William F. Buckley

The charge by assorted gentry that James Webb is not qualified to serve as a U.S. senator from Virginia because there are lewdnesses in his published fiction rattles one's faith in democracy. A few questions need to be examined, beginning with the primary charge: smutty passages in Webb's fiction.

I have no plans to run for senator from Connecticut, but if I did I suppose my opponent could make such charges as James Webb is confronting, citing passages from my 18 novels. Both of us dwell in high church elevation: Webb, because he wishes a seat in the Senate; I, because I have been the editor of a conservative journal of opinion that speaks out on moral questions.

James Webb's principal defense -- made on his behalf by independent observers -- has been that in his novels he writes about war and the military. And he saw these at first hand. One former naval officer wrote in to say: "Anyone who writes sex-free military fiction either doesn't know what he's talking about or doesn't have the guts to write the truth. These passages prove nothing except that Webb writes the military as he knew it, warts and all. It doesn't mean he approves of all the things he writes about (whether or not he ever did); he's certainly not the same guy now that he was when a midshipman or a second lieutenant."

Another commentator wrote: "I hate to break it to you folks, but the military -- especially the Marine Corps, the service that Webb knows best -- is largely composed of macho young men with foul mouths and an unhealthy obsession with all things sexual. It's a giant locker room. No one who's been in the naval service beyond boot camp ... hasn't heard a story or two about a Filipino stripper dicing a banana with her vagina. ... If I wrote a book that involved some junior Marine officers deployed to Spain, and if I were as brutally honest as Webb is, I might write a scene in which the characters watch a live sex show. More than once. Because that's what my fellow lieutenants and I did when we were deployed to Spain. Am I proud of it? Not especially. But it happened -- and it was by no means unusual."

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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