The Real News of the Month

September 2004
Volume 11, Number 9

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> Idealism versus Freedom
  -> Election Season Notes (plus electronic Exclusives)
  -> The Problem of Conscience
  -> Homophobia and All That
Nuggets (plus electronic Exclusives)
List of Columns Reprinted in This Issue


Idealism versus Freedom
(page 1)

     Of all the apocryphal sayings ascribed to our 
Founding Fathers, my favorite is one attributed to George 
Washington: "Government is not reason. It is not 
persuasion. It is force." If he never said it, he should 

     Everyone who believes in a moral order should ponder 
those eleven words. Government is indeed force, force 
claiming justification, and its exercise at least 
requires some serious reason.

     This is a truth that Americans have almost entirely 
forgotten. I often argue with a dear old liberal friend 
of mine, a man too personally decent and modest to impose 
his will on any human being, but who assumes implicitly 
that the government has the authority to enact, say, 
"civil rights" legislation curtailing freedom of 
association and property rights. (See page 5.)

     My friend is no fool. He is intelligent and 
eloquent, and I always learn something from his side of 
our endless arguments. But one thought -- a self-evident 
truth that I'd hope would occur to every rational person 
-- has apparently never crossed his mind: that government 
is force. Like so many people, he assumes, without 
reflection, that if some imagined social condition seems 
desirable, government should try to bring it about. He 
admits some practical difficulties, but for him 
government seems to embody aspirations which he further 
assumes reasonable people share and only unreasonable 
people resist, as in the case of "gay marriage."

     This is why I shudder at the word "idealist" Ideals 
are fantasies, most of which can never be brought into 
being. If government tries to realize them, it can do so 
only by applying force and curtailing freedom. And many 
people see this enterprise as noble, even if it fails; 
the cost to freedom seldom enters their calculations.

     In Michael Oakeshott's famous observation, to some 
people government appears as "a vast reservoir of power" 
which inspires them to dream of the uses that might be 
made of it, often in the service of what they take to be 
benign purposes, for the good of "mankind." Yet such 
people typically gloss over the element of power, which, 
after all, is not a mere property of government but its 
very essence. Their sense of power, like my friend's, is 
rather mystical, as if the actual doings of government 
were nothing more than the expression of (in his phrase) 
an "emerging consensus." But if the desired goals were a 
matter of consensus, why should they have to be realized 
by force, fiat, even war?

     It isn't just liberals who think this way. Some 
conservatives do too, as when they pine for government to 
enforce what they call "values." I generally prefer 
conservative "values" to liberal "ideals," since they are 
closer to what I really believe in: the proven norms of 
human nature. A society with property rights, for 
example, is normal; we know it can exist. A society in 
which wealth is equally distributed by the state is 
merely fantastic; it can never exist, and the attempt to 
give it existence entails violence to no purpose.

     My friend hates violence. But he can't see, and 
nothing I say can make him see, that when he calls for 
government he is calling for force, which is violence or 
the threat of violence. His ideals depend on an evil, and 
on obedience based on the degrading fear of that evil.

     Idealism? I'd call it slavery.

Election Season Notes
(page 2)

     John Kerry's attempt to play down his liberal record 
has been contradicted by both the hyperliberal Americans 
for Democratic Action, which gives him its highest 
rating, and by the American Communist Party, which is 
endorsing him for president. Now that that's settled, the 
question remains: How has President Bush been able to 
play down =his= liberal record?

*          *          *

     About half the American electorate seems to 
understand how hopeless our form of government really is. 
And the other half? They vote.

*          *          *

     How can the media call themselves unbiased when, for 
example, they use such brazenly judgmental terms as "bad" 
weather? With the Iraq war, I notice that this tendency 
has gotten worse: They now presume to tell us that 
Fallujah, for example, is a "holy" city -- a sacred 
status which, in this country, they accord only to New 
York and Washington.

