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Walter Jones Cried While the Rest of Them Lied

Elected officials have always had their reasons for wanting to end America’s recent unpopular wars, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some cite broad concerns over blood and treasure, others focus on the geo-political and domestic consequences of prolonging quagmire and endless foreign intervention. Many are outright pacifists, they don’t believe in war to begin with.

Conservative Republican Congressman Walter Jones was the only lawmaker I can recall who turned on war out of profound guilt. Life-changing guilt, borne out of watching coffin after coffin return to his North Carolina district draped in the stars and stripes and met with the white, blood-drained faces of mothers and wives, fathers and children. For anyone, such a scene—repeated as much as it would in a district that hosts one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the country [1]at the height of war—would be devastating. But for Jones, a man of deep Catholic faith who had come to believe that the Bush administration lied to Congress to get its approval for the Iraq invasion in 2003, it was intensely personal. He wept openly and talked about it. There was no whiff of political contrivance or calculation. In fact, his pain was so visceral it was at times hard to look at directly.

Those of us who did look, saw a brave, brave man who chose the isolation of his peers in the Republican party over compromising his own convictions. Simply put, there was Walter Jones pre-Iraq vote, and Walter Jones, post-Iraq vote. The latter spent the rest of his life—until his passing on Sunday at the age of 76—working towards redemption and a future where America’s sons and daughters aren’t sent into a meat grinder for politicians’ senseless wars of choice.

He told me in 2009 that writing thousands of letters of sympathy to the survivors of dead servicemembers was in part, penance for his vote. “I think I have been forgiven, though all of those letters, I really do,” he said. In addition, he’d joined a small, but stalwart cadre of conservative voices against the wars based on moral and Constitutional grounds (including new interventions in Libya and Syria). He became one of the loudest voices in favor of invoking Congressional war powers, starting with a pair of unsuccessful bills in 2012 [2]. He worked across the aisle with anti-war Democrats, as well as tireless independent voices in his own party like Ron and Rand Paul, Thomas Massie, and Justin Amash. He sought, and became a friend and compatriot to activists and non-interventionist media like Antiwar.com [3] and The American Conservative.

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“I would answer the phone and hear, ‘please hold for Congressman Jones.’ It made me feel really great,” Antiwar.com founder and editor Eric Garris told me last night. “(He) was a very sweet and principled man.”

Garris sensed that Jones was animated by his guilt over “sending soldiers to their deaths.” I remember his speech [4] before the TAC’s foreign policy conference in 2017 where he recounted an anguished conversation at the airport with a young woman carrying an American flag folded in accordance with service members or veterans who have died. “It was so sad for me, Jones said, describing how he struggled, even after all of these years, to come up with words that did not sound trite or canned, to soothe her.

It was a lonely burden, this cross he carried. Republican hawks and neoconservatives were the most venomous in their spite and disregard. Just see how they sneered at Ron Paul [5]in the 2008 presidential debates when he suggested that the war in Iraq was creating more terrorists, rather than beating. In our upcoming TAC print edition, writer Bill Kaufmann describes how the party took away Tom Massie’s committee chairmanship and tried to sabotage his re-election over his anti-interventionist views.

In 2005 Christopher Hitchens, then a darling of the pro-Iraq War, called Jones a “right-wing big mouth…a moral and political cretin.” Years later, in 2014, “Wall Street billionaires, financial industry lobbyists, and neoconservative hawks” tried to unseat Jones (he was in his 12th term when he died), by bankrolling his primary opponent [6]. Turns out much of the “dark money” funneled to defeat him that year came from a PAC called “The Emergency Committee for Israel,” headed by neoconservative Bill Kristol, with the suggestion that Jones’ war views, which have included diplomatic solutions with Iran over confrontation, were anti-Israel.

Daniel McAdams, who worked with Rep. Ron Paul for years on Capitol Hill and now runs the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity [7], recalled to me a vignette that perfectly encapsulates the daily challenges that Jones met, always with fortitude and grace: It was yet another emergency evacuation of the Hill, very common around 2005. A plane had flown too close to the center of Washington—but it was ultimately a false alarm, and members started walking back to their offices.

“As it happened, I spotted Walter Jones walking back up by himself,” McAdams said. “While the other Republican Members greeted each other, walked a bit together, shared stories, and compared notes on the way back up the Hill, no one spoke to Walter Jones. No one smiled at him. No Member extended him that normal courtesy. They looked the other way.

“I watched this play out in astonishment. Again and again. Once Walter Jones exited the war cult he simply ceased to exist. A man alone, wrestling with his guilt, determined to make amends. There are few in life I have admired as much as this brave, decent, and gentle man.”

Jones was indeed a man who viewed every soldier a human being, each a fellow member of God’s family on earth. He loathed to think they were pawns, and died a little more with each of them, every day. There are few people left in public life, particularly politics, who will leave such a legacy for the rest of us to both measure up to, and mourn. No doubt he achieved his redemption.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is executive editor of The American Conservative.

