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Squire Willie | The Nation

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Squire Willie

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William F. Buckley Jr. was in every way the son and the ideological creation of his father, Will Sr., an oil man whose holdings at the time of his death in 1958 were estimated at $110 million. Father Will--a third-generation Irish-American whose own father had been a prosperous merchant politician in Duval County, Texas, a county of notoriously corrupt politics--held all politicians and the democratic process in contempt. He believed Nazi Germany much less harmful than Communist Russia. One of Will Sr.'s favorite authors, Albert Jay Nock, became a personal friend and was often in the Buckley household when Bill was growing up. Along with being anti-democratic, Nock was, at least in his later years, "virulently anti-Semitic." Young Buckley fell under Nock's spell and never quit quoting him. Another of Will Sr.'s friends, Merwin K. Hart, was one of America's most notorious anti-Semites for three decades.

About the Author

Robert Sherrill
Robert Sherrill, a frequent and longtime contributor to The Nation, was formerly a reporter for the Washington Post. He...

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Will Sr. raised Bill and his other nine children not merely as Roman Catholics but as divinely touched Catholics--"a small select group of individuals who are carrying aloft the flame of civilization in the face of an encroaching Dark Age."

From these paternal influences, Bill Buckley emerged spoiled for life. From a very early age he believed he had a straight line to God ("I can rely on God in almost any matter"), and it was just as well that he had made friends with the Almighty because he had no friends among his classmates, who, we are told, considered him "obnoxious." Even others in Buckley's own family, according to Will Sr., considered him a brat of "unbearably arrogant and dictatorial" manner.

The demands Buckley made of others, he never made of himself. That was particularly true when the flag went belligerently abroad. Anyone familiar with Buckley's teachings knows he was heartily in favor of sending America's youths to fight silly wars. But as for himself, he was anything but enthusiastic about getting shot at. When World War II came along, his brothers joined up. Not Billy. In November 1943 he received his draft notice. He waited. He was not inducted until July 1944 because of a sinus problem. And when he was called up, he asked to be placed in the infantry rather than in the Navy because, as he told his father, "there will be more chance for me to land a desk job of some sort." It was a dull but safe little war for our hero. After a totally undistinguished career in officers' training school (the justice of his being allowed to graduate was a matter of some controversy among his superiors), he spent the rest of World War II training recruits, teaching sex hygiene and fiddling with counterintelligence.

Thoroughly coached by his father in racial matters, Buckley stood foursquare against school integration and black voting rights. He never used the term "master race," but he looked upon the white race as "the advanced race" and he argued that the civilization it dominated would be undercut if blacks were permitted political equality. Judis says Buckley moved away from that position late in life, but we are given no dramatic evidence of a change of heart.

As for Jews, another group father Will despised and taught his son to despise, Judis insists that by the time Buckley got to Yale he had freed himself from anti-Semitism. As evidence of this purification, Judis says Buckley became a close friend of one Tom Guinzburg and forced a Yale club to accept Guinzburg although its members were cool to the idea. Sure, Buckley tolerated Jews, but he didn't want his sister to marry one. Literally. When Guinzburg and Buckley's sister Jane wanted to marry, old man Buckley said no way would a daughter of his ever marry a Jew, and young Bill took their father's side. Later in life Buckley did have many Jewish friends. But he never seemed terribly unhappy with the propagandists who perpetuated some of the nastiest anti-Semitism. Judis tells us that when American Mercury "published an editorial endorsing the theory of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world promulgated by the fraudulent Protocols of Zion," some friends of Buckley urged him to dissociate the National Review from the Mercury. Others on the Review board argued that it wasn't Buckley's job to attack anti-Semitic right-wing publications. Buckley sided with the latter group and kept quiet, although he did tell his staff they couldn't write for the Review and the Mercury at the same time.

In that instance, as in several others, one may reasonably assume that when editor Buckley was confronted with a forced choice between following his principles or maintaining a cash flow, he opted for the latter. I cite in evidence another episode well told by Judis.

It seems that at first, and for several years, Buckley had one hell of a hard time keeping his distance from the John Birch Society, which he feared--with its theory that Communists were literally in charge of the government--would bring ridicule to everyone on the right wing. Buckley wanted to break with the J.B.S., but then he discovered, to his "alarm" (Judis's word), that its national council included fellows like Adolphe Menjou and Clarence Manion who were extremely close to the National Review, plus a couple of the magazine's top advisers and writers were on the Society's editorial board, and worst of all, the National Review's chief financial supporter, Roger Milliken, was a J.B.S. member.

Uh oh, he better go slow. When money was involved, br'er Buckley could crawfish with the best of them, and he did in this case. True, he feared that the J.B.S. might lead the right wing toward fascism; true, he thought the J.B.S. was replete with the kookiest of kooks. But Buckley was too cowardly to try straight off to purge the right of these guys. He "tempered" his criticism of Robert Welch, head of the J.B.S., we are told, and aimed "the brunt of his criticism at Welch's philosophy rather than at the Birch Society itself." Mustn't irritate Mr. Milliken. Indeed, his criticism was so veddy, veddy temperate that Welch wrote Buckley to thank him for being so "honorable."

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