Open Letter to Michael Ignatieff


posted to on March 24, 2003


Dear Professor Ignatieff,


In today's NY Times Magazine section, you write: "Back in the 60's, when I marched against the war in Vietnam, I learned that it is a mistake to judge a cause by the company it makes you keep. I slogged through the streets with Trotskyites who thought America was an evil empire, and I chanted slogans under banners that called for socialist revolution in Brooklyn. I stood arm in arm with pacifists, who made me wonder whether they would have fought Hitler."


Just a few comments on this idiotic statement.


Since I was one of those "Trotskyites" (did you pick up this term of abuse from your aunt Gertie in the Furriers Union, I wonder? Interesting how the discourse of the Stalinists and American liberalism overlaps on occasion), let me first of all explain that without those pacifists and reds you sneer at, you probably would never had found yourself marching to begin with. It was they who risked arrest and persecution for taking the first steps against the Vietnam war, not the liberal pundits like Max Lerner who supported the war and in whose careerist footsteps you are tracing.


Secondly, as I am sure you are aware, the pacifists would not have fought Hitler. One of them, Lew Hill, spent time in a detention camp for opposing the war. He later went on to launch the Pacifica Network, the only alternative to the commercial networks that are now spewing out a polluted river of lies. If there is any justice in the world, these networks, and the generals and politicians they are subservient to, will someday be found guilty of war crimes and spend time behind bars. They should also reserve a place there for you, Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens and the rest of the liberal warmongering crew.


Thirdly, as you well know, nobody carried banners calling for "socialist revolution in Brooklyn." While this might be a joke, it is also entirely possible that you were so unschooled in Marxism that you believe that a socialist revolution can take place in the borough of a city. The real joke, however, is that you go on to say that the Bush administration is "right on the issue" and that supporting the war does not make you "a Cheney conservative or an apologist for American imperialism." Now, Professor Ignatieff, nobody believes that you are a "Cheney conservative." We understand that you are a Democratic Party ideologue who is following the lead of people like Joseph Lieberman and Hillary Clinton. But, on the other hand, there is little question that you are an apologist for American imperialism.


The war against Iraq is virtually identical to the war that the British fought in 1921, when Winston Churchill urged the use of poison gas against the upstart Kurds, just as the US has openly stated that it will now use tear gas--illegally--if the need arises. The British were always quite open about their war aims, at least within their own elite circles. In a 1919 letter to a British foreign service functionary Alan Dawnay, T.E. Lawrence wrote:


"The future is ours, as long as the Arabs of Mesopotamia [Iraq] back us, for the population of Syria is never to be more than 5,000,000 (no metals no fuel . . .no industry; and little arable land) and Mesopotamia has thrice the acreage of Egypt (Egypt 13,000,000 / Mesopotamia = 39,000,000) and besides agriculture it has more petrol than any place on earth (cheap fuel = industry) and about it, in Persia and the Kurdish hills, are copper, lead and iron."


Do you seriously think that the calculations of people with long-standing ties to the oil industry like Cheney, Bush and company are any different? Do you believe that this war is about anything except oil and other geopolitical interests? If so, it is very difficult to understand why the USA has not invaded Israel, which routinely ignores UN resolutions, builds nuclear weapons, tortures political prisoners, and bulldozes peace activists to death within the context of building an apartheid state.


In any case, I wouldn't worry that much about whether or not the 14,000 academics who signed a petition against the war think that your hands are dripping with blood. The career path to becoming a big-time liberal imperialist spokesman is strewn with obstacles, not the least of which is moral qualms. I am quite sure that in the course of rising to the top of this garbage heap, you will find it easy to dispense with them.