Dennis “Justin” Raimondo, proprietor of the “antiwar.com” website, has reveled in his status, after September 11, as America’s most exquisite Jew-baiter. This was the individual who, almost single-handedly, conflated a mass of disconnected rumors into the theory that Israel stood behind the atrocities of that terrible day. Since then, this Dennis-the-wannabe-Menace has remained best known for selling that product, while traveling back and forth across a no-man’s-land of neofascist bizarrerie. He also has enjoyed a brief notoriety as an inciter to mutiny in the armed forces, warning that American soldiers should not “die for Israel.”
Fascism and, especially, Jew-baiting, are distinguished from other political phenomena by their unvarying banality. There are no new forms of Jew-hatred, and its purveyors must therefore endlessly troll through the dustbin of history, seeking castoffs to recycle. Dennis Raimondo has added to this the role of historical vampire, digging up long-buried corpses with names like John T. Flynn and Garet Garrett – justifiably forgotten partisans of American defeat in World War II – hoping to breathe the semblance of life into them to further his career as the rescusitator of the “America First” cult. Necrophilia is his eroticism of choice.
But he engages in numerous other forms of perverse political quackery. One fairly recent example was his attempt to exploit the past writings of the historian Ronald Radosh on isolationism, while denouncing Radosh as a “Bolshevik,” even though Radosh departed from the radical left a quarter century ago. Another, in which he has numerous imitators (including his mentor Patrick Buchanan and Buchanan’s longtime companion Robert Novak) consists in the mendacious use of a brief and essentially innocuous 1996 document on Israeli security, “A Clean Break,” claiming it is a virtual blueprint for the U.S. effort against Saddam. Note that Raimondo never actually quotes from the document, because “A Clean Break” deals with Iraq in a complicated context that does not lend itself to slurs against the Bush administration.
“A Clean Break” recommended action against Iraq to affect outcomes in Syria and Lebanon. Syria, although ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship, maintains diplomatic relations with the U.S. and has forcefully assisted us in the fight against al-Qaida. The Lebanese threat to Israel diminished considerably after the Jewish state withdrew its forces from the south of that country in 2000. Nevertheless, Raimondo and other conspiracy junkies continue to spout about “A Clean Break,” and even falsely assert that deputy defense secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz coauthored it, although his name does not appear there.
Dennis Raimondo is not an intellectual, or a journalist, or even much of a writer. He seems to consider himself a revolutionary, who believes he can gain the attention he craves, and the mass adulation he dreams of, by imitating the most repellent methods of the Stalinists. These consist of reducing everything to the lowest personal innuendoes and insults, and promoting obscure figures like Murray Rothbard, as canonical sources. This method dates back to the epoch when the followers of Joseph Stalin defamed their leftwing critics by labeling Trotsky an agent of Hitler and Mikado. I will deal lightly, for now, with such other Raimondian habits as the amalgam of Milosevic, mass killer of Muslims, and Saddam, purported champion of Muslims, in his pinup catalogue of beefcake brutes, or his incessant use of “Trotskyite” as a slur. I am a former Trotskyist, and would rather be known as a “Trotskyite” than a Saddamite, any day of the week.
Dennis Raimondo has refined political and moral inconsistency, if not pure hypocrisy, to a level that is almost unique. He has smeared me for being a neoconservative and, at the same time, a defender of unions, but the neoconservative movement always included union leaders. I have never defended strikebreaking, and cannot be accused of ever supporting union-busters. By contrast, Dennis sees nothing peculiar in being a flamboyant gay liberationist while fronting for Buchanan, one of America’s loudest gay-bashers. He has attacked me many times for having become a Sufi, and acquired a Muslim name. Yet I do not use my Islamic name publicly or deceptively, while he calls himself “Justin” even though he is really Dennis, for reasons that need not be elaborated.
Dennis Raimondo and his cohort would like Americans to believe that their affection for people like Milosevic and Saddam has nothing to do with their own natures. That is, they claim to merely oppose “empire,” and stand for an America that stays out of other nations’ business. But Raimondo seems particularly obsessed with protecting the sovereignty of the enemies of Israel.
In his slow-dance with destiny, Dennis has tripped over his own feet, with notable consequences.
