Welcome to Cornell · 29 August 2005

By Jamie Weinstein--CornellSun.com--08/30/05

In the beginning of my freshman year I -- along with my entire 2006 freshman class -- was forced to endure a mandatory two-hour diversity seminar. The seminar consisted of a play about racism at Cornell and concluded with a speech telling us that the lesson of Sept. 11 was that we needed to be more tolerant. And with that, I was quickly exposed to the academic conceit so prevalent on American campuses.

The first article I ever wrote at Cornell was for The Cornell Review. In it, I slammed the seminar, especially the concluding thoughts about the need for Americans to be more tolerant. Only among academics was that the lesson to be gleaned from that tragic day. If Sept. 11 taught us anything about tolerance, it was not that Americans were intolerant. Rather, it was that our enemies were.

That seminar was not the last time I encountered such fuzzy thinking on this campus or in Ithaca itself. To the incoming freshman class: Be forewarned, you too will be faced with this sort of spurious intellectualism. Some of your professors and your fellow peers may try to convince you that most of what is wrong in the world today results from American actions abroad. Others may try to suggest that America is a racist, bigoted country and that Western culture isn't all its cracked up to be. Even some may try to convince you that President Bush is the second coming of Hitler, or maybe if they are not willing to go that far, that he, along with Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, are the real axis of evil. I have encountered all of this in one form or another.

Many of you freshman come to Cornell with open minds. You will be barraged with ideas mainly emanating from one side of the ideological spectrum. After all, nearly all the professors at Cornell teaching in the humanities --and I do mean nearly all -- are to the left of center politically and ideologically. Resist the urge to take their gospel as fact without at least seeking out opposing viewpoints.

Here in this paper, I hope to be a bulwark of conservative thought. I hope to continue to provide another perspective that is all too absent on this campus. Or at least to the extent a single undergraduate can.

In this column, I will cover all types of issues. However, I tend to focus on topics relating to foreign policy and the campus. While I will not hesitate to criticize our government or America when it is wrong, it is probably more important on this campus and in this paper to stand up for America itself. And I will do that unabashedly and unapologetically. After all, for all its faults and warts, it is the greatest country on Earth and, very likely, in the history of the world.

America is also perhaps the most tolerant society on the face of the Earth, despite what I was told in that freshman diversity seminar. If this shocks you, then you don't know the world. I say this with a keen understanding of America's history, especially its racial problems.

Yes, there are racists in America. However, this is not something that is unique to our country. Racists and bigots can be found in any culture and in every corner of the world, often in greater proportions than here in America. Some cultures may even be said to be marked by bigotry. What is unique about America in specific -- and even the West in general -- is that we are conscious of our faults and actively seek to correct them.

The history of America is not without its deep blemishes, the worst of which being the institution of slavery. For centuries blacks were enslaved in America. It is a terrible reality. However, the brutal and immoral institution of slavery was not unique to America either. Virtually every culture and society in the history of the world practiced slavery at some point. Today, slavery still exists in some parts of the world.

This does not excuse this part of American history -- far from it. However, it is simply incorrect to say that the evil of slavery is somehow uniquely American or that because of America's history of slavery, it is hard to see it as a moral country. If that is the standard, what society in the world would come out worthy of praise? True, compared to some ideal in our heads America might not measure up. But in reality, when compared to other countries in the world today, and in world history, America stands as a shining beacon of light.

What is unique to Western society, a heritage that America proudly shares, was not the institution of slavery, but rather the movement to abolish it. As Stanford Hoover Institution scholar Thomas Sowell noted in a recent essay, The Real History of Slavery, "While slavery was common to all civilizations ... only one civilization developed a moral revulsion against it, very late in its history -- Western Civilization."

It should never be forgotten that this country was founded on the noblest and most revolutionary of ideas, the idea that "all men are created equal ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" such as "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." While it is true that in the beginning we were by no means living up to that noble ideal, our founding fathers set the standard which eventually America's disenfranchised minorities would hold us too.

Today, the United States of America is the greatest champion of Western values of any country in the world. While defending ourselves since the Sept. 11 attacks, we have also sought to spread the blessing of freedom and liberal values to other lands where they are unknown. If we succeed, it will be among the most remarkable achievements in world history.

So as we start the year, let's not get caught up in prattle passed off by some as academic discourse. Let us think for ourselves and remember how lucky we are to live in the society that we do.

Jamie Weinstein is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be contacted at jsw46@cornell.edu.