Once Aryan Skynet Goes Live It Doesn't Matter Who Pulled The Switch
Concurrently with the ostensible threat from communist domino-toppling in Southeast Asia, American conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s found themselves preoccupied with developments in African countries undergoing decolonization. “For those right-leaning Americans who saw black freedom struggles in the United States and Africa as two sides of the same coin – and who saw Africans and African Americans as essentially the same people – the spread of leftist national liberation movements in Africa was profoundly disturbing,” recounts historian Kyle Burke:
By the late 1960s, many nationalist movements in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, and elsewhere had taken up the Marxist cause and allied themselves with Cuba and the Soviet Union, which offered funds, weapons, advisers, and soldiers. Unfolding on a massive scale, these movements mobilized large swaths of the black populations against racial inequality, political disenfranchisement, and economic injustice. The proliferation of popular revolutions in southern Africa confirmed conservatives’ greatest fears about racial subversion in the United States. In their eyes, black freedom [i.e., coercive integration], whether at home or abroad, threatened nothing less than a return to barbarism. As one commentator reckoned, “Where the ‘Winds of Change’ have blown” and “civilized men have bowed to them, civilization has disappeared.”
That fear, above all, was what drew U.S. conservatives to southern Africa. For in Rhodesia they found parables for – and solutions to – domestic racial crises. At the same time, the heroic myths that white Rhodesians built around their nation and its peculiar rebellion helped conservative Americans maintain their self-image as anticolonial liberators, even as they supported the remnants of violent colonial regimes. In their eyes, Rhodesia had cast off the chains of British imperialism and forestalled communist conquest in Africa.1
Concerned conservatives, Burke writes, “established an overlapping network of private groups through which Americans could learn about Rhodesia firsthand and then share their knowledge with friends, coworkers, and elected officials when they arrived back in the United States,” continuing:
At the center of that network was the Friends of Rhodesian Independence (FORI). Founded by [former communist and Irgun collaborator] Marvin Liebman in 1966, the FORI used funds from the Rhodesian government and U.S. businesses to publish a newsletter and brochures, and to subsidize trips to Salisbury and other cities. Those Americans who supported the FORI believed it was fulfilling a vital service since “the field of African affairs is largely in the hands of organizations and individuals irrevocably committed to the very kind of ‘liberal’ dogmas which weakened and ultimately destroyed the cause of freedom in postwar China.”
By 1966, the organization boasted 180 chapters across the United States, attracting members of the John Birch Society, the Liberty Lobby, and other right-wing groups. The FORI paid for Max Yergan and George Schuyler – the leading African Americans in the conservative movement – to trek across Rhodesia. It did the same for Ohio Congressman John Ashbrook and several professors from Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign-policy think tank with connections to the CIA. At the same time, Max Yergan’s group, the American African Affairs Association, published its own studies about communist subversion in southern Africa and financed Rhodesian excursions for James Kilpatrick, the staunch segregationist editor of the Richmond New Leader, and other conservatives from the U.S. South. Likewise, [Manion Forum radio host] Clarence Manion enlisted his show as a propaganda machine for both the Rhodesian and South African governments, which paid for him to visit the region in 1968. Others in Manion’s orbit, such as Cuban exile Luis Manrara and Catholic priest Daniel Lyons, also traveled to South Africa where they met members of the right-wing National Council to Combat Communism, as well as journalists, professors, government officials, and military leaders.
Through these connections, Rhodesians and South Africans explained to American audiences how their societies depended upon the achievements of white settlers rather than the exploited labor of oppressed indigenous peoples. One member of the Rhodesian government put it this way: “It is the enterprise of the European population” that had “been responsible for developing the country’s natural resources, building its towns and factories, communications systems, and various institutions that provide employment.”2
Rhodesia was a divisive issue within the Republican Party during the 1976 presidential primaries being contested by incumbent Gerald Ford and challenger Ronald Reagan. That year, Henry Kissinger had broken with the position of the Nixon administration by announcing America’s support for black rule in Ian Smith’s embattled country3. Ford actually made the vilification of Reagan’s apparently interventionist pro-Rhodesia stance a major component of his strategy for winning California. The state represented “Reagan’s home turf and a winner-take-all contest with 167 delegates at stake,” as Nancy Mitchell relates:
The Ford campaign staffers were still arguing about how to counter Reagan’s challenge when the governor, on June 2 – six days before the vote – gave them an opening. At the Sacramento Press Club, a journalist asked Reagan: “On the subject of Rhodesia, you said that we should guarantee that there is no bloodshed. How would we do that? With an occupation force, with military troops, or what?”
Reagan rambled. “Whether it would be enough to have simply a show of strength, the promise that we would [supply troops], or whether you would have to go in with occupation forces or not, I don’t know. But I believe in the interests of peace and avoiding bloodshed […] I think it would be worth this, for us to do it.”
