The Trenches of the Culture Wars

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

Welcome to the trenches of the culture wars, where academic notions of political correctness, multiculturalism and cultural relativism meet the brawling American street.

— New York’s governor, George Pataki, just nixed the idea of an International Freedom Center to be located next to the proposed new World Trade Center and its own 9/11 memorial. The center’s overseers — architects, academics and corporate elites — felt that by also focusing on the horrors of slavery, segregation and genocide, they could use the shrine of Sept. 11 to further a more universal agenda to support the oppressed.

Most of the families of the 9/11 victims, along with police and firefighters, begged to differ. So they organized to “take back the memorial.” They feel that there are better places for political lessons than Ground Zero, where their family members and friends were incinerated by fascistic al-Qaida terrorists.

— The current Hollywood hit “Flightplan” has incensed airline flight attendants and officers, many of whom are boycotting the movie. The film portrays some of them as rude and dense, and others as playing around, while criminals divert their airplane under their noses. Two of the plotters are, in fact, a female flight attendant and an air marshal!

The obvious touchstone for the movie is 9/11, a mass murder in which airline employees did all they could to stop one of the four hijacked planes from crashing into the U.S. Capitol. Some had their throats slits by murderous terrorists from the Middle East — the birthplace of airplane hijacking in the 1970s. But Hollywood reversed historical reality, making the flight staff in the film either clueless or culpable as innocent Middle Easterners on board are unfairly put under suspicion.

— Recently, a federal judge granted an American Civil Liberties Union motion to release most of the remaining photographs and videotapes from Abu Ghraib. The ACLU’s lawyers argued, and the judge concurred, that a free society like our own must air all its dirty laundry.

Soldiers, on the other hand, responded that, in this war, more lurid photos beamed worldwide without context will only help the killers. Those in harm’s way fighting the terrorists will find it even harder to win the hearts and minds of civilian populations.

— Then there is the question of balance. There have been multiple investigations of Abu Ghraib, several publicized trials and numerous convictions, and plenty of exposes by journalists — far more coverage than what is devoted to the beheading and torture of American captives or the daily murdering by terrorists.

On the one side of all these controversies seem to be architects, curators, academics, CEOs, journalists, script writers, actors, lawyers and judges. Their utopian views of what their fellow Americans should see, think and feel are at odds with those of grieving families, police, firefighters, flight attendants and soldiers.

Those on museum boards, in Hollywood studios and in the courtroom seek to fashion the intellectual landscape in which those who put out fires, arrest criminals, serve food and shoot terrorists are to operate. The latter fight back. They try to match elite influence with public outrage, and so appeal to their elected officials and unions, and to talk shows, the blogosphere and cable news.

The issue is not just one of class division, but rather also concerns theory when it translates into actual practice. A privileged group speculates about abstract issues, and then others must concretely bear the consequences of this contemplation.

The families of the 9/11 victims, with good cause, fear they will hear from tourists to a new WTC with an adjacent International Freedom Center that we deserved Sept. 11 due to America’s treatment of Native Americans or African-Americans a century past. Airline attendants suspect that their future passengers may become a little more skeptical of their efforts to enforce FAA protocols, while troops in Iraq who dodge bullets know it could now be more difficult to convince civilians to provide intelligence.

In the worldview of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a backer of the International Freedom Center, or the ACLU, to be good, America must be nearly perfect — broadcasting past sins even at Ground Zero, where its citizens were murdered by fascists, or replaying ad nauseam to the world the crimes of a few rogue soldiers of a million-man military.

But others in heavy boots and coats who carry hoses upstairs or soldiers sweltering in body armor in the desert seem happy enough to do the best they can. Or in the words of one of the organizers who stopped the Freedom Center, “We want a place that projects the goodness of people.”

The irony of it all?

It used to be that liberalism was also populist. Yet lately the Left has often adopted a condescending attitude toward the so-called people, trivializing the folks in the trenches in assorted uniforms and camouflage who supposedly need guidance and moral enlightenment by their elite betters.

Maybe that’s precisely what worries Democratic stalwarts like Hillary Clinton, who wisely came out against putting the so-called International Freedom Center at the epicenter of the Sept. 11 mass murder.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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