In the summer of 1954, Spyros Skouras, then president of 20th Century Fox, paid a nostalgic visit to his birthplace, the famed town of Sparta, in the south of Greece.
Skouras had left Greece as a poor, illiterate boy in his early teens, but through hard work and enterprise had become a hot shot in Hollywood—without, as one wag said at the time, even pretending to be Jewish.
Greeks tend to take great pride in the achievements of their countrymen abroad, and as Spyros Skouras was the first Greek Hollywood tycoon (and, as it turned out, the last ), the proverbial red carpet was laid out by the authorities. Greece back then was a monarchy, and King Paul’s wife, Queen Frederika, was known as much for her outspoken and domineering nature as for an extreme patriotism that bordered on the fanatical. Their Majesties invited Skouras to lunch in their summer palace of Tatoi (eventually stolen by a socialist government from the royal family). Skouras was a soft-spoken man whose Greek was limited and whose knowledge of Greek politics was non-existent. What Skouras was certain about was that, had he stayed in Greece, he’d still be herding sheep. He made this point time and again.
Things came to a head when the queen asked Skouras which side he would take in the unlikely case of war between Uncle Sam and what I call the Olive Republic. The Hollywood tycoon did not evade the question. “It would break my heart were it to happen, Your Majesty,” he was reported to have said, “but I would fight on the side of the United States.” Although the question was a rhetorical one and most likely in jest, nothing illustrates the conundrum of patriotism better than the queen’s idea that one’s birthplace binds one forever.
Years later, a Greek colonel asked me the same question. He got the same answer. My family and my ancestors have always fought for Greece, but I feel I owe her nothing. After the communists blew up all our factories—which my father had closed down at the start of World War II—it was Uncle Sam who provided us the opportunity to start over again. I volunteered for duty at age 38 when the Turks threatened in 1974 and have represented my country in three sports on an international level. My loyalties, however, lie with one uncle only, and his name starts with a capital S.
After the socialist Andreas Papandreou—the greatest American hater this side of Baghdad—came to power in 1981, he quickly proceeded to change a proud country with a great history into an unmitigated disaster. He blackmailed NATO, ruined the Greek tourist industry, gave shelter to terrorists like Abu Nidal, stole like an African dictator, and made Greece a laughing-stock. Worst of all, through demagoguery, he convinced Greeks to become the most anti-American people in Europe. I was caught in the midst of all this, wishing to be loyal to my birthplace, yet defending Uncle Sam so much that the Greek government went after me, using the courts to try to shut me up. “Traitor” was among the mildest adjectives hurled at me by the Hellenic Fourth Estate.
This brings me to the point I wish to make. People who claim their country to be right even when they know it is wrong are either liars, fools, opportunists, or all three. There comes a time when one has to follow one’s conscience. Take the present, for example. I write this while a war is raging in Iraq and our armed forces are in harm’s way. The outcome is as certain as death and taxes. As I pray for a quick and bloodless victory, I’ve come full circle. Now it’s an American magazine that’s calling me unpatriotic.
A brief flashback: As National Review wrote upon The American Conservative’s launch, “Taki was foisted on an unsuspecting world by …” or words to that effect. Actually it was Bill Buckley who gave me my first break. He and Arnaud de Borchgrave have been my greatest supporters from the start and a very tough start it was. The trouble was, although eager and gung ho, words did not exactly flow. At my best, I wrote like Abe Rosenthal at his worst. Oy veh! It was horrible, but Bill and Arnaud refused to quit on me. Thirty-three years ago, I finally broke into print in NR with a blood-and-guts story from Jordan that had Pat Buckley screaming over the telephone to Bill, “When poor Taki is torn limb from limb by Black September, I hope you’ll be able to live with yourself.” (Palestinian fighters did pick me and couple of hacks up, and I did have a letter to King Hussein from his French mistress in my pocket. After the three of us ate it, we were told we were free to go.)
Those were wonderful days at National Review. It was like being on the 1927 Yankees , with the Babe and Lou Gehrig, or the 1961 team, with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
Look at the lineup that started with Bill Buckley: James Burnham, Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, Ernest van den Haag, William Rickenbacker, Chilton Williamson, John Simon, Nika Hazelton, Joe Sobran, Rich Brookhiser, Linda Bridges, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, John Leonard, Tom Wolfe, and on down the line. The managing editor, Priscilla Buckley, was probably the nicest woman ever to edit a magazine, and definitely one of the best wordsmiths around. She humored me and encouraged me nonstop, and I shall always be indebted to her. The great James Burnham even came to Greece once on holiday and spent a day with me trying to teach me some writing tricks. (More paragraphs; it makes it easier for the editor.)
If it sounds idyllic, it was. We had all embarked on a great crusade against liberalism, the Evil Empire, the omnipotent state, and other threats to our freedoms. (Multiculturalism and PC had not as yet been invented, but some wise people were predicting them already.)
So you can imagine my surprise when in NR’s last issue I found myself and my colleagues Pat and Scott listed as “unpatriotic conservatives” in “a war against America.” Mind you, I was in excellent company. Others accused were people like Tom Fleming, Llewellyn Rockwell, Robert Novak, Sam Francis, Justin Raimondo, Joe Sobran, and Eric Margolis. I was flattered until I saw the writer’s name. One David Frum.
Now let’s get one thing straight. Unlike Pat and Scott, and despite the advice given to me by an NR higher-up, I will not take the high road. If this bum Frum thinks he’s the only one who cannot see a belt without hitting below it, he’s got another thing coming. From what I’ve heard, Frum is a climber who fouls everyone and everything that takes him in, with the White House being just one example. This buffoon was fired by the Bushies, then went around threatening to sue if someone hinted that he didn’t quit on his own. (You were fired Frum, and I welcome your lawsuit.) He is a cheap Canadian careerist who jumped on the neocon bandwagon and is now using anti-Semitism as a stick to beat us with. Mind you, to be called “unpatriotic” and an “anti-Semite” by this shameless publicity hound has to be a compliment.
I only met Frum once, at a Conrad Black party, where he came up Uriah-Heep-like, actually looking more like the oily Peter Lorre in “The Maltese Falcon.” I know his kind. He will use anyone—including his wife, which he did in spreading the claim that he invented the phrase “axis of evil”—in order to advance his career. Like his icon Sammy Glick, Frum tries to make it by stepping on bodies, but he will end up like Glick, a marginal fellow who tells tall tales about himself. He reminds me of another David—Brock—both of them being ugly pipsqueaks who specialize in telling without having kissed.
We are now in a senseless war that was promoted by the neocons. They have tried to shut down debate by charging anti-Semitism. It is the oldest as well as the cheapest trick in the book. The reason I’m so adamantly against the war is because I believe it will have terrible consequences in the long run for America. We should be looking inward and going after the Asan Akbars of this world, most likely financed by the Saudi rulers. The rest is bunk, and a punk like Frum can rant from here to Baghdad. It will not change the truth.