The Long View 2006-11-10: The Morning of the Day Before

I hadn’t known [or had forgotten] that John J. Reilly was among the Catholics who find the logic of Humane Vitae less than airtight. He was also among the much smaller group who thinks the doctrine is correct, it just needs to be explained a bit better.


The Morning of the Day Before

Peggy Noonan has the sanest response to Tuesday's midterm elections:

We are in a 30-year war. It is no good for it to be led by, identified with, one party. It is no good for half the nation to feel estranged from its government's decisions. It's no good for us to be broken up more than a nation normally would be. And straight down the middle is a bad break, the kind that snaps.... One day in the future either New York or Washington or both will be hit again, hard. It will be more deadly than 9/11. And on that day, those who experience it, who see the flash or hear the alarms, will try to help each other....Make believe it's already happened.

Possibly no other election in history has elicited so many acknowledgements by the losers that it was not a bad thing for their side to lose.

* * *

The only connection with UK nonprofits I have ever had is the Simplified Spelling Society, of which I have the honor to be a member. Something that always mystified me about the Society, however, was that it did not function as a not-for-profit: it has to pay taxes on its modest endowment and even on its fees. I was told that the problem was that the Society had done a bit of lobbying in the 1950s, which had branded it as a political group for all time. I thought that strange, since in America charitable tax-exemptions are not hard to obtain. Now I see that the situation in the UK is about to get worse:

Next week, the new Charities' Bill will finish its passage through Parliament. It should become law before the end of the year. In spite of being billed as "the biggest review of charity legislation in the past 400 years", it has generated very little comment. This is surprising, because the Bill will vastly increase the power of the Charities' Commission to dissolve charities, confiscate their endowments and assets, and give them to what the Commission considers a more genuinely "charitable" cause.

That threat is alarming and real. It used to be taken for granted that organisations devoted to education, to religion, or to the relief of poverty, were automatically providing a "public benefit". The new legislation dissolves that assumption. Even more worryingly, it also leaves it up to the Charities Commission to decide what constitutes a "public benefit". There is no guidance in the legislation on how that slippery notion should be defined. Ministers and members of the Commission have referred to "case law", but there is almost none, precisely because, for the last 400 years, there has been so firm a consensus that education, religion and the relief of poverty constitute public benefits.

...The motive behind redefining that notion seems to have been the desire to ensure that charities benefit all the public, not just some small section of it. That is why, for instance, schools and hospitals that charge fees are being threatened with the withdrawal of their charitable status: they are said only to benefit people who can afford to pay, and not the whole of the British public. In fact, every charity benefits a portion of the population rather than all of it

One could argue that the American nonprofit sector is too big and too irresponsible, but perhaps we should prefer it to the alternative.

* * *

Here is one of the ways the Iraq War differs from the Vietnam War, as revealed by the election on Tuesday:

Forget the war in Iraq. The political war in America this year proved to be a bloodbath for the "fighting Dems," who might more aptly be called the "fallen Dems" after Tuesday's election.

After Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, a Democrat, nearly scored a special-election upset in Ohio's strongly Republican 2nd District last summer, bloggers and other Democrats began touting war veterans as candidates for 2006. They touted dozens of such candidates as the antidote for the Democratic Party's long-running electoral ailments on the defense and security fronts.

But if Democrats have the same low tolerance for political casualties as they have shown for battlefield casualties in Iraq, their push to recruit and elect to Congress military veterans who run as Democrats will be short-lived.

Actually, it would be a poor notion to "forget the war in Iraq," which is still ongoing. As I have remarked before, no outcome of that conflict will be acknowledged to be a victory. The opponents of the Bush Administration might accept a pretty good result, however, provided the Administration does not get credit for it. Current thinking seems to run along the lines of the plan put forward by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware in The National Interest (a publication which continues to get a little more disconcerting every time I see it). The plan is of the variety that leans heavily on the division of Iraq into federal cantons, based on negotiations with the Sunnis of the northwest. It is not clear to me that this is terribly different from what the Bush Administration has been trying to do. It is also not clear to me that peace is in the gift of the interlocutors that Senator Biden's plan contemplates.

In any case, domestic morale in the US is not as great a constraint on policy as the recent election may have led us to believe:

The US Army exceeded most of its recruiting and retention goals for October, the service said, even as it launched a new television and radio ad campaign dubbed "Army Strong." ...Re-enlistments in October far surpassed the goals for the active army (30 percent), the reserve (14 percent) and the national guard (43 percent).

Note that these figures coincide with an unemployment rate well under 5%. This is not 1974; Any party that works on the assumption that today is like then will get its head handed to it.

* * *

Meanwhile, here's a bit of preemptive disinformation about events in the Catholic Church:

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH laid down a tough, absolute law in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae: no condoms, no abortion, no contraceptives. Never. Now the condom part of that rule is being reviewed, and if it is changed, expect new challenges to the entire contraception doctrine, to the doctrine of papal infallibility and even to the church's abortion rules....Pope Benedict XVI has ordered a Vatican staff report on whether condoms can be approved for situations in which there is potential for HIV infection. That report is imminent, according to Vatican rumors, and it is likely that Benedict will act quickly on it given that it was undertaken on his initiative...And yet Humanae Vitae is not, in its reasoning, as absolute as one might think. Paul wrote: "A right conscience is the true interpreter … of the objective moral order which was established by God." Thus he left a sort of conscientious-objector status for those Catholics who could not believe in the evil of contraception.

The actual text of Humanae Vitae does leave quite a bit of interpretive room for maneuver, though not in the way this editorial suggests. Humanae Vitae does, for instance, distinguish contraceptive intent from mere contraceptive effect (and it is not all clear the logic of the encyclical has any application outside marriage at all). The use of condoms for epidemiological purposes would not constitute an abandonment of the basic doctrine.

Like many people, I have never found the logic of Humanae Vitae altogether compelling. Like many exercises in natural-law reasoning, it is rhetorically persuasive without ever really locking into place with a rigorous proof. The irony is that, as sociology, the encyclical is the key to understanding the demographic and cultural evolution of the developed world over the past quarter century. The logic could use an upgrade, but to change the doctrine at this point would be wildly anachronistic.

I have my own notions of a class of argument to supplement natural law for civil purposes, but I don't particularly commend it to the Vatican.

* * *

Markus Wolf has died, the head of East German espionage for many years, and perhaps the most successful (though hardly the best known) spy in history. He died on November 9, an already overstuffed date in German history. I have a long review of Leslie Colitt's biography of Wolf, Spymaster.

* * *

Will it never end? Massachusetts continues to pursue the Darwin Award:

BOSTON, Nov. 9 — Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, dealt what appeared to be a fatal blow Thursday to a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it.

In a flurry of strategic maneuvering, supporters of same-sex marriage managed to persuade enough legislators to vote to recess a constitutional convention until the afternoon of Jan. 2, the last day of the legislative session.

On that day, lawmakers and advocates on both sides said, it appeared likely that the legislature would adjourn without voting on the measure, killing it.

“For all intents and purposes, the debate has ended,” said Representative Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat and the assistant majority leader. “What members are expecting is that the majority of constituents are going to say, ‘Thank you, we’re glad it’s over, we think it has been discussed enough.’ ”

You could write a blog, you could run a news service, dedicated to nothing but stories about how this sort of issue has been settled once and for all, followed by accounts of the mass movements that spring up to insist that the matter has by no means been settled. You cannot settle the matter of abortion or gay marriage or euthanasia by judicial ukase; not even if, as happened here, you are in a position to sabotage the legislative process that might reverse it. More than a generation of experience shows that the strategy just does not work. Anyone who thinks otherwise in 2006 is ineducable.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 Book Review

Goth Sullus claims his throne

Goth Sullus claims his throne

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 340 pages
Published September 14th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07541JBYS

That, was intense.

I keep being surprised by the storytelling of Cole and Anspach. This volume in the Galaxy's Edge series represents only a few hours, yet it is one of the most frenetic things I have ever read. We see the course of a single battle through the eyes of the men and women caught up in it.

Pitched battle is spoken of by its survivors as disjointed and confusing in retrospect. Both an eternity and an instant. The structure of the book recapitulates this in words, switching back and forth between the viewpoints of the combatants on all sides with disconcerting rapidity. Each chapter is grounded by a location and a timestamp. For the most part, the book proceeds in chronological sequence, but the brief intervals between sections serve as a reminder of just how fast everything happened.

When Goth Sullus comes to the shipyards at the Tarrago system, it feels like the Somme, Stalingrad, and Lepanto all at once. This is something of an exaggeration, since the first two were mass conflicts, the nation at war, fought at the pinnacle of state power. War for the Legion, both the Republican forces and Goth Sullus' grimmer copies, is more like the era of heavy cavalry, where the most powerful weapons are wielded only by experts. The loss of life in the battle is astonishing, but the same thing used to happen on the Western Front every day during an offensive.

Since we are allowed to see through the eyes of so many, Attack of Shadows allows us to understand why so many good people would choose to take up arms against the corruption and venality of the Republic. We see their wounded hearts, and share their thoughts, as they seek justice, or vengeance, against their oppressors. On the other hand, we also see the that any revolution will attract its share of psychopaths, malcontents, and adventurers, who just want to watch the world burn.

On the gripping hand, despite its many faults, there are men and women of honor who still fight for the Republic, or perhaps for what they think it should really stand for, instead of what it does. These true sons and daughters of Martha, Captain Thane of the Republic Artillery, Captain Arwen of the Legion, Ensign Fal of the Republic Navy, do their duty despite the odds.

And the odds don't look good. Goth Sullus knows that the Republic is riddled with incompetence, and weakened by self-serving lies. It is easy for him to find recruits in a galaxy characterized by casual betrayal; where money and connections matter more than character or competence. And the Republic clearly deserves everything it is getting, good and hard.

Yet, for all that, I still root for the Republic, or at least for its defenders who retain their integrity. Perhaps I'm not so much pro-Republic as anti-Sullus, whose millenarian cult of personality we see blossoming. I don't yet know what drives Sullus, but I suspect that whatever it is, it has already consumed his humanity long before we ever met him. Most revolutions don't live up to their promises, and I don't have any reason to think that this one will be any different.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

My other book reviews

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 Book Review

Someone about to have a really bad day

Someone about to have a really bad day

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published August 13th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B073WQN9KM

Kill Team brings us back to where we started in the Galaxy's Edge series: highly trained military professionals who get to kill people and break stuff, hopefully in the service of the greater good. We also return the viewpoint of Lieutenant Chhun, survivor of Kublar and general bad-ass.

