklyn . . . The Times and the rest of the mainstream press decided early on that it wanted Barack Obama to be America’s first “Black” president and it covered his campaign and presidency from that outlook. It subsequently decided Donald Trump was unworthy of being president and has done everything it could to reverse the 2016 election and make sure he doesn’t serve a second term.

Expressing editorial opinions on one’s editorial pages is not a problem because readers understand there is a difference between news stories and editorials. Yet, today a paper’s

editorial outlook leaks into the selection and placement of stories on sports and life pages as well as in the news section. Adding editorial columns to those pages is a relatively new phenomenon that I’m not certain readers have caught on to. What is clear is that you won’t have a pro-Trump lifestyle page columnist writing for the Washington Post, New York Times, et al. Rather, what those papers are saying is the more angles from which Trump can be attacked the better.

From the days when news of Jews being slaughtered in Europe were buried at the bottom of news stories on inside pages to the present, papers like the Times have not been neutral, objective or unbiased in their coverage of the major topics of the day. You may agree with their bias, but if so, know facts and opinions in opposition to their views will not be featured despite the occasional guest columnist whose presence satisfies the papers’ need to appear fair.

It is incumbent upon Americans who are concerned about being led by the nose by media giants like the New York Times to get their news from a variety of sources. The Internet, though subject to ‘fake news,’ offers contrasting opinions and researched coverage. Those sources are also biased, but readers willing to put in the time can find sufficient information to make their own decisions about the issues of the day. In sum, we must recognize no source can be trusted––particularly the New York Times.

 

[i] Jerold S. Auerbach, “Print to Fit.The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2006,” Academic Studies Press, 2019.

[ii] Deborah Lipstadt points out in her review of Auerbach’s book that as late as 1986––nearly forty years after the founding of the state of Israel, the Times would still not allow Israel to be described on its pages as a “Jewish state.” See Deborah E. Lipstadt, “The Gray Lady and the Jewish State,” Jewish Review of Books, Fall, 2019, P. 22.

[iii] Laurel Leff, “Buried by the Times. The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper,” Cambridge University Press, 2005.

 

Socialism: The Impossible Dream. A review of Bernard K. Johnpoll’s 1981 study, subtitled, “The Rise and Demise of the American Left*”

I was fortunate to have taken a class with Professor Johnpoll in the 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University at Albany. He was sui generis––a cigar smoking, iconoclastic, child of Communists who admired people who flirted with the Left while despite concluding that their dreams can never be achieved.

Why never? The conundrum socialists have been unable to solve for two hundred years is how to get from present circumstances to the “cooperative commonwealth.” Further, they have not and never will reach a consensus on what the cooperative commonwealth looks like. Each person has his own vision of utopia, which makes it easy for the leaders of the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions to get away with calling their un-cooperative societies socialism and imposing their totalitarian rule on their subjects.

In The Impossible Dream, Johnpoll dissects the history of the socialist leaders, movements, and organizations in the U.S. from the early nineteenth century to the 1970s. Based on extensive use of primary and secondary sources, he documents his thesis that these organizations and movements were bound to fail despite their high ideals.

The Long History of Protesting Capitalism

In the early days of industrial capitalism in England and the United States people chafed at the negative side effects of the “industrial revolution”––the lack of restraints on working conditions that chewed up people in the name of profit.

Not that pre-industrial societies lacked poverty or suffering, but what prevented the rise of reform movements in that era was an absence of a clear path to a better world. Once technology, starting with steam engines, introduced the possibility of a world where you were not tied to your previous station in life, reformers and reform movements sprouted like dandelions.

The primary critics of early capitalism were craftsmen whose skills were becoming irrelevant in the face of a new competitive environment where products could be produced in large numbers and sold for less than hand-crafted items. Combining religious images like the golden rule with visions of how industry could be re-organized, Robert Owen and others preached the coming of a society built around cooperative communities. Although the model communities Owen and others set up invariably failed––and did so very quickly by the way, they planted seeds which others sowed in the fertile fields created by early capitalism’s destructive excesses.

The goal of socialism––whether Marxian, Christian, or communitarian, is to take over ownership of the “means of production” and put it in the hands of the workers. The problem socialists have never solved, according to Johnpoll, is how one gets there. Nowhere was that more evident in the reformers’ dealings with the working class.

