In June 1967, I was married to my first wife and living in Paris, playing tennis and polo. When the Six-Day War began, Israel asked for volunteers of any nationality and religion. It took me about one minute to decide. I presented myself to the Israeli consulate and was sent by bus to a gathering place near Clichy, where I spent an extremely uncomfortable night among young French Jews who occasionally would scream out “Israel Vivra!” Needless to say, we were all sent home the next day, Israel’s blitz attack having destroyed the Egyptian air force on day one, the Syrian army and the Arab Legion on days two and three. Then came the Egyptian army’s turn. After one week it was all over.
The reason I volunteered was that like many of my friends, I was pro-Israel. Two things made me change my mind: Yehudi Menuhin and the sinking of the USS Liberty and its immediate cover-up by the LBJ administration.
In London, Menuhin, a Jew, declared that he would go to Palestine and give a concert in aid of the displaced Palestinians. When I met him at a friend’s house, he told me things that were hard to believe: about the terror tactics of the Stern Gang and of Irgun, both initially formed to force the British out but who had turned to killing innocent Arabs in order to gain territory. Coming from a devout Jew and the greatest violinist of his time, the point sank in. I eventually made my way down to Palestine and saw the squalid camps the refugees were living in and heard about Deir Yassin, a village that lived in peace with its Jewish neighbors until the massacre by Irgun. As a result, 600,000 Arabs fled the Palestinian territories the UN had set aside for a Jewish state, ensuring a Jewish majority in the new state.
So someone who was ready to fight for Israel’s survival eventually turned pro-Palestinian, while terrorists like Menachem Begin, a future prime minister, were turned into heroes by the propagandists in Israel and in America.
Labels simply don’t work. The old cliché of today’s terrorist becoming tomorrow’s freedom fighter, however, does.
The same applies to world politics. As a child, I witnessed armed communist gangs rounding up teachers, priests, workers, and so-called capitalist exploiters of the people and murdering them outright in camps surrounding Athens. I was eight years old. I, of course, became an arch right-winger, a Cold Warrior, and stayed one until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Uncle Sam was my hero and guiding light. My father offered our large house near the royal palace to the CIA so that American spooks could listen in on Soviet spooks in the Russian embassy next door.
But after the Evil Empire’s downfall, I saw a different America—not one dedicated to defending freedom but an empire out to exploit friends and imaginary foes alike. Why, for example, are we surrounding Russia with NATO bases? Why are we in Iraq? Why are we threatening Iran and Syria? Why are we not restraining Israel? Why is Bush inviting the Saudi head kleptocrat to Texas and holding his hand like a long-lost brother?
What are Right and Left any more? Who is a liberal and who is a conservative? When Madeleine Albright proudly announces that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children via the sanctions on Iraq were worth it, even God becomes suspect. Which liberal or conservative can explain to me the difference between an Iraqi insurgent’s roadside bomb that kills civilian passersby and a U.S. bombing raid that also causes the deaths of innocent women and children? Both are acts of savagery: in both cases one knows in advance that civilians will most certainly be killed. Bush and Americans in general claim the moral high ground, but both are terribly wrong. War is a barbaric business. Only defensive wars are justified.
When this journal began four years ago, a bum by the name of David Frum accused us of being unpatriotic Americans—this from a man who has never seen war up close and would never send his son or daughter to serve their country. But we were proved right. Iraq is the greatest American foreign-policy failure, bigger than Vietnam, but the neocons have yet to apologize. To the contrary. The Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, a sofa samurai par excellence, is urging Uncle Sam to stop dithering and to engage in more pre-emptive wars. Kristol calls himself a conservative. Could I possibly call myself the same? Not on your life.
All governments are monopolies of organized force, inherently unjustifiable. And once accepted, they are bound to get out of control sooner or later. No, there is no longer a Right or a Left. Bush’s mammoth expansion of government power and spending makes LBJ look like Robert Taft, the last true conservative—and peace lover, I might add.
Labels are for fools.
The American Conservative, August 28, 2006
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