Jon Utley, one of the most dedicated and principled pro-freedom activists in the nation, passed away yesterday. For 30 years, Jon was in the forefront of the antiwar movement since he spearheaded a group to oppose President George H.W. Bush’s war against Iraq. Jon was a rare voice of reason and grace in conservative circles, patiently pointing out how foreign warring was destroying American freedom – as well as wreaking pointless havoc abroad. He was also a generous supporter of groups ranging from the Future of Freedom Foundation to Antiwar.com, where his columns trounced bloodthirsty politicians of all stripes.
Jon consistently raised issues that other Washington activists would not touch. In a 2005 Antiwar.com column headlined “Torture, the GOP, and the Religious Right,” Jon wrote: “The idea that America is ‘good’ and therefore need not show a decent respect to the opinions of mankind runs very deep among those now ruling Washington.” Many folks nowadays are unaware of how much support and acquiescence the Bush torture regime received from Washingtonians of most political stripes. Jon was opposed atrocities regardless of which political party was committing them.
I was always happy to see Jon at gatherings or conferences in Washington, Las Vegas, or wherever else he and I happened to coincide. Jon was almost a novelty in Washington: when he asked how you were doing, he actually gave a damn about the answer.
A few years ago, I asked him why he was attending an ACLU awards dinner touting a left-wing keynoter who didn’t seem truly concerned with individual liberty. Jon replied, “So that somebody will care when government agents take us away.” His own life was profoundly altered when government agents took his father off to the Gulag.
Jon was born in the Soviet Union in 1934. His mother was Freda Utley, a bestselling author who helped awaken Americans to the Soviet peril in the 1940s and beyond. Ms. Utley also wrote one of the first books published in America on the horrendous sufferings in postwar Germany – “The High Cost of Vengeance,” published by Regnery in 1949, available at this link. His father, Arcadi Berdichevsky, was murdered in Stalin’s Gulag in 1938. Return to the Gulag, a film on his father’s fate, has been shown on PBS and on other venues around the nation. Reason.com described the movie: “In 2004, Utley embarked upon a search to learn of his father’s fate. This documentary traces Utley’s journey through former labor camps and cities in northern Russia and his final uncovering of the horrible truth at the dreaded camp city of Vorkuta within the Arctic Circle.” You can watch the 28-minute documentary here.
Here is a video made during a Committee for the Republic celebration of Jon’s 80th birthday:
Here is a nine-minute tribute video last year from the American Conservative – which Jon helped found and served as Publisher and kept alive through perennial budget squeezes: “Jon Utley – A Lifetime of Courage” featuring Kelley Vlahos, John Henry, Roger Ream, and others:
That American Conservative dinner last year was “black tie optional.” Jon sent me a note a few weeks before the event: “Would you like to come, a comp ticket, to our GALA? I told them you might trim your beard, you really do sometimes look like an anarchist.”
Jon was sufficiently conservative that “look like an anarchist” was probably not an unvarnished compliment. In honor of Jon, I happily trimmed my beard for that event. I even sported a nice suit. Admittedly, a USA Today editor notified me that the knot in my necktie failed her inspection.
Jon Utley made the world a better place. He was someone who would sound the alarm when government agents took anyone away, regardless of whether he supported their cause. He will be sorely missed as America deals with the next deluge of threats to our peace and prosperity.