Galactic Outlaws had a pretty different feel than Legionnaire. In part, that was due to the alternation of viewpoints between Aeson Keel and Tyrus Rechs. This made the book a little bit hard to follow, but I am willing to endure such things, because some of my favorite books have been hard to follow the first [few] times I've read them. There were a lot of questions left hanging at the end of Galactic Outlaws, and at least a few of them get wrapped up by Kill Team. My patience was rewarded.

We also get a good hard look at the dark underbelly of counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work. False flag operations and double agents are an expected part of the wilderness of mirrors that characterizes the human side of intelligence gathering, but simply acknowledging that doesn't really count the human cost on the agents who infiltrate terrorist organizations to expose and subvert them.

The moral tradition of which I am a part insists that it is never permissible to do evil in order to achieve good. "Tom," ex-navy undercover operative, has an uneasy conscience about the horrible things he does in order to prevent yet more horrible things. His moral intuition matches up with the moral maxim, but he does those things because they are his mission. In the end, "Tom" receives a kind of rough justice. I'm not sure that what happened to him is just. I'm also not sure is exactly unjust. 

As I mentioned in my review of Galactic Outlaws, I appreciate the moral realism of the Galaxy's Edge series. There are very real dangers lurking for the rough men who guard us in our sleep, the temptation to become the monsters they fight, spurred by their often justified contempt for the polished and comfortable who blithely send them to die. "Tom" is a man of integrity, as are most of the Legionnaires we meet. Unfortunately for them, the harshness you need to survive can slowly sap away your humanity. Which is why the real heroes are very often dead.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

My other book reviews

Kill Team (Galaxy's Edge Book 3)
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole

The Long View: Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

John mentions the Rosenbergs in passing here, citing a book by Ron Radosh. I knew that the Venona transcripts had decisively identified the Rosenbergs as Soviet spies in 1995, Radosh put the pieces together without classified information in 1983. Well done.

Eldridge Cleaver, Mormon Republican

Eldridge Cleaver, Mormon Republican

John also mentions other former Leftist radicals like Eldridge Cleaver, who eventually became a Mormon Republican. I kind of admire the way in which the Black Panther Party tried to suborn the Second Amendment in the name of racial justice. However, they turned out in retrospect to be pretty much the kind of people their enemies painted them as.


Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey
by David Horowitz
Touchstone Book, 1997
$15.00 (Paperback), 468 Pages
ISBN: 0-684-84005-7

 

World's Oldest Red Diaper Baby Tells All

 

It is possible that David Horowitz is wrong in believing himself to be "the most hated ex-radical of [his] generation." His sometime colleague, Ron Radosh, may have earned that distinction by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the Rosenbergs were guilty (well, Julius anyway). Nevertheless, Horowitz is indeed the most prominent former polemicist for the New Left of the 1960s who not only had "second thoughts" in the 1970s, but who now champions what are usually characterized as conservative causes. It is quite a trip from his first major book, "The Free World Colossus" (1963), which made the revisionist interpretation of the origins of the Cold War respectable, to his current magazine, "Heterodoxy," which seeks to make life a misery for the radical faculty on university campuses. The tale of how this transformation took place is as gripping an autobiography as you could hope for from a man who has spent his working life filling up blank sheets of paper and attending editorial meetings. Still, at the end of the book, I found myself asking just how important the New Left really was.

A "red diaper baby" is a person who was raised in a Communist family, particularly during the `40s and `50s, when the Communist Party USA was large enough to provide its members with a remarkably comprehensive subculture. David Horowitz was born in 1939 in a Communist colony in the New York City borough of Queens, so he was raised in that special world of leftist summer camps, folksingers who insisted they were 200% American and anodyne euphemisms designed to disguise from outsiders just what his family's political affiliations actually were.

His parents' dedication to the cause was heroic. They followed the twists and turns of Soviet policy in the 1930s without a murmur. To the considerable aggravation of their non-Communist neighbors, in the 1940s they tried to stop the break-up of their cooperative housing development into private lots: the Communists insisted they had a right to pay rent. They even lost their jobs as public school teachers in the `50s. (They did get their pensions back after the loyalty legislation in question was declared unconstitutional.) Through all this, they never despaired of the Revolution, though they had little to do with the Party itself after the Khrushchev Report of 1956.

American Communism, at any rate in New York City, was largely an activity of anti-religious Jews. Horowitz has a lively sense that people like his parents had, in effect, escaped from the protective ghettos of Eastern Europe only to construct an unnecessary ghetto in America, a ghetto that chiefly benefited the Georgian mountain bandit who ruled the Soviet Union during Horowitz's youth. (Even in Sunnyside, Queens, there were people peripherally involved in espionage for the Soviets.) One of the specific issues that made Horowitz break with the Left by 1980 was its increasing support for the destruction of Israel, a consideration that also motivated the more prominent neo-conservatives to change sides a few years before. More generally, though, he had come to accept the idea that Marxism for many Jewish radicals was essentially a sublimation of the desire to belong, since Marxism was an ideology that disposed of the question of ethnicity by dissolving it in millenarian universalism. His change of heart might be summed up as the realization that the species of universalism afforded by traditional American pluralism was about as good as anything history was likely to afford.

The New Left began during the Kennedy Administration. Horowitz's own political life began in association with other red diaper babies in Berkeley, California, in the early 1960s, on a magazine called "Root and Branch." (Horowitz would actually miss several years of its development during a stay in England and Sweden from 1965 to 1968.) It was not simply an outgrowth of the Old Left. For one thing, it was never a creature of the orthodox Communist Party, which had become an anachronism by the end of the 1950s. For that matter, neither was it an enterprise predominantly of red diaper babies, Jewish or otherwise. The model New Leftist was perhaps Tom Hayden, principle author of the Port Huron Statement, whose background was neither Jewish nor Communist. The New Left was, however, remarkably anti-American right from the start.

This antipathy extended to John Kennedy and all his works. One of the hypocrisies that Horowitz highlights in the memoirs of other New Leftists that have appeared in recent years is the pretense that their authors had begun as moderate Kennedy-worshippers who were driven mad by Kennedy's assassination and then by the war in Vietnam. This is simply a lie. The New Left was a Marxist revolutionary movement that looked for guidance to the Third World, or at any rate to the ideologues who affected to speak for that chimerical region. Its chief peculiarity, perhaps, was its tendency to racialize revolutionary praxis, to substitute ethnic tensions for class struggle. In its final form, at least as Horowitz encountered it, it hoped to foment a race war in which white radicals would act as a fifth column for a revolutionary army of color.

By 1970, Horowitz's chief claim to eminence on the Left was as co-editor of Ramparts magazine with Peter Collier. Ramparts, based in San Francisco, was a politically engaged publication of the sort that was too pure to ever actually turn a profit. It depended on a series of financial angels and the fundraising skills of its managers. Collier and Horowitz took it over in a coup made possible by the fact that the angels of the East Coast could not be bothered to come to a board of directors meeting in San Francisco to discuss the latest financial crisis. Once in control, they attempted for a while to institute a regime of Maoist equality. Everyone got the same salary, all major decisions were made by collective agreement, even the names on the masthead were arranged alphabetically to avoid the taint of hierarchy.

One thing that this experiment proved was that hierarchy is an instrument of kindness. Without it, every dispute must be personalized and decided in public. Ordinary staff meetings became day-long struggle-sessions that not only wasted time, but envenomed personal relations. And behind it all, of course, was the fact it was a fraud. Collier and Horowitz actually ran the magazine as long as they had the angels on their side. It followed the policy they set, and their most unfortunate policy was to promote the Black Panther Party as a revolutionary vanguard.

The Black Panther Party was essentially a street gang that adopted fashionable revolutionary rhetoric. It had some success organizing nationally, though its base remained in the San Francisco Bay area. Even at the height of its leftist respectability, its leadership was prone to fission. Eldridge Cleaver went into exile in Algeria, claiming, with some reason, that Huey Newton was out to get him. Elaine Brown was both put into power and removed by Newton. Nevertheless, as far as the radicals at Ramparts were concerned, the Party could do no wrong. If a member was accused of killing a policeman, then obviously the Panther was as innocent as the Rosenbergs. If a Panther was in jail, he was a political prisoner. If the Party was accused of gangland slayings aimed at taking over the prostitution and drug trade in the Bay area, then the rumors were counterintelligence disinformation concocted by the federal government.

When not directly supporting the Panthers, Ramparts delighted in publishing information about US intelligence activities. In one case, they publicized classified National Security Agency information that probably got agents in the field killed. In retrospect, Horowitz is ashamed of this, but he did not began to realize the gravity of what he was doing until someone he knew himself was killed.

Horowitz had helped the Panthers organize a model school, and he sent a bookkeeper from Ramparts to help them straighten out the Party finances. Apparently she asked too many questions: in early 1975 her body was fished out of the water a few weeks after she failed to come home from Panther headquarters. The party blandly told her family that she had been dismissed. Within fairly short order, one of Horowitz's friend, a leftist attorney who had helped represent the Panthers, was shot and paralyzed in her home for refusing to sneak a gun to a "political prisoner." Another whose life's work was teaching youths with criminal records was killed by one of them. Rumors that the Panthers had a killing field in the Santa Cruz Mountains for the execution of their enemies, both political and criminal, turned out to be true. These facts were not exactly secrets on the Left. They were, however, unreportable by anyone who wished to avoid ostracism.

The 1970s were good years for criminal cults, especially though not exclusively in California. The Panthers for a while became fixtures of Bay area electoral politics. Far from being the victims of police conspiracies, the police were afraid to touch them and had even been infiltrated by their supporters. The same was true of the Reverend Jim Jones's People's Temple, which at the end of the decade would become famous for organizing what remains the greatest mass suicide in modern history. The Students for a Democratic Society, for whom the Port Huron Statement had been written, had shrunk and hardened into the Weatherman. They conducted armed bank robberies and blew up buildings, often by accident with themselves inside. Some of their leaders expressed admiration for the remarkably deranged Charles Manson and his homicidal followers.

For Horowitz, all this was a sharper lesson than the disillusionment his parents felt when Khrushchev revealed the nature of Stalin's regime. The Soviet Union was far away, after all, and the distortion of the Revolution there could be attributed to inessential historical "mistakes." This time, Horowitz knew the people involved. He also knew that they did not suffer from fear of foreign invasion or from primary poverty, factors that were often said to excuse revolutionaries in other parts of the world. As for events in the idealized Third World itself, these were the years when the victorious North Vietnamese was organizing a familiar Gulag system in the south of their reunited country, while the Khmer Rouge were doing something so strange and terrible to the people of Kampuchea that it even today it still seems like bad science fiction. Slowly, over a period of years, Horowitz acknowledged that these things were not accidents. The Panthers were not a corrupted Leninist vanguard; by world standards, they were typical.

"Radical Son" is not exclusively a story of ideas, since Horowitz tries to weave the events of his personal life into the story of how his politics changed. He turned forty about the time he abandoned the Left, and the tale he tells of his mid-life crisis is singularly disedifying. Part of the problem was that just about then, for the first time in his life, he started to make serious amounts of money. Working with Peter Collier, he co-authored a series of highly regarded biographical studies of American "dynasties," notably of the Rockefellers and the Kennedys. Within a few years of souring on the Panthers, he had divorced his faithful wife, bought a sports car and taken up with ever younger women, two of whom he married, with results that even he seems to think served him right. For a while, he had enough money to spend on large houses and to consort with Hollywood-types and fashionable New Age people, at least until the divorce settlements caught up with him. He apologizes to everyone in the whole world for this behavior. By his account, he is again on good terms with his first wife and four kids, all things considered.

Horowitz's emergence as a conservative did not happen all in a day, and in the early 1980s his leftist credentials were still good enough to get him a hearing. Working again with Collier, he produced one of the first studies of the politics of AIDS, back when it was still an unusual infection affecting a few thousand gay white men in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. What they discovered was another example of the lethal potential of New Left politics.

By 1983, the scientists knew that AIDS was a blood-borne, sexually transmitted disease. The relevant public health officials knew it. Even the leaders of the various gay communities knew it. Nevertheless, the truth about AIDS was as unreportable as the truth about the Panthers had long been. Anyone who mentioned it in public was fairly certain to meet political ostracism, since homosexual activity had been defined as a civil right. Gay leaders long resisted, successfully, any attempts to close the bathhouses that were one of the chief venues of infection. Public authorities would not do the contact tracing that was normal with sexually transmitted diseases. When information was finally provided to the public, it falsely equated heterosexual transmission with homosexual transmission. Horowitz and Collier were among the first to say these things not just in public, but to a leftist audience. The fact that they were eventually proven right did nothing to repair their tarnished reputations.

They continued to shed friends through the 1980s while writing their dynastic biographies. The process perhaps culminated in the publication of their joint memoir, "Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the `60s" (1989), which demolished what was left of the romanticized myth of the Panthers. Of course, they also acquired allies at the same time. There are still people on the Right that Horowitz cannot abide, but he soon discovered that William Buckley does not have horns. In 1991, Ronald Reagan even made a witticism to him at an awards ceremony: "I had second thoughts before you." The greatest surprise was how little institutional support conservatives actually had. The major foundations, Ford and Rockefeller and MacArthur, still support a slightly diluted version of the cultural agenda that the New Left enunciated in the 1960s. While there are smaller foundations to fund conservative think tanks and projects (Horowitz has a little foundation of his own, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture), the fact is that people like Horowitz are still swimming upstream in the major institutions of American life. The upshot is, as under his parents' roof, he can once again think of himself as countercultural. He appears to find this comforting.

Perhaps the key to the assessment of the place of the New Left in American history is Horowitz's account of his return to Berkeley in January 1968, after having spent three years in Sweden and England. When he left, even the most radical radicals, even in California, wore ties and buttoned-down shirts to free speech demonstrations. When he got back, people were painting themselves funny colors and listening to music of a volume and description theretofore unencountered by human man. "Anything is possible," he thought in stunned amazement at a concert of electronic instruments. This may or may not have been true, but in any case the Left was deluded in thinking that it could take advantage of the situation.

There is an old comedy routine dating from about that time in which President Johnson, dressed in pajamas, appears on television at 3:00 a.m. and announces to the startled viewers: "Good evening, my fellow Americans. This is your President speaking. I don't know what's happening. If any of you think that YOU know what's happening, please write the explanation down and mail it to me, Lyndon Johnson, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. Good night and God bless." The problem with the Left, New and Old, was that they did think they knew what was happening. They were Marxists, after all, and Marxism was the key to history. The fact that no Marxist, anywhere, ever, had imagined anything like America in the 1960s was beside the point.

Horowitz's parents had lived sober, careful lives, so that they could be models of socialist rectitude to the proletariat when Der Tag came. Horowitz's slightly younger radical contemporaries lived lives of promiscuity and impulse, because disorder conduced to a revolutionary situation. In both cases, they were simply exaggerating tendencies that were already present in American culture, tendencies which they did not foresee and could not control. They were as blindsided by history as ever Lenin was. Perhaps they added nothing really essential to those years.

David Horowitz notes that there were two radical movements in America during the 1960s, though he was almost oblivious to the fact at the time. In addition to the New Left, there was the movement on the Right that succeeded in nominating Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. It, too, commanded youthful enthusiasm, and its supporters were the sort of people who were willing to make the "Long March through the institutions." Though long in eclipse, this radical movement is the one that seems to have the best chance of permanent success. There is a lot to be said for William Strauss and Neil Howe's hypothesis that the 1960s were simply another of the Great Awakenings that occur in American history every three generations or so. They begin as anarchic events but end up being profoundly conservative. Horowitz's memoir is evidence for this pattern. Still, even if this is true, the destructive element of the Awakening this time around did take the form of the New Left, and there is still a lot of damage to be fixed. The racialization of public life continues through most affirmative action programs, for instance. Even the goal of arbitrary "socialist legality" has achieved petty embodiments in infinitely flexible concepts like "sexual harassment" and "hate crimes." For that matter, it may be that the reflexive liberal opposition to strategic defenses owes something to the tradition of "defending socialism" by making the United States vulnerable. In recent years, David Horowitz had done useful work in combating these `60s leftovers, and sensible people can only wish him well.

Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914 — 1922 Book Review

The Zimmerman Telegram

The Zimmerman Telegram

The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914 — 1922
by Jamie Bisher
McFarland and Company, 2016
$29.95; 358 pages
ISBN 9780786433506

I received this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

I requested this book because I find the subject of espionage interesting, and because the famous Zimmerman telegram would fall within the scope of this book. I ended up getting something a bit different than I expected.

By different, I do not mean bad. Jamie Bisher compiled an amazing work of history, with tons of photographs and an intricately detailed analysis of events. However, this means at 353 pages of triple-column text, I got more than I bargained for. Unfortunately, what I was looking for is a far more general and high-level history. 

Browsing the text gives me confidence that Bisher did a fine job. If I were an academic in this field, this volume would doubtless be a valuable resource. For the general interest reader, you will probably end up just staring at the book for almost a year like I did.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2004-07-26: Spies & Pigeons, Catholic Tradition, Catholic Muslims, Pre-Fab Politics

Ordinarily, I would trust John's judgment on a matter of legal interpretation, but I do wonder whether his opinion on the Valerie Plame affair was unbiased. We don't have a legal decision to look back on, since the courts declined to take up the charge, although in this case it doesn't truly seem that Plame was much harmed, in retrospect.

John expresses an idea here that I brought up in a comment at Steve Sailer's blog: the present political environment in the United States is ripe for personal politics, in part because American lack of corruption makes politics relatively cheap, and also because the political parties are losing power as institutions.

Not really. What this activity leads to is a system in which prefabricated components can quickly assemble around attractive candidates. The comparison we should think of is the production of a major motion picture. The sums involved for a presidential campaign are oddly similar, too: some small multiple of $100 million. In any case, as the article notes, the year to focus on is 2008.

The amount of money Hillary spent is arguably not a small multiple of $100 million, but Trump's spending falls in that range.


Spies & Pigeons, Catholic Tradition, Catholic Muslims, Pre-Fab Politics

 

Anyone can write about the Wilson-Plame Affair, so I can do it, too. The question is whether a felony was committed when someone in the Bush Administration leaked the news to a columnist that Plame, Wilson's wife, was a CIA agent. For what it's worth, I would say "no."

The key provision is 50 USC 421 [Protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources]. There are separate subsections creating liability for leakers and leakees in that section, but they both do so only for an offender "knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States." The term "affirmative measure" suggests some step in addition to the original designation of someone as working undercover. More specifically, 50 USC 426(4)(A)(ii) defines "covert agent" as someone "who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States."

There are factual issues here, of course, but also more questions of statutory interpretation. Suppose an agent simply traveled abroad on intelligence business: would that reset the five-year secrecy period? The CIA might not be well advised to pursue the widest possible interpretation of the statute in this case. If a court decides the ambiguity against the Agency, then the broad interpretation can no longer be used as a threat.

These are not new points. However, while looking up the statutes in the United States Code, I did make some startling discoveries. For instance, there was once a Chapter 7 of Title 50 of that Code that Jorge Luis Borges would have loved: Interference with Homing Pigeons Owned by United States. The provisions have long since been repealed. Casual readers of the US Code who are too lazy to hunt for the original legislation in the US Statutes, which is the uncompiled and unclassified output of Congress, must make do with these enigmatic repealer notes:

Section 111, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 1, 40 Stat. 533, related to prohibited acts affecting homing pigeons owned by United States. See section 45 of Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure.

Section 112, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 2, 40 Stat. 533, related to possession of pigeons as evidence of violation of law. See section 45 of Title 18.

Section 113, act Apr. 19, 1918, ch. 58, Sec. 3, 40 Stat. 533, related to punishment. See section 45 of Title 18

I used to write repealer notes, when I worked for West Publishing many years ago, so I know what extraordinary details may lurk behind the studied blandness of these memorial summaries. In particular, we must wonder what terrible punishment Congress deemed fitting for those who would molest the Pigeons of the Great Republic.

* * *

Even before I read Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, I had reached the stage where I saw Traditionalists lurking in every footnote of every critique of modernity. I got this way because, in many cases, they do lurk in such places, but don't get me started. In any case, a more fruitful way to study Tradition is to read what people who identify themselves as Traditionalists have to say. I have become particularly interested in the overlap between Tradition in the Guenonian sense (which is what Sedgwick chiefly studied) and Catholic Traditionalism. The best-thought-out synthesis is the work of Rama Coomaraswamy, a retired thoracic surgeon and a priest in a group with its own bishops that continues to use the old Latin liturgies.

In his essay on Philosophia Perennis and the Sensus Catholicus, the Reverend Doctor Coomaraswamy does an interpretation of salvation history that is new to me, but which makes perfect sense in a Guenonian context:

It is also necessary to consider history, not as a progressive advance from primitive times to the present "enlightened" era but more realistically as a continuous degeneration from a former golden age. Adam’s fall from paradise is a paradigm for understanding the present situation. God did not abandon His creation and Adam found regeneration, and is indeed considered by the Church to be a saint. In ancient days, saving revelation, in accordance with man’s more direct apprehension of truth, was appropriately more simple. With each succeeding "fall," God provided more stringent requirements for man to follow if he sought to reverse the process of degeneration, until the time of Moses when the rules required encompassed every aspect of life. This is well reflected in the Sacrifice of Abel, followed by that of Abraham, and finally by that established through the medium of Moses. Yet throughout all this we have the Sacrifice of Melchisedech, renewed once again in Christ.

The author is a "sedevacantist." Such people believe that, quite literally, they are more Catholic than the pope. Because the pope supports the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, the author holds that the See of Peter is vacant. (Other sedevacantists say there is a pope, but someone other than John Paul II: an opinion that need not detain us.) It is interesting to note how sedevacantism recapitulates the original Guenonian critique of Catholicism. Rene Guenon said 70 years ago that the "initiatory" element in Catholicism had been lost for centuries, so that the chain of primordial Tradition was no longer intact in the Catholic Church. Sedevacantists say that everything was fine until the Second Vatican Council cut the cord.

It's not just that the decrees of the Council are heretical, they say, but that the new rites of ordination for priests and bishops that were among the new liturgies promulgated after the Council are not valid, for much the same reason that Anglican ordinations are not valid. Thus any Mass, even a Mass in Latin, said by a priest who was ordained by a bishop consecrated using the new rite is not a valid Mass. Thus, bishops consecrated after 1982 are not real bishops, and the Catholic hierarchy is gradually being replaced with imposters.

The really interesting point here is that "traditional" Catholics are usually keen on the exclusive truth of Catholicism and the almost inevitable damnation of everyone who is not a member of the visible Church (or, sometimes, of one's own schismatic sect). How does this square with the Guenonian principle of the "perennial wisdom," which all the great Traditions of the world supposedly share? In Dr. Coomaraswamy's version, the two meanings of Tradition can be reconciled by emphasizing scriptural rather than hermetic proofs for this wisdom, and also by leaning very heavily on the notions of "the baptism of desire" and the "invincible ignorance" of some unbelievers, including intelligent ones. Those points, at least, are not off the reservation of respectable Catholic opinion, but they are not the sort of thing usually embraced by conservatives.

The moral, I think, is that we have yet another instance in which we see that Tradition should never be confused with conservatism. Perhaps it would be too much to state this categorically, but we can clearly see this trajectory in every form of Tradition: for a Traditionalist, no public institution in his own society is legitimate.

* * *

Global Policy Exchange has been holding discussions on whether what Islam really needs is a Reformation. In the August/September issue of First Things, one contributor to the discussion, Paul Marshall of Freedom House, has an essay whose title, "Islamic Counter-Reformation," sums up a contrary position:

My view is that many of the problems of contemporary Islam are more like Protestant problems than like Catholic problems, and therefore more akin to a dilution of Protestantism is required.

You can make your own list of Islamic "Protestant problems": a principle of "sola scriptura" based on the Koran that makes flexibility impossible; a neglect of natural law; the lack of hierarchical oversight of charismatic leaders. Randall suggests that what Islam needs is a renewal of the ancient science of interpretation, along with the creation of a more centralized system of authority to issue such interpretations.

I might point out that Spengler, in The Decline of the West, identified Islam as a Reformation of Eastern Christianity within what he called "Magian Culture," or at least as the Puritan phase of a Reformation. The problem is that Islam may not only have had its Reformation, but also its Counter Reformation: that is arguably what Shia Islam was all about. Particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is a strong hierarchy and a sophisticated magisterium. There are also the makings of nukes, in the hands of people who should not be trusted with sharp objects.

* * *

As part of the New York Times coverage of this week's Democratic National Convention, the newspaper's Sunday Magazine section of July 25 had a long article by Matt Bai, entitled Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. The story is about the efforts of leftist-progressive-democratic rich people to fund a network of new foundations and activist groups to counter the depredations of the American Enterprise Institute and the National Rifle Association and suchlike rabble.

There is something terribly delusional about all this. The organizers of the lefty network claim that they were blindsided by the fearsome new foundations and news outlets that the Right has assembled. Does the Hoover Institution really hold a candle to the Kennedy School of Government? Is FOX of much account compared to all three broadcast networks? About Hollywood we need not speak.

Be that as it may, the article is interesting because it emphasizes that the system of political financing is disengaging from the two major political parties:

The second potential outcome to which Dean alludes -- that the Democratic Party, per se, might not always exist in America -- might sound, coming from Dean, characteristically overwrought. But it does raise a significant question about the political venture capitalists: what if, in the future, they decided not to support Democrats at all? ... When I suggested this to Stern, the service employees' union president, he thought about it for a moment before answering. ''There is an incredible opportunity to have the infrastructure for a third party,''

Not really. What this activity leads to is a system in which prefabricated components can quickly assemble around attractive candidates. The comparison we should think of is the production of a major motion picture. The sums involved for a presidential campaign are oddly similar, too: some small multiple of $100 million. In any case, as the article notes, the year to focus on is 2008.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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LinkFest 2015-12-21

Where America Gets its Winter Lettuce

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Lettuce Produces More Greenhouse Gas Emissions than Bacon Does

The vast fields of lettuce in Yuma, in all places, are almost enough to drive me to despair. Almost.

Dear Parents: Everything You Need to Know About Your Son and Daughter’s University But Don’t by Ron Srigley

I am sympathetic to the author, but not at all that sympathetic to his argument. The American university system is currently caught between the cracks of at least three different models. There is the old English system of the upper classes, the German research university model, and most recently a bastardized vocational model. Srigley seems most closely aligned mid-century American model, which was a combination of the German and British systems, prizing both liberal studies and science, with an undercurrent of class distinctions. He is not a fan of the many, many students who go to college today because it is a gatekeeper to the middle class vocations. However, this is not their fault, but ours, for having made a system that requires this. Also, I'm dubious of the purported distinction between 'pure' science in the past and engineering now. A focus on pure science seems like a current obsession, whereas in the past application was very much on the minds of scientists.

A Change of Mind: Is there a way to treat Down's Syndrome?

The inventor of the widely used prenatal test for Down's Syndrome is on a quest to find an effective treatment for it. I think this is a good thing.

The New Atomic Age we Need

I'm not the only one to think that nuclear power is probably the most green energy technology we currently have.

Canada and the Emerging Terror Threat from the North

One of my current favorite authors is John Schindler. Schindler worked for the NSA, and now is a columnist, historian, and professor. Schindler calls it like it is, and I always appreciate that. I have been particularly enjoying his acerbic exchanges on Twitter with critics who don't know anything about espionage or security.

The Ionian Mission

Greg Cochran asks what made the Ionian Greeks so smart? I have wondered this myself. Aristotle must have had a prodigious intellect to figure out everything he figured out. Many of the other Greeks at the time were similarly remarkable, but Aristotle in particular has pride of place. Some commenters on Cochran's post say that this is just low-hanging fruit, but I think this misses the startling depth and breadth of the Ionian Greek accomplishments.

The Once and Future Liberalism

This post echoes a number of themes John Reilly used to talk about. Mead doesn't use the term, but this article is clearly about the apoptheosis of the New Deal in the Kennedy Enlightenment.

The Long View: If the Loyalists Had Won the Spanish Civil War

Orwell with POUM

Orwell with POUM

Here the first of three essays by John on the Spanish Civil War, covering both the history, and the alternative history of an in-edifying episode in a terrible century. That war was was the trial run for World War II, and perhaps in a way even the Cold War. In the near term, the two sides aligned clearly with the Fascists and the Communists, but the coalitions on both sides offered enough of an appearance of political breadth that almost everyone felt like they identified with a side. Even now, there are no impartial accounts of the war. There were just too many awful things, done by both sides, and in the full view of the international press, providing endless opportunities for axe-grinding and score-settling.

The Republicans won an early and enduring victory in the propaganda war in the English speaking world. The Republicans cast the Nationalists as reactionary and backward, and the progressive press in the West amplified this theme. Writers and journalists clearly favored the Republican cause, and some of them, such as George Orwell, would lend more than their pens to the cause. For Orwell, firsthand experience with Stalinist purges tempered his enthusiasm for the cause, but others such as Earnest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn would become lifelong partisans of the Republicans, their struggle rendered inexpressibly romantic by defeat.

The impression the Republicans made on the Western intelligentsia probably contributed to the glamour the Soviets enjoyed both during and after WWII. At the time, the Soviet Union really did seem like the wave of the future, and many of the best and brightest in the West were open advocates for the Soviets. This kind of environment facilitated the formation of networks of Soviet spies, especially in the United States and England. Some of these spies, like Ted Hall or Kim Philby, were we placed to steal valuable secrets. Many others, like Hemingway, were just dilettantes.

The preference of the press for the Republican side probably helped give the Soviets an advantage in the Cold War, but what if the propaganda had been even more successful? Despite the support of the Italians and the Germans for Franco's Nationalists, Franco chose to stay neutral in World War II Here, John imagines what might have been if the Republicans had managed to garner a bit more international support, or avoided killing a brilliant general for being the wrong kind of socialist, thereby turning the tide in their favor. How might the Second World War have turned out differently if the Communists had secured an early victory in Spain?