 

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Walter Jones Cried While the Rest of Them Lied"

#1 Comment By French Fried On February 11, 2019 @ 2:01 pm

You mean Mr. “Freedom Fries” is gone. Now who will step up and harangue countries that stand against us (by not standing with us) through culinary insults?

#2 Comment By Stephen J. On February 11, 2019 @ 2:56 pm

Great article, about a man of courage, ethics and morals. I wish there were more like him.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

#3 Comment By Minnesota Mary On February 11, 2019 @ 2:57 pm

Eternal rest grant unto Walter Jones O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall know peace.

#4 Comment By Taras 77 On February 11, 2019 @ 4:41 pm

It is almost unbelievably rare, almost non-existent, that a politician comes along with courage to stand up to the attacks from the totally corrupt war mongers. He was a man of ethics and morality-period.

Rest in peace, Mr Jones. You deserve the respect of the nation and the world.

#5 Comment By Jawad Hussain On February 11, 2019 @ 4:54 pm

It’s easier to be right about something then to admit you made a mistake and spend your life trying to rectify it. He truly seemed to have seen the error of his ways and tried to make amends for it. His voice will be missed in Congress. It’s unfortunate there aren’t more with that type of humility.

#6 Comment By Hmmm On February 11, 2019 @ 5:24 pm

Reducing him to “Freedom Fries” is not limited to snarky blog commenters. The BBC headline: “Walter Jones, congressman behind ‘freedom fries’, dies at 76.” No doubt many American outlets went with that, too. Pathetic.

[8]

#7 Comment By Athanasius On February 11, 2019 @ 5:39 pm

Amen, Minnesota Mary.

St. Theophilus of Adana, pray for him.

#8 Comment By Fayez Abedaziz On February 11, 2019 @ 5:56 pm

That’s unfortunate that Rep.Jones has left us.
I’ll make a coupla pounts here:
1-No wonder we never saw him on the phony ‘new’ stations like cn or fox. And no, an appearance of his once or twice counts not with war pushers like the neocons on almost all the time when discussions occur on foreign policy.
2-Jones was attacked for his views by Hitchens?
He was attacked for his views by Kristol?
Good enough, that shows right there that he was honest and right on his stands on US foreign
involvement, which brought so much misery and death to American troops and to over a million people in the Mid-East and so on.
By the way, why is there a Kristol or Hitchens in the media, what qualifies these clowns as experts? Yeah, I know Hitchens died. Oh, how about a person named Coulter being interviewed and quoted? Are you concervatives stupid, that weak, that these are your thinkers? And fox is your main source on tv? What a deal…

#9 Comment By Donald On February 11, 2019 @ 6:45 pm

I have sometimes wondered what a genuinely decent politician would be like in such a situation— someone who had voted for an unjust war, no excuses, and who had the blood of hundreds of thousands on his or her hands.

Most of them don’t seem to care, except to the extent that it hurts their political careers. But here we see how a decent person reacted when he realized the sin he had committed. The difference between him and hundreds of other politicians in both parties is stark and dramatic.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 11, 2019 @ 9:46 pm

Deeply appreciated this article

#11 Comment By thomas knyst On February 12, 2019 @ 8:12 am

I am glad that Mr Jones had an epiphany— The next step on his road to Damascus would have been to recognize the the much larger number of hapless foreigners that were killed

#12 Comment By Sal On February 12, 2019 @ 8:53 am

Memory eternal!

#13 Comment By druid On February 12, 2019 @ 12:32 pm

Good for him, but nothing in the article about his guilt for all the deaths and the utter devastation of the other side

#14 Comment By Mark W. Stroberg On February 12, 2019 @ 10:00 pm

To French Fried:

You can’t see that it takes courage to admit a mistake, and to change direction? Are you so perfect that you have never thought, said or done something wrong? The point is that Walter Jones was brave enough, even to the point of risking his House seat, to learn from his mistakes and do the right thing.

#15 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On February 13, 2019 @ 9:56 am

Sen. Jones evidently had something of a Damascus Road experience. And he emerged a better man for it. A man worthy of admiration. R.I.P., sir.

#16 Comment By Michelle On February 13, 2019 @ 11:28 am

RIP Rep. Jones, a man of conscience. We could use far more like him in government. I fear his seat will be claimed by someone lacking his decency and willingness to struggle with difficult issues.

#17 Comment By Cynthia Papermaster On February 14, 2019 @ 3:12 pm

Walter Jones: a rare statesman in Congress, with heart, courage and patriotism, he will be missed for his principled actions.

#18 Comment By Matthew Hoh On February 14, 2019 @ 3:49 pm

Thank you so much Kelly for this article. He was a kind and gentle man, principled, and strong. For the last several years of his time in Congress he was the most senior member of Congress who did not have a chairmanship or was ranking member. His stance on the wars was the cause of this. He was hated by the Republican leadership. RIP Mr. Jones.