When the Supreme Court issued its sweeping ruling on abortion in the case of Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973, the nation was distracted by other tumultuous news events of that week. Following Richard Nixon’s second inauguration and the imminent conclusion of peace talks in the seemingly endless Vietnam War, Americans awoke to learn that Lyndon B. Johnson was dead. The man who had seen his presidency shattered by bitter divisions over the war in Southeast Asia had succumbed to a heart attack at his Texas ranch. In the four years since he left office, Johnson had rarely ventured forth from his self-imposed exile. Predictably, the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling was both hailed and downplayed by the prestige press. Hailed as an overdue victory for equal rights for women, but downplayed in its radical nature and the full extent of the ruling.
Less than two years later, Yassir Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
In November, 1974, the PLO was still listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. Arafat had personally ordered the assassination of America’s ambassador to Sudan, career diplomat Cleo Noel. Palestinian terrorists affiliated with Arafat’s Fatah faction of the PLO had murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. While often issuing pro forma disavowals of the more violent actions of his comrades (and even then, usually only in English), Arafat continued to endorse violent means to achieve statehood for the Arabs of Palestine. The “Covenant” of the PLO demanded not more of the territory of the British Mandate in Palestine, but all of it. And their official coat of arms depicted a Mideast with no territory allotted to the Jewish State.
Still, Arafat’s reception at the world body was rapturous. He appeared characteristically unshaven and wearing the keffiyeh headdress of the Arab nationalist movement in Palestine. He also wore a holster and pistol. Never before and never since has any speaker so ostentatiously borne a firearm while addressing the UN General Assembly. Diplomatic immunity—normally a perquisite only of delegates from nations recognized by the U.S.—apparently extended to the gun-toting Arafat. New York City’s strict gun control laws must have been inoperative for this international figure.
Arafat’s speech to the UN General Assembly was a pivotal moment in his and the PLO’s push for international respectability. In her Commentary magazine article, “How the PLO Was Legitimized,”[i] former Ambassador to the UN Jeane Kirkpatrick showed how Arafat and his enablers had successfully used the UN to re-define terrorism and, in her words, to “come to power through international diplomacy—reinforced by murder.”
Aided by the then-weighty Soviet bloc, Arafat’s PLO negotiators pushed through resolutions that exempted direct killings of innocent civilians from international censure provided that these homicides were committed in furtherance of “national liberation of peoples.” The PLO Covenant had declared Arabs of Palestine an oppressed people and the Jews of Israel colonial oppressors. Therefore, applying these inverted definitions, it was Israelis, not the PLO, who were guilty of terrorism. Thus, attacks on schoolchildren in Israel, explosions in their theaters, discos, and restaurants were justified in the corridors of the UN.
In America, the Supreme Court’s 1973 action struck down the laws of all fifty states. Writing for the 7-2 majority, Harry Blackmun had said the judiciary could not determine when human life begins. But science had indisputably determined—by the middle of the nineteenth century—that human life begins at conception.
Based on Roe’s palpable untruth, the Court’s opinion overturned even the most liberal state abortion laws then in effect. Each of those stricken statutes had placed abortion within the body of the state’s homicide law. Cast aside by the Court’s majority was the judgment of elected lawmakers in all states for over a century.
Demographer Dr. Judith Blake, in an influential article, had pressed advocates for the new abortion license to avoid the democratic process.[ii] She showed pro-abortion activists that public opinion would not support their goal of abortion-on-demand. Contrary to conventional wisdom then and now, Blake pointed to extensive public opinion surveys for the 1960s decade to assert that most Americans would likely continue to oppose the vast majority of abortions. Better to go to unelected judges.
Heeding Blake’s counsel, elite opinion molders avoided the state legislators who were increasingly resisting the removal of all legal protection for unborn children and took their cause to the judiciary. There, judges with life tenure could ignore popular disapproval.
Roe would not only give the United States the most radical abortion law of any nation, it would also represent a major shift in medical ethics dating to Hippocrates. The Greek philosopher’s oath enjoined doctors to safeguard their sacred vocation by rejecting abortion, suicide, and the divulging of patients’ medical histories.
With Roe, the killing of unborn children was permitted at any time prior to birth for any reason. Despite widespread misinformation from the mainstream media, the facts of abortion-on-demand remain unknown to most Americans. This is why, for example, in the 1990s the public reacted with shock to the pictures and descriptions of a technique called Partial-Birth Abortion. Most Americans were unaware that abortions were legal for unborn children on the threshold of birth. These Americans reacted with shock to the images of unborn children being stabbed in the back of their necks, their brains suctioned out, and their heads collapsed for extrication and disposal as “medical waste.”
Those committed to the Roe abortion license hastened to argue that such procedures were used only in the rarest of cases and only for infants diagnosed with fatal or extremely debilitating diseases. The abortionists’ trade organization moved quickly to suppress open debate on this lucrative practice. But their spokesman would later publicly confess. Ron Fitzsimmons said: “I lied through my teeth” and “It made me physically sick.”