If the Loyalists Had Won the Spanish Civil War.....
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 was one of the great dramas of the 1930s. I use the word "drama" advisedly, since the debate and propaganda campaigns about the war became the substance of much of the political and intellectual life of the West during the years the war was fought. In the progressive literature of the period, the war was a morality tale of good defending itself against evil, of fascism against democracy, of the Enlightenment against Catholic obscurantism. The war became a counter in the political struggle between the international communist movement and the more loosely organized cause of fascism. In the publishing industry and the better magazines, the Loyalists won the propaganda argument, but on the ground the Nationalists won. In this note, I would like to suggest some ways that history, and particularly the course of the Second World War, might have been different if the Loyalists had won.
A full description of the origins and course of the war is unnecessary here. The questions involved are also still controversial. Suffice it to say that, after a decade of seesaw election results, a Popular Front government finally came to power in Spain, but with a very narrow majority. The Front sought to be inclusive of the Left, from Anarchists to Social Democrats. The Front, however, was more and more controlled by the Communists. In any event, having achieved a narrow victory, the government undertook a radical land redistribution. Elements of the Front, particularly the Anarchists, began some spontaneous redistribution of their own, and the government did not attempt to protect life and property. Clerics and Church property were particularly subject to assault. These events caused the Spanish African Army under General Francisco Franco to stage a revolt. The rebels became the Nationalists. The legitimate government refused to yield, however, and the conflict became an elaborate civil war. The Nationalists received aid from the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, including some troops and airmen. The Loyalists received material aid from Soviet Russia, but on ruinous financial terms. They were also assisted by volunteer legions from many countries. The resources of the two sides were not terribly unequal. However, the Nationalists had most of the experienced officers. Also, the Communists in the Popular Front carried on a small-scale version of the purges then occurring in the Soviet Union, directed against the other Leftist parties. This degraded the fighting capacities of the Loyalist armies, which were organized along political lines. The Loyalists were overwhelmed a few months before the Second World War started. Generalissimo Franco surprised everybody by remaining neutral in that conflict.
A Loyalist victory is not hard to imagine. Franco was a competent rather than a brilliant general. The accident of a military genius on the other side might have altered the outcome of the war. So might have more generous support from the Soviet Union. The Communists might have deferred their own political agenda until after the war was over. Neither side had any difficulty obtaining arms they could pay for; France, which had a Popular Front government too in the 1930s, might have offered arms on credit. Alternatively, an effective League of Nations embargo would have redounded to the Loyalists' benefit, since they controlled most of the country's manufacturing capacity. So, let us assume that by the end of spring, 1939, the Nationalists are forced to finally surrender, and Franco goes into exile in Argentina.
One thing that I think would have been inevitable is that the Soviet Union would, in effect, have a colony in the Western Mediterranean. The front-and-purge policy the Communists used against their rivals in the Loyalist camp was not very different from the one they used in Czechoslovakia just after the Second World War (except, perhaps, that it was much bloodier). Stalin was at all times of two minds about what he wanted to happen in Spain. While he wanted to humiliate the Italians and the Germans, he also had doubts about whether another Communist state so far from his borders was a good idea. He knew that such a state would be difficult for him to control, and that it would offer an alternative focus of loyalty for Communist parties around the world. The Soviet Union's subsequent problems with Yugoslavia and China show that these fears were well founded. However, it would have taken years for a rift to develop. The Spanish Communist Party was devotedly pro-Soviet. The new state would have needed Soviet material support. With the growing threat of a Fascist war, a near-term split with Moscow would not have been in the cards. Spain would become for the USSR something like what Cuba became in the 1960s and Nicaragua in the 1980s.
The French would not have been pleased by this turn of events. French governments have traditionally alined themselves with whatever regime ruled Russia in order to counterbalance the powers of Middle Europe. They would have found this harder to do, however, if the Russians acquired a base adjoining French territory. The advantage to a Russian alliance, after all, is that Russians are too far away to be a menace themselves. There was no way the French could have thrown their support to Germany. It would have been politically impossible, and it would have been strategic suicide. However, the proximity of Soviet Spain would have made France much more reluctant to engage in any major war, anywhere. It is not just that Spain could eventually become a military threat. The Communist Party in France would have been so emboldened by their southern colleagues' success that would have started looking for revolutionary opportunities. A lost war, or even a stalemated war, would do just nicely. Knowing this, the French government would have been much less likely to declare war on Germany in 1939 after the invasion of Poland. Indeed, it might not have been possible to do so, since the Hitler-Stalin Pact was in effect, and the French Left would have made quite a fuss about entering the war, even if they hoped to benefit from the outcome.
Thus, one result of a Loyalist victory could have been that Hitler would not, at the outset, have had to fight a war on two fronts. If the French did not declare war, the British could not have, either. Where would they have put their army? In his pre-war alliance negotiations with Mussolini, Hitler seemed to be contemplating a general war for 1942 or 1943. He would have been able to pick a fight in the West at his leisure, probably much better prepared than he was in 1939. In this war, the desperate French might have accepted an alliance with Soviet Spain, provided Stalin relented. Certainly Spain would have been a reasonable base for the French to retreat to, after losing Paris. Even if Soviet Spain had chosen Franco's policy and attempted neutrality, it is unlikely that Hitler would have accepted it. He could not have. His goal in World War II was the conquest of Russia, something he could not have accomplished with a Soviet ally in his rear. The conquest of Spain could have been part of his initial western campaign, or it might have waited a year or two, but it would have been inevitable.
A Nazi campaign would have had several things working against it. For one thing, the supply lines were long enough to create formidable logistical problems, never the strong suit of the Nazi military. Assuming the English were still in the war, Hitler, like Napoleon, would have found just how accessible Spain is from the sea. On the other hand, the Spanish Soviet government would have been unlikely to be very popular by this time, assuming it had continued with the process of Stalinization. If the Germans concluded their campaign by taking Gibraltar, whose British base was (and is) a long-standing affront to Spanish pride, the Germans could have been accepted as liberators. The loss of Gibraltar could have cost the British effective control of the Mediterranean. The resupplying, not just of Egypt, but of India and Australia, would have become immensely more difficult.
In sum, then, a Loyalist victory in the Spanish Civil War could have lost the Allies the Second World War. I, for one, find this conclusion paradoxical.
Any other ideas?
 
[If you liked this piece, you might also be interested in taking a look at a revew of The Last Crusade, a history of the Spanish Civil War from a Carlist perspective.]
Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Dreamer of the Day

Francis Parker YockeyI am astonished that men like Francis Parker Yockey actually exist. Yockey is a reminder that truth is always stranger than fiction. The closest literary analogue that I have read is Tim Power's Declare. Of course, that is a secret history, based on the very real life of Kim Philby. You can't make this stuff up.

For example, Yockey supported himself as a gigolo. I suppose in way he was the dark shadow of James Bond. Yockey really was an international man of mystery. He was certainly a spy, and traveled all over the world in the pursuit of secret goals. Unlike Bond, he was also a man of letters. He had a law degree from Notre Dame and wrote a book that is more cited than read. In the end, Yockey was unmade by a very prosaic method: the airline lost his luggage containing all his fake passports.

Yockey was primarily of interest to John because he was a posthumous prophet of the one twentieth century ideology that never ran a state: Tradition. Tradition is thankfully rather obscure. I had never heard of it until I started reading John's website. You should be glad you've never heard of it, because that means it has not been successful.

It would be easy to paint Yockey as a tool of fascists, but in truth he was a fellow traveler with the communists as well. The movement with which he was associated also influenced the Third World. There are interesting connections between Yockey and his ilk and the modern Islamists that plague the Middle East. He was after something quite different than most of the Nazis, which is why he is so interesting.

John finishes up this review with an aside about Spengler that is most illuminating. John felt that Yockey mis-interpreted Spengler's ideas, but that very mis-interpretation demonstrated a clear flaw in Spengler himself. Toynbee probably understood the nature of universal states better than Spengler, but you had to read a lot more to get there.

Dreamer of the Day:
Francis Parker Yockey and the
Postwar Fascist International
By Kevin Coogan
Autonomedia, 1999
644 Pages, $16.95
ISBN: 1-57027-039-2

 

Francis Parker Yockey was born in Chicago in 1917 and committed suicide in 1960, when the FBI finally caught him. He dedicated his life to reversing the outcome of the Second World War, a project he believed could be accomplished by 2050. From an early age, he identified anti-Americanism with antisemitism and supported both. He opposed early steps toward economic globalization and gave covert assistance to Muslim enemies of the West. He speculated hopefully that an enemy to whom it would be impossible to surrender would eventually attack Americas' cities. He worked to create a pan-European superstate, indeed a Eurasian superstate including Russia, that would displace America's global influence. He expected that the world would someday be ruled by elites for whom hermeticism had replaced Christianity. On the whole, he probably would have been pleased by the state of the world today.

One should not exaggerate the degree to which the recent prominence of Yockey's constellation of enthusiasms is due to his influence. His great ideological tome, "Imperium," has had some currency in fascist and occult circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, though extremists from American Satanists to Russian revanchists may sometimes invoke his name today, they generally do so without much knowledge of his ideas. A few references to Yockey himself turned up in the popular press in the 1950s, as a mystery man somehow linked to both Soviet espionage and the world's neofascist network, but Yockey never even rose to the level of infamy. He remained a denizen of the fringe of the fringe. This does not make Kevin Coogan's treatment of Yockey's life and times any less valuable. Yockey's life intersected with 20th century forces and ideas that were often obscure. That is not to say they were not also powerful, and may be more so in the 21st century.

"Dreamer of the Day" wanders amiably back and forth between high theory and very informed rumor mongering. We get useful pocket summaries of the ideas of some of the chief ideologues of the "Conservative Revolution" of the first half of the 20th century, a "movement" that ranged from Martin Heidegger to Ezra Pound. The book continues through the tangle of small organizations and petty conspiracies that maintained this tradition in the second half of the century, after it was eclipsed by the overthrow of openly fascist governments. You have to read the book to appreciate the full sweep of history between the Thule Society of Munich and the Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo of Leonia, New Jersey. The book also treats of matters such as Yockey's posthumous effect on Satanism, as well as the sexual ideologies that percolated among Right and Left in the postwar era. Coogan usually manages to relate all this fascinating material to Yockey, but the connections are often tenuous. This is not the author's fault. Even after exhaustive research, we still know little more about Yockey's life than a disturbing outline.

Yockey's family was of the professional classes, though in somewhat straitened circumstances after the coming of the Depression. His people were German, Irish and French Canadian. Coogan does dangle the rumor of a Jewish grandfather, just for the sake of completeness. In any case, the family was Catholic. Yockey himself later drifted into the theosophical Nietzscheanism that characterized his underground milieu.

He was a small man, about five feet, seven inches. There is one picture of him, on the book's cover. Readers may be reminded of Rod Serling, the somewhat funeral creator and master-of-ceremonies of the original "Twilight Zone" television series. All sources agree that Yockey was highly intelligent. He was a concert-level pianist, though he could only rarely be persuaded to play. All sources also agree that he had a difficult personality. Nonetheless, he was able to support his political interests in part as a gigolo and occasional bigamist. He seems to have appealed to slightly older women who liked to talk about Hitler and to be whipped.

