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Jewish World Review June 7, 2000 /4 Sivan, 5760

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

Hyphenated-citizens put America last -- TO PARAPHRASE JAMES DEAN, they're tearing my country apart.

Here come the hyphenated Americans -- shouldering chips, axes ready for grinding, convinced that anything bad that happens to one of them is a product of a vast conspiracy.

Last week, the Association for Asian American Studies called on its members to boycott federal research facilities over what it regards as the scandalous treatment of Dr. Wen Ho Lee.

This could be serious. Since three-quarters of the association's members are in the humanities, if the boycott succeeds, who will deconstruct literature at federal research labs?

Lee is the Los Alamos scientist arrested for downloading quantities of nuclear weapons design information and copying the data on portable computer tapes. At least seven of those tapes are missing.

The scholars are convinced he's a victim of racism.

Stephen Sumida, a professor at the University of Washington, says everybody in the group "knows that the 'suspect pattern' of treatment of Asian-Americans goes back to the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II." "Snow Falling on Computer Tapes"?

It's nice to know that you can be a member of a group that accounts for more than one-quarter of all PhDs awarded in the hard sciences and technology at American universities and still have a persecution complex.

Frank Gafney of the Center for Security Policy says Beijing is engaged in espionage on a scale that's "orders of magnitude more aggressive and comprehensive than the KGB's operation at the height of the Cold War." Is it so surprising that the People's Republic would recruit agents with ties to the mainland?

Given identity politics, it makes perfect sense. China knows that if one of its operatives with a name like Lee is caught, members of the Asian American whatever will scream racism, remind us of the exploitation of coolies building the transcontinental railroad and muddy the waters.

If Wen Ho Lee is guilty, that's no more a judgment of Chinese-Americans than the Rosenbergs (nuclear spies of another era) were an indictment of American Jews.

If this was the America of my youth, the Asian scholars would say: "Let justice be done. If Lee is guilty, we hope he swings." Tragically, we've gone from the presumption of innocence to the presumption of racism. We're O.J. nation -- where the race card trumps reason, justice and national interest. This group demands quotas, that one insists the nation adapt to it linguistically, another lobbies for open borders, yet another wants us to do perpetual penance for ancient wrongs.

In public schools, American history is distorted through a multiculturalist lens. Love of country is a concept nearly as unfashionable as virginity.

We used to teach our people to transcend superficial differences and think of themselves as Americans first, and to be grateful for the opportunity to partake of our national blessings. Today, individuals are told their hyphenated identity is the only one that really counts. They are urged, moreover, to be diligent in asserting their collective rights.

But, at the end of the day, this is home to all of us.

What matters more, threats to our national security (hence the safety of each and every one of us) or group loyalty? Injustice threatens all Americans, regardless of whether we look more like the victim or perpetrator.

During World War I, Theodore Roosevelt charged with impeccable logic, "It is our duty from the standpoint of self-defense to secure the complete Americanization of our people; to make the many peoples of this country a united nation, one in speech and feeling."

The alternative, of course, is America today. And we can see how well that isn't working.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate