The left and war

J.R. Dunn has a fascinating piece in today’s American Thinker which encapsulates the last 50 years of the left’s slide into the party of anti-war/anti-aggressive foreign policy believers, and he explains how he believes it got started:

But after what in retrospect appears to be a pitifully short period, they were back, and in force, and they have never retreated since. Contrary to consensus belief, it didn’t begin with Iraq. It began with Afghanistan, starting only a month after the attacks, and built up from there. Moore, the Dixie Chicks, Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, Durbin, Murtha… The list could go on for page after page, all of them speaking in identical terms, all repeating the same code words – Halliburton, blood for oil, Abu Ghraib – all tearing into their country in a fashion unseen even in the Vietnam era.

And where the trendsetters have led, the public has followed. If the polls can be trusted (a bit of a leap, it’s true) something like over half the American people believe that the War on Terror, far from being a response to an unprovoked and atrocious attack, is a war of aggression fought on behalf on industrial capitalism in the form of George W’s oil buddies.

This is not a natural response. Countries fighting legitimate defensive wars don’t suffer this kind of erosion of public support in the midst of hostilities. Particularly as involves a war that began with an atrocity committed against fellow countrymen, an atrocity that could be (and eventually will be) repeated at any time. Such a reaction should not have occurred.

The reason it happened this time was the result of fifty years of conditioning that any and all American activities overseas, whether diplomatic, commercial, or military, are fundamentally illegitimate. American wars, no matter what their cause or nature, are viewed through the same prism, one created on the left for the purpose of undermining the country’s commitment to the Cold War, but useful in any context. Call it the “Imperial” or “Hegemonist” doctrine. Simply put, it holds that no American war (and little in the way of any interaction on the international level) is ever justified. All such ventures are wars of imperialist aggression, commonly carried out against helpless innocents in defiance of the wishes of the American people (at least the true American people – that is, left-wing Democrats), on behalf of secretive, sinister interest groups.

Unlike most left-wing doctrines, this one is not a European import but fully home-grown. It was incubated in the universities, developing over several decades in response to U.S. efforts against the Soviet Union. Like any such doctrine it was the product of many hands over a considerable period. But for our purposes, two of the major figures, C. Wright Mills and William Appleman Williams, will serve as examples.

Williams was a revisionist historian based for many years at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, one of the nation’s premier radical campuses. His field was American diplomatic history. In works such as The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1958) and Roots of the Modern American Empire (1969) Williams depicted the U.S. as an imperial state basing its policies on relentless economic expansion and distracting the masses with a series of overseas military adventures. The Cold War, according to this view, was instigated by the U.S. to protect its markets, with the Soviets as much victims as perpetrators. It comes as no surprise to discover that Williams is Gore Vidal’s favorite historian. (Ironically, Williams was eventually driven from Madison by the activities of the very New Leftists he’d done so much to influence.)

C. Wright Mills was a sociologist specializing in the study of elites. His major thesis was presented in a book titled The Power Elite (1956), in which he contended that the U.S. was run by a political, military, and corporate ruling class that shared the same concepts and goals and had converted the U.S. to a “permanent war economy”. The mass of citizens, as described in an earlier work, White Collar (1951), were effectively mindless androids bullied and channeled by the bureaucracy. Mills later turned to the international arena in the book Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960), one of the earliest works written in support of Castro.

Though by no means bestsellers, Williams’ and Mills’ books were widely read in the academic world, by both faculty and students (I recall as a young child seeing paperback editions floating around during the 60s). They were influential far beyond the number of copies printed – the kind of books that are talked about much more widely than they are read. They were further popularized by various acolytes such as Lloyd Gardner, Walter LaFeber, and Howard Zinn in the academic world, and Tom Hayden (who wrote the most recent biography of Mills) and George McGovern in the political sphere.

Make sure to read the whole thing.

Hat tip: ST reader Sev

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