Saturday, July 25, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, July 25

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


The Salafist Sunnis of Saudi Arabia link with Al Qaeda in Yemen. More proof, that in Yemen, the Saudis are on the other side -- the rise of the Islamic State in Yemen.


Could the Saudis build a nuclear weapon? A short history of nuclear states with emphasis on Asia. Particularly interesting is the not-so-hidden history of nuclear weapons in Israel.


Why Saudi Arabia, American neocons, and Israel oppose the deal.
Minnesota ex-Senator Norm Coleman embodies the strange intersection of Israeli and Saudi interests to demonize Iran. Mr. Coleman lets the Saudis foot the bill. It is going to be an all-out money blitz trying to convince Democrats, especially, not to support the President.
When the Iranian accord was announced, Michael Oren averred that all political factions in Israel were opposed to it... But, au contraire, a powerful set of men in Jerusalem is voicing support for the agreement.


Our first black President has squandered the moral capital of the civil rights movement by embracing the most gruesome acts of male and female degradation in the name of equality for all. And, yet, in foreign policy he may actually have saved us from the Hillary Clinton-John McCain confusion in a multipolar world. Neither of those warrior candidates could have imagined turning Iran from its pariah status to some new role not yet determined.


The Pope praises the popular movements that seek these goods. Let us seek them too. Hear him speak in Bolivia.


Maybe it takes a good Jewish thinker like Yuval Levin to explain the real relationship of Pope Francis to the environmental movement.


Japan's latest Defense White Paper includes criticism of Chinese maritime expansion of influence, as well as rationale for Prime Minister Abe policy to change laws to allow the use of Japanese military beyond the defense of the homeland. This change in security laws has not made him more popular in Japan.


It seems peculiar as Republican candidates say the top issues facing America are jobs and the economy when our departure from God and love of neighbor has led to increasing convoluted defenses of sodomy and infanticide. Does it get any more gruesome?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday BookReview: Mr. McCullough on the pivotal year for General Washington's soldiers

The Grand Union Flag

"Also known as the Continental flag, it is the first true U.S. Flag

"It combined the British King's Colours and the thirteen stripes signifying Colonial unity. George Washington liked this design so well that he chose it to be flown to celebrate the formation of the Continental Army on New Years Day, 1776. On that day the Grand Union Flag was proudly raised on Prospect Hill, near his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Here is a six-minute radio interview with Mr. McCullough when the book came out a decade ago.

The 'Guardian' newspaper in England published this review:

Might the Americans have lost the War of Independence? They very nearly did. This book is the story of how close George Washington, as commander of the American army, came to defeat in the terrible year of 1776 which also saw the Declaration of Independence. At the end of that year, he assumed that the British, who had chased him all the way from New York, were about to cross the Delaware river and capture Philadelphia, capital of the revolution. He wrote that all the enemy were waiting for was 'ice for a passage, and the dissolution of the poor remains of our debilitated army'.

But Washington was wrong, as he frequently was about military things. David McCullough's account bears out the saying that this war was lost by the British rather than won by the Americans; the book could have been subtitled 'Failures to Pursue'. When Washington wrote those words, he did not know that General Howe, the British commander, had already decided that it was getting too cold to carry on fighting. The war season was over. He would go back to New York and mop up Philadelphia and the Yankee army the following spring.

Howe had thrown away victory before. In August, he had let the defeated American army escape after the battle of Brooklyn (or Long Island). But his failure to take Philadelphia when he could was worse. The British never grasped that it was good publicity which kept Washington's small army in the field, by producing fresh flows of volunteer reinforcements. As soon as Howe's incredible decision was known, Washington snatched the opportunity for a 'brilliant stroke'; he came back across the Delaware and won two small but dazzling victories over Hessian and British forces at Trenton [Dec 26, 1776] and Princeton [about a week later]. They were anything but decisive in military terms. The war dragged on until the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. But after Trenton, the American public realised that they could win and must win. The corner had been turned.

A British reader has to know a bit of history before starting this book. McCullough is not trying to tell the story of the American Revolution or even of the whole War of Independence. The battle of Bunker Hill (1775) is over when the book begins, with the British locked up in Boston by a cheerful, disorderly little army with almost no gunpowder.

