In late 2006 I was approached by Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative (TAC), who told me that his small magazine was on the verge of closing without a large financial infusion. I’d been on friendly terms with McConnell since around 1999, and greatly appreciated that he and his TAC co-founders had been providing a focal point of opposition to America’s calamitous foreign policy of the early 2000s.
In the wake of 9/11, the Israel-centric Neocons had somehow managed to seize control of the Bush Administration while also gaining complete ascendancy over America’s leading media outlets, purging or intimidating most of their critics. Although Saddam Hussein clearly had no connection to the attacks, his status as a possible regional rival to Israel had established him as their top target, and they soon began beating the drums for war, with America finally launching its disastrous invasion in
Among print magazines, TAC stood almost alone in whole-hearted opposition to these policies, and had attracted considerable attention when Founding Editor Pat Buchanan published “Whose War?”, pointing the finger of blame directly at the Jewish Neocons responsible, a truth very widely recognized in political and media circles but almost never publicly voiced. David Frum, a leading promoter of the Iraq War, had almost simultaneously unleashed a National Review cover story denouncing as “unpatriotic”—and perhaps “anti-Semitic”—a very long list of conservative, liberal, and libertarian war critics, with Buchanan near the very top, and the controversy and name-calling continued for some time.
Given this recent history, I was concerned that TAC‘s disappearance might leave a dangerous political void, and being then in a relatively strong financial position, I agreed to rescue the magazine and become its new owner. Although I was much too preoccupied with my own software work to have any direct involvement, McConnell named me publisher, probably hoping to bind me to his magazine’s continuing survival and ensure future financial infusions. My title was purely a nominal one, and over the next few years, aside from writing additional checks my only involvement usually amounted to a five-minute phone call each Monday morning to see how things were going.
About a year after I began supporting the magazine, McConnell informed me that a major crisis was brewing. Although Pat Buchanan had severed his direct ties with the publication some years earlier, he was by far the best-known figure associated with TAC, so that it was still widely—if erroneously—known as “Pat Buchanan’s magazine.” But now McConnell had heard that Buchanan was planning to release a new book supposedly glorifying Adolf Hitler and denouncing America’s participation in the world war to defeat the Nazi menace. Promoting such bizarre beliefs would surely doom Buchanan’s career, but TAC was already under continuous attack by Jewish activists, and the resulting “Neo-Nazi” guilt by association might easily sink the magazine as well.
In desperation, McConnell had decided to protect his publication by soliciting a very hostile review by conservative historian John Lukacs, which would thereby insulate TAC from the looming disaster. Given my current role as TAC‘s funder and publisher, he naturally sought my approval in this harsh break with his own political mentor. I told him that the Buchanan book certainly sounded rather ridiculous and his own defensive strategy a pretty reasonable one, and I quickly returned to the problems I faced in my own all-consuming software project.
Although I’d been a little friendly with Buchanan for a dozen years or so, and greatly admired his courage in opposing the Neocons on foreign policy, I wasn’t too surprised to hear that he might be publishing a book promoting some rather strange ideas. Just a few years earlier, he’d released The Death of the West, which became an unexpected best-seller. After my friends at TAC had raved about its brilliance, I decided to read it for myself, and was greatly disappointed. Although Buchanan had generously quoted an excerpt from my own Commentary cover-story “California and the End of White America,” I felt that he’d completely misconstrued my meaning, and the book overall seemed a rather poorly-constructed and rhetorically right-wing treatment of the complex issues of immigration and race, topics upon which I’d been heavily focusing since the early 1990s. So under the circumstances, I was hardly surprised that the same author was now publishing some equally silly book about World War II, perhaps causing severe problems for his erstwhile TAC colleagues.
Months later, Buchanan’s history and the hostile TAC review both appeared, and as expected, a storm of controversy erupted. Mainstream publications had largely ignored the book, but it seemed to receive enormous praise from alternative writers, some of whom fiercely denounced TAC for having attacked it. Indeed, the response was so extremely one-sided that when McConnell discovered that a totally obscure blogger somewhere had agreed with his own negative appraisal, he immediately circulated those remarks in a desperate attempt at vindication. Longtime TAC contributors whose knowledge of history I much respected, including Eric Margolis and William Lind, had praised the book, so my curiosity finally got the better of me and I decided to order a copy and read it for myself.
I was quite surprised to discover a work very different from what I had expected. I had never paid much attention to twentieth century American history and my knowledge of European history in that same era was only slightly better, so my views were then mostly rather conventional, having been shaped by my History 101 courses and what I’d picked up in decades of reading my various newspapers and magazines. But within that framework, Buchanan’s history seemed to fit quite comfortably.
The first part of his volume provided what I had always considered the standard view of the First World War. In his account of events, Buchanan explained how the complex network of interlocking alliances had led to a giant conflagration even though none of the existing leaders had actually sought that outcome: a huge European powder-keg had been ignited by the spark of an assassination in Sarajevo.