Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Murray Polner - The Neocons: First in War, Last in Peace

The neocon Founders and their acolytes were largely Jews scarred by the Holocaust, much like the men and women with whom I tended to associate. To their credit few of them had suffered any illusions about Stalin’s Russia. But the same was true of those of us on the non-Communist left. Irving Howe — Kristol’s former pal and later his bitter ideological adversary, who would write an introduction to a volume of Present Tense profiles I later edited– loathed the neocons, and vice versa. 
He once wrote a biting Op Ed mocking neocons for defending Reagan’s alliance with Contra “freedom fighters” in its secret proxy war against Nicaragua. Inspired, I assigned an amazing journalist, Tina Rosenberg, who later moved on to the New York Times, to cover the troubles south of the border, which she did in several impressive reports, none of which I imagine the bellicose pro-Reagan neocons on the floor above appreciated After the U.S.-favored Chilean-Pinochet coup against the elected Salvador Allende, Rosenberg quoted a popular joke among Chileans. “Why is there no military coup in America?” The answer: “There’s no U.S. Embassy.”
Kristol was drafted in World War II. Unlike most second generation successor neocons who avoided military service in wars they passionately supported, he saw combat in France and Germany as an infantryman in the 12th Armored Division. After his discharge, he and his wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, who would become a respected and distinguished historian, moved to England where she had earned a scholarship at Cambridge University. It was there Kristol started writing for the American Jewish Committee’s new magazine Commentary, and when the couple returned home he became its managing editor. 
By then he had abandoned the Trotskyists and moved on to neo-conservatism or, as he explained, how a liberal’s politics shifted after being mugged. In 1952, he continued his movement to the right. In his Commentary article, “Civil liberties 1952-A Study in Confusion” he wrote, “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel no such thing.” His break with liberals and moderates was now set in cement and he was forever stigmatized by those who despised the fraud from Wisconsin. He then returned to London to co-edit with Stephen Spender the journal, Encounter, which was later revealed to have been secretly subsidized by the CIA, which Kristol denied knowing.
During the tumultuous Vietnam War era, Kristol, a supporter of the war, began to draw the attention of wealthy free marketers as well as incipient Wilsonians ready to reshape the world, by force if necessary. His star was about to rise and the movement to take flight. When Walter Goodman, a family friend who wrote for Commentary as well as Present Tense, was preparing an article about Kristol for December 1981 publication in the New York Times’ Sunday magazine, Walter told me Kristol announced he was leaving Manhattan for Washington because that was where the real action was.
In all those years Commentary continued to be the flagship for Kristol’s dream of a new (neo) conservative politics. And we remained second stringers, barely noticed in the national secular media until the Times ran one lone and favorable editorial reference to us and then published a goodbye piece by Roger Cohen announcing the end of our run. But long before I added a fine editor, Adam Simms, to the staff, and some of our articles did, however, draw attention, especially in Jewish and liberal publications, notably Robert Spero’s well- documented and brave “Speaking for the Jews,” a brilliant expose about “A growing number of American Jews, including many inside the Jewish establishment, [who] are fed up with the hard-line views of Jewish leaders whom they did not elect and whom, in any case, do not speak for them.” 
Then we published Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, the preeminent American historian of Zionism, on the “neoconning of America” in which he took direct aim at its extremism: “American Jewish right-wingers are almost without exception partisans of the Likud policy of de facto annexation of the West Bank,” he wrote, adding “The hard-liners are bad, very bad for Jews—and for all Americans….Jews have survived best, and have been most authentically themselves, when they have practiced restraint”– a la Maimonides’ “middle way.”..