March 04, 2008
Gstaad is a very chic place and, alas, getting chicer by the minute as the nouveaux riche Russians and oily kleptocratic Arabs are closing in. Thinking about the way our alpine village used to be, I’m reminded of the time I spent here with Bill Buckley and what he represented when he came on the American political scene—a fresh voice full of promise, and an educated and cultured one at that.
I’ve written a memoir of Bill for National Review that is better than the one I did for my own web site. That is understandable. Rich Lowry asked me to do it, and I was flattered. NR gave me my start, and however much I feel betrayed by the way things have gone, Bill was Bill. And NR is NR.
When my father’s best friend faked his X-rays and avoided going to the front in 1940, my grandfather happened to be chief justice of the Greek Supreme Court. My dad’s friend was caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced to die the next day for draft evasion, the reason being he was a “have,” and while farm boys were dying at the front against the Italians, there was no way one of “us” could have been spared. By a superhuman effort, the wife of the condemned managed to reach my father fighting at the Albanian front, and he—however unbelievable it seems—managed to get a message to my grandfather to stay the execution. I was four years old and remember my mother begging her father for a reprieve. But what I will never forget is when she reported to me of what my grandfather had told her: “Noblesse Oblige—if he were a poor boy, I would understand. But when the time comes for those of us who are privileged, there can be no excuse.”
He was shot at dawn. His children and grandchildren are friends of mine, and we don’t talk about it.
What does this have to do with Bill? He made a mistake. He honestly believed that the Podhoretzes and Kristols of this world would help make conservatism mainstream. On my boat in the summer of 2005, he told me that he regretted having backed the war. I did not push it. “May I quote you,” I asked him. Of course you can, he answered. But the Podhoretzes of this world do not forgive. I heard that Norman Podhoretz attacked Bill for not staying the course. My dad’s friend’s family never held it against us when my grandfather refused to save their father. Neocons are of a different breed. They are haters, and they do not forgive.
I write this under the weather, having just received a wonderful e-mail from a rosey School master and his wife who had met Bill and who are upset about the rude remarks on this web site about him. “Such are the joys of public life,” I answered them. They wish to hold a service for him here in Gstaad, and they are the real thing: true Americans. Religious, patriotic, kind, hard working—the types neocons take for granted. I will hold a service for Bill here in the Mecca of the rich, but I will also speak about how he lost his way listening to the siren songs of the Podhoretzes and Kristols. In Dante’s Inferno the 9th circle is reserved for traitors. There is no circle for the misguided like him.