By Fr. James Thornton
All we know of freedom, all we need to know,
This our fathers won for us, long and long ago.
This familiar passage from Rudyard Kipling was a favorite of Robert Welch, that brilliant and cultivated man whom so many still remember as the founder and first leader of the John Birch Society. The words of this poem symbolize Mr. Welch, his life, and his outlook, and especially they call to mind his respect for the past and his belief that we are debtors, owing all we have to those who came before us. Freedom, of course, is never won only once, but must be won over and over again, each generation bearing an awesome responsibility in that regard and each remembering those who have gone before and who have struggled to establish or uphold the great gift of freedom. That is why we do well to remember Robert Welch.
The following is not intended as a comprehensive biography of Mr. Welch. That work has already been admirably accomplished by others, most notably by G. Edward Griffin in his outstanding volume, The Life and Words of Robert Welch. Though this article will touch briefly on some of the salient aspects of his life, the wish here is to capture some notion of the significance of Robert Welch by exploring aspects of his philosophy as they are set forth in his writings. Inasmuch as this philosophy represents more than something to which Welch merely assented intellectually, but actually lived, this philosophy is therefore a true measure of the man. In him, theory and practice were perfectly fused. Moreover, that philosophy was vivified even more strikingly in the founding of the John Birch Society, which will always constitute the permanent legacy of Mr. Welch and assure that his thought continues to inspire Americans, so long as the Republic exists.
Reading about the real Robert Welch, one is sometimes astonished at the calumny that has been heaped on him by liberals and their media mouthpieces. So much is this so, that one who does not know better might be tempted to wonder what sort of wicked man he was and what terrible acts he committed to deserve such unmitigated vilification. Did this man perhaps foment bloody revolutions or plot to overthrow the government through violence? Did he sell out his country or connive with agents of some foreign power? Was he possibly an unprincipled politico seeking personal enrichment and pandering to the mob by telling it whatever it wanted to hear?
The answers to all of these questions, needless to say, are identical -- an unqualified and resounding no. Mr. Welch was guilty of none of these things. His "crimes," as those familiar with his life know, were the very same "crimes" committed by so many of the men who helped found this nation and who fought for its continued existence. Robert Welch's "crimes," simply put, were these: He loved his country and everything it stood for and, with relentless determination, sought to defend it against its mortal enemies. He spent approximately the last 40 years of his life investigating the motives and objectives of the liberal Establishment. He questioned the direction in which they were leading (and continue to lead) the country. And, when he came fully to understand what these objectives and motives meant, and perceived clearly the direction in which America was heading, he sought to organize the American people in defense of freedom and national independence. Most unforgivably from the standpoint of the liberal Establishment (and definitely a "crime" in its eyes), he never hesitated to name names whenever he felt the necessity.
Robert Welch's philosophy, in the judgement of this writer, may be summarized in this way: He loved truth; he loved freedom; he loved courage; he loved knowledge. Let us now explore his philosophy within the framework of these four guiding principles.
Robert Welch was born just before the turn of the century, on December 1, 1899. That was a time as different from the one in which we now live as noon is different from midnight. America's proud heritage as a land of sturdy pioneers, of rugged individualists, of proud men and women who made their way in life through their honest toil and innate ingenuity and who never looked for handouts from any all-powerful government, was still very much alive when Mr. Welch was born. Self-reliance, good manners, moral uprightness, respect for hard work, and especially rigorous honesty were as pervasive among Americans then as watching television and collecting welfare are for a great many of them today. Robert Welch was reared in that vigorous atmosphere and he never forgot it. That is why, for him, honesty -- telling the truth whatever the circumstance -- was always central.
Author Alan Stang writes that he often heard Mr. Welch say that "most of the ills of the world would disappear if people just started telling the truth." Stang called Mr. Welch a "fanatic for the truth" and went on to relate that:
many people revere it; some even tell it. Robert Welch is ferocious about it .... The surest way to set off an eruption that would rank with Krakatoa is to prove to Robert Welch that somebody is lying .... To Robert Welch, honesty is everything.
