Yet another inglorious episode in the annals of conservatism preceded the global war against fascism. The so-called America First movement that opposed U.S. intervention against Hitler camouflaged itself with red, white and blue but proved to be a haven for foreign agents who were plotting against the United States. While Communists and some other radicals also initially opposed American entry into World War II for their own reasons, the broad-based left of the New Deal coalition understood the Axis threat very early. Most conservatives honorably joined the war effort after Pearl Harbor, but more than a few on the right continued to promote defeatism and appeasement even then. And with all due respect to neoconservatives and other late-arriving right-wingers, the historical roots of postwar conservatism — the “Old Right” of Joe McCarthy and Pat Buchanan, the Buckleys and the Kochs — can be traced to those prewar sympathizers of the Axis.
The criminal excesses of the Cold War in Vietnam and elsewhere, so eagerly indulged by the right to this day, alienated many Americans on the left from their country for a time. Conservatives seized the opportunity presented by flag-burning protests and other adolescent displays to marginalize their ideological opponents as un-American, although only a tiny minority dove off that deep end. But how many conservatives like Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh beat the Vietnam draft while liberals like John Kerry, Al Gore, and Wesley Clark all served? And who truly protected this country’s best interests back then — the politicians who dispatched 50,000 young Americans to their deaths in the rice paddies, or those who dissented?
It is a lesson we didn’t learn in time to save us from another debacle in Iraq, when dissent was again vilified – and again proved more sane and patriotic than the bloodlust of the chicken-hawks.
Yet somehow our wingers always manage to wrap themselves in Old Glory, as if it belongs to them alone. But on this holiday, and every day, it assuredly does not.
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