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Michael Kazin’s Ground Rules for Dissent

by MARK HAND

Is Michael Kazin proud to be among the long list of writers sent to the frontlines of the Washington Post’s propaganda war against anyone opposed to a U.S. invasion of Iraq? In the run-up to the U.S. government’s planned massive military strikes on Iraq, virtually every column inch of the Post’s op-ed pages related to the Iraqi issue has been devoted to blood-thirsty ravings in support of the War Party’s agenda or to liberals and leftists attacking their own for not meeting their tortuous criteria for becoming an authentic antiwar activist.

Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown University, must have known the odds of getting the Post to publish his piece were far greater if he lectured the U.S. peace movement on its faults rather than followed the much riskier course of attacking the U.S. establishment for its militaristic ways. Given his usual sensible assessments of the current state of the world, one has to wonder why Kazin wrote an article — adapted from a piece he wrote for the fall issue of Dissent — entitled “The Best Dissent Has Never Been Anti-American” for the Post’s Feb. 9, 2003 Outlook section that clearly draws an inaccurate and generalized portrait of the antiwar movement.

The level of McCarthyism on the left continues to grow in tandem with the rising discontent with Washington’s imperial policies. In his Post piece, Kazin inexplicably makes some broad generalizations about the left that exist only in the fantasies of Bill O’Reilly and his fans. Sadly, in recent months, we’ve grown accustomed to Kazin’s crowd creating straw men on the left so that they can easily knock them down and look reasonable in the eyes of the major media.

Early in his article, Kazin, who sits on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, says “no one in the current peace movement has put forth a moral vision that might unite and sustain it beyond the precipice of war.”

Of course, many people involved in the peace movement are putting forward arguments that could sustain the movement beyond the issue of U.S. government aggression against Iraq. That the U.S. government should stay out of the affairs of other countries and should call its troops home is one of the most compelling arguments currently being forwarded by many in the peace movement. The vision of the U.S. government practicing what it preaches, as the peace movement has forwarded, could serve as a unifying force in the United States. Most rational Americans would agree that other countries and terrorist groups should not send agents to kill people on our soil and should not send troops to occupy our land. So why does our government continue to pursue a policy that we find abhorrent when others do it?

Washington officials and pundits argue that, in the name of national security, the U.S. government should continue to enact policies that essentially infringe on the freedom of Americans and people around the world and that end up bolstering only the goals of the U.S. elite. Are advocates for these types of measures traitors to the American ideals of democracy and freedom? Many of those in the peace movement embrace the pursuit of freedom and democracy for all, concepts that certainly are more aligned with the ideals of America than any of the current policies emanating from Washington.

In a wonderful piece on the ZNet website, Brian Dominick challenges the assumptions of “former leftists” David Corn, Christopher Hitchens, Marc Cooper, and Todd Gitlin. “Each man has published at least one commentary (in LA Weekly, The Washington Post, The LA Times and Mother Jones, respectively) taking cheap shots against the Left and regurgitating standard establishment lies about subjects like September 11, Afghanistan and Iraq,” Dominick writes. “It’s no surprise that a bunch of white men might want to hijack or undermine the Left while currying favor from the liberal establishment.”

I’m not sure of the relevance of these writers’ gender or race, but Dominick’s description of them wanting to curry favor with the liberal establishment also appears to apply to Kazin.

As with the four “former leftists,” Kazin cannot resist the urge to take aim at Noam Chomsky in the pages of the Post. Chomsky’s crime is that he developed a definition of patriotism that does not conform to the patriotic message conveyed by the U.S. elite. Kazin says that Chomsky describes the establishment’s patriotism as the governing elite’s way of telling the American people, “You shut up and be obedient, and I’ll relentlessly advance my own interests.” This is a perfectly acceptable definition of the elitist brand of patriotism, and Kazin actually does a service by highlighting Chomsky’s view on patriotism. Kazin’s intent, of course, was to argue that Chomsky’s view is out of the mainstream, even on the left.

Toward the end of his Outlook piece, Kazin implies that the antiwar movement does not care enough about the security of its neighbors here in the United States. He writes that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 will “inevitably force activists to clarify how they would achieve security, for individuals and the nation. How can one seriously engage in this conversation about protecting America if the nation holds no privileged place in one’s heart?”

Once again, Kazin joins the establishment chorus by questioning whether the peace movement really is concerned about the safety of Americans or if they care only for those harmed by the U.S. government’s imperial policies. Any honest assessment of the situation would recognize that people in the peace movement are patriots, even if they eschew the ugliness that’s attached itself to the word over the years, because they understand that the security of Americans will be significantly jeopardized if the War Party in Washington continues its belligerent ways.

The peace movement recognizes this. Apparently, the likes of Michael Kazin are blinded to history’s lesson that bullying eventually proves counterproductive and often leads to fits of rage, irrational or not, by those who perceive themselves to be on the receiving end of a bully’s wrath.

MARK HAND is editor of PressAction.com. He can be reached at mark@pressaction.com.

 

 

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Mark Hand has reported on the energy industry for more than 25 years. He can be found on Twitter @MarkFHand.

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