Sunday, March 29, 2015

HOLY WEEK

       
(first published April 16, 2014)

                                



"Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss, the sign of friendship and love. The betrayal and crucifixion of Christ carried the ancestral sin to its extreme limits. In these two acts the rebellion against God reached its maximum capacity. The seduction of man in paradise culminated in the death of God in the flesh. To be victorious, evil must quench the light and discredit the good. In the end, however, it shows itself to be a lie, an absurdity and sheer madness. The death and resurrection of Christ rendered evil powerless."                                                                                                   (from an Eastern Orthodox website)


Holy Week is when everything slows down, and truth presses its claims: will I keep settling for a superficial embrace of our Lord, or am I ready to submit to the schooling of the Holy Spirit -- the only One who can teach us how to become "partakers of the divine nature"?

Easter can be either a false kiss or true Communion.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 500th birthday of Teresa of Avila



"To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that."  
                                (Saint Teresa)

                                                       


Excerpts from a column in the British Telegraph newspaper:
It is 500 years since the birth of St. Teresa of Avila. Her birthday is March 28, but the whole of 2015 is full of commemorative events. 
There’s no doubting her influence. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote a book about her. He had read her autobiography as a teenager. Edith Stein, too, had read the autobiography, all one night in 1921. “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth.” She was murdered by the Nazis in 1942 and is recognised as a martyr. 
St Teresa is approachable, down to earth, humorous. Friendship was one of her talents. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church. But what is she meant to teach us?
I think it is something particular about prayer. But it has little to do with her visions... or the locutions she heard in her mind’s ear. I don’t doubt them, and I’d be surprised if most people haven’t had something of the sort at some time. But she declared that they were of no importance, and from the first distrusted them...  
One [book on spirituality] that changed her life, when she was 25, had the title of The Third Spiritual Alphabet, by Francisco de Osuna. 
She took from him the idea that anyone can undertake mental prayer, contemplative prayer, not just saying prayers verbally. Specifically, Francisco explains that the teacher of prayer is Jesus Christ. No earthly teachers can really tell another how to pray. All they can advise is to be constant in devoting a given time to prayer. 
Teresa was very taken with the knowledge that God is present inside human beings. She spoke of “keeping your eyes” on Jesus, who was crucified. She did not mean that people should limit themselves to imagining what Jesus might look like. It was a question of presence. 
I had forgotten, till I came across it again while writing this, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in discussing prayer, quotes St Teresa: “Contemplative prayer (oración mental) in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” So it is a two-way process. 
Indeed, her conviction that distractions in prayer were to be ignored, and made no difference, was supported by her awareness that the presence of God in prayer was real, not just a subjective state of mind to be captured. The activity of prayer was that of God in the soul more than that of the Christian sitting in his presence...           
Teresa, for years bereft of discernible thoughts during her daily hours of prayer, knew that God’s work in the soul was not always apparent to the imagination, or even the intellect. If at all, it could be seen by the way the praying person embraced the will of God in her life. 
Teresa’s way of prayer was not a sort of mystical Buddhism. What made it different was her reliance on the humanity of Jesus, the fact of his having become a man and retained the human flesh to which human beings are so accustomed in their own lives that they either overlook it or mistake it for an obstacle. 
This incarnational spirituality brought Teresa’s life of prayer into her daily life of pots and pans and outwitting the bureaucratic or malign characters who tried to squash her energies in returning to the essential spirit of the Carmelite order she reformed.


A prayer written by Teresa:

"Let nothing disturb you,
 Let nothing frighten you,
 All things are passing:
 God never changes.
 Patience obtains all things.
 He who has God
 Finds he lacks nothing;
 God alone suffices."



UPDATE: Here is an earlier post on St. Teresa.


  The medieval walls of Ávila (70 miles west of Madrid) 



"Teresa had a definite goal in mind when she began the reforms: 'All my longing was and still is that since He [Jesus Christ] has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones. As a result I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels [poverty, chastity, and obedience] as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live here do the same.'

