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Russian-American Samizdat
November 18, 2010

A Tribute to an American Patriot
In Memory of Joe Sobran (1946-2010): Part One
by W. George Krasnow
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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 establishment.”

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 for Russia.

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.

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Russian-American Samizdat column is copyright © 2010 by W. George Krasnow and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. 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 Russia.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns.

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