Bret Stephens

Yes, we should still feel bad about nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This past week we witnessed the collective remembrance of a terrible, fiery explosion before the world. No, I’m not referring to the 24 million who tuned into the first Republican presidential debate. What I’m talking about is a real crime perpetrated by the amoral monsters in our nation’s capital.

The previous week saw the 70th anniversary of the day the United States government did the unthinkable: dropped a nuclear bomb on a living city. The fallout ended World War II but demonstrated just how dangerous nuclear weaponry can be. The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t stand a chance. It’s estimated that over 100,000 lives perished in the bombing.

There is still the popular understanding that the atomic bomb was instrumental in bringing Japan to its knees, and ultimately defeat. This sentiment was recently argued in a Wall Street Journal editorial by foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens. Normally, the inanity and moral corruptness of the media hardly stirs me. But I could hardly keep down my lunch upon reading the title of Stephens’ article:

“Thank God for the Atom Bomb.”

Excuse me? Those words might as well have lept off my computer screen and kicked me square in the gut. The pit of my stomach actually turned while considering the meaning. How, in all of God’s creation, can someone speak such moronic, blasphemous nonsense? How can a person, flesh and all, bestow our Lord’s sanction on the instant killing of a hundred thousand people so blithely? Granted, Stephens stole the line from a 1981 essay by Paul Fussell, who was an American lieutenant fighting in Pacific theater before the bomb saved him from the prospect of invading Japan’s home islands. But even so, the total immorality of the utterance is bewildering. He might as well have said God bless sodomy or incest.

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The Washington Post’s mandate of heaven

It can be very interesting to track what sort of religious people the media finds useful or worthy of promoting. In the midst of the Episcopal Church’s crack-up, the Daily Beast gave a weekly column to gay bishop and Center for American Progress fellow Gene Robinson, who has used his column space to harangue the Archbishop of Canterbury for not going fast enough on gay marriage.

The converse, of a conservative Anglican cleric being given a column to warn that the Episcopal Church’s radicalism, for which it stands alone (breaking the moratorium on the ordination of gay clergy time and time again, suing dissenters for everything down to their choir robes, etc), is causing such a rift that other parts of the Anglican Communion are sending missionary bishops to America to undermine it, is utterly unthinkable.

Sally Quinn, “On Faith” correspondent for the Washington Post, is a fairly good proxy for what fashionable people think about religion. Her Easter/Passover column is an absolute horror, insulting to any Jew or Christian of sincere faith. “All that matters is the sense of community that Easter and Passover rituals inspire,” reads the subhead. Sort of the spiritual-but-not-religious version of “government is just the name for the things we choose to do together.”

To Quinn, remembering the deliverance of the Jewish people, or the resurrection of the King of the Universe, are of secondary importance to the sociality rituals facilitate, which is a perspective you’d expect from someone who’s been covering elite culture for decades. She treats religion like hors d’oeurves at a Georgetown cocktail party, complete with a nod to the secular-seders trend, an acknowledgment that her equanimity between Judaism and Christianity has “nothing to do with” something so trivial as belief, and the reassurance, just in case you were wondering, that “I have been an atheist most of my life, although I don’t consider myself one now.”

That elite opinion holds religion to be merely a vessel into which we can pour all sorts of emotions and social goals should fill us with the fear of God, because our ruling class has far more ambitious designs than “inspiring community,” and He is not mocked.

Consider the religious views of right-leaning opinion columnists at the Post:

Marc Thiessen, who defended waterboarding based on the teachings of the Magisterium, is Catholic
Charles Krauthammer is areligious
Michael Gerson is one of those breakaway Anglicans
George Will says he’s a “none”
Robert Kagan is Jewish
Jennifer Rubin is Jewish

Notice that every religious person is a neocon, and the more sober voices are the less religious ones. It’s almost as if they’d like to convey the impression that American hegemony is an article of faith.

Now, watching neocons interpret history can be almost as amusing as reading their interpretations of poetry. Consider this bit from one of Jennifer Rubin’s — who functions at the Washington Post as the tattletale to the slightly less hawkish editorial board — dozens of attacks on Rand Paul, which David Harsanyi called “amazingly dishonest“:

A foreign policy expert at a center-left think tank puts it simply, saying Paul sounds like the “unreconstructed Taft-Lindbergh-Buchanan wing of party, ”referring to isolationist Republican Sen. Robert Taft, America Firster Charles Lindbergh and Pat Buchanan (who has opined that WWII need not have been fought).

