“One or two articles about Buckley’s life noted that he had written a notorious column during the 1980s calling for AIDS victims to be tattooed on their rear ends. One writer noted that this was eerily reminiscent of Nazi policies.
“Actually Buckley was no Nazi. On one occasion Buckley appeared on a late-night program with the writer Gore Vidal, and Vidal accused Buckley of being a ‘crypto-Nazi.’ Incensed, Buckley called Vidal a ‘goddamn queer.’ Both men ended up suing the other. Buckley won his case, because he was able to show that his opinions were never sympathetic to the Nazis, ‘crypto’ or otherwise. Vidal lost his case, because, well, truth is an effective defense in a libel case.
“So what about that AIDS column? Let’s remember that not much was known about AIDS in the early 1980s. In particular, there were competing theories about how AIDS was actually transmitted. Little more was known than the fact that AIDS seemed to be concentrated in the homosexual community.
“Buckley noted in his column that in previous epidemics, such as the syphilis epidemic of the early part of the twentieth century, America quarantined people who contracted the disease. Buckley argued against quarantining victims of AIDS. Somewhat light-heartedly, he suggested that a better alternative might be to have some insignia warning off potential partners. He came up with the admittedly strange idea of a small tattoo on the AIDS victim’s rear end. Not surprisingly, the column caused immediate controversy.
“At National Review, however, the controversy was of a different sort. The big question that arose among the editors was not whether there should be a tattoo but rather what the tattoo should say. Several entries were submitted, and the contest winner was my own English professor Jeffrey Hart, a senior editor of the magazine, who proposed the line emblazoned on the entrance gate to Dante’s Inferno: ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here.'”