Fortunately for 'His Excellency', as George Washington was known, the British had not got round to occupying the Dorchester Heights above the city. The Americans, showing true inventive genius, went 300 miles to the abandoned Fort Ticonderoga, extracted its enormous guns and towed them back over snowy hills and frozen lakes [arriving toward the end of Jan 1776]. When they opened fire from the heights, Howe at once conceded checkmate and abandoned Boston.

Next came Washington's defence of New York. An enormous British force of warships and troop transports assembled offshore meant that Washington had no long-term hope of defending Manhattan. He hesitated and made bad mistakes. In their only stroke of first-class generalship, the British landed on Long Island and pulverised his army. But Howe's 'failure to pursue' allowed Washington to get the survivors back across the East River in small boats: 'America's Dunkirk'.

There followed long and complicated campaigning in what is now New York's outer suburbia, as the Americans evacuated New York and were driven slowly back, losing battle after battle, until they crossed the Hudson into New Jersey. From there, Washington and his dwindling, exhausted army retreated southwards to Newark and then across the Delaware. Congress had already fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore. Washington thought the army game was up; it would have to be guerrilla warfare in the Alleghenies. But then Howe stopped and blew a whistle for half-time.

This is a well written, conventional war history, illustrated with quotations from the letters and diaries of men and some women on both sides. The American witnesses are wonderfully observant and articulate; they were mostly well-educated volunteers who already 'enjoyed a higher standard of living than any people in the world', as McCullough reminds us. But narrowing the subject to one year has drawbacks as well as advantages.

The plus is that McCullough is offering one more irresistible narrative of a fabled Long March, from hope through despair to hope again... The minus is the lack of political background, which is perfunctory. So New York and Long Island were full of 'loyalists'? What were their own dreams for America and what happened to them in the end? So Washington was a slave-owner and a friend of liberty? Plenty has been written about that elsewhere, but at least a sample should have entered this book.

McCullough inserts profiles of his leading actors. Some work better than others. George Washington, a man of marble famously hard to penetrate, remains opaque. There's any amount of secondary evidence that his men adored him, that he had the gift of transmitting confidence. But why and how?

What McCullough does show is that Washington had the incredibly rare gift of learning from the criticism of subordinates. After Long Island, he discovered that some of his commanders thought he was hopelessly indecisive. He considered this, apparently agreed, and simply made himself more decisive.

In contrast to 'His Excellency', other leaders emerge in sharp relief. None is more appealing than the fat young Boston bookseller, Henry Knox, an Ulster Scot with a booming voice who already weighed nearly 18 stone [252 pounds] at the age of 25. Only in a revolution, and especially a can-do American revolution, could this [porker] turn into a wonderful general who began by thinking up and carrying through the mad feat of towing the guns from Ticonderoga and ended up as one of the victors at Yorktown.
General Knox

McCullough doesn't ask himself what would have happened if Washington had been crushed in 1776. But Knox gives the answer. America was already independent. What mattered was that Americans should realise it. The British could be dealt with, if not now, then later. Even if they still won battles, they were becoming history.

UPDATE: I have driven the highway route from the Albany area through the entire length of Massachusetts. Even though I was cocooned with plush comforts, it still seemed as if Beantown would never come into view.

What Knox and his men accomplished is simply astounding.

What was their toughest stretch? Traversing the Berkshire Mountains once New York was behind them.


Let's close this out with an appropriate colonial fiddle tune.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Map on Monday: ARGENTINA

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 Argentina.

With a population of about 43 million people, Argentina is South America's third largest nation behind Columbia (48 million) and Brazil (204.5 million). The vast majority of Argentina's population are of European descent with roughly one half of all Argentinians (including Pope Francis) of Italian ancestry. Argentina derives its name from the Latin word for silver - the natural resource colonizers had (wrongly) expected to find. Argentina is, however, rich in zinc, copper, lead and is the world's third largest Boron supplier.

