The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Tale of Two Columnists

Death comes for each of us sooner or later.  This month he took away two of my favorite opinion columnists.  On Sunday, May 12th 2013, Peter Worthington, founding editor of the Toronto Sun passed away.   Then, last Tuesday, May 21st, Charley Reese, an editorial writer who retired from the Orlando Sentinel in 2001 and from his syndicated column in 2008, breathed his last.
Worthington and Reese were similar in a number of ways.  Both men had served in their respective countries’ military. Worthington, whose father was a career military officer, served in both World War II and the Korean War.  Reese was a tank gunner in the American army for a couple of years.  Both were writers of higher than average output.   Reese’s column, until his retirement, came out thrice weekly, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Worthington’s column also appeared far more frequently than the once or twice a week most opinion writers average.  Both men were small-c conservatives, i.e., men who were conservative by conviction and principle rather than merely by adherence to the Conservative Party.   For both men, the classical liberal ideal of small, limited, fiscally responsible government was one of the most important of those convictions.  Both were hard core, anti-Communist Cold Warriors.   In 1976, when the American liberal media was trying to sell America on the image of Jimmy Carter as an outsider to the world of Beltway politics who would revitalize America with his fresh, new, ideas, Reese became the first American columnist to point out that Carter, a charter member of the Rockefeller funded Trilateral Commission, the membership of which is a Who’s Who of Washington insiders, was anything but an outsider.  Two years later Worthington ran afoul of Canada’s own darling of the liberal media, Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau, when he embarrassed the Trudeau premiership by exposing a number of Canadians who had been lured into betraying our country to the Soviet Union by the KGB.
There were differences as well as similarities.  The one that stands out the most, in my mind at least, is in their views on post-Cold War geopolitics and military conflicts.   This became most noticeable after September 11th, 2001, because their comments on the Clinton administration’s military adventures were often similar, (1) but the difference really does go back to the end of the Cold War.
Reese believed that with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet regime, the United States should bring home her troops, which had been deployed around the globe since World War II to counter the Soviet threat, and return to a policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries when vital American interests are not at stake.   This view was shared by many who had taken a strong anti-Communist stance during the Cold War including Joseph Sobran of National Review and Samuel Francis of the Washington Times.  There were many others who thought differently, however, and the leadership of the Republican Party was not particularly sympathetic to Reese’s point of view.   The end of the Cold War coincided with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, upon which occasion US President George H. W. Bush declared the dawn of a New World Order, in which the United States would provide leadership to a coalition of democratic and free nations that would police the world against aggressors like Saddam Hussein, a doctrine that he immediately put into practice in Operation Desert Storm.    Reese, in his delightfully curmudgeonly manner, criticized the Bush administration’s actions, ridiculed  their utopian vision, expressed cynicism regarding their motives, and predicted that it would come back to bite the United States. (2) 
Reese subjected the foreign and military policies of the Clinton administration to the exact same criticism.  Nor did he change his tune for the second Bush administration.  This angered a lot of people but it is one of the things I respected the most about him.
Reese had supported George W. Bush in his campaign for the Presidency in 2000.  Patrick J. Buchanan, whose views on most subjects were far closer to Reese’s, was the Reform Party candidate in the same election, but Reese did not believe in third party campaigns. (3) He lauded the election of Bush, mocked leftist outrage over his election (4), defended his nominees from leftist attacks (5),  and for most of Bush’s first year in office he supported the administration in his column.   He defended the administration against the attacks of environmental lobbies when Bush refused to pass carbon-dioxide emission controls (6), told Dick Cheney that he  “had not enjoyed a campaign victory so much since Ronald Reagan’s in 1980” (7), and advised those complaining that Bush had taken the month of August as a vacation to “Give the prez a break. If he wants to shovel manure on his ranch, well, that's better than shoveling it from a podium, which was the year-round pastime of Bill Clinton.” (8)   When the Bush administration did something he disliked, he said so, especially when it came to foreign policy, but for the most part his columns in Bush’s first year in office were supportive.

Then came September 11, 2001 and the terrorist attack on the United States. As the Bush administration responded to this event, declaring a Global War Against Terror, introducing anti-terrorist legislation and a new bureau of Homeland Security, and then invading, first Afghanistan where the Taliban were purportedly hiding Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda high command, and later Iraq, many took the position that the Bush administration should be above criticism. Reese did not. He weighed George W. Bush in the same balance in which he had weighed Bill Clinton and Bush’s father and found him to be wanting.

