NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, July 24th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview.
Today, conservative writer David French.
While he’s best known now for his political commentary at National Review, David French began his career in enemy territory, you might say—in the ideologically liberal Ivy League.
EICHER: After graduating from Harvard Law School, French spent 10 years as a corporate lawyer before transitioning to constitutional law.
WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky paid a visit to David French’s home and talked with him about his work defending religious and civil liberties—as well as his stint in the U.S. Army.
Read Marvin’s conversation with David French at wng.org.
OLASKY: So, okay, 10 years out of law school then with all these interesting experiences in Kentucky, you join FIRE.
OLASKY: Philadelphia? Is that where–?
FRENCH: Philadelphia, yep. Moved to center city Philadelphia.
OLASKY: Okay, why FIRE in particular?
FRENCH: Well, you know, I was a great admirer of what FIRE did. They were one of the few civil liberties groups in America that you can say, and still is the case, it was the case when I joined them in ’04, it’s the case what you can say now that it doesn’t matter if you are a PETA pers—a PETA vegan or a NRA gun nut, whatever. I’m just thinking of all kinds of—wherever you are on the ideological spectrum, it didn’t matter to FIRE. They wanted to protect your civil liberty. So, I went there in ’04, moved the family there, got an apartment in center city Philly like three blocks from the Liberty Bell and got to work.
OLASKY: And you were there two years?
FRENCH: Two years, yes.
OLASKY: Okay, then you’re—wha—37 and you decide to go to Iraq?
OLASKY: Tell us about that process.
FRENCH: So, yeah, so in the late ’05, I’m loving my life as president of FIRE. I’m thinking I’m going to do this for the next 25 years. And I was reading a news story about the Army having difficulty recruiting people. This was ’05. The war in Iraq is going very poorly at this point. People forget that in ’05 the country was coming apart at the seams. Our casualty rates were spiking. And I just got mad. I’m 36 years old at the time, and I just said out loud to my wife, “America is too soft to fight a long war.” And I felt very self-righteous when I said it, and then the instant I said it I felt this incredible, the most powerful sense of conviction I think I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Like, who are you to say that? What are you doing? Here you have this beautiful apartment in center city Philly, you’ve got a dream job, you’re riding off of other people’s sacrifice, and then you’re angry that more people won’t sacrifice? And I just felt this incredible sense of conviction and I looked at my wife and she was just not feeling it. But she went the next day and was with my son, and my son said to her, “Well, what’s a patriot?” And my wife said—came up on the spur of the moment with this definition, which I think is just one of the best I’ve ever heard. She said, “A patriot is somebody who loves their country more than they love themselves.” And then my son says, “Are we patriots?” At which point Nancy practically chokes up and says, “Yeah, we’re patriots.” So then I meet her at the door and as she tells this story here she’s wanting to talk about this and I’m saying, “Hey, Nancy, there’s a lot of different things I’ve done in my life that—some are better than others as far as helping our country, but I really feel like I see myself as a patriot.” Which was exactly the key word that had just impacted her so much. So she said, yeah, you need to do it. So I went down to the recruiting station in downtown Philadelphia center city and walked in and said, “Hey, I’m 36 years old. I want to be a JAG officer, what do I need to do?” And they had no idea. I volunteered to go to Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment during the surge, and October 31, ’07 I left home to go to Iraq and was gone from October 31 until late September of ’08.
MO: What’s the most memorable thing that you recall from that year?
FRENCH: Well, I mean, goodness. There’s so many things. There are marvelous, amazing memories, and there are so many of those grim and awful memories that a person can have. I mean, we took a lot of losses when I was there, including of guys that got — that came to be closer than brothers. And that’s just an awful thing to go through. Never been through so much death and injuries — deaths and injuries in my life. So we had about 780 guys in our squadron and between killed and wounded troopers, almost 100 guys were — so, I think around 80 were injured to varying degrees and then a bunch of guys were killed and that was just — you don’t have any time to grieve at all because you have to be on it. You have to be — my job was I helped, I took care of detainees, I was responsible for assisting the command in sort of the shoot/don’t shoot situations.
So you don’t have time to really grieve to be honest. And then you come home and it sort of hits you, especially when you’re reserve. You cycle out of the active duty unit and you go back to a community that does not know a single one of those people that you just lost, they’re just a name to them. They cannot possibly comprehend what you just experienced and you feel very intensely alone. But there were some very high highs and some very low lows. But the guys I served with are just some of the most extraordinary people you’ll ever meet.
OLASKY: Okay, so then what do you do once you’re back?
FRENCH: So then I go, I still have multiple years that I serve in the reserve, so I spent some time in South Korea, I spent some time in Italy, so I still had a lot of years in the reserves, but I mainly from that point forward was doing religious liberty and free speech litigation. I ran the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Academic Freedom, but I wanted to do more than constitutional litigation, so I then left ADF and went to ACLJ and while I’m doing this, I’m starting to write pretty regularly for National Review. So, all along I’m kind of writing for the Corner or other National Review blogs and then I go to ACLJ where I really liked the practice.
And so I really enjoyed that work but I was writing more and more and more and in 2015 I thought, ‘I don’t want to practice law anymore, I want to write.’ So I called Rich Lowry and said, “I don’t know if you guys would like for me to write a little bit more, but I’d love to write a little bit more” and Rich said, “Hey, I was just thinking it’d be great if you could write some more” and so I came on full time to National Review in 2015, just in time for Trump to come down the escalator.