Good heavens, the Taft-Lindbergh-Buchanan wing?! It’s truly strange that ‘Rand Paul comes from a wing of the party with a long history,’ is an insight Rubin finds worthy of granting anonymity to a liberal foreign policy analyst for. She means it to sound scary, because she adheres to a tendentious historiography in which Buchanan is a fascist, Lindbergh supported those proto-brownshirts in America First, and Taft was a Nazi symp. It’s as if Rubin gets her history from Phillip Roth’s The Plot Against America.

Paul’s great transgression is his belief that there are some evils in the world that aren’t worth filling body bags with young Americans to eradicate, which is why he refuses to rule out containment of Iran. Rubin says this means that “he listens to no competent adviser.”

But we already know that the only competent advisors are Rubin’s friends. After Sarah Palin parted ways in 2011 with neoconservative foreign policy advisors Michael Goldfarb and Randy Scheunemann, Rubin wrote that, “Her about-face in foreign policy tells us a couple of things. First, her views then and perhaps now don’t spring from a well-grounded understanding of foreign policy but from briefing cards.”

Earlier that year, the Emergency Committee for Israel, of which Goldfarb is an advisor and which is registered to the same address as he and Scheunemann’s lobbying shop, paid for Rubin to go to Israel to attend a conference. Her criticisms take on a rather different cast in that light: ‘Sarah Palin is stupid because she’s not listening to the people who gave me a vacation to Israel anymore.’

Now, let’s have a look at who Rubin turned to to correct Paul’s mild World War II revisionism:

As for the allegation about Germany, [David] Adesnik expresses incredulity, “Sen. Paul’s comments on Germany are so eccentric that it’s hard to be sure what he’s even talking about. He refers to a U.S. blockade on Germany after World War One ‘which may have encouraged some of their anger.’ There is extensive debate about whether German resentment of the Versailles Treaty helped bring Hitler to power. …

David is a gentleman, he’s written a few things for me, and is far more intellectually honest than many in his camp. But this is rather strategically understated, and I get the feeling he knows that. There really isn’t “extensive debate,” at least among people worth reading. Peter Viereck’s Metapolitics (1941) and Freda Utley’s The High Cost of Vengeance (1948) are both great resources from the period, which simply take it as a given that post-Versailles grievances contributed to the rise of national socialism. I’ll leave the Pearl Harbor stuff alone because that’s a considerably knottier matter.

These sorts of insinuations, selective sourcing, and historiographical policing are typical of neoconservative journalism, in part because the ideology is fragile and on the defensive. Why else would ECI need to spend six figures bashing one of the handful of pro-peace Republican congressmen? If a half-dozen reporters stopped quoting maybe two dozen politicians and experts, the neocon echo chamber would effectively cease to exist. It’s a Potemkin movement.

Paul’s comments about Dick Cheney’s alleged war profiteering set off reliably bellicose columnists Rich Lowry and Bret Stephens, with Stephens sarcastically writing that the party should nominate him and be duly chastised, and Lowry saying his foreign policy sounds like it came out of a dorm room.

The facts are that Cheney, a strong proponent of privatizing military services, received a severance package from Halliburton worth tens of millions of dollars, mostly in stock options, when he joined the presidential ticket. He sold most of those, but some remained in 2003 when the Congressional Research Service looked into it. At the time, Halliburton had a number of contracts in Iraq. Whether that’s significant enough to impugn the Vice President’s decision-making, it’s hard to say, but if we were talking about a solar farm receiving a DOE loan guarantee, it undoubtedly would be. His warning last month against the “strain of isolationism” in the GOP, is something like Tom Steyer talking about why the Keystone pipeline must be stopped. Paul may not have been right about the cui bono of the second Iraq invasion and its subsequent occupation, but the general problem is one that Lowry and Stephens have never addressed, which makes me think they don’t think it exists.

I like to pick on Lowry (who started off as a researcher for Krauthammer) because we’re both Arlingtonians, though he went to Yorktown then UVA — a sure path to perpetual adolescence — and I went to H-B Woodlawn then William and Mary. We probably shoulder-tapped for beer at the same 7-11s. But he’s been in New York for years, and missed out on the post-9/11 defense contracting boom. That’s the most charitable reason I can think of for why he dismisses military cronyism as Alex Jones-ian nonsense but seems very concerned about other types.

Watching this transformation occur has made me much more of a get-the-hell-off-my-lawn Republican than an invade-the-world, invite-the-world type. As bureaucracies exist, first and foremost, to acquire and justify resources, so too do the diplomatic and defense contracting establishments depend on proving how useful they are — that’s just how incentives work. It seems to me that an awareness of this sort of creep is somewhere close to the heart of what it means to be conservative. You probably wouldn’t get that impression reading the Washington Post, but given their readership, who could blame them?