Blogs > There's No There There > The Rare Pundit Who Understood War & Militarism: In Memoriam

Apr 9, 2018

The Rare Pundit Who Understood War & Militarism: In Memoriam

tags: Scott McConnell; Russell Baker;NYTimes Examiner;Gorbachev;Polner

Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

The end of April will mark the third anniversary of William Pfaff's death.

His passing marked a severe reduction in the dramatically shrinking number of American newspaper and magazine columnists who still dare to challenge our pointless and unwinnable wars.

After Pfaff died, The American Conservative Magazine's Scott McConnell, once an editorial writer for Rupert Murdoch's NY Post, put it best.

"Nowhere in the elite establishment newspaper sphere could you find regular, sustained, and well-informed criticism of an aggressive and overly militarized American foreign policy."

Written by a principled conservative and not a timid Democrat, whose party never recovered from the 1968 debacle in Chicago when the establishment's elite chose war rather than peace.

Except for the brilliant  liberal columnist  Russell Baker, who in "article after article [in 2002-3]" Pfaff   wrote "what should have been said week after week as Bush Two's cheery civilian warriors marched us into the Middle East."

William Pfaff was reared in Iowa and Georgia, educated at Notre Dame, and unlike the far too many hawks that infest Washington who have never served in the military  Pfaff was an infantry and Special Forces officer during and after the Korean War.

It's still the same today as  bellicose hawks, really unaccountable desk warriors in subsidized think tanks safe from shooting wars, are immersed  in their latest flirtation, Act 2 of the Cold War.

For a number of years I was a columnist for the now-defunct NY Times Examiner, a rarely welcomed, external ombudsman  journal scrutinizing the august NY Times where so few of its Op Ed writers, let alone its Cold War-ish editorial writers, ever frontally took on our historic addiction to war, past and present.  Now that Putin's Russia is habitually denounced for "meddling" in the 2016 election    our "meddling" in Italy, Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Ukraine, et al. is convienently ignored. Have I missed any?

I wonder what Pfaff might have written about the ignorance and hysteria exhibited by today's  liberal Democratic  know-nothing  congresswomen and men calling the "meddling," as several  have, "an act of war"?  Or when   Sen. John McCain, a Russophobe from way back, objecting to Sen. Rand Paul's view on admitting Montenegro into NATO, said, "the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin." 

Joe McCarthy anyone?

Or when the US and its NATO auxiliary  moved eastward to Russia's very doorstep on land, seas [Baltic and Black] and in the air, "without an explanation to the American people" as  Pfaff wrote,  especially since it could lead  suddenly, unexpectedly,  to a nuclear war which could turn all of us into instant ashes.  This was accomplished after the US had  pledged to Gorbachev  it would  avoid such provocative moves,  all of which were recently revealed in its entirety in declassified documents just issued by the National Security Archive  at George Washington University, and which the NY Times, like most of our free press, somehow overlooked. They and other Cold Warriors also love mentioning that the authoritarian Putin, certainly no angel he, was a former KGB officer but somehow never seem to note as well that Bush 0ne ran the CIA.

And then there's Ukraine. In a series of columns and virtually alone save for a few historians of Russian history, Pfaff saw the Ukrainian crisis as an American-initiated crisis, one that also included the possibility of an accidental war.

Rather than "a Russian strategy of aggressive expansion into Ukraine," Pfaff viewed it as "a bungled and essentially an American attempt to annex Ukraine to NATO and the European Union and to undermine the position of President Putin-- which all has gone wrong badly and dangerously wrong."

Here are two  more of his many gems:

"The 'war of civilizations,' explanation is wrong and dangerously so.... It is essential that the west now cease its interference, it cannot reconcile Syrians or the Sunnis and Shiites, or he the conflicts in the Maghrab and the Sahel mainly produced by climate and history. The West has suffered the delusion that a war on these people would produce modernity and democracy. War is a destroyer, which includes among its victims those who initiate it."

"Has it been a terrible error for the US to have built an all-but-irreversible worldwide system of more than 1,000 military bases, stations and outposts?  This seemingly was created to enhance US national security, but what if it has actually done the opposite?"

That was William Pfaff, wiser and more perceptive than so many others. If you doubt this, recall  that we are still locked into our 18th year of permanent wars with more surely on the way. And then please read his last book, "The Irony of Manifest Destiny."

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