Labor Unions versus Socialism

In the nineteenth century, while reformers were preaching their individual variants of the total reformation of society, workers who couldn’t wait for the arrival of the cooperative commonwealth, began to form labor unions. For a time the interests of socialists and unionists were allied because owners backed by the police and legal system of the state resisted––often by force––all efforts of workers to organize.

Once the unionists demands began to be translated into law, however, their leaders broke with the socialists. When he expelled the socialists from his American Federation of Labor in 1903, Gompers said, “I want to tell you, Socialists, that I have studied your philosophy; read your works upon economics, and . . . I have heard your orators and watched the work of your movement the world over . . . Economically you are unsound, socially you are wrong, industrially you are an impossibility.”

For Gompers and others, socialists wanted to revolutionize all of society, while unionists were satisfied with improving the present-day lot of their members. This caused huge problems for socialists––some eschewed ameliorative gains while others saw reforms as the path to God’s kingdom on earth. Either way they failed again and again to win over the working class.

Socialist leaders, most of whom did not come from the working class, had an even harder time when it came to the problem of whether or not to participate in the electoral process. Some felt socialism could be brought about democratically, while others felt the owning class would never allow that to happen and only through an uprising by the working people of the world could a revolution that overthrew capitalism be accomplished.

Throw in conflicts born of ethnic differences and leaders personalities and you have a history of organizations being formed, making temporary gains, and then failing apart. It happened over and over again. Each generation of leaders thought this time will be different: this time the workers will vote for us or respond to our call for a general strike or join our socialist labor union. When that didn’t happen, they always had fellow socialists to blame.

Johnpoll clearly admires the reformers of the nineteenth century more than those of the twentieth with a few exceptions. Early reformers didn’t have experience to guide them and they paved the way for positive changes in society once social opinion or historical circumstance convinced the political party in power to implement reforms. They didn’t achieve their dream, but we take for granted many of the reforms they called for, from an end to child labor to unemployment insurance, from compulsory education to the right to collective bargaining.

Are Today’s Democrats advocating Socialism?

In recent years, the rhetoric in the Democratic Party in favor of some form of socialism has escalated. Bernie Sanders came close to winning the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 and remains one of the favorites in the 2020 race. This time around nearly the entire cast of presidential candidates is advocating one or more programs that amount to increased governmental control over various aspects of the production and distribution of goods and services. Health care and the environment are the most prominent areas where socialistic policies have won favor with the Party’s activist base, but except for Sanders none of the others seem willing to go full bore and denounce capitalism.

From a historical perspective what the Democrats are moving towards is more like the system that ruled the Soviet Union than the cooperative commonwealth envisioned by nineteenth century social philosophers––including Karl Marx. The Soviet Union was a totally statist society in which the state apparatus controlled everything, including personal choices in many areas. (There was nothing communistic about it.) We’re not there yet, but that’s the direction we’re heading in––namely, the sacrifice of personal liberties on behalf of the “common good.”

The problem is who defines what’s good and proper. In the Soviet Union, it was the Communist Party. In the US today, the federal bureaucracy has assumed the responsibility for defining specifics of vaguely wording legislation, often going against the will of the current chief executive.

The fact that we still elect the president is a critical difference between the U.S. and the Soviet Union because it offers the possibility that the power of the state can be restrained. Yet, to the average citizen, there’s little difference when waiting to get an appointment with the VA hospital in the U.S. or the poor quality of socialized medicine in the former USSR.

Ultimately, most reformers are totalitarians. They don’t like conditions in the present. Fine. They see a better world. Fine. They want to impose their vision of a better world on everyone else. Not so fine. We only have to look at Russia, China, and Cuba to understand what happens to the individual when reformers grab the power of the state. The individual becomes acted upon, not an actor. That’s the danger we’re facing in the U.S. in 2019. Reading Johnpoll’s Impossible Dream can help elucidate why the future world painted by today’s reformers is impossible to achieve no matter how appealing the picture.

Coda: Marx’s scientific socialism predicted the most advanced capitalist societies would be the first to undergo a conversion to socialism. Clearly that prediction was wrong. Lack of economic development where the elements of a capitalist system are non-existent or weak, is often coupled with a non-democratic political system, while in the US, where democracy while not perfect, is nevertheless deeply embedded, capitalism has raised the standard of living of the entire society even under the restraints of social legislation. Like democracy, capitalism is the best option available on a list of imperfect choices.