Argentina's substantial coast is oriented towards the Atlantic, but it also shares land borders with Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile. With its neighbors, Argentina shares a colonial history in the Spanish Empire. Like central America, Spain's South American holdings began to emerge as independent nations following Napoleon's sacking of Spanish King Ferdinand VII and replacing him with a Bonaparte. In 1810, areas of what would become Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay declared independence and formed a republic known as the United Provinces of South America or the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (River Plate) with Buenos Aires as its capital. The republic, however, soon fell into civil war and broke into several nations by 1831.

By the early twentieth century, Argentina had become the seventh wealthiest nation in the world - but a military coup in 1930 was the beginning of economic decline for Argentina. While the rule of Juan Perón brought about a brief return to economic prosperity, an ensuing "Dirty War" left thousands dead (or "disappeared") as the military ruled the nation and cracked down on dissidents. With the reestablishment of democracy, Argentina's leaders have taken the nation in a decidedly liberal direction. In 2010, it became the first nation in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. Néstor and Cristina Kirchner - Argentina's own Bill and Hilary - have run the nation since 2002 with Néstor in power for one term and his wife in her second. In 2014, Argentina defaulted on its international debts and remains today a mid-level world power.

For a very informative video on Argentina, see this video from the series Geography Now!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, July 18

                                            by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

                                                           IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The most heavily armed nuclear power in the Mideast is Israel. The most dangerous and volatile nuclear power is Pakistan. They are both enemies of Iran. The most destabilizing regime in the Mideast is Saudi Arabia which continues to harbor the Wahhabi salafist Sunni movement that threatens to redefine Sunni Islam, destroy Shiite Islam, and then war with Christians and Jews around the world. The most important element of this agreement, and the saving legacy of the Obama presidency is that we may learn to understand that in the religious war against salafist Sunnis, Iran must be our ally. The nuclear weapons of Pakistan and the chance that salafist Sunnis could dominate that country is a strangely neglected truth in our confused national narrative on the Mideast, and weapons of mass destruction. The Islamic Bomb is not a Shiite notion. This agreement is not between "Obama and Iran".
It has been signed by Russia, China, Germany, Britain, and France, as well as Iran and the U.S. The significance of this agreement will not be about curbing nuclear technology but about initiating a more fundamental realignment of U.S. strategy in the Mideast.


In Kenya, officials ask that President Obama during his visit to his father's homeland not push homosexuality as a human right.

In Kenya, it was their Parliament. In Nigeria the bishops as a group were unequivocal in denouncing the globalization of homosexuality.

                                       THE POPE CONFUSES THE SEXUAL LEFT 

The gender-confused 'National Catholic Reporter' is not happy about this, but they report accurately that Pope Francis has a deep affinity with the charismatic Christian movement and sees them as allies in building a Christian culture.

                                           WHO FIGHTS THE RUSSIANS 

The US effort to train Ukrainians against the Russians has made a strange bedfellow in Muslim Chechyans who want to fight the Russians.

                                     DEBT IS A DEFINING ISSUE OF OUR TIME 

Both Argentina and Greece have large debts to pay. The Pope has spoken often of the structure of world debt as a major injustice. Greece and Argentina differ, in that Greece owes some large international institutions. Argentina's restructuring is being thwarted by "vulture loan companies." This article at a Jewish website, 'Forward', protests against the mention of Shakespeare's Jewish money-lender, Shylock, by the Argentine president. The author then goes on to expose the role of Jewish investor Peter Singer in 'Commentary' magazine, LGBT causes, Republican funding, and high-risk high-interest loans to countries such as Argentina.

One argument why conservatives should cheer on the crazy Greek leftists who maybe aren't so crazy.


Why are corporations always on the gay side in the culture wars?

                                                          THE REAL BATTLE 

The world against the monastery from Dostoevsky.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday BookReview: Ambassador Oren on US/Israel relations

President Obama with Mr. Oren (L) and Prime Minister Netanyahu --
2013 at Ben Gurion Airport

The historian Michael Oren was Israel's ambassador to America from 2009-13, and now is a member of their legislature, the Knesset. 

[He reminds me in assorted ways of Jim Webb, who recently announced he will challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.]

