October 21, 2007

Some friends have suggested to me that, by exposing some recent antics of Christopher Hitchens, I have only helped the militant atheist sell more books. Maybe so. But Mr. Hitchens needs to have a spotlight shone on him right now, and conservatives need to pay attention.

It hardly needs saying that Hitchens’ abusive treatment of 9-11 hero Father George Rutler —previously described here — demands coverage in and of itself, on general principle. But there is more. Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, the now-infamous confrontation between Hitchens and Father Rutler at Manhattan’s Union League Club on May 1 portends worse things ahead. It reveals a deadly weakness in the conservative movement. It shows how carelessly and reflexively we have fallen into the habit of treating our enemies as friends, and our friends as enemies. Many of us, it appears, have lost the ability to tell the difference. This is no trival flaw. Unless corrected, it spells doom for our movement, and perhaps ultimately for our Republic.

Take Mr. Hitchens. He is no friend of conservatives. Everyone knows that. Hitchens’ ideological overlap with what he calls “right-wingers” barely extends beyond “the single issue of fighting Islamic jihadism”, as Hitchens breezily observed in last month’s Vanity Fair.

Is this a solid enough foundation on which to build an alliance? Many conservatives think so. At least we manage to talk ourselves into it. In time of war, we tell ourselves, we need every friend we can get. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” we say, citing the old Arabian proverb. But is any of this really true?

Hitchens’ feral outburst at the Union League Club should serve as a warning. It should teach us that sometimes the enemy of my enemy is simply another enemy. History offers numerous examples.

When, for example, Hitler invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, nationalist leader Colonel Dragoljub (“Draza”) Mihailovic raised an army of freedom fighters called Chetniks. Following the dictum that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Mihailovic and his Chetniks reached out to Communist partisans under the command of Josip Broz Tito, and sought to cooperate.

Some Chetniks opposed this policy. One Kosta Milovanovic Pecanac, for example, feared the Communists more than the Nazis and proposed joining forces with Hitler. For this, Mihailovic condemned Pecanac, eventually capturing the rogue commander and executing him. (Draza Mihailovic, Wikipedia.org, retrieved 25 September 2007.)

The Communists were not grateful. They repaid Mihailovic’s loyalty by dispatching agents to slander him to the Allies, falsely branding him a Nazi collaborator and a war criminal. Communist moles in British intelligence assisted the slander campaign, as Michael Lees — a former British commando who campaigned with Mihailovic — documents in his 1991 book The Rape of Serbia: The British Role in Tito’s Grab for Power, 1943-1944. A New York Times review of Lees’ book states:

Tracking his own experiences in Serbia from June 1943 to May 1944 against some newly discovered files of Britain’s wartime Special Operations Executive, the office responsible for overseeing paramilitary operations, Mr. Lees paints a grim picture of official double-dealing. He documents how James Klugmann, a Communist, and Basil Davidson, a self-described leftist, both stationed in the Cairo headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, systematically discredited Mihailovic while undermining British material support for his forces. Their methods included manipulating battle maps and messages from the field, and attributing successful Chetnik military actions to the Partisans.

The propaganda campaign took its toll. Meeting at the Tehran Conference of November 1943, the Allies agreed to cut off aid to Mihailovic’s nationalist forces and to support Tito’s Communist partisans instead. As a result, Yugoslavia fell under Communist rule. Mihailović died before a Communist firing squad on July 18, 1946.

U.S. investigators ultimately cleared Mihailovic of all charges. At the urging of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and other U.S. officers, President Harry S. Truman posthumously awarded Mihailovic the Legion of Merit — the highest honor America can grant any foreigner — on March 29, 1948. It was a fine gesture, but too late to save either Mihailovic or Yugoslavia.

Draza Mihailovic learned the hard way that the “enemy of my enemy” is not always my friend. American conservatives need to learn that same lesson today. Hopefully, we will learn it more quickly than did Mihailovic, and in a timely enough fashion to do something about it.

Reprinted from the author’s blog, Poe.com, with permission.


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