The Happy Cold Warrior
From the May 19, 2003 issue: The first 90 years of Arnold Beichman.
May 19, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 35 • By DAVID BROOKS
In 1959, he interviewed Diem in Vietnam. Then in 1964, he wrote an essay from Vietnam called "As the Cookie Crumbles" based on interviews with U.S. military officials. He argued that the United States was unprepared for a guerrilla war and that it would take 10 years to get out. Also that year, he filed a story from Saigon saying that the Johnson administration was planning to begin a bombing campaign against the North after the November election. The story appeared on the front page of the New York Herald Tribune the day of the Republican Convention. LBJ flew into a rage, calling Dean Rusk and Robert MacNamara, demanding that Beichman be kicked out of Vietnam (Johnson was finally dissuaded).
Then, in the mid-1960s, Beichman says, "I decided I was getting dumber," so he went back to Columbia to get a Ph.D. "The only wisdom I have to impart is that everybody at the age of 50 should go back to school for a graduate degree."
Beichman wrote a book about the United Nations and--this being Columbia in the late 1960s--found himself again in the middle of the action. Knowing that he had been a student radical, some of the 1960s radicals came to him for advice. "What's your ideology?" Beichman asked, but of course they had none. Beichman was also appalled by the cowardice of much of the faculty, who hissed administrators trying, belatedly, to preserve order. "I remember warning Jacques Barzun," Beichman recounts. "They just didn't know what was going on under their noses, any more than the ancien régime knew before the Bastille. They didn't know how revolutions began."
Beichman went on to write a book called "Nine Lies About America" defending the United States from the waves of anti-Americanism. During his book tour he found himself on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson along with the actor Jon Voight. Carson asked Voight what he thought of Beichman's pro-American arguments. "I'm frightened by America today," Voight responded. To which Beichman--by now an old pro at winning debates--turned to the audience and asked, "Is anybody else afraid of America?" to which the audience roared, "NO!"
I met Beichman in 1984 at the Hoover Institution, where he is still a fellow. I was 23 at the time, but sensed immediately that here was a guy with more youthful energy than anybody in the place. Time magazine once called him "the hyperthyroid Arnold Beichman," which is not too far off. For the past quarter century he has poured out a series of essays, reviews, and columns (for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the Washington Times, among others), generally on communism, tyranny, and anti-Americanism. In the late 1980s, he finally visited Moscow, having earlier been denied a visa by the Andropov regime ("Everybody here is a Communist," he observed, his eyes wide open). Then in 1991, he saw his life's work come to fruition with the collapse of the Soviet Union. That year, he wrote a column calling for November 9, the day the Berlin Wall fell, to be celebrated each year as World Freedom Day. Last year, President George W. Bush followed up on the suggestion and officially made November 9 a day of recognition of our victory in the Cold War.
Beichman has recently written quite a bit about the war on terror. There are similarities between the Cold War debates and the terror war debates, but as Beichman points out, there is a crucial difference: This time, there is no central enemy authority, there is no global apparat.
Beichman and his glamorous wife, Carroll, an intellectual and dry wit in her own right, now spend their summers on their farm in western Canada (Carroll is Canadian) and their winters at the Hoover Institution. They breeze through Washington a couple of times a year and take a few of us out to dinner. Sometimes they talk about their kids, who are scattered around the world, or Arnold will mention his lifelong hobby, flying (he once co-piloted a twin-engine Cessna across the Atlantic), or they will unfurl yet another adventure from some distant land or recount a meeting with some great figure from history. If Arnold is at somebody's house and there are children around, he retells the Babe Ruth story. As a result, there are scores of homes across the country where he is best known, as he was in 1927, as the kid who was spoken to by Babe Ruth.
David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.