*          *          *

     The remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE by Jonathan 
Demme, misses the grand joke of the late John 
Frankenheimer's original, a spoof of the Cold War in 
which the international Communist conspiracy backs a Joe 
McCarthy-style pol for president with a weird 
assassination plot. With the Commies gone, Demme badly 
scrambles the remaining pieces of the original: he not 
only eliminates the title character, but substitutes a 
fashionable corporate conspiracy. ("Corporation" is now 
as dirty a word in Hollywood as at Democratic 
conventions.) At least Frankenheimer had fun with his own 
zany premise; Demme takes his even zanier premise 
seriously. He doesn't seem to realize that you can be 
crazy without being incoherent. Meryl Streep supplies 
what humor the new version has.

*          *          *

     Speaking of movies, OPEN WATER, despite rave 
reviews, is the least thrilling thriller I've seen 
lately. A young married couple is stranded in the ocean 
while scuba-diving; sharks converge on them. But JAWS 
it's not. Not only are the characters helpless and 
without resources; the sharks, though real, are miscast. 
They lack the evil zeal of Steven Spielberg's rubber 
shark. They're just hungry fish, that's all. And from 
their point of view, the film ends happily.

*          *          *

     And still speaking of movies, Fay Wray, 96, has at 
last been reunited with Kong. Maybe most of us can't name 
many of her other 99 movies, but few in the entertainment 
industry did more to improve interspecies relations. Of 
course we still have a long way to go before we can truly 
say that all animals are equal. But Fay did her part, and 
now it's up to the rest of us to carry on her legacy.

*          *          *

     I no longer follow sports news closely, but I still 
read SPORTS ILLUSTRATED for its often excellent writing 
about the human side of athletes. Case in point: its 
eloquent August 9 cover story about the sad life of Joe 
Namath since his retirement. It seems that "Broadway Joe" 
is a misnomer for this decent, tormented man, who adored 
his two young daughters but lost them in a painful 
divorce, then took to the bottle. His celebrity became a 
curse; his heart was never in the swinging role the media 
cast him in. I used to root for the great quarterback; 
now I pray for the sweet father.

Exclusive to electronic media:

     "Homeland security" will be a hollow phrase until 
the Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement 
Administration are abolished.

The Problem of Conscience
(pages 3-4)

     The armchair (and even wheelchair) generals who have 
been cheering on the Iraq war, without having known 
military experience themselves, have made many 
miscalculations, but a basic one may have escaped notice. 
They have assumed that American soldiers will kill the 
enemy with robotic obedience.

     This is very questionable, writes Dan Baum in the 
July 12-19 issue of THE NEW YORKER. At the moment of 
truth, Baum writes, many soldiers find it unbearable to 
squeeze the trigger. During World War II, S.L.A. Marshall 
found, after interviewing hundreds of GIs, only about 
15 per cent had fired their rifles at the enemy -- even 
in combat. One officer recalled walking up and down the 
line cursing and ordering his men to shoot, with little 

     Why? Simply because most young men, even after the 
brutality of basic training, retain their civilized and 
spiritual inhibitions against killing. "Fear of killing, 
rather than fear of being killed, was the most common 
cause of battle failure in the individual," Marshall 
wrote. "At the vital point, he becomes a conscientious 

     This "failure" became a cause of concern to the 
military. You can't win a battle with an army of Hamlets; 
you need Macbeths. War means getting masses of young men 
to do things they would shrink from committing in 
civilian life: violent crimes.

     Moreover, those who do follow orders and kill are 
often tormented by their memories for the rest of their 
lives. Baum spoke to one Vietnam veteran, a minister's 
son, who, even today, has horrible memories of shooting a 
woman and her children in a small boat; he was firing a 
machine-gun from a helicopter, and he shot the children 
as they were kicking in the water. The sight returns to 
him, he says, every few minutes. (In remorse, he has 
returned to Vietnam to do voluntary charity work.)

     To military authorities, this is a practical, even 
technical "problem," not a moral or spiritual one. It is 
to be "solved" by training techniques that dull or harden 
the conscience, a term that seems to be avoided. The 
official word for conscience is "inhibitions," which 
sounds like an infirmity to be overcome rather than a 
moral faculty to be respected.

     Baum spent a week among amputees at Walter Reed Army 
Medical Center and found that they spoke freely, and even 
joked, about losing their own arms and legs, "but, as 
soon as the subject changed to the killing they'd done, a 
pall would settle over them."

     This is a big "problem," all right, but the military 
is oddly evasive about it. Certain so-called 
psychological traumas of war are generally recognized -- 
terror, grief, the loss of buddies -- but the regret and 
even agony of having killed other human beings receives 
little attention. It's enough to get soldiers to do their 
duty of killing the enemy; as for how they deal with it 
later, they're on their own. The Army and the Department 
of Veterans Affairs, Baum says, "avoid thinking or 
talking about it." They seem to have specific therapies 
for everything but this.

     Why? Baum implies it's simply because there is a 
taboo against facing the guilt that naturally attends 
killing people. In training and afterward, the enemy is 
referred to as "the target," like some inanimate object. 
The last thing any army can afford is for recruits to 
think of war as organized murder. All thoughts of guilt 
must be banished. If the individual soldier feels guilt 
anyway, well, that's his problem. He's on his own. What 
if everyone felt that way?

     And what if feeling that way were acknowledged as a 
natural, inevitable, and nearly universal reaction? War 
would hardly be possible. Too many questions would arise.

     As one may imagine, the "problem" is especially 
acute in Iraq, where much of the killing, especially 
during the occupation, is done at close range, one on 
one. It may be relatively easy to fire artillery shells 
from a great distance, or to drop bombs from a great 
height, when the "enemy" is almost an abstraction and the 
damage, however terrible, is unseen. But for an 
individual who shoots another individual, often not 
knowing whether the "target" is really an enemy (or just 
a civilian who for unknown reasons fails to respond to a 
warning), it's another matter. American soldiers in Iraq 
have unusually high rates of depression and suicide.

     Killing real enemies can be as stressful as killing 
civilians. Even the most naive American soldier in Iraq 
is likely to realize very soon that he is an invader, 
whereas the guerrilla who shoots at him is, after all, 
defending his own country. When the man in your sights 
may be someone's son, husband, or father, it's scant 
consolation to call him a terrorist or to tell yourself 
that you are bringing his country freedom and democracy. 
You are killing another human being of whom you know next 
to nothing, except that this is his home, not yours.

     No wonder American morale in Iraq is low. This is 
the normal reaction of soldiers fighting in a foreign 
country. Eventually, with time to reflect, they ask 
themselves, "Why are we here?" Not even the strongest 
sense of mission can banish this question for long. 
Whatever reasons may be given, the feeling is natural, as 
natural as the aversion to killing.

     For soldiers to fight effectively, the justice of 
their cause must seem a given. But the alleged 
justifications for war may be a lot easier to accept on 
the "home front" -- where danger, grief, and guilt are 
unknown, if not unreal, and participation means verbally 
"supporting our troops" -- than in long nights on the 
scene, where the uplifting official slogans may have no 
visible relation to what you are actually doing.

     As Paul Fussell relates in WARTIME, soldiers always 
feel misunderstood by civilians, often with bitterness. 
They know that the folks back home, reliant on heavily 
filtered "news" reports, have no conception of their 
experience. Secrecy and censorship, purporting to prevent 
the enemy from learning (however improbably) vital 
information, ensure a vast psychic distance between "our 
boys" and the home folks, who would be shocked, 
disillusioned, and amazed if they could overhear the way 
the troops really talk about the war -- and the 
government that sent them to fight it.

     In Randolph Bourne's famous epigram, "War is the 
health of the state." War is one of the state's most 
basic reasons for being. It won't do, therefore, for the 
state's subjects to think of war as organized murder, any 
more than for them to think of the state itself as 
organized force.

     But the soldier lives where the rubber of official 
propaganda meets the road of moral truth. He is put face 
to face with a reality nothing has prepared him to 
comprehend. In fact everything he has been taught 
contradicts his experience so utterly that he can't 
express his bafflement. He will sound insanely cynical if 
he puts his actual experience into words.

     He is a free man -- so he has been taught. The state 
is the source of his freedom -- he has been taught that 
too. When he fights for his state, he is defending his 
freedom. When he kills enemy soldiers, even on the other 
side of the world, he is also defending freedom. Somehow, 
though, it doesn't feel like it. It feels like committing 
murder. This is a feeling he must be "cured" of. 
"Soldier," he is assured (in a phrase Baum quotes), "you 
were doing your duty." Others insist he is a hero, even 
if he doubts it himself; they need to feel he is a hero 
in order to justify themselves.

     It's now taken for granted that every nation-state 
must be prepared for war at all times. This means huge 
expenditures on weapons that may never be used and on 
soldiers who may never see battle. The only thing more 
wasteful than peace is war itself. Still, even idle 
soldiers must stand ready to kill for the state. It 
wouldn't do to address the problem of the soldier's guilt 
too directly, since that would mean acknowledging that 
there may be something to feel guilty about. This is 
denied in the very habit of calling all military 
preparation and military action "defense." Hence the
U.S. Government long ago renamed the Department of War 
the Department of Defense -- less candid, but more in 
keeping with official propaganda.

     Men might not put up with the state if it weren't 
for the fiction that it is their ultimate defense against 
those who would take their freedom. And of course that is 
the motive assigned to every enemy, though in retrospect 
(or sooner, for the perceptive) it becomes quite clear 
that Jefferson Davis, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler, Stalin, 
Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden had 
neither the desire nor the means of conquering the United 
States, let alone abolishing American freedoms. Yet 
countless young Americans have been trained to kill other 
young men like themselves in the name of liberty. 
Further, Americans have accepted wartime government 
abridgements of their liberties on grounds that this is 
required by the cause of liberty itself.

     Just as war makes young men murderers, it makes the 
rest of us accomplices. We too are just doing our duty. 
It took Orwell to see that the state's most glaring 
self-contradictions are not a weakness, but a powerful 
device for enslaving its subjects' minds. When it can get 
them to agree that slavery is freedom, and that killing 
is the way to defend freedom, it has produced exactly the 
population tyranny requires.

Homophobia and All That
(pages 5-6)

     I've never been able to take the "gay rights" 
movement seriously, chiefly because I've never seen any 
need for it. In the first place, it was, and still is, 
hugely silly. In the second place, it's suspiciously 

     I saw its logic, even as I laughed at it. It's a 
perfectly natural application of the current ideology of 
morbid sensuality, alias the sexual revolution, that also 
exploits the equally fallacious notions of "civil 
rights," or the denial of freedom of association. Combine 
the idea that consensual sexual pleasure has no natural 
moral limits with the idea that avoiding someone's 
company is an actionable injury, and presto! Gay rights.

     But homosexuality is an unusual disorder, confined 
to a small part of the population; 2 per cent seems a 
reasonable guess, far below the 10 per cent claimed by 
the nefarious and fraudulent Kinsey Report. Most people 
have always regarded it with disapproval and disgust. I 
never imagined the movement would get as far as it has. 
But it has surprised me by finding powerful allies among 
the general, presumably normal, population.

     Likewise with same-sex "marriage": Few homosexuals 
are disposed to tie the knot and settle down, there being 
little point in permanent domestic arrangements for those 
who aren't going to produce children the natural way. But 
here again the courts and the media have taken the lead 
in insisting that constitutional principles of equal 
rights are somehow at stake. It just goes to show once 
more what can happen when the Fourteenth Amendment falls 
into the hands of justices.

     This coercive version of rights at least had a 
certain plausibility in the case of blacks, with their 
oft-repeated history of enslavement, legal 
discrimination, relative poverty, and even violence 
winked at by the law. To this day we are constantly 
reminded of really horrible cases of injustice, such as 
lynchings, accompanied by mutilation, whose perpetrators 
went unpunished. All these things, repeated in ceaseless 
propaganda, made it seem morally compelling to most 
Americans that the Federal Government should assume the 
power to protect blacks from whites.

     But "protection" meant more than preventing and 
punishing violence; it meant denying the right of whites 
to choose their associates and to control access to their 
own property.

