If the Christian Marines were to be the general staff for our side in what was coming, I needed to figure out just what and who our side was. I wanted to get to know them, and, more importantly, let them get to know me. That was the first step in establishing trust.
So one April evening in the year 2017 I drove down to Waterville. When I got there, I could tell Spring was coming to Maine. I could smell all the winter’s dog poop melting on the green.
The local chapter of the Tea Party was gathering that night to hear one of their top leaders up from Washington. I knew enough about the Tea Party to realize it was on our side. Many of the folks in it later became brothers in arms and leaders in the Recovery. But like all such groups in the last days of the American republic, it had a fatal flaw, the nature of which I was to learn that evening.
The fellow from Washington, whose name I long ago forgot, gave the usual pitch the “Inside-the-Beltway” types fed to the local yokels. The gist of it was that the future of the country depended on them (in fact, by that point, it had already been determined); they should respond to what their leaders asked them to do (when it should have been the other way around); and, most important, send money.
After he’d made his pitch, there were a few questions, a bit of discussion of this and that. Then a tall fellow in back stood up. He was dressed in about the year 1945: well-cut brown double-breasted suit, wide tie, holding a brown fedora. By Maine standards, he had a good bit to say, and he said it well.
“I appreciate you taking the time to journey all the way up here,” began Mr. William Hocking Kraft. “But frankly, you represent the problem, not the solution.”
“The problem, put simply, is this. Our leaders always sell us out. Maybe they start out thinking like we do, I don’t know. But once they get to Washington, and see how nice life can be once you’re a member of the club, the Establishment, their goal becomes joining that club. But our goal is to close it down.”
“They—you—always end up getting sucked in to the Republican Party,” Mr. Kraft continued. “It holds the keys to the club. And it sold us out long ago. Sure, it tells us what we want to hear, but it snickers and winks the whole time it’s talking. The only people it delivers for are those on Wall Street and in the country clubs.”
“The fact of the matter is that you can’t create what we believe in, a country that follows the Ten Commandments, from Washington. The people in Washington follow only one commandment: Promote Yourself. You have to create it here, not by what you say, but by how you live.”
Kraft’s words brought to mind something my friend who worked for a Senator had said to me. He said the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party was the difference between Madonna and Donald Trump.
The fellow from Washington slid and slithered as best he could, but it was clear Kraft had said what others were thinking. And he was right. No matter what the group was, it ended up with leaders who wanted to join the club. Those leaders sold their own folks out, because that was the condition of club membership.
I was struck by Kraft’s definition of what we wanted: a country that followed the Ten Commandments. That was what the Christian Marines wanted, too. And we needed action, not just words. So when the meeting broke up, I introduced myself.
His reply to my introduction was a surprise. “I already know you, or at least know about you,” he said. “I have some friends in the Corps—I’m something of an amateur military historian—and I heard about your raid on the feminists at Expeditionary Warfare School. You showed the rarest of qualities in the American officer corps: moral courage. I would be honored if you would join me for dinner at my home, if you’re free.”
I was, and Kraft was clearly someone I wanted to know better. We walked out together to his car—an immaculate 1948 Buick Roadmaster. “I’ll wait for you here,” he said. “Just follow me.”
His house was a typical 1920s bungalow, nothing special from the outside, but when I walked through the front door I got a shock. It was like going through a time lock.
Everything was as it might have been seventy years ago. Everything—the big floor model radio (no television), the Brussels carpets on hardwood floors, the appliances, the 1948 calendar on the kitchen wall (as always in Maine, we came in the back door, through the mud room), even the way his wife and children were dressed. It had been a long time since I had dropped in on someone and found his wife in a nice dress waiting to serve dinner.
He introduced his wife as Mrs. Kraft, his young son as Master Billy and his daughters as the Misses Evelyn and Lula Bell.
I expressed my hope that my unexpected arrival for dinner was not a problem.
“Not at all,” replied Mrs. Kraft. “I always prepare enough so that if Mr. Kraft brings someone, we have plenty. That is, after all, one of the duties of my sphere.”
The feeling of having gone through a time warp was growing stronger.
We sat down in the dining room, with its 1930s floral wallpaper and oak wainscoting, polished mahogany table and built-in breakfront, and Mr. Kraft said grace—in Latin. Mrs. Kraft, and only Mrs. Kraft, served, from the kitchen. Somehow, it all felt right, even though my generation had been taught it was wrong.
“This is sure a change from most places I visit,” I ventured, being somewhat unsure how much notice I should give to what then counted as eccentricity, at the least.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Kraft. “It has taken some effort on our part, but we have created a home where you can leave the 21st century at the door. Here, at least, things are as they were, and should be.”
“We’re Retroculture people,” added Mrs. Kraft.
“I don’t know how much you’ve heard about the Retroculture movement,” Mr. Kraft said.
