The left on China: see, hear and speak no evil

Woo hoo. Gonna have a nuclear war. Tens of millions dead! Countless cities laid waste! Bring it on. Yee haw. If a member of the Bush administration said such a thing it would have raised eyebrows around the world so high as to dent ceilings. So why is it unremarkable when a senior Chinese general says it? We have met the enemy all right.

Maj.-Gen. Zhu Chenghu of the People's Republic of China told foreign reporters last week that if, in response to some unspecified Chinese action (think island off east coast), "the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.... We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."

Chinese officials then said these were just his "personal views." Well yes. Who among us hasn't put on the uniform of his country's army and then threatened to incinerate tens of millions of Americans just as our own individual opinion?

The thunderous silence from the left that greeted the general's remarks is ominous. Progressives claim to embrace western values. Yet the selectivity of their outrage poses a menace to their own civilization that couldn't be more dangerous if it were deliberate.

I know, I know, that's the sort of statement that can get a fellow accused of hyperbole. But Joni Mitchell just told Reader's Digest, "Never was America so internationally hated, and rightfully so." As if they were the ones deliberately blowing up children in Iraq and subway trains in London.

So take a deep lung-full of Beijing air and, if you survive, answer me this: The Chinese communist government has done such appalling damage to that country's environment that peasants with stinging eyes and hacking coughs are daring to protest and even riot. To listen casually to their conversation, you could become convinced that our left-wingers are so devoted to the environment that they despise political and economic arrangements harmful to it. For instance, the late progressive historian Christopher Lasch sneered that capitalism's vision of long-term economic development was to leave North America a "smoking ruin." So why aren't people who consider this indictment forceful just a bit less happy with the Chinese regime? Especially as what we have here is history repeating itself as tragic farce.

During the Cold War, despoiling nature was generally held by radicals to be among the West's mortal sins, along with patriarchy, abuse of human rights and belligerence. Yet the Bolsheviks' transformation of the Soviet Union into a toxic waste dump 11 time zones wide went unremarked. (Hey, comrades, remember the Aral Sea?) After the Iron Curtain crumbled, progressive people harrumphed that, well of course, they'd always been against it, but they'd been busy protesting Love Canal, then the cat had to go to the vet, and you know... But now it's happening again. What excuse is there for this second strangely silent spring? Once could be misfortune; twice sounds like culpability.

Meanwhile, on human rights, the Chinese regime is snuggling up to Zimbabwe's Mad Bob Mugabe and selling him weapons while he starves his people, an act of diplomacy as inept as it is sinister. And it is deploying troops to Sudan -- and not to stop the slaughter. If it were George Bush, there would be comments. As there would about the massive military buildup. Which brings me back to nuclear war.

If there's one thing for which leftists earned cheap applause from themselves over many years, it was their courageous opposition to mass extermination from the sky. Down with megadeath intellectuals. Make love, not war. Blah blah blah. Now we get this threat from the Chinese, accompanying their apparent determination to invade a small country (also a sin if George Bush or Tony Blair does it) on the theory, so far as one can tell, that, while Taiwan was only part of China for a very brief part of its history, all those Beijing considers Chinese must live under one government. So where's the outrage?

Robert Frost famously supposedly called liberals people too broad-minded to take their own side in a quarrel. And while dissent and debate are unquestionably a source of strength in a free society, disloyalty is not. It does not seem too strong a term for those who claim to hate poverty, oppression, environmental degradation and bloodcurdling threats of nuclear war, but only actually mind when it's us. Even when it's not.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson