View Full Version : Pop Culture’s Conviction

02-02-06, 10:14 AM
February 02, 2006, 8:27 a.m.
Pop Culture’s Conviction
Exposing empty pseudo-sophisticated opposition to the war for what it is.

By Gabriel Ledeen

Back in March of 2003, I wrote an article for NRO excoriating the claim put forth by a number of statesmen, journalists, and intellectuals, that they support the troops but not the mission. I argued that such people treated other humans as means, and not as ends, by using the troops as a tool to cloud their position with emotion and feigned compassion. Imagine my surprise, then, at reading a piece by Joel Stein in the Los Angeles Times last week, boldly stating that he is tired of his fellow liberals claiming to support the troops while they oppose continued American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As he writes, "...I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward."

If you are able to get past the arrogant tone and flippant remarks, you are left with the proposition that if one opposes the war in Iraq, then one should not also claim to support the troops prosecuting the war, since the soldiers are independent moral agents capable of making rational decisions based on their own moral principles. If you believe this is not a just war, then how can you support those who wage it?

If Joel Stein had presented his argument in a more thoughtful fashion, he might have seen a very different response. But he didn't. Instead he tried to soften the harshness of his position by saturating the piece with humor and demonstrating that even he doesn't take himself too seriously. This tone, carried over into the radio and television interviews that ensued, reveals an emptiness to his argument that comes from Mr. Stein's distance and detachment from the events he is judging.

He is so far removed from any real risk or danger that he can afford to be glib, arrogant, and sarcastic about the moral significance of the ongoing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He recognizes the flimsiness of his foundation, and says of it, "I know this is all easy to say for a guy who grew up with money, did well in school and hasn't so much as served on jury duty for his country."

For Stein to advocate opposition to American soldiers while nonchalantly admitting his own lack of service is a remarkable display of arrogance — a "wussy" thing to do, one might say. To one who comes from similar circumstances as Stein, but has chosen to serve his country, the thought of such a spineless argument provokes disgust. As noted elsewhere on the web, Theodore Roosevelt wrote an exceptional response to Joel Stein in The Atlantic in 1894.
"It is proper to demand more from the man with exceptional advantages than from the man without them. A heavy moral obligation rests upon the man of means and upon the man of education to do their full duty by their country. On no class does this obligation rest more heavily than upon the men with a collegiate education, the men who are graduates of our universities. Their education gives them no right to feel the least superiority over any of their fellow-citizens..."
Stein is one of many pseudo-intellectuals who feel that their education and socio-economic status excuse them of the responsibility to serve. They act as if they were entitled to freedom's blessings, just in order to indulge themselves.

Roosevelt does not let Stein and his ilk go easily:
"For educated men of weak fibre, there lies a real danger in that species of literary work which appeals to their cultivated senses because of its scholarly and pleasant tone, but which enjoins as the proper attitude to assume in public life one of mere criticism and negation; which teaches the adoption toward public men and public affairs of that sneering tone which so surely denotes a mean and small mind."
The sneering tone of which Roosevelt speaks is readily apparent in so many of our leading intellectuals and politicians. It bespeaks a condescension born of elitism, which is only fostered by an isolated and privileged upbringing, untouched by the weighty ideals of duty, honor, and selflessness. Roosevelt drives in the final nail:
"Again, there is a certain tendency in college life...to make educated men shrink from contact with the rough people who do the world's work, and associate only with one another and with those who think as they do. This is a most dangerous tendency...Let him learn that he must deal with the mass of men; that he must go out and stand shoulder to shoulder with his friends of every rank, and face to face with his foes of every rank, and must bear himself well in the hurly-burly. He must not be frightened by the many unpleasant features of the contest...He will meet with checks and make many mistakes; but if he perseveres, he will achieve a measure of success and will do a measure of good such as is never possible to the refined, cultivated, intellectual men who shrink aside from the actual fray."
With these words Roosevelt draws a line in the sand between those who, like Stein, use their education as a way around hardship, duty, and sacrifice, and those who see their education and privilege as a debt that must be repaid.

Individuals like Joel Stein fear Roosevelt's test, precisely because they know that it will expose them for the frauds that they are. Soulless and devoid of true enthusiasm and devotion, they work to amplify their image and never stray far from the popular culture that brings them together and gives them their status. Stein stepped outside the comfortable shelter generally extended around these pop-culturites and has engaged in this dispute the "rough people who do the world's work." By all accounts, it has been unpleasant for him.

We must take advantage of such opportunities to force him, and all who defend his ideas, into betraying the emptiness of this position. Too often in the myriad debates about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the facts are left out, in favor of feelings, almost always based on bad information. The only fact that seems to come out in these discussions is the number of American casualties. We rarely hear about the number of schools and hospitals opened, the infrastructure established, or the number of free Iraqis participating in democratic elections. Why not use reports from journalists actually embedded with American forces, such as Karl Zinsmeister, author of Boots on the Ground, who recently returned from his fourth tour in Iraq?

Unless we are willing to engage this increasingly bold and ever-more-common arrogance among our self-proclaimed intellectuals, they will continue to wage a war of attrition against our men and women in uniform. Our nation's warriors should not have to defend themselves against shallow and manipulative enemies here at home while they are sacrificing so much, so often.

— Gabriel Ledeen is a United States Marine and a graduate of Rice University.