In 1990 or so, someone introduced him to an audience as “a former peace activist and civil-rights worker.” David got a kick out of that: He had been a Marxist revolutionary! Today, fog covers the Black Panthers. Huey Newton was basically MLK with an edge. Just as the Communists had been “liberals in a hurry,” the Panthers were civil-rights activists with a streak of impatience. This myth is intolerable to anyone who knows about the Panthers.
You may enjoy this aside: Elaine Brown, a blood-soaked Panther, once admitted to David, privately, “The poorest black in Oakland is richer than 90 percent of the world’s population.”
No one, but no one, wants to remember the Vietnam War — meaning, again, the aftermath of that war. George W. Bush gave many speeches in his eight years as president. Probably the Left liked none of them. But there was none they hated more than a speech Bush gave in 2007, in which he spoke of Iraq and the Middle East in the context of Vietnam and Indochina. Here are some inflammatory paragraphs:
. . . many argued that if we pulled out there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people.
In 1972, one anti-war senator put it this way: “What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince, or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they’ve never seen and may never have heard of?” A columnist for the New York Times [Sydney Schanberg] wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the Communists. “It’s difficult to imagine,” he said, “how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.” A headline on that story — dateline Phnom Penh — summed up the argument: “Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life.”
The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.
The squeals following that speech were long, loud, and livid. And guilt-tinged.
After 1985, David’s writing was “driven by two urgencies,” he says: “a desire to persuade those still on the left of the destructive consequences of the ideas and causes they promoted”; and “the frustration I experienced with my new conservative peers who did not seem to understand the malignancy of the forces that were mobilized against them.”
Early in his career, he did some teaching at Berkeley and elsewhere — but he has done most of his teaching in his writing. The term “public intellectual” makes some of us gag, but that’s what David is. He has read a lot, across the spectrum: He knows his Marx and his Mises, his Gramsci and his Kolakowski. He wears his learning lightly, though: It peeks out now and then, as when he quotes one of these gents (or quotes Shakespeare, for that matter). One quality of David’s writing is self-criticism — not in the Maoist sense, but in a true one: David is unsparing about himself and the mistakes he has made. Would that his critics were half as honest.
An editorial reminder: We will publish the last installment of this piece tomorrow.