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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No catalogue of dishonor is complete without including Hollywood, an ephemeral constituency that includes not only Malibu and Bel-Air, but the tonier parts of Manhattan and Connecticut as well. When our troops shipped out, it wasn't exactly like the old days, with Bob Hope in their corner. Instead there was Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Michael Moore, and Barbra Streisand, who allowed their hatred for George Bush to become de facto support for keeping Saddam in power. Opposing the war even took time from their second favorite activity, supporting generalissimo Castro, who could always retire as a Hollywood executive.

Hollywood, like the other dishonored institutions, has much to answer for in this war (not to mention much before). Where were the famous Hollywood conservatives or the hairy chested heroes who play military supermen in the films? Not offering to take the next C-17 out to Kuwait to entertain the troops, and perhaps a bit scared of being on the reverse blacklist of the limousine leftists who control the likes of Miramax and Dreamworks.

FINALLY, there has also been a geographic redistribution of honor. You can divide Americans increasingly by their attitudes towards Europe. The academic and media elites tend to see Europe as the enlightened home of a more urbane civilization. Religious leaders relate favorably to the simplistic pacifism and inherent anti-Americanism that reigns among continental leaders. Europe's long-term economic stagnation, its widespread anti-Semitism, its inability, unlike America, to absorb different peoples and cultures, its financial support for Palestinian terror--all of this is of course roundly ignored.

For most Americans, the war revealed that the Europeans--notably the Belgians and the French--are reliably people without honor. But not all Europe has failed in American eyes. We honor most of all the British, showing themselves to be our true cousins, as well as those along the continental periphery, from Spain to Lithuania, who supported the cause of bringing down a hideous dictator.

America's internal geography of honor also was altered. Clearly, the heartland and the South, where support for the war was strong, have seen their vision of a just and powerful America carried out. At the same time, the denizens of the Northwestern druid belt, from Santa Cruz to Seattle--which became the hotbed of antiwar sentiment--emerge as losers. San Francisco during the war became Baghdad by the Bay for more reasons than one. Yet, despite the antiwar unanimity of the local media, academic, clerical, and political classes, in the recent Field poll 63 percent of the Bay Area at large supported the war.

The war has served to deepen trends already in place. The left, on the losing side of every major foreign policy debate of the past quarter century, is increasingly retreating into snobbery and conspiracy theories about neocon plots. At Columbia University, Hamid Dabashi, Kevorkian professor of Iranian studies, told the participants in a teach-in/antiwar rally that they were the "'A' students, who think for themselves," in contrast to the "'C' students with their stupid fingers on the trigger." History will not be kind when it comes to grading the professor.

In the 1960s, under the weight of the Vietnam debacle and a government that lied to its citizens, the margins moved into the center of American life. Today with a military that is more open and honest than the elites who disdain it, the margins are marginal again. The American center has held.

Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow at Pepperdine University; Fred Siegel is a professor at the Cooper Union for Science and Art in New York.