Here are excerpts from a review of his new book, "ALLY: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide." This appeared in the 'Jewish Journal':

A plate of cheese and crackers served to hungry Israeli officials at the White House is one of the many images that lingered after I read Michael Oren’s riveting new book... [I]t would be a mistake to overlook the first part of the book, a condensed autobiography that plants the seeds for a crucial theme that hovers above the entire book.

That theme is dual loyalty.

In modern parlance, “dual loyalty” is usually used as a pejorative, an accusation that an American Jew may feel more loyalty to Israel than to the United States.

The astonishing thing about Oren’s book is that he has, to a certain extent, redeemed the term. The “dual loyalty” the reader feels in ALLY is not tinged by the poison of betrayal. Rather, it is imbued with a sense of generosity, a sense that an American with an Israeli passport can genuinely love both countries deeply, even when those countries quarrel.

Loyalty is a charged term, because it implies one must choose, and Oren certainly “chooses” Israel the minute he gives up his U.S. passport, as is required by law to become a foreign envoy. But it is a wrenching moment for him...

His love for America is filled with gratitude. “From the time that all four of my grandparents arrived on Ellis Island, through the Great Depression, in which they raised my parents, and the farm-bound community in which I grew up, America held out the chance to excel..."

Oren’s gratitude is deepened by his own personal struggles: “Overweight and so pigeon-toed that I had to wear an excruciating leg brace at night, I was hopeless at sports. And severe learning disabilities consigned me to the ‘dumb’ classes at school, where I failed to grasp elementary math and learn to write legibly.”

Driven to succeed, Oren fought to overcome these obstacles...

His love for Israel sprouted as his success in America grew. As early as age 12, he had a keen sense of history, “an awareness that I was not just a lone Jew living in late 1960s America, but part of a global Jewish collective stretching back millennia.”

If America made him strong, the thought of Israel made him stronger. When he made aliyah [immigrated to the Holy Land] in 1979, Oren drew upon the inner fortitude he had developed in America to overcome the enormous physical challenge of becoming a paratrooper in the Israeli military.

There was no contradiction between his two loves. In meetings of the Zionist youth movement, he often heard the famous words of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court Justice: “Every American Jew who supported Zionism was a better American for doing so”...


This is the real drama of Oren’s book: watching him navigate the innumerable conflicts between the country he loves and represents and the country he loves but cannot represent. At the outset, Oren acknowledges that “the two countries had changed markedly and were in danger of drifting apart,” but he believed he could “help prevent that by representing Jerusalem to Washington as well as Israel to the United States”...

While always respectful when speaking about Mr. Obama, Oren is also too honest and too knowledgeable to let the president off the hook whenever he thinks he is mistaken, which is often. The tension builds when these mistakes are seen as hurting the country Oren is sworn to protect. Oren is relentless and crafty in making Israel’s case, but he’s up against an indomitable force: The most powerful man in the world has decided to put distance, or “daylight,” between America and Israel.
Oren’s problem is not with America, but with Obama — and he proceeds to show us how Obama’s distancing policy has come to hurt Israel.

Oren recounts, for example, the infamous “daylight meeting” with Jewish leaders at the White House, when Obama disagreed with Malcolm Hoenlein’s contention that “Israelis took risks only when they were convinced that the United States stood with them.”

Oren explains how Obama “recalled the eight years when Bush backed Israel unequivocally but never produced peace,” and then he delivers the president’s knockout punch: “When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our credibility with the Arabs.”

This view has always appeared reasonable to a large segment of American Jews, especially those who favor Obama and disliked Bush. But Oren punches back.

First, he corrects Obama’s assertion that Israel just sits on the sidelines when there’s no daylight: “Bush’s support for Israel had, in fact, emboldened [Ehud] Olmert to propose establishing a Palestinian state — an offer ignored by Mahmoud Abbas.”

Then, he delivers a knockout punch of his own. He’s grateful for Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, but in the Middle East, Oren writes, security is largely a product of impressions. Seen in that context, Obama’s approach of “no daylight on security but daylight on diplomacy” leaves Israel vulnerable and reduces its power of deterrence. “A friend who stands by his friends on some issues but not others is, in Middle Eastern eyes, not really a friend. In a region famous for its unforgiving sun, any daylight is searing.”