This characteristic, Stang writes, is one of the reasons Welch decided to lead a fight, literally to the death if necessary, against conspirators whose entire worldview has always been rooted in deception and whose unacknowledged spiritual leader is that very same father of lies spoken of in the Gospel of St. John. It was this unyielding zeal for truth that impelled him to write his most famous book, The Politician.
The Politician is Mr. Welch's study of the amazing career of Dwight David Eisenhower and was originally written as a private letter to close friends. Welch had been involved for some years in the Republican Party in his home state of Massachusetts, where he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1950.
During the 1952 presidential campaign, conservative Robert Taft was the favorite of patriotic individuals and organizations for the Republican presidential nomination. Conservatives saw in Taft possibilities for a patriotic counterrevolution that would undercut the rising forces of internationalism and welfarism and restore the Republic as it had existed before Roosevelt's election in 1932.
Those hopes were dashed, however, by the entry into the race of General Eisenhower, former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in World War II. Eisenhower, though he snatched the nomination away from Taft, ran as a conservative (like Nixon, Reagan, and Bush in more recent years). Like many other Americans, Mr. Welch tried to maintain optimism, hoping that Ike might, after all, accomplish at least some of what Taft had promised. Yet such hope soon floundered on the sharp rocks of reality. Eisenhower spoke against communism, against the welfare state, and against the moral decay that even then was evident in American society. But once in office, he did everything in his power to preserve and reinforce all of those policies for which the American electorate had rejected the Democrats.
Eisenhower soon dubbed his brand of leadership "modern Republicanism," which actually meant liberal, big-government Republicanism. The Eisenhower Administration differed from liberal, big-government Democratic administrations in style, but not in substance. This betrayal of conservative principles led Mr. Welch to scrutinize more closely the record and career of General Eisenhower, and what he found left him stunned.
First, he discovered that Eisenhower was no military genius, contrary to the image so assiduously cultivated by the liberal media. Such capabilities as he possessed were more in keeping with those of a wily politician, not a military man. So mediocre were Ike's talents that only a few years before his appointment as Supreme Commander he had served as aide-de-camp, with the rank of major, to General Douglas MacArthur. However, what he lacked in military acumen he compensated for in shrewd political "savvy." Succeeding in capturing the attention of President Roosevelt, from that moment his future was assured. Eisenhower rose ever higher in the starry upper echelons of military rank while serving as the ever-faithful crony of Roosevelt and his Administration, the leftist ideology of which he apparently shared fully.
Mr. Welch's second discovery was that, throughout World War II, Eisenhower was obsessed with the notion that, whatever the sacrifice in Allied lives or cost to the postwar order of the various European nations, everything possible must be done to facilitate the forward motion of the Red Army and to assure that, when all of the dust finally settled, the communists would control as much of Europe as possible. Eisenhower's penchant for protecting Soviet interests was made manifest especially as the war entered its last phases. Though Berlin and Prague might well have been captured by U.S. forces, thus making the postwar world infinitely less complex and dangerous, Eisenhower ordered advancing U.S. armies to stop, thus assuring the capture of strategically vital territory by the Soviets.
To make matters even worse, Eisenhower gave unqualified approval to such monstrous schemes as the Morganthau Plan which, had it been carried out completely, would have resulted in the deaths of roughly 40 million Germans and the swift Bolshevization of Europe. He insisted too on the notorious Operation Keelhaul, the "repatriation" of Russian, Ukrainian, and other peoples who had escaped Stalin's hell on earth behind the retreating German armies. Perhaps five million people were herded into trucks and railway boxcars and shipped eastward to certain death or worse. Operation Keelhaul was FDR's and Eisenhower's magnificent gift to Stalin and to his grim, satanocratic gulag empire; it was a culmination of friendship, fidelity, and accord; and it was a deed that for its sheer infamy is unmatched in the history of our nation and its armed forces.
