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Gone With the War?
Ideas whose time has passed.

By Victor Davis Hanson, author most recently of Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.
February 1, 2002 8:20 a.m.


ver the last few months we have heard a litany of politically correct lamentations: The orcs were too predictably dark in Lord of the Rings, fiction which employed a "good" North and West against an "evil" East and South. The Somalians of Black Hawk Down were all black, their American opponents nearly all white. The photo of the three white firemen at Ground Zero should be transmogrified, through sculpture, into representations of people of color. A new word — "Islamophobia" — is needed to capture a spreading hatred toward those of Middle Eastern descent. And on and on.

Footage of the burning Twin Towers became increasingly rare on our television screens — lest it inflame Americans. And perhaps it was also deemed unwise in that regard to show too often the pictures of the 19 terrorists, lest someone derive that they were all male Middle Easterners, or surmise that their comrades in Cuba were not really POWs. Yet after September 11, such cosmetic efforts at political correctness have been both recognized and jeered at by the general public. Conventional wisdom suggests that the present conflict will not affect much the underlying and entrenched ideas beneath this daily Orwellian assault. But I am not so sure.

World War II destroyed fascism and Nazism as dynamic world creeds. The final victory at the Berlin Wall ensured Communism was ruined forever as a practical institution. So, too, the last five months have turned ideology upside down, as these calamitous events tested our most cherished contemporary assumptions as had nothing in recent memory. Many of those assumptions are now blowing away with this war.

The main tenet of multiculturalism — that there is no absolute standard for measuring the respective worth of any given culture — has been shattered by 9/11. It too will enter into American folklore, along with such other false knowledge from past ages as phrenology, séances, periodic enemas, and dream analysis. After the liberation of Kabul, we saw that the most oppressed under the Taliban really did like the universal freedom of the West to watch movies, wear their hair the way they like, and listen to female radio announcers. Street vendors at risk in Afghanistan — like those now protesting in Teheran, and the Chinese students who once bravely sculpted the goddess Liberty — seemed to think that Americans are much more decent than do many of our own safe and comfortable journalists, academicians, and public intellectuals.

Regimes that are autocratic and theocratic — whether Syria's, Libya's, Iran's, or the Taliban — are not merely different, but murderous. Reform-minded cultures that have kicked out Americans and rejected the West — as in Iran, Afghanistan, and Libya — made their people worse, not better, off. The only safe sanctuary for Muslim scholars to reexamine their religion is in the Christian West. Indeed, Christian countries treat activist and politically aware exiled Muslims far better than do most of their own (Islamic) native countries. Why else are reformist mullahs to be found in New York and Boston, rather than proselytizing in Mecca, Kabul, or Teheran?

A chief corollary of multiculturalism is that Americans have wrongly embraced a belief in the innate humanity of the West largely out of ethnocentric ignorance. But surely the opposite has been proved true — the more Americans learn about the world of the madrassas; the six or seven varieties of Islamic female coverings; and the murderous gangs in Somalia, the Congo, and Rwanda — the more, not less, they are appalled by societies that are anti-Western. Indeed, we now know that advocacy for multiculturalism depends upon romance, ignorance, and isolation — studying about Islamic fundamentalism in tree-lined Marin County rather than in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia; role-playing in costumes at safe and upscale suburban schools rather than avoiding the lash under burqas in Kabul; or lecturing about religious diversity on ivied campuses rather than witnessing Buddhas blown up in Afghanistan.

The more Americans find out more about Wahhabism, the Saudi royal family, the Dickensian Pakistani street, the Iranian mullahs, what Mr. Arafat really says in Arabic, Afghani warlords, the public parades of future Hamas murderers in Lebanon, and the Pravda-like nature of al Jazeera — the more they are shocked to learn that the multiculturalists, not the traditionalists in our schools, were the great deceivers. How ironic that multiculturalism demanded romance — not reason, parochialism — not inquisitiveness, and prejudice — not impartiality.

The rejection of a multiracial society united by a common adherence to Western values has formed the canon of our educational system for the last two decades. We were to embrace a "mosaic" of unassimilated special-interest groups rather than the blend of the melting pot. But throughout this war we have seen the horrific wages of nations that are not really nations at all, but simply tribes of competing ethnicities, religions, and races whose traditions promote private agendas, rather than freedom and tolerance.

If we didn't learn from the horror in Bosnia and Kosovo, then at least we should have seen in Afghanistan, Somalia, the Congo, and elsewhere these last few years that wherever people give allegiance to skin color, religion, language, and tribe first, and the common culture second — corpses pile up. The same logic used to defend racial enclaves in the United States leads elsewhere to Uzbek and Pashtun warlords, Indian Muslims against Indian Hindus, and Shiites versus Sunnis. Bilingual education, Al Sharpton's antics, reparations, separate graduation ceremonies and ethnic dorms, La Raza, the shake-down industry of Jesse Jackson, racial quotas, and unassimilated and illegal immigration all lead not to promised utopias, but to Kosovo, Kandahar, and Mogadishu.

