Thursday, August 7, 2008

Personal Aside: Two Autocrats of the Breakfast Table… and Their Sons’ Differing Views of the World.


Two Dominant Fathers.

I have written many times about how fortunate I was to have a father with strong conservative political convictions. Each morning from the age of 8 on, I was made to read aloud the editorials of the “Chicago Tribune” while he stropped his razor, mixed with brush the soap in his shaving mug embossed with his initials in gold—HNR--to the proper consistency of lather and shaved. Later at breakfast he was truly the autocrat of the breakfast table, with the “Tribune”—its front page decorated with a satiric anti-FDR cartoon drawn by John T. McCutcheon, Cary Orr or Joseph Parrish, propped up against the kitchen wall, attired in white shirt, immaculate bow tie and vest as he chomped his bacon and one egg. From 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt was first inaugurated and for twelve years thereafter he shouted fie on all of the New Deal pomp, works, principalities and powers—with which I agreed then and do now.

As result I went to my nearby Saint Juliana’s grade school convinced that Franklin Roosevelt was a distant relative of Lucifer. “The man is decidedly evil!” Father said. As it turned out that Father was responsible for my first schoolyard beating which I rather savor in retrospect even now. It was in the election of 1936 when all my third grade classmates—our nun, too—were decided Democrats.

I made the error of taunting them at recess by intoning this phrase suitable for an 8 year old’s use, composed by Father for my use: “Landon in the White House, waiting to be elected. Roosevelt in the ashcan waiting to be collected!” Decidedly not cerebral but it fit neatly with our 8-year-old schoolyard mentality. It was infuriating enough that my classmates flew at me in the cinder-filled schoolyard and beat me til their arms ached as the good nuns stood apart and pretended not to see. I fought back bravely giving as much as I received but James Clune slipped behind me and knelt down on all fours. Raymond Didier then shoved me and I went down, sprawling over Clune’s back. Then it became a pig-pile with seven of them breaking my glasses and giving me a bloody nose. That afternoon when I went to the optometrist my nun refused to mark my absence warranted. Thus I learned the tyranny of the majority.

When Pearl Harbor came, Father refused to accept the Rooseveltian thesis that it came solely as result of Japanese treachery. He said: “Nonsense, this gang in the White House encouraged it because they wanted to go to war to aid England.” He was exactly right and I believe it now. The machinations behind the scenes are superbly documented in Fleming’s book and were corroborated by me in my much later luncheons with Thomas (Tommy the Cork) Corcoran who had become an ally of my then boss Rep. Walter Judd (R-MN). Yet the onrushing tide of events warranted that we get engaged in the battle to defeat Communism as Corcoran, I and the overwhelming number of conservatives were engaged. I guess all this while—from 1964 through 1992—Pat Buchanan was secretly opposed.

All the same, it was wonderful to have a father with such a pronounced shade of opinion on politics. He led me to embrace journalism…particularly political journalism…as a career which has continued until now. Not that father was always right. He was occasionally wrong but never in doubt. Later in 1953 when at the age of 25 I got my first break on a national story from the decidedly obscure spot on the Saint Cloud (Minnesota) “Times” with an interview of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt which gained national attention through the Associated Press, he was decidedly proud, sublimating his anger at the Roosevelt clan which he cordially predicted would be thrust into the bottomless pit of fiery hell.

As Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Father taught me rudimentary free market economics and the necessary doctrine of then acceptable 1930s isolationism. He rightly led me through the gradations of understanding that Woodrow Wilson had out of messianic desire fudged the record so that we would go to World War I. He had the same suspicion of Franklin Roosevelt. It was from him that I first learned of the “America First Committee” and the suspicion that Pearl Harbor was at least anticipated by Roosevelt and the then army chief of staff, George Marshall…views which have stayed with me since and which since has been ratified by the scholarship of Thomas Fleming (no, not the president of the Rockford Institute but an historian of the same name).

A View of Hitler from the Balcony.

