I’ve heard two smart people raving about Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of novelist Louis Auchincloss in the New Yorker last week–which is not online, only mentioned at the New Yorker site–because it includes scathing judgments by the novelist of his own group, the WASPs, and his alma mater, Groton School. Auchincloss says that McGeorge and William Bundy left Groton to assume the reins of foreign policy, and with assurance sent 55,000 Americans to their deaths in Vietnam (not to mention a couple million Vietnamese).
I see that The Financial Times touched the same subject last year with the agonized 90-year-old Auchincloss:
“There was Cy Vance,
Bill Scranton, Ted Beale, both Bundys, Bill and McGeorge – they all got
behind that war in Vietnam and they pushed it as far as they could. And
we lost a quarter of a million men. They were all idealistic, good,
virtuous,” says Auchincloss, “the finest men you could find. It was the
most disillusioning thing that happened in my life.”
has struggled to understand just how their shared patrician background
could have produced this disconnect. And the answer would appear to be
that wars are lost, if not always made, on the playing fields of New
England. “Bill Bundy and I shared a study at Groton, and one day he
came in from a football game, and I said: ‘Who won?’ and he said: ‘We
lost,’ and then he burst into tears. You cannot lose. Groton cannot
lose. That’s what they believed in, no matter what,” explains
Auchincloss. “They all would have all been willing to die, if they
hadn’t already been in high positions. They believed America cannot
lose. We stand for every virtue and right that’s in the world.”
A self-hating WASP, huh? The fascination to me of Auchincloss’s post-mortem is that we need another such post-mortem now, following the greatest foreign policy mistake of the last 40 years, as Jacob Heilbrunn and Barack Obama both describe Iraq. Jews played a special role in this debacle, and other Jews must ask, What social institution produced the arrogance of the neoconservatives? What school? What was their disconnect?
I’m not going to say CCNY–CCNY was very diverse, my father went to CCNY. Possibly Harvard, where Heilbrunn says the neocons formed a "cabal" in the government department (and where I can remember Marty Peretz running around with the late Eric Breindel and other acolytes).
But I think the social institution is more recent; and I want to say the white building in Washington at 1150 17th Street, N.W., that houses the American Enterprise Institute and the Weekly Standard and the Project for the New American Century. It’s an insulated hive. Here Bill Kristol pushed for an Iraq war back in 1999 and gathered names for the great plan. Here, as I remember from bouncing around there twice, they sell bound copies of Charles Krauthammer’s speech on the triumph of a unipolar America, a year or so after Iraq was proving to be a debacle (a speech that sent Francis Fukuyama into a tailspin and let Krauthammer to accuse him of antisemitism). Here secretive hedge king Bruce Kovner has funded AEI, which has provided a haven to Richard Perle and David Frum, who said America faced "victory or holocaust." Here Irving Moskowitz, who has built colonies on the apartheid West Bank, helped fund David Wurmser’s call for military action against Saddam before Wurmser got a job working for Cheney. Here AEI provides $96,000 a year to "scholar" Dore Gold, a former Israeli government official under Netanyahu who has a thinktank in Jerusalem…
But I am getting bogged down in specifics. The assignment here is for a Jewish writer to anatomize the Jewish failure of leadership, the cruel arrogance and indifference to ordinary people’s lives that arose from Jewish wealth and success in the millennium. A big job, I know. Heilbrunn took a shot at it and didn’t get all the way (in They Knew They Were Right). So far Jews have been constrained by the imperative, "Is it good for the Jews?" But as noble Auchincloss shows, that sort of scrutiny is in an American moral tradition.