"These reformed nuns were called Discalced Carmelites because they wore sandals. In Teresa's time, there were various reform movements happening within religious orders. This was a response to the Protestant Reformation occurring in Europe. All the reformed orders wore sandals as a sign of their reformation and were thus called 'Discalced,' from the Spanish descalzo, which means 'barefooted.'

"The Discalced Carmelite nuns wore habits made of cheap material... They returned to the perpetual abstinence from meat and the six month fast (from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on Sept 14th to Easter) which were required by the Rule. They had two hours of meditation every day, laid heavy emphasis on poverty, and kept silence throughout the day. All these monastic practices were meant to provide an atmosphere of continual prayer and penance. These in turn were meant to lead the Sisters to fraternal charity and service: love of God and neighbor -- the sum of perfection. In her lifetime, Teresa founded seventeen monasteries of nuns."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday BookReview -- "Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World"


by David Pence


Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of the nation city-state of Singapore, died at 93 on March 23, 2015. His wife of sixty years passed away a few years before him. His city-state still lives.


He built his nation on: universal male military service; English as the official integrative language; government-built housing turned over for private home ownership; a highly paid merit-based government class; and a civic culture actively opposing racial, religious, and linguistic enclaves. Lee was an ethnic Chinese who made English the official language of the city to bolster the city's international role in trade and learning. He was considered a model teacher of governance to many of the Chinese reformers, and had active relations with them as well as US leaders and academics throughout the last forty years. He built a secularized civic culture perched in the midst of the two largest Muslim countries in Southeast Asia.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called him the smartest man he had ever met; and Henry Kissinger said "of the many world leaders I have been privileged to meet, none have taught me more than Lee Kuan Yew." Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke for the rest of us: "[He is] our senior who has our respect."

Two scholars and practitioners of high-level American foreign policy (one Democrat and one Republican) have combined selections from hundreds of his speeches and interviews -- along with some of their own discussions with the island's founding father -- to publish his responses to a series of questions they imagine a new American president might want to ask about China, Asia, the United States, and the world.

The authors begin each of the ten chapters with a series of questions, and then record direct quotation "answers" from Lee through the years. This asynchronous interview technique turns out to be an ingenious way to bring a reader into contact with a half century of Mr. Lee's "key insights and central arguments" applied to today's questions. The authors wrote the 160 pages of text so it could be "scanned quickly" hoping that readers would be "compelled by Lee's words to pause and think about his assertions that they find surprising, even disturbing but invariably illuminating."

[Go here for more on the book, including a half-hour discussion by the authors].



ON CHINA IN ASIA

"Of course they plan on being the number one power in Asia. Why not? They have transformed a poor society into an economic miracle. Theirs is a culture of 4000 years with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent -- a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be number one in Asia and in time, the world? ... The Chinese people have raised their expectations and aspirations. Every Chinese wants a a strong and rich China. This reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force. Unlike other emergent countries China wants to be China and accepted as such, not an honorary member of the West. At the core of their mindset is the world before colonization... China means 'Middle Kingdom,' recalling a world where they were dominant and related to other states as supplicants and vassals."


CHINA'S STRATEGY

"China is following an approach consistent with the ideas of the Chinese television series, 'The Rise of Great Powers,' produced by the the Party to shape discussion among the elites. The mistake of Germany and Japan was their effort to challenge the existing order. The Chinese are not stupid; they have avoided this mistake. Overall GDP, not GDP per person, is what matters in terms of power. The Chinese have calculated they need 30, 40, maybe 50 years of peace and quiet to catch up and change the Communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes of Germany and Japan. Their competition for power, influence, and resources led in the last century to two terrible wars. The Russian mistake was to put too much into military expenditure and so little into civilian technology. So, their economy collapsed. The Chinese leadership has learnt that if you compete with American armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So avoid it , keep your head down and smile... for 40 or 50 years."


