Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Unsheathing The Dagger

Courtesy of a reader's email, here's a piece in Harper's that's worth a read. The writer, Kevin Baker, posits that since World War II the Right has engineered a series of foreign policy disasters for which it has blamed domestic "enemies." It feels a bit like data mining to fit what's undeniably current reality vis-a-vis Iraq, but Baker makes some good points. One quibble: he goes into detail about how the Nazis propagated the idea of the dolchstoss---"dagger thrust" from within---to explain Germany's defeat in World War I. He should have gone a bit further and pointed out that Hitler and his aides were obsessed with dolchstoss until the very end; in the bunker, Goebbels wrote in his diary about "the delirium of treachery which surrounds the Fuhrer," and various accounts show that in his final days Hitler railed against the "cowardice" of Germans and thought the destruction of Berlin was appropriate because of its citizens' supposed moral weakness.

Also, Baker stretches the Vietnam example a bit too far, glossing over the fact that the war began under a Democrat, escalated under another Democrat, and was ended by a Republican. Moreover, the Right was far from united in support of the war; in August 1965, a young congressman from Illinois named Donald Rumsfeld said the following as he entered a New York Times editorial into the Congressional Record:
I believe the following significant and timely editorial which appeared in today’s issue of the New York Times and which discusses our involvement in Vietnam merits wide attention. I concur in the conclusion expressed therein that the people of the United States must know not only how their country became involved but where we are heading.
Yes, Nixon was obsessed with antiwar protestors, Communists, and "bums," but less out of a desire for a Vietnam scapegoat (after all, ending the war was an implicit part of his 1968 campaign platform) than as a result of the same fatal personality flaws that led to Watergate. Yes, Cronkite's 1968 "stalemate" comment caused a huge stir, but if the Right tried to pin the failure of Vietnam on the press, it didn't stick---at least then. The 1970's were halcyon days for the press; after Woodward and Bernstein, top college graduates wanted to be journalists instead of investment bankers. The scapegoating of the press for Vietnam gained traction only in the Reagan years, as the Right sought to exorcise the war's demons and concurrently embark on massive military spending, while reassuring an American public still skittish about Vietnam that the war was only lost because the media forced us to "cut and run." Obviously, the "media and Left as dagger-wielder" meme has snowballed since then, and now is a chief article of faith among the hysterical set on talk radio, television, and the internet. Baker does a good job in exploring the dynamic of the current dagger---now sharpened, unsheathed, and poised.


Blogger Devang said...

That's not the only thing worth reading in Harper's. This is too about the Iraqi Interior Minister.

There may be one more non-secular Islamic Republic in the middle-east if that article is a sign of things to come.

7/20/2006 4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7/20/2006 4:43 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Good one, CR.

7/20/2006 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Wohlmut said...

My God, I didn't realize Rumsfeld was that old. He was a Congressman the year before I was born?? And I'm turning 40 this month?? No wonder the U.S. can't have a progressive foreign policy. I bet half these dudes fondly remember the American triumph in the War of 1812.

7/20/2006 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Except that Rumsfeld, et al, would have been ideologically aligned with the British in the War of 1812, which would've rendered a defeat for them.

7/20/2006 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post, especially re: the Rumsefeld quote.

7/20/2006 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My God, I didn't realize Rumsfeld was that old. He was a Congressman the year before I was born?? And I'm turning 40 this month?? No wonder the U.S. can't have a progressive foreign policy. I bet half these dudes fondly remember the American triumph in the War of 1812.

I don't know about 1812*, but a lot of people have commented on how both Rumsfeld and Cheney mastered bureaucratic infighting in the Nixon White House, and seem oddly stuck in that era's mindset.
-- sglover

* I haven't heard Republican apparatchiks bitching about the Royal Navy impressing merchant sailors on the high seas. Maybe they're saving that in case Tony Blair becomes insufficiently pliable.

7/20/2006 3:14 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I see that dagger well poised.

It's not under anyone's control -- right wing or not. It's just there. The difficult reality is that the easiest emotion to control the masses is fear. I am afraid that another series of attacks will inspire the radical fringes of our democracy to enact laws that would offend the founding fathers (mothers, too) and history.

7/20/2006 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

We've already taken that fork, copy editor, with Homeland Security (Orwellian on it's face), the Patriot Act, abandonment of Geneva Conventions, et al. I believe the Founders would be horrified with today's goings on.

7/21/2006 12:32 AM  
Blogger DED said...

I have to second what Mr. Hedly Bowes just wrote.

7/21/2006 12:40 PM  
Anonymous semper fubar said...

Although the press has been scapegoated for the loss in Vietnam to some degree, I believe the true dolchstosslegende for Vietnam places the blame on the liberals, the hippies and the anti-war protesters. You don't hear the right wing still screeching today about Walter Cronkite the way they do about Jane Fonda.

7/21/2006 4:00 PM  
Blogger Jay C said...

And to update the legende just a tad: I have recently read a number of "thoughtful"(sic) right-wing bloggers adding the post-Watergate (Democratic) Congress to the Approved catalogue of back-stabbers for allegedly "abandoning" South Vietnam to the Cong by slashing their military-aid allocations just before the final push. Said abandonment, of course, being part and parcel of their capitulation to the hippie/peacenik/liberal sellout crowd, etc.
This of course, allows more blame to be shifted away from the actual architects of the war, but never mind: defeat must always have a scapegoat.

File under: SO What Else Is New!

7/21/2006 5:46 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

OK lesse, you say that Kevin Baker gets Vietnam AND Iraq wrong, and I'm supposed to read it? What's left: Korea? Grenada?

7/24/2006 3:36 PM  
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