Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The September 11 terrorist attack “was no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism … that the United States has committed during my lifetime.” Who said this? A crazed Muslim extremist? Or a professor at a major American University?

“Many people consider the United States to be a terrorist state.” Who holds this view? Osama bin Laden or a professor at a major American University.

“Democracies, because they have a sense of self-pride and moral consciousness, can often act without restraint and be destructive of the values they are trying to promote. The thinking is to find the perpetrators and engage in a military response and feel that solves something. But there needs to be an understanding of why this kind of suicidal violence could be undertaken against our country.” Who made this statement? The leader of the Taliban or a professor at a major American university?

Well, the convoluted language in the third quote may of course be a clue. It could only have come from a Taliban leader with an Ivy League education. But all three of the quotations above originated on American colleges campuses in the days and weeks after September 11 and are quoted in a recent report, “How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It,” by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Given the awful losses Americans had just sustained in the worst terrorist attack the United States had ever seen, such sentiments may come as a surprise. Then again, given the rampant suspicion bordering on hatred of everything American that has been nurtured by the academy for decades, such reactions are as predictable as they remain shocking.

The unwholesome atmosphere surrounding Western intellectuals is not a new phenomenon, of course. The report contains an appropriate reminder of the famous debate at the Oxford Union in 1933 over whether or not Britons would fight for their country. After a no doubt sparkling debate, leading intellectuals ended up unable to distinguish between British colonialism and world fascism. The Union consequently voted that the English would “in no circumstances fight for king and country.” One person who was much cheered by this news was Adolf Hitler’s foreign policy adviser, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who reported back to Berlin, “The West will not fight for its own survival.” Somehow Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan’s Taliban government and other Islamic extremists had the same impression. Fortunately, in both cases, the leaders of Britain and the United States got it right.

The disconnect between the world of academia and the American public on the topic of the war on terrorism is profound. According to the New York Times, students at 146 campuses in 36 states rallied against any military response to September 11. According to a New York Times poll on Sept. 25, 92 percent of the American public thought the United States should take military action even if casualties occur. By comparison 28 percent of the students at Harvard agreed. (The figure did rise considerably, to 69 percent, if there were no casualties involved.)

It did not take long for critics of the study to level charges of McCarthyism against the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, who produced the report. The fact that the wife of the vice president, Lynne Cheney, was one of the founding members of the council in 1995 has made this a more than run-of-the-mill exercise in exposing academic folly. An article in the New York Times on Saturday, “On the Lookout for Patriotic Incorrectness,” talks about the “list of 117 anti-American statements,” and quotes irate professors on the left who are furious at being so exposed. Todd Gitlin, professor of communications at New York University, told the newspaper that the report was “a record-breaking event in the annals of shoddy scholarship,” “a hodgepodge of erratically gathered quotations, a few of which are declarations of heart-felt opposition to American foreign policy.”

The fact is that none of the fools who made the statements are actually named in the report. Their words stand on their own, which makes political persecution McCarthy-style rather difficult. Instead, this serves as yet another wake-up call why something has to be done to counter the pervasive moral relativism on American college campuses. The Council makes the reasonable recommendation that teaching American history why and how this nation was founded, on what principles and ideals, at what sacrifice for earlier generations of Americans would be a good start. As universities rush to add courses in Islam and Asian cultures, they desperately need a dose of Western civilization.

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