All Commentary
Friday, September 1, 1972

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1972/9


As Arnold Beichman, the author of Nine Lies About America (Library Press, $7.95), puts it, the theme of his trenchant book is “not the ‘greening’ but rather the lynching of America.”

The lynch mobs Mr. Beichman is after include learned Ph.D.s as well as hippies, experienced New York editors and journalists as well as campus revolutionaries. The lies that this heterogeneous group tells about America are by no means limited to nine, but, after all, if the author had done more than hit the high spots his book would have gone on forever. So, in dealing with what Tom Wolfe specifies in a foreword as “the modern intellectual’s retrograde habits of mind,” Mr. Beichman picks out the type of egregious mendacity that would have come under the heading of the late Paul Joseph Goebbels’s “big lie.”

Goebbels, a Heidelberg Ph.D. before he became Hitler’s minister of propaganda and public enlightenment, had enough intelligence to know that he was dealing in evil put-ons, which is a left-handed compliment that we need not extend to some of the “intellectuals” placed on exhibition by Mr. Beichman. Many of them know not what they do. But it is the effect of the “big lie” that is important, not the motivating intent.

Constant repetition of Goebbelsian stuff has people believing:

(1) that America is a Fascist country, (2) that America means genocide, (3) that “the Bomber Left is a moral force,” (4) that the American worker is a “honky,” (5) that our political system is a fraud, (6) that our values are materialistic, (7) that America —usually spelled Amerika — is insane, (8) that the American people are “guilty,” and (9) that what our country needs is “a violent revolution.”

Of course, the average Dayton, Ohio, housewife who is the unassuming heroine of Richard Scammons’s and Ben Wattenberg’s The Real Majority wouldn’t believe even the least of the nine big lies, nor would her machinist husband. But the so-called intellectual betters of the Dayton housewife swallow the Goebbelsian bait whole, which is one good reason for withholding Federal assistance from our institutions of higher learning. Why, indeed, should the taxpayers be called upon to subsidize the lynchers?

Attention-Getters

Speaking of the intellectuals who justify bombing and arson as necessary attention-getters, Mr. Beichman calls it a “terrifying logic” as “we move from the old literary explosions of small intellectual coteries to the infatuation of a new young avant-garde with the power that comes out of the barrel of a gun.” Mr. Beichman says it is “small wonder” that a weary European visitor was moved “to make the bitter joke, ‘When I hear the word gun, I reach for my culture.’ “But culture, in this era of the “counter-culture,” is a weak shield. Editors who should be defending our cultural heritage sell out merely to be “with it.” Anything and anyone can make the cover of our mass magazines. It’s women’s lib (the female chauvinistic kind) one week, gay lib the next, and Yippie Jerry Rubin or Abbie Hoffman the week after.

“Ideas,” says Mr. Beichman, “no longer ‘trickle down’ over a period of time.” Instead, they are gobbled up uncritically by publishers who, “obeying some editorial tropism,” accord the craziest notion “the most respectful hearing with color photographs as well.” Says Mr. Beichman, our “literary avant-gardists in America are in permanent danger of being overrun by their own eager middle-class followers.”

Raceless Genocide

The lies, however, remain lies. How can you call America a Fascist country when anyone in it can say anything, no matter how outrageous? How can our defense of the right of individuals in South Vietnam to live without being overrun by their neighbors to the north be called “genocide”? After all, the South Vietnamese and the North Vietnamese are Orientals together, and our partiality for the Orientals who prefer liberty to slavery has nothing whatsoever to do with race. The distinction is moral and intellectual.

The stories of police “genocide” against the Black Panthers were repeated uncritically in our best newspapers. But when one inquiring reporter, Edward Epstein of the New Yorker, tracked the lurid tales of “twenty-eight murdered Black Panthers” down, the number shriveled to six incidents in which Panthers were killed by police, and in four of these incidents fourteen police were shot or killed by the Panthers.

