WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When I returned to America on October 15 from
Russia, I learned the sad news that Joe Sobran, journalist, syndicated
columnist, and writer, had passed away on September 30.
Calling Sobran an “Antiwar Prophet,” Jon Utley, a Russia & America
Good Will Associate (RAGA) subscriber and antiwar activist, wrote in
his eulogy in The American Conservative magazine, “If Joe Sobran’s
warnings had been heeded, America would not be on the path to bankruptcy
and unending, unwinnable wars.” .” [Jon Basil Utley, “Joseph
Sobran, Antiwar Prophet, RIP,”]
I, too, regard Joe as an American patriot, man of peace, friend of
Russia, honorary RAGA associate, and personal friend.
I came to the United States in 1966 from Sweden, a country that was
rapidly turning anti-American. Even with my shaky English, I quickly
found out that William F. Buckley Jr.’s National
Review (NR), for which Joe Sobran soon became the principal
writer, was the only intellectual magazine that was unabashedly pro-American.
It was anti-communist, not in the sense of belligerency but by virtue
of its defense of the fundamental American values of individual liberty,
free enterprise, limited government, and academic freedom — values
that were under communist assault around the world.
These values were also under assault on most American campuses. The
intellectual establishment raged against “American imperialism,” “capitalist
exploitation,” and “racism.” The New Left — actually
refurbished Marxist-Leninists — effectively controlled the ideological
and political discourse on the campuses. Domestic terrorism was in
vogue. Students were taught to make homemade bombs to use against “police
pigs.” Seattle, where I was a Ph.D. candidate at the University
of Washington, was a leader in the bombings against the “military-industrial
After the debacle in Vietnam, Soviet expansion seemed unstoppable.
Were it not for the rise of the dissident movement in the U.S.S.R.
and Soviet-bloc countries, America might not have come out of the doldrums
of defeatism. So strong was the belief among American intellectuals
in the “progressiveness” of the Soviet system that when
exiled Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn declared, upon his arrival
in the U.S., that he hoped to return to a free Russia, he was dismissed
as a nationalist dreamer.
The “realistic” ambitions of American politicians did
not stretch further than a negotiated division of the globe into two
spheres of influence. Joe Sobran and NR were the only consistent champions
of superiority of freedom over tyranny. They argued for the primacy
of human rights in U.S.-U.S.S.R. relations. They warned that the peaceful
coexistence that Soviet leaders promised was illusory; these leaders
refused even to coexist with their own citizens.
In 1991, I arrived in Washington, D.C., in the hope of providing consulting
services to American companies doing business in the former Soviet
Union. I could attest that, despite the turmoil and hardships that
accompanied the economic reforms, Russia was indeed a free country
in which at times the media took a decisively anti-Yeltsin line. But
there was a problem. The “Washington consensus” monopolized
the Russian reforms. It also monopolized U.S. television space, banning
criticism of either Yeltsin or “shock therapy” reforms
Some American dissidents, including Joe, took a skeptical view of
U.S. sponsorship of Russian reforms devised by free-market neoliberal
fundamentalists at Harvard, most of whom were Jewish. However, Sobran
and his friends were more concerned with another group of influential
people known as the “neoconservatives.” The neocons, most
of whom were also Jewish, were actively pushing the U.S. on a global
ideological offensive — hence the Persian Gulf War, the dismemberment
of Yugoslavia, the expansion of NATO, and the global war on terror.
Sobran and his friends did not want to be associated with this aggressive
American triumphalism, with its russophobic tinge.
When I learned that Joe had resisted the neocon pressure at NR and
was fired, I asked my conservative friends to introduce me to him.
Joe struck me as a friendly, generous, and jovial man who came for
a light-hearted conversation rather than to pronounce intellectual
profundities or ponder geopolitical strategies.
Joe knew me as the author of Solzhenitsyn and
Dostoevsky, so I presented
a copy to him. He told me he admired Solzhenitsyn as a great novelist
and a man whose very presence in the United States stiffened the backbone
of résistance against global Soviet expansion and inspired the
Reagan revolution. Solzhenitsyn, he said, was a Russian gift to America. “By
the way, even though I am a good Catholic and product of American melting
pot, I am a Russian by blood,” said Joe referring to his family
name. In Russian “Sobran” means “gathered,” “concentrated,” and “ready
to go.” Some sources indicate Sobran’s Ukrainian origin.
However, I distinctly remember him referring to his Russian roots,
possibly in the sense that both Russians and Ukrainian come from the
Old Russian culture.
Thanking me for the gift, Joe pulled a book from his own briefcase. “Do
you like Shakespeare?’ he asked, laying a copy of his Alias
Shakespeare: Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time on the table. Joe
presented his thesis that the real author of the tragedies was not
the man from Stratford, but Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of
Oxford. I found Joe’s argument persuasive.
Departure from National Review
I asked him about his departure from NR. It was an outcome of a protracted
process, Joe told me; over the years, neocon publishers Norman Podhoretz
and Midge Dexter pressured Buckley to stop Sobran from writing columns
critical of Israel. Buckley finally caved in. However, Joe evinced
no bitterness against the boss who fired him or the people who tipped
the boss’s hand.
“The neocons did what was advantageous to them,” Joe said. “They
wanted to take over NR as an influential voice of conservative opinion
in the country. They wanted to turn it into a pro-war propaganda tool.
I happened to be there, with my own views, so they had to eliminate
me in the struggle for Buckley’s soul. The best way to do so
was by labeling me an ‘anti-Semite.’ The term is a misnomer,
and the charge is unfair. But who cares? People are so afraid to be
around ‘anti-Semites,’ of giving them jobs or prominence,
that the accusation automatically becomes a verdict. I’m fortunate
to have friends whose livelihood does not depend on jobs. I enjoy my
new independence. Now I don’t have to tailor my opinion for one
editorial policy or another.”
Buckley’s Second Thoughts
I was pleased to learn that Joe and Bill Buckley had reconciled before
Bill died in 2008. In the spirit of forgiveness, Joe wrote a graceful
eulogy for his friend. Historically speaking, Joe was proven right.
According to Wikipedia,
Buckley changed his view of the Iraq war. He “saw
it as a disaster and thought that the conservative movement he had
created had in effect committed intellectual suicide by failing to
maintain critical distance from the Bush administration.”
In Part Two, Dr. Krasnow will discuss the unfair charges of anti-Semitism
in more detail.
Russian-American Samizdat archives
Russian-American Samizdat column is copyright © 2010
by W. George Krasnow and the Fitzgerald
All rights reserved.
W. George Krasnow (also published as Vladislav Krasnov), Ph.D., directs
the Washington-based Russia
and America Goodwill Associates,
a non-profit organization of Americans which promotes friendship with
See his biographical sketch and additional
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