Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1975 fight in the United Nations against U.N. Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism, serves, according to author Gil Troy, as a “moment” of historic importance beyond the act itself. It was more than a “moment”—it was shift of momentum. According to Troy, Moynihan’s passionate defense of Israel and Zionism was really a defense of the United States and Western democracies at a particularly grave moment in world history. While American criticism of the United Nations in response to the resolution was significant as a massive “grassroots repudiation of anti-Semitism,” Moynihan’s condemnation of the United Nations more importantly signaled a shift in American domestic and international attitudes. (182) The momentum swung away from collective national guilt instigated by leftist radicals toward a bold patriotism that celebrated American values and refused to apologize for them. Moynihan’s campaign against Resolution 3379 served as an opening shot across the bow of human-rights-abusing Third World dictators and the democracies that refused to challenge them.
While Moynihan and President Ronald Reagan did not sit on the same side of the political aisle, Moynihan’s defense of America (via Israel) helped to inaugurate the Reagan Revolution by ushering in a “mad as hell” type political moment Americans could celebrate. (211) In fact, Troy makes clear the direct connection between the fight against Resolution 3379 and the “New Morning in America” ideology of the Reagan [End Page 38] era when he writes that “Rather than just being a lone frontiersman wandering the foreboding wilderness of the 1970s, Moynihan served in the U.N. as the scout leading a landing party, demonstrating that many Americans wanted more aggressive and rejuvenating leadership.” (222) Troy contends that it was one of a series of underappreciated (by contemporaries and historians) events that altered the national zeitgeist. He argues, “America’s winning Cold War narrative is broad and bipartisan, stretching back to the wise, bold decisions of Harry Truman and Dean Acheson in the 1940s. It should include Moynihan’s eloquent, courageous, indignant charge against Resolution 3379 in the 1970s—a noteworthy event in American history and a cataclysmic event for the Middle East—and the Jewish people.” (232)
Using a chronological organization, Troy begins with a description of America’s poor standing in world opinion in 1975. He describes the gloomy atmosphere surrounding the end of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and even Moynihan’s own “benign neglect” racial controversy. This sets the stage, however, for both a national and a personal comeback that culminated in the unapologetic Reagan years of the 1980s and a long and successful U. S. Senate career for Moynihan into the late 1990s. In the midst of America’s post-Vietnam sullenness, national self-confidence approached an all-time low. Troy repeatedly emphasizes Moynihan’s conviction that the United States wrongly behaved defensively in response to criticism from third world nations. At the height of anti-colonial fervor, the United States questioned its own values and passively took the rhetorical blows that the third world, via the United Nations, seemed intent on delivering. Moreover, according to Troy, Moynihan’s fight against Resolution 3379 was intended as a rebuff to, as the author puts it, “[W]estern elites who romanticized Third Worlders [and] cast Palestinians as noble, oppressed, disenfranchised people of color and Israelis as ignoble, oppressive racists whites.” (235) For Moynihan, American elites who let the “world’s bad guys—the totalitarian thugs” dictate U.N. policy deserved opprobrium as well. (212)
Troy’s approach is primarily that of a political historian—his consistent scholarly focus falls upon big moments and big personalities, and Moynihan’s Moment follows squarely in that tradition. His previous books have focused on presidential politics (especially Ronald Reagan), and this personality and politics focus is clear in Moynihan’s Moment as well. He does not engage international relations beyond the U.N.’s headquarters in New York and Moynihan’s encampment in Turtle Bay, with brief exceptions. Indeed, the book is less...