(This is from 2006.)

The Real Enemies
By Joe Sobran

In these 20 years American conservatism has changed remarkably. In 1986 I had no inkling of what lay ahead. The Cold War was winding up peacefully and happily, thanks to Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and I assumed we could turn to the long-deferred business of restoring limited, constitutional government.

At long last, political life could get back to normal.

It seemed a modest enough hope, but yearning for “normality” soon came to seem as utopian as “building socialism.” When Reagan retired, the elder Bush found reasons for war on Panama and Iraq — with the full support of conservatives who should have known better. Then came the Clinton years, then another Bush, who made his father seem like Millard Fillmore.

(And of course I mean that as a compliment to the old man. Don’t make Millard Fillmore jokes around me unless you’re prepared for a heated argument.)

One of the baneful side effects of the Cold War was to make “peace” sound like a left-wing cause and to identify conservatism with war. But warlike habits proved hard to break, and with the Soviet enemy gone, conservatives found new enemies who didn’t threaten the United States at all.

The real threat, I firmly believed, was unconstitutional government, which always thrives on war. Our real enemies were not in Baghdad, but in Washington.

Alas, this idea, which Thomas Jefferson would have understood at once, was hard to sell to conservatives. To them, even the Polish Pope, whom they had once rightly hailed as Communism’s deadliest foe, seemed suspiciously like a “peacenik.”

And so, over these 20 years, I have gradually broken my ties with the conservative movement and rediscovered an older conservatism of peace. Today’s conservatives, adopting the lingo of yesterday’s liberals, curse that tradition as “isolationism,” and I have even found myself accused of being a liberal! A new experience for me.

But some people don’t know what else to call someone who opposes a war. It hardly seems to matter what the war is about. People who used to damn Big Government up and down forget all their ancient reservations about it whenever Big Government makes Big War.

This is odd on its face. By its very nature, war is the opposite of conservative. It destroys.

I got one of the shocks of my life in 1981 when I visited Berlin and walked among some of the preserved buildings, where German civilians had once lived, that had been hit by American bombers.

I didn’t become a “peacenik” on the spot, but it gave me a strange new feeling about my country — not exactly shame, but not pride, either. Just a terrible regret to think of the innocent people who had died where I was standing.

In some obscure way I felt responsible. Not guilty, but responsible, in the sense that I must try to prevent such things from happening again, insofar as I could have any influence at all. In that terrible past I began to find my future.

I was 35 then, which seems very young now. The shock was quiet; I didn’t feel like talking about it, didn’t even know what to say about it, and felt no desire to recriminate. Blaming wouldn’t help anyone; our duty now was healing old wounds and preventing a recurrence.

Even if fighting that war was a duty, how can anyone celebrate it without feeling pity for the millions who died in it? “O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!”

If I can excite even a little horror of war in my fellow conservatives, I will feel that my long career has not been entirely wasted.

To this day, I find it impossible to look back on World War II with pride or pleasure, let alone admiration for the men who wanted it. I do venerate the two great Popes, Pius XI and Pius XII, who saw it coming and pled for peace.

They are the true war heroes. Blessed are the peaceniks.