In the beginning of October, the United States began air strikes against the Taliban regime. The goal was to destroy ability of the al-Qaeda forces based there to strike again. Such considerations were irrelevant to leftists opposing the strikes like Berkeley Congresswoman Barbara Lee. In voting against the President’s request for an authorization to use force, Lee declared, “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.” The implication was that if Americans used force to defend themselves, they would be no better than the terrorists who attacked them. Lee was returned to Congress by her Democratic constituents the following year.
Protesters echoed Lee’s sentiments in campus demonstrations across the country, making them even more explicit. At the University of North Carolina, teach-ins featured professors attacking America as a “rogue state” and a greater terrorist threat than al-Qaeda; at the City University of New York, professors condemned “American imperialism;” at Brown University, students and professors went on strike chanting, “One, two, three, four, we don’t want a racist war.” Within weeks of the most heinous attack on America in its history, radicals had turned their own country into the villain.
The refusal to concede that Americans had a right to defend themselves was difficult to understand. Equally incomprehensible was the left’s willingness to defend a fundamentalist theocracy, that oppressed women, homosexuals and non-Muslims, and that consequently should have been repellent to its own values. From both angles, the protesters’ decision to oppose the war in Afghanistan was a defining moment for the American left, analogous to its response to the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939.
At the time the Nazi-Soviet Pact was consummated, American Communists and progressive “fellow-travelers” had considered themselves anti-fascists and anti-imperialists. But when Moscow signed the “Non-aggression Pact” with the Nazi state, they embraced it. For the next two years – until Germany attacked Soviet Russia in June 1941— the Communists opposed the defense policies of the democracies and denounced what they referred to as an “inter-imperialist war.” When it came to choosing between the interests of the Soviet state and their “progressive agendas” – even their opposition to fascism – American Communists and their progressive allies did not hesitate to choose the former. The subtext of their reaction to the Nazi-Soviet entente was clear: their loyalty to the Soviet state overrode their loyalty to any other principle, however progressive it might seem. This kind of calculus led Stalin’s great antagonist, Leon Trotsky, to condemn the parties of the Communist International and their progressive fellow-travelers as “frontier guards for the Soviet Union.”
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