July 23, 2003

Neocons take over the 'History News Network'

by Justin Raimondo

Today's column was originally written for the History News Network, in response to a piece, "Isolationism Strikes Again," by Ronald Radosh, originally published as a pamphlet by the neoconservative "Foundation for the Defense of Democracies." In his screed, Radosh characterized the conservative-led anti-interventionist movement of the 1930s as pro-fascist "appeasers" and sought to conflate it with the current left-oriented antiwar movement. He also managed to sneak in a vicious smear directed at me. I wrote the editor of HNN, one Rick Shenkman, a historian of vaguely leftish views and asked if he would be open to publishing my answer to Radosh. Shenkman replied:

"I'd be happy to consider posting your reply to Radosh's article. You can say just about whatever you like, but please don't speculate about his motives, which the targets of articles are often wont to do. I am trying hard to keep our pages open to a broad spectrum of views."

I sent my piece in a few days later, and, when I did not hear from Shenkman, I wrote and politely inquired as to the status of my article. He wrote back:

"Justin, Are you a historian? If you are I'll consider putting your piece on our homepage. If you're not, then perhaps we should just post your piece as a comment on Radosh's piece. HNN's homepage is reserved for people who are historians (and political scientists who write history)."

Apparently the terms of my participation in this debate had radically shifted, and I now had to present my credentials. I suspected something was up: after all, I knew for a fact that one of HNN's recent contributors didn't even have a college degree, but I wasn't willing to let Radosh's scurrilous screed go unanswered. I persevered, pointing out that I had written what the Weekly Standard described as "the definitive history of the Old Right," a book that is used as a textbook in college courses. I also referred Shenkman to my biography of Murray N. Rothbard. His answer was prompt:

"Ok, now the question is whether we should publish your piece. I'd like to be directed to some links in which you speculated about the Israeli connection to 9-11. To be honest, I am leery of such speculation. I'd like to see the context for myself in which you dragged the Israelis into this attack."

This, I thought, is getting ridiculous. But I can be stubborn, and so I patiently explained that I had not "dragged" anybody into anything, but merely reported what Fox News, Salon, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, the BBC, and any number of other "mainstream" venues had published. The story of an Israeli spy network in the U.S. that had kept close tabs on the 9/11 hijackers had been widely reported and commented on, and it was absurd, I averred, to pretend otherwise. I pointed Shenkman in the direction of my columns on the subject, and awaited his reply, which wasn't long in coming:

"After reviewing your columns on Israel I am afraid I have decided that it would not be a good idea to post your piece on the homepage. Readers would complain that I had turned the homepage over to a polemicist who has made a reputation making overly large generalizations about Jews, as in the very first column I looked at in which you say, 'Congress is practically Israeli-occupied territory.' I give writers a wide berth on HNN as you no doubt have figured out. Left, right ... they're all represented here. But I draw the line at generalizations which play off stereotypes."

From being "happy" to consider my piece to demanding to see my credentials to pronouncing me anathema on account of my views on Israel – we sure had come a long way in the space of a few days!

I wrote back:

"My writings make no generalizations about Jews: the column you cite doesn't refer to Jews at all. To contend that it is somehow beyond the pale to suggest that the current Israeli government enjoys kneejerk support in Congress is nonsense."

It was, of course, useless to point out to Shenkman that the U.S. Congress has gone out of its way to uncritically support the most ruthlessly violent, intransigent Israeli government in modern times – even against their own President. Short of Israeli tanks rolling into Washington, D.C., what other evidence does Shenkman require?

I had the funny feeling, however, that Shenkman is not too interested in evidence. Or else my reply to Radosh would have been considered on its merits. As it was, the article I had submitted was completely forgotten. Instead, I was subjected to some kind of political test – and found wanting.

Shenkman is a champion bloviator who believes that all politics is based on "myths." "Myths are harmless most of the time," he once told a college audience, "and sometimes they are even good." According to him, America needs myths to "unite" us: "Myths are what hold this country together."

