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Reasonable Dissent and Chris Hedges
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Ten
by Brian S. Wise
28 May 2003

Final thoughts on Chris Hedges and Rockford College.

Jay Nordlinger has done the people a service by providing a link, in his latest column for National Review Online, to a PBS interview of Chris Hedges, the New York Times reporter who was so unceremoniously drummed out from behind the podium at Rockford College, on its commencement day, for delivering what amounted to an un-American address.  Those unfamiliar with the man (I must admit to being only very, very casually familiar with the man, and only because of a book he once wrote) would only have heard scattered news reports of the incident, and that after just a few minutes of his speech to the graduating class, his microphone was twice shut off and he was booed offstage.  News is limited and cannot (or is unwilling to) go as deep into the speech itself, or the man himself, as may be necessary, which is why we should be thankful for the instruction.
What we learn within the first few minutes of reading was that his father had been ostracized for support of the homosexual cause.  “That criticism, I think, developed a lot of anger in me – anger at seeing my father, whom I admired, belittled by people in our town.”  Not unreasonable.  “I also read a lot as a teenager about the Holocaust and the Spanish Civil War, and I very much wanted that epic battle to define my own life.  I used to regret as a teenager that I had not been of age in the thirties, that I couldn’t go fight fascism like my hero George Orwell.”  Okay, so we know that Hedges knows and appreciates the plight of the oppressed man.
You would not be unreasonable in wondering why someone who once wished so mightily to fight 1930s fascism, and who supports the plight of the oppressed man, would object so strenuously to Saddam Hussein’s removal in 2003.  “[The] other thing that bothers me about Iraq is that once you get into urban warfare … all of the cruise missiles in the world don’t help you. …  I don’t see that in a democratic state the case has been made by which our young men and women should go into a situation where they could be killed.  Everybody talks about the low casualties in the Persian Gulf War.  Well, there were still a few hundred families who will never be the same again, ever.  They will bear the burden of the death of their child until the day their die.”  Which says nothing of the few hundred thousand families that will forever bear the burden of the deaths of their children, or parents, or spouses, or brothers and sisters, or cousins, or aunts and uncles, due to the actions of Saddam Hussein.  There is no moral equivalent.
But Hedges does make great sense several times in the PBS interview, which makes the Rockford College speech all the more puzzling.  “Killing, or the worst of it, is over in Iraq.  Although blood will continue to spill – theirs and ours – be prepared for this.  For we are embarking on an occupation that, if history was any guide, will be damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power, and security.  But this will come later as our empire expands and in all this we become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves.  Isolation always impairs judgment and we are very isolated now.”  Ah, well no wonder, the disruptions.  Kids want to be told their futures are bright on graduation day, not that they will become pariahs.
Last weekend, on Fox News Watch, Neal Gabler suggested that the partial student revolt at Rockford was … inappropriate, that there are better ways to voice collective disapproval.  Gabler could only have been suggesting that, for example, the lesbians who populated the entire first row at a Cal Thomas commencement, making out the entire time, were leveling an appropriate protest.  Or those who once stood and turned their backs to Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr.  Or any of those numerous occasions where vocal protests have disrupted addresses made by Clarence Thomas even before they began.  Would Gabler have preferred the students ultimately take over and control administration buildings because Hedges was intellectually disagreeable?  Would anyone?
An interesting question.  Another: Could part of the problem, therefore some of the liberal angst, be that the campus is not necessarily always liberal anymore, and that it is the Right who is now forcing its voice onto those who have no substantive interest?

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