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I Did Not Know That

Andrew Cusack at Taki's [paleo-conservative] Magazine quotes a fascinating old article from The History News Network concerning the attitude of American conservatives toward the bombing of Hiroshima in the aftermath of World War II:

"...[two days after the bombing of Hiroshima] former Republican President Herbert Hoover wrote to a friend that "[t]he use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul."

"Days later...the conservative owner and editor of U.S. News...argued that Japan's surrender had been inevitable without the atomic bomb. He added that justifications of 'military necessity' will 'never erase from our minds the simple truth that we, of all civilized nations...did not hesitate to employ the most destructive weapon of all times indiscriminately against men, women and children.'

"Just weeks after Japan's surrender, an article published in the conservative magazine Human Events contended that America's atomic destruction of Hiroshima might be morally 'more shameful' and 'more degrading' than Japan's 'indefensible and infamous act of aggression' at Pearl Harbor.

"...A 1947 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, at the time a leading conservative voice, claimed that President Truman and his advisers were guilty of 'crimes against humanity' for 'the utterly unnecessary killing of uncounted Japanese...'

"A steady drumbeat of conservative criticism continued throughout the 1950's. A 1958 editorial in William F. Buckley, Jr.'s National Review took former President Truman to task for his then-current explanation of why he had decided to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima...

"...a 1959 National Review article matter-of-factly stated: 'The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming a part of the national conservative creed.'"

(I am cutting all kinds of equally interesting stuff - there's much more at the links.)

So c. 1960, it was the conservatives who condemned the Hiroshima bombing, and the liberals who defended it?

My. How times change.

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. Old-timey conservatives of that sort were beaten all hollow at the polls, while the legend of "the good war" took hold. In due course, they either converted to the liberal triumphalist view of the war, or found themselves driven into little hidey-holes like Taki's and The American Conservative.

Comments (27)

Oh, I really don't think all of those old-timey conservatives you are talking about would find themselves comfortable today at Taki's and TAC. Not really. Condemning Hiroshima does not a paleocon of the Taki variety make. I am attempting to speak mildly.

Lydia, I often find reading Taki's (& TAC) *absolutely infuriating*. But I also often *learn* stuff there that I never knew, and otherwise never would have known. Hence my title, here.

There are few political websites about which I could say that.

"Old-timey conservatives of that sort were beaten all hollow at the polls, while the legend of "the good war" took hold. In due course, they either converted to the liberal triumphalist view of the war, or found themselves driven into little hidey-holes like Taki's and The American Conservative."

It was that to which I was referring. "Found themselves driven into..." etc., gives rather the impression that they would as it were _belong_ there, indeed be a singificant portion of the populace thereof, rather than going there as camp followers or uncommitted readers, finding it sometimes infuriating, sometimes learning things, etc. Sort of like saying, "When the Anglo-Saxons eventually took over Britain and it became Angle-land, the ancient Britons were either killed or found themselves driven into the far less fertile Western mountains, where they became what we call today the Welsh."

"I really don't think all of those old-timey conservatives you are talking about would find themselves comfortable today at Taki's and TAC."

Couldn't disagree more, as both outlets publish writers in touch with the spiritual and philosophical patrimony of the original National Review, far more frequently than any other forum. Do you find oddballs and cranks, especially at Takis? Sure, but you should have seen what NR, YAF, and the rightist farm system; Yale's Party of the Right, was like circa 1967-1975.

The world's largest military - industrial complex, utilitarian ethics, and grand ideological designs are incompatible with a Christian social order, yet the official organs of the Right accept, if not cherish these 3 corrupting influences. I assure you, this is a relatively recent development.

Vietnam and the "Cold War" took a serious toll on our nation's psyche and conservatives were not immune. I remember when teen-age conservatives started wearing "Bomb Hanoi" buttons as a form of shocking agitprop. 10 years later, as adults they would hiss at Solzhenitsyn's "ungrateful" and "pessimistic" Harvard Address. Nowadays, they listen to Sean Hannity and hope to wake-up to news that Iran has been hit by a preemptive strike. Constantly waging, or preparing to undertake armed conflict, warps the minds and souls of normally healthy, intelligent people. The "conservative movement" would be Exhibit A.

Well, Kevin, if you can use the facts you cite to argue that the very people mentioned in Steve's post--from Herbert Hoover to the writers of those various editorials--would feel comfortable being an integral part of Taki's and co., then all I can say is that in that case there must be a lot more involved in such comfort than merely a strong and vocal opposition to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japanese cities. I can name people right here at our own site--you possibly know who they are, and they include me--who have taken flak in a long thread for condemning Hiroshima but who would not thus feel comfortable.