The daylight was certainly blinding on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Emboldened by his soaring popularity at the beginning of his first term, Obama laid down the law and set up conditions to peace talks that even the Palestinians had never insisted upon: a complete freeze of all Jewish construction in the West Bank, including even Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and all natural growth, something no Israeli leader could accept...

That draconian demand essentially paralyzed the peace process and set the Obama-Netanyahu relationship on a collision course from which it never recovered. Oh, sure, there were the occasional charm offensives and make-up sessions, but they were mostly a front. As Oren’s narrative makes clear, Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu were fundamentally at odds over how to approach the Palestinian conflict...

Things got so tenuous that when Abbas called Obama’s bluff and sought a Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlements, Obama, desperate not to exercise his veto power, offered to endorse the Palestinian position on the 1967 lines, altering more than 40 years of American policy. The book’s revelation of this sneaky maneuver is getting a lot of media attention, but everyone seems to be missing an essential fact: Abbas still said no.

A vexing low point in the ongoing saga with Obama is the night Israeli officials were left alone and hungry at the White House while Obama and Netanyahu were off in a private meeting. No food was served until someone asked, and then a White House employee brought a plate of cheese and crackers, which Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak proceeded to devour...

In any event, all the battling and squabbling between Obama and Netanyahu were small potatoes compared to their division on the existential issue of Iran's nuclear program. “Rarely in modern history have nations faced genuine existential threats,” Oren writes. “Israel uniquely confronted many potential cataclysms on a daily basis..."

If the Palestinian issue had a farcical and cynical sheen, the Iranian issue had a tragic one that tested Oren unlike any other: “It wedged me between a prime minister who believed it his historic duty to defend Israel against an imminent mortal threat and a president who saw that same danger as less lethal, less pressing, and still addressable through diplomacy.”

Oren diligently chronicles the tortured, interminable dance between Obama and Netanyahu on the Iranian issue, one that still awaits a final act. But there is also a fascinating dance between Oren and his boss, Netanyahu, flowing through the book.

“Ever mindful of the opportunity he gave me to achieve a lifelong dream,” Oren writes, “I liked Netanyahu, but I never became his friend. Rendered suspicious by years of political treacheries, he appeared not to cultivate or even need friendships. … And yet, I still empathized with his loneliness, a leader of a country that had little respect for rank and often less for those who wore it … [who] presided over unremitting crises, domestic and foreign, that would break most normal men.”

Oren says he gave his boss loyalty and honesty, including “advice he did not always relish hearing.” Oren’s approach, which was more conciliatory, especially toward Washington, “ran counter to Netanyahu’s personality — part commando, part politico, and thoroughly predatory.”

In one of the most telling passages of the book, Oren writes about a “most difficult” truth he could never bring himself to tell his boss: “He had much in common with Obama. Both men were left-handed, both believed in the power of oratory and that they were the smartest men in the room. Both were loners... And both saw themselves in transformative historical roles”...

Oren is sharply critical of some Jewish journalists in America, many of whom he feels hold Israel to a double standard and overdose on criticism of the Jewish state...

As a historian... Oren understands that leaders come and go; that no leader, however powerful, is bigger than a country or its ideals.  Leaders may damage relationships and interests, but they don’t damage values. Oren was deeply loyal to his beloved Israel, but he was also deeply loyal to the enduring values of his beloved America.

That is how he gave dual loyalty a good name.


UPDATE: A short clip of Ambassador Oren explaining why he had to give up his U.S. citizenship.

One more take on the book -- from the opening paragraphs of a review by Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute:
"More than [about] policy…, Barack Obama was about ideology and a worldview often at variance with Israel’s.” These words constitute the thesis statement of ALLY... Given the grave urgency of the regional and international challenges facing the Jewish state, and given what is widely perceived today as a severe crisis in America-Israel relations, the book couldn’t be timelier—as the instantaneous media ruckus attending its publication amply testifies... 
In general, Oren writes, President Obama sought to downplay the military dimension of American foreign policy, to distance the United States from traditional allies, and to work through international organizations. Taken together, all of these inclinations, the ambassador understood, spelled trouble for Israel: “a traditional ally, heavily dependent on American might, and at odds with . . . international organizations.”