Reese was no pacifist. His country had been attacked and he believed it had to retaliate, track down the men responsible, and take them out. He condemned, however, the Bush administration’s ill-defined war aims, indiscriminate bombing, and heavy-handed manner (9). When Clinton had tried to pass legislation, following the 2005 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, conservatives had considered it to be an unnecessary assault upon the civil liberties of ordinary Americans. Reese did not change his mind when Bush and company introduced the same kind of legislation, even though many other conservatives began to sing “but it’s cute when our guy does it”. (10) It was foolish, he believed, to treat the September 11th attacks as a blank cheque authorizing the President to enhance Executive powers and wage war at will. (11) Retaliation against the thugs who were responsible for the attacks was justified, but expensive wars of regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq were not. Indeed, in re-reading some of his columns written months before September 11th, he almost seems to have anticipated the Bush administration’s post-9/11 actions and condemned them in advance. (12) At any rate, he certainly saw the 2003 invasion of Iraq coming long in advance and warned against it, (13) and he persistently maintained his criticism of the Iraq War through to his retirement. (14)

Peter Worthington saw things differently. He was not a believer in armed neutrality or non-interventionism. He too saw the Iraq War coming in advance, but approved of it. (15) He was enthusiastic about the Bush administration’s response to terrorism (16) and highly critical of our own government here in Canada, for its failure to wholeheartedly get aboard. (17) He acknowledged that we did not have the military resources necessary to play the part in these wars that he would have liked, (18) but this served to illustrate a larger point – that our government was not committing enough funds to defence and was not taking national security seriously and that it had not been doing so since the Trudeau Liberals slashed the military decades previously.

The well-being of Canada’s armed forces, and the soldiers who compose them, was a major concern of Worthington’s. He frequently wrote columns aimed at building up the morale of servicemen currently deployed and took up cudgels on behalf of our veterans or of a particular veteran to whom an injustice of some sort or another had been done. In this, despite their radically different take on post-9/11 conflicts, he and Reese were alike.

It is easy enough to see where Worthington’s focus on the military came from. He was born in the Fort Osborne Barracks here in Winnipeg. His father was F. F. “Worthy” Worthington, who after his early adventures as a mercenary, enlisted in the Canadian Black Watch by mistake (he thought he was enlisting in the British) in World War I, became a Vimy Ridge war hero, and then a career military officer, eventually rising to the rank of Major General. Peter Worthington grew up in army camps and joined the navy in 1944 when he was only seventeen, having previously tried and failed to run away and join the merchant navy when he was fifteen. He was commissioned a sub-lieutenant before the end of the War, and was made a second lieutenant upon his re-enlistment to fight in Korea, in which he joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the division to which his father had belonged when he was born. (19)

After the Korean War, Worthington graduated from the University of British Columbia and studied journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.   When fighting broke out in the Middle East in 1956, he tried to talk Doug MacFarlane of the Toronto Telegram into sending him to the Gaza Strip.  MacFarlane was skeptical and only agreed when Worthington arranged for his own transportation through his military contacts.  This launched his fifteen year career as foreign correspondent with the Telegram.   In those fifteen years he was sent around the world, to wherever a war had broken out or was likely to break out.   He met all sorts of interesting people, securing a famous interview with King Hussein of Jordan in 1958, when other journalists had failed, through a case of mistaken identity (the King and everyone else present thought he was part of a German trade delegation).  He was present on a number of historic occasions, such as when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. (20)
Worthington’s fifteen years at the Toronto Telegram came to an end when the paper folded in 1971.   Rejected by the Globe and Mail, and offered a job with the ultra-left wing Toronto Star, Worthington instead joined Doug Creighton and Don Hunt in founding the Toronto Sun.   Under Worthington’s editorship, the new tabloid quickly became a thorn in the side of Pierre Eliot Trudeau.
Worthington was, in my opinion, at his best when he was standing up for someone against whom an injustice had been done.   Like when he stood up for Canada’s veterans when the government got the bright idea to merge Veteran’s Affairs with the Department of National Defence. (21)  Or when he helped Kyle Brown, a trooper in the Canadian Airborne Regiment who was made the scapegoat for the murder of Shidane Arone in the Somalia controversy, tell his story. (22)  Or when he risked the wrath of Bernie Farber by opposing the Canadian Jewish Congress’ obscene efforts to have several elderly Ukranian and Polish men who had been captured and forced into service by the Nazis in the World War II and who had immigrated here after the war, deported on the grounds that they were “war criminals”. (23)
In the last example, we see another instance of similarity between Worthington and Reese.   For Worthington also spoke out against the similar persecution of John Demjanjuk, who had been wrongly identified as war criminal “Ivan the Terrible”, stripped of his American citizenship, extradited to Israel, convicted, then had his conviction overturned on appeal when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that evidence proved conclusively that Demjanjuk could not have been “Ivan the Terrible”.  Demjanjuk was subsequently accused of being a different war criminal and extradited to Germany, Israel having refused to hear the accustations.   Worthington condemned the whole affair, placing him in the company of a very small number of conservative journalists who were willing to do so. (24)  Pat Buchanan had been Demjanjuk’s main advocate in the press. Charley Reese was another.
This displayed a trait I admired in these men – the willingness to say what they thought was true, and stand up for what they thought was right, even if it was sure to bring an onslaught of unpleasant name-calling down upon their heads.
Charley Reese exemplified this trait. In an age of ever increasing “political correctness”, in which the Left succeeded in having more and more opinions, once common and freely expressed, driven from the marketplace of ideas, Reese defied them completely. He stood up for Southern Americans, their Confederate heritage and its symbols, for absolute freedom of speech, for gun owners’ rights, for the rights of the unborn, and for a host of other things that it takes great courage to stand for today. I agreed with him on most of these issues, but hope that I could have respected his forthrightness and courage even if that was not the case.

