The Magazine

Bush's Greatness

From the September 13, 2004 issue: There's a good reason he infuriates the reactionary left.

Sep 13, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 01 • By DAVID GELERNTER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THE WAR IN IRAQ is dual-purpose, like most American wars. Take the Civil War. At the beginning, the North fought mainly for pragmatic reasons. No nation can tolerate treason, or allow itself to be ripped to bits or auctioned off piece-wise by malcontents. Midwesterners couldn't allow the Mississippi to fall into foreign hands; they needed their outlet to the sea. And so on. Slavery was overshadowed. But as the war continued, slavery emerged as the issue, and the war's character changed.

The Iraq war started as a fight to knock out a regime that invaded its neighbors, murdered its domestic enemies with poison gas, subsidized terrorism, and flouted the international community. Obviously such a regime was dangerous to American interests. But as the war continued and we confronted Saddam's gruesome tyranny face to face, the moral issue grew more important, as emancipation did in the Civil War. For years the Iraqi people had been screaming, in effect: "Oh, my God. Please help me! Please help me! I'm dying!" How could America have answered, "We don't want to get involved"? We are the biggest kid on the playground. If we won't help, who will?

I have just quoted the death-cries of Kitty Genovese, who died on the streets of New York 40 years ago. And I have quoted the response of an onlooker who didn't feel like helping. Her case still resonates in America's conscience, and tells us more than we want to know about the president's enemies.

The New York Times ran the story in March 1964.

For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.

Twice the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.

The left wanted America to watch Saddam stab Iraq to death and do nothing. That is the left's concept of moral responsibility in the post-Cold War world.

Miss Genovese screamed: "Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me!"

The Iraqi people were dying. The left had no pity. The Bush-haters were opposed to American "arrogance." The New York Times shrugged.

It was 3:50 by the time the police received their first call, from a man who was a neighbor of Miss Genovese. In two minutes they were at the scene. . . .

The man explained that he had called the police after much deliberation. He had phoned a friend in Nassau County for advice. . . .

"I didn't want to get involved," he sheepishly told the police.

Let's not get involved, said the Bush-haters. It's none of our business. Let the U.N. do it.

One couple, now willing to talk about that night, said they heard the first screams. The husband looked thoughtfully at the bookstore where the killer first grabbed Miss Genovese.

"We went to the window to see what was happening," he said, "but the light from our bedroom made it difficult to see the street." The wife, still apprehensive, added: "I put out the light and we were able to see better."

Asked why they hadn't called the police, she shrugged and replied, "I don't know."

We have paid a steep price in Iraq, a thousand dead; but if you choose duty, you must choose to pay. Speaking for America, the president has said: We choose duty. What do we get in return? Nothing. Except the privilege of looking at ourselves in the mirror, and facing history and our children.

Opposition to Bush's policy in Iraq goes even further than the Kitty Genovese defense. Its real nature finally came clear when I heard about an anti-Bush harangue by a survivor of Hitler's Germany. He was a young boy when he and his family got out, just in time. "I hate Bush," this man said--or words to that effect--"because America today reminds me of Germany then. Bush is on his way to creating a fascist America." Other Bush-haters have said similar things.