By Victor Rosenthal
Where to start?
I’ll take September 11, 2001. In some ways it’s an arbitrary date, but it’s one that will appear in whatever serves as history books 500 years from now, if there are such things.
That was the day that the enemies of the United States of America took and held the initiative. That was the day that it became clear that the American Century was coming to a close.
This was not because the attack was so painful. It was painful enough; the loss of more than 3,000 mothers, fathers, children, brothers, and sisters was excruciating. The firefighters and police who were aware of the danger, but charged into the buildings because it was their job, and were swallowed up, that was excruciating. But the American economy survived the initial blow. Buildings that were destroyed were rebuilt. Financial institutions strengthened their backup systems. Life went on for the bereaved.
It was because around that date, more and more Americans stopped believing in the fundamental goodness of their country.
In the aftermath of the attack there were warning signs. Osama bin Laden wrote a “Letter to the American People” in November of the next year in which he purported to explain his reasons for the attack. He said that it was because of American support of Israel; actions against Islamist insurgencies in Somalia, Chechnya, and other places; sanctions on Iraq; and other offenses against Muslims. But more important, I believe, was his call for Americans to accept Islam and to end the “oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you.” And he went on to say that “…you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind.”
And there were some Americans who agreed with him. On September 16, the first Sunday after that awful Tuesday, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, so controversial that Barack Obama had to stop going to his church, gave a sermon which famously included this:
We took this country by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arowak [sic], the Comanche, the Arapahoe, the Navajo. Terrorism. We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed [Grenada, Libya, Panama, Sudan, Hiroshima, Nagasaki]. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost!
Wright agreed with bin Laden: America got what it deserved. And so did historian Howard Zinn, who wrote very similar words on November 1. But Zinn had been complaining about America for a long time. In “A People’s History of the United States” (1980), he presented the story of the nation from the point of view of marginalized groups: slaves, native Americans, workers and union organizers, immigrants, women, and civil rights activists. Instead of the usual history in which political and military leaders and capitalists were the heroes and ordinary people mostly ignored, Zinn turned it on its head. Many of the “heroes” in the history I learned in school came out as villains in Zinn’s book.
It was and is a well-written book. You should read it. But it cannot be the only American history book you read. Certainly the groups he wrote about were oppressed in various ways, but by focusing only on their suffering, one might miss the fact that America provided a secure life with great opportunity for many, including blacks, immigrants, and working class people. Zinn’s explanations of historical events follow orthodox Marxist class-struggle lines, and (for example) one might miss the fact that if the United States had not entered WWII, the Germans and Japanese would have successfully completed their conquest of Europe and Asia. Zinn was admittedly a Marxist who was associated with a number of Communist front groups (but he denied being a member of the Communist Party).
The book, however, was adopted by the educational establishment in the US, and is required reading in many schools and universities. More important, the world-view it expresses seems to have taken over the teaching of American history in schools, in part due to the sophisticated propaganda offensive that the Soviet Union waged against the US since the 1930s, and that continues from Russia today.
Americans were told, over and over, that their country was built on two great sins – the genocide of the native Americans and slavery – and that the nation continues to commit one crime against humanity after another: racism, war-mongering, capitalist exploitation, and aggression against weaker nations all over the world. The implication has been that these crimes are inherent in our system, and only radical action can end them and provide justice for their victims. The left-leaning bent of many intellectuals made the universities where teachers were trained fertile beds for their seeds.
The good things about America – especially the commitment to the ideals of liberty and justice, even if it took a major civil war and an almost 100-year struggle to begin to realize them for all Americans – have gotten lost among the complaints. Sadly, even the previous President of the US saw America through this lens.
Since the 1973 oil shock, and even more aggressively since 2001, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have pumped oil money into American universities, establishing departments of Middle East Studies, and endowing chairs for Arab- and Islam-friendly professors. Their line is similar, although here it is primarily the Arabs (especially Palestinians) who are the victims of American crimes, directly in some cases (e.g., the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) or indirectly via American support for Israel.
The American radical Left has been nourished from both of these sources, and has very effectively connected them, relating the situation of American blacks to that of Palestinian Arabs. One of its most successful memes has been the “deadly exchange,” the idea that American police officers have been trained in Israel to apply techniques of oppression, developed in Israel to hurt Palestinians, to American blacks. The facts that 1) there are almost no similarities between the racial conflict in America and the national/religious one here, and 2) any police training in Israel has been related to counter-terrorism, and certainly does not encourage the use of excessive force against minorities, have been ignored. The meme fits perfectly with the anti-Zionist (and anti-Jewish) themes that are part and parcel of the messages sent from both Russia and the Arab states.
If 9/11 was the beginning of the decline, it accelerated even more rapidly after February 4, 2004, although no one was immediately aware of it. That was the date that Facebook came into being, and social media, the most powerful weapon of cognitive warfare ever created, was placed in the hands of the Russian regime, and indeed anybody else who cares to use it.
The Russians, who are the world’s greatest experts in propaganda and information war, immediately understood its potential. By the use of automated bots and “social media farms” they set about to destroy their historic enemy, the US. They did this by nurturing extremism of all kinds. They riled up the extreme Right against the Jews, and they encouraged the revolutionary Left against the establishment. They posted memes designed to infuriate blacks over racism and police brutality, and to incite whites against black “thugs.” These were injected into the social media bubbles inhabited by the various groups. They may or may not have tried to influence elections, but it is certain that they tried to create chaos.
And they succeeded, possibly beyond their dreams. The idea that America is fundamentally defective because of its original sins has become part of the ideology of American progressives, and even traditional liberals. Indeed, two major media – the NY Times with its “1619 project” and NPR with its “Code Switch” – explicitly argue that the heritage of slavery and issues of race, respectively, are the most fundamental factors making America what it is. Several middle-aged Americans whom I would have called “liberals” a few years ago recently surprised me by claiming to be “revolutionaries.” The fact that most revolutions are co-opted by the most brutal and ruthless factions and often bring about worse regimes than the ones they replaced doesn’t seem to matter to them.
The present crisis was set off by the brutal killing of George Floyd, but if that hadn’t happened, something else would have. The ground has been carefully prepared.
America, as seen by the angry blacks, the white radicals, and even the former liberals, is not worth saving. The blacks are frustrated, the radicals see their chance, and the ex-liberals have internalized the anti-American perspective of Howard Zinn and the rest.
I’m writing this for the ones who still love their country, my former home. Don’t let the others wreck it.