On the cover of David Horowitz, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, is a promotional accolade from the conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham. In a rather harsh indictment of these professors, she praises the Horowitz book: “A thoroughly useful guide to the worse of the worst in the hallowed halls of academe.”
Ms Ingraham in a recent book, Shut Up and Sing, made some rather critical commentary of my teaching and fitness as an academic and I wrote her this open letter. Unlike Mr Horowitz and others who have criticised me, she lacked the decency and the honour to allow me to respond and come on her show. Those who use a public position to utter critical comments of an individual have a professional responsibility, but certainly not a legal one, to allow a response. Particular a media personality such as Ms Ingraham should know the value if not the righteousness of allowing those who are condemned, to have their say.
This is what I wrote her about a year ago in an open letter and am repeating it now. Part of the divisive ideological climate in America is the result of tirades and accusations (I am not immune from engaging in these) that go unanswered due to arrogance and a lack of responsibility to engage in dialogue:
“I am writing this open letter to you in response to your inclusion of me in Shut Up and Sing, and was honoured to also appear on your back cover next to Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whom you refer to as a traitor. He is a statesperson of great courage and dignity. Yet I find it curious that you correlate primarily the left with the elite–the book’s subtitle is How Elites from Hollywood, Politics and the UN are Subverting America. I think if you read Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto, C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite or even President Eisenhower’s farewell address on the military-industrial complex, you will note, regardless of one’s political perspective, that elites are usually depicted as components of society that exert power and influence.
I am struck by your use of the word “elites” in such a random manner. Clearly, as you frequently assert, the left is not in power. The left is not a majority; the antiwar movement, while significant and growing, could not deter an immoral war of preemption and invasion in Iraq. Laura, the elites are the Republican-Democratic establishment. The elites are corporate America that profits from blood and imperialism: Halliburton, Bechtel and other corporate giants of American capitalism. The elite includes the media that has become increasingly concentrated and corporatized in the hands of the Murdochs, the Blacks (despite his problems), the GEs and Disneys. The media is basically a Voice of America propaganda machine aimed at Americans that avoids challenging the ethos of the nation in a systematic manner. The Washington Post, for example, was basically a press agent for the Pentagon in the run-up to war. The military is also part of this elite influence that has significantly blurred the lines between civilian rule and military subordination to that rule.
You gave me an “award for penning the most military-hating screed in recent history.” I think it is time that we come to grips with the evil and monstrous actions that our military perpetrates throughout the world. The military cannot and must not be beyond protest and denunciation by those who seek a more civilized, irenic and decent international order. One should construe the military as a necessary evil, that is dedicated to destruction, carnage and the killing of other human beings. It would be inconsistent for pacifist, left-wing critics of American imperialism, or those who tire of the endless wars, the endless “operations,” and the endless glorification of the military, to remain silent as babies and other innocent casualties are laconically described as “collateral damage”–as so much garbage not even referred to as human beings! We must denounce cluster bombs that are dropped over Nis; the trigger happy soldiers who kill civilians at random; the elevation of military service, of which I too participated, as heroic regardless of the soldier and the actions taken. Furthermore, it is a canard to say that the military defends our freedoms. Any objective revisionist look at history, will note from the Alien and Sedition acts, to American concentration camps during World War II, to the current Patriot Act and detention of Americans without counsel in the war against “terrorism,” that wars are a greater threat to our freedoms than the supposed liberties they are alleged to protect.
I concede it is wrong to overly personalize one’s criticism of the military in such a manner that all its participants are castigated for ethical or moral shortcomings. You perhaps do that with the left too. Yet Laura, one cannot be diffident in denouncing war and the barbarism that accompanies America’s incapacity to look beyond war, power maximizing, crusades, realism and anti-Islam bias. Offending the military and its partisans may well be intellectual-collateral damage in demanding new thinking and a reorientation of American foreign policy. We need fewer warriors, fewer academies training students in the “profession” of killing, fewer national holidays that glorify veterans, fewer memorials that only focus on the heroism of sacrifice while never questioning the bestial policies of the national-security elites that command the sacrifice.
American soldiers should not kill and should not be killed. That should be our preference. America’s presumption is that war is an appropriate use of American power and treasure to effectuate its foreign policy interests. No, there must be revulsion against war as a means of resolving conflict. Our society must pursue new thinking that our military must not harm others for light and transient causes. It must be repeatedly and aggressively articulated that war and its warriors do not bring glory to the state, but KIA and WIA at Dover and injured and dead in cities and battlefields in distant lands.
You state with sarcasm that I am “a ‘teacher’ of American history, God help us.” You and other right-wing partisans, but not all, accuse me of harboring such animosity toward America that I cannot teach in an objective manner. You excoriate the left–without which there would not have been a civil rights movement or opposition to genocide in Vietnam–as an egregious threat to university students because it engenders a smothering anti-Americanism that is intolerant of intellectual diversity. Students, you aver, become helpless captives of anti-American revisionism and multicultural studies. Perhaps the elites are frustrated that challenges to their ethos and nationalistic fervour have not been silenced despite suspensions and intimidations of certain professors. Under the guise of academic freedom and objectivity, conservatives such as David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes and Sara Russo possibly desire that education become an extension of the state: that uncritical thinking dominate the academy and, for example, that American history reflect exclusively the Eurocentric elitism that frankly perpetrated genocide, imperialism, slavery, colonialism, economic crises and constant war. Perhaps the elites are resentful that the sole remaining institution where radical ideas are sometimes tolerated is academia. Despite Emerson, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” the conservative ruling elites can’t condemn the madrassas in Saudi Arabia, and try to erect them here in America.
We agree ironically on your cogent observation: “The ignorance of basic American history among students is a scandal.” (p. 256) I assure you my pedagogy attempts to rectify that by incorporating a revisionist approach, in which critical thinking of America’s past replaces the hoary, nationalistic paeans of consensus historians.”