»  National Review Online

December 24th, 2002

  FAQs 2002


[I see it's been a while — more than eighteen months — since I did FAQs. Perhaps I'll make this an annual thing. Diaries, monthly: FAQs, annually. The Chelsea Clinton pieces I think I'll leave at decennial. ("FAQ,"  for those of you who in the blessed condition of having someone paid to keep your computer working, stands for "frequently asked question.")]

Q:   Back in May you posted a piece titled The U.S. Will Not Go To War AgainstIraq. Do you still believe this?

A:   Yes. I think the chances of war have improved slightly — I'd put them as currently about one in four, maybe one in three. But what, exactly, is the casus belli? That Saddam Hussein is a really, really nasty person? That won't wash. That he's cheating on these weapons inspections? Prove it. And even if you do prove it, do you think the limp willies on the Security Council will accept your proof without a 6-month scrutiny? The thing in war is to strike while the iron is hot. When I wrote back in May, the iron was still warmish. Now it's stone cold. Even U.S. public opinion is swinging against a war. The moment has passed.

Q:   Do you yourself favor a war with Iraq?

A:   Yes, but only if we have the will to really do it, ruthlessly and unapologetically, slaughtering masses of the enemy. Of which I see little evidence.

Q:   Don't you know that it's all about oil?

A:   Phooey. And even if it was, so what? We need oil, don't we? Stealing is of course bad. There are degrees of badness, though; and stealing oil from Saddam Hussein is of a degree so low it barely registers with me. Better the stuff should be enriching American capitalists (very nice people, most of them) than building Saddam a sixteenth palace.

Q:   What about the suffering people of Iraq?

A:   What about them? It's a hard thing to say, I know, but people bear some responsibility for who they let govern them. It was tough on the inhabitants of Dresden and Hiroshima to be drowned in a sea of fire for the crimes of their leaders — but heck, they were their leaders. It's tough what the Palestinian Arabs are suffering under the present horrible situation; but that situation was brought about by the folly, corruption and cynicism of Arafat and Co., who the Arabs still insist on supporting. So … I don't care.

Q:   Don't you know that we supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, and supplied them with intelligence?

A:   Again: So what? People keep telling me this as if it were an argument against striking Iraq. Look: If I perceive it to be in our national interest to be chummy with some rattletrap dictatorship on a Tuesday; and if, the following Thursday, I perceive it to be in our national interest to carpet-bomb that same country, on what grounds can I be faulted? Betraying a friend? "Countries don't have friends, they have interests."

Q:   Why are you such an uncritical supporter of Israel?

A:   I am an uncritical supporter of Western Civilization, of which Israel is an outpost. If Israel goes down, the West has suffered a defeat. I don't think we can afford any defeats in our present enervated condition.

Q:   How can you stand up for Islam the way you did? Do you really believe this "religion of peace" flapdoodle?

A:   As a large general principle, I think the more religion there is in the world, the better. That includes the uncivilized part of the world. In fact, it especially includes that part. To be sure, horrid things have been done in the name of religion — things like 9/11. That is to be expected, though. Religion is a human thing, and partakes of the weaknesses and follies that inhere in all human things. I don't think there is any question that on balance, the human race is better off with religion than without it. We take our cues from our times, and I take mine from the 20th century, whose greatest, most prolonged horrors all arose from godlessness. While people believe in God, there is always hope for redemption and improvement. If God is dead, everything is permitted, as Dostoyevsky noted, and as the 20th century abundantly demonstrated.

Now, is Islam a nice religion, or a naughty one? I have no idea, not being well read in Islamic theology. If I could get through the Koran and a few dozen of the better-regarded exegeses, I might be able to offer an informed opinion, but I can't; life is too short. However, even if you could prove to me that Islam is the most aggressive, most warlike religion ever devised, it seem clear to me from my own acquaintances, and on general principles, that the overwhelming majority of Muslims — like the overwhelming majority of people everywhere — prefer peace to war, prosperity to poverty, law to crime, civilization to barbarism, and reason to madness. And Islam isn't going away. Nothing would please me more than to see them all convert and become good Episcopalians, but that's not going to happen. You work with what you've got. What we've got is, on the one hand, a billion ordinary Muslims trying to live through their lives without disasters, sustained by an ancient and profound faith; and on the other, some tens of thousands of glittering-eyed lunatics who need to be methodically hunted down and killed. Let's show respect and humanity to the one, and cold unflagging ruthlessness to the other.

Q:   Does NRO ever censor your pieces?

A:   Governments censor; magazines edit. I do have some opinions that aren't very respectable — on race, for example, and homosexuality. On the whole NRO is easy-going about that sort of thing, which is one reason I like to write for them. There are boundaries, though. We are involved in politics; and politics, as Jonah observes, is about persuading people. I try my best not to send in stuff that I know the editors won't use — this is my living, and I'm not into wasting time — but sometimes I get it wrong. Then some polite exchanges take place, along the lines of: "The piece is fine, but we don't feel comfortable with that paragraph." Most often I yield on these things. I believe in the totalitarian-despotism model of magazine editorship — that is, I don't see why an editor should run something he doesn't like. I sure won't, when I'm editor of National Review. Very occasionally the editors will turn down a whole piece (this hasn't happened for at least a year). On about the same frequency, I will feel that the changes they insist on have gutted the piece to the point where I pull it myself. The art of freelance writing is to know the "tone"  and "voice"  of the magazines you write for, and pitch your pieces right so you get a minimum of rejections — which is to say, a minimum of wasted time.

