National Review and Terrorism

Victims of the church bombing.

Like all conservative publications, National Review likes to fulminate against terrorism. Terrorism is a serious problem, of course, but I have trouble taking what they say on this matter seriously. Here’s why:

1. On September 15, 1963 a bomb went off at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing 4 black girls and injuring many more children. (Those killed were Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair; McNair had been a classmate of the young Condoleezza Rice).  The bomb was set by members of the Klu Klux Klan, as part of a wave of terror designed to intimidate the civil rights movement. Here is how National Review commented on the bombing in the October 1, 1963 issue of their biweekly Bulletin: “The fiend who set off the bomb does not have the sympathy of the white population in the South; in fact, he set back the cause of the white people there so dramatically as to raise the question whether in fact the explosion was the act of a provocateur – of a Communist, or of a crazed Negro. Some circumstantial evidence lends a hint of plausibility to that notion, especially the ten-minute fuse (surely a white man walking away form the church basement ten minutes earlier would have been noticed?). And let it be said that the convulsions that go on, and are bound to continue, have resulted from revolutionary assaults on the status quo, and a contempt for the law, which are traceable to the Supreme Court’s manifest contempt for the settled traditions of Constitutional practice.”

So there you have: barely a whit of sympathy for the murdered and a quick desire to exonerate “the cause of the white people” and to shift the blame elsewhere, to a suppositious “communist”, to an imaginary “crazed Negro” and to the Supreme Court (guilty of ruling that segregation was unconstitutional). The real perversity of this editorial is worth dwelling on. The church bombing was not an isolated incident; it was part of a long tradition of extra-judicial white supremacist violence that goes back centuries, a pattern anyone familiar with American history knows well. Therefore, in trying to argue that the bombing couldn’t have been done by a white person, the editors were being wilfully obtuse. The purpose of the editorial is to obfuscate the question of guilt and blame the victims of a slaughter for their temerity in standing up for their rights.

2.  In the early 1960s, a renegade band of military men in France tried to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, after he made it clear that he was going to allow Algeria to become independent. In an editorial published in their May 6, 1961 issue, National Review celebrated the would-be assassins and excoriated the French President. About Maurice Challe, the leader of the putsch, the magazine wrote he “has been, for France, the highest living embodiment of the ideal of the soldier: absolute in courage, skill, dedication, loyalty, self-sacrifice.” (It wasn’t explained how his absolute loyalty was congruent with mutiny). About the coup itself, this excuse was offered: “All normal and legal means having been exhausted, these soldiers … placed their duty to their country, their civilization, and their God above their duty to their commander in chief. By sheer interposition of their united will, they made a desperate and supreme attempt to block the enemy’s advance, and thus save France and Europe, and the Free World from a mortal danger.” This is a pretty explicit defence of assassination as a weapon against a democratically elected leader. As historian Patrick Allitt notes, “This sentiment, expressed side by side with condemnations of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent resistance, bespoke more than a little logical inconsistency.” (Allitt’s comments can be found his well-researched book Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America. 1950-1985, which is also the source for the editorial quoted above).

3. On September 21, 1976 a bomb went off in Washington, DC killing Orlando Letelier (an exiled Chilean diplomat and critic of the Pinochet dictatorship) and his assistant Ronni Moffitt. The bomb had been planted by agents of the Chilean government, who were then engaged in a worldwide effort to assassinate perceived enemies of the regime. National Review, several of whose editors and writers had taken luxurious junkets paid for by the Pinochet government, went out of their way to try and defame Letelier as a communist and suggest (somewhat illogically) that he had been killed by the Cuban government.  On July  15, 1977 the magazine suggested that Letelier had been an “agent of the U.S.S.R.” On September 1, 1978 William F. Buckley wrote that “there are highly reasonable, indeed compelling, grounds for doubting that Pinochet had anything to do with the assassination.” (Written after Pinochet’s bloodthirstiness had already been amply demonstrated). As with the church bombing, the whole point of these editorials and columns was to muddy the water and shift attention away from the guilty.

So, National Review is unequivocally against terrorism. Unless of course the victims of terrorism are black girls, French political leaders, opponents of Pinochet; in that case, it’s time to change the subject.

11 thoughts on “National Review and Terrorism

  1. These are all interesting excerpts from old National Reviews, glad you posted them, but why should they influence your view of the current magazine’s opposition to terrorism? How many of the magazine’s editorial board members are the same from 30 years ago? (I haven’t checked, but I’d reckon 0.) And would any of the magazine’s current staffers (and, indeed, surviving staffers from the period) back these old editorials up? I’m sure you can find equally out-dated and offensive views from most publications, left or right.

  2. Speaking of terrorism:

    George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism (indicated in my blog).

    George W. Bush did in fact commit innumerable hate crimes.

    And I do solemnly swear by Almighty God that George W. Bush committed other hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism which I am not at liberty to mention.

    Many people know what Bush did.

    And many people will know what Bush did—even to the end of the world.

    Bush was absolute evil.

    Bush is now like a fugitive from justice.

    Bush is a psychological prisoner.

    Bush has a lot to worry about.

    Bush can technically be prosecuted for hate crimes at any time.

    In any case, Bush will go down in history in infamy.

    Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
    B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

    I am not sure where I had read it before, but anyway, it is a linguistically excellent statement, and it goes kind of like this: “If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memory so it never got stale and faded.” Oh wait—off of the top of my head—I think the quotation came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

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