Ends and Means

Did this constitute a “national scheme… to destroy the Panthers”? Or was the Panthers’ lawyer Charles Garry, who first floated the twenty-eight figure, guilty of indulging in a “numbers game” entirely comparable to Senator Joe McCarthy’s waving of a “list of Communists in the State Department” that came to 146 or thereabouts and was never substantiated?

To say, with the Bomber Left, that violence is necessary to make ideological and political points is to say that the end justifies the means. Some professors (Cornell and Harvard have had their troubles with them) have made excuses for this notion, but it is hardly a universal axiom even among pragmatists. Mr. Beichman quotes a covey of academics who rationalize the work of the bombers by indulging in “fog-banks of nauseating verbiage” that abound in such phrases as “America has spawned the radicalism it deserves.” The “kids” are absolved because the “System” is “bad.” But our Bomber Left violence has lacked “the important ingredient of modern revolution — an apparat.” Mr. Beichman says the “days of rage” of the New Left are little more than Blanquist putschism, the crise de nerfs of “gesture children.” The “gesture children” get the headlines, but they are not America.

If our political system is a “fraud,” how does it happen that a Lyndon Johnson, when President, can lose control of his party machinery? How can a Nixon come back after two disastrous defeats? How can a McGovern, moving up from nowhere, suddenly win ten primaries? For better or worse, our party “system” certainly accommodates change. As for our “materialistic” values, Mr. Beichman quotes Alfred North Whitehead on Prometheus, who “did not bring to mankind freedom of the press. He procured fire, which obediently to human purposes cooks and gives warmth. In fact freedom of action is a primary human need.”

Not Peculiarly American

The final triad of “lies” — that America is “insane,” “guilty” and in need of “violent revolution” —is too surrealistic to demand much refutation. It was one man, not a multitude, that pulled the trigger on John Kennedy, and it was the one man, not the city of Dallas, that was mad. And, looking at Soviet Russia, Red China, Cuba and North Vietnam, what does violent revolution get you? Compared to the new tyrants, the Kaiser and Czar were liberals, as Max Nomad once pointed out. The “honky” American worker may not have traveled, but he knows with Mr. Beichman that “racism, tribalism, communalism, religious hate” are less troublesome in Michigan towns than they are in “India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Japan, Ceylon… the Soviet Union and China,” all of which have repressed minorities.

What distinguishes America, says Mr. Beichman in summing up, is that “Americans happen to be ashamed of their prejudices, while almost everybody else is busy explaining the rationale of racial and religious discrimination, and why it is impossible to end them overnight.” The very fact that we are an apologetic people proves that we are not fascists, not genocides, not honkies, not insane. More than others, we are still seekers, looking for a perfection that nobody will ever find.

 

HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH by Marvin H. Edwards (New Rochelle, N. Y.: Arlington House, 1972, 318 pp., $9.95)

Reviewed by Allan C. Brownfeld

Americans present a curious spectacle to the world: Citizens of the freest and most prosperous nation on earth engage in ritual hand-wringing over the alleged “crises” they find everywhere in their society. Nothing is right, and of the things that are wrong none has come under sharper attack lately than the private practice of medicine.

The near unanimity within the body politic about the existence of a health-care “crisis” is frightening. President Nixon has proclaimed it, and the only point at issue in the present debate is “which plan” should be enacted to alleviate it. A presidential candidate has proposed a total socialization plan, and even the American Medical Association has a plan in which doctors receive government money but avoid government controls. The sickness of American medicine is the common assumption.

The hollowness of this assumption is demonstrated in Hazardous To Your Health, a thoughtful and complete analysis of the charges leveled against American medicine. The author, Marvin H. Edwards, editor of Private Practice magazine, concludes that, “There is no medical crisis in the United States, but there may be one soon. Experience with government health programs in this country and elsewhere makes it ominously clear that a national health insurance program may well result in a severe doctor shortage, overcrowding of hospitals and physicians’ offices, long waiting lists for hospital care, inadequate facilities, loss of privacy, Federal bankruptcy, and, eventually perhaps, discussion in this nation of the need for mercy killings of the aged to reduce the unbearable costs of government medicine.”

