Mr. Buckley Did The Job, Rest In Peace

An intellectual leader when the world needed one.

As so many Americans are saying this week, William F. Buckley made a great difference in my understanding of how the American world of politics functions.  But unlike most, his revelations to me were from the opposite perspective - not of convincing me that what I thought I knew was false, but reaffirming my own knowledge of how the world really worked.

I grew up in Japan during the 1950's.  I vividly remember my parents praying fervently for the safety of our soldiers who were fighting in the Korean War.  President Kennedy was just getting us involved in the VietNam war as I left high school and came to the States for college.

A glance at the globe shows that Japan is close to, and a lot smaller than, the Soviet Union.  The Soviets had declared war against Japan in the closing days of WW II, seized the Japanese island of Sakhalin, and showed no signs of wanting to give it back.

Japan is also smaller than, and even closer to, China.  The Japanese army had behaved as badly as armies usually do when they had taken over large parts of China, and the Japanese were aware that the Chinese have long memories.  Living in a tough neighborhood, the Japanese were extremely wary of anything the Communists said or did.  This awareness that communism was an implacable enemy of all things democratic and of any sort of personal liberty appeared in the Japanese press often enough that I took it for granted.

Imagine my astonishment when I got to college and found that most of my contemporaries were utterly unaware of the millions of Chinese and Russian people who had been put to death by their Communist rulers.  Most of my contemporaries seemed to regard ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union and, by extension, the Chinese Communists, as the sort of differences that animate political campaigns in the US.

I couldn't believe it.  I had traveled through Vietnam; I'd lived next door to the Korean war; and I'd read how Russian citizens were treated.  My college library had a number of realistic books explaining what Communism was all about and how it worked out in practice, but nobody read them. I had a hard time believing that my fellow students and most of the professors had no clue what the Soviet Union and Communist China were all about.

I didn't really understand that Senator Joseph McCarthy had badly poisoned the public attitude against people who were opposed to Communism.  Sen. McCarthy made a great many accusations and destroyed many people without due process.  This was an extraordinary abuse of his political position and people were rightly appalled at how roughly he handled his witnesses - though a half-century later, it's now turned out that most of his accusations were based in fact.

Unfortunately, many academics were philosophically in favor of Communism, perhaps because they believed that our market-based system did not place sufficient value on their talents, and wrote articles which equated opposition to Communism with the wrongs done by Sen. McCarthy.  To the pro-communist elite, it didn't matter that many of the people whom Sen. McCarthy had accused were in fact traitors to the United States, what mattered was that Sen. McCarthy's excesses gave them an excuse to cast any criticism of Communists or Communism in an unfavorable light.

They even went so far as to try to convince people that JFK's murder had nothing to do with his trying to have the CIA assassinate Mr. Castro.  We see the same thing today when people who talk about the high number of crimes committed by members of certain racial groups are accused of racism in an effort to shut them up.

By the time I got to college, being anti-communist was somehow "not the done thing" as a visiting professor from India put it one evening.  The term "politically incorrect" had not yet been coined, but being opposed to Communism in principle was in no way politically correct.  Being a conservative or opposing Communism had become suspect.

Mr. Buckley stepped into the intellectual gap.  Sen. McCarthy was censured by the US Senate in 1954; Mr. Buckley founded the magazine National Review less than a year later, in 1955.

Mr. Buckley's primary intellectual achievement was to fuse traditional American political conservatism with libertarianism, laying the groundwork for the modern American conservatism of U.S. Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.  He made anti-communism and conservatism respectable again.

It would be hard for anyone born after 1955 to remember just how our intellectual elites loved the ideas behind Communism and how they despised our capitalistic, competitive society.  The observation that the American system had by the 1950's produced more wealth for people at the bottom of the pyramid than any society on earth was somehow irrelevant.  Communism was "in," capitalism was "out," and that was that.

Parenthetically, the fact that the US won the Cold War in spite of the large number of Communist sympathizers in the US and the fact that our CIA was hopelessly outclassed by the Soviet intelligence agencies shows just how much more effective our system was and is.  For the true believers who have refused to follow the reasoned arguments of Mr. Buckley, however, the fact that the Soviet economy stuck most Russians with a Third World lifestyle is as irrelevant today as our relative wealth in the 1950's was to the previous generation of Communist apologists.

Mr. Buckley showed that that in Stalin, Mao, and Castro, Communism had no clothes.  He made it respectable to question professors who used their classroom authority to advance socialist ideas.

He provided intellectual cover for me, and his tremendous presence in the marketplace of ideas has allowed me, in my own small way, to defend the same ground.  For that, I'll always appreciate him, but I still don't understand how anyone can still believe that Communism has anything to offer.  Neither did Mr. Buckley, but he never let his astonishment at his opponents' persistent ignorance of the obvious lure him from the path of polite discourse.

He provided the intellectual grandstand from which Mr. Reagan could say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"  Mr. Buckley lived to see the fall of the Soviet Union and the vindication of his ideas; few men see as much.

You won the war of ideas, Mr. Buckley.  Rest in peace.  May your successors deal likewise with militant Islam.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
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