* An earlier version of this review was posted on Amazon and Goodreads in 2014.

 

The Dreyfus Case is still relevant after 125 years

Dreyfus, A Family Affair, 1789-1945 by Michael Burns, Harper Collins, 1991.

More than two thousand books and articles have been written about the infamous court martial of French Jew Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. While most histories focus on the case itself, Michael Burns provides a broader view, chronicling the emergence of the Dreyfus family as wealthy cotton manufacturers in Alsace, examining the case in great detail, and then following up on the roles the Dreyfus family and his supporters played in both world wars.

The Dreyfus family story has as much relevance today as it did at the turn of the century––not just in France where anti-Semitism has never gone away and has resurfaced recently in deadly fashion, not just in Europe––ditto its presence, but in the United States as well.

For those who forgot the short mention of the Dreyfus affair in their European History class, it is important to recall that at a young age Alfred Dreyfus became dedicated to France and to the French military, and he never waivered in that dedication. Despite his loyalty, Dreyfus was convicted of spying for France’s bitter enemy Germany, which had humiliated France in 1870 and taken part of Alsace as its reward.

The Dreyfus case coincided with the growing antagonism to Jews in France, as a result of their increasing integration into mainstream French society in general and in the ranks of the French military in particular. The plot, hatched by clerical and nationalist elements in the military and supported by vocal anti-Semites, led to Dreyfus spending five years on Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana. Dreyfus endured incredible deprivation, which Burns details, and barely survived. Yet, as a result of a campaign led by his brother Mathieu and the strength he gained from the support of his wife Lucie, Dreyfus survived to face a second court martial. Although he was convicted a second time, as the facts of his innocence had begun to emerge, he was eventually pardoned and his military rank was restored.

Jews world-wide know of the Dreyfus case because a Hungarian journalist who covered the initial trail cited it as an influence in his decision to join the nascent Zionist movement. Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) was apparently influenced not just by the case itself but also by the massive public outcry he witnessed against Dreyfus and against French Jews. Chants of “Death to Jews,” he wrote, were heard throughout the country.

The irony of the Dreyfus case was that the Dreyfusards––those who believed in Dreyfus innocence, downplayed the anti-Semitic motivation of his framers. The Dreyfus family had taken advantage of France’s emancipation of the Jews to become wealthy and to take advantage of the open doors to French society. Along the way, their Judaism was reduced to the equivalent of a regional family affiliation. At family funerals even Kaddish, the prayer cited for the dead, had to be recited in French.

The consequences of the Dreyfus’ family’s unwavering devotion to France was that several young men of the next generation including Mathieu’s son Emile, went to their deaths fighting for France in the first world war, and Alfred, who never fully recovered his health, insisted in returning to his post and put his life in danger defending Paris.

Despite the contributions of the Dreyfus family to that war, they were again victimized by French anti-Semite allies of the Nazis who helped send tens of thousands of French Jews, including those with medals for valor in the First World War, to Auschwitz.

Burns does not offer conclusions based on his thorough research, nor should he. That’s not the historian’s job. Conclusions based on the Dreyfus case are nevertheless the domain of reviewers.

In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the lesson of the Dreyfus case is that the promise of the French Revolution for Jews––emancipation and unrestricted opportunity––was never fulfilled. Yes, there were periods where Jews prospered and made inroads, but always at the expense of their commitment to Judaism, and always in the face of an undercurrent of resentment and hostility from those who needed a scapegoat for failures personal and national. Again and again, the undercurrent of resentment came to the surface whenever conditions justified the need for someone to blame.

Earlier I suggested the Dreyfus case offers lessons for Jews in the United States as well as in Europe. Recent history backs me up. When college students are bombarded by professors with accusations against Israel, when they are afraid to wear a Jewish star or kippah, and when members of Congress blame the Jewish Lobby (with a capital L) for buying their colleagues’ votes, events like the murders in Pittsburgh become all too likely.