ASSESSING XI JINPING

"He has had a tougher life than Hu Jintao (Chinese leader 2002-2012). He is reserved, not in the sense that he won't talk with you but in the sense that he will not betray his likes and dislikes. He has iron in his soul... I would put him in the Nelson Mandela class of persons -- a person with enormous emotional stability who does not allow his personal misfortunes or sufferings to affect his judgment. In other words he is impressive."


THE US AND EUROPE

"If you follow the ideological direction of Europe, you are done for."


AUTHORITY, LAW, AND ORDER

"In an emergent society, authority has got to be exercised. And when authority is not backed by position, prestige, or usage then it has to defend actively against challenge. The day Mikhail Gorbachev said to the masses in Moscow: do not be afraid of the KGB, I took a deep breath. The man is a real genius... he sits on top of a terror machine and he says: do not be afraid. Until I met him , and I found him completely bewildered by what was happening around him. He had jumped into the deep end of the pool without learning how to swim. I understood Deng Xiaoping when he said: if 200,000 students have to be shot, shoot them because the alternative is China in chaos for another 100 years... Deng understood, and he released it stage by stage. Without Deng, China would have imploded. (Deng was China's paramount leader from 1978-1992). In a settled and established society, law appears to be a precursor of order... But the hard realities of keeping the peace between person and person, and between authority and individual, can be more accurately understood if the phrase were inverted to 'order and law' -- for without order, the operation of law is impossible."


POLITICAL EDUCATION

"The British Empire was supposed to last another thousand years in Southeast Asia, but collapsed when the Japanese army came in 1942. I never thought they could conquer Singapore and push the British out. They did and brutalized us, including me... I learned about power long before Mao Zedong wrote that power came from the barrel of the gun. The Japanese demonstrated this; the British did not. The Japanese invasion of Singapore was the single biggest political education of my life because, for three and a half years, I saw how power and politics and government went together; and I understood how people trapped in a power situation responded because they had to live."


LEADERS HE ADMIRES

"De Gaulle, Deng Xiaoping, and Winston Churchill."


WORRIES ABOUT U.S. CULTURE

"The ideas about individual supremacy... when carried to excess, have not worked. They have made it difficult to keep American society cohesive. Asia can see it is not working. Those who want a wholesome society where young girls and old ladies can walk the streets at night, where the young are not preyed upon by drug peddlers, will not follow the American model... the top 3 to 5 percent of a society can handle this free-for-all. If you do this with the whole mass, you will have a mess. To have day-to-day images of violence and raw sex on the picture tube, the whole society exposed to it -- it will ruin the whole community."


ON ISLAMIC EXTREMISM

"The big divide is no longer democracies and communism. Now it is between Muslim terrorists and the US and Israel and their supporters. A secondary battle is between militant Islam and non-militant modernist Islam. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause of Islamic terrorism. When Pan-Arabism failed to unite the Muslim world in the 1950's and 1960's, Islamic fervor became an alternative unifying force... The nature of Islam in Southeast Asia has been changing over the last 30 years. First and foremost after the price of oil quadrupled in 1973, Saudi Arabia financed the missionary movement paying for schools and mosques; and paying preachers to teach their austere version of Wahhabist Islam. Next, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 had a profound effect on Muslim beliefs in Islam's power. Finally, the participation of large numbers of Southeast Asian Muslims in the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980's and 1990's has radicalized significant numbers of [them]. When we ask our Muslims, why have you become so strict in your religious practices, they say 'we are better educated and so understand better what is to be observed.' But the bigger factor is the peer pressure from the heart of the Muslim world... as a result of the Saudi funding of mosques, madrassas, and religious teachers, whole populations are geared up. Over the last 30 years with the oil crisis and petrodollars becoming a major factor in the Muslim world, the extremists have been proselytizing, building mosques, religious schools where they teach Wahhabism... sending out preachers, having conferences, networking. Slowly they have convinced Southeast Asian Muslims, and indeed Muslims throughout the world, that the gold standard is Saudi Arabia, that is the real good Muslim."


