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  • Sensing Reminds – but we forget

    Posted by Ginny on April 9th, 2010 (All posts by )

    Musings, seeing Sensing (here and especially here)

    Some, Chomsky for instance, look at dots from a myopic & remarkably American perspective – narrower than the most jingoistic cowboy. The difference, of course, is that America is the spider spinning a web of death and intrigue. Of course, this particular (and peculiar) pattern leaves out what we reacted against, what others did, what we prevented others from doing. They are our victims. This ignores the larger world – the one Jonah Goldberg describes, the dots Glen Beck connects. And, frankly, the deaths that total up in The Black Book of Communism make the Goldbergs and Becks and David Horowitzs of the world – hyperventilating, perhaps, hyperactive, more radical than conservative, bombthrowers in their own ways – still a bit saner than the Chomskys and Zinns. Exactly what does it take to be hyperbolic when we describe the Ukraine of the 30’s or the Cultural Revolution or Cambodia or the cannibalism of North Korea or the shredders of Iraq?

    It’s easy to be cynical about heroes, about sentimentality, about gratitude – but cynicism can be as disproportionate as sentimentality. Lost perspective is more true of the teenage nihilist than the middle-aged father. If the nuclear deterrence of that long peace from 1945 to 1990 kept in place repression (the democide and destruction of souls of eastern Europe, the Gulag), it left the long peace Mearsheimer describes. These were years quite remarkable in terms of lives not lost in Western Europe.

    The Europeans forgot – partially because forgetting meant they could forget what they were such a short time ago – and so did we. We let our educational system go. We forgot that if we are opening our arms to immigrants assimilation & respect is necessary; America requires trust and trust requires a submersion of the tribal in many ways. But we forgot. We went from thinking that diverse ethnicities were interesting and part of the richness of our culture to defining ourselves by those very differences. We began with the knowledge that man was sinful and we knew our history demonstrated man’s depravity and fallibility as well as his heroism. But we forgot that heroism. If our history included slavery, it also included a war in which many died to end it.

    So, we have a president who emphasizes the tribal, although many voted in the belief he would transcend it. We have a president neither realist nor jingoist, trained by people whose incomplete and myopic education left them capable of praising Mao, but unable to see what NATO had done, wearing Che shirts but taking for granted a free press, speaking of the Japanese internment camps and ignoring the multitude that came in through Ellis Island, through Galveston. We forgot what we owed our founders, what we owed those tough immigrants and pioneers. We forgot what we owed them – and we are represented by those who have forgotten, or, perhaps younger than my generation, never knew.

    Sensing (here and here) points to what we should never forget, the debt we owe to not just the greatest generation but those who picked up their burden – those who defined a world with nuclear weapons. Those of us whose childhood memories are of Eisenhower, whose college ones are of Dylan, have had remarkably comfortable lives.

    Now, we shudder. What kind of retirement will we have? Worse, what have we left? Were we lazy, did we take too much for granted; did we ignore and dismiss what we should have treasured? How often did we not defend that vision, learn our history? Our world worked well by any historical standard. Of course, it needed improvement. Life always does. But we didn’t defend the very processes that would lead us not to perfection, but to, as Himmelfarb emphasizes, the “more perfect” – the transitional in a world where the best may not happen but the good can. We didn’t argue for what we knew (or should know) was the rebar in a trust society – the open marketplace for commerce, speech, press, religion. We became ashamed of that very openness. But that strength came from rebar forged at great cost during the last two centuries. Will our complacency have added weightier costs than money to burden our children? Did it undermine that great foundation? Thomas Paine pours contempt on a Tory in the first of his Crisis papers, describing the unfatherly sentiment: give me peace in my time.


    4 Responses to “Sensing Reminds – but we forget”

    1. vanderleun Says:

      Now we shudder? Speak for yourself. I’m not done. I have not yet begun to fight.