Herzl’s vision came none too soon. Unfortunately, however, millions of Jews who might have benefitted were brutally murdered in the Holocaust or died as soldiers fighting the Nazi menace. What’s different today is that the state of Israel exists and at the moment one can be a practicing Jew and an American. Who knows whether both will last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the modern KGB: What we can learn from Natan Sharanksy

Fear No Evil, by Natan Sharansky, 1998 edition (Public Affairs)

What would you do if you were arrested as a result of actions you’d taken on behalf of your religious and/or political beliefs, threatened with execution or long imprisonment, but offered leniency if you confessed and testified against your colleagues? Most of us would automatically say we’d resist, but consider the kind of pressure levied by Robert Mueller and his team of investigators against Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who as a result of being accused of lying to the FBI, lost his job, had his life and that of his family destroyed, and has been facing prison time for two years while Mueller and the boys (there are no girls on that team as far as I know) pressured him into naming names. In other words, he was punished before he was convicted. But this is America, you are probably saying. Nothing like that could happen in America. Wrong.

If Robert Mueller hasn’t personally studied the methods of the KGB, I’ll bet someone on his team has. The KGB was masterful in their methods. Torture, you’re imagining, but would it surprise you to learn that physical torture, such as beatings and waterboarding, were not used in the case of political prisoners like Natan Sharansky, the Jewish refusnik who spent nine years in the Soviet prison system many of them in the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s desolate Siberian territory.

The KBG specialized in psychological torture, such as threats to imprison one’s family and loved ones; isolation in punishment cells where you were not allowed to lie down during the day; promises of better treatment and shorter sentences if you only name names––these methods it turns out were effective on 99% of those sucked into the system. Sharansky was the one percent who successfully resisted.

How you ask? By refusing to cooperate on any level with the KGB. He refused all offers and all threats. He accepted long stays in punishment cells even though he knew he might die as a result. He lost so much body weight that he had severe heart problems that required long prison hospital stays. He went on hunger strikes over principled issues, including demanding his copy of Psalms be returned to him or demanding that his letters home be released to his family. He protested when other prisoners were mistreated even though it meant more stays in punishment or prison cells, but he knew from day one that only by having nothing to do with the KGB could he survive his ordeal without selling out his soul.

What gave him the courage to stand up to the KGB when almost no one else could? A combination of factors, including a sharp mind that he used to become a child chess prodigy, a relationship with the woman he married only days before being arrested in 1977 whose garnered support from thousands including world leaders like France’s Mitterand and the U.S.’s Ronald Reagan, and the fact that his commitment to Judaism allowed him to separate himself from anything and everything that had to do with the Soviet Union.

Anyone wanting to strengthen their own system of belief––religious or secular––can benefit from reading Sharansky’s memoir which was first published two years after he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1986, which brings us back to 2018 and the Mueller investigation.

Hampered by one’s belief that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are incorruptible, and that KGB methods would never be applied in this country, good men such as Mike Flynn when arrested by Robert Mueller naively assume they can tell the truth and not be victimized. Of course, I wasn’t present at any of those interviews. So, I must speculate on the basis of what is known, and it is clear that Mueller’s methods of exacting cooperation and confessions out of people whose deeds were not criminal must be modeled on the techniques perfected in the Soviet Union. How else can one explain what has been done to Mike Flynn despite the fact that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did so under false pretense while he was still an official of the Trump White House and who did not believe he lied. His failure to understand that others were out to get him and the President at any cost would allow them to undertake such nefarious methods is what led to his downfall. Hence, his recent confession must be understand as that offered by a man who has undergone two years of psychological torture and who has confessed as part of a deal that might keep him out of prison and save his family further suffering.

I doubt Mike Flynn will be writing about his experience with America’s version of the KGB. His plea deal will probably require him to swear he’ll never reveal the details of how they got him to confess. Natan Sharansky withstood nine years of psychological warfare on his character. How long this country must wait for the American KGB to be brought down is anybody’s guess.

What Cost Diversity? A Review of Heather Mac Donald’s The Diversity Delusion

Heather Mac Donald, The Diversity Delusion; How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. St. Martin’s Press, 2018

What are we to make of today’s university culture where students may not be subjected to spoken or written words that make them feel uncomfortable, where diversity is achieved by abolishing objective standards, not just in the social sciences but in the STEM fields as well, and where the diversity bureaucracy is actively undermining the centuries-old mission of higher education. That is a big subject, but in The Diversity Delusion Heather Mac Donald breaks it down into its constituent parts and exposes the naked underbelly of the attack on Western Civilization that is taking place in our most esteemed universities and colleges.

