Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo
Today's column is the text to Justin Raimondo's speech given yesterday to the Colorado Freedom Party.
The task of building a new political party is daunting, and I salute you for having the courage to take it. Aside from the legal barriers to ballot access, there are a host of other obstacles that must be overcome, not the least of which is the indifference and cynicism of the general public when it comes to politics. The biggest problem, however, is in ourselves.
In the day to day struggle to bring your message to the people of Colorado, there will doubtless be moments when the immensity of the task is overwhelming. How, you will ask ourselves, can a small band of people organize a movement that can challenge the bipartisan Establishment and restore our old Republic? The Democratic and Republican parties and their candidates have tens of millions of dollars to throw around, a lock on the presidential debates, and automatic ballot status. Yes, but we have something they don't have. They are merely the burnt-out shells of parties that once expressed some coherent idea, and had some sense of their own history, but today are merely two wings of the same vulture, as Pat Buchanan puts it. We, on the other hand, are more than just an electoral machine: we are an intellectual and ideological movement with a long and glorious (if largely unsung) history.
For as long as the cold war lasted, the history of the conservative movement before about 1955 the history of what I call the Old Right was for the most part ignored: when they talked about it all, historians of both the left and the right invariably dismissed it as too politically incorrect to be taken seriously. But the conservative response to the New Deal and the looming prospect of war produced a powerful and very well-organized movement whose active adherents numbered in the millions and who almost saved our Republic from taking a giant step on the road to Empire.
The Old Right was a coalition of conservative businessmen, progressive Republicans in Congress; and disillusioned liberals who were alarmed by the corporatist direction the New Deal was taking. All of these elements had their grievances against FDR the court-packing controversy, the fascist-style of the National Recovery Act, the massive and unprecedented centralization of power in Washington but they all came together in the great antiwar movement of the late 1930s, the America First Committee.
Now there is a slogan we have all heard. This is our intellectual and political heritage: a movement that numbered in the millions, and that posed a deadly threat to the war plans of the Roosevelt administration, which were formulated long before Pearl Harbor. It has long since been established that Franklin Delano Roosevelt "lied us into war," as Clare Boothe Luce put it. Even the man's idolaters admit that. The consensus, however, is that he did it for our own good, because the people who overwhelmingly opposed getting into the European war did not have the wisdom to jump into the bloodiest and costliest war in human history at the first opportunity.
Pat Buchanan's masterful analysis the events leading up to World War II, in his book, A Republic, Not an Empire, reflects the Old Right of that crucial period in world history. It was a war that was fought to preserve the Soviet Union. Instead of letting Hitler and Stalin tear each other to pieces, we intervened on Stalin's behalf at the behest of our own fellow-traveling liberals. We might have skipped the cold war, but instead embarked on a fifty-year global crusade, the cost of which in lives and in treasure is beyond calculation.
Another cost of the global anti-Communist crusade was that the real history of the American conservative or right-wing movement in America was suppressed, or distorted. The great irony is that conservatives in America have no real sense of their own history. The official story, of course, is that the whole thing was essentially founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., when the first issue of National Review came out, but this, to be charitable, is a load of malarkey. Buckley's own father was an active member of the America First Committee, as were all the conservatives of the time: they represented the majority opinion in this country, as war clouds darkened the European horizon, that the US ought to stay well out of it. It was 1939, and the Left was the vanguard of the War Party. The Soviet Union had just been invaded by Hitler's armies, and the American Communists and their fellow travelers were the vanguard of the War Party. Conservatives, on the other hand, were the Party of Peace. They saw, correctly, that war would not only save the failing New Deal, but would give the President near dictatorial powers and expand the power and scope of government beyond anything imagined by the founders.