Q:   Speaking of homosexuality, you haven't had much to say on that topic recently. Cat got your tongue?

A:   My tongue? Dauntless Derb? Not at all. It's just that I don't have very much to say about homosexuality, and have pretty much aired all my opinions on the subject. They are on my website — see below — if you want to read them. When I can think of something new to say, I'll say it.

(An interesting side-note here: I often get e-mails about articles I wrote ages ago. People google some name or phrase, and a link to one of my pieces pops up. Two or three times a week I get an e-mail from some homosexual who has been outraged by this, or this, or this. What's interesting is, that these little e-diatribes invariably accuse me of being "obsessed" with homosexuality. Well, let's see. Of the 250 pieces I have posted on NRO and other web magazines since March of 2000, just 4 have dealt with homosexuality, including one that was cheerfully non-hostile. That's 1.6 per cent. Of the 128 print-journalism pieces I have preserved on my website — and I preserve everything I remember to preserve, without selection, though with occasional minor editing to correct gross solecisms — one is about homosexuality. That's 0.8 per cent. I don't say that I haven't taken a random swipe at homosexuality once in a while while addressing some other issue — here, for example — but even if you throw those in, I doubt it gets you up to three percent of my gross output. Some obsession!)

(One more point on this topic. I can't leave it without giving you a link to Sean Delonas's Dec. 18 cartoon in the New York Post. Delonas specializes in outraging politically-correct sensibilities. It follows, naturally, that he is my favorite cartoonist. This one had me falling off my chair laughing. The homosexuals, of course, had conniptions in the Post's letters columns. You can't laugh at US! Don't you know we're VICTIMS?)

Q:   How come you're not doing the back page for NRODT any more? What's the story there?

A:   There is no story. Flo King wanted to stop doing it, for the reasons she said in her penultimate piece. The editors weren't sure what to do with the spot, so they asked me and Jonah to fill in for a few issues while they figured something out. There was no permanent arrangement, and neither Jonah nor I thought there was. Okay? Although, since you mention it … From the next issue onward, I shall be alternating with Rick Brookhiser in the near-back-page column. We shall call the spot something like "City and Suburban,"  with Rick doing the city and me the suburbs, though this kind of column is really just an excuse to write about anything that catches our fancy.

Q:   How did the business about publishing your novel through a "print-on-demand" publisher work?

A:   Don't ask.

Q:   No, really.

A:   That was really. Please don't ask.

Q:   When is this new book of yours coming out? What's it about, anyway?

A:   The publisher's current schedule says "April," but these things need to be taken with a grain of salt. At the moment, though, April looks good. For an outline of the book, see here.

Q:   What's your favorite movie?

A:   Trick question, though people keep asking. The reason it's a trick question is that I answered it in my last FAQ, and what these sly inquirers really want to know is whether I remember what I said then. Yes, I do. However, questions like this really have no definite answer. Depending on your mood at the time, what you have recently been watching, what you remember and what you forget at the instant the question strikes your eye, you might say any one of half a dozen different things. Last time round I said Lonely are the Brave. I might equally well have said The Shooting PartyA Man for All SeasonsSaturday Night FeverIncident at Owl Creek BridgeFat CityToy Story,  or others I'll remember after posting this. There you have a selection, anyway, so you have an idea what kind of movies I like.

Q:   I loved that pessimism piece. You were kidding, though, weren't you?

A:   No more than ten per cent.

Q:   How do you pronounce "Derbyshire"?

A:   DAH-bi-shuh.

Q:   What does "olimu" mean?

A:   It's made up from my kids' middle names: Daniel Oliver, Eleanor Muriel. I'm a family man. Someone told me once that it is the word for "seaweed" in the Hawaiian language, but I have never bothered to check this.

Q:   Got any New Year resolutions?

A:   To keep on top of my e-mail. To go to church more often. To start working out again. To take more interest in my kids' educations. To do serious maintenance work on some old friendships I've been neglecting. To suffer fools gladly. To write a novel of less than 300,000 words (i.e. so that someone will publish it). To have another go at figuring out the usage of "gotten."  To put a new fence round my property. To try really hard to take an interest in Washington politics. To give Colin Powell the benefit of the doubt once. To see that new Hank Williams play (I'm a fool for Hank Williams).

Q:   How about New Year prayers?

A:   Usual stuff: good health for self & family, modest prosperity, my country to smite at least a few of her enemies. Oh, and success for my book. I don't think that's a selfish prayer. I worked very hard on the book, it was honest labor, the book is useful, informative, and not harmful to anyone. I am haunted by those lines from Dr. Johnson's poem on the death of his friend: "And sure th' Eternal Master found / The single talent well employed." (Referring, of course, to Matthew 25:14-30.) I'd like to have someone say that about me when I'm dead.