I Was a Professor at the Horribly Corrupt American University of Iraq... Until the Neocons Fired Me
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Bennett’s title sums up the thesis of his textbook clearly: America is literally, simply, the last and best hope for the human species. Tough luck, China -- or Burma, or Ecuador, or any other nation on the planet -- because we R it, the alpha and omega. It’s a classic reactionary thesis: “I can’t imagine any nation ever being as great as America; therefore no nation ever will be.” Argument by lack of imagination -- a favorite among opponents of evolution, biological or historical.
My students used to leave this book on their desks between classes, so I had a chance to flip through it. I expected it to be awful, but it was even worse than I could have guessed. Bennett gives sleazy imperial apologists a bad name. If you want to see this thing done well, try Hitchens or Paul Johnston, the British neo-imperialist historian from the Thatcher era. Bennett, who can’t write worth a damn and has never done original research in his life, is the worst of that very bad lot.
One student, the son of prominent Kurdish freedom-fighters and a genuine believer in things like intellectual freedom, saw through Bennett and had the courage to complain about the book. The teacher replied, “Well, this is a conservative university and it’s my job to give you the conservative perspective.” A simpler, more honest answer would have been: “Look, kid, I got this job by sucking up to John Agresto, who happens to be a close friend of William Bennett, so my hugely-inflated salary depends on feeding you this crap.” I still remember the disgusted shrug the student gave after telling me the story. He was learning about Western standards of intellectual integrity, all right -- but not the way he was supposed to be.
Luckily for the students in American History, they spent most of their time watching war movies rather than reading Bennett’s Sunday School tales. Since I taught in the same cabin as our American History instructor, separated from his class by a flimsy metal wall, I got to listen to a whole semester’s worth of bad WW II films. Three long months of trying to teach my students to use the simple present, rather than the present progressive, in their essays, shouting to be heard over the corny dialogue coming through the wall: “I’m hit, Sarge! Uh…go on without me!” usually followed by explosions that rocked the thin metal wall, as Sarge and friends took their revenge for the Gipper.
His one criterion was “bad language.” He wouldn’t show any movie with swearing in it (thus eliminating every decent war movie ever made). That scruple served him in place of any squeamishness about giving his teaching to the likes of William Bennett and John Wayne.
And for this, he was paid about $15,000 per month. The only reason I know he made that much is that he was a terrible braggart. We’d just been paid our first month’s salary, in cash, and as he walked with me among the cabins, he crowed, “Here I am walkin’ along with $15,000 cash in my pocket!”
He didn’t rate that sort of money because of his qualifications. As in, he didn’t got none. Not even a Ph.D. (though he claimed later to have picked one up from an online degree mill). He had no recent teaching experience, and no academic publications. Even by the lax standards of AUIS, the disparity between his rank and his qualifications became the object of speculation.
It was only through his habit of boasting that we found out the truth. As the winter break approached, he started strutting around telling everyone how he was going home to lobby Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, his home state, to send AUIS a big grant. He liked to boast while grooming himself in the stinking men’s room of the Cabins, which always stank like a chicken coop in hot weather. Standing at the urinal, he boasted to anyone trying to empty their bladders in his vicinity that his wife was one of the richest women in the state and a close friend of the Senator. He’d have no trouble getting an audience with Chambliss.