Even Hawks Have Their Doubts About Fear

An unorganized response to Lex that got discursive & short casual post/long comment:

Living through the 60’s didn’t endear those demonstrators to me and they are more superficial than courageous; still, I’m pretty sure few in Boulder or Berkeley or Boston or Madison fear Russian retaliation.

In ’68, the fervent revolutionary was sexy – alpha & romantic, masculine in defiance of authority.  I don’t think then, either, that it was fear of the KGB that few went out in Civic Center Plaza to demonstrate against the invasion of Czechoslovakia while many (and many a good deal noisier) protested the war in Vietnam and the convention.

Standing up to the man was standing up to Johnson and the police; demonstrating against the Russians was what our parents might do.  Besides, even the hippies had an occasional insight:  Johnson had already decided not to run (as was shouted aloud in the Clarke theater).  That was because those loud voices had affected American history.  And those loud voices came from people who were, they thought, making history.  On the other hand, what Russian would have been affected by a Chicago demonstration – no matter how big and how loud it might get.

Lexington, I’m not sure what the answer is, but surely it is partially that old one – the seductive nature of Utopian/socialist/statist ideals versus the messiness of open marketplaces.  The unknown has charms familiarity does not;  we know our system.  While some of us believe in it fervently, we all see spots.  And just as we imagine we would be royalty when we think of ourselves in past times, we also see ourselves as the people who have the “answer” – the people who would be deciding the rationing of health care, not the people affected by it.  Perhaps it sometimes seems that  liberals are sociopaths, but, of course, we are all a little self-centered, with a Walter Mitty desire to run the universe.  To many for far too long (and unfortunately still today) demonstrating for communism is demonstrating for the working man (about whom, of course, those demonstrating have little inkling of his day to day life.) 

A negative and a positive:

One of my friends described dinner out, celebrating the return of a neighbor’s son from a school year in Poland.  He remarked at dinner that he found it so interesting that the Poles he met were proud of their history – it seemed a foreign concept to him that anyone would be.  That explains the different reactions to American “evil” and Russian “evil.”  This embarrassment about America and American history has permeated all disciplines.  (Given the direction of modern thinking, this embarrassment is one that proud young men are most disturbed by – and is one of the many reasons for the dip in males in college, males graduating from college, and, especially, males in certain fields like literature.)

On the brighter side, this notion that the ideal may be better, but the real doesn’t embody it may explain the discrepancy between the polls on Obama/McCain and the generic democratic/republican candidate.

We have to keep the argument going – our history is tainted (as what history isn’t), but we have reason for great pride as well.  And I think we need more to support our position than just the argument that people aren’t sufficiently afraid of us.   

Teaching American lit is what brought be back to my conservative & patriotic roots – my job changed  only a couple of years before 9/11, which, of course, reinforced what was becoming a right wing viewpoint.  I don’t see how someone who reads our history and literature could be embarrassed by our heritage.  But then, fortunately, my professors didn’t teach Chomsky (in terms of politics – they did teach his linguistic theory) nor Zinn.  I’m too old, though I’d like to think they were too smart.

4 thoughts on “Even Hawks Have Their Doubts About Fear”

  1. “This embarrassment about America and American history has permeated all disciplines…”
    I have read that it has gotten to the point that when it comes to World War II, the only factoids that most high school students have retained, concern the US dropping the ‘bomb’ and interning the Japanese-Americans. Nothing much else. This is sad, this is pathetic. We should be seeing our history and seeing it whole and steady… not just the disreputable bits, without any context.

    This is why I write historical fiction about 19th century America. In the last few years I began to be overtaken by a conviction that we had to go back and remember our history, to see that our ancestors (actual and metaphorical) were people of hope, decency and competance. We have to remember, and have the strength of those memories, otherwise we are at the mercy of every platitude-spouting demagogue to come down the pike.

  2. While I am of course very proud of American achievements I do not wear rosy glasses and also am aware of many things that are less than ideal, beginning, way back, with slavery, that was accepted by our founding fathers and remained a part of our “heritage” for many many years. I needn’t go into the “good ” and the “bad” wars.

  3. I was thinking of European protesters. They are afraid of the Russians, with reason. They live next to Russia. Russia can and will cut off their oil and gas, messing up their cozy lives. Russia has shown itself capable of violence, to people who live in a self-proclaimed post-violent utopia. Russia holds grudges and looks for payback against people who cross them. Killing Litvinenko was a signal that they will reach out beyond Russia’s borders to kill people who thwart them or come to their attention. Russia is scary on purpose.

  4. Lex, I don’t disagree that if I were in a lot of places (not just Tblisi) I’d be afraid of the Russians, with good reason. In fact, the choices some of Georgia’s neighboring states have made in the last week, ones who well remember the kind ministrations of the Soviets, indicate a specific courage we, with our safer borders and larger size, have seldom had to demonstrate.

    We are still left trying to explain such demonstrations in the west – and most especially here. It seems to me that either this comes from a complete inability to read history or iq’s so low one can’t imagine how such people could navigate through life. I assume the former – that their understanding has little breadth of time or place. (As in the second response here.)

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