In Shenkman's mythology, he isn't a fraud, but someone open to "all views, Left and Right," an editor who gives writers a "wide berth" – but not too wide, at least when it comes to certain subjects. Another one of his favorite "myths" to debunk is what he calls "the myth of isolationism." As one college paper described his talk:

"'Real truthful history makes America uncomfortable,' according to Shenkman. 'Myths can be dangerous. In the 1930s before World War II, America was in a period of isolationism. Americans believed that they were safe and separated by the surrounding miles and miles of ocean. The Japanese proved America wrong and took away the security.'"

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had already gone to war against Japan by imposing trade sanctions, aiding the Chinese, and secretly agreeing to defend the French and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia. He was intent on war, he worked assiduously to provoke a Japanese attack, and in this he succeeded all too well. How's that for "real truthful history"?

Shenkman is a fraud, and so is the History News Network, which pretends to be an objective forum for historians and is, in reality, no such thing. I got some glimmer of where Shenkman is coming from when I read the following in an interview he gave:

"Question: What does a typical day for you involve?

"Shenkman: Spend one to two hours reading the NYT. Then going through emails. Then reading the Chronicle of Higher Education, Frontpagemag.com and Slate. Then surfing websites and reading H-Net. When I come across an article I like that suits HNN. I'll grab an excerpt and post it."

Frontpagemag.com, the internet journal of the frothy-mouthed David Horowitz – who denounces all opposition to the Iraq war as "seditionist" – gets major play on HNN. This week, editor Shenkman features a diatribe by one Greg Yardley, culled from Horowitz's site, that accuses Historians Against the War of being a "radical" plot and suggests a legislative solution to their "self-destructive" stance:

"Broader civil society needs to reform the professorate and correct these abuses. Although I'm not optimistic, perhaps this will be done with the cooperation of the profession, persuaded that politicization is not in their best interests. If not, federal and state governments might have to step in, tying public funding to professional behavior. With or without the professors' cooperation, something has to be done."

Historians Against the War? Omigosh – will somebody please call the Department of Homeland Security!?

Shenkman also posts a reply by Historians Against the War, but note how the "debate" is framed: the question is "Historians Against the War, Pro and Con." As if the existence of such an organization could ever properly be called into question.

It is not too surprising that the sinister Yardley is calling for a campaign to "reform the professorate" – what else can we expect from someone who spent years in an authoritarian socialist cult, the Socialist Workers Party, and has only just recently emerged to proclaim himself a "conservative" (albeit one not too wedded to the idea of constitutionally limited government)?

I must say, I wouldn't have bothered with Shenkman's nonsensical antics if I hadn't received a few letters from my readers alerting me to Radosh's smear, and asking if I would write a reply. Unfortunately, it seems that a gaggle of warmongering "ex"-Commies – Horowitz, Radosh, Yardley – have managed to seize control of what was once a well-regarded website, and so I must confine my reply to this space. I am sure, however, that not a few of my readers will want to express their opinions to Shenkman (at this address: editor@historynewsnetwork.org) and perhaps even post their own rebuttals to Radosh's jargon-ridden jeremiad. Here is mine:

In Defense of the Old Right

Ronald Radosh's essay, "Isolationism Strikes Again," which seeks to make a parallel between the "isolationism" of the 1930s and the antiwar movement of today, fails to account for several differences, the first and most obvious being that the America First Committee (AFC), the leading anti-interventionist organization opposing U.S. entry into World War II, voted to disband immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Secondly, Radosh fails to take into account the balance of forces: the idea that a fourth-rate military power such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein constituted the equivalent of Hitler's Germany is simply not supported by any evidence. Hitler had overrun most of Europe and was venturing into Asia by the time the U.S. entered the fray: Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, had been driven out of Kuwait, subjected to a crippling embargo for over a decade, and represented a threat to nothing and no one but his own people – and, even in that case, had lost control of the northern part of his domain, where a virtually independent Kurdish state had taken root.

Saddam another Hitler? The comparison is overblown, to say the least.

Radosh writes:

"The enemies of liberation in Iraq, speaking from U.S. soil, warned that rather than victory, the U.S. would once again be blindly sucked into a useless and unwinnable war turning the rest of the world against our nation."