HOW TO DEFEAT MUSLIM EXTREMISM

"The United States must be more multilateral to rally Europe, Russia, China, and India as well as many moderate Muslims. It is not poverty or deprivation but something more fundamental -- a resurgence of Arab and Muslim pride and a belief that their time has come. The objective is to persuade the moderate Muslims that they are not going to lose, that they have the weight and resources of the world behind them. Then, they will go into the mosques and madrassas and switch off the radicals. Americans... must use force. But force will only deal with the tip of the problem. In killing the terrorists, you will only kill the worker bees. The queen bees are the preachers, who teach a deviant form of Islam in the schools and Islamic centers, who capture and twist the minds of the young..."





UPDATE: The Fall of Singapore occurred two months after Pearl Harbor. The loss by the British of the Gibraltar of the East caused Churchill to call the week-long battle "the worst disaster in British military history."

A couple photos from the Japanese occupation:

                       

                                                 


Here is a short video overview of Singapore and its long-time patriarch.

A columnist in the Philippines pays tribute (and mentions Mr. Lee's two-part autobiography).

The Discovery Channel did an excellent 5-part history of Singapore. 

Some memories of his late friend by Henry Kissinger.

And an interview conducted a decade ago by Fareed Zakaria.



"In the East the main object is to have a well-ordered society
so that everybody can have maximum enjoyment of his freedoms. 
This freedom can only exist in an ordered state
and not in a natural state of contention and anarchy."  
(Lee Kuan Yew)



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March 25: Lady Day


Some questions for Dr. Pence on this Feast of the Annunciation:



If we had lived in England during the period between the 12th and 18th centuries, we'd be celebrating today as the beginning of the New Year, right? 
                                   
Yes, here we are, exactly nine months before Christmas. This is the day that Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit -- and the Word was made flesh.

Jesus Christ who has always existed as the Son of God is now, with the Virgin's "fiat," incarnated.  He is begotten, not made.


Creation -- and specifically, the human species -- had reached its epitome!  (It will take about eight weeks for Baby Jesu in the womb to become half an inch in size.)

We need to have some rough figures in our head. Matter (the protons, neutrons, and electrons in all atoms) was created almost 14 billion years ago. The first life on earth—the first bacterial cell was imprinted by the Holy Spirit about 4 billion years ago.

The first parents of the human species were probably created around 150,000 years ago.


Where is our species heading?

Our biological destiny is not to eventually produce some new successful mutant that will evolve into a higher form of life. Quite the contrary.

Our highest male and female forms have already appeared and the task before us is to now conform to them more perfectly. At the Annunciation the feminine form was so receptive, so attentive to the Spirit, so submissive to the will of God that her own flesh was incarnated by the Spirit begetting the Son. All of us, as males and females, are trying to bring our souls to that level of responsiveness to the Spirit and submission to the Father so we can play our roles.
                                     
Click here for an explanation of the Greek icon



You say that humans are a 'eusocial' species. What is that supposed to mean, and what does it have to do with Christianity?

Actually it has a lot  to do with the Body of Christ, the nature of the Eucharist, the meaning of the Church, and the analogical reality between the Trinity and the destiny of the human species. First, I must apologize that I have been unsuccessful in communicating this biological truth which is so clear to me in my head, but which I always fall short at explaining in print or during our conversations.