     It was anomalous to create this power for the 
benefit of only one racial group; but instead of 
repealing it, the state, according to its nature, greatly 
enlarged this new power, inviting other categories of 
people to claim similar "protection," provided they felt 
victimized by others' free choices: women, the 
handicapped, and so on. It wasn't long before homosexual 
activists saw their opening, and claimed official victim 

     But what were they being victimized =by=? Unlike 
blacks, homosexuals didn't have a history of involuntary 
servitude, being herded into ghettos, or even 
"discrimination" as most people understood it. They 
weren't even a distinct "group," in the usual sense. 
Their only distinction was their preference for sexual 
practices most people found immoral and repellent, or at 
least deviant.

     All certified victim groups profess to have memories 
of persecution, though many of these are legends, 
exaggerations, embellishments, and outright fantasies. 
Thus blacks, even those who have grown up in comfort and 
luxury, can "claim" the real or supposed suffering of 
their ancestors, summed up now in the term "racism." 
Likewise with Jews and "anti-Semitism." Just as "In 
Adam's fall/We sinned all," so "we," members of the 
pertinent victim group, "all" suffered with Anne Frank, 
Kunta Kinte, or whomever.

     With ethnic groups this may seem natural, as 
cherished memories and grievances are handed down from 
generation to generation. But with homosexuals, who are 
intertwined with every ethnic group, it becomes a bit 
harder to specify who "we" are. Are all homosexuals 
entitled to resent, and demand redress for, all the 
injuries inflicted on all homosexuals throughout history? 
And what, exactly, counts as an injury? Everything from 
burning at the stake to "discrimination"?

     It would seem so. And just as all the miseries of 
blacks are said to issue from the single, gigantic evil 
of "racism," so the grievances of homosexuals, by some 
loose analogy, were deemed to issue from a single general 

     The alleged evil needed a name. The new movement 
came up with one: "homophobia." Though etymologically 
gauche, and even harder to define than such hothouse 
coinages as "racism" and "sexism," it caught on among 
everyone who could pronounce it without feeling silly. 
Such institutions as the Democratic Party and the NEW 
YORK TIMES led the way in showing us all how to use it 
with a straight face. I still find it difficult, but 
maybe that's just me. I don't even like the term "gay." 
To use such loaded and absurd terms is already to concede 
too much to the enemies of freedom and simple moral 

     The "gay" propaganda tries to erase not only the 
immorality, but the pathos of homosexuality. For most of 
its practitioners, it's a form of sensual enslavement -- 
abnormal, promiscuous, futureless -- cutting them off 
from the possibility of a normal life. It's also 
dangerous, particularly for males.

     Just as homosexual activism became a flourishing 
political reality, the incidence of lethal diseases 
spread by sodomy, notably AIDS, began making headlines. 
You might have thought, as I did, that this development 
would discredit the whole cause of gay rights. But the 
movement, with its usual aggressive cunning, turned its 
own epidemic to its advantage: Diseases homosexuals gave 
each other became a further claim of victimhood! The 
government itself was culpable for not finding cures. 
Sure enough, Federal funding for medical research was 
soon forthcoming. By 1993, President Bill Clinton was 
promising to combat AIDS in his inaugural address. Far 
from blaming homosexuals for their own reckless behavior, 
official America was treating its natural consequences as 
evidence that more solicitude for these victims was both 
warranted and urgent. (It was fitting that the worst 
crisis of Clinton's presidency should arise from his own 
sexual misconduct.)

     Apparently nothing on earth can stop a movement so 
determined to invert moral reality. Nobody in his right 
mind uses the word "homophobia," for the simple reason 
that there is no such thing, unless you think we need a 
disparaging term for normal morality. But people in their 
right mind are no longer in charge of public discourse, 
and in public discourse we now hear solemn references to 
"homophobia" about a thousand times more often than any 
mention of "sodomy."

     This hardly reflects our actual feelings; the 
disparity is an illustration of what the historian John 
Lukacs calls the gap between "public opinion" and 
"popular sentiment." Public opinion is abstract and 
liberal; popular opinion is earthy and conservative. 
Avatars of the one tend to disapprove strongly of the 

     In this case, enlightened public opinion against 
"homophobia" runs counter to untold centuries of popular 
sentiment. At no point in the past has sodomy been viewed 
positively anywhere in the West (or elsewhere, as far as 
I know); on the contrary, it has been held in such 
contempt that people are far more apt to joke about it 
than to denounce it. In fact this is one of the 
movement's complaints, that "bigotry against gays" has 
been well-nigh universal.