Roe would also reopen the tortured biomedical issues of experimentation on human subjects. The world had grappled with this thorny issue in the Nuremberg Tribunals after World War II. The Nuremberg Code that resulted from those war crimes trials sought to protect human beings from any and all experimentation not intended to benefit the individual human subject. Roe effectively carved out the great exception: by the simple expedient of stripping legal personhood from millions of unborn children, experiments on the unborn child or on organs obtained from the lifeless body of a child killed by abortion would be considered licit if they could be framed as beneficial to society at large.
The full meaning of both events has largely been lost in the confusion of the decades.
In the 1960s ferment, the questioning of old values and mores was the mark of a sophisticated and intellectual approach to life. While Russian tanks put down “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and dissent was vigorously suppressed in the Soviet bloc, in the West dissent became a choice and a lifestyle. An “adversary culture” arose and was celebrated by what the French call the bien pensants—the right thinkers. When France faced student-led revolts in 1968, these would be overcome by a vote of confidence for the embattled Fifth Republic of President Charles de Gaulle. Yet, for decades after, these soixante-huitards (“sixty-eighters”) would represent the avant-garde of social, political, and intellectual change.
If there was one constant, one proposition that united East and West, one historical judgment that was not challenged, it was that the Nazi regime in Germany of 1933-45 was the epitome of human evil. Regularly, the USSR celebrated its 1945 victory over fascism. Hollywood joined in. There was a seemingly endless parade of anti-fascist movies and documentaries exploring various aspects of Nazi atrocities issuing from Hollywood and European producers.
Oddly, however, few connected the glowing reception of Arafat by delegates of scores of nations at the UN to his personal ties to a major Nazi collaborator or to his movement’s pro-Nazi roots. Arafat’s “uncle” (possibly a cousin) and mentor was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Haj Amin al-Husseini had launched anti-Jewish pogroms in the British Mandate of Palestine. Thousands had died in spasms of rioting in the 1920s and 30s. With the coming of World War II, the Mufti fled to Iraq, where the perpetrators of a pro-Nazi Arab nationalist coup welcomed him. When that Baghdad movement collapsed, al-Husseini fled to Berlin. There, he helped to recruit Muslim troops for the führer. He used Arab nationalist language and Islamist ideology to stir up anti-Semitic sentiments among the Muslims who flocked to Hitler’s swastika. He harangued SS recruits drawn from the Muslim regions of the Balkans and the USSR. He told one group: “And as the Jews were in the time of the great Prophet, so they have remained throughout all ages; conniving and full of hatred toward the Muslims…” Another time, the Mufti sought to enlist Muslims under the Nazi banners, assuring his listeners that Germany had never attacked an Islamic country, that Germany fighting world Jewry, the “hereditary enemy of Islam.”[iii] Al-Husseini also tried to compare Nazism’s führerprinzip of leadership with Muslims’ adherence to the Caliph following the death of Mohammed.[iv]
One of Adolf Eichmann’s collaborators in executing the Holocaust was Dieter Wisliceny. At the Nuremberg Tribunal, he testified: “The mufti was one of the instigators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry” and was a partner and adviser to Eichmann and Hitler for carrying out this plan.” Thus, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian movement and mentor to Arafat was a man deeply complicit in the Holocaust. Merely expelling Europe’s Jews would not achieve Hitler’s goals if it meant antagonizing his cohorts in the Palestinian nationalist movement. The mufti did not want any more European Jews fleeing to British mandatory Palestine.
These two parallel movements—the striking down of homicide laws that protected unborn children and the legitimization of terror tactics by the PLO—result from an abandonment of a principle fundamental to Western civilization since Augustine (i.e., innocent human life may never be attacked directly).
The century that saw massive bombardment of cities in two world wars struggled, nonetheless, to preserve the ancient distinction of combatant and non-combatant, to protect the latter. Despite huge losses of innocent lives to what was carefully termed collateral damage, the principle was yet upheld that such deaths could only be justified as the lesser of evils, as proportional to the aims of a war justly undertaken and justly waged.
Increasingly isolated in the UN, Israel has had to fight six major wars for its very existence since 1948.[v] It is the only democracy so menaced. And in the United States, the consent of the governed has been rejected by Roe v. Wade. That judgment is premised on a repudiation of the Declaration’s central thesis: that we are created equal. In our courts, in our Congress, in our law schools, the politically correct regard Roe as a “super precedent” in constitutional interpretation. With Roe and with the legitimization of the PLO, the direct and unapologetic slaughter of innocents is rationalized and institutionalized. From these twin terrors—the Scylla and Charybdis of domestic law and foreign policy—Western civilization has yet to emerge.
[i] Kirkpatrick, Jeane J., “How the PLO Was Legitimized,” Commentary (Magazine), July 1, 1989.
[ii] Blake, Judith, “Abortion and Public Opinion: The 196-1970 Decade,” Science (Journal), 171, February 12, 1971.
[iii] Motadel, David, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2014, p. 274.
[iv] Motadel, p. 274.
[v] Kass, Ilana and O’Dell, Bard, The Deadly Embrace: The Impact of Israeli and Palestinian Rejectionism on the Peace Process, University Press of America, Lanham, Md.: 1996, p. 117.
Robert G. Morrison came to Washington, D.C., in 1984. Since then he has served at the Family Research Council (FRC), at the U.S. Department of Education under former Secretary William Bennett, and as the first full-time Washington, D.C., representative of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod