Monday, September 24, 2007

Why We Hate Us

"George Whittemore. 17 September, 1862. Antietam."

There are 136 such entries carved into the marble walls of Harvard's Memorial Hall. 136 students who gave their lives for the Union. From the doorway, you can see the steeple of Memorial Church. There, hundreds more names are carved into stone, honoring those who died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Above the names, these words: "While a bright future beckoned they freely gave their lives and fondest hopes for us and our allies that we might learn from them courage in peace to spend our lives making a better world for others."

There will be no memorial for my generation. The names of my classmates will never be carved into those hallowed walls. What, after all, would there be to inscribe? "George Whitmore. 17 September, 2062. Goldman Sachs."

What with Ahmadinejad taking a break from killing American soldiers for a photo-op at Columbia, I've been thinking a lot lately about what fuels Ivy League anti-Americanism. I think I've finally figured it out. What I think it comes down to, in a word, is shame.

A thought experiment: you believe, you sincerely believe, that you live in the greatest nation ever known to man. A nation of heroes. You look around, and you see men and women, just like yourself, who freely give their lives, their fondest hopes, for the nation. No, not just for the nation, but for all nations. For universal rights, for freedom. To make a better world. Then, you look at yourself. You are evaluating some stocks, or perhaps studying for the bar, or working hard on a dissertation. You look again at your beloved country, at the heroes around you, and, worlds away from all that, again at yourself. What would you feel?

Cowardice. Embarrassment. Shame. You would, I think, be sick to your stomach with shame.

It is to escape this shame that my generation of future world leaders lacks patriotism. Way I figure, you're either ashamed of America, or ashamed of yourself. The choice, especially for a thoroughly self-satisfied Harvard type, is not a hard one.

Everything bad about themselves that these students know deep down to be true - their narcissism, their petty materialism, their ultimate emptiness - all this is harshly revealed by the shining light of America's righteousness. They can delude themselves, can live with themselves, only so long as America is wicked. If America is evil, then they don't have to feel ashamed.

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