Francis Parker Yockey was involved with organizations of the radical right in the 1930s. This included such groups as William Dudley Perry's Silver Shirts and the various incarnations of the German American Bund. Such connections, however, did not exclude other links, with Stalinists and Trotskyites. His Chicago-area home was a time and place when the semi-fascist followers of Father Coughlin might make common cause with the most radical Progressives. This common front against capitalism was, for radicals like Yockey, also part of the struggle against the Jews.

Yockey for most purposes was a "National Bolshevik," a tendency that in the German Nazi Party was represented by the Strasser brothers, Otto and Gregor. As the term implies, National Bolsheviks supported radical socialism, but for the preservation of the "Volk," the ethnic and cultural unit of the People, rather than for the proletariat. They also supported a policy of alliance with Russia against the West. "Strasserism," as this tendency was also called, was disfavored: after the Nazis came to power, Gregor was assassinated and Otto escaped to Latin America. Still, it continued to appeal to some leading Nazis, notably Joseph Goebbels. He actually took the opportunity to implement some of the Strasserist program right at the end of the regime, in the WerwolfMovement

Rather like the young Goebbels, Yockey pursued an academic career at so many universities that it is hard to settle on a final count. We know that he finished a law degree at Notre Dame and that he qualified to practice. The most important part of his undergraduate career was probably his stint at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. That was, perhaps, the only place in America where he could have been introduced to the ideas of two leading lights of the Conservative Revolution, Karl Haushofer the proponent of geopolitics and Carl Schmitt the jurist.

Haushofer is best known for the propositions that the key to world dominion is the control of Central Asia and that, as the Strasserists said, the proper role for Germany was as the western wing of a great Eurasian power. Furthermore, he argued that Germany was essentially a "have-not" nation. Its proper allies were not in the liberal West, but among the anti-colonial resistance movements of what would later be called the Third World. In Europe, he hoped, Germany would eventually be the center of a hegemonic system that was not quite an empire, but no longer a system of truly sovereign states.

Schmitt is a famous "anticonstitutionalist," whose ideas are somewhat reminiscent of the pragmatic Legal Realists in America during the 1930s. In his view, the real law was what happened at the "Ernstfall," the point of decision where one party succeeds and another fails. He is best known, perhaps, for his definition of "the sovereign" as the entity that can designate who is an enemy.

Between them, Haushofer and Schmitt disposed of the notion of the rule of law both domestically and internationally. There were no principled norms, but simply the exercise of power, which could be more or less predictable. One may note that the Jesuits of Georgetown studied the theories of these two men chiefly in order to refute them; in those days, the Jesuits were less susceptible to intellectual fashions.

By far the greatest intellectual influence on Yockey, however, was Oswald Spengler. Yockey spent his adult life believing that he was implementing the ideas about the future implied by "The Decline of the West." Yockey was also heavily influenced by "The Hour of Decision," a tract Spengler published at the beginning of the Nazi regime. As we will see, Yockey's interpretation of Spengler was somewhat idiosyncratic.

During World War II, Yockey secured an Army commission. Soon afterward, he briefly deserted. Coogan notes that Yockey had many connections with the German sympathizers who probably aided the famous infiltration of German saboteurs into the United States, and that this happened at just the time that Yockey was missing. Coogan makes a plausible case that Yockey was part of a German-American espionage network that lead to the German Embassy in Mexico City. Plausibility is not proof, however. All we know is that Yockey returned to duty after some weeks. He persuaded the Army that he was suffering from a mental breakdown; he received a medical discharge with little trouble.

Through some appalling oversight in the vetting process for federal employees, Yockey landed a job after the war as an attorney with the war crimes tribunal in Germany charged with prosecuting lesser Nazis. He seems never to have actually function in that position; he was eventually discharged for abandoning his post. He would later do the same thing with a job with the American Red Cross, using it to finance another trip to Europe and then simply deserting. Yockey used these opportunities to make contacts with the growing pan-European fascist network.

In a way, the loss of the war liberated international fascism. As we have noted, it was only when the Nazi regime no longer had much of a country to govern that Goebbels was able to give effect to his revolutionary impulses. The same thing happened in Italy. After the Allied invasion in 1943, the Germans rescued Benito Mussolini. He briefly ruled the "Social Republic" of Salò, a rump state in the north of Italy that finally carried out the radical fascist ambition of nationalizing most of the economy. Fascism after 1945 was entirely free of the responsibility for government, and so could pursue the most radical agenda.

It is really as an ideologue that Yockey's chief significance lies. In 1948, working at Brittas Bay on the Irish coast, Yockey produced his masterpiece, Imperium. The book tried to update "The Decline of the West," but in many ways it stood Spengler on his bald head. Spengler, who died in 1936, had not wanted a war with Russia, but neither was he a Strasserist. He feared that Russia and the "Colored World" would make alliance against the West, in collusion with the radical Left of the Western nations. Spengler believed that the West was headed into a period like the Roman Empire, and that the elites of the West needed to cultivate Nietzschean virtues in order to make the transition. Yockey, in contrast, spoke of the need to create what in effect would be a new race to govern the coming Imperium. This notion, as Coogan points out, has more in common with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's prophecy of the coming Sixth Root Race than with Spengler's concept of "race" as the lineages of cultivated families.

The biggest difference is that anti-Semitism as a major historical force is wholly absent from Spengler's philosophy. For Yockey, modern history was about little more than the cultural distortion caused by the Jews. So great was their effect on the United States in particular, Yockey counseled, that the temporary domination of Europe by the healthy barbarians of Russia was the best short-term goal.

The original two-volume edition of Imperium ran to just 200 copies. There would have been more, but Yockey aliened the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, who had once expressed an interest in promoting the work. Still, it was not without early admirers. The military historian, Basil Liddell Hart, wrote a favorable review. The hermetic Italian ideologue, Julius Evola, also praised it, though he observed that Yockey had misread Spengler. Yockey's book was more a rumor than a source for the fascist revival in the 1950s. It was not until after Yockey's death, when the radical-right publisher Willis Carto brought out a paperback edition of Imperium that the book began to reach a sizeable readership. Still, Imperiumdoes provide some guide to what important fascists were thinking in those days.

Acting in large part under the inspiration of Evola, postwar fascists cultivated ideas that had existed for decades, but that had become muted during the time of fascism in power. Evola was the chief inspiration for a Swiss-based umbrella-organization called the New European Order, or NEO. The group cultivated his favorite themes. These included government by a Platonic, "solar" hierarchy, the notion of sacred kingship, and myths of Aryan origin in the hyperborean north and in Atlantis. On a more practical level, these people were no longer constrained by Hitler's foreign policy. They could deal with the Soviets to oppose Western interests; they could and did deal with the CIA to give radical-right organizations some breathing room, particularly in Italy. (Carl Gustav Jung, also widely considered a Conservative Revolutionary, was CIA chief Allen Dulles's family psychiatrist.)

They were also able to do business with the Third World. A number of exiled Nazis moved through the Muslim capitals, organizing anti-Zionist propaganda. Notable among them was the Strasserist exile, Johann von Leers, who was an important figure in Nasser's Egypt. The network did not neglect Latin America, where the Red and the Brown made common cause on the question of anti-Americanism. Indeed, Coogan makes a good argument that the original post-revolutionary model for Fidel Castro was the Social Republic of Salò.

Amidst all this devilry, Yockey was a jobbing imp. He may well have acted as a courier for Czech intelligence. He may have spent a substantial blank space during the 1950s behind the Iron Curtain. He did work with Leers in Egypt. He even tried to sell the Egyptian government some bogus Argentine nuclear technology. Back in the United States, he worked briefly as a speechwriter for Senator Joseph McCarthy. He lived in New York City for some time, consorting with a strange section of New York's political bohemia. At least one host among his acquaintances kept a frame with a picture of Hitler on one side and of Stalin on the other, the better to accommodate the tastes of his guests. He attended the salon of the right-wing poet, George Sylvester Viereck, who had worked with Aleister Crowley when Crowley was a propagandist for Germany during the First World War. In that set, Yockey may also have met the sexologist, Alfred Kinsey. We know Yockey spent time in New Orleans, writing propaganda for use in Latin America. Coogan takes care to squelch the rumors of a link between Yockey and Lee Harvey Oswald, whose history was not altogether dissimilar.

As Yockey moved across borders, he acquired a bewildering number of identities. The American authorities realized early in the 1950s that whatever this man was doing, it probably was not good. In 1952 they stopped renewing his passport and the FBI started looking for him. His accumulation of false passports was his downfall. Some of his luggage went astray when he flew into San Francisco; his embarrassment of documents came to light in a lost-and-found center in Texas.

The FBI confronted him in Oakland, California, originally planning to arrest him for failure to register under the Selective Service Act. Yockey had in fact registered and served in the military, but the false identity he was using had no such record. The FBI was spared the embarrassment of using this perfunctory device when Yockey tried to run away, injuring an agent in the process.

Yockey was detained while participating in a series of ever less satisfactory immigration hearings. More of his identities surfaced. The list lengthened of things the FBI wanted to talk to him about. In some way that has never been explained, he obtained potassium cyanide. Like the Nazi leadership he so admired, he died by self-administered poison on June 17, 1960.

For me, "The Dreamer of the Day" clarified the Conservative Revolution as a form of existentialism. It began by valuing the clarity afforded by those situations where existence is at stake; it ended with the determination to wager the world's existence. Schmitt's "Ernstfall," Hitler's death-or-glory foreign policy, Evola's faith in lethal violence as the means to individuation, all of this is part of the same cultural moment as Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. For existentialists of all political persuasions, we can experience reality only at the limit, on the edge of the abyss.

This is a terribly distorting way to think. Now that I can recognize the pattern, I see that it is the chief flaw in Spengler's philososphy of history. I would still argue that his insight about a common morphology of cultural evolution is basically correct. The problem was that his existentialism caused him to read history, and particularly Classical history, through a Nietzschean lens. Spengler came to confuse realism with desperation, political skill with ruthlessness. He extolled the improvident genius of Caesar and belittled Augustus's respect for tradition, though in fact Augustus was arguably the most successful statesman who ever lived. Spengler's taste for politics on the edge made him dismiss constitutional forms and the principles of legitimacy as mere "literature."

