Well, as you can guess, it’s almost impossible to elaborate on it, because one of the laws of rhetoric is that you cannot elaborate on an oxymoron. And being a left conservative hits most people absolutely that way, they just stop thinking and they look at you aghast. There’s a story I used to tell years ago where I’d say, if I were a revolutionary leader, and they came up to me and they said, ‘we’ve got a dilemma, we don’t know whether to execute these five men or cut down these five trees’, I’d say, ‘well, let me look at them’. And that’s the closest I can come to it, which is that the world is in such a stew, such a horrible mess. They talk about the breakdown of values, but actually it’s a collision of values, hardly a breakdown. The people are getting more value oriented—it’s just that the more intense they are about their values, the fewer of them there are. This means that you almost have to pick and choose, you have to decide where you’re left and where you’re conservative. So for me, it’s become relatively simple, but I wouldn’t ask anyone else to be a left conservative. You can define it by saying what you’re against. You know, on the one hand, I’d say that I’m against corporations. I think corporations have done as much damage to the world, or certainly will by the time they are finished, as the communists ever did to the intelligence of Russians. That, in fact, corporatism and Stalinism have many more similarities than differences. On the other hand, I’m absolutely against political correctness. I think something invaluable went out of the world when ethnic groups stopped insulting one another. And it’s not that I promulgate it, it’s not that the media should take it up, but the trouble is it’s gotten down to individual discourse. And in the old days, it was a sign, you really knew what you were ready to fight for, and what you weren’t. If you were Jewish, like myself, you had to make certain basic distinctions very early in life. Would you fight if someone called you a dirty Jew, or wouldn’t you? Now they’re just thinking it. But you don’t have to draw that line in the sand for yourself. And so it’s part of the loss of definition that’s going on all over the world, it’s as if we’re heading into a great, great entropy.
That was easier. Being a leftist was wonderful because you just believed capitalism was wrong. You didn’t know socialism was right, you certainly didn’t know if Stalinism was right, because you heard so much about it, you heard so much about it back and forth. I’m referring now to the years right after the war. I’d been in the Army, and I knew the Army was an awful organization, and run by a lot of people who weren’t too bright. So I came out of it with a great distrust of the government and the Army. And then I ran into an immense propaganda barrage, that the Russians, who’d been our heroes, don’t forget I went through that Second World War where the Russians were our friends, our brothers, our comrades in arms, they were helping us save the world from Hitlerism, and now suddenly they were the enemy. So that I had a total mistrust of that.
Yeah, with Russia. Well, that you could feel, you could feel it a little bit in the Army at the time. And of course, I was writing it in those years, 1946 and 1947, those are the two years I was working on The Naked and the Dead. So for those fifteen months, I was full of the Cold War that was building. You remember Churchill has his speech at Fulton, Missouri, and coined the phrase, ‘a cold war’. And it was just amazing how quickly the turnaround came. People were staggered when, at the end of the Cold War, it wasn’t that the Russians became our friends, they became our interesting neighbours—we had to take care of Russia to a degree, we couldn’t let Russia relapse into communism or fascism, so we had to take care of their gangsterism and support it. In that sense, at that time it was shocking how quickly the turnaround came. So, if you had friends on the Left, and many of my first friends on the Left were in those days in the Progressive Party, and some of them were Communists and many of them were fellow travellers, and many of them were just left, but sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Given all that, you wanted to believe the best you could about Stalin and company. And that was hard, one couldn’t get the idea of the Nazi-Soviet Pact out of one’s mind. You knew they weren’t to be totally trusted, but you didn’t trust the information you were getting in American newspapers. On the other hand, being a leftist was fun in those days because you had a sense of a great enemy out there, and you were going to be a soldier in an ongoing war, virtually a religious war, and so your life was relatively simple. You didn’t know whether the Russians were good or bad but you sure knew that what was going on in America was not right. And we had race which was a lively issue in those days.
Well, that’s just personal history. What happened was that I fell under the influence of Jean Malaquais, who would be ready to kill if somebody
Well, yes, but that was because I wished to reshape my nature. I thought I’d come out into the world too soft. I hadn’t been a terribly good soldier, you know. I’ve said this before, but if you had a squad of twelve men, I’d be third or fourth from the bottom, I was mediocre at best. On a good day, I was fairly good mediocre, that was the most I could hope for in the Army. So I came out with a lot of small wounds to the ego. And then The Naked and the Dead had this huge success, and I felt I was unworthy of that success. So from there it was a matter of rebuilding—I came to these conclusions under the powerful analytical influence of marijuana. You know, I’m proud of two things in my life, one is that I never was psychoanalyzed, I consider that a great and rare pride. You can say the same.