Guilt, Neocons, and the Swing to the Israeli Right

I had read this NY Times review by Timothy Noah of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, but, until maha revisited it, I hadn't realized that I missed the importance of one part of the review (italics mine):

Just about the only place the neoconservative movement can't locate Hitler is Nazi Germany. As late as 1944, the founding-neocon-to-be, Irving Kristol, publicly dismissed the "near hysterical insistence upon the pressing military danger," Jacob Heilbrunn reports in his new book, "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons." While the Nazis herded Jews into the gas chambers, Kristol, then a 24-year-old Trotskyist, held fast to his conviction that the Allies were no different from the Axis in their imperialism. Kristol took this view because he was "indulging in an abstract crusade for a better world."

I wonder if that's why a large part of why Kristol and his offspring, both literal and figurative, have veered sharply to the right regarding Israel. After all, there are plenty of conservatives who are not the U.S. wing of the Likud Party; likewise, many American Jews, who are committed Zionists, disagree with various Israeli policies. There's no a priori reason why neocons would necessarily be staunch Likudniks.

I can't imagine the amount of guilt Kristol must have experienced as a result of this decision*. Intelligent Designer knows, we've all probably made some bad decisions, but the annihilation of one's co-religionists, that's FUMTU**. I don't care how 'secular' one is, if you are Jewish (particularly in 1944), that kind of error has to be humiliating. If through some horrible lapse in judgment, I were to have equated the two, that would haunt me for a very long time. As a (fellow) Jew, I find it astonishing that any Jew in 1944 could equate the Allies with the Axis (particularly Nazi Germany).

Just how badly does one's judgment have to be before one is not taken seriously? And yet he is considered to be the father of a legitimate political movement. Incredible.

*Those damn self-hating conservative Jews...

**Fucked up more than usual.

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Well, was Stalin any better? We hear about Hitler's holocaust a lot and it should not be played down in any way. But after visiting Eastern Europe recently and seeing first-hand the results of the Soviet genocide that followed WWII, I don't see much difference between Hitler and Stalin. I'm half Jewish if it makes any difference.

I haven't read either the book or the reviews, so maybe this has been said before, but perhaps Kristol is just one of those people who can't take a position without claiming that everyone who disagrees with him is evil or stupid or both. In his opinion, Allied governments couldn't merely be taking on some oppressive activities of their own before, during, or after the war -- they had to be as bad as Nazis, or his worldview didn't work. The latter possibility may never have occurred to him.

And when he changes his views, the people who used to agree with him are, in his mind, just as bad.

By Julie Stahlhut (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

I suppose it's possible that guilt has something to do with it, but with that gang I always tend to assume political expediency over kind of any deeply-held moral principle. Israel just happens to be in a strategically vital location... Same reason we Brits are determined to hang on to Gibraltar and the Falklands, and maintain a significant military presence on Cyprus. Same reason we (with the French) tried to take the Suez Canal by force. (Israel came in jolly handy that time too.)

A heck of a lot of the worlds politics become much more understandable if you just look at a map of the major shipping routes.

Considering Kristol's origins, I wonder if he's an example of the sort of Marxist of whom Orwell wrote "This is the inevitable fate of the sentimentalist. All his opinions change into their opposites at the first brush of reality.".

That might apply to neo-cons more generally; I gather that quite a few of them were previously Trots or commies of some sort. It certainly describes the odious Horowitz.

By Ktesibios (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

"his conviction that the Allies were no different from the Axis in their imperialism."

That describes the position of Woody Guthrie (Almanac Singers: Songs For John Doe) and Charlie Chaplin (final speech of The Great Dictator) until the Nazi invasion of the USSR. During the Hitler-Stalin pact era, FDR and Churchill were viewed by Communists and fellow travelers as warmongering imperialists. But having such views in 1944 is pretty bizarre. Trotskyites had to do some incredible mental gymnastics.

How different is Kristol's 1944 position from (WWII veteran) Howard Zinn's 1973 essay?

"We were victorious over fascism, but this left two superpowers dominating the world, vying for control of other nations, carving out new spheres of influence, on a scale even larger than that attempted by the Fascist powers. ...

Would it have been possible to trade time and territory for human life? Was there an alternative preferable to using the most modern weapons of destruction for mass annihilation?"

To be fair, the Trotskyist movement actually split on this issue, and those who were advocating for this position by 1944 were a tiny minority of a tiny minority world wide. There were plenty of Trots herded into the camps.

I'm inclined to agree with Dunc on the larger issue.

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In actual numbers of people killed, Stalin killed way more than Hitler. The most common number of people murdered under Stalin's regime is 20 million. I was surprised when I heard this for the first time-- it doesn't seem to be well-known.

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