“I’m afraid we lead a rather sheltered life in the military,” I replied. “The only culture we get is the kind that grows on old bread.”
“You may remember what I said earlier this evening, at the meeting,” he continued. “You cannot create, or, more precisely, re-create, the world we want simply through words, least of all through the words of politicians. You have to do it by how you live. The Retroculture movement is people—individuals, families, sometimes whole neighborhoods—striving to live again in the old ways, following the old rules.”
“I’m sure you’ve been told, ‘You can’t go back,'” Mr. Kraft went on. “Like most of what you are told these days, it’s a lie. The one thing we know we can do is what we’ve already done. We can live in the good, wholesome, upright ways our forefathers followed.”
“So there is more to this than furniture, clothes and manners?” I asked. The manners were obvious: we were holding an adult conversation at a table that included three children.
“Of course,” Mr. Kraft replied. “Things are important tools; our furniture, our clothes, my Buick, all help separate us from the modern world, which is what we want to do. We’re like the Amish in that respect. But also like the Amish, the essence of Retroculture is our beliefs, morals and values. We believe what Americans used to believe. We hold the same values, follow the same moral rules our ancestors followed.”
“What era do Retroculture people want to live in?” I inquired.
“Any time before 1965,” Mr. Kraft responded. “That year marks the beginning of the cultural revolution that destroyed America. Our period is the 1940s, though many of the things you see here are older than that; back then, people didn’t throw out their furniture every ten years.”
“Many Retroculture people have chosen the Victorian era as the time they want to live in, and for good reasons. The Victorians were astoundingly productive people, building, inventing, creating, conquering, all the things we need to do if we are ever to amount to anything again, other than a Third World country. The basis of their success, of course, was their strong, Christian morals.”
“But other Retroculture folks have chosen the 1950s as their era, or 1910, or even the colonial period,” Mr. Kraft continued. “The specific time period does not matter, so long as it is a time when traditional American culture was strong.”
“Each person, each family decides for itself just how Retro it wants to go. There’s no set of rules, except that it must be before 1965 and must include the values if it is to count as Retroculture. Most people follow the simple rule of common sense.”
“The colonial period would interest me,” I said, “though as a Marine, I was told that bleeding was bad for the other guy, not good for me. I’m not sure I’d like depending on 18th century medicine.”
“Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have to,” Mr. Kraft replied. “We had our children vaccinated against polio, I assure you. We have no desire to bring back the tiny braces and little iron lungs. On the other hand, we don’t want modern medical technology to keep us alive when our natural life span is over, so we can waste away in some nursing home. When my time comes, I want the doctor to come to the house with his little black bag and give me some morphine to ease the passing, just as he would have done in the 1940s.”
“Good luck finding a doctor to make a house call these days,” I replied, wondering just how practical Retroculture was.
“We have such a doctor,” Mrs. Kraft said. “He’s in the Retroculture movement too. When one of us is sick, he comes to the house in his black Detroit Electric automobile from the 1920s.”
“You’re lucky to have a wife who goes along with all this,” I said to Mr. Kraft, thinking how most of my friends’ wives would have reacted to the idea of going back to the past.
“The good luck is mine more than his,” Mrs. Kraft replied. “These days, women are told they were oppressed and mistreated in the past, and that they will be happier if they can live in the business world, the world of men. That is another modern lie.”
“As a wife of the 1940s, I have my own sphere where I am in charge: this home, my family, and my community, where I do a great deal of volunteer work, as women did in the past. It is a more important sphere than the business world where Mr. Kraft works, because it is the sphere where babies grow into children and then into men and women. I, as the woman of the house, hold the future in my hands.”
“I agree with that,” Mr. Kraft said. “Unless women create good homes and raise the children right, those things go undone. They are not natural to men. We see all around us what kind of children come from homes where the wife is not a mother and homemaker. As Arnold Toynbee warned, our barbarians have come from within.”
“As far as all the nonsense about women being oppressed by being given charge of the home,” Mrs. Kraft added, “I find quite the opposite is true. Creating a good home is a greater challenge than most matters in the business world, and it allows more room for creativity. The home you are enjoying now is my achievement. How many women in business achieve so much? Or are so loved and honored for their achievement as I am by Mr. Kraft and our children?”
“That you are indeed, Mrs. Kraft,” Mr. Kraft replied.
They had a remarkable home life, as I could plainly see. It was the sort of home most people of my generation knew about only from books or plays or family memories. But it was exactly the kind of home we all wished we could live in—not just for the beautiful things, but for the warmth and contentment and absolute solidness I could feel radiating from every corner.
