Conservative Support for Torture Is Progress

Conservatives have come out in full force in favor of torture. Their hero, Ronald Reagan, when he signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988, said “Ratification of the Convention by the United States, will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately prevalent in the world today.”

But that doesn’t stop today’s war enthusiasts from clamoring for torture. Moreover, their idea that torture produces valuable information is based on nothing more than lore from Hollywood movies, and not evidence from the actual real world where most of us live. A sampling of the conservative fetish for sadistically caressing the bodies of helpless human beings with implements of torture can be found here.

Nonetheless, as I am such a magnanimous fellow who always gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, I have to admit that conservative lust for torture is an improvement from their positions of yesteryear.

It is now generally ignored that leaders of the conservative movement actively campaigned for initiating a nuclear war. But William F. Buckley, Jr., for example, proposed that western civilization be sacrificed in a nuclear war, if necessary in order to incinerate the Russians. “If it is right that a single man is prepared to die for a just cause, it is arguably right that an entire civilization be prepared to die for a just cause.”  “Better the chance of being dead than the certainty of being Red. And if we die? We die.”

Writing in The JFK Conspiracy, David Miller noted that conservatives in general appeared to have a widespread blood lust during the period:

John F. Kennedy had been democratically elected in 1960, yet William F. Buckley wanted JFK deposed, and replaced by a “Man on Horseback” in the name of democracy in 1963. Similarly, in the early 1970s Buckley called for the overthrow of democratically elected President Salvador Allende of Chile; Buckley got his wish in 1973, then became a leading propagandist for the Pinochet junta in Chile. In 1974 Buckley called for the death of Patricia Hearst and in 1978 called for the death of Italian politician Aldo Moro, as such deaths would help the Right.

James Burnham’s column in the November 5, 1960 National Review urged the murder of African leftist Patrice Lumumba. After Lumumba was indeed murdered in early 1961, a National Review editorial applauded the murder.  Since the editors of National Review suggested hanging Earl Warren in September 1961, it seems that Buckley & Co. wanted to kill just about everyone to the left of Edwin Walker in the 1960s and 1970s.

President Kennedy’s Decision in 1962 to avoid another invasion of Cuba angered virtually every rightist in America…

In a column of November 10, 1962, William F. Buckley, Jr. called for a nuclear war against the Russians, arguing that “if ever a cause was just, this one is, for the enemy combined the ruthlessness and savagery of Genghis Khan with the fiendish efficiency of an IBM machine [ah yes, that efficient Soviet Union!]…Better the chance of being dead, than the certainty of being Red. And if we die? We die.”

Bill  Buckley was far from the only American rightist to call for nuclear war in the early 1960s. William Schlamm, a John Birch Society member who had helped found National Review in the 1950s told a Cologne, Germany audience in 1960 that the West should be prepared to sacrifice 700,000,000 people in order to defeat Communism. At a 1961 rally in New York City, John Birch Society member Clarence Manion stated “I am tired of heearing an old man like Linus Pauling cry his fear of death in a nuclear war…If we must fall to Communism, I would rather it be over the remains of 10,000,000 charred bodies, of which I would be proud to be one.”

So, were Buckley, Schlamm, and Manion insane, or were they just sociopaths? Manion, for example, was a dean at Notre Dame University, so he probably wasn’t insane, but that fact that he enthusiastically recommended the creation of  a mountain of 10,000,000 charred bodies certainly suggests defective thinking on a grand scale. And, were you to meet such a person at a cocktail party, and heard his opinions, you would quickly find yourself desperately craning your neck around searching the room for an ostensibly sane person to talk to. 

And yet this sort of thinking dominated the conservative movement during the Cold War. Self-styled patricians like Buckley and his friends saw it as their place to decide for all the world that it should start a world war that would have resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths immediately, and which, we now know, would have destroyed the planet’s food supply in a nuclear winter — resulting in the starvation of possibly billions. The fact that people such as this are still regarded with some respect by conservatives today exhibits how truly intellectually stunted conservatism is.

The fetish for world war displayed by Buckley, Manion, and Schlamm, among others, was no doubt on Murray Rothbard’s mind when he wrote

The contrast between the conservative and the libertarian positions on war and American foreign policy was starkly expressed in an interchange between William F. Buckley, Jr.,and the libertarian Ronald Hamowy in the early days of thecontemporary libertarian movement. Scorning the libertarian critique of conservative foreign policy postures, Buckley wrote: There is room in any society for those whose only concern isfor tablet-keeping; but let them realize that it is only because of the conservatives’ disposition to sacrifice in order to withstand the [Soviet] enemy, that they are able to enjoy their monasticism, and pursue their busy little seminars onwhether or not to demunicipalize the garbage collectors.To which Hamowy trenchantly replied:

It might appear ungrateful of me, but I must decline to thank Mr. Buckley for saving my life. It is, further, my beliefthat if his viewpoint prevails and that if he persists in his unsolicited aid the result will almost certainly be my death(and that of tens of millions of others) in nuclear war or my imminent imprisonment as an “un-American”. . . .I hold strongly to my personal liberty and it is precisely because of this that I insist that no one has the right to force his decisions on another. Mr. Buckley chooses to be dead rather than Red. So do I. But I insist that all men be allowed to make that decision for themselves. A nuclear holocaust will make it for them.

To which we might add that anyone who wishes is entitled to make the personal decision of “better dead than Red” or “give me liberty or give me death.” What he is not entitled to do is to make these decisions for others, as the prowar policy of conservatism would do. What conservatives are really saying is: “Better them dead than Red,” and “give me liberty or give them death”—which are the battle cries not of noble heroes but of mass murderers.

Ultimately, the conservative movement began to pretend these opinions had never been expressed at all. As Rothbard explained:

Because of their reluctance to welcome huge American losses or to engage in a nuclear showdown with Russia, the average American has to be gulled by the ideologues of the Conservative Movement with the rhetoric of freedom and of “Getting Government Off Your Back.” The true guiding message of the Conservative Movement was enunciated clearly in a public anti-Communist rally years ago by the candid and fiery L. Brent Bozell: “To stamp out world Communism I would be willing to destroy the entire universe, even to the furthest star.” It doesn’t take a radical libertarian not to want to go the whole route, to dance the full dance, with Brent Bozell and the Conservative Movement, the theme of which is not “better dead than Red” but “better you-and you-and you dead than Red.”

In a drive for Power, often the first thing to suffer is candor, and it is no surprise that as the Conservatives became more respectable and edged toward victory, they dropped as embarrassing baggage all those elements who each, in their own way, were frank, principled and consistent: Bozell himself, the Birchers, the Randians.


So, as we look at conservatives today and their devotion to torture, we should be thankful that at least they no longer wish to destroy the human race.

For more, see David Gordon on “The Dark Heart of Conservatism.” 



11:38 am on December 23, 2014