Reflections on Turning Sixty

     In keeping with what has been called our 
superstitious reverence for the decimal system, I 
recently observed my 60th birthday. The world's loveliest 
publisher, Fran Griffin, who has put up with me longer 
and more heroically than anyone outside my immediate 
family, made it one of the happiest days of my life by 
throwing the mother of all birthday parties.

     I was so overwhelmed that when I blew out the 
candles I couldn't think of anything to wish for. I had 
it all. Thank you, Fran! And the food! Thank you, Sue 

     Among the gifts I received was a medallion of 
St. Thomas More, made just for me by the man I regard as 
the greatest sculptor of our time, Reed Armstrong, whom I 
hadn't seen for years.

     Seeing dear old friends again was only one of the 
surprises; so was meeting a dear new relative, my 
six-month-old great-granddaughter, Christina. Needless to 
say, she was beautiful, and we seemed to hit it off very 

     Two of my children and five of my seven 
grandchildren came too.

     Among the latter I must mention Elizabeth, now 
pushing ten. She is a mysterious dark little beauty, whom 
I feel I must already talk to like a grown woman. The 
quiet maturity of her speech makes me feel I should be 
listening instead of speaking. In her tender patience, 
she is like a second mother to her six brothers.

     These were just the high points. By the time I got 
the last stunning gift, the complete works of Mozart on 
172 compact discs, it was just the cherry on the whipped 
cream on the banana split, as I told some of our 
newsletter subscribers.

     As far as I'm concerned, old age is off to a flying 
start. Bring it on, I say!

The Real Enemies

     Naturally, since the party I've reflected on aging 
and the approaching end of my career, at least in its 
present form. At this point I expected to be fairly 
settled, but things are still up in the air. This is also 
my 20th year writing for THE WANDERER, another source of 
much joy, but, as I am reliably informed, nothing lasts 
forever. I only hope to continue for a while, as I try to 
peddle my new novel and stay afloat. At my age you have 
to think about little things like health insurance, which 
I always had when I hardly needed it.

     In these 20 years American conservatism has changed 
remarkably. In 1986 I had no inkling of what lay ahead. 
The Cold War was winding up peacefully and happily, 
thanks to Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and I 
assumed we could turn to the long-deferred business of 
restoring limited, constitutional government.

     At long last, political life could get back to 

     It seemed a modest enough hope, but yearning for 
"normality" soon came to seem as utopian as "building 
socialism." When Reagan retired, the elder Bush found 
reasons for war on Panama and Iraq -- with the full 
support of conservatives who should have known better. 
Then came the Clinton years, then another Bush, who made 
his father seem like Millard Fillmore.

     (And of course I mean that as a compliment to the 
old man. Don't make Millard Fillmore jokes around me 
unless you're prepared for a heated argument.)

     One of the baneful side effects of the Cold War was 
to make "peace" sound like a left-wing cause and to 
identify conservatism with war. But warlike habits proved 
hard to break, and with the Soviet enemy gone, 
conservatives found new enemies who didn't threaten the 
United States at all.

     The real threat, I firmly believed, was 
unconstitutional government, which always thrives on war. 
Our real enemies were not in Baghdad, but in Washington.

     Alas, this idea, which Thomas Jefferson would have 
understood at once, was hard to sell to conservatives. To 
them, even the Polish Pope, whom they had once rightly 
hailed as Communism's deadliest foe, seemed suspiciously 
like a "peacenik."

The Opposite of Conservative

     And so, over these 20 years, I have gradually broken 
my ties with the conservative movement and rediscovered 
an older conservatism of peace. Today's conservatives, 
adopting the lingo of yesterday's liberals, curse that 
tradition as "isolationism," and I have even found myself 
accused of being a liberal! A new experience for me.

     But some people don't know what else to call someone 
who opposes a war. It hardly seems to matter what the war 
is about. People who used to damn Big Government up and 
down forget all their ancient reservations about it 
whenever Big Government makes Big War.

     This is odd on its face. By its very nature, war is 
the opposite of conservative. It destroys.

     I got one of the shocks of my life in 1981 when I 
visited Berlin and walked among some of the preserved 
buildings, where German civilians had once lived, that 
had been hit by American bombers.

     I didn't become a "peacenik" on the spot, but it 
gave me a strange new feeling about my country -- not 
exactly shame, but not pride, either. Just a terrible 
regret to think of the innocent people who had died where 
I was standing.

     In some obscure way I felt responsible. Not guilty, 
but responsible, in the sense that I must try to prevent 
such things from happening again, insofar as I could have 
any influence at all. In that terrible past I began to 
find my future.

     I was 35 then, which seems very young now. The shock 
was quiet; I didn't feel like talking about it, didn't 
even know what to say about it, and felt no desire to 
recriminate. Blaming wouldn't help anyone; our duty now 
was healing old wounds and preventing a recurrence.

     Even if fighting that war was a duty, how can anyone 
celebrate it without feeling pity for the millions who 
died in it? "O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart 
cannot conceive nor name thee!"

     If I can excite even a little horror of war in my 
fellow conservatives, I will feel that my long career has 
not been entirely wasted.

     To this day, I find it impossible to look back on 
World War II with pride or pleasure, let alone admiration 
for the men who wanted it. I do venerate the two great 
Popes, Pius XI and Pius XII, who saw it coming and pled 
for peace.

     They are the true war heroes. Blessed are the 

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