Sunday, January 2, 2005

Read this passage slowly and carefully, especially the second sentence:

“The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballet et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history. It is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.”

So wrote Susan Sontag in the defunct intellectual magazine Partisan Review, in 1967. Now she, too, is dead to weeping and wailing and long obituaries about this extraordinary intellectual. I say extraordinary because she was able to induce admiration and loud applause among her very target, the white middle-class claque whose “crimes” she exposed and denounced.

Some obituaries have cited the passage above, which is about as racist as can be. But since Ms. Sontag said it, it was not a racist rant. It was truth, fit to be read in a leading quarterly.

And what had Susan Sontag to say about the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, in another august journal, the New Yorker? Pity for the bereaved families of some 3,000 victims of Osama bin Laden? Condemnation of the 19 killers? Not for Susan Sontag. Her interests transcended a human concern for the innocent 3,000. Her concern was, shall we say, literary:

“Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the Free World’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.”

America deserved September 11, so let’s hear it for the 19 killers: Three cheers for them. What they did was right and proper and moral. The Infamous 19 weren’t cowards. Were they heroes? Sort of, she was saying. They were punishing people because of America’s “alliances and actions.” What alliances, you ask? She didn’t say. What actions? She didn’t say. What was wrong with these alliances, with these actions? She didn’t say, so she is safe from criticism.

It was not the fault of the Infamous 19 that the Twin Towers were destroyed and with them 3,000 innocent people. It was the fault of the United States, where she lived and prospered.

Perhaps the Infamous 19 should get a collective Nobel Peace Prize, yes? Did the United States ever do a single decent thing in its existence? If any of Ms. Sontag’s many admirers can find in her work an example of something decent the American government ever did, especially something done by a member of the accursed “white race,” I would like to hear about it.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times. His updated biography “Herman Wouk, the Novelist as Social Historian,” has just been published.

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