Arc of extremism

William Shawcross is an interesting gentleman. His father, Lord Hartley Shawcross, was a prominent Labor politician, Great Britain’s prosecutor at Nuremberg and one of Winston Churchill’s attorneys. In his book 1979 book Sideshow, Mr. Shawcross laid partial responsibility for the rise of Pol Pot and the Cambodian genocide at the feet of the United States. He subsequently engaged in a memorable exchange with Peter Rodman about the thesis of his book in the pages of the American Spectator. Mr. Shawcross includes the exchange in the 2002 paperback edition of Sideshow.

While Mr. Shawcross appears to stand by the indictment he leveled in Sideshow, he now acknowledges that he has changed his mind on some important political issues. In his most recent book he supports the war in Iraq and celebrates the relationship between Tony Blair and President Bush. (The book is Allies: Why the West Had to Remove Saddam.)

This past Friday the Wall Street Journal published his brief column “Arc of extemism” (subscribers only) on the subject of President Bush’s use of the term “Islamic fascists” to describe those apprehended in the airline terror conspiracy last week. Yesterday’s Jerusalem Post published the column in an expanded form and made it generally accessible: “Yes, the problem is ‘Islamic fascism.'” Daniel Pipes devotes a column to the issue of terminology: “At war with Islamic fascists.”

UPDATE: Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes to add an important footnote regarding Mr. Shawcross:

I just saw your item about William Shawcross, and thought I would mention that one of the issues he has changed his mind on is the wisdom of the antiwar movement in the 1970s. In a column a few years ago, I had this excerpt from a piece he wrote called “Shrugging off genocide,” which appeared in the Times of London in 1994:

Those of us who opposed the American war in Indochina should be extremely humble in the face of the appalling aftermath: a form of genocide in Cambodia and horrific tyranny in both Vietnam and Laos. Looking back on my own coverage for The Sunday Times…, I think I concentrated too easily on the corruption and incompetence of the South Vietnamese and their American allies, was too ignorant of the inhuman Hanoi regime, and far too willing to believe that a victory by the Communists would provide a better future. But after the Communist victory came the refugees to Thailand and the floods of boat people desperately seeking to escape the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese gulags. Their eloquent testimony should have put paid to all illusions.

— William Shawcross, “Shrugging off genocide,” The Times of London, Dec. 16, 1994. Whatever else he may believe or advocate, Shawcross seems clearly to be a man of intellectual integrity. That makes his thoughts on the current crisis all the more valuable.

Jeff quotes Shawcross in his May 4, 2000 Globe column “Why we fought.”


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