For a complete and truthful answer requires far more in the way of explanation than I usually care to give. The strange fact of the matter is that my support for Mitt Romney, like my conservatism generally, has something to do with a ship called the Serpa Pinto and with an American Marxist revolutionary by the name of Max Shachtman.
The Serpa Pinto was a Portuguese vessel that in 1943, as the Battle of the Atlantic was raging, carried my mother, her younger sister (my aunt), and her parents (my grandparents) from Lisbon to the United States. A German Jew, my mother had spent three of her teenage years hiding from the Nazis in occupied France until, in a harrowing journey, she and the rest of her family crossed the Pyrenees on foot and escaped to Barcelona. From there they made their way, thanks to a relative in New York, to the United States aboard the Serpa Pinto.
My father was born in the Bronx into a desperately poor Orthodox Jewish home. By the time war came to Europe, he was in the thrall of another brand of orthodoxy – Trotskyism. The particular sect to which he adhered – the Shachtmanites – followers of the American Trotskyist leader Max Shachtman – embraced the idea that Communist Russia, Fascist Germany and Capitalist USA were three evils, some much worse than others, but all to be resisted by the “third camp,” i.e., their tiny political party and the pure proletarian brand of socialism that it represented. On the basis of this preposterous ideological pipedream, my father and his fellow Shachtmanites opposed American entrance to the war.
Thanks to the exertions of Roosevelt and Churchill, the West prevailed against Nazism. Millions perished in the struggle that they led. Many more millions would have perished, and many more millions would have been enslaved – civilization itself would have come to an end – had Roosevelt and Churchill chosen another course and listened to those who, as the war clouds gathered in the 1930s, counseled appeasement of Adolf Hitler.
Today, the shadows of the 1930s fall all around us. The great conflagration that followed that decade continues to define the world in which I live. That world is now full of weapons that can kill as many people in an instant as Hitler managed to murder over a decade.
In the Middle East, a state run by Islamic fanatics is racing to acquire such weapons. Under our noses, they are enriching uranium at a feverish pace and designing the implosion mechanisms for a nuclear warhead. Like Hitler, they openly threaten to annihilate the world’s largest collectivity of Jews, i.e., those living in the State of Israel.
But Israel is not the only country at risk. The devices the Iranians hope to build, mounted to the tips of long-range missiles or slipped into hands of terrorists, could detonate anywhere, including in Europe and the United States. For almost four years, Barack Obama has approached this challenge with visible incomprehension. He came into office seeking “dialog” with the ayatollahs, hoping that his “outstretched hand” would sway them from their purposes. He resisted imposing crippling sanctions until Congress forced them upon him. He has leaned heavily on Israel to take no action on its own. He is gutting America’s military strength at the very moment when dangers are mounting. The spirit of appeasement inhabits his policy.
Whatever strengths and weaknesses as a politician, Mitt Romney is completely cleareyed about the perils before us. Every word he’s ever said or written about Iran makes plain that he understands the need to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And like Ronald Reagan, it is apparent that he knows in every fiber of his being that American military strength is the essential ingredient for preventing a ruinous war. He’s made the foundation of his policy plain: “Only when the ayatollahs no longer have doubts about America’s resolve will they abandon their nuclear ambitions.”
My father sought to atone for his youthful political delusions all his life, becoming, by the time of his death in 1979, a fervent advocate of American principles and American power. My mother, instead of perishing in Hitler’s gas chambers, lived to die a peaceful death in Connecticut in 2009. Along the way, I learned some things from them, including some things that have me hard at work at Mitt Romney’s campaign headquarters on this very day.
The writer is a senior adviser to the Mitt Romney for President campaign.