AN UNCHANGING MONOLITH?
have entitled this piece "A Short History," because a
full history of warmongering at National Review magazine
would be long indeed. James J. Martin wrote two volumes in the early
1960s on the turn of The New Republic and The Nation
from a critical view of US foreign policy to full-throttle interventionism
in the period 1919-1939. Fortunately, there is little change
with which to deal where National Review (hereafter: NR)
is concerned, and while our time span (1955-2001) is longer than
Martin's, a light sampling of NR's warlike moments will suffice
to make the point.
FROM THE BEGINNING
August 1954, as NR waited in the wings, young
William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote that foreign policy
had divided the American right wing into two camps,
that of the non-interventionists and that of more
realistic persons like himself who understood the
Communist Menace in its horrible Totality. Given such
an unprecedented and cosmic threat, victory would
require Americans to "think in terms of institutionalizing
native despotism"1: better
a near-totalitarian central state run by our fellow
Americans than Soviet takeover.
its birth, the next year, NR boasted that it
stood "athwart the path of history, yelling Stop!"
Given the editors' willingness to create a bureaucratic
despotism on our shores, it would have been more truthful
to say that they stood in the path of the total federal
state, yelling Come On Down! Such an admission would,
of course, have been bad for their self-image as defenders
of the free market and the two or three liberties
whose suspension might not be demanded by the great
CONTINUITY AND LITTLE CHANGE
course the whole point of NR was to heal the
division on the right by driving the non-interventionists
out of respectable society. The right, no longer "divided,"
could now serve in the forefront of the new crusade.
Through the fifties and into the sixties, there was
hardly a war or intervention about which NR
showed any skepticism or reluctance.2
There were, indeed, a number of wars or interventions
on the editors' wish list, which we did not, thankfully,
time, the magazine's initial enthusiasm for European
colonialism became more muted, but its enthusiasm
for extensions of US power anywhere and everywhere
grew and grew. NR went all out for Barry Goldwater
in 1964 and when that adventure went sour, committed
itself to apologizing for LBJ and the war in Indochina.
The only complaint from NR was that more bombs,
more troops, and more money might be needed to win
the war, "contain" China, stop communism,
and so on.
for atrocities lately popular again because
of claims about Senator Kerrey's wartime activities
NR laid down the law in no uncertain
terms. Deriding Time's coverage of Songmy (the
Mylai Massacre), the editors wrote: "During the
American Civil War atrocity was not an aberration,
the act of bewildered or temporarily unbalanced men,
but a matter of settled military policy. 'Until we
can repopulate Georgia,' said General Sherman, 'it
is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction
of its roads, houses and people will cripple their
military resources.' Does Time conclude that
the Union, therefore, should have been permitted to
don't know what Time might have replied to
that, but I do wonder exactly how NR expected
Southerners to react to that little sally.
about the release of the Pentagon Papers, NR
published its own "secret documents," which
were quickly exposed as faked. To this, the magazine
replied that such documents should exist and
therefore NR's papers were merely "technically
fictitious" not "substantively fictitious."4
Cornered by popular revulsion against the war, NR
defiantly began praising the notion of "American
so it went. The heroic cause in Vietnam ran aground,
somehow, leaving NR to grumble that more firepower,
atrocities, defoliation, whatever, would have led
to victory, but the weak liberals had not been up
to it. If NR had been running the war, it might
still be going on today; that, or the place would
be a flat plain of radioactive ruin. I'm afraid they
never made the case, though, that the deaths of 50,000
Americans and a couple million Vietnamese had much
to do with the actual defense of the liberties and
property of the American people.
of their war, NR whooped it up for invasion
and occupation of Libya in 1973, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, Nixon had come and gone, and the poor editors
had to endure the Carter years. They and their new
allies, the Neo-Conservatives, stirred up a crisis
atmosphere about the renewed Soviet threat – "the
Present Danger" – and then got all the dandy
new weapons systems they wanted during the long and
profligate reign of Ronald Reagan and Bush I.
OF THE ENEMY
with improper stealth and suddenness, the Evil Empire
imploded. The intelligence agencies with their large
and unaccountable budgets had somehow failed to see
it coming. One might think NR would have no
reason to go on. But No, NR cast about for
new enemies. Having signed on for "native despotism,"
it would never do for them to let their guard down
famously led to a renewed "division" on
the right, as some conservatives acknowledged what
many libertarians had said all along, namely, that
under cover of waging the Cold War the United States
had been transformed from a republic into an empire.
