Pod people

by Henry Farrell on October 2, 2006

I mentioned a “couple”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/08/12/trahisons-des-clercs/ of “times”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/08/16/witchfinders-general/ last year that Norman Podhoretz had demonstrably lied when he smeared critics of the Iraq war as rooting for America’s defeat. But I hadn’t realized how deep his hypocrisy went. Ezra Klein “quotes”:http://www.prospect.org/weblog/2006/09/post_1527.html#010145 Spencer Ackerman at Tapped.

In 1971, as editor of Commentary, Podhoretz wrote despondently about the war, “I now find myself … unhappily moving to the side of those who would prefer … an American defeat to a ‘Vietnamization’ of the war which calls for the indefinite and unlimited bombardment by American pilots in American planes of every country in that already devastated region.” By 1982, however, Podhoretz had relocated the true fault for the Vietnam debacle–not among the war’s architects, but among its critics. In Why We Were in Vietnam, he accused the antiwar movement of bearing “a certain measure of responsibility for the horrors that have overtaken the people of Vietnam.” Over the intervening decade, Podhoretz had somehow grown illusioned with the war and disillusioned only with its opponents.

Perhaps it’s not just hypocrisy. Some bizarre kind of displacement ???



Ralph Hitchens 10.02.06 at 10:07 am

Podhoretz is only one of the many people over the years who have overcredited the antiwar movement with causing our defeat in Vietnam. I personally hold to the preposterous belief that Nixon had a not-so-secret plan which he implemented and ultimately persuaded North Vietnam to suspend their conquest of the South; that he also had a plan to enforce the cease-fire with the threat of American reengagement (with airpower, of course); and that the antiwar movement was decisively rejected by the American people in the election of 1972; and, finally, that Nixon’s self-destruction over Watergate removed the only source of political will that would have attempted, at least, to preserve “peace with honor.”


Barry 10.02.06 at 10:15 am

The strongest principle of the right, at least in the USA, is to only accuse the left of what the right does 10x more of. It’s almost an unbreakable rule.


lemuel pitkin 10.02.06 at 10:20 am

So I take it you disagree with the 1971 quote?


Bruce Baugh 10.02.06 at 10:29 am

Projection seems crucial to just about everything Republican leaders and the conservative movement(s) at large have to say about the rest of us. Riddled with people who are ashamed of their sexuality and channeling it into furtive, unwholesome release, they see perverts anywhere. Led by and glorifying incompetents who can’t run a business, they see a hatred of capital and management everywhere. Getting their sermons from compulsive gamblers and frauds, they see the rest of us as dishonest. And so it goes.


Xanthippas 10.02.06 at 11:34 am

Sadly, it is all too often easier to dispose of facts that are inconvenient to our deeply-held political beliefs.

Especially when we bloviate about them on a regular basis.


abb1 10.02.06 at 11:39 am

I plugged one of the quotes into google, and it came up with this review of Why We Were in Vietnam. It gives a bit more context to the story.


Barry 10.02.06 at 12:06 pm

abb1, skimming the first half of that review doesn’t exonerate Podhoretz of dishonesty; quite the opposite.


abb1 10.02.06 at 12:56 pm

I didn’t say it does. It’s just a little weird that in 1982 the guy felt he needed to write a book to justify the “burn the village to save the village” philosophy. That’s one screwed up individual; well, the whole family, actually.


dedalus 10.02.06 at 12:56 pm

This is a recurring trope, and it is one of the principal reasons we’re in the mess we are.

Podhoretz, Horowitz, and others — indeed, a great deal of those who now number themselves among neo-conservatism — who converted from hippie liberalism to conservatism after the Vietnam War and into the ’80s, understand their progression as an inevitable evolution from ignorance, naivete, and youth to hard-headed absolutist wisdom. They are ashamed of their anti-Vietnam War, quasi-pro-communist leanings, and because of their PERSONAL EXPERIENCE — now mirrored in a second generation of complex, dirty-war strife — THEY EQUATE the Liberal stance point-for-point with the stance they once held. They cannot imagine that we are a more mature younger generation than they were. But we are: because we have a great deal of information at our hands.

