FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The US is a Nation Divided

by ROBERT FISK

Austin, Texas. The show was over, recorded for one of those nice liberal local American TV cable channels–this time in Texas–where everyone agrees that war is wrong, that George Bush is in the hands of right-wing Christian fundamentalists and pro-Israeli neo- conservatives.

Don Darling, the TV host, had just turned to thank me for my long and flu-laden contribution. Then it happened. Cameraman number two came striding towards us through the studio lights. “I want to thank you, sir, for reminding us that the British had a lot to do with the chaos in the Middle East, ” he said. “But I have something else to say.”

His voice rose 10 decibels, his bare arms bouncing up and down at his sides, his shaven head struck forward pugnaciously. “Yeah, I wanna tell you that the cause of this problem is the fucking medieval Arabs and their wish to enslave us all–and I tell you that it is because we want to save the Jews from the fucking savage Arabs who want to throw them into the sea that we are about to fuck Saddam.” There was a pause as Don Darling looked at the man, aghast. “And that,” cameraman number two concluded, “is the fucking truth.”

Darling called to the studio manager. “Where does this man come from?” he demanded to know. The lady from the University of Texas–organizer of this gentle little pow-wow–advanced on to the studio floor in horror: “Who is this person?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. All of a sudden, our nice anti-war chat had been brought to a halt by a spot of redneck reality. There really were right-wingers out there in the darkness who really did want George Bush to zap the Arabs. I asked the guy his name: “Gregg Aykins,” he said. “And the FBI can do nothing to me if you give them my name.”

It was a telling moment, a symbol of the vast gulf of reason between the pro- and anti-war movement in America. They don’t talk to each other. And if they do, neither comprehends the other. Like the endless chat programs on Pacifica Radio and all the smaller liberal talk shows from Boston to LA that serve up inedible dollops of anti-Bush, anti-Republican rant, there is simply no contact between the intellectual “elite” of the left and the less privileged Americans who work with their hands and join the military to gain a free education and end up fighting America’s foreign wars.

At a seminar at the University of North Carolina, I listened to a group of professors and senior lecturers and “activists” debating how to influence the “path to war”. “What we’ve got to do is to reach out to mainstream press and bridge-build to other activists,” a lady with long gray hair announced, reading a list of proposals–all couched in the language of academic discourse that ensures her message is incomprehensible outside academia–which she wished to discuss.

Quite apart from the irredeemable nature of the “mainstream” press–The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest are far too busy carrying more Iraqi horror stories from “intelligence sources” than reporting the American anti-war movement–the lady’s desire to “bridge-build” with fellow “activists” was all too familiar a theme.

The people with whom these liberal academics should be building bridges are the truck-drivers and bell-hops and Amtrak crews, the poor blacks and the cops whose families provide the cannon fodder for America’s overseas military adventures. But that, of course, would force intellectuals to emerge from the sheltered, tenured world of seminars and sit-ins and deal directly with those whose opinions they wish to change.

When I made this very point at Harvard and several other universities, I was told, rather patronizingly, that these people–the phrase was almost identical–had “so little information” or are “not very informed”. This is, in fact, untrue. I have heard as much sense about the Middle East from a train crew en route from Washington to Georgia and from a waiter in a St Louis diner as I have from the good folks of North Carolina.

Black Americans, for example, are uninhibited in their sympathy for Palestinians under occupation. But when I told a lecturer in Austin that I had asked hotel staff and air crews to turn up to my lectures on the Middle East and America–and that all had come–I was treated with a kind of weird amazement, puzzlement that I should bother to ask such unpromising material to think about the Arab-Israel conflict mixed with faint pity that I should ever expect them to understand.

Sometimes I rather suspect that the anti-war left in America likes being in a permanent minority. I mean no disrespect to the Noam Chomskys and Daniel Ellsbergs and Dennis Bernsteins; they fight, amid abuse and threats, to make their voices heard. Yet I have an uneasy feeling that many on the intellectual left are fearful that America will lose its next war amid massive casualties–but are even more fearful that America may win with minimal casualties.

Perhaps this is unfair. But as long as America’s anti-war movement talks to itself rather than to others, it is going to go on being surprised when the Gregg Aykinses emerge from the darkness with their hatred and venom intact to support George Bush’s forthcoming war in Iraq.

 

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail