The Shame of the Sobrans

     I seldom leave home these days; somebody has to stay 
here and keep an eye on Washington, I tell myself. But 
this year I've enjoyed no less than two vacations. True, 
they added up to less than a week, but even a few days 
away refresh the soul.

     In late August I spent two days visiting my family 
in Boston. It was both a joy and a humbling reminder that 
I am the dunce of the Sobran tribe. I couldn't keep up 
with their witty, wide-ranging conversation, which left 
me wondering if I hadn't been adopted.

     My daughter Chris fit right in, though; they love 
her and she loves them, so we must be akin. I sat there 
smiling absurdly, clutching my cane, and making funny 
faces at the children in an attempt to project a senile 

     Even more humbling was a maritime incident. My 
brother Tom, a brilliant and prosperous lawyer, took 
several of us out in Boston Harbor in his yacht, where I 
proceeded to disgrace myself by getting seasick. "Oh no!" 
I thought. "This can't be happening. Not to me!" As the 
nominal patriarch of the family, I sensed that my dignity 
was about to take a further tumble.

     It wasn't fair. I'd had a light lunch, I was the 
only one aboard who wasn't drinking beer, and I have even 
slept at sea without incident. As a rule I love the 
sensation of being borne by the mighty waters below. I 
fully understand man's ancient love of the sea and 
sailing. But this time, for some reason, King Neptune 
must have had it in for me. "You miserable landlubber!" 
he seemed to say. "I'll teach you to take me for 
granted!" I fell on all fours on the deck and groaned 

     I'll omit the details, but everyone was very 
gracious about it. Chris, a veteran sailor, assured me 
that even Lord Nelson got seasick at the beginning of 
every voyage.

     "I never knew I could feel this way," I remarked. 
"Seasickness is like falling in love for the first time. 
Only ... different." She laughed and agreed.

     Even now I am mystified. I can see getting queasy in 
a crow's nest during a hurricane, perhaps, but in a calm 
harbor? Why hasn't it happened to me out on the bounding 
main? Me, the son of a decorated naval hero, half of 
whose crew was wiped out, Tom tells me, by kamikazes?

     Dad didn't like to talk about his grim experiences 
at sea, and maybe I should be silent about mine. I just 
thought I should level with my public, rather than risk 
leaving the impression that I command awe among the 
legendary seafaring Sobrans of New England, who know me 
only too well to be taken in by specious glamour. I have 
asked the witnesses aboard not to blackmail me, as I am 
already paying off more blackmailers than I can really 

Conservatism without War?

     Fred Barnes, executive editor of THE WEEKLY 
STANDARD, is a thoroughly decent fellow I have known for 
many years; we used to be neighbors, back in the Reagan 
years when we saw eye to eye on politics, and I can 
testify to his personal kindness on several occasions.

     Lately, alas, Fred's neoconservatism has alarmed me 
so much that I wonder how we ever agreed. A couple of 
years ago he wrote that the Iraq war was "the greatest 
act of benevolence one nation had ever performed for 
another"; I quote from memory, but I think verbatim. He 
has also celebrated President Bush's "big-government 
conservatism" as an advance on the older, 
limited-government conservatism of earlier generations.

     Earlier this year his book in praise of Bush, 
REBEL-IN-CHIEF, was published with unfortunate timing, 
just as Bush was diving in the polls.

     In February Fred delivered a speech to a Hillsdale 
College gathering, now reprinted in the monthly IMPRIMIS 
under the title "Is [sic] the Mainstream Media Fair and 
Balanced?" He answers this question emphatically in the 
negative, and though I would too, his reasons are 

     Throughout the speech, Fred chiefly measures liberal 
bias by a single criterion: critical coverage of the war. 
This amounts to equating conservatism with 
neoconservatism. Principled conservative opposition to 
the war, vocal from the first and now growing stronger, 
is never mentioned. Neither are many other things that 
separate conservatism from neoconservatism: abortion, 
same-sex marriage, the welfare state, constitutional law, 
federal spending, and so forth. You'd think the only 
debate were over what kind of big government we should 
have, not over the nature and limits of government 

     One of the disasters of neoconservatism has been the 
virtual obliteration of the idea of conservatism in the 
American public mind. To be liberal is to favor peace, to 
be conservative is to prefer war, and that's that.

     This crude identification would be bad enough if the 
Iraq war were going well; as things are, it can only have 
the effect of associating any conservative philosophy 
with reflexive militarism, no matter what the 
consequences. Everything else conservatives have stood 
for is in danger of being forgotten.

     To put it as simply as possible, this woeful 
stereotype -- that conservatism means war! -- can only 
serve liberalism. The idea is false to both reason and 
history, and it grieves me to find my old friends 
promoting it.

Rummy's Lessons of History

     As if to illustrate this point, Secretary of Defense 
Donald Rumsfeld, addressing the American Legion in Salt 
Lake City, drew the familiar "lesson" of World War II. In 
Iraq we are fighting "a new type of fascism," he said, 
"and many have still not learned history's lessons."

     Well, history offers many lessons, one of which is 
that we should beware of facile analogies with the past. 
Many people thought fascism in Europe was no threat to 
the United States and didn't warrant war; were they 
altogether wrong? A strong case can be made that they 
were vindicated by events -- millions of deaths, the 
coming of the nuclear age, the postwar triumph of 
Communism in Europe and China, and so on.

     In any case, America's entry into that war had much 
less to do with fascism than with the Japanese attack on 
Pearl Harbor. The "lessons" we keep hearing are the 
warmed-over propaganda of the winners. Bellicose 
conservatives now talk as if Franklin Roosevelt were a 
conservative hero and as if Joseph Stalin never existed.

     And just what is "Islamic fascism"? Would it be too 
much to ask our rulers to define their terms when they 
draw these melodramatic parallels? When Newt Gingrich 
recently called the current war World War III, Tim 
Russert alertly asked if he would favor the kind of 
measures that won World War II -- such as huge tax 
increases, a military draft, rationing, and total 
mobilization of the civilian population?

     Er, no. Gingrich didn't want to press the analogy 
quite that far. But he was soon repeating it anyway, when 
Russert wasn't there to keep him honest.

                 +          +          +                  

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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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