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.
They struggle, above all else, to dissociate themselves from the past sins they are stigmatized with. When they behave in ways that invoke the memory of those sins, they must labor to prove that they have not relapsed into their group’s former sinfulness….
White guilt makes our Third World enemies into colored victims, people whose problems — even the tyrannies they live under — were created by the historical disruptions and injustices of the white West. We must “understand” and pity our enemy even as we fight him. And, though Islamic extremism is one of the most pernicious forms of evil opportunism that has ever existed, we have felt compelled to fight it with an almost managerial minimalism that shows us to be beyond the passions of war — and thus well dissociated from the avariciousness of the white supremacist past.
Anti-Americanism, whether in Europe or on the American left, works by the mechanism of white guilt. It stigmatizes America with all the imperialistic and racist ugliness of the white Western past so that America becomes a kind of straw man, a construct of Western sin….
Whether the problem is race relations, education, immigration or war, white guilt imposes so much minimalism and restraint that our worst problems tend to linger and deepen. Our leaders work within a double bind. If they do what is truly necessary to solve a problem — win a war, fix immigration — they lose legitimacy.
To maintain their legitimacy, they practice the minimalism that makes problems linger….
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….
Black Protest Has Lost Its Power
By Shelby Steele
January 12, 2018
In the Heart of Freedom, in Chains
By Myron Magnet
July 26, 2007
Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege
By Tal Fortgang
A Conversation about Race
Is America Racist?
By Larry Elder (Prager University)