And this from a recent radio appearance on Hugh Hewitt's show, discussing the Iranian accord:

"[T]here are a lot of parties in Israel. You’re part of a new party. Does anyone say okay, maybe it’s a decent deal? Or what, is Israel united?"

OREN: "No. No, the amazing thing, you know, I’m in Knesset, Hugh, and we agree on absolutely nothing. It’s very different than the Congress. You know, we scream and yell at each other. If the seats weren’t screwed down, we’d probably throw them at each other. Nobody agrees on anything. Everybody, everybody agrees that this is a bad deal. And I’m talking about left wing, right wing, religious, secular, even an Arab and Jew. And we have a lot of Arabs in the Knesset. And they cannot be feeling secure tonight, either, because an Iranian nuclear device or even a missile from Hezbollah is not going to distinguish between an Arab house and a Jewish house in the state of Israel."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, July 11

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


This geopolitical analysis of the relationship between Russia and Greece by Robert Kaplan gets a lot right in its interlocking history of the two countries. Greece's overwhelming vote of "no" on July 5, 2015, was an expression of confidence in a left-wing nationalist Prime Minister (Alexis Tsipras) against the soulless technocrats of the E.U. Greek nationalism has a strong leftist bent because of the heroic role of the Greek left during WWII  in the resistance against the occupying Axis powers. The left earned their nationalist credentials and have a real claim on Greek national memory. That religious memory will be awakened on the 200th anniversary of Greek Independence on the feast of the Annunciation -- March 25, 1821 -- when under the  flags of Orthodoxy, Greek patriots began their war of liberation from the Muslim rule of the Ottomans. Orthodox Russia helped them in their victory then and appear ready to help them again two centuries later.


The Joint Chiefs of Staff published a 17-page document, The National Military Strategy of the United States of America in June 2015. Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are all named as "states attempting to revise key aspects of the international order and are acting in a manner that threatens our national security interests." These "revisionist states" and violent extremist organizations (VEOs) are the major threats to be countered. A major difference in this document from the National Military Strategy 2011 is the addition of Russia to the list of revisionist states. This depiction of our enemy list has basically surveyed the globe and named the major regional powers of Europe, Asia and the Mideast as threats to our national security.

In 2011, "violent extremism" was the term used for the multiple branches of salafist Sunnis who led the 9-11 attacks in 2001 and are now based in multiple territories from ISIS in former Iraq/Syria, to Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Pennisula in Yemen, to Al Shabaab of Somalia, to ISIS executioners in Libya. In the 2015 document, VOE (violent exteremist organizations) is the term of choice. Defining the enemy distinguishing such terms as Islam, Sunnis, salafist, and Shia was left undone again. This is a rather serious deficit in a national strategy document which includes a section called "the strategic environment."


ISIS after a year.

It is unfortunate that so many secular scholars refer to religious clashes as sectarian strife. This underplays these most fundamental loyalties as secondary to such western categories as representative democracy or pluralistic nation-states. Two scholars of the Shia-Sunni divide in the Gulf States are Frederic Wherey and Toby Matthieson, author of Sectarian Gulf. That is an important book we will review soon. The author's writing skills are more developed than his oratory and interviews.

The role of honor and humiliation in international politics helps explain a lot more than the narrow "realism" of balancing national interests. An annoying essay by a political scientist not quite up to his very important subject: the role of humiliation in the post 9-11 world order.

(Obergefell v. Hodges: decided June 26, 2015) 

The most depressing response to the Supreme Court discovering in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution a right for homosexuals to marry was the spectacle of "conservatives" arguing that redefining marriage as a same-sex institution was more properly a power of the states or the people. Can we really describe this modern Intolerable Act as simply a mistake in finding the right level of government to compel the legal sanctioning of an abomination against law, nature, and nature's God?    

