Ah, serendipity. Reading Spencer Ackerman’s much linked to TNR piece on House Intel Chair Pete Hoekstra’s outlandish claim that al Qaeda fellow travelers have infiltrated the U.S. intelligence community, I was reminded of an intriguing essay titled “Stabbed in the Back,” from the June issue of Harper’s.
I went looking for the piece online to re-read it, but it wasn’t up yet. Then, as if on cue, Harper’s posted it Friday. If you haven’t read Ackerman’s piece, read it first, then go take a look at “Stabbed in the Back”:
Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.
In the final analysis, I’m skeptical of unified theories of anything, perhaps especially of history, but they can be useful tools to explain some phenomenon. If you fish, you know polarized sunglasses cut the glare on the water and let you see the fish. Similarly, the “Stabbed in the Back” hypothesis is a useful lens to filter 20th and early 21st century events and distill modern American nationalism. Especially now.