Ira Chernus  


When a young man plays with fire, a lot of people can get burned. The young man I have in mind wrote an editorial for the Columbia University newspaper, which was reprinted in the Colorado Daily (April 17). He told a pleasant fairy tale about saintly George (W. Bush) slaying the China-dragon and bringing 24 U.S. Air Force personnel safely home.

After years of building our national ego by beating up little countries like Iraq and Serbia, it might be fun to take on a serious enemy once again. But when you think about what is at stake, you realize how incendiary these anti-China feelings really are. Every little column demonizing China is one more piece of kindling. No one can predict when some incident like the spy-plane fiasco may light the match. If, one day, U.S. - China relations burst into flame, we could all get badly burned. So we ought to think long and hard before we heap more fuel on this fire.

The Columbia editorial was a bit short on logic. Consider its argument: 1. Chinese policies are immoral. Surely true. 2. Global capitalism is amoral. Also surely true. 3. George W. Bush is "awe-inspiring" because he has a "just" policy and refused to give in to the immoral Chinese.

Hold on a minute. Isn't Bush head of the government that is the primary sponsor of amoral global capitalism? Has his administration shown an iota of concern about the immorality of governments in Turkey, Nigeria, Kenya, Burma, and (fill in your own favorite anti-democratic regime)? Didn't he back down from his initial tough stand over the downed spy plane, to placate the amoral capitalists who want to trade with China?

The editorial warned that China is is blending Communism and Fascism. You can not be both Communist and Fascist. That is like calling something a square circle. Don't they teach basic political science in the Ivy League? And I wonder whether they teach cold war history. In the late 1940s, the U.S. public was avidly reading articles that warned about the Soviet brand of "Red Fascism." 15 years later, during the Cuban missile crisis, John Kennedy told his brother Robert that he could not predict, much less control, the outcome. He could only guess at the odds: about 1 in 3 that he would start a nuclear war, That is where charges of "Red Fascism" can lead. Yes, a lot of people can get burned.

Perhaps, though, the young man from Columbia has studied history. Perhaps he knows that a former president of his university, Dwight Eisenhower, used anti-communist rhetoric to raise millions from rich alumni. With editorials like this, Columbia may see its coffers filling again. Perhaps the current president of the U.S. has studied history too. He may know that presidents can get pretty popular by taking on enemies. He may have learned that at his Daddy's knee. When Mr. W. Bush announced that our fliers would be coming home, the crowd broke into a chant of "USA, USA." Playing with fire can be politically profitable.

Not for everyone, of course. The forces of amoral global capitalism are in no rush to make China an enemy. Their profit comes from a friendly Chinese government letting them invest billions over there, where labor is dirt cheap and workplace and environmental regulations nearly non-existent. So we are caught between the new cold warriors and the amoral multinational capitalists.

The U.S. - China relationship is not a bed-time story about good guys versus bad guys. In the inner circles that make policy, there are no good guys, neither in Beijing nor in Washington. If we want to nudge U.S. - China relations in the direction of peace and justice, we are going to have to do it in places like Boulder, where independent voices can be heard in the newspapers and in the streets. The first step is to put a stop to incendiary fairy tale journalism.

The second step is to realize that U.S. policy on China is not bound by the two choices the mainstream media give us: amoral capitalism or a new cold war. We can speak out for a policy that gives the Chinese people economic as well as political justice. China has about one-sixth of the world's people. If those people had anywhere near one-sixth of the world's wealth, we would see very different, and much more peaceful policies, coming from Beijing. Since the U.S. controls the resources that the Chinese people need, the choice is up to us.