Lydia, I think Weaver, Nisbet, Kirk, Father Flynn are locks, though all would be revolted at the attempt to forge a "paleo" ideology. Fulton Sheen, God Bless him, probably wouldn't enjoy a site as worldly as Takis'. As for Hoover, he'd enjoy Buchanan. The conservative movement was always rife with eccentrics touting dubious, even noxious causes. Like NR of yesteryear, give the site credit for purging the neo-Aryans that use to clutter the comment boxes.

There is an absent presence lurking here, though I'm really uninterested in naming presently. Suffice it to say that I do not consider myself a nihilist on account of my belief that bad foreign policy can modulate the intensity and direction of pre-existing hostilities.

As I said, though, I not particularly interested in pursuing that discussion at present. Perhaps later.

Lydia, I've read your 9:09 post from last night several times, now, and I still can't figure it out.

Please understand that I'm not necessarily *endorsing* the views of the "old-timey" right, here. I'm just really interested to learn what those views were. They were not what I might have thought.

Oh, and while I'm at it, Lydia, let me repeat the questions I asked over at your blog:

I'm curious what you think/how feel about the attitudes toward WWII of a couple of English catholics who lived through it: Evelyn Waugh and J.R.R. Tolkien.

In Waugh's *Sword of Honor* trilogy, the hapless, frankly reactionary hero, Guy Crouchback, almost welcomes the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, as a moment of moral clarity:

"News that shook the politicians and young poets of a dozen capital cities brought deep peace to one English heart...now, splendidly, everything had become clear. The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle."

But in no time at all, he finds himself thoroughly disillusioned - fighting on the same side as Stalin. Fighting for one head of the hydra against the other. And he finds himself asking "why go to war at all? If all we want is prosperity, the hardest bargain Hitler made would be preferable to victory. If we are concerned with justice the Russians are as guilty as the Germans."

I think that's a hard question to answer.

And Tolkien's take on the war is even more depressing:

"If [WWII] had inspired or directed the development of [the War of the Ring], then certainly the Ring [the bomb?] would have been seized and used against Sauron [the axis?]; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman [the Soviet Union?], failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth [The U.S.?]. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves" [emphasis added].

People are welcome to read my answer there re. Tolkien. I hold no special brief for Waugh, and if by his portrayal of the character Waugh meant to imply that the allied cause in WWII was not just and the war not worth fighting, I could not disagree more.

More, re. Tolkien: I love his fiction but think his attitude to the modern world was exaggeratedly negative. He actually likened the RAF's planes to the flying steeds of Mordor in one letter to his son (who was in the air force!), a letter that no son who is risking his life fighting for his country should receive from his father, a letter written out of the insensitivity of a frankly rather self-centered and over-bitter man. Also a highly unfair analogy, given especially the untarnished heroism of the Battle of Britain, fought using such "Mordor birds." But Tolkien was a classic and, again, an exaggerated hater of technology and perhaps might not even have been able to appreciate the heroism and proper romance of the Battle of Britain given _precisely_ the fact that it was fought using airplanes! But, again, as I said in my response on my site, Tolkien implies in a different letter that the allied cause was just and that the justice of the cause is not changed by wrongful methods of execution. It was one thing for him to be bitter and cynical about the alliances England made, but I doubt he would have gone the length of believing that England should simply have left Hitler to "do his thing" on the Continent and only bestirred herself when the direct attack came upon England. And if he did, too dam' bad.

Please recall, too, that the letter you quote is a response to the silly hypothesis that his book was an allegory of World War II. Hence the necessity for all of the square-bracketed interpolations in an attempt to interpret his views on World War II from the quote. His main point is that his book didn't go in the least as the war in fact went, from which it would be difficult to garner a general view of his opinions on the justice of the war, much less an opinion on how comfortable a Tolkien clone would be, today, at Taki's Top Drawer!

Lydia, I think you fail to appreciate that both Waugh & Tolkien correctly viewed war as an engine for social disintegration and saw their own epoch as being in the midst of a civilizational collapse. Looking back, one can only ask; were they wrong?