Reese and Worthington both set excellent examples for conservative writers – indeed, for commentators of any sort. May they rest in peace.

(1) For example, compare Peter Worthington’s “NATO’s reputation a casualty of war”, Toronto Sun, November 18, 1999 ( and “The hoax that started a war”, Toronto Sun, April 2, 2001 ( with Charley Reese’s “What to do when facts are different”? Why, just stop reporting”, Orlando Sentinel, November 14, 1999 ( and “If there is to be any real hope of peace NATO has to go”, Orlando Sentinel, March 9, 2000 (

(2) Charley Reese, “Time To Give Bouquets and Raspberries for the Persian Gulf War”, Orlando Sentinel, February 28, 1991 ( “Just What Did We Americans Get Out of the Persian Gulf War?”, Orlando Sentinel, March 28, 1991 (; “Persian Gulf War Isn’t Off Everyone’s Timetable – Just Ours”, Orlando Sentinel, August 15, 1991 (

(3) Charley Reese, “Tweedle Dee Vs. Tweedle Dum: The Differences Are Important”, Orlando Sentinel, March 26, 2000 (

(4) Charley Reese, “A Gnashing Sound From the Left”, Orlando Sentinel, January 2, 2001. (

(5) Charley Reese, “A Good Executive, That’s Bush”, Orlando Sentinel, January 9, 2001, (, “Perversion Perfectly Illustrationed”, Orlando Sentinel, January 21, 2001 (

(6) Charley Reese, “Go To Source of Energy Problem”, Orlando Sentinel, March 20, 2001. (

(7) Charley Reese, “Phone Chat With Veep a Nice Touch”, Orlando Sentinel, March 22, 2001 (

(8) Charley Reese, “Don’t Grumble About the Bush Vacation.” St. Augustine Record, August 26, 2001( The St. Augustine Record ran this column on a Sunday. The King Features Syndicate would have released it during the previous week.

(9) Charley Reese, “Indefinite Bombing Will Get Us In Trouble”, King Features Syndicate, November 14, 2001.

(10) Charley Reese, “Americans Should Worry Lest Liberty Became a Casualty”, King Features Syndicate, November 30, 2001.

(11) Charley Reese,”A Whole Lot of Coincidences Here”, King Features Syndicate, November 26, 2001, “A Poorly Covered War”, King Features Syndicate, December 3, 2001, “Nobody Should Like War”, King Features Syndicate, December 14, 2001, “What Happened to the Tightening Noose”, King Features Syndicate, December 24, 2001, “No Peace, No Good Will, No Justice”, King Features Syndicate, December 31, 2001.

(12) Charley Reese, “Peace? Let’s Just Pray for Good Sense”, Orlando Sentinel, January 4, 2001 (, “One Bad Act Begets Another”, Orlando Sentinel, February 27, 2001. (

(13) Charley Reese, “Don’t Attack Iraq”, King Features Syndicate, January 9, 2002.

(14) See the archives of his columns at paleolibertarian Lew Rockwell’s website ( and at (

(15) Peter Worthington, “Rogue Nations Beware: Bush Is Serious”, Toronto Sun, February 6, 2001, “Bush’s Pressure is on UN, not just Saddam”, Toronto Sun, January 30, 2003,

(16) Peter Worthington, “War on Terror Right Course”, Toronto Sun, September 5, 2004, “Why George Bush is Today’s Churchill”, Toronto Sun, September 28, 2004.

(17) Peter Worthington, “No Fighting – PM’s decree insults our soldiers and embarrasses Canada”, Toronto Sun, November 23, 2001.

(18) Peter Worthington, “Canuck Army has no Teeth”, Toronto Sun, September 24, 2001.

(19) All of this can be found in Peter Worthington, Looking For Trouble: A journalist’s life… and then some (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1984)

(20) Ibid.

(21) Peter Worthington, “The Kiss of death for Canada’s Veterans”, National Post, July 30, 2010. (

(22) Peter Worthington and Kyle Brown, Scapegoat: How the Army Betrayed Kyle Brown (Toronto: Seal Books, 1997)

(23) Peter Worthington, “Ukranian guard wasn’t a Nazi”, Toronto Sun, April 5, 2001,“Stay of Execution”, Toronto Sun, November 5, 2002, “Justice a Long Time Coming”, Toronto Sun, June 2, 2004, “Feds’ witch hunt isn’t punishing real war criminals”, Toronto Sun, December 8, 2009.

(24) Peter Worthington, “Germany targets Demjanjuk”, Toronto Sun, March 30, 2009 ( , “Demjanjuk was not Ivan the Terrible, but he's on trial again”, Toronto Sun, December 11, 2009 (, “No satisfaction in Demjanjuk case”, Toronto Sun, May 25, 2011 (

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