Jon Utley, one of the most dedicated and principled pro-freedom and antiwar activists in the nation, received a well-earned Lifetime Achievement Award from American Conservative magazine at their Washington dinner last week. Jon has been in the forefront of the antiwar movement since 1990, when he spearheaded a group to oppose George H.W. Bush’s war against Iraq. He has been a rare voice of reason and grace in conservative circles, patiently pointing out how foreign warring was destroying American freedom – as well as wreaking pointless havoc abroad. He has also been a generous supporter of groups ranging from the Future of Freedom Foundation to Antiwar.com, where his columns have trounced bloodthirsty politicians of all stripes.
In his acceptance speech last Thursday, Jon mentioned that his contrarian nature may have started when he arrived on a ship in New York harbor in December 1939. Jon was only 5 years old and could not see the skyline because of the throng of people. The ship was tilting slightly, and Jon realized he could get a much better view by going to the higher side of the ship and looking across. Jon has been getting better views than the vast majority of Washingtonians ever since.
Jon was born in the Soviet Union in 1934. His mother was Freda Utley, a bestselling author who helped awaken Americans to the Soviet peril in the 1940s and beyond. Ms. Utley also wrote one of the first books published in America on the horrendous sufferings in postwar Germany – “The High Cost of Vengeance,” published by Regnery in 1949, available at this link. His father, Arcadi Berdichevsky, was murdered in Stalin’s Gulag in 1938. Return to the Gulag, a film on his father’s fate, has been shown on PBS and on other venues around the nation. Reason.com described the movie: “In 2004, Utley embarked upon a search to learn of his father’s fate. This documentary traces Utley’s journey through former labor camps and cities in northern Russia and his final uncovering of the horrible truth at the dreaded camp city of Vorkuta within the Arctic Circle.” You can watch the 28-minute documentary here.
Here is a nine-minute tribute video – “Jon Utley – A Lifetime of Courage” that was shown on Thursday, featuring Kelley Vlahos, John Henry, Roger Ream, and others.
Jon is broad minded and wise in the his pro-freedom efforts. A few years ago, I asked him why he was attending an ACLU awards dinner touting a left-wing keynoter who didn’t seem truly concerned with individual liberty.
Jon replied, “So that somebody will care when government agents take us away.”
Hearing that line from someone whose father vanished in the Gulag makes it impossible to forget. Jon had seen enough repression in his life to recognize the perils of the lockstep atmosphere prevailing in post 9/11 Washington.
That dinner last week was “black tie optional.” Jon sent me a note a couple weeks ago: “Would you like to come, a comp ticket, to our GALA? I told them you might trim your beard, you really do sometimes look like an anarchist.”
In honor of Jon, I happily trimmed my beard. I even sported a nice suit. Admittedly, a USA Today editor notified me that the knot in my necktie failed her inspection.
Thanks, Jon, for everything you have done for freedom in your life!