A column he wrote a mere month before September 11th has come back to haunt him. Under the repellent title, “Hiroshima Mon Amour: Why Americans Are Barbarians,” posted to his site on August 8, 2001, Raimondo declared, with his customary modesty and decency, “the idea that America is, in any sense, a civilized country is easily dispelled.” Of course, one wonders how a person who holds such an opinion, especially one from the ultra-sensitive side of the psychological spectrum can stand living in this country, much less posturing as a patriot of the United States. One motive of his rage is transparent: admiration for Japanese militarism in World War II, and resentment that America won that conflict. As shocking as this must seem to normal folks, Dennis has spelled it right out: he believes “the wrong side won the war in the Pacific.”
He continues, “Just think: if we all woke up one day living in some alternate history, as in Phillip (sic) K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, our cultural malaise would disappear overnight. Instead of listening to the latest loutish lyrics of Eminem, American teenagers would be contemplating the subtle beauty of the Japanese tea ceremony. If contemporary Japan is any clue… the literacy rate would skyrocket. Certainly everyone’s manners would improve. All in all, life would be far more civilized.”
Numerous ordinary Americans denounced Dennis for these grotesque comments. We cannot expect much in the way of erudition from Raimondo, whose idea of acute political commentary consists of repeating, “What’s up with that?” But this is a text that justifies a much closer reading. A number of points immediately cry out to someone who knows something more about Japan and its culture than clichés about the tea ceremony. I have visited Japan, and I studied its culture under one of the greatest of the Western Japanologists, Professor George DeVos of the University of California, Berkeley. Before that, I was a disciple of the poet Kenneth Rexroth, who introduced Japanese poetry and Buddhism to the U.S. almost single-handedly, and can even boast that I was taught to read the Prajnaparamita or Heart Sutra, an essential text of Mahayana Buddhism, by Gary Snyder, the successor to Rexroth as promoter of Buddhist culture in America. I have written on Korean Zen, and Korean recitation of Prajnaparamita is a precious spiritual resource for me.
Japan is not all cherry blossoms and the tea ceremony is not all sipping in kimonos. Indeed, the Japanese are probably the most chauvinist, racist, and ethnocentric people on the planet. Professor DeVos pioneered the ethnological investigation of the status of eta or burakumin, the “untouchables” in Japanese society. Eta means “filth,” while burakumin, derived from the Portuguese buraco or hole, means “people who live in holes or hamlets,” i.e. in ghettoes. If you want to embarrass a Japanese, ask him or her about the eta. These unfortunate folk have been the object of gross discrimination in Japan for a long, long time. They are considered unclean because, among other things, they deal with hides and leather – and in contemporary Japan many of them are shoe salesmen. I once saw a customer in a Kobe shoe store kick a salesman on the shoulder to indicate rejection of a product, because the employee was presumed to be eta.
But I also learned some 35 years ago about a phenomenon few have discussed until recently: the role of the Japanese Zen sect, and other Buddhist adherents, in the promotion of Japanese militarism. A shibboleth repeated widely in Western media, holding that Japanese imperialism was mainly supported by the Shinto religion, serves to exempt Buddhists from criticism. But recent publications in Western languages reveal the horrific promotion of Japanese atrocities in Korea, China, and elsewhere by Zen and other Buddhist figures, including none other than Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, the main commentator on Zen to the West.
I seriously doubt Dennis Raimondo has ever gone anywhere near a Japanese tea ceremony, although he may have eaten a few fortune cookies at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or had some tea while eating sushi. Suzuki, who tried to blame the crimes of Japanese imperialism on Shinto, wrote, on the tea ceremony, “Had the art of tea and Zen something to contribute to the presence of a certain democratic spirit in the social life of Japan? In spite of the strict social hierarchy established during her feudal days, the idea of equality and fraternity persists among the people. In the tearoom, ten feet square, guests of various social grades are entertained with no discrimination; for, once therein, the commoner's knees touch those of the nobleman…. In Zen, of course, no earthly distinctions are allowed, and its monks have free approach to all classes of society and are at home with them all… We, therefore, always welcome every opportunity for this kind of liberation.”
