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Saturday, March 29, 2003

Enough Rope

Yesterday, LGF brought some more news of Nicholas DeGenova and the "teach-in" at Columbia University.

"Peace is not patriotic," DeGenova began. "Peace is subversive, because peace anticipates a very different world than the one in which we live--a world where the U.S. would have no place."

"U.S. patriotism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy," he said. "U.S. flags are the emblem of the invading war machine in Iraq today. They are the emblem of the occupying power. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military."

Between DeGenova's condemnation of patriotism and his call for "fragging"--"I wish," he said, "for a million Mogadishus"--his speech provoked many of the professors who spoke later in the night to assert their disagreement

When reading about incidents like this, I can't help thinking of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. In that movie, two young men kill a friend of theirs, and hide his body "in plain sight" in their apartment while they throw a party---which includes the dead man's father and fiancee.

They do this partly for kicks, partly for the intellectual exercise, and partly because they've taken to heart the theories of one of their old teachers, played by Jimmy Stewart. His theory was that there were some people, generally by virtue of intellect, who were so superior to the common herd of man as to exist on an entirely different plane. These superior people could not be held to the rules that govern the rest of us.

We hear the teacher espouse these theories at the party, where he is smooth and plausible, forceful, authoritative, and smug. Many of the other guests are disapproving, or comically indignant. But Stewart's character enjoys taunting them. He relishes their outrage. He clearly believes that he is superior to them, and enjoys watching their inferior minds shrink before his original, shocking, and revolutionary ideas.

To his credit, when he finds out about the murder, he is horrified, and immediately sees that his ideas have inspired it. Not his ideas, exactly, but his careless, smug, expression of them---designed more to shock, to make him seem a daring and original thinker, than to explore morality.

I don't hold out much hope that DeGenova and others like him will re-assess what they've been saying, even if some of their followers go too far. Not their fault, after all, if some of their listeners run out and try to bomb a military base.

Actually, if I were DeGenova, I'd be a lot more worried that one of my opponents would take my lectures to heart. DeGenova might find himself the one on the wrong end of the rope.