After an ample and excellent meal, Mr. Kraft and I adjourned to his den while Mrs. Kraft did the dishes. As he busied himself filling and lighting his pipe, I started to think. Maybe this was the answer to the puzzle I was facing of how the Christian Marines could explain what we were fighting for. In a broad sense, we knew the answer: a nation where the Ten Commandments ruled. But I knew our program, our goal, had to be developed beyond that to be understood by other people.
The danger facing us was falling into an ideology. Retroculture avoided that danger, because unlike an ideology it was not based on some abstract scheme of ideas. It was simply recovering what we used to have and used to be, which was the ultimate in concreteness. And we could know it would work, because we knew America had worked in the past. Logically, what worked once should work again.
“Just how many of you Retroculture people are there?” I asked Mr. Kraft.
“Tens of thousands,” he replied, “and growing fast. You don’t hear about us much in the general media, because we represent a rejection of everything it stands for. But we have our own magazines, books, clubs, and societies. We come in all varieties – there is even a group of non-Amish who live like the Amish, what they call, “plain.” There is growing talk of founding new towns where everyone would live in a certain time period and there would be nothing out of place for that time.”
“It kind of makes you wonder what a whole Retroculture country might be like,” I mused.
”It would be splendid, as America itself once was splendid, before the squalid sixties,” Kraft replied. “Remember, we had a country that worked.”
“That is hard to remember now,” I responded.
“But people do remember,” Kraft said. “Take a look at this—and it is from more than twenty years ago.”
He handed me a copy of a poll taken in 1992 by Lawrence Research for something called the Free Congress Foundation. It was a survey of people’s attitudes toward the past, and the findings were remarkable. 49% said life in the past was better than it is today; only 17% said it was worse. 59% said the nation’s leaders should be trying to take the country back toward the way it used to be. 61% thought life in the 1950s was better than in the 1990s. 47% said their grandparents’ lives were happier than their own – and the margin was 15% higher among blacks, whose grandparents had lived under segregation.
When given a menu of times and places in which they could choose to live, a typical suburb in 1950 came in first with 58%; in last place was Los Angeles in 1991. When asked for a second choice, the winner, with 32%, was a small town in 1900; modern LA again came in last.
56% of those polled had a favorable impression of the Victorian period. 45% said they saw signs of people and things turning back toward the past—and that it was a good thing.
“For America, that poll represents nothing less than a cultural revolution,” Mr. Kraft said. “From the days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony onward, Americans have been future focused. We have always believed that the future would be better than the present, and that the present was better than the past. We don’t believe that any more. We believe—in fact, we know, because unlike the future, the past is knowable—what we once had was better than what we have now. Caught as America is in an endless downward spiral of decline, decay, and degradation, we have no reason to hope for our future—unless that future can be a recovery of our past.”
“Thanks to a certain professor from Dartmouth College, I’ve read a bit about our past,” I said. “Not just America’s past, but the history of our Western culture. My impression is that through most of history, we were past-focused. We saw the past as a model we should try to recapture and emulate. Is what we’re seeing here a return to normality?”
“Yes,” Mr. Kraft responded. “Most of our culture’s great leaps forward have come from attempts to return to the past. The Renaissance is a good example. The Renaissance was an attempt to recover the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome. Of course, such efforts don’t exactly recreate the past; 15th century Florence was not the Roman Republic. But the attempt to recapture the classical past created a new synthesis that was brilliant—and that could never have been created by looking only to the future, which is, after all, a void.”
“Do you think an attempt to recapture our own past—Retroculture—could give us a renaissance?” I asked.
“Again, the answer is yes,” Kraft replied. “Retroculture is something solid, something real people can put their hands on and understand. Most people know how their grandparents or great grandparents lived. They know they were good people who lived decent, satisfying lives. They can grasp the fact that we can live that way again. Once they realize it is possible, once they realize that the saying, ‘You can’t go back,’ is a lie, it is something they want to do. And if they do it, as we have done it in this home, in our lives, they find it works.”
“One final question, if I may,” I said. “If some people were willing to fight for a country where Retroculture could flourish—not one where it was enforced by law, but where people could live Retro if they wanted to, without any hindrances from the government—would you be willing to help?”
“Of course,” Mr. Kraft replied. “At present, Retroculture can’t go much beyond home life, because all kinds of government regulations and regulators and lawyers come down on you if you try. As I said, some of us would like to create whole new towns and communities where everyone would live in a certain time. But we know the government would prevent that, because one or another of these ‘victims’ groups would protest.”
“Retroculture isn’t political,” he continued. “Retroculture is about escaping politics and government and all that nonsense. It’s about simply living a normal life, the kind of life Americans used to live. It seems to me that if we’re going to talk about a new country, that’s the kind of country we should want.”
I thought that summed it up pretty well. After drinking a glass of good Port and smoking a cigar to accompany Mr. Kraft’s pipe, I bid him good night and headed home through the April slush. Another piece of the puzzle had fallen into place.