      Retirement? That’s for the dead. Speaking (or rather quoting) only for myself:

      I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
      I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
      Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
      Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
      Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
      Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
      Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
      Where black is the color, where none is the number
      And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
      And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
      Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
      But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
      And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
      It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

    2. tehag Says:

      Okay… I read Sensing. It’s good work. Thanks for recommending it. His judgment on the nuclear-free world seems contingently right to me. (Contingent on WW3 not happening.)

      A number of his points seem controversial to me, though. (I realize he’s quoting himself specifically about nuking Mecca, but would any other major Muslim city, say, Cairo, be that different?)

      “A nuclear response by us would… would also destroy every alliance we have in the world.”

      The experiment’s been run once. Nuking Japan didn’t destroy every alliance we had in 1945. How has the world changed between now and then, that, that should be so? Could circumstances change enough that nuking Mecca would be treated like the firebombing of Tokyo or Dresden?

      Furthermore: does this mean if Iran nuked Israel, the world would turn against Iran? I believe hundreds of millions of people would rejoice, Europeans, Muslims, Arabs, most Canadians, and, alas, some Americans. They’ve given every indication that their reaction would be celebration as it has been to the death and destruction caused by Muslims thus far. Or are Mecca and lives of Arabs special while the Jewish holy land and Jewish lives less special? Why the asymmetry?

      If Tel Aviv were destroyed and Israel retaliated, would Israel be any more a pariah among, say, Europeans than it is now? I think not–what is hidden now would simply be visibly expressed. Anti-semitism in the EU isn’t recent and isn’t limited to immigrants. Would the world treat retaliation as excessive (thereby excusing the attack)?

      IMHO, Sensing also greatly overvalues our “alliances” with EU sub-states. The EU governments kowtowed to and subsidized the Soviet Union for decades; EU intellectuals have hated mongrel Americans, Cocacoliazation, etc. for decades while praising the Soviet Union, Cuba, the PRC, etc. They hated us then, they hate us now. They resent us for saving them from their inventions: socialism, fascism, nazism, communism. They have openly proclaimed the EU will be a counter-weight (that is always opposed) to the US. With ‘allies’ like these….

      * * *

      “We became ashamed of that very openness.”

      Perhaps in a few years, you can change that “ashamed” to “abandoned.” If you’re able.

    3. onparkstreet Says:

      The vast majority of comments at the linked Black Book of Communism Amazon site are very good, however there are few people who maintain that the numbers are cooked and communism hasn’t been tried, really, yet.

      I know there’s always ONE on the internets, but it makes you shake your head in wonder, it really does.

      – Madhu

    4. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The one real threat facing us is a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel. An Israeli attack on the Iranian sites that are working on a bomb, purifying U 235 and so on, would probably set them back a decade. I personally think that Russia is helping them, probably for hard cash. An attack on the development sites might accelerate the Russia involvement.

      Tony Cordesman has a paper on the consequences of a nuclear exchange. His analysis is here but the short version is the end of Iran as an organized society with 28 million dead. Israel would survive with 600,00 casualties. It would be the end of the “Petroleum Age.” Israel would nuke its other enemies, mostly Arab states. The cost would be horrific.

      Obama’s actions are making this more likely. Unlike Obama, Netanyahu has fought in real combat, nearly lost his life and has the will to do what he has to do. Obama has absolutely no understanding of people like Netanyau, or Putin for that matter. He should never have left the faculty lounge. Every thing he has ever done has failed.

      I grew up in the 40s and remember the day Roosevelt died. I was very fearful of nuclear war in the middle fifties. I remember Collier’s magazine had a special issue on World War III in the 50s. It was very real. Now, I am an old man and have little fear of death. I do worry about my children and their children. What we face now is not as terrible as what we faced in the 1950s but I do worry about what will happen if we are attacked again. I could see a very angry response to Obama’s weakness and indecision. It could get ugly. The people buying guns and ammo know why they are doing it.

      In fact, I think what we are facing will not attack us directly but it could result in oil prices that are $400 a barrel. I don’t think Obama has a clue because he has no concept of people who will defend themselves with violence. Not everything is a debate.