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Book Review June 26, 2002
 
Why We Always Wight
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 
Why we fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism: book cover

William Bennett, former Drug Tsar, specializes in teaching moral lessons of the nastier sort. His last book, The Death of Outrage, was a 200-page scolding of America for not being sufficiently scandalized by Clinton's blowjob. Bennett's own outrage never falters. He once denounced from the podium a child wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt. Bennett's first claim to fame was informing on his Harvard roommates for using pot. They went to prison to be raped, and Bill was a made guy with the Nixonians, quoting and quoted by every other sclerotic Phalangist on the far-right Op-Ed list.

Why We Fight, his latest book-length scold, steals the title of WW II propaganda shorts, and claims the same purpose: steeling American resolve for the great battle with Osama. But a better title would be Why We Iz Wight -- and anybody who doesn't think so is just wong as wong can be.

These naysayers are the villains of the book: those "elite" Americans who won't put flags in their windows. The "elites" Bennett names are always academics from snotty Bohemian trust-fund schools like Brown. God knows there's nothing wrong with hating those people. I hate 'em myself, and I have cause, real, personal cause far stronger than Bennett's.

But let's introduce a little reality here: a professor making $65,000/yr may be many things -- a nuisance, a noisy pompous ass -- but part of an "elite"? That's a lie. Nobody with an income like that makes it into the American elite. And it's not just a matter of money; American academics, by comparison with those of any other Western culture, are utterly excluded from political as well as economic power. The present Prime Minister of New Zealand is a former Sociology professor; half her advisors are academics too. You get that kind of crossover in many cultures -- but never in America.

That's why American academics sulk and whine about the regime so endlessly and boringly. Nobody even listens to their jilted grumbling -- except rightwing propagandists like Bennett, who must subscribe to an online clipping service called "Obnoxious Remarks by Leftist Professors." This dry old rhetorical dung is useful to him in the same way it was to the prairie pioneers: he uses it as fuel. After stringing together dozens of unpatriotic utterances by people like Susan Sontag (shit, is she still alive?) and Stanley Fish, Bennett spends the second half of the book reassuring the reader of the "superior goodness" of American culture.

By the way, that overloaded phrase "superior goodness" is typical of the appalling prose produced by this self-appointed cultural guardian. Redundancies are something of a specialty for Bennett, who informs us that our enemies may employ "fake facades." For the most part, he wisely abstains from any attempt at humor; but when he gives in to, er, mirth, the results are painful -- as when he says the US has been "...a mecca [sic], if I may be permitted, for [Muslims]." Droll, eh? His wit is matched only by his modesty; he describes the "sheer effrontery" of those who disagree with him, and reports in disbelief that one liberal had the nerve to disagree "to my face."

Bennett's purpose in writing this odd little book isn't nearly as clear as he asserts. Why should it be necessary to convince patriotic Americans (the only sort likely to buy a Bennett book) to feel patriotic? But here's Bennett, working away as hard as an Alabama cheerleader to whip the crowd into a red-white-and-blue grand-mal seizure.

To adapt another WW II slogan: Is this rant necessary? After all, humans quickly come to worship whatever little clique we form. As Brendan Behan said, most groups are "...very popular with themselves." And if you were going to pick a nation which didn't love itself sufficiently, would America be your first choice? Americans are nationalists to the core, far more than any other western people. But their patriotic fervor went far beyond normal levels after the WTC disaster, which led to a frenzy of hysterical patriotism: flags, anthems, the disgusting Kid Rock in red-white-and-blue videos....


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dolan@exile.ru
 
 
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