Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

White Guilt and the Western Past

By Aussiegirl

Rarely does an idea come along that is so paradigmatic that it suddenly illuminates many issues that have long puzzled us. Suddenly the rampant anti-Americanism makes sense, suddenly our seeming inability to fight wars with extreme prejudice is explained, suddenly the need to become social worker to the world makes sense. The interesting thing is that the symbol of this mistaken notion of blame is placed at the feet of America, even though it was the European powers that colonized and oppressed black and brown people throughout the world. But because America is the sole superpower it gets all the blame. And he is right, we have no need to feel guilty, especially as he says, because America has overcome its racist past -- we simply don't have people who hate on account of race anymore, with the exception of a tiny minority of crackpots and fringe elements. But this is obviously what is driving our politicians in this immigration mess - Republicans as well as Democrats. What is the first epithet that gets hurled? You are a racist. It all makes sense.

For other valuable comments on this article, please see this thread on Lucianne.com, particularly those of Verity and Zarin.

OpinionJournal - Featured Article

White Guilt and the Western Past
Why is America so delicate with the enemy?


There is something rather odd in the way America has come to fight its wars since World War II.

For one thing, it is now unimaginable that we would use anything approaching the full measure of our military power (the nuclear option aside) in the wars we fight. And this seems only reasonable given the relative weakness of our Third World enemies in Vietnam and in the Middle East. But the fact is that we lost in Vietnam, and today, despite our vast power, we are only slogging along--if admirably--in Iraq against a hit-and-run insurgency that cannot stop us even as we seem unable to stop it. Yet no one--including, very likely, the insurgents themselves--believes that America lacks the raw power to defeat this insurgency if it wants to. So clearly it is America that determines the scale of this war. It is America, in fact, that fights so as to make a little room for an insurgency.

Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war. And now this unacknowledged policy, which always makes a space for the enemy, has us in another long and rather passionless war against a weak enemy.

Why this new minimalism in war?
It began, I believe, in a late-20th-century event that transformed the world more profoundly than the collapse of communism: the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty. This idea had organized the entire world, divided up its resources, imposed the nation-state system across the globe, and delivered the majority of the world's population into servitude and oppression. After World War II, revolutions across the globe, from India to Algeria and from Indonesia to the American civil rights revolution, defeated the authority inherent in white supremacy, if not the idea itself. And this defeat exacted a price: the West was left stigmatized by its sins. Today, the white West--like Germany after the Nazi defeat--lives in a kind of secular penitence in which the slightest echo of past sins brings down withering condemnation. There is now a cloud over white skin where there once was unquestioned authority.

I call this white guilt not because it is a guilt of conscience but because people stigmatized with moral crimes--here racism and imperialism--lack moral authority and so act guiltily whether they feel guilt or not. [....]

Possibly white guilt's worst effect is that it does not permit whites--and nonwhites--to appreciate something extraordinary: the fact that whites in America, and even elsewhere in the West, have achieved a truly remarkable moral transformation. One is forbidden to speak thus, but it is simply true. There are no serious advocates of white supremacy in America today, because whites see this idea as morally repugnant. If there is still the odd white bigot out there surviving past his time, there are millions of whites who only feel goodwill toward minorities.

This is a fact that must be integrated into our public life--absorbed as new history--so that America can once again feel the moral authority to seriously tackle its most profound problems. Then, if we decide to go to war, it can be with enough ferocity to win.


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