The Magazine

The Redistribution of Honor

From the April 28, 2003 issue: Winners and losers in the postwar era.

Apr 28, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 32 • By FRED SIEGEL and JOEL KOTKIN
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R. Scott Appleby of Notre Dame, an opponent of the war, sees a similar trend among Catholics, where most congregants--including the swelling number of Latino parishioners--support the war, as do, according to the polls, most churchgoing Americans. Combined with the continuing fallout from the sexual abuse scandals, this is likely to give credence to the more conservative Catholic lay groups and intellectuals, like Michael Novak, whose views on the war seem far more grounded in contemporary reality than those of the clerical elites.

The other big religious winners will be others who have been favorable to the war--fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, conservative-leaning Jews, even anti-Saddam Shia clerics. Such groups had already been gaining ground in the battle for the religious hearts and minds of Americans; their embrace of the current realities, as opposed to '60s flashbacks, guarantees that their voices, and ideas, will be more valued in the years ahead.

A SIMILAR REDISTRIBUTION of honor may even be in the offing in the academy, where antiwar sentiment among professors seemed to many like a splendid opportunity for a second adolescence. Over the last few months, it was the university faculties--with their Saudi-funded Arab study centers, Arabized left-wing professors, black nationalist enclaves, and tenured radicals--who fomented and marched. But the student army never materialized. Campuses never closed, and for the most part the students, even at places like Berkeley, Harvard, and Yale, basically went about their business. A poll conducted by the Yale Daily News found about half of students supported the war. Polls showed that most young people supported the war, and even before the campaign vindicated such views, two-thirds expressed strong confidence in our military leadership.

The funhouse of the postmodern academics was built around the two closely related themes of postmodernism and multiculturalism. Together they displaced the idea of truth and its cousin, empirical evidence, with the notion of "narrativity." All the world was simply words. There was no reality, just a series of competing stories all of which were mere social constructs and none of which was more correct than any other. In political terms, the campus postmodernists identified with the pre-modern rebels against modernity in the Arab world. But with the war in Iraq, those on campuses who, like Al Jazeera, believed "Baghdad Bob's" account of events discovered that lo and behold there is such a thing as an empirically grounded reality.

Given tenure and the understandable reluctance of bright kids to get caught up in the PC maw of graduate school, the universities will be slow to change. But as students increasingly challenge the superannuated ideas of their aging professors and academics continue to be subject to popular ridicule as "shagadelic" characters--like Saddam and his love-nest--out of an Austin Powers movie, we may someday see the signs of a Prague Spring on the campuses.

Along with the academics and the clerics, the third group of big-time losers are the prestige media. The mission of the media is to provide accurate information. Yet for much of the war--indeed until the army and Marines broke into Baghdad--the New York Times was often as full of misinformation as the Iraqi minister of information. And not nearly as funny.

It was indeed painful to see that despite rapid advances through the desert and the remarkable steps to avoid civilian casualties, the BBC and CNN tried to portray the invasion as a disaster in the making, or an "acid flashback to Vietnam," as the unintentionally amusing Maureen Dowd put it. A typical experience was to hear left-wing dinosaur and onetime North Korea apologist Robert Scheer tell us on National Public Radio that immigrants--widely honored for their service--had served as "cannon fodder" for an imperial war. We wonder how well his comments would play, say, on Whittier Boulevard in Latino East L.A., where there are more American flags flying than in Santa Monica. Then again, you can say the same about Baghdad. For people like Scheer, America's triumph, and the liberation of Iraq, was all about the agony of defeat, notably theirs. Accuracy and honor, if sometimes marred by too much naked boosterism, go to Fox and MSNBC and bloggers like Andrew Sullivan for whom the war enhanced both reputation and ratings.