But Suzuki also wrote, of the role of Zen in the Japanese order, “Religion should, first of all, seek to preserve the existence of the state.” A really shocking quote comes from Suzuki’s own master, Shaku Soen: “Even though the Buddha forbade the taking of life, he also taught that until all sentient beings are united together through the exercise of infinite compassion, there will never be peace. Therefore, as a means of bringing into harmony those things which are incompatible, killing and war are necessary.” There is, simply, no difference whatever between this frightful assertion, used to justify the massacre of the Koreans and Chinese by the Imperial Japanese army, and the arguments advanced by Nazi mystics who acclaimed genocide as a means of improving humanity, or by Saudi-backed Wahhabis who recruit for suicide terrorism by promising that mass murder will lead the world to embrace a purified Islam.
This illuminating topic has been thoroughly discussed in Zen at War, by Brian A. Victoria, the kind of demanding volume we may be sure Dennis Raimondo will never pick up, no matter how labored his picture-postcard musings on Japan. After all, a person like Dennis, who refuses to contemplate the Serbian atrocities at Srebrenica, cannot be expected to take a serious attitude toward the ideological underpinning of the Rape of Nanking. In that 1937 incident, Japanese troops, over a period of six weeks, murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and raped tens of thousands of women. Or would Dennis-the-wannabe-Menace argue that in that, too, Israel was complicit?
Knowing Japanese culture as I do, I would also point out that the country suffers quite a bit of cultural malaise all its own. Obscene manga comics are a part of the Japanese cultural environment that owe nothing to the West, and are not unique. The 1976 movie In the Realm of the Senses, which includes a castration, was not conceived as a Japanese Western. While Japan may have a higher literacy rate than the U.S., it is well known that its authoritarian educational system encourages cheating, superficial command of a subject, and suicides. Many Japanese who study English for years in their schools never learn the language at all, succeeding only in cramming for tests, and then quickly forgetting what they have acquired.
The idea that life in Japan is more mannerly or civilized than in the United States would provoke laughter from anyone who actually knows the culture, but it returns us to the obvious question: if such is true, why doesn’t Dennis go there to live? But the real gem in Raimondo’s article is his evocation of Philip Dick’s Man in the High Castle. Again, I will claim seniority as a commentator. I researched the life of Dick for decades, and his biography is a central topic in my book From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind. Here also I entertain serious doubts about Dennis’s bluffing. Had he actually read the book I doubt he would talk about it as he does.
The Man in the High Castle is an alternate-universe yarn based on what America might look like if we had lost World War II. But the country and culture it describes are hardly something for which we would yearn. Much of it, unsurprisingly, replicates the California beat/hippie subculture of the 1950s and 1960s. In the book, Americans smoke legal marijuana and use the I Ching for divination; are these really the values Dennis expects the majority of American patriots to share today? American culture has survived only in the form of pop memorabilia, such as Mickey Mouse watches, which fetch high prices from Japanese collectors. So far, one might see in Dick’s novel a mirror of our own time, presented satirically.
But there are other, more sinister features of the America, and the world, portrayed in the book that Dennis Raimondo says excites him. America is divided between German and Japanese occupiers, who rule through puppet governments. The American South is a nightmare of institutionalized white supremacy, tied to the Nazi state. As for the rest of the world, the protagonist, known as Frank Frink, muses “about Africa, and the Nazi experiment there. And the blood stopped in his veins, hesitated, at last went on.”
Frank Frink is the key here, of course. The main character in The Man in the High Castle is a Jew, a very distinguished Jew, as a survivor. In the alternate universe, Jews have vanished from the North American continent.
Whether he actually read it, or just skimmed it in a bookstore, that is what Dennis really meant when he wrote, “Just think: if we all woke up one day living in some alternate history, as in Phillip (sic) K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.” This poseur dreams of waking up in an America prostrate, segregated, and from which all Jews have been removed, in which he can play the role he must have imagined from about the time he decided it was better to be “Justin” than “Dennis:” that of a collaborationist functionary in a fascist occupation regime. Thank God war was waged to prevent such a nightmare from descending upon us. Thank God war will be waged anew to prevent its realization by other fascists, and that while Dennis is still talking only a handful of misguided American conservatives and communists are listening to him.