The American Conservative, August 2009

american conservative august 2009With this issue, our favorite “Old Right” read gives up its quixotic biweekly publication schedule and becomes the monthly it should always have been.  

In the cover story, Brendan O’Neill casts a gimlet eye on the environmental initiatives now chugging through official Washington.   He sees in them little more than a series of raids on the treasury by well-connected businesses.  He cites Gabriel Calzada, a Spanish economist who found that every job his country’s wind power initiative had created represented a cost of $2,200,000 to the taxpayer.  Of course, the jobs don’t pay $2,200,000- most of that money goes to corporate interests.  O’Neill argues that the alternative energy plans now under consideration in Washington are at least as bad as is Spain’s wind power initiative. 

Former US Army interrogator Matthew Alexander explains what he did in Iraq that his colleagues didn’t.  He followed the rules, they didn’t.  He treated detainees with respect, they didn’t.  He obtained useful intelligence, they didn’t.  When information he had elicited led to successful US military operations, they got medals, he didn’t. 

David Brown thinks that America missed its chance in the years after the Soviet system collapsed.  The former Soviet Union and the countries that had belonged to the Warsaw Pact had post-Communist revolutions.  The USA could have benefited from the same.  Just as the political and economic systems of the East Bloc states were defined in relation to their dependence on the USSR in those years, so the American political and economic regime were defined by opposition to that same power.  As the Warsaw Pact states gained freedom by reorienting themselves away from the USSR, so America too could gain a new freedom by shuffling off the militaristic apparatus that was built in the name of the Cold War.  As the author of Beyond the Frontier: The Midwestern Voice in American Historical Writing, Brown thinks that Charles A. Beard (of Knightstown, Indiana), William Appleman Williams (of Atlantic, Iowa), and Christopher Lasch (of Omaha, Nebraska) offer a critique of militarism that may help us find our way out of our present dilemmas.  Brown particularly praises Williams for his combination of Beard’s economic interpretation of Anerican political history with Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis about the role of the frontier in American life.  Williams’ refusal to acknowledge the moral lines other historians had drawn between the westward expansion of Americans into native lands and the imperialistic expansion of American power into lands claimed by other nation-states also earns an approving mention, deflating as it does the idea that the United States was ever a country isolated from neighbors.  With that idea deflated, we can also rid ourselves of the idea that adventures such as the war with Spain or America’s intervention in the First World War represented a break from isolation.

A review of Spies by Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev and Alger Hiss and the Battle for History by Susan Jacoby of course takes a very different tone than did a review of the same two books in The Nation some weeks ago.  The reviewer, Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com, not only affirms the guilt of Alger Hiss and the others whom Joseph McCarthy and his ilk used as hate figures, but argues that liberals have always missed the point of McCarthyism:  

If the main danger was at home, then we need not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Such an ardent McCarthyite and Taft Republican as the novelist Louis Bromfield, in his forgotten classic A New Pattern for a Tired World (1954), referred to the Soviets’ “ramshackle empire,” and characterized the Marxist movement as an “international psychopathic cult,” which could not long survive without infusions of technology and aid from the West. The alleged “threat” posed by the Soviet Union was minor, he declared, compared to the threat to our old Republic represented by militarism, the arms race, and the distortion of our economic and political life by the rise of an American empire. 

It was because of views like Bromfield’s, Raimondo writes, that so many survivors of the antiwar America First movement of the 1930s, having been smeared as pro-Nazi by many of the very men whom McCarthy named as Soviet agents, could keep their skepticism of US militarism while joining enthusiastically in the McCarthyite crusade. 

A tribute to the light verse of Phyllis McGinley quotes her poem “Thirteen” in full:

Thirteen’s no age at all. Thirteen is nothing.
It is not wit, or powder on the face,
Or Wednesday matinée, or misses’ clothing,
Or intellect, or grace…
Thirteen keeps diaries and tropical fish
(A month, at most); scorns jump-ropes in the spring;
Could not, would fortune grant it, name its wish;
Wants nothing, everything;
Has secrets from itself, friends it despises;
Admits none to the terrors that it feels;
Own half a hundred masks but no disguises;
And walks upon its heels.
Thirteen’s anomalous—not that, not this:
Not folded bud, or wave that laps a shore,
Or moth proverbial from the chrysalis.
Is the one age defeats the metaphor.
Is not a town, like childhood, strongly walled
But easily surrounded, in no city.
Nor, quitted once, can it be quite recalled—
Not even with pity.

Alexander Waugh is the grandson of novelist Evelyn Waugh; Chrostopher Buckley is the son of pundit William F. Buckley, Jr.  Alexander Waugh reviews Christopher Buckley’s memoir of Mr and Mrs William F. Buckley, Jr.  Alexander Waugh includes a quote from his own grandfather about the elder Buckley.  Having received letters from Buckley, Evelyn Waugh wrote to a friend to ask “Has he been supernally guided to bore me?  It would explain him.”  Which reminded me of Dwight MacDonald’s defense of Buckley’s columns, in which MacDonald claimed that Buckley’s writing was “no worse than a bad cold, really.” 

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