The America First Committee was founded in 1940, by a bunch of college students at Yale, but soon attracted the support of conservative businessmen such as General Robert E. Wood, the head of Sears and Roebuck, and a base of activists and supporters centered in the Midwest. Disillusioned liberals such as the journalist best-selling author John T. Flynn, who was banished from the pages of the New Republic and the Yale Review for his opposition to the President's policies, due in no small part to the personal intervention of FDR himself, who declared that in a letter to an editor that his articles should not appear in any "respectable magazine or newspaper." By respectable, the President did not mean to include the Chicago Tribune, the flagship newspaper of the Old Right, and publisher Robert McCormick was glad to print Flynn's stinging denunciations of the President's drive to war.
Flynn was a leading light of the America First Committee, a member of its national committee, and the chief organizer of its vital New York City chapter; with the prospect of war looming ever larger, he traveled around the country addressing big crowds, and his speeches capture the spirit of the original America Firsters. At a rally in Kansas City, Missouri, he declared that America stood on the brink of a war that was not a war for democracy, but a war between empires and about imperialism. England was besieged, but the British Empire was just the biggest of all these imperialist grabbers. Britain held India and millions of people in Asia and Africa in subjection," yet we must risk our own democracy to save an empire on which the sun never sets.
If you take the ruckus raised by the publication of Pat Buchanan's last book, in which he dared challenge the official mythology of the second world war, and multiply it by one hundred, you will get some faint idea of the smear campaign Flynn and the original American Firsters had to contend with. Not only that, but as the historian Thomas E. Mahl and others have shown, the interventionist lobby was largely a series of front groups set up by British intelligence which conducted a whole series of covert actions against the America First Committee, infiltrating their meetings, disrupting the AFC's activities, heckling and picketing meetings, and conducting campaigns to get the AFC banned from holding meetings. The smear campaign conducted in the press was a veritable avalanche of lies, in which the insignificant utterances of some marginal pro-Axis crackpot would be "exposed" as having joined the AFC a handful out of nearly a million dues-paying members.
In the crusade to keep us out of war, a grand alliance was forged, consisting of populists and libertarians, conservatives and old-style antiwar liberals, businessmen and Midwestern progressives who hated bigness, in business and in government. The great fear of this broad coalition was that we would win the war against national socialism in the trenches, and lose it on the home front.
The victory over the Axis did not give us any respite: instead, it gave rise to the Soviet colossus, and led to the enslavement of a third of the world's peoples; a Red holocaust fully comparable to the one enacted by Hitler occurred in the Communist bloc nations. We were in for another fifty years of global crusading, this time in a "cold war" that turned hot on several occasions. Most conservatives went along with this, eventually, forgetting the tradition of America First and subordinating the fight for liberty at home to the struggle against Communism abroad. The foreign policy of the US was aptly summed up by the historian Charles A. Beard as "perpetual war for perpetual peace." Such Old Rightists as Flynn saw the postwar Welfare-Warfare State as a giant boondoggle, a jobs-making machine fueled by inflation, the planned economy, and a permanent war hysteria. Flynn saw that in the new postwar world, war and the preparation for war would become our greatest industry. As he foresaw in his 1943 book, As We Go Marching, the postwar world promised "the most romantic adventures in global planning, regeneration, and domination, all to be done under the authority of a powerfully centralized government in which the executive will hold all the powers, with Congress reduced to the role of a debating society."
In 1952, at the height of the cold war, the Old Right editor and author, Garet Garrett, wrote that "we have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire." Like Rome, we have passed into Empire without quite knowing it or, at least, without acknowledging it.
Our policy of global intervention has, since that time, not suffered any serious challenge. The last presidential candidate to call our bipartisan foreign policy of universal meddling into question was Senator Robert A. Taft, who had the Republican nomination snatched from him twice. The Eastern Republican establishment, committed to internationalism and our mercantilist corporate-driven foreign policy, has exercised its veto power ever since. In the GOP's big tent, there is room for every interest group and caucus, including Republicans for Choice, the Log Cabin Clubs, and organizations representing every ethnicity under the sun but none for those who put America first. Although a Republican congress opposed the Kosovo war, the party's presidential candidate fully supported it indeed, he declared that we shouldn't have held back.
