<< Ayn Rand on WW II

Footnotes to  Ayn Rand on WW II 

1  Ayn Rand treats the idea, or anti-concept, of isolationism at length in her essay “ ‘Extremism’, or The Art of Smearing” in The Objectivist Newsletter, September 1964. This was during Barry Goldwater’s campaign for president when he was being smeared as an “extremist.” To make clear the nature of the tactic involved she considers some examples of smearing, among which is the epithet “isolationist” (we omit our external quote marks):
A large-scale instance, in the 1930’s, was the introduction of the word “isolationism” into our political vocabulary. It was a derogatory term, suggesting something evil, and it had no clear, explicit definition. It was used to convey two meanings: one alleged, the other real – and to damn both.

The alleged meaning was defined approximately like this: “Isolationism is the attitude of a person who is interested only in his own country and is not concerned with the rest of the world.” The real meaning was: “Patriotism and national self-interest.”

What, exactly, is “concern with the rest of the world”? Since nobody did or could maintain the position that the state of the world is of no concern to this country, the term “isolationism” was a straw man used to misrepresent the position of those who were concerned with this country’s interests. The concept of patriotism was replaced by the term “isolationism” and vanished from public discussion.

The number of distinguished patriotic leaders smeared, silenced, and eliminated by that tag would be hard to compute.

Earlier Rand had broached the subject briefly in her Los Angeles Times column of October 21, 1962, “Britain’s National Socialism” (we omit our external quote marks):
For decades, the “liberals” have regarded “nationalism” as an arch-evil of capitalism. They denounced national self-interest ... they smeared all opponents of internationalist doctrines as “reactionaries,” “fascists” or “isolationists” – and they brought this country to a stage where expressions such as “America First” became terms of opprobrium.
The capitalized phrase “America First” was used in 1941 by people who agreed with the America First Committee, whose goal was to keep America out of the war.

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2  She made the same point more directly in Human Events September 1, 1960, commenting on Senator John Kennedy’s Democratic National Convention acceptance speech:  “J.F.K.—High Class Beatnik.”  (The word “beatnik” was trendy at the time and meant a more or less young, poor, artistic, unkempt individual who more or less rejects social conventions, as opposed to those who were “square.”)  After quoting Kennedy praising the fine promises of Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” and Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and that his (Kennedy’s) own “New Frontier” will be even better, Ayn Rand comments (we leave off our usual external quote marks):
Now remember that Woodrow Wilson’s policy plunged the United States into World War I and, instead of “making the world safe for democracy,” as promised, it brought into existence three new [quoting Kennedy] “economic and political frameworks”: Communist Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany.  Franklin Roosevelt’s policy plunged the United States into World War II and, instead of achieving the “Four Freedoms,” as promised, it surrendered one-third of the world’s population into slavery to Communist Russia.  In both cases, the results were the exact opposite of the promises.

If a man held those promises as his political goal, such a record would make him pause and reconsider those policies.  He would ask: haven’t the American people sacrificed enough?  Have their enormous sacrifices of blood, wealth and effort brought about a better world – or a chronic state of crises, emergencies and ever greater dangers, and a growing spread of dictatorships?  And, asking it, he would repudiate those policies as a ghastly failure.
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3  She made much the same point when answering a question after her “Apollo and Dionysus” talk at the Ford Hall Forum, November 9, 1969.

Q&A should not be considered part of the Ayn Rand corpus. Even a genius can say something ill-considered or confusing when speaking extemporaneously, especially in a limited timeframe. However, because her answer repeats ideas in her written work we shall quote it here.

The question concerned protesting the Vietnam War. She begins by saying that she was and is opposed to that war but that protestors must not advocate the victory of the enemy (the Vietcong). After elaborating on that point she says the following, which starts 24 minutes 11 seconds into the Q&A period.

(This literal transcription retains the extemporaneous character of her words. Audience reaction – important because she might react to it in turn – is indicated within curly brackets. Parentheses indicate a somewhat lowered voice, a sort of aside. Dashes help untangle convoluted syntax. As usual with  off-the-cuff  remarks, grammar is not the rule.)
“I’d say, if somebody asked me, if I mystically had the power  (except there is no mysticism):  {Agreeable laughter, clapping.}  ‘Should we pull out of Vietnam tomorrow?’  I would say yes, we never should have pulled in.  It was the fault of the same liberal – the same policy – that today is in the forefront of the anti-Vietnam marchers.  {A loud individual ‘NO’ then general clapping drowning out disagreeing voices.}  It was the product of Kennedy and Johnson but above all Kennedy – who today, because he’s not present, is regarded as an idealistic martyr – but it’s he who got us into Vietnam just the same.  And, uh, the Republicans and Democrats are pretty equally guilty of it, but since it was up to now a Democratic administration, it’s their war.  And I do not know how short a memory people can have or if you’re young and didn’t see it yourself, certainly there’s still enough evidence in the newspapers  (we don’t have censorship or book-burning yet)  you can look up the record of Vietnam and of Kennedy’s speeches about it, of Johnson’s speeches.  And if you want to go further back, go to World War Two and read about the campaign of the same gang – and there’s no other word for it  (uh, except that today it’s a political party, the Democrat-Liberal axis)  {Clapping} – that were insulting as ‘isolationists’ everybody who was opposed to our entering World War Two.  ‘Isolationism’ was regarded as a very dirty word.  You were accused of being narrowly patriotic and selfish because you didn’t want to mix into a foreign war.  And today it is suddenly the liberals that are isolationist?  Well look, it’s just too,  excuse me,  God-damn obvious.  {Agreeable laughter, extended clapping}”
In other words, the Liberals’ newfound isolationism is obviously just a ruse.

We comment:  The same (ideologically) gang that got us into WW II and Vietnam today calls itself  “Neoconservative.”  A new – and grotesque – development is that some even call themselves  “Objectivist.”  ARI writers today utter the same foreign policy slogans as the Democrats of yesteryear.

As a footnote to this footnote:  Rand might be a bit unfair to Kennedy here (not Johnson). The CIA maneuvered Kennedy into involving the U.S. in Vietnam. Eventually he caught on and intended to withdraw but was assassinated before he could.

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