War and the intellectuals, part IX
Ever since Randolph Bourne dissected the war crier intellectuals who pushed our nation and the world deeper into what has become known as World War I, we have seen the spectacle of various insider commentators who claim to be "in the know" wind up being the most gullible or worse, biggest liars walking. The Bourne essay is worth reading as it applies very well today--even if it includes some assumptions that may be considered "pacifist." If it is too difficult to read online, download it. It is that powerfully argued and written.
Bourne was a first rate mind and an honest one, compared to the jokers dissected by Harold Meyerson in today's on line edition (issue date will be Sept 10, 2005) in the American Prospect. Meyerson identifies a few of the various war mongers who not only led (intentionally or unintentionally) the misleading of our nation, but shouted down critics as anti-American. These intellectuals, including William Kristol, Charles "the Mad Doctor" Krauthammer, Victor Davis Hanson, Thomas Friedman, and, most sadly, Christopher Hitchens were cheerleaders for the Bush & Co. deviousness, either out of ignorance, sloppiness or mendacity.
While Meyerson's article is must reading, I also cannot resist providing a taste of Bourne's essay cited above:
"The results of war on the intellectual class are already apparent. Their thought becomes little more than a description and justification of what is going on. They turn upon any rash one who continues idly to speculate. Once the war is on, the conviction spreads that individual thought is helpless, that the only way one can count is as a cog in the great wheel. There is no good holding back. We are told to dry our unnoticed and ineffective tears and plunge into the great work. Not only is everyone forced into line, but the new certitude becomes idealized. It is a noble realism which opposes itself to futile obstruction and the cowardly refusal to face facts. This realistic boast is so loud and sonorous that one wonders whether realism is always a stern and intelligent grappling with realities. May it not be sometimes a mere surrender to the actual, an abdication of the ideal through a sheer fatigue from intellectual suspense? The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground. The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.
"But the intellectuals whom the crisis has crystalized into an acceptance of war have put themselves into a terrifying strategic position. It is only on the craft, in the stream, they say, that one has any chance of controlling the current forces for liberal purposes. If we obstruct, we surrender all power for influence. If we responsibly approve, we then retain our power for guiding. We will be listened to as responsible thinkers, while those who obstucted the coming of war have committed intellectual suicide and shall be cast into outer darkness. Criticism by the ruling powers will only be accepted from those intellectuals who are in sympathy with the general tendency of the war. Well, it is true that they may guide, but if their stream leads to disaster and the frustration of national life, is their guiding any more than a preference whether they shall go over the right-hand or the left-hand side of the precipice? Meanwhile, however, there is comfort on board. Be with us, they call, or be negligible, irrrelevant. Dissenters are already excommunicated. Irreconcilable radicals, wringing their hands among the debris, become the most despicable and impotent of men. There seems no choice for the intellectual but to join the mass of acceptance. But again the terrible dilemma arises, - either support what is going on, in which case you count for nothing because you are swallowed in the mass and great incalculable forces bear you on; or remain aloof, passively resistant, in which case you count for nothing because you are outside the machinery of reality."
And if you are feeling a bit scholarly and duty bound as a citizen to understand patterns in human history when there is the onset of war, please consider reading another of Bourne's noteworthy essays, "War is the health of the State."
The good news today, however, is something of which Bourne may be most proud: The Internet is providing a voice to dissenters such as Cindy Sheehan when the coroprate dominated media commentators ignore dissenters and then attempt to slander them when finally deciding they can no longer be ignored. Plus, the jurisprudence of Supreme Court Justices Holmes and Brandeis as to the scope of the First Amendement have become fairly bedrock to the point that even a Scalia has been uncertain about applying the type of restrictions we have seen proposed by the Busheviks--at least so far.