They look at us and only see themselves in the mirror, and run away, shriek and deny us because of the horror they found in themselves.


lemuel pitkin 10.02.06 at 1:47 pm

So dedalus, I’m curious: how do your views differ from those of the hippie liberals? I presume that, unlike Podhoretz in his dirty hippie phase, you would have preferred to see indefinite bombing of Southeast Asia rather than an acknowledgement of U.S. defeat?


abb1 10.02.06 at 1:53 pm

He wasn’t in his hippie phase in 1971. He’s been in his current nationalist anti-anti-American phase since mid-sixties.


Barry 10.02.06 at 2:25 pm

Or he’s just been a dishonest wh*reson forever. Sometimes these things are not so complex.


abb1 10.02.06 at 3:24 pm

So, does it mean that his anti-communist bent has led him to accept the agitprop approach for his writings? Cool.


dedalus 10.02.06 at 3:32 pm


I honestly don’t know enough about the strategic and ideological strategies on either side of the Vietnam War in 1971 to respond adequately to that.

But I do know that, when one (almost) wishes for a defeat rather than a perpetual bombing (or status quo military campaign), it is because the moral legitimacy on our side of the fight is suffering badly. And moral legitimacy is THE thing that wins wars: it is THE prompter of manpower, effort, technological advancement, and national will. Bush understood this small part in getting us into Iraq, and that’s the principal reason there were so many falsifications leaked to the press, government ringers in the press, and the “cherry-picking” of data funneled to a willing press corps.

What Bush failed to understand, being entirely incurious about the world, being an America-Firster, is that in a globalized world, even more than before, the support of the world’s democratized states is necessary to launch a “pre-emptive” war. The Bush administration fooled the American people to believe that it was actually fulfilling the supportive stance taken by the world (in the UN resolution) when no major state other than the United Kingdom would actually back that supportive stance with military action.

However the rest of the world, including the American left, saw through this supposed support of the global community — saw through it immediately when the United States unilaterally withdrew from Kyoto, the International Court, and the nuclear arms limitation treaty (in Bush’s first 8 months in office). Thus the war began with a falsification of moral legitimacy, confirmed by the subsequent realization of the falsification (or willful disregard) of the facts. ALL THIS NOW KNOWN and in the record for the entire world to see, the United States’ only course of reparation would be, as the Bush Administration saw it, the strong and absolute fulfillment of achieving democracy. Yet at precisely the same time, the United States was undermining the last remaining shreds of its moral legitimacy by torture, secret prisons, and extraordinary renditions, and the disgregard of the Geneva Conventions, which stand as the last remaining agreement on what civilization stands for when all else has been lost. That disregard is now U.S. law.

So we are now in a somewhat similar position to Vietnam: our victory would stand for the corporatized lawlessness of American “democracy,” at least to our enemies. The only thing standing for us, at this point, is that our enemies are even worse: something that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have repeated every day. Trapped between American brutality and fundamentalist Islamic insanity, Iraq is a scene of unbridled chaos. The only thing we can hope for is a very clever Odysseus who can create a type of Iraqi trojan horse. There’s no doubt our enemies are trying the same thing too. That is their media effort.


John Quiggin 10.02.06 at 9:04 pm

I think there’s a crucial ambiguity in the word “defeat” here. I supported withdrawal from Vietnam, and I now support withdrawal from Iraq. Obviously (and pace “Declare victory and get out”) that amounts to admitting failure, and can be regarded as a defeat. And, in arguing for admitting failure, it’s necessary to point out in detail how bad the failure has been, and to hope that the advocates of war will recognise that failure when it’s staring them in the face.

That’s not the same as hoping for a defeat. I don’t think Podhoretz in 1971 hoped for defeat, but then nor did the great majority of opponents of the war.


snuh 10.02.06 at 10:35 pm

in the onion’s our dumb century, one of the mock front pages from the mid seventies captures the point about the ambiguous meaning of “defeat” perfectly:



derrida derider 10.04.06 at 1:59 am

My fear is that the meesengers will be shot – the humiliating withdrawal from Iraq will be blamed on those who who rightly said we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, just like Vietnam. Another dolchstosslegende.

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