Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 12, 2006

Kurt Andersen weighs in on Vietnam and Iraq

Filed under: antiwar,media — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on June 12, 2006

In 1986 Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen founded a satirical magazine called Spy that took a no-holds-barred attitude toward the rich and the powerful. After the magazine went under, both made career shifts that landed them editorial positions at celebrity-worshipping magazines of exactly the kind that Spy excoriated. Carter runs Vanity Fair, whose latest issue has an exclusive on Greenwich, Connecticut’s new rich: “Viewed from above, the sprawl that is the Cohen estate resembles Buckingham Palace, or Windsor Castle. Even people unfazed by luxury are startled by the excess. One billionaire, whose name I’ve promised not to reveal here, said his jaw dropped the first time he visited.” Just the kind of journalism that the world has been waiting for.

Meanwhile, Andersen is a columnist at New York Magazine, a citadel of middle-class appetites. If you want to find out where to get a bargain on Gucci handbags, New York is just for you. I like to check in on the magazine’s website in the largely vain hope that I might find an interesting film review, but also–largely out of a morbid interest in the art of selling out–to check up on what the ex-bad boy Kurt Andersen now has to say.

Kurt Anderson

Graydon Carter

In an article describing their drift, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post had the following to say:

One sign of the times: While Spy frequently ridiculed zillionaire Donald Trump as a “thick-fingered vulgarian,” Carter was among the glitterati at Trump’s wedding to Marla Maples — and put the newlyweds on the cover of Vanity Fair’s March issue.

In the latest issue of New York Magazine, Mr. Andersen weighs in on the differences between Vietnam and Iraq, a subject of some interest to me since the Irish BBC once interviewed me on the topic (the ingrates never sent me the $100 emolument they promised.) The article is titled “The Vietnam Obsession It’s the analogy that won’t quit–and won’t fly, either. But could Iraq end up like Vietnam? We should be so lucky.”

It seems that Mr. Andersen has hopes that after 30 years Iraq could also become a source of cheap labor like Vietnam: “In fact, if during the next three decades Iraq itself follows a course something like that of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam–that is, if it becomes an authoritarian country run by our nominal enemies yet stable, peaceful, prosperous, and apparently happy–we should count ourselves extremely fortunate indeed.” (So, of course, does Thomas Friedman.)

Although Andersen is far too much the urban sophisticate to put things in the same way as Sean Hannity, the message amounts to basically the same thing:

In Vietnam we were fighting on behalf of not-so-good-guys against not-so-bad-guys. In Iraq, we really are fighting on the side of the majority of the people (and their not-so-bad-guy leaders) against bad guys. Back then, we fought to prevent a regional domino effect of communist overthrow; in Iraq, we started fighting to provoke a regional domino effect of democratic overthrow. But the fact that this time we are fighting on morally high(er) ground–for bigger stakes against no remotely noble enemies–probably makes the hell-bent, largely avoidable Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld mismanagement of Iraq more egregious than the Johnson-McNamara-Nixon conduct of the war in Vietnam.

This heavily qualified exercise in obfuscation could be rendered more simply as the following: “Iraq, unlike Vietnam, is a just war. And it is really too bad that the Bush administration screwed things up so badly.”

Besides questions of winnability, Andersen seems interested in the public mood. “But otherwise . . . how many of us care passionately about the war? How much does it color American life and culture? Compared with Vietnam, the fundamental apathy on all sides is remarkable.”

Mr. Andersen attributes this to the fact that this is a lower-intensity war: “Twenty-four Iraqis died in Haditha, while at My Lai several hundred civilians were murdered.” Of course, there was even less militancy throughout the 1980s when low-intensity warfare was occurring throughout Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. As somebody who visited Nicaragua during this period, I was always reminded of how a mother felt after her son had been killed by the contras. From her perspective, the war was always highly intense.

Of course, some of the apathy might be as well attributed to the failure of the news media to do its job. Mr. Andersen informs us that the antiwar protests in New York City have not been so large lately. Maybe if his editor assigned somebody to write about them, they would be larger. I certainly do understand that this might take away from valuable space now being allotted to matters such as “Will Sudoku Kill the Crossword Puzzle?” or “Cheating at the Montauk Shark-Fishing Tournament?”

For Mr. Andersen, the basic difference between the 1960s and now has a lot to do with the American people, and students in particular, becoming more apathetic, a theme that Time Magazine revisited all through the 1980s and 90s. Our former Spy opines, “And in a way that the sixties were precisely not, this is also an Age of Whatever. Thus the Iraq war, even if it ends badly, will cause no great disillusionment about America’s heroic white-hat nobility–you can’t lose your virginity twice.”

I imagine that Mr. Andersen is quite the expert on losing one’s virginity, given his peregrinations throughout the rather mercenary world of commercial media. As it turns out, he was fired from New York Magazine in 1994 for being, according to Mr. Andersen’s blog, “too annoying in its coverage of the then-owner’s business and social and political associates.” Knowing full well how expensive NY can be and what it means to be out of a job, I can certainly understand Mr. Andersen’s decision to no longer annoy anybody else in positions of power.


1 Comment »

  1. Excellent post. There’s something almost eerie about Carter and Andersen. Their transformation from the POV seemingly reflected in Spy to that reflected in Vanity Fair and New York Magazine is so extreme it seems more classifiable as a sci-fi metamorphosis than a mere sociopolitical shift. I guess the real story is that I was naive about what Spy really represented. Apparently I was not alone in this, as I see from Doug Henwood’s recent take on your post in the Marxism List, viz.: “My old pal D.D. ‘Don’ Guttenplan – now, among other things, half of the “London bureau” of The Nation – said at the time that they [Carter and Andersen] actually wanted to be the people they were making fun of. I doubted Don at the time, since Spy was so good, but he turned out to be right.”

    Comment by Carl Remick — June 12, 2006 @ 8:50 pm

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