Recently, I had the pleasure to interview Louis Auchincloss, one of the great American novelists, and undoubtedly the greatest American novelist of power, money and politics. He was almost constitutionally incapable of talking about the war in Iraq but he did draw some interesting parallels with Vietnam, and specifically, the class of patrician who "pushed" that "disgusting" war. The following extract is from my profile of Auchincloss in the Sept 22nd Financial Times:
"I used to say to my father," he says," 'If my class at Yale ran this country, we would have no problems.' And the irony of my life is that they did." He pauses before invoking a 20th-century American foreign policy who's who: "There was Cy Vance, Bill Scranton, Ted Beale, both Bundys, Bill and McGeorge -- they all got behind that war in Vietnam and they pushed it as far as they could. And we lost a quarter of a million men. They were all idealistic, good, virtuous," says Auchincloss, "the finest men you could find. It was the most disillusioning thing that happened in my life."
Auchincloss has struggled to understand just how their shared patrician background could have produced this disconnect. And the answer would appear to be that wars are lost, if not always made, on the playing fields of New England. "Bill Bundy and I shared a study at Groton, and one day he came in from a football game, and I said: 'Who won?' and he said: 'We lost,' and then he burst into tears. You cannot lose. Groton cannot lose. That's what they believed in, no matter what," explains Auchincloss. "They all would have all been willing to die, if they hadn't already been in high positions. They believed America cannot lose. We stand for every virtue and right that's in the world."
For more, including his excretory dismissal of the Bush family, read "The Irony of my life." But if you are a political junkie, his 1980 novel, The House of the Prophet, whose protagonist is based on Walter Lippmann, is an indispensable meditation on the motivations and failings of the political pundit and public intellectual class.