But this is precisely what is happening in Iraq, as the U.S. gets bogged down in a guerrilla war against an enemy that is everywhere and nowhere in particular. The headlines refuted Radosh, even as his essay was posted.

Radosh then goes on to attack Pat Buchanan:

"The U.S., as Pat Buchanan so plainly put it, is acting in a 'triumphalist' fashion leading to 'an imperial war on Iraq.' And, of course, Buchanan argued that the U.S. is fundamentally manipulated by the Israeli government, which hopes that war with Iraq will give Israel an excuse to return to Lebanon and 'settle scores with Hizbollah.' The Jews, now as in the past, are projected as the driving force pushing the U.S. to accept their agenda and endanger the peace of the world."

Why does Radosh conflate Israel and "the Jews"? What Buchanan calls Israel's "amen corner" in the U.S. is hardly synonymous with people of the Jewish faith: Christian fundamentalists, who hold a key position of influence within the GOP, are Israel's best (and most numerous) friends, and are especially supportive of the present radical right-wing Likud government. So it isn't "the Jews" who are the objects of Buchanan's ire, but an organized lobby, the main component of which is non-Jewish.

Radosh cites Charles Beard and Charles A. Lindbergh, but nowhere refutes them. Beard held that sanctions against Japan would lead to war – and that is precisely what happened. Lindbergh said we would occupy Europe in peacetime if we intervened in the European war – and we are still in Europe, last time I checked.

Radosh writes:

"One difference between then and now, however, was that a large portion of the intellectual community then formed committees in favor of intervention against the Nazi menace. These groups countered large and influential anti-war lobbies exemplified by the American First Committee."

What Radosh fails to mention, however, is that these interventionist committees and groups of intellectuals were motivated by their sympathy for the Soviet Union, which had been attacked by the Axis powers. The campaign to drag us into war became a crusade to open up a "second front" and save the "workers' fatherland," and was directed, in large part, by the Communists. Radosh says it is different in the case of the war on Iraq, but this is simply not true: the War Party of today has its little bands of intellectuals who favored a U.S. invasion. Instead of the "workers' fatherland," however, the chief interest of these intellectuals seems to have been furthering the strategic interests of Israel.

One hardly knows what to make of Radosh's assault on the Old Right, the so-called "isolationists" whose cause he so ably presented in his 1976 book Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Radosh's wonderful book contradicts the crude characterization in his essay to such an extent that the innocent reader may wonder if, perhaps, a Radosh doppelganger exists, somewhere, and is trying to confuse us. In his essay, Radosh accuses the Old Right of being part of an "anti-Semitic" "conspiracy" that sought to aid the Axis powers. In his earlier book, however, he says of the Old Right:

"Their criticisms were ignored as Americans centered their attention on whether to enter the war against Nazi Germany, and they were soon branded as apologists for the Axis powers. Their voices stilled by patriotic fervor, they hoped to be heard once again in saner times. But such a time did not come….

"It would be left to a later generation to raise them again. If we listen carefully to these individuals, omitting our well-worn ideologies and political biases, we will learn much from their journeys and courage. Whether we agree with all, some, or few of their particular judgments, we may be inspired to act more thoughtfully to reach viable alternatives to foreign adventure and interventionism."

Yes, they did indeed hope to be heard once again, "in saner times." Those times, I fear, have yet to come. In any case, Radosh – once a real historian, now reduced to jargonized sloganeering – is no longer capable of listening.

Finally, I regretfully must answer Radosh's accusations directed at me, to wit:

"Today, Old Right descendants and imitators gather around Pat Buchanan and his journal, the American Conservative, which joins the Left in the fight against so-called U.S. 'global hegemony.' Their anti-Americanism has become so visceral and extreme that one of the journal's contributors, Dennis 'Justin' Raimondo, actually wrote, in the Russian newspaper Pravda, that the claim that 'America is a civilized country' is false, and, referring to World War II, he argued 'the wrong side won the war in the Pacific.' And like the conspiratorial anti-Semitic Arab newspapers, Raimondo also writes that 'Israel had foreknowledge of 9/11, a claim that puts him in league with the most extremist anti-Semites in the Arab world."