Next, Mr. Welch considered Eisenhower's career after his return to civilian life. As president of Columbia University, Eisenhower took great pains to protect faculty members known for their communist sympathies or affiliation. He chose a known communist, Joseph Fels Barnes, to ghostwrite his book, Crusade in Europe. Finally, once elected to the Presidency, Eisenhower, as we noted, resisted those who wished a return to genuine American principles in government. He sabotaged anticommunists such as Senator Joseph McCarthy and continued the march towards bloated, centralized government at home and interventionism and internationalism abroad.
A Private Letter
This was the sordid record that impelled Robert Welch to pen The Politician and circulate it, as an untitled private letter, among his close associates and friends. For a respected business leader and conservative political activist fearlessly to reveal the facts about a powerful minion of the Establishment, one whom, furthermore, the public adored as a great "war hero" and as a kind of second "Father of the Country," was an act of audacity in pursuit of truth of almost legendary magnitude. It was also an act typical of Robert Welch, for whom, as was mentioned earlier, truth was everything.
When that private letter became public in 1960, the Establishment, shaken to its foundation by the possibility of exposure, commenced its usual screams for blood. Always prepared to insist on "freedom of expression" and the "sacred rights" of a "free press" when such cant serves its own interests, the liberal media joined in a uniform howl of indignation that anyone would dare to speak his mind about one of its chosen national "hood ornaments." Mr. Welch was never, of course, given access to that same media to defend himself. When, to set the record straight, he finally consented to the release of The Politician for publication, the entire cause célèbre was instantly enveloped in an all-encompassing cloud of silence. Willing to whip the public into a veritable lynch-mob hysteria when it deemed such demagogy fitting, the Establishment was by no means prepared to let honest folks read the book for themselves and make up their own minds. Nonetheless honest people, as we all know, find ways around orchestrated campaigns of censorship. And so, despite the most strenuous efforts to quash the whole issue, hundreds of thousands of copies of Robert Welch's penetrating study of Dwight David Eisenhower have been circulated through unofficial, uncensored channels. The Politician stands today as a monument to Robert Welch's love of truth. In fearlessly researching it, writing it, circulating it to friends, and finally publishing it, Mr. Welch, it must be emphasized, had nothing to gain and everything to lose -- everything, that is, but his personal integrity. He believed, with Plato, that "truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of the truth, for then he can be trusted."
Let us now consider Robert Welch's love of freedom, a word much misused and misunderstood in our day, but one which had a precise meaning for him. Mr. Welch encapsulated his definition of freedom in five words: "less government and more responsibility." That government was finding ways of intruding into the personal lives of individual Americans and making them helpless dependents Mr. Welch considered an unqualified calamity. It was exactly contrary to the notion of freedom with which he was reared. In a debate with socialist Norman Thomas in 1964, Mr. Welch elaborated this notion in an address he entitled "My Concept of Freedom":
I want for our country enough laws to restrain me from injuring others, so that these laws will also restrain others from injuring me. I want enough government, with enough constitutional safeguards, so that this necessary minimum of laws will be applied equitably to everybody, and will be binding on the rulers as well as those ruled. Beyond that I want neither laws nor government to be imposed on our people as a means or with the excuse of protecting us from catching cold, or of seeing that we raise the right kind of crops, or of forcing us to live in the right kind of houses or neighborhoods, or of compelling us to save money or to spend it, or of telling us when or whether we can pray. I do not want government or laws designed for any other form of welfarism or paternalism, based on the premise that government knows best and can run our lives better than we can run them ourselves. And my concept of freedom, and of its overwhelming importance, is implicit in these aspirations and ideals.
The Greatest Tragedy
Robert Welch was fond of a quotation from Herbert Spencer, and repeated it often: "The ultimate effect of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." That government seemed intent on transforming the entire citizenry into whining fools, or into children to be cared for and controlled, was in Mr. Welch's opinion the "greatest tragedy of the twentieth century." Not content with corrupting the American people and duping them into surrendering their precious freedom, those same forces were crushing the freedom of other peoples and using American money and might to deliver whole nations into the hands of the most evil and rapacious tyranny in history.
