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Activist Remorse

Posted on Thursday, June 1, 2023
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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Few will speak about it, fewer write about it, but lives spent in rabid political activism, activists tearing down what “is” in favor of utopia, hacking up society with certainty, and failing to appreciate the impact – especially of violent or morally misplaced activism – leaves scars. Some realize that later.

Think on it. How many Bolsheviks wished – over time – they had not been so fervent? How many communists wished they had never heard of Lenin, Stalin, Mao? How many fascists wished they had never heard of Mussolini, Hitler, Brownshirts, or “The Party?” Many.

These days we see rising violent activism, and it should give all pause. For some activists, especially those who forsake God, ignore history, and have no time for fairness, a constitution, traditions, history, or remembering what made their life possible, humility is a lost cause. Moral depravity, preoccupation with self-adulation, and the steady dopamine of arrogance and destruction control them.

But unspoken facts are worth speaking: Many young activists, once obsessed with righteous violence, come to regret they wrought, lessons they did not heed or learned late, just their fate. Seldom written about are aftereffects, the long term reality – life choices begetting laden lives, great regret.

Examples are legion. Hardly a person breaths who does not have regret, but regrets about harm done in the name of some political surety, some unwavering view that hurting others is worth it, leaves a scar.

Several examples pop to mind, among many. Egged on by “the crowd,” pressed into thoughtless behavior, many political activists “drink their own cool-aid,” stop thinking, attack, and think the cause is a “be-all-and-end-all,” or that “ends justify the means,” no price to pay for their mindlessness.

Not true. Only later do they understand why others urged them to wait, think, reconsider, uses self-discipline, displace hate and destruction with love and appreciation, or just pause the cause – to preserve their own inner peace and sanity, to help them live with themselves later in life.

Take onetime anti-war hyper-activist, eventual presidential candidate George McGovern, who was so sure of his left-leaning causes that he tolerated no compromise, gave no thought to cost. When people needed demonizing, he did it. When a worthy vice presidential candidate got unpopular, he dumped him. When his own daughter sought time in her only childhood with her only father, he was too busy.

He regretted it all. The Vietnam war ended, but would have without him. The Republican Nixon ended Johnson’s obsession, a tragedy that unfolded as if scripted to break as many hearts as possible. Late in life, McGovern acknowledged his unfairness to Eagleton.

And McGovern’s daughter? She was one of the hearts he broke. And he knew it. She died of alcoholism, forgotten – time not able to be recovered. She froze in a snowbank, unable to escape the loss, and her father read her diaries – and surely wept. He knew, activism is fine, but be prepared for the regret.

On the other side, Robert McNamara, promotor of the Vietnam war – Kennedy’s and Johnson’s Secretary of Defense – lived to regret his own brand of activism, so sure what was unwinnable would be won, so certain his critics were wrong. On his deathbed he felt the kind of regret activists can feel, when there is nothing left to remedy what was done. He called it all “wrong, terribly wrong.” What can one say?

McNamara’s children – at least one gravely doubting the war – grew up. They survived, reflected, and chose a path different from his. One became a grape farmer, one a forester, and one a pastor. Such is life.

Then take issues like race-based violence, pro-abortion insistence, and the regret that accompanies unthinking behavior that causes harm to others. The data is conflicted, since many wish not to discuss regrets, but clearly those who get “activist” – and part with principles they thought they had – regret it.

In the case of the race-based riots of 2020, mobs moving out, doing damage, destroying homes, churches, businesses, letting hate take over with righteous intent – violence for peace – it was self-defeating, as political violence so often is. Even politicians had regrets. More to the point, the obvious is hard to miss – billions in damage to minority businesses.

The long term regrets associated with pushing abortion on others, having an abortion, and the self-evident loss this imposes – is also a source of medical study and regret.

Of course, all in all, the human mind is capable of justifying, hiving off, compartmentalizing, suppressing, and forcibly forgetting – at least for a time – many activist decisions and their impact, whether political or personal, rash or deemed rational by constant self-talk.

Nevertheless, remorse can surface and persist, decisions dog a thinking soul. We call that regret. Political activists, often sure to the point of obsession can do harm – including to themselves. Many will not admit it, but violent political activism can seed deep regret, activist remorse, leave scars. After all … how many Bolsheviks wish they had not been Bolsheviks? Many.  

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman2 for AMAC.

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