Radosh can't seem to get even the most basic facts right: my legal name is Justin Raimondo. I changed it years ago, when I was barely out of my teens. So what, exactly, is the point of putting my name in ironic quotes?

Furthermore, I have never written for any Russian newspaper. Radosh lifts the fragment of a phrase out of a column I wrote for Antiwar.com, in which I refuted a piece in the New York Post that tried to justify the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and attempts to somehow prove that I favored a Japanese victory in World War II. But putting the sentence fragment he cites in its original context makes it clear that I advocated no such thing. Here is the full quote in context:

"The great horror is that this heinous deed was committed against Japan, a civilization as far removed from our own as the streets of New York are from the African savannas. It's at times like these that I tend to believe the wrong side won the war in the Pacific. Just think: if we all woke up one day living in some alternate history, as in Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, our cultural malaise would disappear overnight. Instead of listening to the latest loutish lyrics of Eminem, American teenagers would be contemplating the subtle beauty of the Japanese tea ceremony. If contemporary Japan is any clue, the crime rate would be cut by 95 percent, and the literacy rate would skyrocket. Certainly everyone's manners would improve. All in all, life would be far more civilized, imbued with a gentility that would make the New York Post an impossibility."

I guess it's too much to expect, in the feverish "gotcha" atmosphere of today, that irony is going to be appreciated. That this quote is now being exhumed – in fractured form – and lifted out of context to prove my alleged "sympathy" for Japanese militarism would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic.

Radosh contends that my series of articles averring that Israel had some foreknowledge of 9/11 put me "in league with the most extremist anti-Semites in the Arab world."

Is Fox News reporter Carl Cameron also part of the vast anti-Semitic conspiracy? In December 2001, he reported:

"There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are – quote – 'tie-ins.' But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, – quote – 'evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified.'"

Salon, Le Monde, Jane's Intelligence, the wire services, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, the BBC – all have reported on various aspects of this story. Are they also in on the Vast Anti-Semitic Conspiracy?

Numerous stories emanating from the Arab world have contended that Israel actually executed the 9/11 attacks. That is not what I have written or believe. The reporting done by Fox News, Salon, other mainstream news sources indicates that Israeli intelligence agents were watching the hijackers very closely in the weeks and months prior to 9/11. In my writing I have been careful to say only that the Israelis must have known something about the 9/11 plot, and – for some reason – failed to inform the U.S.


Apropos the Radosh smear, I direct your attention to Tim Carney's excellent piece in Brainwash, "Pay no attention to the neocon behind the curtain." As the neocons' key role in dragging us into war becomes more widely known, they are employing a unique tactic: denying their own existence. Here's the money quote:

"Conservatives usually leave it up to the left to play the race card. Byron York of National Review sums up nicely the 'standard rhetorical device of the Left: If you can't win an argument with a conservative, call him a racist.'

"Sadly, this device has been employed by a handful of conservative writers who have called those who criticize the neocons anti-semitic. 'Neocon,' we are told, is a code word for 'Jew.' Even though, as Boot points out:

"'First, many of the leading neocons aren't Jewish; Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Father John Neuhaus and Michael Novak aren't exactly menorah lighters. Second, support for Israel – a key tenet of neoconservatism – is hardly confined to Jews; its strongest constituency in America happens to be among evangelical Christians.'

"This bizarre reasoning – that 'neocon' secretly means 'Jew,' but neoconservatism isn't particularly Jewish – reminds me of another absurdity. Some will call you a racist for opposing welfare, and in the next breath bring up that most welfare recipients are white. Doesn't the latter fact discredit the former accusation?"

Carney's piece has neocon Ramesh Ponnuru in such a tizzy that he can only manage to splutter: "This is too insipid to deserve a response." The inarticulate Ponnuru and his fellow ideologues have no rational response: they can only smear – and try to purge – their opponents.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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