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
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?
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?
Brian S. Wise
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