I’m going to try your patience for this additional post about me. In the first post on this topic I stated:
It’s not that I was ignorant about the genocidal crimes of Communism in the Soviet Union. Nor was I unaware of the moral hypocrisy of the Progressive Left in the United States. … These things were known and already troubling to me.
No, this event was influential because I saw this combination of dishonesty, evil and cowardice in a living human being.
Unless I explain why this event was so influential my transition from Progressive to Conservative will be unacceptably incomplete.
A central tenant of Progressivism is that the world would be a far better place if the right people were in power and that they have the power to implement their policies on a recalcitrant population. Of course, the “right people” were Progressives and their allies. While the Progressive circles in which I was raised weren’t explicitly Marxist, it was clear that Marxists fell into the category of the”right people” even if they were sometimes too extreme or in too big of a hurry.
So, when I came face to face with the committed Marxist professor of the previous post the chasm between my expectation of a “good person” and what I actually saw was unbridgeable. Therefore, latent questions and concerns about Progressivism rose up under a new light.
In particular, the issue of what the Progressive Left had said and done about the Vietnam War before and after the American abandonment became painfully active. This all originally played out while I was a teenager. If you want insight into my focus in those years (besides the obvious social and school activities) look into this post. So, while I was vaguely aware of the situation in Indochina I wasn’t really paying much attention.
But, as an adult in the early 1980s, having met in person a Marxist radical who certainly would have toed the party line on Vietnam, the issue of the Left’s behavior reemerged. Perhaps the following excerpt from The Black Book of the American Left: The Collected Conservative Writings of David Horowitz provides a good summary.
As soon as the Communists did win, in April 1975, there were reports of a bloodbath in Indochina. The Khmer Rouge had swept across Cambodia leaving killing-fields in their wake. In Vietnam there were reports of a hundred thousand summary executions, a million and a half refugees and more than a million people imprisoned in “reeducation camps” and gulags in the South. These events produced a shock of recognition in some quarters of the left. Joan Baez took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to make an “Appeal to the Conscience of North Vietnam.” She enlisted a number of former antiwar activists to sign the appeal. As soon as the statement appeared Baez was attacked by Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda as a tool of the CIA. A counter-ad was organized by Cora Weiss, who had traveled with Fonda to Hanoi and collaborated with the regime in its torture of American POW’s. The Weiss ad praised the Communists for their moderation in administering the peace.
It was the bloodbath that our opponents, the anti-Communist defenders of America’s role in Southeast Asia, had predicted. But for the left there would be no looking back. Baez’s appeal proved to be the farthest it was possible for them to go, which was not very far. The appeal did not begin to suggest that antiwar activists needed to reassess the role they had played in making these tragedies inevitable.
Opposition to the Vietnam War united all cohorts of the Progressive movement, from moderates to the most radical (note that in the 1960s and 70s “Democrat” and “Progressive” were not synonymous). Central assumptions to their opposition were:
- U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was an immoral extension of Western imperialism;
- The North Vietnamese were primarily nationalists who were only seeking to reunite their country;
- The primary obstacle to Indochina’s emergence as a free and prosperous region was the United States’ presence.
So, when the Indochina blood bath followed immediately after the United States abandoned Vietnam due to Progressive political victory an ideological crisis occurred. However, rather than reassessing the wisdom and morality of their position the Progressive Left’s leadership doubled down on hatred of the U.S. The most idiotic explanation I recall was that in Cambodia Pol Pot was so angered by U.S. bombing that he ordered the genocide of his own people in retaliation!
Previous to my encounter with the Marxist professor I had tended to thoughtlessly give the benefit of the doubt to Progressives on this issue. However, having experienced this person’s shocking combination of deception and evil I began to question the morality of the Left.
What eventually became clear is that the Left’s leadership had never actually cared about the actual flesh and blood human beings in Indochina. Once they had served their purpose as props for the real goal — U.S. defeat and Communist victory — the fate of these millions of people became irrelevant. There was no soul searching, no shock and horror. There was only the moving on to the next “social justice” cause.
Given that the Progressive Left’s program rested on their assumption of moral superiority the loss of confidence in that assumption led eventually to my rejection of their ideology. The Conservative philosophy with its pessimistic assessment of human nature and the associated protections of human freedom from popular tyrannies thus began to fill the ideological space vacated by Progressivism.
… conservatism begins with the recognition that this [Progressive] agenda and the progressive paradigm that underpins it are bankrupt. They have been definitively refuted by the catastrophes of Marxism, which demonstrate that the quest for social justice, pressed to its logical conclusion, leads inexorably to the totalitarian result. The reason is this: to propose a solution that is utopian, in other words impossible, is to propose a solution that requires coercion and requires absolute coercion. Who wills the end wills the means.