Mr. Edwards notes that medical care is far more costly under a nationalized system than under private auspices. If the experiences of European countries are indicative, people tend to overuse and overcrowd existing medical facilities because they seem free. Germany has more hospital beds per number of inhabitants than the United States, but all hospitals are overcrowded throughout the year. The average hospital stay is twenty-four days, compared to six to eight days in America. Part of the reason is that there is a lack of interest by the patient in regaining health as soon as possible, and doctors have no concrete feeling for the costs that could be avoided if the hospital stay were shortened. In addition, the cost of the bureaucratic administrative machinery that accompanies every national health insurance system is staggering. The Swedish citizen, for example, pays twenty per cent of his taxes for health.

Nationalized medicine was initiated in Sweden even though seventy per cent of the Swedish population was already covered by private insurance programs. In the name of equality, these seventy per cent were forced into a compulsory government-administered program in order to provide for the remaining thirty per cent of the population not privately insured.

Today there is hardly a single hospital in Sweden where there are not long waiting lists for all kinds of hospital care. It is estimated that in Stockholm alone there are more than four thousand persons waiting to enter hospitals, one thousand for operations. In some cases, waiting periods for minor operations may be more than half a year. Dr. Dag Knutsson, head of Sweden’s medical association, estimated in the first years of the medical plan that half of the patients in Sweden’s hospitals “need not be there.”

Mr. Edwards challenges the myth that there is a doctor shortage. In the United States today there are 318,000 medical doctors. With a national population of roughly two hundred million, that is an average of one doctor for every six hundred and forty persons. No other major nation in the world enjoys anything close to that ratio.

Of these doctors, 169,656 are engaged in full time private practice. The remainder are engaged as follows 28,105 in government service, 17,725 in full time hospital staffs, 10,452 in full time medical faculties, 33,247 in resident training, 9,102 in internship, 4,919 in preventive medicine, and 2,653 in administrative medicine.

The remainder are retired or in some type of work other than the practice of medicine.

“The problem,” Mr. Edwards declares, “is not that there are not enough graduating doctors, but that too few are in direct patient care. In fact, it is government involvement in the field of medicine which is, in large measure, responsible for this situation.”

Discussing the failures and huge cost overruns of Medicare and Medicaid, Mr. Edwards points out that the overwhelming majority of Americans are covered by private health insurance. As of the end of 1969, the Health Insurance Institute estimated 164 million persons under sixty-five — eighty-nine per cent of the total — had some form of private protection against medical costs. He noted that “If a national system were to become law, the government program would replace all of these private plans — at a much higher cost. Since eighty-nine per cent of the group in whose behalf such socialized medicine plans are being supported are already covered, the advocates of such plans have not met the burden of proving a ‘need’ for the program at all.”

“The choice before us,” writes Mr. Edwards, “is simple. You and I are now covered by private health plans and we are familiar with them; we know what they provide and what they cost, and we know the agent who services them. We know our doctors and most of us have confidence in them…. National Health Insurance will destroy private insurance. In return, its advocates promise to solve a fictional health crisis…. Government has made similar promises in the past: It has promised to solve the problems of agriculture, of housing, of welfare. Instead, government intervention has compounded the problems. Do you and I want to spend from twelve to eighty billion a year to replace private medical care with government medical programs that have failed wherever they have been tried?”

Marvin Edwards has made a powerful case. Hopefully, it will provide a new and important dimension to the, thus far, one-sided public discussion of this truly life and death question.

CORRECTION:

Dr. Sanborn’s book, What, How, For Whom, reviewed in the August 1972 issue of THE FREEMAN, does not state specifically that the author favors conscription. The author leaves the question open for the student to decide. 


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.