The struggle against the forces of the collectivist conspiracy is the fiercest in which the American Republic has ever engaged. Too few people today, however, grasp the fact that many Americans did not immediately fathom the seriousness of this fight. In the Roosevelt and Truman years, Americans were told that Joseph Stalin was our friend and ally, that he was a good "democrat," and that he was in no way different from us in wanting a just and peaceful world. Exhausted by the tremendous exertion of the war, Americans were slow at first to come to grips with the communist menace.
To make matters worse, Roosevelt and Truman refused themselves to come to grips with communist subversives in the U.S. government. "Some of my best friends are communists," Roosevelt once declared (no doubt accurately!) with a chuckle. With so blasé an attitude on the part of the President of the United States, it is no surprise that hordes of communists infiltrated critical agencies of the federal government and, once ensconced in influential positions, used their newly acquired power to advance the aims of their superiors abroad. Robert Welch was among the first to expose the scandal of the use of the country's power, prestige, and money in furthering communist objectives, and he did this by writing his first major political work, May God Forgive Us.
May God Forgive Us, like The Politician, began as a lengthy letter to an acquaintance, and was written during July and August 1951. Shortly after completing it, Mr. Welch sent copies to three other friends and within a short span of time requests for additional copies poured in. This led him to make several hundred duplicates, but the more he produced the greater was the demand. Americans, it seemed, sensed the truth when they read it. Roughly 30 thousand mimeograph copies were distributed during those months after the letter first appeared. Henry Regnery, the well-known publisher, read one of these copies and then asked Mr. Welch if he could publish it. Mr. Welch added another ten thousand words to the work and thereupon Regnery began the publication of tens of thousands of copies. In the eight months between March 1952 and the end of that year, 194,000 copies of May God Forgive Us were published and distributed.
In May God Forgive Us, Mr. Welch begins with an analysis of the tremendous disasters that followed in the wake of our World War II victory and that threatened to overwhelm free nations around the world. These included, most particularly, the loss of Eastern Europe and of China to the Communist Bloc. Welch considered carefully the widespread influence of various leftist organizations in accomplishing these victories for communism. He also turned the spotlight on government agencies that had been subverted by communist agents and on individuals who used their positions of power and prestige to change the direction of American policy, to allay the rising suspicions of the American people about communism, and to spread various forms of disinformation to cause confusion and misunderstanding. The brunt of Mr. Welch's criticism was aimed at Truman's secretary of state, Dean Acheson, who played an extremely unsavory role in these debacles.
Mr. Welch desired neither fame nor fortune from this endeavor. Such proceeds as he received from the huge sales of his book were immediately dedicated to the free distribution of 40,000 copies to community leaders and various influential citizens throughout America.
Robert Welch speaks truly from the heart in May God Forgive Us. Intensely ashamed for his country and deeply distressed that "the land of the free and the home of the brave" was being used by vicious traitors to betray innocent men, women, and children to Bolshevik beasts and to undermine the very foundation of our Western culture, Mr. Welch's mode of expression is poignant and eloquent:
[T]he real trouble is a callousness throughout the whole mood and the collective conscience of the American people. How can we expect either a Roosevelt or Truman to have been disturbed by the barbarous Katyn Massacre, or to have reduced for that reason their pampering appeasement and generosity to its perpetrators? The news of a similar mass murder, of eight thousand of our own sons and brothers, as prisoners of war behind the Korean lines, caused only a temporary ripple of indignation across the national consciousness; and we go serenely on negotiating with, and making new concessions to, the cold-blooded murderers.
What is the matter with us, anyway? Neither facts nor pictures seem to sink into our centers of feeling any more .... The physical suffering, the mental anguish, the never-ceasing terror of our fellow human beings, represented by these words and pictures, no longer reach through the glaze to activate our imaginations or to excite our sympathies ....
As we sit in our warm homes, after a happy meal with our families, and turn on our television sets or radios, it is hard for us to think of a man just like ourselves always half-starved, always half-frozen, haggard and hopeless, remembering the days when he too was free, as he is brutally driven to finish up the literal exhaustion of his body in labor for the benefit of the very tyrant who has enslaved him. It is harder still to remember that there are millions of such men; or that in the past six years six hundred millions of our fellow human beings have been placed under the merciless heel of this monster and the bestial control of his henchmen and police.
For the pusillanimous part that we played in all this spreading horror; for our indifference to the grief of others; for our apathy to the crimes we saw and our blindness to those we should have seen; for our gullibility in the acceptance of veneered treason and our easy forgetfulness even when the veneer rubbed off; for all our witting and unwitting help to the vicious savages of the Kremlin and to their fellow ordinate savages everywhere, may God -- and our fellow men -some day forgive us!
There can be no doubt whatever that in this small volume a genuine patriot of the old school stares straight into the hideous countenance of treachery and cries out for the tocsin to be sounded in defense of our national honor and of freedom everywhere.
Nowhere do we see better Robert Welch's love of courage, and his conviction that courageous action is essential to the survival of the American Republic, than in his book, The Life of John Birch. In the 1950s, Mr. Welch had a number of friends and acquaintances in the U.S. Congress who allowed him access to important documentation and testimony from Senate committee hearings. It was his practice to read through these voluminous transcripts, looking for answers as to why America and the world had fallen into such lamentable circumstances. It was on one such occasion, he tells us, that he came upon an obscure reference to a man by the name of John Birch, a name until then unknown to Mr. Welch and to the American people. Though he did not realize it at that moment, the hand of Providence had reached down to change the course of Robert Welch's life.
Mr. Welch himself explains the happening in these words:
All alone in a committee room of the Senate Office Building in Washington, I was reading the dry typewritten pages in an unpublished report of an almost forgotten congressional committee hearing. Suddenly I was brought up sharp by a quotation of some words an army captain had spoken on the day of his death eight years before. Interest in the quotation soon led me to the incident with which the following narrative begins. From then on the light of John Birch's actions gradually became greater than the light of his words, and neither would depart. With regard to both, I had to learn all I could of their source and circumstances.
A Hero's Story
The Life of John Birch is the story of the prototypical American, growing to manhood on a Southern farm and there, close to the soil, learning from experience the true import of faith, of family, and of country. John Birch received his education in the 1920s and '30s, and after completing college and Bible seminary determined that he would spend his life in missionary work overseas. In 1940 he departed for China, then, as now, a country of immeasurable suffering as wars and internal strife continued taking their bloody toll. A man of keen intelligence, Birch was soon speaking the native dialect, which enabled him to teach and to work spreading the message of Christ's Gospel. This tireless dedication to Christianity impressed Robert Welch when he read of it, since, he insisted, true religious piety and rectitude make a people and a nation into a bastion of invincible strength, immunizing it against the ideological bacillus of communism.
Mr. Welch also learned through his investigation that during China's war against the Japanese invaders, John Birch was utterly fearless in crossing back and forth between the occupied and free regions of the country. Since these perilous journeys were vital to the successful discharge of his duties as a missionary, not even a major war was permitted to stand in his way.
Moreover, shortly after America's entry into the war, John Birch volunteered to join General Claire Chennault's 14th Air Force, known also as the Flying Tigers. Birch was of particular value in the war because of his facility with various Chinese dialects and it was thus that he was assigned primarily to intelligence work. During those years he never shrank from even the most dangerous assignments, each of which he managed to accomplish, as in virtually everything he did, through quiet courage and unparalleled skill. Such was his outstanding bravery that he was soon promoted to captain and decorated by his own government, and by that of the Chinese.
Author G. Edward Griffin writes that Mr. Welch saw in John Birch a model for every American, especially every young American. Birch was an uncompromising patriot; he was devout in his religious outlook; he was a moral paragon; he had indestructible roots in his family and home; and when called upon by his country, he gave everything he had without hesitation. That spirit of self-assurance, of decency, of boldness, and of selfless love for God, country, and for his fellow man was second nature to John Birch and exemplified those attributes that the youth of a nation must emulate if it is to resist the seductive blandishments of the Godless Ones and of their soul-deadening and nation-devouring ideology.
During World War II, as victory approached, John Birch came to see ever more clearly the true nature of the Red Chinese forces, which had begun a drive for domination. He came to see communism, despite its temporary posture of alliance and cooperation during the war, as the archenemy of all mankind. Thus it came to pass that in August 1945 Captain John Birch was murdered by the Chinese communists, who no doubt recognized in him an implacable foe.
When these facts were reported later to the American authorities, a witness to Birch's murder testified that the brave American officer's last words were these: "It doesn't matter what happens to me. But it is of utmost importance that my country learn now whether these people are friend or foe." These were the words that leapt off the page as Robert Welch sat in the Senate Office Building eight years after they were spoken. Robert Welch writes:
[I]n one blade of grass lies the key to all creation, could we only understand it; and in the forces that swirled around John Birch lay all the conflicts, of philosophy and of implementation, with which our whole world is now so imperatively concerned. Therein lay the significance of his life and death ....
... He commanded no armies, headed no government, converted no nations to his creed. His impact would have been of transient memory and comparatively small importance, had not that impact occurred at a time and in a way to make it supply particulars from which momentous generalizations can properly be projected. With his death and in his death the battle lines were drawn, in a struggle from which either Communism or Christian-style civilization must emerge with one completely triumphant and the other completely destroyed.
"It doesn't matter what happens to me. But it is of utmost importance that my country learn now whether these people are friend or foe." Such words represent the sentiments of an American hero who knew that wherever freedom is found, there also is found sacrifice. That sacrifice he shouldered in the same way his countrymen have done since Lexington and Concord. Robert Welch chose John Birch as a symbol of selflessness in defense of the innocent, of duty to one's country and way of life, and of that lofty valor without which nothing we believe, and nothing we hold dear, can possibly endure.
When he writes of the indifference of people to the suffering of those under the communist heel in May God Forgive Us, Robert Welch, at the same time, touches on the key to unlocking that enigma of American complacency, even though he does not bring it out with the force it later assumes. Americans are certainly not a cold people, but they often lack the knowledge and information necessary for action. Consequently, the key is education. "Education is our total strategy and truth is our only weapon," was Mr. Welch's oft-repeated maxim after he founded the John Birch Society. Robert Welch's love and respect for education, both as a process and as an end, is a deeply-engraved feature of the whole of his life, and one that came to him naturally. Robert Welch's mother, Lina Welch, began her son's schooling at home, when he was only two years of age. At three he was proficient at reading, by four had memorized the multiplication tables, and at six was adept at algebra. After turning seven he commenced the study of Latin, and read all nine volumes of John Clark Ridpath's formidable History of the World. Ridpath's numerous historical works enjoyed the same acclaim in the world of the late-19th and early-20th century as Will Durant's multi-volume historical tour de force did 50 or 60 years later. Ridpath, an American popular historian of strongly individualistic opinion, profoundly shaped Robert Welch's worldview and imparted to him both a sense of the grand sweep of history and of the uniqueness of the American experiment in self-government and individual liberty.
Some liberal media commentators have suggested that Robert Welch was indifferently educated. In actual fact, Mr. Welch entered high school at the age of ten and the University of North Carolina at the age of 12, graduating from the latter institution in the top third of his class when only 16. He attended the United States Naval Academy for two years, ranking fourth in a class of almost a thousand, and Harvard Law School for another two-and-a-half years. The story, therefore, that Robert Welch was poorly educated brings to mind the kind of naked prevarication about which Shakespeare writes: "These lies are like the father that begets them; gross as a mountain, open, palpable."