War was once considered a violent extension of politics and a legitimate form of statecraft. After the mindless carnage of the Great War it was no longer possible to entertain such illusions. The sanctioned history of the period between 1914-1945 is being stripped away by those whose first interest is in redeeming and rescuing a 2000 year old civilization from self-destruction. That this labor is being undertaken outside the "mainstream conservative" press and think tanks, should be a cause for concern and disgust to anyone who values the pursuit of truth over the myopic heralding of partisan sloganeering.

Waugh was once the toast of National Review and the magazine brought him an American audience who would never have had without Buckley's efforts. It is impossible to imagine him, or those on the original masthead in 1955 being
"comfortable" with the sad direction the magazine and conservatism has taken. Like the rest of us, conservatism's original thinkers would be looking for sanctuary in places outside the narrow, restricted boundaries of approved polemics. Taki's place provides an imperfect forum for us.

I see, Kevin, so National Review has become a joke (which I fully acknowledge), and so we should become integral parts (not just lurkers or readers) of Taki's.

I suppose it's possible some people who might have been called "old-timey conservatives" in the 1940's or 1950's might have agreed, and others wouldn't. As Kevin says, it was a diverse bunch.

Unfortunately that diverse bunch included those who had some confused likings for Fascism in the 30's. For example, by my recollection, GKC had some fantastically positive things to say about Mussolini's Italy (the revival of the glories of Rome, I seem to recall he thought it), as did Waugh, who (I can recall reading about this in FT a few years ago) justified the conquest of Abyssinia. Both Tolkien and Russell Kirk were positively enamored of Roy Campbell, who (if I recall correctly) fought for Franco, and Tolkien had some _extremely_ unfair and uncharitable words about Lewis (who I think we can count as an "old-timey conservative") in a letter to someone else because Lewis didn't appreciate what Tolkien viewed as the "Catholic" side of the Spanish Civil War. Lewis, on the other hand, made it clear in a letter of his own that he saw through the mere using of the Catholic Church by the Franco bunch. Dorothy Sayers had a wonderful pro-Churchill essay. For myself, I should submit that Winston Churchill, despite his faults, deserves to be regarded as something of an "old-timey conservative" all on his own.

And so forth.

Finally, I reiterate that this post started with talk about how some older conservatives criticized, even very strongly, the bombing of Hiroshima. But this need not involve the exaggeratedly anti-war stance we find among some paleocons now, nor their ideas on a number of other subjects, including, for one thing, World War II uberhaupt. Nor does it seem probable to me that every conservative or most conservatives who thus criticized the use of the atomic bomb would have taken those other positions.

Your slipping into crude characterizations of what I've said, as well as the positions of our ancestors.

I did not say anyone "...should become integral parts" of Taki's place. I simply said it is a place that offers a thoughtful, lively alternative to the dreary boilerplate of establishment conservatism. And most, if not all of those who gathered under the post-war conservative banner would feel some kinship there. My major disappointment is there aren't more outlets like it.

As for the fascination with fascism on the part of some of the best minds of the 20th century, take heart it was both fleeting, and given the the social, economic realities of Europe and the long shadow of the Bolshevik revolution, quite understandable. And, while I agree with Georges Bernanos, that the immoral excesses of the Phalange made a mockery of my faith, I have no doubt I would have rallied to the Loyalist side, too. If only out of sheer self=preservation. Franco's saving Spain from falling into the Soviet orbit, and then turning on Hitler, was as good as a 1-2 punch ever administered by any modern statesman.

I don't know what an "exaggeratedly anti-war stance" means, other than it is not shared by the misty-eyed, middle-aged flag-wavers who never seem to tire of sending other people's kids into distant war zones.

For the record, after Versailles, the Depression, Europe's massive loss of faith and the Russian Revolution, I think WWII was inevitable. However, the carnage could have been better contained, and the motives, tactics and conduct by the Allied leaders were often reprehensible. Modern warfare represents a crisis of the spirit and it's prosecution only enlarges, not lessens, the internal dissonance of, and mortal threat to our civilization. I believe the nihilism leading us to an early grave, the past 80 plus years emanates from the battlefields and slaughterhouses of 20th Century Europe. Hence, my complete and total befuddlement at present-day conservatives, who simultaneously warn against social engineering, while trying to reshape the world by force. It is one of the great, inexplicable contradictions of our times, and makes absolutely no sense to anyone unshackled by one of the many toxic ideologies that have poisoned our culture's immune system.

Kevin, I use the "integral part" language in response to Steve's mention of how he "learns things" at that site. I'm contrasting the highly weak connection involved in going to a site to read it sometimes and learn things with the much stronger connection implied in the post by "found themselves driven into little hidey-holes," etc.