Citing example after example, statistic after statistic, Mac Donald explains the origins of race and gender pandering and details its destructive impact, both on the production of knowledge and the preparation of young people for adulthood.

One is hard-pressed to select the most egregious example of this destructive environment. Is it preventing conservatives like Mac Donald from speaking to student groups? Is the destroying the reputations and careers of faculty who deviate from the new norm? Is the absurdity of rewarding claims of microaggression by privileged students at Yale, Brown, and Princeton with safe spaces, non-objective grading, and high-paying jobs as diversity counselors and administrators? Is it turning colleges into re-education centers for anyone who might honor color blindness, merit or hard work?

Not Just the Ivies

Mac Donald tells us the problem doesn’t just exist at the Ivies and on California campuses. It has spread to places like Evergreen State College in the state of Washington where a professor was physically attacked when he failed to obey students’ demand that white faculty cancel their classes at the bequest of minority students, and at Middlebury College in Vermont, where students physically assaulted a professor, giving her a concussion. Her “crime?” Having supported the invitation of a conservative to speak on campus.

Mac Donald tackles race and gender diversity pandering separately, then focuses on the bureaucratization of victimhood followed by an overview on the subversion of the mission of higher education.

Enforcing Equality

Affirmative action seemed necessary and logical when it first instituted fifty years ago, but today it has grown into an industry that suppresses evidence of its failures and punishes businesses as well as colleges if they cannot find a sufficient number of qualified minority applicants for enrollment and faculty positions. The worst example of this might be the University of California system, which ignores the 1996 initiative passed by the state’s voters that bans race and gender preferences in government and education. California not only insists minorities (and women) be hired but refuses to accept objective measurements of candidates’ qualifications, all but asserting that minority status alone means the candidate is qualified for the job.

That is bad, but what makes matters worse is that minority students can ruin careers simply by claiming an instructor has used words or taught concepts that make them feel victimized. When any such accusation is levied, university administrators automatically treat the accused as guilty. Due process is flawed if practiced and when the accusations border on absurdity, as in the case of the professor who was censured for issuing t-shirts with his picture for a class softball game, the administration typically thanks the students for calling out the offender. The source of the professor’s aggression? His picture reminded someone that he was the author of a study that challenged the effectiveness of affirmative action. The idea of challenging a politically protected policy has become unacceptable in today’s university.

The damage being done by the fiction that American universities are dangerous places for minority students who must be protected even if it means certain authors cannot be read, certain subjects cannot be taught, and objective grading must be dispensed with, is uncalculable. Advocates for minority advancement ought to be challenging these excesses for they are damaging to minority students and to society as a whole.

Sex Toys and Victimhood

While minorities clamor for more representation, Mac Donald reports that a majority population in our colleges continues to claim victimhood at the expense of fact and reason. That group is women.

Spurred by an under reported problem of sexual misconduct on some campuses thirty years ago, universities responded by manufacturing a campus rape crisis where the definition of rape is whatever each campus perceives it to be. In response to this “crisis,” bureaucracies have mushroomed resulting in dozens of high-paid positions with heavily-staffed rape crisis centers designed to serve an artificially-created population of victims.

Undermining the rape crisis claim is another bureaucrat-enriched activity on college campuses: support for unbridled sex. While “freshman counselors organize games of Sex Jeopardy and pass out tips for condom and dental dam use,” (p. 117) rape crisis counselors encourage women to report attempted and actual rapes even when the victims had been having consensual sex with the accused for months. While one part of the academic bureaucracy promotes a promiscuous hookup culture, another claims one in five women are subjected to rape or attempted rape during their college years.

Oddly, the proponents of doing more to protect women do not want rape cases to be handled by America’s criminal justice system. The reason for this might have something to do with the fact that few such cases gain convictions and many turn out to be frauds, such as the infamous Duke lacrosse gang rape case, the University of Virginia Rolling Stone case, or Columbia University’s ‘mattress girl.’

