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 America, Shouting 

February 17, 2005 
Talk radio — why isn’t it called shout radio? — has been storming about a Colorado academic named Ward Churchill, Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.who says the people killed in the 9/11 attacks got what was coming to them. He says they were “little Eichmanns,” referring to the notorious Nazi.

Outrageous? Only if you take it seriously. Every day, in this vast country of ours, millions of silly things are uttered, which, if judged by standards of rational discourse, would warrant alarm. Shortly after 9/11, the young editor of National Review suggested that the United States might consider nuking Mecca. Well, boys will be boys.

I figure Churchill is just a typical American. Since 9/11, Americans have been in a more or less apocalyptic mood about their country. Either it’s the greatest, freest, most wonderful country that has ever existed, destined to save the world, or it’s the Great Satan, oppressing the poor and threatening life as we know it.

The latter view is more prevalent among the sort of people who are for obscure reasons known as intellectuals, most of whom didn’t vote for President Bush last time. They are basically as jingoistic as Rush Limbaugh, but in reverse. They agree with him in principle that America is the center of the universe, only they use negative superlatives to describe it.

My own view is that Italy is the center of the universe, but the Italians don’t brag about it. They are also sensible enough not to imagine that their country is the curse of the planet. Only Americans seem to insist on describing their own country in ultimate terms. It’s either heaven or hell.

Now this is, in all sobriety, an astonishing country. It has an absolutely unparalleled genius for invention, and its military power is an aspect of that genius. On the other hand, it’s not the kind of country that produces Dantes, Shakespeares, and Mozarts. Good taste isn’t among our salient traits. We produce amazing audio equipment, and just listen to the stuff we play on it!

[Breaker quote: Two 
kinds of jingoism]America is surely the noisiest country on earth. We have some of the most beautiful women with the most raucous voices; they spend billions on their looks, but they don’t care what they sound like. This is probably the best country to be deaf in. If I could say one thing in sign language, it would be, “You’re not missing much.”

Listening to Bach the other day, I was struck by how un-American his music is. Has anyone ever had such sublime confidence in his art? His music assumes patient, attentive listeners who appreciate intricate patterns of sound. He offers few thrilling climaxes; he isn’t a crowd-pleasing sort of composer. But he trusts you to wait for the quieter rewards of his contemplative art.

In America, music has been reduced to loud, thumping beats and not much else. I have to laugh when Grammy Awards are given to rap records. You mean you can tell them apart? Talk about specialization! In a few years, I suppose, we’ll have radio stations for older folks that play nothing but soft rap.

Raw sensation — that’s the American way. The aforementioned Churchill wasn’t inviting his audience to reflect on their country’s shortcomings; he was exemplifying those shortcomings by trying to say something sensational. And after a fashion, he succeeded. Nowadays, after all, instant infamy is a form of success.

Americans have notoriously short attention spans, so if you want attention you’d better get it in a hurry. One of our allegedly “greatest” presidents, Franklin Roosevelt, was also the most short-sighted. His legacy includes deficit spending and budget-busting Federal entitlements, which got him reelected but now pose severe problems for the government itself. A more deadly part of that legacy is nuclear weapons, which slightly shortened World War II but are now available to petty tyrants around the world. Did Roosevelt think these monstrous weapons would remain an American monopoly forever? Did he even care?

No, America isn’t to blame for all of its own problems. Even if all our politicians were reasonably honest, there would be international frictions, nation-states being what they are. But America needs to learn to see itself with a detachment we don’t find on either the jingoist Right or the America-bashing Left.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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