For as long as the cold war lasted, the conservative consensus in favor of global interventionism was solid. Except for us libertarians, who alone preserved the memory of the Old Right and kept the legacy of the old America First movement alive, both conservatives and most liberals were fervent internationalists, united in favor of the forward deployment of American centurions from Korea to Germany to the jungles of southeast Asia. A few, like Flynn and Garrett, dissented, but they were not listened to: and so the Empire grew, along with the size and power of the federal government, feeding certain sectors of the corporate elite and providing a kind of playground for the national security bureaucracy.
When the cold war ended, rather abruptly, this corporate and governmental national security bureaucracy did not evaporate, or seek a more useful and productive line of work. Instead, they looked for new enemies, and new worlds to conquer. The US, as the last superpower left standing, far from enjoying the peace dividend and turning to solve some of our more pressing internal problems problems in our culture, in our children, in our future as a coherent society we are now asked to embark on yet another global crusade. The Serbians, the Russians, the rogue states of North Korea and Iraq, the awakening peoples of the Arab world there is no shortage of proposed enemies and dire threats to the peace of the world. Our national interest is now apparently such an elastic concept that it can stretch to any corner of the world, no matter how far from our shores.
The domestic political effects of the fall of communism and the end of the cold war have yet to be completely played out in this country. The Buchanan campaign is the just the beginning of a new movement in America that may have started on the Right but will certainly not end there. As North Korea comes in from the cold, and the Koreans themselves begin to chafe at the continued US military occupation of their country, will we have the good sense to come home before we are asked to leave? Not if the candidates of the two major parties have anything to say about it. On all the vital foreign policy questions of the day, Gore and Bush are in basic agreement: NATO expansion, the occupation of the Balkans, the increasingly worrisome US-sponsored war against Colombian guerrillas, and the insistence on US hegemony over every continent.
Since Ralph Nader won't talk about foreign policy at all, there is only one candidate in this race who reflects the views of most Americans when it comes to foreign policy. We know that the people and the elites are split on foreign policy, with the elites chiding ordinary Americans for not caring about the rest of the world and selfishly living in a consumer's paradise. But the isolationist impulse the tendency to keep out of the incomprehensible quarrels of foreign factions, and attend to their own problems is a natural one for Americans, at least for those who remember the words of Washington's Farewell address. Only Pat Buchanan represents the majority American sentiment on this important issue: only he dissents from the bipartisan consensus, and is making Kosovo, the starvation of Iraq, the provocations aimed at Russia, and the insufferable arrogance of the megalomaniacs in the State Department a campaign issue.
The cold war is over, and Americans want their troops to start coming home. They didn't support the Kosovo war, which was cut short just in time for the popular backlash to be forestalled. If and when it resumes and that could be at any moment those of us who stood against this "humanitarian" obscenity in the first place will have the kind of moral and political authority to mobilize a mass movement against globalism. And that will have consequences, in the polls and at the ballot box.
In Iraq, in the Caucusus region of Russia, in the Baltics where NATO expansion threatens the peace of Europe war clouds are gathering on the horizon, just as they were in the 1930s. Once again, a movement whose battlecry is "America first" has organized to fight the rising tide of interventionism. This time, there is no Hitler, no major threat comparable to that of the old Soviet Union but give them time, and they'll come up with something. They always do.
You are the vanguard of that movement, the second generation of America Firsters fighting to redeem the legacy of your predecessors. In the midst of that fight, it is important to know that you have a history, that you are fighting a battle that began before you were born and will in all likelihood continue after your death. The struggle continues, but these days the pace is picking up. We approach a crisis, and this cries out for new leadership. Fortunately, such leadership has stepped forward: we could have no better representative of this new and joyously combative insurgency than Patrick J. Buchanan.
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