The journalist asked: “You would consider sending U.S. troops if necessary?”
Reagan answered: “You would have to be completely involved with the Rhodesian government, and find out whether that would be necessary. It might simply be that a promise, the treaty or agreement, would prevent it [a bloodbath] from happening.”
The next morning, the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle read “Reagan Would Send GIs to Avert Rhodesia War.” […]
At every campaign stop that day – in San Francisco, Monterey, and Santa Barbara – Reagan was grilled about Rhodesia. He tried to dig himself out, saying that “headline hunters” had misrepresented his remarks and that he had not meant that he would send troops. […]
The Ford campaign’s ad hit twenty-four California television stations and seventy-five radio stations the next day. It had been put together hastily, but the idea had been hatching for months. The production was simple: the camera rested on the face of a woman, perhaps in her late twenties, with minimal makeup, her dirty-blond[e] hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked like a typical white middle-class mother of young children. She sounded worried. “Last Wednesday,” she said, “Ronald Reagan said that he would send American troops to Rhodesia. On Thursday he clarified that. He said they could be observers, or advisers. What does he think happened in Vietnam?” Then the announcer said, deadpan, “When you vote Tuesday, remember: Governor Reagan couldn’t start a war. President Reagan could.”
The Reagan team cried foul. […] William F. Buckley leapt to the governor’s defense. Explaining that Reagan simply had been trying to assert the need to protect the rights of the white minority in Rhodesia, Buckley reminded his readers of what – in his opinion – was the alternative: “or do we secretly desire that long night of the knives which would visit on the whites of Rhodesia the same fate suffered by black and Asian minorities in other African states?” […] “In the name of party unity,” Reagan asked Ford to withdraw the ad.
Ford refused. He was fed up with Reagan, and he “seemed to relish” the opportunity to “whack” him hard. […] Ford felt good. On June 6, he said, “I think we might win California.”
Ford was wrong. Reagan smashed him in California by thirty percentage points, 65.5 percent to Ford’s 34.5 percent, and added all California’s 167 delegates to his count.4
The difference between the war in Vietnam and the one in Rhodesia is that the Rhodesians were white – like the vast majority of Californian voters in those demographically different times. Protecting the lives of fellow whites – even those living in a far-away country in southern Africa – was an entirely different matter than committing troops and resources to a putatively ideological struggle in the jungles of Indochina. Reagan, while officially opposed to apartheid, also expressed sympathy for the white populations in southern Africa, framing conflicts there as a contest between the free world and the encroachments of communist terrorism, and stated his willingness to veto economic sanctions against Rhodesia5. By the time Reagan eventually won the presidency, however, the question of U.S. support for white minority power in Rhodesia was moot, Rhodesia – like white rule in California today – already having ceased to exist.
Jimmy Carter, as “a man from the Deep South, was particularly attuned to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s,” writes Mitchell:
During the presidential campaign, he had declared, “I think the greatest thing that ever happened to the South was the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the opening up of opportunities to black people . . . It not only liberated black people, but it also liberated whites.” Carter and his point man on Africa, U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, saw a parallel between the struggle in Rhodesia against Ian Smith and the U.S. civil rights movement.
Moreover, Carter’s victory over Ford had been a squeaker, and the black vote had made the crucial difference. As Andrew Young declared, “The hands that picked the cotton have elected a president.”
Finally, Africa was not only the locus of the Cold War in the 1970s, it was also seen as the land of opportunity: with oil-rich Nigeria as an engine, the continent seemed poised for an economic take off.
For all these reasons – Cold War security concerns, racial justice and economics – Jimmy Carter wanted to resolve the Rhodesian war.
In terms of the Cold War, Carter continued Kissinger’s policy, but with a very different approach. Whereas Kissinger had relied on secrecy and speed, the Carter administration methodically sought buy-in from all parties – including, crucially, the top three Rhodesian independence movement leaders, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. […]
In the history of U.S. foreign policy, this was extraordinary. What other Cold War president had directly negotiated with Communist-backed guerrillas? Carter himself refused to allow negotiations with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua until the fall of the Somoza dictatorship was imminent. Nor did he open direct negotiations with the anti-Shah dissidents in Iran. But Rhodesia was different. Why?
In part because Carter framed the war there in terms of the U.S. civil rights struggle. The analogy was inaccurate, but useful. It allowed Carter to see the Rhodesian guerrillas as freedom fighters against injustice rather than communist proxies. It also gave him courage when the negotiations stalled, which they did frequently. Carter was steadfast in his belief that change – racial justice – would transform Rhodesia just as it had the U.S. south, and that it would benefit blacks and whites alike.6
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Rainer is the author of Protocols of the Elders of Zanuck: Psychological Warfare and Filth at the Movies – the DEFINITIVE Alt-Right statement on Hollywood!