This, perhaps, is why Spengler paid relatively little attention to the Roman Empire itself, or to any of the final societies that Toynbee later called "Universal States." Spengler's existentialism required him to view those late civilizations as essentially historyless. For Spengler, the Roman Empire was a paradise of will, where unfettered supermen did as they would. In reality, the history of the Universal States displays a morphology as clear as that of any period in a Culture's life. Except in their final decay, they are marked by piety and convention rather than by the antics of supermen. Artist politicians, the high-stakes gamblers, are creatures of modernity. It is a mistake to project them into the future.

The distortions of twentieth-century existentialism are not confined to political history. Those exhortations we have been hearing all these years to turn our attention to marginal people and liminal situations begin to look like a lethal misdirection. This is the nonsense that anarchism, fascism, and every avant-garde for 150 years have had in common. Let us beware of living on the edge. Francis Parker Yockey could still reach up to drag us over it.

 

 


 

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

 


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The Long View: Spymaster The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police

Another old review, written when John was reviews editor of Culture Wars magazine. John decided to part ways with Culture Wars, for reasons he explains here. A fascinating look at espionage and the Cold War, overlapping slightly with my own book review on American Spies.


Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police
by Leslie Colitt
Addison-Wesley Publishing Company 1995 (November)
304 pp. (Hardcover), $23
ISBN: 0-201-40738-8

Even before the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was liquidated in 1990, it seemed churlish to me to make fun of it. It was obviously such a dismal country that further comment was cruel. Not everybody thought the way I did, however. A friend of mine who visited it on a business trip about 1985 found it hard to keep a straight face. Squired around East Berlin in an official East German car by an official East German official, he and the other Americans guffawed at the dinky little Trabant cars and the appalling architecture. Building facades that were not ghastly concrete slabs were likely to have unrepaired bullet holes in them from the Russian assault in 1945. The group went to a crowded restaurant for lunch, where they were entertained by the spectacle of a drill-sergeant waitress ordering a tableful of her hangdog countrymen to go sit somewhere else so the foreigners could stay together. The highpoint of the trip was the Eastern Block cherry pie that came for desert. The visitors spent many merry minutes noisily demonstrating its amazing impenetrability to eating utensils. The crowd in the restaurant seemed to be able to follow most of this conversation. Their expressions went from morose to suicidal. Surely none of this rudeness was necessary, I told my friend when he got back. When the GDR imploded, I felt no desire to gloat.

Well, I have changed my mind. Few countries, living or dead, have so richly deserved to be razzed as West Germany's evil twin, and many of the reasons can be found in Spymaster, a brief and straightforward account of the East German foreign espionage agency, the Hauptverwaltung fuer Aufklaerung (Central Intelligence Administration, or HVA), and how it interacted with the rest of the GDR's security apparatus. Colitt was long the Berlin correspondent for the Financial Times of London, and for me, at least, one of the merits of this book is that it does not read like a spy novel. However, if you like spy novels, this book gives you all the nuts and bolts you might desire. (I learned far more than I wanted to know about the role played in world history by the lavatories on the interzonal Berlin trains.) The book's central personality is Markus Wolf, the relentlessly elegant head of East German espionage from the early 1950s to the middle 1980s. Wolf was the prototype for "Karla," the archetypical masterspy developed by mystery writer John Le Carre' into one of the demigods of Cold War mythology. Wolf ran a truly formidable service, one that was at least as important for Eastern Block espionage in Europe as the KGB was. Indeed, it is perhaps the measure of his society that its foreign spy agency was the most competent thing about it.

Markus Wolf is invariably portrayed as a romantic figure. Athletic, handsome, cultured, he was the mysterious "Man without a Face" to Western intelligence until the 1980s, when they finally managed to get a photograph of him. Thus, for many years, he was free to travel secretly through much of Europe. He regularly met and charmed his chief moles personally, sometimes spending holidays with them at resorts in neutral countries while engaging them in wide-ranging discussions of politics and culture. He took care to see that lesser agents received birthday greetings and secret medals. For a senior East German official, he had an irregular private life. He was married thrice, not a good idea in a profession where resentful ex-wives are notoriously likely give information to the opposition out of sheer spite. However, the chief irony in the life of the romantic Markus Wolf is that, all his life, he was a "good communist," which is not very different from saying he was a "good Scout."

Wolf was born in 1923 in Weimar Germany. His father, Friedrich, was a playwright of international reputation, a homeopathic healer, and a Communist. The Wolf family fled to the Soviet Union when the Nazis came to power, even though they had a choice of possible havens. Friedrich insisted on listing his nationality in his internal Soviet passport as "German," though he was ethnically Jewish and that category would have made his life easier. His son, who also became a Soviet citizen, followed suit. During the purges, when German Communist exiles in the USSR tended to disappear into the Gulag, Friedrich contrived not only to avoid arrest but to travel to the West in his artistic pursuits, while the family remained in Moscow. Markus became thoroughly Russified; his friends always called him "Mischa." He served mostly in Red Army propaganda units during the war. When the GDR was created in 1949, he was prevailed upon to renounce his Soviet citizenship for the good of the Party so he could serve in the new state's Moscow embassy. In 1951, the Russians decided he was a good candidate to reorganize the primitive East German foreign espionage organization, then known simply as Central Department 4 of the State Security Ministry. He became its head the next year. In 1956, the department became known as the HVA .

Wolf retired just thirty years later at age 63, very young for an important Eastern Bloc figure who was not actually dying. Colitt takes him at his word when Wolf says, in effect, that he had achieved everything he could in his career. However, reasonable people might find it suspicious that he then became a "reform communist," speaking and writing about the Stalinist purges and advocating various incremental reforms in the GDR. He was an early supporter of Gorbachev at a time when the GDR leadership was dead-set against even minor relaxation. For the first time in his life, he was famous. Not that it did him much good. When the Berlin Wall came down, nobody wanted to hear what he had to say. It may be, as he claims, that he was giving vent to years of pent-up liberalism. On the other hand, perhaps he saw before all his colleagues which way the wind was blowing, and imagined that he could be the one to save socialism.

The most fascinating aspect of Spymaster is not the spies, but its description of the society Wolf was trying to save. East Germany may have been the most police-ridden country in human history. It kept long, very long, dossiers on about a quarter of its 16 million people, plus a million more selected foreigners, primarily people in West Germany. Most of this information was collected by ordinary East Germans spying on each other at the behest of the Ministry for State Security (Stasi). Sometimes the arrangement was informal; neighbors agreed to have regular chats about people at work with other neighbors who worked more directly for the state. Many, on the other hand, were paid agents who had signed cooperation agreements with Stasi itself. Bosses and teachers wrote regular, elaborate reports on the opinions and activities of employees and students, who might in turn be writing similar reports on the bosses and teachers. In some cases that became well-publicized after reunification, the husbands of apparently happy marriages spied on their wives, and vice versa. Almost all dissidents "cooperated" with the regime to some degree. This sometimes took the form of actually informing on members of dissident groups. Many intellectuals, however, seem to have genuinely imagined themselves to be negotiating with the regime for eventual liberalization. The Ministry of State Security itself was straight out of Kafka. Its officials took degrees, doctorates, in the applied psychology of mind control and personal intimidation. Somewhere in the former East Germany even today, perhaps, there may be a library of really, really scary doctoral theses.

Because the country pretty much evaporated in the few months after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, it is easy to see most of this crepuscular activity in retrospect as a make-work project. Those dossiers running to hundreds of pages on people who had never actually done anything very interesting, much less subversive, generally served no useful purpose. Even if the files had been computerized, still it would have exceeded the wit of man and his automatons to collate the data. Doubtless the system provided a mechanism, though a grotesquely inefficient one, for finding out what the people really thought. However, since the reaction of the country's leadership to this information was usually to try to make the people think something else, the regime does not seem to have drawn much benefit from this ability. Of course, by making such a large fraction of the people at least slightly guilty of helping the state blackmail and threaten their friends and relatives, it did ensure that few people felt morally secure enough to cast the first stone against the government. A charitable observer, or maybe a former German Marxist adept at reading between the lines, might surmise that this was the real goal of the Stasi system, to make every man his own cop. Or, on the other hand, maybe the system was just as stupid as it looked.

Markus Wolf's HVA stood somewhat apart from the Stasi. Of course, it was part of the Ministry for State Security and Wolf's boss was the thuggish Erich Mielke, the only founding member of the East German state to live through the whole regime into a resentful extreme old age. However, the foreign espionage division that Wolf ran was something of an elite. Its primary missions were the collection of military information of interest to the Warsaw Pact, surveillance of West German political parties, and economic espionage. Mielke in the early years of the regime was skeptical about the need for East Germany to have an elaborate spy-network at all. He had a point. After all, the GDR did not have an independent diplomatic or military policy, so in effect his ministry would simply be spending its own money to do the Russians' work for them. Wolf, however, soon showed such an ability to pull espionage rabbits out of hats that the HVA became one of the chief sources of the ministry's prestige within the government.

Wolf was the great 20th century master of the mole, the long-term agent who lives an apparently normal life in the target country, rising in due course to positions where sensitive information is available for the taking. The discovery in the early 1970s of his most famous mole, Guenter Guillaume, in the office of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt soon forced Brandt's resignation. Some of his spies were simply paid. For instance, a relatively low-level U.S. Army electronics warfare specialist once sold the HVA what there was to know about American plans for disrupting Warsaw Pact command-and-control in the event of a war in Europe. However, his most important agents tended to be West Germans who served him at least in part for personal reasons, which often included an ideological component. Academics and businessmen provided information to the East because they thought they were "protecting the peace" or, more rarely, "building socialism." An opportunity for spies of this type was provided by the structure of West German political parties. Far more than American parties, they have elaborate central organizations where experts are paid to think deep thoughts about foreign policy and military strategy. Should the party come to power, the party bureaucracy provides the experts for the new government. Wolf placed or cultivated such people while they were still young, and saw his efforts richly rewarded in later years.

And then, of course, there were the secretaries. As Colitt notes, Wolf did not discover the fact that it is usually easier to recruit the secretary of an important person than it is to recruit the bigwig himself. Neither was he the first to make use of "Romeo agents," spies who insinuate themselves into the affections of strategically-placed women and then exploit the relationship to obtain information. However, Wolf used these tactics with such skill and persistence that he seemed at times to be running a male escort service. (To judge from this book, there was a dearth of Mata Haris to balance the Romeos.) One of the recurring themes of the book is the sloppy work done by the West German security agencies throughout the Cold War. They did cursory checks on the staff of officials in sensitive posts, failed to implement even minimal in-office security procedures, and were singularly obtuse in pinpointing the possible source of a leak when they finally realized that one had occurred. Since secretaries, to do their jobs, must have access to the same information their bosses do, the HVA's job was often childishly simple. The culpability of the secretaries themselves varied greatly. They, too, often came to believe that they were helping to keep the peace by letting one Germany know what the other was up to. One particularly gullible woman was led to believe that her Romeo was actually a member of the British Secret Service, and that she was helping the Allies keep track of her own, unreliable government. One point that must be kept in mind about the moral calculus of these people is that nothing very terrible happened to them even when they were caught. Germany provides a maximum sentence of only 10 years for espionage. Typical sentences are for four years, themselves rarely served in full. Since, obviously, their country did not regard what they were doing as the worst of crimes, it is hard to see why the secretaries should have done so.

Did any of this do any real harm? Did it do any good, even from the East German perspective? The question has been of more than academic interest for the spies in the West who found that the end of the long, twilight struggle left them in the revealing glare produced by captured files and vindictive prosecutors. After reunification, the German government undertook to try those who had been involved in espionage for the GDR, even if they had never set foot in West Germany while doing so. Wolf himself was tried and convicted under this policy. However, an appeals court reversed, noting that the courts of the Federal Republic of Germany simply lacked the jurisdiction to try a man who was, in effect, a foreigner living in another country at the time the acts in question were committed. However, there was no lack of people in western Germany, probably well over a thousand, who richly deserved to have something unpleasant happen to them because of their relationship with East German intelligence over the years. One of the factors the courts have to consider in sentencing is the degree of damage the spies did. In the great majority of cases, the damage has been found to be negligible.

The point is not that espionage is an inherently futile enterprise. Wolf's organization found out most of what there was to know about NATO strategy and capabilities, enough, perhaps, to have affected the course of a war. The irony of the Cold War spy era is that, once the East Germans had found out everything there was to know, they still kept looking. The phenomenon was pure institutional inertia. Wolf's moles in the German political parties were happy to send him all the internal memoranda he was willing to pay for. The secretaries provided information on their bosses' private lives that Wolf's own bosses just could not get enough of. Wolf himself knew that this information was essentially junk. It was simply resume-fodder for the controlling agents in the HVA, who naturally tended to tout the value of the information they handled. As Colitt observes, the spy agency came to resemble an old-style Eastern European factory that won awards for the weight of the machinery produced, whether the machinery worked or not. Even information that seemed useful at the time, such as that relating to the latest Western computer technology, often did more harm than good. In practice, the ability to steal new technology discouraged the development of institutions that might have created it locally. Let them take note who think that the CIA should go into the economic warfare business.

As even the Clinton Administration discovered after a few years in office, plain old international power politics is not an obsolete institution. Therefore, neither will espionage be obsolete. Markus Wolf ran for many years the best "human intelligence" spy organization in the world. U.S. intelligence has long concentrated on such things as spy-satellites and electronic eavesdropping, so maybe we have something to learn from his story. Or maybe not. Even if the world is again divided in a geopolitical stand-off between power blocks, still that would not necessarily mean another Cold War (though it could easily mean a hot one). Ideology gave the Cold War a special nightmare affect. The participants secretly feared that history was really against them, or knew that it would bring them final victory despite all setbacks. Good and evil were plotted on a new grid for that conflict. It produced a new kind of novel because the frontiers ran not just across maps, but across individual human hearts. The HVA's successes were due to the fact that its Western moles and agents were of one people with that of the GDR. It is hard to imagine now what configuration of power and hope could divide the world in the same way again. There really is, it seems, such a thing as progress.

This article appeared in the June 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

American Spies: Espionage Against the United States From the Cold War to the Present Book Review

by Michael J. Sulick
283 pages; $26.95

I received this book for free as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Books about spies are inherently interesting to me. Books about the Cold War are also inherently interesting to me. Thus, American Spies is in a sweet spot. I probably would have read the author's earlier volume about espionage against America prior to the Cold War, but this is the volume I was lucky enough to receive.

American Spies covered pretty much the ground I expected it to cover, and a little bit more besides. I'm not really a spy buff, but espionage is an important part of my overarching interests in history and politics. While not intended to be a comprehensive listing of all spies who were active during the Cold War, which would be a much longer book, this volume covers all the major spies of the last seventy years. We read about Robert Hanssen spying for Russia, Larry Wu-tai Chin spying for China, and Jonathan Pollard spying for Israel.

Sulick is an insider. He retired as a director at the CIA, and spent some time in counter-intelligence during his tenure. I think this book reflects that experience. Sulick gives us an idea of the way the United States responded, or failed to respond effectively, to spies within. Much like generals are always fighting the last war, the CIA and the FBI often seemed to be tracking the last spy in Sulick's telling. Many of the spies featured in this volume managed to continue spying despite clear warning signs, such as sudden unexplained wealth or friendships with known foreign intelligence agents. Sulick believes there is something in the American character that makes it difficult for us to believe that an American would betray their country. While this is a clear failure of counter-intelligence, it is less clear whether this constitutes a national character flaw. The infamous CIA director of counter-intelligence, John Jesus Angelton, comes in for a drubbing, because he really did believe that anyone could be a spy. Rightly so, since paranoia is not identical to effective counter-intelligence, but it seems that some middle ground is necessary.

This book doesn't really get into what might be truly effective counter-intelligence. I wonder whether that oversight is intentional. Angleton was entirely correct that counter-intelligence is a wilderness of mirrors, and all books written by former CIA officers are subject to prior review and approval. It simply wouldn't do to discuss trade secrets in public, although I am really interested in what they might be. It seems like a really tricky problem in game theory or operations research. For example, is it helping or harming counter-intelligence that so much government and military information in the United States is classified that nearly every soldier and defense contractor requires a security clearance to do their basic work? I don't know, but I bet somebody has looked into it. Sulick does spend time talking about how the CIA and the FBI learned to work with each other, since at least one known spy slipped out of the country while the agencies were fighting turf battles.

The early sections of the book have really fascinating accounts of how the major spies were caught. However, I felt like the details got thinner as we closed in on the present. I'm not certain whether this was due to a need for operational secrecy, or simply because Sulick assumed that topics addressed earlier in the book did not need to be repeated. While many spies stole secrets for years undetected, it is a common theme that failures of tradecraft ultimately brought them down. The spies with the longest careers were the ones who were best at the technical skills of acquiring and passing on information without leaving a trace. Perhaps it is fortunate that many spies are misfits and losers, because otherwise they would be harder to catch. Or else we only catch the losers and misfits. Perhaps Angleton knows.

While I liked this book, I didn't love it. It may just be the engineer in me, but my favorite book so far about Cold War espionage has been Project Azorian. That book had tons of technical detail, a compelling story, and historical context. This book serves as a repository of information, and covers a much broader scope. I learned a lot, but it wasn't near as fun.

My other book reviews

Project Azorian Book Review

Project Azorian

By Norman Polmar and Michael White
$29.95; 276 pages

Hughes Glomar ExplorerI had heard of the Hughes Glomar Explorer before. The kind of science books I read as a kid often featured engineering feats such as the HGE, I can still remember the blurb about the ship being built for seafloor mining of manganese nodules. For reason or another it never worked out, but these books never said why.

It turns out it was all a lie. The Hughes Glomar Explorer was really one of the most ambitious gambits of the Cold War. The HGE was constructed for the singular purpose of clandestinely recovering a sunken Soviet submarine from the bottom of the Pacific.

The ballistic missle submarine K-129 sank on March 8, 1968 1,500 miles northwest of Hawaii. The American underwater sonophone network discovered that something had happened, and the position was triangulated. The USS Halibut was sent to locate the wreckage, and was able to accurately locate the wreck and take photographs.

Using this information, the CIA decided to try to recover the submarine, and the HGE was commissioned under the codename Project Azorian.  The CIA contacted Howard Hughes and he was more than happy to provide a cover story for the mission and laundering of the money to disguise the true ownership of the ship. His many companies and eccentric reputation made both of these things possible. The cover story was so good that some universities began to offer programs in Ocean Engineering to prepare students for the seafloor mining boom.

The Soviets were fooled as well. They never discovered the true purpose of the ship until after it had already been used. The HGE was constructed in public, but the critical recovery vehicle codenamed Clementine was built inside a submersible barge to prevent anyone from realizing the ship was not actually equipped for mining.

This crazy idea almost worked. The submarine was successfully captured, but broke in half while being lifted to the surface. Only the bow was actually recovered. The Soviets actually watched this lift taking place, but did not know what had been done until the story was leaked in the American press in 1975. This leak scrapped plans to send the HGE back to recover the rest of the submarine, because the Soviets threatened war if an American ship returned to the site.

Project Azorian would ultimately cost $500 million, the same as a lunar mission in 1970. This project pushed the state of the art so far that the ship would not find another use for 40 years, when it was leased to Global Santa Fe for its stated purpose: seafloor mining. The American Society of Mechanical Engineering designated the ship an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 2006.

This is the second Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark I have come across in a month. When I was touring the Johnson Space Center, my fellow associate asked me, "Why can't we make something like this?" We have vastly better technology as engineers. These guys worked on paper! However, I realize now that one of the things we are lacking is money. Project Azorian would cost $2.7 billion today. Not many people are willing to throw down that kind of money on something that will only be used once.

This book was a great read. I read the whole thing in two days while on vacation. The book is well-researched, with the explicit purpose of correcting the earlier mistakes of other books on the HGE and K-129. There are lots of fun asides about Cold War espionage and politics that situate the book in its historical context. Anyone interested in the Cold War, submarines, or just science and history should find this book engaging.

Theremin and the Great Seal Bug

We were watching History Detectives tonight, and there was a bit on Léon Theremin. I had heard of his eponymous instrument before, but what I did not know was that Theremin used his invention as a ploy to steal industrial secrets for the Soviet. He used his contacts in RCA to tour plants and meet engineers and scientists, all of which was then carefully documented.

Theremin playing a Theremin

In addition to this, Theremin designed what later became known as The Thing. The Thing was an amazingly clever bug that was concealed in a wooden Great Seal of the United States that hung in the US embassy in Moscow.

It worked much like an RFID tag, it had no power source of its own, but rather coupled with a powerful microwave emission to produce a signal when a diaphragm moved. The mechanism is beautifully simple. A truly great engineer designed this. The linked article has a lot of good technical details for those interested in this kind of thing.