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The reference to Havel merits some reflection. Havel's address to Congress had a remarkable impact on the political and intellectual communities. "Consciousness precedes Being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim," Havel informed Congress to thunderous applause; in a Woody Allen rendition, he would have said "Being precedes Consciousness," eliciting exactly the same reaction. But what really enthralled elite opinion was his statement that the United States has "understood the responsibility that flowed" from its great power, that there have been "two enormous forces -- one, a defender of freedom, the other, a source of nightmares." We must put "morality ahead of politics," he went on. The backbone of our actions must be "responsibility -- responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success"; responsibility to suffering people in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Timor, Indochina, Mozambique, the Gaza Strip, and others like them who can offer direct testimony on the great works of the "defender of freedom."39
These thoughts struck the liberal community as a revelation from heaven. Lewis was not alone in being entranced. The Washington Post described them as "stunning evidence" that Havel's country is "a prime source" of "the European intellectual tradition," a "voice of conscience" that speaks "compellingly of the responsibilities that large and small powers owe each other." The Boston Globe hailed Havel for having "no use for clichés" as he gave us his "wise counsel" in a manner so "lucid and logical." Mary McGrory revelled in "his idealism, his irony, his humanity," as he "preached a difficult doctrine of individual responsibility" while Congress "obviously ached with respect" for his genius and integrity. Columnists Jack Germond and Jules Witcover asked why America lacks intellectuals so profound, who "elevate morality over self-interest" in this way. A front-page story in the Globe described how "American politicans and pundits are gushing over" Havel, and interviewed locals on why American intellectuals do not approach these lofty heights.40
This reaction too provides a useful mirror for the elite culture. Putting aside the relation of Being to Consciousness, the thoughts that so entranced the intellectual community are, after all, not entirely unfamiliar. One finds them regularly in the pontifications of fundamentalist preachers, Fourth of July speeches, American Legion publications, and the journals and scholarly literature generally. Indeed, everywhere. Who can have been so remote from American life as not to have heard that we are "the defender of freedom" and that we magnificently satisfy the moral imperative to be responsible not just to ourselves, but to the Welfare of Mankind? There is only one rational interpretation: liberal intellectuals secretly cherish the pronouncements of Pat Robertson and the John Birch society, and can therefore gush in awe when these very same words are produced by Vaclav Havel.
Havel's "voice of conscience" has another familiar counterpart. In the Third World, one sometimes hears people say that the Soviet Union defends our freedom while the U.S. government is a nightmare. Journalist T.D. Allman, who wrote one of the few serious reports on El Salvador as the terror was peaking in 1980-1, described a visit to a Christian base community, subjected to the standard practices of the U.S.-backed security forces. An old man told him that he had heard of a country called Cuba across the seas that might have concern for their plight, and asked Allman to "tell us, please, sir, how we might contact these Cubans, to inform them of our need, so that they might help us."41
Let us now try another thought experiment. Suppose that Allman's Salvadoran peasant or a Vietnamese villager had reached the Supreme Soviet to orate about moral responsibility and the confrontation between two powers, one a nightmare and the other a defender of freedom. There would doubtless have been a rousing ovation, while every party hack in Pravda would have gushed with enthusiasm. I do not, incidentally, mean to draw a comparison to what actually took place here. It is easy to understand that the world might look this way to someone whose experience is limited to U.S. bombs and U.S.-trained death squads on the one hand, and, on the other, Soviet tractors and anti-aircraft guns, and dreams of rescue by Cubans from unbearable torment. For victims of the West, the circumstances of existence make the conclusion plausible while barring knowledge of a broader reality. Havel and those who swoon over his familiar pieties can offer no such excuse.
We once again learn something about ourselves, if we choose.
The other Times spokesman for the left, Tom Wicker, followed the same script. He concludes that the Sandinistas lost "because the Nicaraguan people were tired of war and sick of economic deprivation." But the elections were "free and fair," untainted by coercion.42
Still at the dissident extreme, Latin America scholar William LeoGrande also hailed the promise of the "democratic elections in Nicaragua," while noting that "In the name of democracy, Washington put excruciating military and economic pressure on Nicaragua in order to force the Sandinistas out of power." Now, he continues, "the United States must show that its commitment to democracy in Central America extends to pressuring friendly conservative governments as well." Thus, having demonstrated its "commitment to democracy" by terror and economic warfare, the U.S. should "extend" this libertarian fervor to pressure on its friends.43
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39 See Excerpts, NYT, Feb. 22; WP weekly, March 5, 1990.
40 Editorial, WP, Feb. 26; BG, Feb. 23, Feb. 26, Feb. 24, March 1, 1990.
41 Harper's, March 1981.
42 Wicker, NYT, March 1, 1990.
43 Leogrande, NYT, March 17, 1990.