Mac Donald reports that the campus rape crisis has spread into the work place where ‘overly broad definitions of what constitutes sexual misconduct are now being legitimized,’ in the words of a female attorney who has dealt with these cases. Ironically, as Mac Donald points out “[w]estern culture is in fact the least patriarchal society in human history.” (p. 159) Echoing the bureaucratization on campus, the #MeToo movement has spawned a campaign to fill businesses with counseling staffs and to guarantee woman are given priority in hiring decisions without regard for qualifications.

The Ideology of Victimhood

The transformation of academia into centers for political indoctrination has been advanced by an ideology that justifies the institutionalization of their claims. Intersectionality is the theory that everything wrong in the world comes from an interconnected historical enemy headquartered in the U.S.––namely, white males and capitalism. This is the source of slavery and racism, of patriarchy and misogyny, and of climate change and exploitation of minorities and women.

That teaching young adults to think of themselves as victims is the opposite of what they need to learn seems lost to the bureaucrats whose jobs depend on their finding more and more examples of oppression. At institution after institution, diversity offices and counselors mushroom as salaries out-pace those paid tenured professors. Administrators join the chorus, advancing the thesis that their institutions have done much harm to women and minorities in the past and must make amends. Many, like Yale’s Peter Salovey, give in to any outrage outbreak with more money for diversity programs and mandatory diversity indoctrination.

As Mac Donald stresses, the mission of every academic institution ought to be the “transmission of knowledge, pure and simple.” There’s plenty of evidence that students arrive on college campuses ignorant of the fields of knowledge that underlay our civilization. Unfortunately, many leave in worse shape than when they entered, having been indoctrinated by faculty steeped in the “hermeneutics of suspicion”––the assumption that all language carries hidden meanings that either subvert or reinforce power structures.

Mac Donald challenges the assumption that transmitting knowledge once featured in Western Civilization courses is dangerous to minorities and women by quoting Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Du Bois––two of the heroes of black liberation, who pay tribute to men like Aristotle and Shakespeare whose ideas inspired them and gave them the intellectual courage to state their piece.

Heather MacDonald’s study is so thorough and irrefutable that it cannot get fair treatment by the mainstream media. Don’t look for her book to be listed under the Washington Post’s 50 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Year or to be reviewed by the New York Times. Yet, it should be required reading for members of Congress, the bureaucrats at all state and federal education departments, and students studying to become school administrators. It’s time to go back to doing what colleges and universities were created to do, which ironically will benefit minorities and women much more than coddling, indoctrination, and unmerited advancement.

The New Left’s Destructive History Told by Two Former Ramparts Editors

Destructive Generations by Peter Collier & David Horowitz, Encounter Books, 2006 edition of the1989 original

For the baby-boomer generation, the Sixties remain a watershed––a time of deep personal, social and political change that lingers for many as the best years of their lives. The decade began symbolically with the election of John F. Kennedy whose inspirational inauguration speech many baby-boomers still recall, but the 60s ended in flame with violence, not hope, dominating the headlines.

Like Peter Collier and David Horowitz, former editors at Ramparts magazine and co-authors of Destructive Generations, I was caught up in the optimistic belief that the American dream could no longer be withheld from those who had been denied equal rights solely due to the color of their skin. I joined the NAACP in college, and after graduating joined VISTA—the domestic peace corps. I spent a year serving in Atlanta where I marched with Dr. King to protest Julian Bond’s removal from the Georgia State Legislature for opposing the war in Vietnam.

Vietnam Divided the Civil Rights Movement and Undermined Non-Violence

Vietnam stirred up a generation of young men who were faced with being drafted to fight a war that seemed more about imposing America’s will on a Third-World country than being on the side of liberty. The war also splintered the Civil Rights Movement with militants Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) rejecting Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence, asking why should young black men fight for a country that did not grant them basic rights at home?

By the end of the decade, the movement for equal rights had morphed into a movement that sought to “bring the war home”––i.e., aid the North Vietnamese drive the U.S. out of “their” country. The movement’s goal was no longer fulfillment of the promise of the American Revolution. New Left radicals envisioned a different kind of revolution, one based on the belief that America was the source of poverty, racism, and environmental degradation at home and abroad. Those who took up the call for a new revolution were increasingly willing to engage in “direct action” including bombing service recruitment offices and police stations to accomplish their goals.