The Gulf War and the humanitarian aggression against
Serbia helped sort out the real commitments of members
of the right.
DERBYSHIRE AND INEXORABLE INEVITABILITIES
recent China incident may have been another defining
moment for the right. The unrestrained warmongering
from NR was wondrous to behold. John Derbyshire
distinguished himself in the struggle.
"America Grovels," NR online, April 11,
2001, he set everyone straight on the evils of China.
China, it seems, is Communist and Leninist. But, wait,
that's not quite right either; China is "anti-democratic"
and committed to "racial superiority." Therefore
China is HITLER. This "fascist" China brings
to mind Mussolini, not to mention Imperial Japan.
we come to the bottom line: "Early 20th-century
Japan was not bent on world conquest, only a Greater
East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere – precisely what China
wishes to construct in Central Asia and the West Pacific."
what? I'd sure go to war to prevent that.
it was a mistake for the US to get on a collision
course with Japan over that nation's attempt to create
an economic sphere of influence for itself. The Japanese
pointed out in the twenties and thirties that all
they wanted was an arrangement similar to that which
the US enjoyed in relation to Latin America. High-minded
US spokesmen could see no similarity whatsoever. Myopia
in high places is nothing unusual.
why repeat the exercise of the 1940s? Any fool could
see that, in the nature of things, China will be an
influential power in East Asia. Carl Oglesby, of SDS
fame, theorized that the war in Vietnam was really
about preventing an inevitable economic relationship
between China and Japan, a relationship which US neo-mercantilists
opposed as too competitive with their interests.6
One would have to be very cynical to believe that…..
of beating China back into the sorry shape it was
in around 1900, I think one has to accept that China
will play a role in the future of East Asia. We can
trade with China and – this is the hard part for many
Americans – mind our own business as regards China's
form of government and internal affairs. That would
tend to promote peace.
are those so enamored of "the joys and sorrows"
of being a Pacific Power that the appearance of any
rival seems a casus belli. Mr. Derbyshire is
polishing his pith helmet, even now, and dusting off
his manuals on "Wog-Caning" and "Surviving
on the Bamboo Shoot Diet While Securing the Sea Lanes
to India." He has already announced that war
with China is inevitable.
is gone; the old reflexes live on. It seems somehow
fitting that NR should recruit fresh warmongers
from the Old Country to stiffen the soft Americans'
resolve (not to mention those upper lips). They
did it for so much longer. It worked so well. I shall
not even raise the Irish Question, or Questions. The
original empire was so wonderful and so beneficial
for all concerned that I'm surprised that our ancestors
fought to secede from it, or that those terrible Boers
suffered 26,000 civilian casualties before giving
into such good government.
NATIONAL REVIEW TO NATIONAL REVIEW
British imperial connection is indeed fitting. Young
Mr. Buckley consciously named his new magazine after
the original National Review.
British NR had existed for several decades
when Leopold James Maxse, the son of an admiral and
a committed imperialist, took over it in the late
1880s. Under Maxse, the magazine proclaimed the "inevitability"
of war between Britain and Imperial Germany.7
Colonel Blimps and Social Reformers were already going
into coalition when Leopold Maxse took over the National
Review. Here, truly, was a school of National
Greatness, efficiency, and cold showers. The original
NR did not have to wait for Neo-Cons to come
on board. Beyond that, the two magazines seem rather
F. Buckley, Jr., "A Dilemma of Conservatives,"
The Freeman, 5, 2 (August 1954), p. 52.
Burnham, ex-Trotskyite, proto-Neo-Conservative,
and NR's reigning foreign affairs guru, did
not want to crusade against Rhodesia or the Republic
of South Africa ("Which Isolationism is Your
Isolationism?", NR, January 16, 1968),
but this pretty much exhausts NR's opposition
Great Atrocity Hunt," National Review,
December 16, 1969.
National Review, August 10, 1971.
James Burnham, "The Joys and Sorrows of Empire,"
National Review, July 13, 1971.
and Change (New York, 1967) pp. 127-130.
and Social Reform (New York, 1968), pp.