"Eusocial organism" is a descriptive term from sociobiology, which is the study of the social structure of animals. It's a kind of subset of the larger term ecology. You know how fish swim in schools and wolves run in packs with certain social roles. Well, there is a group of insects called eusocial insects in which the ties of sociobiology go way beyond the pack and herd structures of other animals. The eusocial insects tend to act as a single organism. Reproduction is highly restricted and (wonder of wonders) what distinguishes one sex from the other is not the presence of a sex chromosome (like the 'y' chromosome distinguishes human males from females), but one gender comes from fertilized eggs and the other are "virgin births." Unfertilized eggs become, for instance, male bees. The perfection of bees occurs in how they function as a single organism. The perfection of  human beings will be realized in how we participate as eusocial members of the Body of Christ.

Our alpha male whom we worship is of a virgin birth (parthenogenesis in biology). Our most basic sacrament binds us together by eating the flesh that makes us one Body. We are still persons but we are incorporated persons. In ecology there is another term called symbiosis: organisms living together in some deeply interrelated union. Let me just say these biological phenomena are deeply suggestive of the Trinity, and the interpersonal destiny of human beings in the Body of Christ.

On this feast day of the Incarnation we are celebrating the "engraftment" of the human species into the Second Person of the Trinity. It is true that God comes into the womb of the Virgin and develops, but this is just as Christ comes into us now as the food of the Eucharist. We are emerging as the eusocial organism which the human species was destined to be from the beginning. There are all sorts of physical lessons written in the book of nature which help us see how man's nature is so much more "plastic" (capable of being conformed) than the angels.  Lucifer, to his great consternation, recognized what great things the Almighty had planned for His lowly ones.


What's the connection between the Greeks achieving their independence from the Turks, and the feast day we're celebrating?

Ever since the sack of Constantinople in 1453 (marking the demise of the Byzantine Empire's thousand-year run), Greece had been under the thumb of Muslim rule.

On this day in 1821, however, the war of Greek independence against the Ottoman Turks began when Bishop Germanos raised the flag of revolution over a monastery -- and 'Freedom or death' became the motto. The struggle took years but when all seemed lost, the British and the French and the Russians came to the aid of the Greeks. Finally in 1829, Greece became an independent state; and March 25th is their high holy celebration each year.

When you think of the Greek nation, it is fine to remember Pericles and the polis of Athens and Sparta. However, it is the height of ancestral impiety and religious amnesia to forget that the blood and arms that set the Greek nation free came in the name of Christ, not Socrates.



"Through the bottomless mercy of our God,
  one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness..."
              (Gospel of St Luke, chapter 1)




UPDATE: Take a look at this article on the Orthodox patriarch, and how the Russian believers celebrate the feast in Moscow's Cathedral of the Annunciation.

It will be a great American tragedy  if we blind ourselves to the common Christian ties we have with the better and deeper part of Mother Russia!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Map on Monday: KOREA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing North Korea.



PHYSICAL ECOLOGY OF KOREA: POPULOUS SOUTH, RESOURCE-RICH NORTH, UNRESOLVED WAR

by A. Joseph Lynch 

The Korean Peninsula is home to almost 75 million people, with approximately 25 million living in the communist north and 50 million living in the south. The peninsula remains divided since the Korean War, which ran from 1950-1953 but has never officially been resolved. Finding itself a bridge between China and Japan, Koreans have tended to mistrust their immediate neighbors. For example, in a 2014 poll 79% of South Koreans were found to hold an unfavorable view of Japan. Nevertheless, Japan and South Korea have tenuous military relations aimed at containing China and North Korea. Although the south has double the population, the north is better endowed with natural resources including: coal, petroleum, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar and hydropower.

Geopolitical tensions remain between the north and south with the resumption of war a looming possibility at all times. Although the north continues to be loud and threatening, Stratfor argues that this is a three-part "Ferocious, Weak, and Crazy" strategy that has worked well in the past. The south continues to hold a strong alliance with the United States and depends on it, along with the Japanese to some degree, for its long-term strategic security. CNN has posted some excellent videos on what a war on the peninsula may look like today along with how military officers have war-gamed an outbreak of hostilities. The results were not promising. As the US military pivots to Asia, it will need strong allies in any future regional war. Such allies must include the Christian Philippines, Sunni Muslim Indonesia, and even a militarily resurgent Japan.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 21

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


NEEDED: A POLITICS OF RELIGION HONOR AND FRATERNAL PROTECTION IN SOUTH AMERICA

Until then, study biographies to understand the dilemmas of the South - Protection, Politics, and Manhood in Mexico.


