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ESSAY The Current Illness WHEN AMERICAN conservatives were finally pushed out of their silence on South Africa by the public clamor here and abroad in opposition to apartheid, it became clear that their concern with that country was not with pass laws or voting rights or the fine points of racial discrimination. What was at stake in South Africa, as the Rev. Jerry Falwell put it, was whether the country was becoming ripe for a communist takeover. There could be no more telling example of the peculiar psychosis that has taken root in American political culture in the years since Ronald Reagan came to power. One of the most abominable political systems of the modern era is suddenly passed off by conservatives with a wave of the hand and an impatient “but let’s talk about communism.” More and more, the fear of communism is expected to be the guiding factor by which we judge world events. This militant anti-communism has traditionally been the concern of a few out-of-whack fringe groups, such as the John Birch Society, or the Liberty Lobby. But, as everyone knows, Ronald Reagan has been only too happy to use the Presidency to elevate the far-right perspective to new respectability. When the World Anti-Communist League met recently in Dallas, the President sent a message commending their efforts to build a better world, even though it is a matter of public record that the group has had close ties with dictators, death squad leaders, anti-Semites, and race purificationists. One need look no further than the editorial page of the Dallas Morning News to find this musty anti-communism given a respectable forum in Texas. Though the paper’s news editors didn’t find the Anti-Communist League’s conference worthy of coverage, the editorialists referred to it with wonderment as “the worldwide convention of freedom-fighters.” In a subsequent editorial, the writers treated the event with high seriousness, opening a comment in rhapsodic fashion: “Only two could be chosen as Freedom-Fighters of the Year, but there were so many courageous freedom-fighters at the convention at the Registry [Hotel] sponsored by the World Anti-Communist League.” Nothing provides so much sport for the Dallas Morning News editorialists as taking swipes at the Soviet Union or Cuba. In August, they found themselves explaining Soviet alcoholism as the result of communism “there is nothing to do but get drunk,” they wrote. The next day, urging Radio Marti to take a harder line against Cuba, they declared that “Cuba is a global menace.” But throughout the month of September, when news of unrest in South Africa was on the front page of their paper day after day and when Reagan was forced into making a show of “sanctions” against South Africa, the courageous editorialists at the Morning News addressed the issue of apartheid only once. \(“More capitalism” was prescribed to editorial, but it was by way of telling other African nations that had condemned apartheid to mind their own business. When other newspapers were taking issue with the President’s goofy remarks about South Africa’s achieving desegration, the Morning News editorialized against the “spreading cancer” of communism fostered in Central America by Nicaragua. This is a political sickness, an anti-communist psychosis, that would be worth ignoring if it were not that it happens to be perfectly in step with the current foreign policy of our government. Reagan’s “Darth Vader” speech locating the Soviet Union as the focus of evil in the modern world delighted his far-right fans, and since then his military chief Caspar Weinberger has reiterated the charge. Weinberger said last summer that the United States holds “philosophical and moral superiority” over the Soviet Union, and he urged conservative groups to help in “spotlighting the inherent evil” of communism. It is a sickness that has been with us from the first day our empire was challenged by a competing ideology, and to say it is a sickness does not imply that it is wrong to declare that communist repression should be denounced and resisted. “Only two could be chosen as Freedom-Fighters of the Year, but there were so many courageous freedom fighters. . .” It is sick because it denies all the more strenuously in periods of vehement anti-communism that the United States is responsible for any of the evil in the world. It ascribes all evil to the enemy power and reserves all good motives and good character to ourselves. It is a withdrawal from reality. Ronald Reagan’s speech to the 40th anniversary ceremony of the United Nations in late October was one more example of how far the illness has progressed. “It’s difficult for us to understand the ideological premise that force is an acceptable way to expand a political system,” he said, even as our freelance gang of guerrillas in Central America was trying to force out the Sandinistas. “We cannot accommodate ourselves to the use of force and subversion to consolidate and expand the reach of totalitarianism,” he said, even as we were as accommodated as ever to the force used by Ferdinand Marcos in ruling the Philippines and the subversion used to support dictators in whatever places we choose. His speech was and we mean to register no surprise here a transparent attempt to portray Americans, and thus, American foreign policy, as beyond reproach. “It’s in the nature of Americans to hate war and its destructiveness,” the President said. “We would rather wage our struggle to rebuild and renew, not to tear down. We would rather fight against hunger, disease, and catastrophe. We could rather engage our adversaries in the battle of ideals and ideas for the future. These principles emerge from the innate openness and good character of our people, and from our long struggle and sacrifice for our liberties and the liberties of others.” All this may well be true about some Americans \(though it has to miss the implication of such a statement as “It is in the nature of Americans to hate war. . . .” Is it in the nature of Russians to hate war? Is it part of the Nicaraguan nature? Or are we as a nation somehow of a higher nature than others? THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5