The civilized work of creating a multiracial society under the aegis of one nation and culture is difficult, while the disintegration into multiculturalism is easy. The former requires men and women of genius and humanity, the latter little more than provocateurs and the half-educated. If this war has taught us anything, it is that there are valuable and enriching diversities — of food, literature, music, fashion, and art — that are quite different from the murderous and core diversities, such as the rejection of nationhood, a common language, and such shared political and intellectual traditions of the West as democracy, personal freedom, and secular rationalism. Mr. Karzai needs something like the U.S. Constitution and an Abraham Lincoln a lot more than he needs $15 billion.

Prevailing anti-Americanism here and abroad held that Americans were largely a materialist and culturally backward people — isolationist, jingoistic, and parochial. We were thought to be an especially dangerous culture because our ignorance and selfishness were coupled with a grasping capitalist system, ample resources, and a large and growing population. That scary calculus made us as powerful as we were immoral nativists. Like some raging bull in the china shop of the world, America possessed a great potential for damage — should it break loose from the halters and reins of the sophisticated Europeans and internationalists. They alone knew how to channel our naiveté into the properly constructive enterprises that were to take root at Durban, Kyoto, and other U.N. conferences.

But we suspect that should the United States withdraw from Afghanistan and leave Europeans to deal with motley Taliban leftovers, all their peacekeepers would leave Kabul tomorrow. We — not the U.N., the EU, NATO, or any other alphabet-soup collective — fought al Qaeda and will soon rid the world of Saddam Hussein. Moderates in the region (and Europeans) would rather trade with, than free, Iraq. The pre-September 11 dogma argued that well-meaning and often valuable international groups like the Red Cross, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and a host of other organizations headquartered in Brussels, the Hague, Geneva, or London were both intellectually superior to, and far more moral than, almost any American institution — whether it be the U.S. Congress or the Peace Corps. But what we have seen instead from most of them is either inaction at best or abject hypocrisy at worst.

The United Nations did nothing after September 11 to prevent future attacks. NATO has proved a charade. The Red Cross worries about the mittens, hoods, and nutritional content of breakfast cereal for killers in Guantanamo — but says little about real torture and murder outside the gates, in Havana itself. They all talk tough to educated and decent American officers about triviality involving a few hundred — but are not so brave or effective about matters of life and death for starving millions in Africa, when confronted by 15-year old psychopaths with Kalishnikovs. Had any of these international relief and rights organizations, or our supposed allies in Europe, possessed the moral fiber of the U.S. Army, then they would have exited Cuba and sent their entire staff to the Congo, where millions have been butchered in silence in the last few years — more dead than the entire population of the West Bank, and a sequel to the prior holocaust in Rwanda. We know that our enemies are strong and evil, but it is disappointing to keep learning each day that our allies, though they sometimes mean well, remain continually weak.

Fire — not conferences — is the touchstone of any purported metal, and separates glitter from gold. And so this war has shown many of the creeds of the past to be mostly slag and dross. What, then, will replace the present bankrupt and amoral assumptions and ideologies? Let us hope perhaps that we can return to the honesty and realism of classical 19th-century Western liberalism, which, for all its naiveté and self-centeredness, still did not cause a fraction of the carnage as did the utopian promises of our most murderous 20th century.


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NEW YORK — What actions will follow the words?
By William F. Buckley Jr. 2/01/02 1:35 p.m.
That Other ’80s Show
WASHINGTON, DC — The Democrats return to failed strategies.
By Ramesh Ponnuru. 2/01/02 1:30 p.m.
Saudi Breakpoint
LONDON — A time for choosing.
By David Pryce-Jones. 2/01/02 12:30 p.m.
Black History Month: Why?
WASHINGTON, DC — And the Ivy League’s misplaced emphasis.
By Jonah Goldberg. 2/01/02 12:10 p.m.
Is Cheney Lying?
WASHINGTON, DC — The head of the GAO says the vice president is “misrepresenting” the facts.
By Byron York. 2/01/02 10:25 a.m.
WASHINGTON, DC — Again, missing the real issue.
By Jim Boulet Jr. 2/01/02 9:00 a.m.
Speak Now (In English) . . .
WASHINGTON, DC — . . .Or forever hold your peace.
By Roger Clegg. 2/01/02 8:45 a.m.
Spirits on the Air
WASHINGTON, DC — Is federal regulation brewing?
By Adam Thierer. 2/01/02 8:45 a.m.
A Beautiful Mind
HOUSTON, TX —Michael Hammond, R.I.P.
By Gabriel Ledeen. 2/01/02 8:25 a.m.
Gone With the War?
FRESNO —Ideas whose time has passed.
By Victor Davis Hanson. 2/01/02 8:20 a.m.
Exporting Pataki
NEW YORK — Out Cuomoing Cuomo.
By Deroy Murdock. 2/01/02 8:10 a.m.