March 6, 2010

DEATH OF A CENTRIST:

Arnold Beichman, Political Analyst, Dies at 96 (DENNIS HEVESI, 3/03/10, NY Times)

Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on May 17, 1913, Arnold Beichman was one of three children of Solomon and Mary Beichman, immigrants from what is now Ukraine. His father owned a cotton goods store. Besides his son Charles, Mr. Beichman is survived by his wife, the former Carroll Aikins; another son, John; a daughter, Janine; six grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

By his own assessment, Mr. Beichman was “a centrist, and felt that the left left him,” his son Charles said, adding that his father “never lost his concern for the plight of workers, racism, anti-Semitism.”

Freedom of speech was also a constant cause. In 1934, Mr. Beichman graduated from Columbia, where he had been editor of The Columbia Spectator. That year, when the ambassador from Nazi Germany was invited to speak on campus, Communist students demanded that the newspaper run an editorial calling for the speech to be canceled.

“Beichman said innocently that he wouldn’t do it, on free speech grounds, and also because the ambassador from the Soviet Union had recently been given a Columbia podium,” David Brooks, now a New York Times columnist, wrote in The Weekly Standard in 2003. “The Communists exploded and called Beichman a red-baiter, the first but not the last time that charge would be thrown at him.”

The Stalinist purge trials of the ’30s awoke Mr. Beichman to the reality of Soviet dictatorship. In the United States, he began to see a cynical effort by Communist front organizations to infiltrate labor unions and promote worldwide Communism.

Mr. Beichman wrote for Newsday in the early 1940s and was then hired by PM. He rose to assistant managing editor, but was fired in 1946 in a struggle over the paper’s turn toward the radical left. (PM lasted until 1948.) As a freelance reporter, he covered civil wars in Algeria, Nigeria, Congo and Yemen, as well as the Vietnam War. He also became close to Irving Kristol and other intellectuals who would become leaders of the neoconservative movement.

MORE:
-Arnold Beichman (Wikipedia)
-GOOGLE BOOKS: by Arnold Beichman
-GOOGLE BOOK: Anti-American Myths and their causes by Arnold Beichman
-OBIT: Veteran Times columnist Beichman, 96, dies: Was a foe of communism (Bill Gertz, 2/22/10, Washington Times)
-ARCHIVES: Arnold Beichman (Hoover Institute)
-ARCHIVES: Arnold Beichman (Political Mavens)
-ARCHIVES: Reading From Left To Right: Writings by Arnold Beichman
-ARCHIVES: "arnoild beichman" (FindArticles)
-Arnold Beichman (Hoover Institute)
-ARCHIVES: Arnold Beichman (Human Events)
-ARCHIVES: Arnold Beichman (Claremont Review of Books)
-ESSAY: FDR's Failure Not Forgotten: Yalta Condemned Millions to Tyranny (Arnold Beichman, 05/13/2005, Human Events)
-REVIEW: Worth the Cost: a review of The Fifty-Year Wound: The True Price of America's Cold War Victory by Derek Leebaert (Arnold Beichman, Policy Review)
-REVIEW: of The Long Pretense: Soviet Treaty Diplomacy From Lenin To Gorbachev by Arnold Beichman (John C. Campbell, Summer 1991, Foreign Affairs)
-PROFILE: The Happy Cold Warrior: The first 90 years of Arnold Beichman (David Brooks, May 19, 2003, Weekly Standard)

Beichman wrote for the Times, then Newsday, and finally was hired by PM, the legendary left-wing daily, which accepted no advertising because it didn't want the capitalist taint. Beichman was brought on by Jimmy Wechsler to fight off the staff Communists, who had been hired by Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, and Ralph Ingersoll, PM's founder. "Brooklyngrad needs you!" Wechsler summoned. Beichman rose to become city editor and assistant managing editor, and thus took part in a series of ferocious battles for control of the news coverage, amid vicious attacks from the Communist press. One secretary disappeared and showed up later on the payroll of the New York office of the Soviet news agency, Tass. At one point Ingersoll got permission from Earl Browder, the head of the Communist party of the United States, to fire a few of the more incompetent Communists, just to preserve the paper's credibility.