But I suppose to understand the main post better I should better understand what is meant by the phrase "converted to the liberal triumphalist view of the war..." It seems to me that this might be taken to imply precisely the false dichotomy I've been rejecting all along between "thinks that Hiroshima was morally fine" and something like "thinks WWII was a disaster that we should never have gotten involved in and that nothing good can be said about." For one thing, it is highly unclear that most or all people who could legitimately be called "old-timey conservatives" at the time of the end of the war adopted the latter of these (as I've already pointed out), and if they didn't, they wouldn't have needed to be "converted" from it. For another thing, since this is a false dichotomy, it isn't clear that somebody who roundly criticized Hiroshima would then have to "convert" to the first of these views in order to reject the second and avoid being "driven into a hidey-hole." He could, perhaps, just stay where he was--grateful for all the boys who had defeated the Hitlerite monster, saddened at the losses of many kinds, and realizing quite clearly that this was, as my WWII conservative veteran neighbor says, a necessary war.

Waugh was exactly right about the morality of World War II, a war that began with a British pledge to defend Poland, which the British did absolutely nothing to honor, even after Polish pilots played a significant role in winning the Battle of Britain, and ended with Britain conniving in the betrayal of the Poles at Yalta.

This is what Churchill told Parliament, on August 2, 1944, as the Red Army was standing idly by watching the Germans crush the Warsaw Uprising: "The Russian armies now stand before the gates of Warsaw. They bring the liberation of Poland in their hands. They offer freedom, sovereignty, and independence to the Poles." And then when some MPs questioned the wisdom of Yalta, this is what Churchill told them: "Marshall Stalin and the Soviet leaders wish to live in honourable friendship and equality with the Western democracies....I know of no Government which stands to its own obligations, even in its own despite, more solidly than the Russian Soviet Government." That is what happens when you ally yourself to a totalitarian mass murderer, as the Allies did in World War II: you end up lying on his behalf, and betraying a people that had fought at your side from the start of the war.

Exactly so,TP.

WWII was *not* "the good war." It was a moral morass, from which nothing and nobody escaped unsoiled.

WWII was *not* "the good war." It was a moral morass, from which nothing and nobody escaped unsoiled.
But the idea that WWII was "the Good War" is central to the self-conception of most Americans, and certainly nearly the entire American political and administrative class. It is a central, sacred myth of American public life, the transgression of which is liable to be treated with the same tolerance accorded any other blasphemy. That this is so can be illustrated easily enough by the way in which Hitler is present in every ethical or political conversation, even if his name is not spoken. Though if you talk long enough, inevitably, it is. Godwin's Law is funny, because it's true, and not just on the internet. A tawdry, cynical affair, entered into for reasons of Realpolitik and imperialism, has been whitewashed after the fact into a simple, black-and-white crusade which even people who ought to know better seem convinced had as its primary objective the salvation of Europe's Jews (though it failed at that, too), or more abstractly and even more absurdly, a war to end genocide. That this was not the case can be illustrated simply enough by the fact that in Europe, Stalin's toll of civilian slaughter, by conservative estimates, exceeded Hitler's until well into the war, while in Asia, Japanese troops had been indulging themselves in an orgy of destruction against the Chinese from 1937 on, the Western response to which was... economic sanctions. The Western powers didn't go to war to save Poles (who provided a convenient, if, in the context of what France and Britain had already allowed Hitler to do, rather weak casus belli), Chinese, or even Jews, despite the way the Holocaust has become central to the history of the war since the 1960s or 1970s. At the time, WWII had little more moral content to it than the War of the Spanish Succession, and was conducted by both sides with a savagery that would have shocked Churchill's ancestor Lord Marlborough.

Counterfactuals are entertainment, not history, and not proof, so I won't dwell on Pat Buchanan's, though I respect Mr. Buchanan a great deal. We can't really say that the British government made a mistake in September 1939 by honoring the guarantee to Poland, because we have no idea how things would have turned out otherwise. We can say that, to the extent the men in Whitehall thought they would preserve or extend British power or the Empire by following their by then centuries-old policy of balancing against the possibility of a continental European hegemon, they failed spectacularly, losing their power, their Empire, their very solvency, while installing socialists at home and American and Soviet hegemons on the continent. We can also say that Europe, and the western civilization of which it necessarily is the center, has not recovered and almost certainly never will. WWII may have been unavoidable, but it was not "the good war," or even a particularly good war. Its mythology morally degrades us to this day, every time we defend terror bombing either now, or in the past, every time we gloss over the evils of communism, every time we corrupt political discourse by designating some penny-ante dictator a new Hitler, and every time a warmongering politician or columnist speciously invokes Munich.