     So the movement raises a simple and rather puzzling 
question: Why now? Why has it suddenly, after all these 
centuries, become desirable -- and not only desirable, 
but positively urgent -- to eradicate "homophobia"? Are 
homosexuals facing intensified persecution these days? 
Are things getting worse for them? Again, the contrary is 
obviously true. Laws against sodomy are rarely enforced; 
many have been repealed; the vice is generally tolerated; 
homosexuals not only come out of the closet, but proclaim 
"gay pride"; they are exalted in popular culture; the 
mass media are very much on their side. Disapproval of 
sodomy is rare in public, and seems almost eccentric when 
it appears at all. Sodomy has actually become 
fashionable. Only "homophobia" is taboo.

     So what gives? Obviously the homosexual movement has 
jumped aboard a vehicle bigger than itself: the state's 
crusade against anything it chooses to call 
"discrimination." In a sense, "homophobia" is a test of 
the public's docility, its willingness to submit to the 
state's most perverse claims. Sodomy, like abortion, has 
become a state-sanctioned "right."

     Such claims of bogus rights not only contradict the 
moral tradition in which popular sentiment is rooted; 
they require us to suspend our common sense. Like the 
axioms of Orwell's NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR -- "War is 
peace," "Freedom is slavery" -- they are deliberately 
audacious, stunning the faculty of reason. We are not 
actually required to believe them, but =to act as if they 
were true.= They are tests of obedience to a state whose 
sovereignty now extends to imposing sheer nonsense on an 
enslaved population. The slave must never contradict his 
master, no matter how badly his sanity is strained.

     And so we are becoming habituated to living the 
state's lies. We even learn to anticipate them, obeying 
commands that haven't actually been issued yet. This is 
what "political correctness" means: the felt pressure of 
enlightened public opinion, under which we sense that 
certain thoughts, though technically legal now, are 
already destined to become taboo. Canada, somewhat more 
progressive than the United States, has come close to 
declaring the Bible "hate" literature because of its 
passages condemning sodomy.

     The movement depends almost entirely on state power. 
In a free society, with no coercive power to impose 
nonsense, it wouldn't exist. This is the real lesson of 
the homosexual movement: that absurdity is indispensable 
to modern tyranny.


HIS REAL MOTIVE? No wonder Bush wants to protect the 
unborn. After all, somebody will have to pay for his 
deficits. Modest proposal: Every child's birth 
certificate should assess his share of the national debt 
as of the day he is born. (page 7)

REDEFINING FREE SPEECH: Thanks to what one unbiased news 
report called a "legal loophole," an independent group 
was able to broadcast a fiery attack on John Kerry's war 
record. And thanks to McCain-Feingold restrictions on 
political ads, the First Amendment is now called a legal 
loophole. And we all know what should be done with 
loopholes. (page 9)

CALLING ABE FOXMAN: As we go to press, Mel Gibson's 
PASSION OF THE CHRIST is about to be released on video. 
Look for yet another upsurge of violence against Jews. 
(page 11)

Exclusive to electronic media:

DEMOGRAPHIC NOTES: The National Opinion Research Center, 
popularly known as the Gallup poll, reports that the 
United States population is now only 52 percent 
Protestant -- an all-time low that will soon dip below 
50. It's not that other religions have grown much, even 
with immigration; nor is it atheism. It's just that more 
and more Americans are now unaffiliated, rolling their 
own vague credos. This development itself appears a 
natural result, and extension, of Protestantism.

CONFOUNDING THE SKEPTICS: When their marriage was 
announced, Mickey Rooney's eighth bride told the press 
that she'd have been happy to go on living together 
without tying the knot, but he'd insisted: "He believes 
in the institution." We all laughed, but the last laugh 
is Mickey's: They've now been married 26 years. 

(pages 7-12)

* Kerry: In Search of Excitement (July 8, 2004)

* A Great Victory (July 13, 2004)

* The L-Word Is Back (July 20, 2004)

* The Unasked Question (July 22, 2004)

* The Single Party (July 27, 2004)

* The Age of Omniphobia (August 3, 2004)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran

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