Following the Black Panthers, the Left Invited Its Own Demise

Unfortunately to disastrous results, these activists viewed militant blacks like the Black Panthers as role models for their revolution. They believed like Vladimir Lenin that they could activate the masses by performing random acts of violence against dominant social institutions.

And what had once been a unified movement splintered into competing organizations based on hair-splitting interpretations of Karl Marx and his successors, including descendants of the Soviet Union-affiliated American Communist Party, followers of Leon Trotsky, and admirers of Chairman Mao. At times, it seemed each of the above groups hated their Marxist competitors more than they hated capitalism.

Like many, I was attracted to the notion of “scientific socialism”, but it wasn’t long before I realized the neo-Marxists preached their own form of economic determinism––one that failed to hold water like Marx’ original predictions. Each year, the New School Marxists revised their predictions of when capitalism would collapse until the robust economy of the 1980s robbed them of their few remaining followers, long after I’d put an end to my flirtation with socialist theory.

The Collapse of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

Having been a leader of a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at the university where I obtained my graduate degrees, I knew many of the people involved in the break-up of that once democracy inspired organization, including Mark Rudd, leader of the Columbia University Sit-in, and SDS national leaders Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.

But, as SDS’s leaders became more militant and the logic justifying their confrontational behavior became more convoluted, I stepped back, hoping a remnant of the earlier movement would emerge seeking an American style “democratic socialism” based on a commitment to core American values.

That hope, however, also floundered after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, as the Left corkscrewed through love affairs with the militant blacks like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, mixed in with the drug/rock culture, radical feminism and radical environmentalism.

Today, while many who lived through the ‘Sixties still long like John Lennon for a world without religion, country or possessions, others––myself included––remain true to the original ideals that resulted in our becoming activists.

The 60’s Early Ideals Remain My Ideals

I still believe that America can be a beacon on a hill in a world where the rights of the individual are sacrificed to the will of dominant political autocracies as is the case in China, Russia, Iran, the oil rich Arab states, and many third world nations. While the latest threat to the American ideal is Jihadist Islam rather than Marxist Communism, the later remains prevalent in American universities where the professoriate indoctrinate young people into hating America and advocating wholesale reform.

I reject the Liberal Left’s desire to replicate a system of government where a minority of enlightened leaders are in command and continue to advocate for policies that protect the rights of those who are out of power––including those awakened for the first time in decades by Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

While there are aspects of President Trump’s personality that rub many the wrong way, I believe his election has given this country a chance to return to policies that put the people before the government, protecting the rights of the individual as well as freedom of association, speech and religion.

One of the reasons I recommend people read Destructive Generations, even though the core content is almost thirty years old, is that the authors document so eloquently the corrosive impact of the Left ideology that undermined the democratic ethos of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. For example, Collier and Horowitz document the disastrous consequences of those consumed by white guilt in a chapter about Fay Stender, the white lawyer who sacrificed her life for black radicals, including Huey Newton and George Jackson, both of whom betrayed her as their true nature as drug dealers and murderers emerged.

The authors further explore the fraud perpetrated by Newton’s Black Panther Party on the New Left. Learning the truth about the Panthers is not just important to understand their role in the destructive post MLK, Jr. years, but also to combat today’s black nationalists who hope to revive the Panthers as a symbol of resistance to white authority.

Socialism in One City Shows Its True Colors

Destructive Generations should also be read by followers of Bernie Sanders who think socialism is an idea worth supporting. In particular, the chapter “Slouching towards Berkeley,” can help Sanders’ followers understand the harm done by those who try to implement an ideology that fails to take human nature into account.

To wit, Collier and Horowitz quote a Berkeley liberal who experienced the decades long attempt to install socialism in one city. “They’ve divided this city right down the middle . . . set whites against blacks, landlords against tenants, students against long-term residents . . . And in the process they’ve also done something I thought nobody could ever do––they made me into a conservative.”

From Revolution to Popular Front Communist Party Tactics

After their plans crumbled, the New Left radicals, who in their arrogance appointed themselves the vanguard of the revolution, returned to the approach invented by the American followers of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party justified lying about who they were and what they sought as the means to achieving their goal of upending society and establishing the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Recognizing the “popular front” tactic of the Left in all of its formulations is an essential lesson documented among so many others in Destructive Generations.