With Father (and Mother) I made my first trip to Europe in 1938 at the age of 10. We were eyewitnesses to Hitler’s takeover of Austria and indeed I saw the tyrant from the hotel balcony of the Hotel Metropole as his victory procession entered Vienna, him standing in an open car, his hand in a half Hitlerian salute as this son of Austria received due gratitude from teeming thousands. Father was privately working against Hitler unbeknownst to his German employer (it turned out that decades later I discovered he was an operative of the FBI even during our European trip, dispensing information to the Justice Department on Germanic activities in the midwest). He had a strongly supportive view of Winston Churchill but his hatred of FDR was undeviating. He understood full well how Churchill needed Roosevelt’s cooperation to win the war. He loved Churchill as a patriot but he believed Roosevelt was not one. That’s rather difficult to understand now but not then when I was ten.

Much later I got to know Pat Buchanan who was working for Richard Nixon. It turned out that he had a Father who meant the world to him, too and was responsible for his involvement in journalism and politics. Bill Buchanan however evidently was an Irishman imbued with a same kind of Irishman’s hatred of the Brits as motivated by grandfather Tom Cleary in the 1920s. As we would associate together some times—not often—with me hiring Pat in my capacity as an officer of Quaker Oats to speech for a good fee to our sales meetings…hiring him to guest-lecture at my classes including at Northwestern and Harvard…I was not aware of the obvious difference between us. .

For one thing, I had always thought Pat felt angered as did all conservatives—my father and I among them-- when Truman fired Douglas MacArthur whose gallant plan to actually win the Korean War. Evidently not. My father and I supported Goldwater in 1964 whose plan was called “Why Not Victory?” in Vietnam. Evidently not Pat. Stunning in view that he worked for Nixon who preached victory, crafted many of his speeches in 1968 and went to China with him when Nixon made his stupendously brilliant diplomatic success that shattered the once monolithic alliance between the USSR and China.

Later he went overseas as an assistant with Ronald Reagan who preached victory in the Cold War--and was at the several international meetings where Reagan decisively changed the calculus of the Cold War…leading to the USSR’s ultimate collapse. When Pat reentered private life, he spoke at a number of meetings held by Quaker for which I had him paid. We met for lunch several times as I briefed him for those sessions. But evidently he was keeping his true thoughts to himself—which were largely opposite to the course of the two presidents he served and the tenor of conservatism that ran since Truman’s firing of MacArthur in 1951.

It was only when Pat ran for president in 1988…in 1992 and then 2000 (the weirdest campaign of all)… where his markedly divergent views were made apparent, at least to me. Even so I guess I misjudged the enormity of the chasm between us…on the U.S.’s world role particularly. Only after I met with him after he became a presidential candidate in 1992—and indeed I hosted him at Rosemont and introduced him there—it became apparent to me that his ambition to become president was a radical pretext, far different from any other conservative Republican. It involved him shielding with his cupped hands the flickering flame of the vigil light memorializing the Irish Bill Buchanan who hated the Brits. Pat’s father was as much loved by him as my father was by me. Then came 1996 where he incredibly renounced his lifelong affiliation with the Republican party and engaged in a fringe effort for the presidency as a Reform party candidate. His views on all the issues were radical but even worse—highly improbable. In his speeches, all of them brilliantly conceived, he used de-construction to concoct a theory at wide variance with actual historic events.

I still have a tender feeling for Pat but the atmosphere changed very drastically since the 1930s when our fathers were both the autocrats of our breakfast tables. My father changed from embracing the legitimate position of opponent to our entry into World War II which I shared and still share and the need to oppose Communism in the world theatre. Not so Pat. His father to which he is so keenly devoted (as I am to mine) was evidently not able to convert to practical reality, hence Pat seems to want to please his memory by acting as if times had not change, keeping the old isolationism as if it were a dead fly, contained permanently—airless—encased in the amber of the 1930s.

His book which I read in totality in the hospital, “Churchill, Hitler and the `Unnecessary War’: How Britain Lost an Empire and the West Lost the World” was obviously a tribute to those views of so long ago when our fathers were autocrats of the breakfast table…views my father later amended

to conform with the needs of the time to oppose Communism. It appears Buchanan’s father and Pat himself rubbed their scabs against the British vis-à-vis the Irish. Hyperbole abounds in the book. Its subtitle—“How the West Lost the World”—is astounding. It is incredible that the subtitle itself isn’t laughed out of the bookstore. Who the hell does he think won the Cold War? “Lost the World” indeed! And this animus toward Churchill—reflective of the 1930s Irishman Bill Buchanan hating Britain. Churchill was at the root of all the problems but Pat is duplicitous enough to call him a great man in interviews where he obviously doesn’t believe it basis his writings. There is a pathetic fondness for Germanic style war…coming close to pro-Naziism-- which he exculpates with ease. Here are some of his most fallacious points—stunning in their inaccuracy:

Starting off, he concocts that it was Churchill and the British who started World War II! Hitler had little or nothing to do with it. Oh, Pat bad-mouths Hitler. But it’s obligatory so as to build a chiaroscuro so as to set up the real villain—Winston Churchill. Where he is right is to point to World War I as containing the seeds of War II. But he detours to evoke Irish nationalism writing “how the British had sent `Black and Tans’ to shoot down Irish patriots’” just as my Irish grandfather Tom Cleary and his sister Alice, both Irish patriots (a woman whom in her old age we called Aunt Addie) maintained…possibly rightly but which had nothing to do with the origin of World War II. Things have not changed since then for Pat. Were both Tom and Addie to be disinterred from their graves they would be warmly greeted by reading Pat as if nothing had changed. It’s Irish unforgiveness, after all.

Wilhelm Drops Bismarck as Nation’s Pilot.

As the 20th century opened, Germany had converted itself into a tower of economic strength, seizing the last remaining colonies in Africa in an effort to catch up with the other colonial powers. Young Kaiser Wilhelm II who came to the throne at 29 removed the great Chancellor Otto von Bismarck because of personal jealousy, tired of sitting on the throne watching how the great man maneuvered in the complex chess game of world diplomacy. Bismarck himself contributed to his own political demise by ruling young Wilhelm as a Crown Prince and separating the boy from his parents so as to use the kid to bolster Bismarck’s prestige. It worked until Wilhelm became Kaiser and then the imperial leader ditched Bismarck. Kaiser Bill embarked on a massive armament program to build a navy to rival Britain’s…viewing himself as the embodiment of Prussian greatness, something that Bismarck would have avoided.

To his dying day, Bismarck told his friends that the Kaiser was a homosexual and was engaging in nefarious meetings with his lover, Philip , prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld which at the time was illegal under German law. This was far from the case. Wilhelm had had seven children with his first wife and married a second, a real looker, 30 years his junior-- but a case of old Bismarck seeking revenge, it is clear that Wilhelm was all thumbs sending warlike echoes to Britain. He engaged in emotional tirades including his infamous interview with the London Daily Telegraph where he pounded the table and shouted “you English are mad-mad-mad as March hares!”

Obviously, then, Churchill, the British patriot, wondered about the reason for this great German naval buildup. Then Wilhelm sought to invent international crises such as in Morocco, pretending to take land that was France’s, suspecting the Entente Cordiale was an anti-German plot where in fact it did not involve Germany. Mental instability was rife on both sides of Wilhelm’s genealogy and his impatience was such that he quarreled also with Bismarck’s successor Bernhard von Bulow, trying to arrange international deals without telling his Chancellor. Bulow gave up and quit. Wilhelm veered into the dark paranoia first exhibited by Frederick the Great who suspected Britain was trying to encircle Germany with enemies.

