I got to meet Norm Geras of Normblog here in Perth, Western Australia on Wednesday. He is in Australia for the Ashes tests between Australia and England about which he has a bit to say at Normblog. Perth is the third in a series of five tests, the last two will be in Melbourne and Sydney over Christmas and New Year. Anyway, he is the first blogger I have ever met – not counting my son Julian and his wife Shannon – which I don’t think counts in quite the same way. But of all the bloggers I read regularly Norm is the one I most wanted to meet because he really kicked off my experience of blogging as something that could be important personally. I’d felt isolated politically since 9/11. Most of the people I knew were pretty unsympathetic to America’s being attacked and largely against what America had done in reaction. “When I saw the Twin Towers come down, I said YES! America MUST fall.” was perhaps the most overt example I experienced of that attitude, but it seemed to be everywhere – smug, sure of itself, and oh so knowing. Me, I got the Pearl Harbor reaction on 9/11, so I felt pretty strongly about it in the opposite way. I even thought of moving back to America to someplace like Montana or Mississippi. Where I could walk around with a gun in my pocket if I felt like it and know I was unlikely to encounter any thoughtlessly expressed anti American sentiments.

Instead I discovered Normblog. Here was a leftist – a Marxist already – who was saying a lot of what I felt better than I could say it. . He made me remember that I had started life a Democrat. That I too was ‘on the left’ by background. Since 9/11 I had felt like I must be a conservative pure and simple given what the left was saying. Then here was a voice on the left that I agreed with. I was amazed and heartened. Here is a sample from 2003 when I first started reading Norm:

On September 11 2001 there was, in New York, a massacre of innocents. There’s no other acceptable way of putting this: some 3000 people (and, as anyone can figure, it could have been many more) struck down by an act of mass murder without any possible justification, an act of gross moral criminality. What was the left’s response? In fact, this goes well beyond the left if what is meant by that is people and organizations of socialist persuasion. It included a wide sector of liberal opinion as well. …

At best you might get some lip service paid to the events of September 11 having been, well, you know, unfortunate – the preliminary ‘yes’ before the soon-to-follow ‘but’ (or, as Christopher Hitchens has called it, ‘throat-clearing’). And then you’d get all the stuff about root causes, deep grievances, the role of US foreign policy in creating these; and a subtext, or indeed text, whose meaning was America’s comeuppance. This was not a discourse worthy of a democratically-committed or principled left, and the would-be defence of it by its proponents, that they were merely trying to explain and not to excuse what happened, was itself a pathetic excuse.

No trouble recognizing this phenomena. I still grin like a wolf at the phrase ‘throat clearing’. Norm continues:

Why this miserable response? In a nutshell, it was a displacement of the left’s most fundamental values by a misguided strategic choice, namely, opposition to the US, come what may. This dictated the apologetic mumbling about the mass murder of US citizens, and it dictated that the US must be opposed in what it was about to do in hitting back at al-Qaida and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan.

Yes, I remember that the opposition to Afghanistan – which is today not mentioned much even though there are severe problems there – and then, of course, when a conspicuously predicted quagmire failed to develop there the concerted attempt to declare an America defeat in Iraq starting about the third day of the campaign in that sandstorm that halted the American advance on Baghdad and has continued unabated ever since. Here Norm continues in that same June speech on Iraq:

The liberation of Iraq. Something similar has now been repeated over the war in Iraq. I could just about have ‘got inside’ the view – though it wasn’t my view – that the war to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime should not be supported. Neither Washington nor Baghdad – maybe. But opposition to the war – the marching, the petition-signing, the oh-so-knowing derision of George Bush and so forth – meant one thing very clearly. Had this campaign succeeded in its goal and actually prevented the war it was opposed to, the life of the Baathist regime would have been prolonged, with all that that entailed: years more (how many years more?) of the rape rooms, the torture chambers, the children’s jails, and the mass graves recently uncovered.

So because of Norm, things began to make sense. I began to realize that I had been an anti-totalitarian since I was a young man. I remembered how I was all for Castro when he marched into Havana in 1959- hell, I was a fan. But it soon became clear that he was as much a dictator as his predecessor Batista and I lost my enthusiasm. By 1961 and The Bay of Pigs I didn’t care much about his fate much one way or the other. So now I understood why I had zero sympathy for Saddam in 1991 or 2003. I am not happy with the problems we have encountered in Iraq but I am not in the slightest sorry that we got rid of Saddam because I understand my political values with a new solidity and clarity thanks to Norm.

Just one more thought about Norm. We had a snack in a cafe on the way from the airport and discussed blogging and related issues. Norm made the observation that much of blogging is reactive. That is, that much of what one writes is in reaction to what others have written. I did little more than agree at the time, but as I thought about it I realized that is exactly how I approach blogging most of the time. It seems to work best when I am writing in direct reaction to something I’ve just read. Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit is most often the source of a link that will trigger my reaction. As Normblog readers will know, it is often reading The Guardian that sets Norm alight.

It was delight to meet Norm. I found him to be very much the person I have gotten to know reading his blog. Very much a WYSIWYG kind of blogger. It was wonderful to be able to thank him for helping me find my political compass when I really needed it and in a way that is new to the world – blogging.

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