A Lifelong Romance
What a pity that every young man and woman of high school age cannot read Robert Welch's The Romance of Education. Were they able to do this, I suspect that many of them -- at least the brightest and best -- would adopt a radically changed attitude towards the learning experience. This superb work was written by Mr. Welch between 1942 and 1946, long before the author ever imagined that he would become one of the most controversial men in America. It was not finally published, however, until 1973 when friends insisted that he resurrect the manuscript.
"The Romance of Education," writes G. Edward Griffin, "reveals Robert Welch as the mature scholar." Indeed, any objective reader of this book would have to agree, for in this work Mr. Welch seeks to ignite in the reader a passion for the acquisition of knowledge, and to stimulate that natural intellectual curiosity common to most people, especially the young (and young at heart). Furthermore, as Mr. Welch puts it, "the reward [of education] is not at the end of the struggle, in the benefits of acquisition, but is continuous, in the satisfaction of acquiring knowledge; not in the games to be enjoyed after becoming a person of some level of education, but in the mental adventure of the becoming." Separate chapters of The Romance of Education deal with such diverse fields as language, history, mathematics, and poetry, all subjects in which Mr. Welch himself excelled and all part of that intellectual foundation without which men are not wholly educated.
There was no hypocrisy in the counsel of Robert Welch. He never urged others towards that to which he was not himself devoted. Few things were as important to him as "joy in the pursuit of knowledge." Author Gary Allen said of Robert Welch that he "never slowed his frenetic pace. He never considered success in the financial and business worlds as anything other than a means to buy the time to pursue the world of scholarship and travel the globe. As he consumed one book after another, his personal library grew until it eventually comprised some five thousand volumes -- most of which [he] had actually read!" It goes without saying that such a systematic, lifelong acquisition of knowledge cannot but result in a mind steeped in wisdom.
Conspiracy Above Communism
Knowledge is a joy to acquire and is an unending pleasure to possess, as we have seen. But knowledge often represents other things as well and has its more sobering facets. Thus it is that the subject of Robert Welch's love of knowledge brings us to one of the most controversial aspects of his philosophy, which is his view that Christendom and the forces of civilization continue to confront serious and repeated threats to their existence as the result of the activities of a conspiracy. To some degree that theme formed the background of Mr. Welch's worldview from the 1950s. At that time his efforts were directed against the International Communist Conspiracy, which, incidentally, was a term then in widespread use, even outside of conservative circles. Beginning in 1964, however, when he delivered his famous "More Stately Mansions" address in Chicago, the theme was developed far beyond the confines of his earlier thoughts.
If it were indeed true that the entirety of the danger we face is confined only to a communist conspiracy, which aims at the destruction of freedom through subversion and violence, then, Mr. Welch reasons, many interesting paradoxes are left unanswered. Why, for instance, are so many of the super-wealthy involved in programs and policies that aid and abet collectivist and socialist objectives? Why do the powerful elite in America and elsewhere, made up of people who seemingly have the most to lose should communism, socialism, or any form of collectivism be victorious, almost invariably oppose efforts to expose the subversion of our society? Why do they so frequently sabotage conservative activities? To these difficult problems Mr. Welch applied his first-rate research skills and, after much labor, reached some startling conclusions.
First, he concluded that the Conspiracy is more deeply rooted than he had previously thought, and supported this thesis by tracing its origins back over a century to an occult group known as the Illuminati, founded on May 1, 1776 by a Bavarian named Adam Weishaupt. Tenaciously tracking back through the pages of obscure books and dusty old documents, he found that this conspiratorial band had participated in the French Revolution of 1789, which infamous uprising, as we know, struck out with intense savagery against God and civilization and resulted in the murder of roughly a million human beings. Clearly, the upheavals and atrocities of 1789 served as a model for revolutions to come, especially the Bolshevik Revolution.