Whether it was or wasn’t, Frederick at least didn’t fly off the handle as did Wilhelm. The fuse was lit when in 1914 a Serbian fanatic killed the heir to the throne of Germany’s close ally, the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Austrians demanded an apology; the Serbians complied but Austria bombarded Belgrade. That triggered Russia with strong sympathies to the Serbian people to mobilize which sent Wilhelm into a fury demanding Russia stop the mobilizing—or else. Russia did not; Germany declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914 which Barbara Tuchman has called “the guns of August” and later France. Germany struck at France by moving through Belgium which had maintained neutrality since 1839…but there is some evidence that Belgium was not in fact neutral… and Britain inveighed against Germany not to invade Belgium. Germany would not agree and Europe’s war was on with Britain allied with France.

Where both Buchanans, father and son, agree with both Roesers, father and son, is that Woodrow Wilson preening to play a leading role on the world stage began to maneuver us into war…but lied to the American people by saying in the election of 1916 he was seeking peace…but once after reelection was desperate to go to war so he could become a world statesman.

The Lusitania, a Cunard ship steamed from New York to Britain in the midst of the hostilities loaded to the gills with armaments to be used against Germany and once it was struck by German subs blew up sky-high…whereupon the saintly hypocrite Wilson wept lachrymose tears for the innocents when he had known all along that his government had sent the unknowing passengers into harm’s way.

Hitler Justified, Churchill the Villain.

Buchanan takes up the case of a Germany surrounded by hostile nations—spurious as Bismarck understood it—and then justifies Adolf Hitler’s rise…bad-mouthing him as evil obligatorily…but viewing Churchill as the arch-villain. Oh he rightly blames the victorious Allies for wringing the living sweat out of Germany in the Versailles treaty. Right he is in that Lloyd George, Orlando of Italy and Clemenceau of France wanted retribution and the spuriously-saintly Wilson allowed the punitive treaty to take place at all costs so he could get the League of Nations set up that could deify him as a world statesman. Apart from some unsalutary references, Hitler is portrayed in thoroughly understandable terms and Churchill as the evil genius who wanted to rake the dead coals to punish the German people in perpetuity.

Pat, a clever man, is a notoriously effective wordsmith. . Linked unsuccessfully in the past with anti-Semitic views, he postulates piously that most of Europe’s Jews would have been saved if Britain and America had not entered the war. Their entry caused Hitler to suspect Jewish influence so he killed them. It wouldn’t have happened if Hitler were allowed to go his way. (Did Buchanan ever read “Mein Kampf”?).

On and on it goes but I run out of time and patience at this late hour. With this book which appeals to the paleos, Pat has been listed with the “New York Times” best-sellers but it is clear his real reward is to justify to the long dead Bill Buchanan that he has kept the faith…to wreak hatred on the British for what they did to the Irish. Whereas my father understood the machinations of Wilson and Roosevelt and joined the FBI to fight Hitlerism in this country. My fealty to Harold Roeser stems from his understanding that after World War II that we needed to do all we could to defeat world Communism.

The irony is that Pat doesn’t even recognize the defeat of Communism, done so gloriously under his old boss Ronald Reagan—because “the West lost the World”! Thus do the old Irish of his vintage remain obdurate to facts and history to the end.

With this book, he’s gone as dotty as old Kaiser Bill. His pro-Germanic traits flow on, eternally getting even with the hated British for what they did to the Irish. And Churchill was the cause of it all, the master manipulator who caused the West to “lose the world.” When last I checked, Winston Churchill is still regarded…and justly…as the greatest leader of the 20th century and the greatest Englishman of all time.

Sorry, Pat. You’ll be eternally the fly captured in mid-1930s flight in amber. Never changing with that those piping high-voiced views that make you increasingly indistinguishable from Eleanor Clift the lefty and the embittered ex-Jesuit priest accused of sexual harassment, John McLaughlin whose show has been cast in the dustbin of irrelevancy.


  1. Why do you ask for comments, sir? You delete those who disagree with you.

  2. My saintly Irish mother used to mention the dreaded "Irish Alzheimer's," where the poor soul forgets everything but the grudges.

  3. Good to see you here Frank.