A letter to European friends

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat May 10 18:30:15 MDT 2003

Counterpunch, May 10, 2003

A Letter to My European Friends
We Have a World to Win (or Lose)

(On April 27, the New York Times Magazine published an open letter from 
Timothy Garton Ash to his 'American friends', calling for Americans to be 
more open to resolving the Israel/Palestine situation, while claiming that 
Europe should be more willing to support, and even join the fighting in, US 
imperial adventures. In this way, "The West could be One." Coincidentally, 
at the same time, I was penning a letter to European Friends, who, I 
suppose, don't hang out much with Timothy Garton Ash--S.S.).

To my European Friends:

First of all, my most sincere condolences to you regarding the death of 
Jose Couso. I know that you, and tens of millions of others throughout 
Europe, watched in horror as a US tank pointed its turret at the Palestine 
Hotel, and blasted a shell directly at the international press corps, 
delivering wounds to the Spanish Camera man Couso that proved to be fatal. 
You and I know how this happened. Having failed to tame public opinion in 
Europe (and around the world), the US army decided, out of sheer 
frustration, to take aim at those in proximity who could be held 
responsible (As the Chinese can attest after their embassy was bombed 
during the Kosovo episode, the US makes 'mistakes' during these engagements 
that just happen to wound those they don't much like). I doubt you'll be 
surprised that few in US even heard about this incident, let alone heard an 
accurate description of it, minus US evasions and disinformation.

The gap between Europe and the US has never seemed wider. For many of us 
here on the progressive side of the spectrum, Western Europe has always 
seemed like a pleasant place. Its government's have national health 
insurance and generous benefits for the unemployed, religion plays little 
role in public life, rates of violence are low, downtowns of cities remain 
lively. On reflection I know this view is oversimplified, ignoring the 
racism (including both overt Le Pen stuff, and the 'liberal' 'we can fix 
the developing world through our enlightened NGOs' mentality) and 
inequality in Europe. But there's still a qualitative difference between 
Europe and the US. Over the last few months, it's come to seem like a rock 
of sanity that we've been loosened from, and, like travelers in a hot air 
balloon with no ballast, we seem to be rapidly drifting away from. 
'Please!' we've been screaming at the man who's hijacked the balloon, 'the 
people down there know what they're doing and the air up here is getting 
awfully thin'. He ignores us, whether he could steer us back to ground or not.

I take it in Europe you also look with horror as the US drifts away, 
although you are not completely surprised. You look westward and see a land 
of addled, fundamentalist cowboys who couldn't locate France, Spain and 
Germany on a map, and so it can't seem altogether out of the blue that the 
US has decided to go it alone, and deploy its mega-army against real or 
perceived enemies in those lands where the people supposedly hate Israel 
and America. Even so, the most dramatic examples of US recklessness-the 
destruction of the Iraqi cultural heritage, the murder of members of the 
international press corps-have taken reasonably cynical US watchers by 
surprise. 'What', you are probably thinking, 'could they possibly do next? 
Aren't there any Americans who know better?'

I believe your view is oversimplified, and there's both good news and bad 
news in getting a clearer picture, as well as, most importantly, getting a 
clearer sense of what needs to be done. The good news-there are many 
Americans who know better. I think roughly 30% (possibly a good deal more, 
if you count those expelled from the US public sphere, like felons and 
'illegal' immigrants) 'know what time it is', as the saying goes. They know 
that Bush is trying to raid the federal government for handouts for his 
wealthy friends, further enhance control over immigrants, minorities, and 
dissenters of all stripes, that the wars he insists on are some combination 
of a 'weapon of mass distraction,' an effort to conquer the world by force, 
and an effort to plunder abroad. Obviously, there's plenty of disagreements 
about exactly which factors are most important or the precise dynamics of 
the Bush juggernaut, but the point is a decent fraction of the country 
recognizes it as something awful and dangerous.

Reading European sources, I get the sense that there is a perception that 
the left is in hibernation in the US. Brian Eno said he wished US 
progressives would stop concentrating on yoga and start speaking up. Le 
Monde Diplomatique pointed out that many of the progressives of the sixties 
(Todd Gitlin, Ellen Willis, Marc Cooper) have provided lukewarm-at-best 
support for anti-war positions. Another cliché is that all anyone cares 
about is asserting the righteousness of their oppressed identity. The good 
news I want you to know is that these positions are highly deceptive. In 
the fifteen years or so that I've been active on the US left, I've never 
felt better about us. Far from being self-absorbed and resigned to 
inaction, all the many currents of progressive thought have been fruitfully 
cross-pollinating over the last decade or so. Its not surprising to hear 
someone obsessed with having an organic diet also talk about the conditions 
in the fields where workers grow her food, or express her outrage at the 
collusion between the local food-co-op board and business/government 
initiatives to harass the homeless. Nor is it surprising when a young man 
who considers himself some sort of revolutionary anarchist reflects 
critically on the way sexism or homophobia shape his practice. In ways 
difficult to capture for outsiders, many of those strains of thought that 
seem somewhat wacky and uniquely American have made us stronger, and now 
seem to be converging on a radical critique. And we are further 
strengthened by the voices of wisdom from older generations of radicals, 
who, for the most part, have not abandoned the cause for self-promotion as 
agonized liberals. I'm guessing that the core of this activist left is no 
more than 3 or 4% of the US population, but its ability to speak to and 
mobilize that 30% who hate Bush seems to be improving all the time.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/sherman05102003.html

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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