A EUROPEAN NOVEL: BEST SOURCE OF REAL NEWS ON WHAT'S HAPPENING AMIDST THE CIVILIZATIONS - ONE IS RISING AND ONE DECAYS - THIS IS NOT A CLASH BUT A REPLACEMENT 

This review of the current best-selling novel in Europe, Soumission by Michael Houellebecq, is a stunning depiction of the French version of what Whittaker Chambers called the real debate of the Cold War: shall man live without God? It isn't about the Cold War, of course, but the sequel to the Cold War - the next line of battle between those who maximize human autonomy and live without God, and those who think the goal of life is to do one's duty as a creature of God. This novel came out the day the Frenchmen were shot in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The Right said the novel was cultural suicide. The Left called it Islamophobic. Read this review - the novel  is something very different and very needed.


BIBI WINS: CLARITY ON STATES

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been clear since his book on Israel's Place Among the Nations why a true Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan is a military geographic impossibility. The states that do exist - Iran and Israel - need to be assured their right to exist, before policy aims at assembling a new state. It is no surprise that he doesn't accept a Palestinian state - the issue is his revolutionary approach to Iran. He seems to think the Shia state is fundamentally illegitimate. The nation which must be imagined and constructed is a Sunni Arab state in the contested areas of Iraq and Syria contiguous with Jordan. That is the region that ISIS is currently calling home. The "international community" insists on a Palestinian state while marginalizing the Israeli state. The Swedish government has already recognized non-existent Palestine as one of its first alternate reality acts of feminist foreign policy. One of the central conflicts in the Mideast is about legitimate states fighting tribes and religious movements. Netanyahu brings clarity to these discussions like no other nation man in the region. Though we deeply disagree with his characterization of Iran, his re-election keeps the public conversation reality-based which is the first condition for all good foreign policy.    


THE POPE AND HIS MISSION

Spiritual worldliness is reforming the world apart from the joyous message of the Gospel. To evangelize is to center the message to the poor on the reality of Christ in the Church.


  THE SWEDISH AMBITION FOR A FEMINIST FOREIGN POLICY MEETS THE SAUDIS

Sweden cancels an arms deal after the Saudis cancel a talk. Sweden is a country of 10 million and is not a member of NATO. The foreign minister seriously speaks of a feminist foreign policy, which is very important to expose to open light. Many shades of American foreign policy have come under the feminist rubric, and thus a more open advocacy of this worldview will show its relation to realism with welcome clarity. Here is another European take on Sweden's ambitions in foreign affairs.


LEBANON, A FUTURE SITE OF WAR: THINKING AHEAD ABOUT ALLIES

Syrian and Iraqi Christians flee to Lebanon. They will be protected by the enemies of ISIS - the Shiites of Hezbollah and the Maronite Christians and Sunni Lebanese who believe in their own nation. It is sad that the honest hand-wringing in America over the plight of the Mideast Christians is not matched by embracing the strategic allies who will actually act in their defense.


PIVOTING EAST: THE AUSSIES LOOK AT CHINA

Here is a practical appreciative look at how Australia's strategic role is centered first on its geographical identity as a nation of Asia.


