'America the Ugly': Six years after 9/11, it's notable how little the politics of the left have changed

Norm Podhoretz’ “World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism” is available now. And today’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal is worthwhile — recounting his experience breaking ranks with the left in the 1960s.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on us that took place on this very day six years ago, several younger commentators proclaimed the birth of an entirely new era in American history. What Dec. 7, 1941, had done to the old isolationism, they announced, Sept. 11, 2001, had done to the Vietnam syndrome. It was politically dead, and the cultural fallout of that war–all the damaging changes wrought by the 1960s and ’70s–would now follow it into the grave.

I could easily understand why they thought so. After all, never in their lives had they witnessed so powerful an explosion of patriotic sentiment–and not only in the expected precincts of the right. In fact, on the left, where not so long ago the American flag had been thought fit only for burning, the sight of it–and it was now on display everywhere–had been driving a few prominent personalities to wrench their unaccustomed arms into something vaguely resembling a salute. One of these personalities, Todd Gitlin, a leading figure in the New Left of the ’60s and now a professor at Columbia, even went so far as to question the inveterately “negative faith in America the ugly” that he and his comrades had tenaciously held onto for the past 40 years and more.

Having broken ranks with the left in the late ’60s precisely because I was repelled by the “negative faith in America the ugly” that had come to pervade it, I naturally welcomed this new patriotic mood with open arms. It seemed to me a sign of greater intellectual sanity and moral health, and I fervently hoped that it would last.

…It is impossible at this point to predict how and when the battle of Iraq will end. But from the vitriolic debates it has unleashed we can already say for certain that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did not do to the Vietnam syndrome what Pearl Harbor did to the old isolationism. The Vietnam syndrome is back and it means to have its way. But is it strong enough in its present incarnation to do what it did to the honor of this country in 1975? Well acquainted though I am with its malignant power, I still believe that it will ultimately be overcome by the forces opposed to it in the war at home. Even so, I cannot deny that this question still hangs ominously in the air and will not be answered before more damage is done to the long struggle against Islamofascism into which we were blasted six years ago and that I persist in calling World War IV.