Finally, it will prove instructive to read each author’s personal story about how they came to see the critical flaws of the New Left and how they emerged as conservatives which David Horowitz defines as “respect for the accumulated wisdom of human traditions; regard for the ordinary realities of human lives; distrust of optimism based on human reason; caution in the face of tragedies past.” (334)

The Panthers Showed their True Colors After Years of Leftist Support

The 1960s began with young Americans committing themselves to bring about a better world, but by linking that hope to dead ideologies and personal ascendance, they opened the gates of hell. The authors document one particular tragic example when they encouraged a friend to help the Black Panthers with some bookkeeping. Unfortunately, she discovered funds donated by the Panthers’ supporters to educate ghetto children were being used for drug deals and they killed her. The price of arrogance can be very high. The price of not understanding the past and remaining romantically linked to utopian ideals is often the death of innocent people. Look at Russia, China and Cuba for examples.

I hope some of my former New Left friends will find the courage to read Destructive Generations and break the links to that unfortunate time in our personal histories.

Sympathy for the Devils Within: A Review of Viet Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Forty plus years after the U.S. abandoned Vietnam to the Communists, Viet Thanh Nguyen captures the duplicity of all sides in the war and its aftermath in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer.

Reading Nguyen reinforces my belief that I was on the right side in the 1960s when I joined the anti-war movement before it imploded in the 1970s, exhibiting similar excesses to those perpetrated by the North Vietnamese (and Cambodian) on their own people.

The American anti-war movement morphed into an anti-American movement with groups like the post-SDS Weather Underground waging war on the American working class for failure to take up arms against the American government. In Vietnam, the victorious Communists subjugated anyone and everyone who had not been on their side during the war as well as those who had been on their side for the wrong reason.

It is easy to see in retrospect how the anti-American left could ally itself with the North Vietnamese ignoring their commitment to the same totalitarian ideology that had led to the deaths of millions of Russians and Chinese citizens under Stalin and Mao.

The victorious Vietnamese employed torture methods invented by the Russian and Chinese Communists including re-education techniques where confession is offered as the means to salvation. Smartly, Nguyen employs confession as the format for this novel having his protagonist be made to write a confession to rehabilitate himself for having succumbed to Western ways during his exile in the U.S. The entire novel is that confession.

Nguyen deserves praise for the lack of heroes in his story––especially not his bastard protagonist who is both a captain in the South Vietnamese army and an agent of the Viet Cong, and who commits multiple crimes, including murder, out of this divided loyalty. No one is clean perhaps with the exception of the protagonist’s mother who was forcibly impregnated by a French priest and then abandoned to a slow death of poverty and neglect.

Nguyen holds the French and United States responsible for their part in the war’s horrors, but doesn’t absolve the Vietnamese people on both sides, for each played a part in the war, victimizing their own as the price for the victory that one side failed to achieve and the other converted into a kind of defeat.

For Americans, The Sympathizer reminds us the ideals of our founding are not sufficient to protect us against the arrogance that led us to think no price was too high to prevent Vietnam from falling to the Communists. Unfortunately, we continue to pay that price, often misjudging where our national interest lies. There is no more evident an example of this failure than Barack Obama’s ignoring the Iranian government’s murderous ideology out of some misguided desire to make amends for America’s past sins.

Yes, Communism had to be opposed and American aid for people suffering under Communism or on the verge of falling under Communism’s iron yoke at times required a military response, but we misjudged Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese and drove them into the Communist camp, as we did in Cuba with Fidel Castro, both of whom admired America’s revolutionary commitment to individual freedom. The consequence of our arrogance was both became totalitarians who oppressed their own people, deciding their ideological goals justified any and all means of achieving those goals.

Americans should also read The Sympathizer because we have failed to recognize the price the boat people paid for their freedom, coming to the United States where they were expected to forget the U.S. role in the devastation of their country––the napalm bombings, wiping out villages suspected of harboring Viet Cong agents, the manipulation of the South Vietnam government and more, as Nguyen so skillfully portrays in this novel.

The Sympathizer is above all a brilliantly written story about a man we sympathize with while not absolving him of his crimes, but it can also be read as a form of national therapy. Nguyen offers a lens through which we can examine ourselves and perhaps recognize in ourselves a tendency to betray and murder our own, for who can say for certain they would not have acted like his main character in similar circumstances.