ONE YEAR AFTER CRIMEA: A RUSSIAN UPDATE

One year after Russia's absorption of the Crimean Peninsula into the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty with the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia. This area of Georgia declared independence in the '90s but came under Russian dominance in 2008 after Georgia sought entrance into NATO. The new treaty paves the way for South Ossetia's full admission into the Russian Federation. A map of the region shows its proximity to Georgia's capital of Tbilisi and Russia's presence in the heart of Georgia. Russia has also been busy along its frontier with Europe. Recent Russian military exercises have been conducted in the Black Sea to the south, and in the Baltic and Arctic Seas in the north. While Russia has had larger military exercises in the past, this latest activity is unprecedented in its wide scope along Russia's front with NATO. Russia also has a keen eye to the Arctic north, upgrading many of its twelve fortifications along its Arctic coast. On the political front, Vladimir Putin's week-long absence came during a time of a rumored political rivalry between the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Meanwhile, three former US Ambassadors to Ukraine have foolishly argued that the 70th anniversary of VE Day be celebrated in Ukraine.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday BookReview: Korean War


How long a period is required to take the measure of a man? Watch and listen for twenty seconds to the sagacity of one of America's finest warriors.

                           
Matthew Ridgway --
West Point class of 1917; died 1993

When Harry Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of command of the war in Korea, this was the man called to step into those big boots.

"As difficult as the situation in Korea was, it's hard to imagine a commander better suited to handling it than Matthew Bunker Ridgway. Like MacArthur, he had literally spent his entire life in the U.S. Army. The son of an artillery colonel, Ridgway [attended] West Point, where the yearbook described him as, 'Beyond doubt, the busiest man in the place.' 
"Having just missed the fighting in France, Ridgway worked his way through a series of peacetime assignments, including stints in China, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. But in 1942 he was named commander of the 82nd Division, just before it was turned into one of the army's new elite airborne divisions. He made the most of it, leading the 82nd into Normandy on D-Day before moving on to a corps command. 'A kick-ass man,' one subordinate said of Ridgway, who became known as 'Tin-tits' among his men for the hand grenades prominently strapped to his chest at all times."