It was during this period that Beichman did the most amazing thing: He became a fellow traveler. This was during the Spanish Civil War, the so-called national front period, when leftists and Communists worked together against Franco. Arnold did publicity for an outfit he knew was a front group, supposedly raising money for the anti-fascists in Spain. Eventually he deduced that not some of the money, but all the money being raised in the name of Spain was in fact going to the Communist party.

During World War II, Beichman published the first American reports of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, having found a man who had escaped from the battles and could provide maps and a firsthand account. After the war, he interviewed Holocaust survivors as they landed in New York. He came across one beautiful young woman who had seen her five children killed but who had been kept around to serve the Nazi officers. Beichman innocently asked her how she could have preserved the will to live after her children's murder. "That's what I cannot forgive God for," she replied. "You still want to live no matter what. But I will never have children. That I know."

Beichman was finally fired from PM, during yet another political skirmish, and went to work for a series of trade union papers. "The reason I stayed with the labor movement," Beichman says, "is that I regarded them and [labor leader] George Meany as the only people you could trust in the fight against communism. Intellectuals and General Motors and the U.S. Senate you couldn't trust. But Meany didn't budge."

Beichman had by this time become reasonably well known, and one day he received a note from Walter Winchell, the notorious gossip columnist. Winchell had been fed some of the details of Beichman's messy divorce, but had decided, for whatever reason, that he wasn't going to publish them, earning Beichman's lasting gratitude.

In 1949, Stalin launched a peace campaign, and a group of 800 intellectuals gathered at the Waldorf Astoria to call for the United States to endorse Soviet foreign policy. Beichman, Sidney Hook, James Burnham, Mary McCarthy, Dwight McDonald, and others organized a counter-demonstration. Through his connections with the hotel service workers' union, Beichman got the anti-Communist group a suite at the Waldorf, and they successfully undermined the conference, with Hook and others embarrassing the Soviet delegation with uncomfortable questions and harsh arguments.

In the 1950s and '60s, Beichman was one of the New York intellectuals who worked to delegitimize communism. "A staunch anti-communism was the great moral-political imperative of our age," Diana Trilling once declared, and that became the credo of Beichman's professional life. He headed the American Committee of the Congress of Cultural Freedom (refusing to accept what turned out to be the CIA money that eventually tainted the international branch of the Congress). He fell in with the Partisan Review crowd, and became friendly with Irving Kristol, whom he regards as his most important intellectual influence.

One story captures the ethos of that clique in those days. One afternoon, Beichman was walking home when his wife Carroll came rushing out onto the street saying that Diana Trilling had just called, and Arnold should hurry over to Commentary editor Eliot Cohen's apartment, for something terrible had happened. Beichman arrived to find that Cohen had committed suicide by placing a plastic bag over his head. His body was lying in the kitchen. Soon word spread, and people started pouring into the apartment. Shocked by the sight of the body, they started drinking. The body could not be moved until the coroner arrived, but friends kept arriving, pouring themselves cocktails, and even bringing in roast beef sandwiches. At first, the conversation was about Cohen, but then it drifted to so and so's review of such and such, and so and so's essay about this and that. "It became like an unusual cocktail party," Beichman remembers, with Cohen's body there in the kitchen.

BUT BEICHMAN was not merely a New York intellectual. After World War II, he was plagued by guilt that he had not served his country in combat. He had tried to get into the Army Air Force, and then into the Army, but he was too old and had children. After the war, in compensation, he sought out war zones. Writing pieces for publications like Newsweek and the Christian Science Monitor, he covered wars in Yemen, Algeria, the Congo, and Vietnam. During the 1950s, he reported on stories across the Middle East, visiting Baghdad, Tehran, and Damascus.

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!"


-PROFILE: Arnold Beichman ’34: Anti-Communist Warrior (Margaret Hunt Gram ’05, January 2004, Columbia College Today)
-TRIBUTE: Remembering Arnold Beichman: The wit and wisdom I won't soon forget. (Victorino Matus, February 17, 2010, Weekly Standard)
-TRIBUTE: Arnold Beichman, 1913-2010 (John Podhoretz, Commentary)
-OBIT: Arnold Beichman, 1913-2010 (Richard Starr, February 17, 2010, Weekly Standard)


Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2010 11:59 AM
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