But the French Revolution did not achieve its objectives. It did not result in the complete overthrow of the existing order in Europe. Traditional ways of life persisted and gradually returned even to France. Still, the conspirators, he found, were not discouraged. Instead, they maintained their secrecy and determined to wait until more favorable situations presented themselves. Throughout the 19th century several offshoots of the original Illuminati were formed, some of which eventually coalesced into the communist conspiracy of our own time. Mr. Welch stated that communism is a tool used by the Conspiracy to demolish traditional patterns of life, beliefs, systems, and cultural mores. When these phenomena endure, in spite of subversion and persecution, they make it impossible for the Conspiracy to triumph.
Robert Welch's attack on the larger Conspiracy made him the target of many new enemies, Among these were Establishment conservatives who derided him for accepting the unstylish "conspiracy theory of history." One may justly wonder when and how such a theory became controversial, for it was not always so labeled. Instead, as the following references indicate, it was widely held, although those who held it may not have agreed completely with Robert Welch:
• In 1951, in his concurring opinion accompanying a 6-2 decision upholding the convictions of Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act, Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson labeled communism a "conspiracy."
• In its July 1953 report entitled Interlocking Subversion in Government Departments, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee led by Indiana Senator William Jennet described the "Soviet international organization" as a "conspiracy" and maintained that its "policies and programs ... are still in effect within our Government and constitute a continuing hazard to our national security."
• In 1956, the House Committee on Un-American Activities published a series of five reports under the overall heading The Communist Conspiracy: Strategy and Tactics of World Communism. That same year, a House measure calling for a continuation of funding for the committee's work won approval by a vote of 385-1, which is only one indication of the acceptance of the term "conspiracy."
• In August 1956, the Elks Magazine published an article about the communist threat to America written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In it, Hoover stated: "Yet the individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists."
All of these official views were matched by many other privately authored unofficial warnings about a conspiracy operating within our nation to destroy freedom and enslave mankind. But enemies saved their most vicious attacks for Robert Welch, not so much because he dared to label a conspiracy for what it truly was, but because he had built an organization to expose it.
It is difficult to do proper justice to so complex a topic as Robert Welch's mature philosophy of history within the constraints of the present article. At best we can only probe its outward contours. Suffice it to say that it represents the culmination of his lifetime of study, the crowning achievement of his quest for knowledge. His examination of the evidence of a Conspiracy, and of the Insiders who control it, are contained in his essay, "More Stately Mansions" (which appears as one of several of Mr. Welch's essays in the book, The New Americanism) and are further detailed in his magnificent 1966 essay, "The Truth in Time" (recently published as an addendum to the 24th printing of The Blue Book of the John Birch Society).
Love of truth, of freedom, of courage, and of knowledge -- of such noble substance was the character of Robert Welch made, and of such substance were many Americans made not so very long ago. It was with qualities like these that oceans were crossed and continents were conquered, that great cities were built and that the imaginations and hopes of tens of millions were stirred as never before in the annals of mankind. It was, perhaps, with such thoughts in mind that Robert Welch continued to exhort the John Birch Society to complete the task he conferred on it at its foundation.
Robert Welch once explained to the members of the organization he created that history has thrust upon them a heavy obligation. Like him, they too must come to terms with that obligation and give a portion of their lives and treasure to the good fight. About that bounden duty Robert Welch wrote these characteristic words:
The responsibilities which are imposed by rank and privilege and good fortune can ... become very onerous indeed. But they cannot, for that reason, be ignored by any American who is worthy of the name. Least of all can they be ignored by that elite group of Americanists, that body of the finest men and women on earth, which we identify as The John Birch Society. For, quite literally, the whole world today is looking for us to take the lead in carrying out those obligations imposed on the American people as a whole by the beautiful, compassionate and courageous principle of noblesse oblige. So prepare yourselves unto the battle, my wonderful friends. For this trumpet will never give out an uncertain sound, so long as this trumpeter remains alive and the struggle is still unwon.
Robert Welch departed this life on January 6, 1985. As we have seen, his great gifts are unique and irreplaceable. Yet the story does not end there. The struggle is still unwon and the trumpeter still gives his steady sound through those unwavering men who have succeeded him in leading "that elite group of Americanists, that body of the finest men and women on earth, which we identify as The John Birch Society."