Excerpts from a reader's reaction to General Ridgway's 1967 book, The Korean War:
I am a retired US Army colonel. During my time on active duty, I was an instructor and department chair at the US Army War College. During that time we used incidents from the Korean War for the purpose of historical case study. So I believe I can comment on this book with some authority. 
At the outset, however, I must confess that I am biased toward the author. I believe that Matthew B. Ridgway was the greatest general between Eisenhower and Creighton Abrams. I say that because he overcame what I believe is the greatest challenge that any commander could possibly face: taking command of a beaten, demoralized army and leading it to victory. In holding this opinion, I find myself in distinguished company. No less a luminary as General Omar Bradley described Ridgway's work turning the tide of the Korean War as "the greatest feat of personal leadership in the history of the Army." 
Ridgway's battlefield achievements are well documented and need no embellishment here. What I find even more interesting is his contribution to the art of high-level joint and multinational command. Matthew B. Ridgway is the only man I know of to have commanded three of the unified commands created as a result of the National Security Act of 1947: the Caribbean Command, the Far East Command, and the European Command. He was single-handedly the man who made the Allied military command structure work during the Cold War, first on the battlefields of Korea and then in Europe. He re-oriented America's strategic thinking to deal with the new kind of threat posed by the Soviet Union and communist China, and contributed materially to the implementation of the resulting strategy. That is an unmatched record of achievement. 
His book on the Korean War is a personal history. Those looking for detailed tactical or operational studies will have to look elsewhere. But the book is well worth reading to appreciate the character that was required to turn the Korean War around in the dark days following Chinese intervention. The best parts of the book deal with that. 
Ridgway's solutions to the problems he faced were first and foremost practical. When he assumed command of the Eighth Army there were no bombastic speeches; no self-promoting public appearances; no laying of blame on his predecessor, his subordinates, or his superior. Ridgway called his corps commanders together and as a team they identified the problems and worked out solutions. For the most part, these solutions were just good soldiering -- better use of the terrain, more disciplined movements, more attention to intelligence analysis. But in two ways Ridgway did more than improve procedure -- he installed a new collective ethos in the entire Eighth Army. He made sure that everyone knew that the Army was going to attack the enemy, not run from him. And he made sure everyone knew what he was fighting for. Ridgway believed that one of the main reasons for poor morale was the fact that the soldiers did not understand this new form of war. So he issued a simply worded circular explaining in straightforward language what was at stake and why it was worth every person's sacrifice. The results were impressive. 
Ridgway's voice in this book assures the reader on every page that he is sharing the thoughts of a man of character -- of self-discipline, loyalty, selfless service, modesty, and the willingness to accept responsibility and admit mistakes -- which Ridgway himself said is the "bedrock on which the whole edifice of leadership rests." His language is direct and lucid, suggesting that he was a man both cultivated and rugged. It is a good American book. 
Another point I found interesting was Ridgway's discussion of African-American soldiers. Contrary to popular belief, President Truman did not desegregate the Army with a stroke of his pen in 1948. Many 'all-black' units deployed to Korea. Ridgway is the man who desegregated them, and as one would expect, he did it for both practical reasons (desegregation facilitated a more efficient use of military manpower) and for moral reasons (it was the right thing to do). He did not do it overnight, but rather in a methodical sequence, battalion by battalion, making sure that military discipline never suffered. [Representative Charles Rangel's 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, for example, was an 'all-black' unit well into 1951.] In the early days of the Korean War there was a lot of controversy over the alleged poor performance of all-black units like the 24th Infantry Regiment. After Ridgway's tour in command there was no more controversy because there were no more segregated units. Each soldier stood on an equal footing regardless of color. 
Ridgway is very mild in his criticism of the poor battlefield decisions and misjudgments made before his arrival in theater, even though those decisions and misjudgments were the proximate cause of the appalling situation he inherited...
His most serious criticism is reserved for MacArthur, who died three years before this book was written. 
Ridgway takes MacArthur to task for one thing and one thing only: insubordination. He very carefully recounts his respect and professional relationship with MacArthur, which began when MacArthur was superintendent of the Military Academy and Ridgway was Director of Athletics. He consciously does not second-guess any of MacArthur's operational decisions, even though some of them were disastrous. He demolishes the criticisms of the most vociferous MacArthur detractors -- especially the ones that portrayed the great general as a war-monger. All those make Ridgway's real critique of MacArthur more persuasive and more worthy of the reader's consideration. Ridgway argues that MacArthur's sin was in thinking that any theater commander, regardless of how well renowned and esteemed, could set strategic policy for the United States as a whole. MacArthur's public pronouncements that the President did not appreciate the true value of Asia in the nation's overall strategy undercut the President's overall authority, and that is what could not be tolerated.


"Ridgway retired from the Army in 1955, but thirteen years later he was part of a group advising President Lyndon B. Johnson to limit U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Greater troop strength and increased bombing could not lead to victory in Vietnam, the group argued, advising Johnson to seek a negotiated peace with North Vietnam.
"Johnson heeded the group's advice and announced in March, 1968, that he would de-escalate the war and begin negotiations. U.S. involvement in Vietnam did not end, however, because Richard Nixon won the presidency later that year with the promise of a 'secret plan' to end the war. The fighting would drag on for five more years before the Nixon Administration negotiated a U.S. withdrawal.
"Author David Halberstam sent Ridgway a copy of The Best and the Brightest, his definitive work on U.S. involvement in Vietnam, in which he had written on the flyleaf: 'For General Matthew Ridgway, the one hero of this book.'"


Here is a brief timeline of the Korean War. This documentary (about 40 minutes) is a good overview, with excellent maps.


                                       


This is a picture taken at the Korean War Veterans Memorial (on the National Mall) which opened in the summer of 1995. Click here for a night-time photo.


Today, South Korea has more than 50 million people; North Korea is about half that number. Archaeologists believe the ancestors of today's Koreans came from Mongolia and Siberia.