Cyrus, it's hard to choose the passage from your comment with which I most strongly agree.

Maybe this one:

"A tawdry, cynical affair, entered into for reasons of Realpolitik and imperialism, has been whitewashed after the fact into a simple, black-and-white crusade which even people who ought to know better seem convinced had as its primary objective the salvation of Europe's Jews (though it failed at that, too)..."

At first I thought Cyrus was talking about WWI, which was in many respects a tawdry, cynical affair. WWII was much deeper and more sinister in its implications for the future of Western society. As for making nice with Stalin, Churchill was a vocal detractor of Communism throughout his career, so it seems strange that his legacy should be revised as some sort of apparatchik.

At first I thought Cyrus was talking about WWI, which was in many respects a tawdry, cynical affair. WWII was much deeper and more sinister in its implications for the future of Western society.
Deeper and more sinister, how?

The general point which Buchanan is making about World War Two, that it was a disaster for western civilization, seems to me indisputably valid. That it was not a disaster for some people is much less commented upon because that would tend to rehabilitate the ideology of the losing side. Communism, of course gained tremendously, as many correspondents have already noted. But so did the Zionists who used the Holocaust as a camoflauge for the conquest of Arab Palestine. So did the world government advocates who ressucitated the Leauge of Nations after the war as the United Nations.

All these groups had been active at the Paris Peace Conference after the First World War where the Zionists got the mandate over Palestine, "minorities treaties" to protect Jewish rights in Eastern Europe, a League of Nations and a lot of favorable publicity for a communist regime in Russia with a lot of high ranking Jews in its upper echelons. The second war was, in many respects, a culmination of those very same forces. Patrick Buchanan does not go into those aspects of both world wars at all, although he is surely aware of them. To this day no one wants to look too closely at the "behind the scenes" of the two world wars, just as they would rather not get too close to who is really behind war in the Middle East (it isn't the oil companies).

World War Two is an entree into all kinds of delicate subjects which are well-worth researching. (The evidence for all these subjects exists in abundance but that takes reading all kinds of arcane reference works which go far beyond what Patrick Buchanan is able to disclose in his able, "scatch the surface" history.

I rest my case. It's because this sort of not-so-subtle Thing crawls out of the fever swamps that I stay away from them, even at the risk of missing some bit of knowledge I might not happen to pick up elsewhere.

Are you saying you won't revisit settled history or go to blogs that do, because of the loons you're likely to find there? If, I adopted that rule, I'd never leave the Abbey, not even to deliver the bottled Merlot into town. Expecting sanity from any of modernity's denizens is delusional and way too confining.

I guess it depends on how thick the loons are on the ground (or on the surface of the pond, or whatever) in a particular location outside the Abbey. I know of lots of blogs and other places that have a nice, low, loon population.

"cicero" - I know I shouldn't, but I'm genuinely curious.

If the "Zionists...used the Holocaust" as part of their justification for the necessity of an independent Jewish state, well, why on earth should they not have?

And do you honestly believe that the word "conquest" adequately summarizes what happened in Israel/Palestine in the first half of the 20th Century?

Surely not.

It's worse than that, Steve. He thinks the Jews were in charge of the world in the first half of the 20th century. Even got favorable terms for themselves _before WWII_ to protect their minority rights in Eastern Europe. (My G-d. How did the Holocaust ever happen, then? It's just an amazing thing.) And don't forget those hidden and unnameable Forces behind the two world wars that we aren't supposed to talk about, who are the same Forces behind all the trouble in the world today.

I should probably apologize for my own troll-feeding at the outset. I should have let him go ignored.

Cicero could be an aspiring Aryan Warrior gayly (spelled correctly) goose-stepping through the beer-garden in his mind, a minion of Abe Foxman's fishing for material for the next fund-raising appeal, a lonely woman hoping to find a man who shares her fetish for leather,ladenhosen and Nazi gear, or a cowering censor from another site hoping to provoke you to follow suit. He/she will move on.

Just a short distance from where we gather for Matins, one can always find an Atlas shrugging, or a Freudian slipping. God's little creatures in a forlorn and futile rebellion. Makes me grateful for the silence and the wine-cellar.

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