Commentary Magazine


Andrew Young

To the Editor:

Andrew Young’s outspokenness on Africa and the Communist challenge is not, as Carl Gershman would seem to suggest [“The World According to Andrew Young,” August], an irrational outburst of naivete or ignorance, but a deliberate reaction and counterbalance to certain dogmatically biased attitudes on the “challenges” that dominate American foreign policy.

We viciously criticize, without hesitation, the presence of Cuban troops in ten African countries, yet not a word is said about the French troops garrisoned in Zaire, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Gabon, Chad, Morocco, and elsewhere. We were horrified at the Cuban-backed Katangan assault—though it is questionable whether Cuban troops were even involved—on Zaire’s Shaba province, yet no one seems to care about the invasion of the Comoro Islands and the murder of President Ali Soilih by French mercenaries. While we eagerly point out the undemocratic features of left-wing regimes, we support equally repressive right-wing governments as a bulwark against Communism.

Andrew Young’s message is clear: the Soviet Union has an interest in Africa equal to that of the West. Its attempts to defend that interest are no more evil in nature than ours are.

Sam Shube
Far Rockaway, New York

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To the Editor:

It is almost impossible to believe that Andrew Young’s curious immunity from political attack can be based solely on President Carter’s gratitude to him for having “delivered” the black vote. . . . Preoccupied as he is with an analysis of the antic blathering that has made Young notorious, Carl Gershman passes too quickly into a biography of Young and glosses too lightly over what is, after all, a prior consideration: on what does Andrew Young’s marvelous freedom from responsibility depend?

Young is most certainly not the fool he pretends to be. Mr. Gershman explains the bulk of Young’s rhetoric as rote Marxism, acquired during his days as a protester. But too much else Young has said boils down to mere absurdity, and is not explainable. . . . Certainly it seems that Young would have to take his post more seriously if he had to worry about job security. Evidently he does not.

The nation’s press has deigned to smile tolerantly on Young, which says much about a group of men who can censure Senators and unseat Presidents. . . . That this rare and wonderful power has magically been withheld in the case of Young does much to explain the source of his mystical . . . existence as a political figure. Evidently he is performing some function which has the approval of the media. . . . When Young told the world that there were “perhaps even thousands . . . of political prisoners” in this country, why did the press not rise up . . . and crush the perpetrator of such an outrage? . . .

In his position of semi-power, Young dramatizes the worst fears of the unconvinced. “Better not let blacks have any power,” goes the insinuation, “if they behave like Andrew Young.” . . . Young . . . is doing to his race politically what Stepin Fetchit did to it socially. . . . Maybe Young does not realize the image his portrayal of the sullen, sharp-tongued, and resentful black is creating in the minds of the nation’s TV viewers. But the press cannot be assumed to be innocent in this—it may be assumed to know exactly what it has created, and exactly what the effect will be.

Frank M. Cornell
Franklin Lakes, New Jersey

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Carl Gershman writes:

Sam Shube is either badly misinformed or an apologist for Soviet imperialism in Africa. The French military presence in Africa is not comparable in any way to that of the Soviet Union and its proxies. The total number of Soviet-bloc troops in Africa now exceeds 50,000, including over 40,000 Cubans, 5,000 Russians, and 3,000 East Germans. French forces in Africa number 10,000 and they are not supplemented by troops from any other NATO county. Moreover, the great bulk of Communist troops in Africa are militarily active in Angola and Ethiopia, countries whose regimes would not exist and could not survive against domestic opposition without foreign military backing. But three-fourths of the French troops in Africa are not engaged militarily (5,000 of these are in the tiny Republic of Djibouti), while the other one-quarter are fighting sporadically against foreign-backed rebels in Chad and, the Western Sahara. Further, the French military presence is a response to the Soviet thrust and has been prompted by American inaction. This has been recognized even by the left-wing British Guardian, which noted that “in the face of Russian penetration, it is the French who have decided to make a fight of it and not a walkover.”

This said, I must commend Mr. Shube for accurately stating Andrew Young’s message: “the Soviet Union has an interest in Africa equal to that of the West. Its attempts to defend that interest are no more evil in nature than ours are.” If neutrality in the East-West conflict is not the policy of President Carter, and I do not think that it is, it follows that one must ask why Young continues to hold his post. Frank M. Cornell seems to be saying that the answer is reverse racism: if Young were white, he would have been fired a long time ago. It is perhaps more accurate to say that Young reflects the views of many people in the Carter administration, but is able—and expected—to be more indiscreet because he is black.

Mr. Cornell also charges that Young is doing harm to the black image. I find this rather condescending, and it also obscures the real damage that Young has done to the cause of racial equality. Ideally, blacks should be as free as whites to make mistakes and say offensive things (or to perform brilliantly) without having to be regarded as image-bearers for their race. The goal of the civil-rights movement, in this respect, was to enable the American Negro to be something other than a “race man,” a term used by Gunnar Myrdal in An American Dilemma to denote an aspect of racism according to which the Negro, regardless of the degree of distinction he is able to achieve, is always seen “as a representative of ‘his people,’ not as an ordinary American or an individual in humanity.” (One must be a black leader or writer or official, but one is not permitted to speak to the general interest of society.)

Young’s decision to revert to racial role-playing in his capacity as Ambassador to the United Nations is thus a regression in terms of the aspirations of the civil-rights movement to liberate the American Negro from the obligation to define himself, and to be defined, strictly in terms of his race, and not in terms of his individual humanity. The cost of this regression has been a corruption of moral vision which manifests itself in Young’s inability to see beyond the issue of race in world politics to the issue of human freedom.

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