There were better arguments from Catholics Joe Sobran (deceased - article from 2004), Sobran 2003, Pat Buchanan, Anthony Esolen, and Paul Kengor. All of these men understand that the rudiments of marriage are given by God in nature. Constitutions and statutes can refine and regulate marriage practices but they cannot redefine a reality which precedes them. The sweetest Christian voice against this mockery of the Christian civil rights movement was given a surprisingly sympathetic ear by the LA Times.


There is a lot of moaning about Pope Francis giving in to the Al Gore theory of the environment. At one level he has accepted a considerable "scientific consensus" about the origins and effects of rising CO2 levels. But can we not agree that there is a widespread consensus as there is a respectable opposition? Should those of us who disagree with the consensus not admit it is widespread? Much more importantly, the Pope argues for the role of man in the overall ecology of nature and the sacred differences between man and woman as central to the created order. I cannot imagine any American bishop - including any American "conservative bishop" - making these statements about why women will not lead Vatican departments: Pope Francis on the nature of woman and functionalism.


On June 1, 2015, the Episcopalian bishops changed the wording in their canon laws on marriage to remove gender specific notions of marriage. They allow priests to officiate at homosexual marriages or refuse to. Bishops of particular dioceses may refuse to allow their priests to officiate. Terry Mattingly of Get Religion tells the story and contrasts the AP report from the much more informative work of George Congar at the Washington Post. Get Religion is an excellent website that watches for religious "ghosts" in news stories. The name of their site is from a quote: "The mainstream press doesn't get religion."


David Brooks of the NY Times suggests Christians should work on "renewing the sinews of social bonds" in this formless society. That is good advice from the well-spoken secularist. We suggest that we start with the social bond of men as the social protectors of the city and nation. That would mean that we Christians expect to have as much say in policing our cities and determining foreign policy as the atheist-neoconservatives who now dominate these discussions on the Right. Brooks would assign Christians the soup kitchens, hospitals, and schools which we have already built. We accept those tasks as well, but we cannot forgo the public bonds of protective brotherhood which emanate from an apostolic church and are so essential to the spread of Christendom and the founding of the American nation.


An interview with Spanish Catholics. Note the persistence of the hermandades, sacred brotherhoods, in local life. More than attendance at Mass, these fraternities are being perpetuated through male generations. Once the "new evangelization" adopts Public Brotherhoods as a fundamental form of Christian life, maybe the liturgy and the local brotherhoods will reconnect. All of us await the miracle and genius of the Holy Spirit in breathing life into the Latin church in Spain, Portugal, and the Americas.


Rod Dreher, the excellent columnist at American Conservative, often speaks of "the Benedict option" which he explains here. Christopher Dawson reminds us of the difference between a crumbling Roman empire and the omnipresence of the modern state. Thus, following the example of Benedict today will necessitate a more integrative nature with the larger body politic as John Zmirak warns in the Dreher article. I would add that American Catholic parishes and schools provided a place and network of relationships where Catholics actually did solidify our doctrine in our practices. Our restoration strategy is to gain those two institutions back from dissident nuns, priests and bishops. We did not lose them to a flawed America but to deeply corrupted clergy and convents. Those corrupted Church employees in fact played no small part in furthering the agenda of the sexual left through the Catholic tribe's primary political arm: the Democratic Party.

A real Benedict option is not a retreat but the establishment of all-male communities of prayer and work that take some hillside and reform a town or county by force of communal personality. They pray together regularly and do physical productive work and are active protectors and models for the young men of the local community. They are Catholics. They unabashedly love the whole country as Americans and manifest that love through acts of local patriotism. The Benedict Option is masculine and fraternal. It combines physical work with prayer; otherwise it is not Benedict. He is the father of Europe as a Christian civilization flowering into similar male communal forms called nations. Benedict built masculine religiously ordered publics. His men were part of whatever land they worked. Benedict was not the patron saint of Mennonites. Let us honor his feast day by remembering what he did long ago and praying that men in our country will imitate his fraternities of orare et laborare today.


While the State and Defense Departments keep pushing women up their ranks, there are other sources  of American intellectual reserves. We have a  strong untapped bench in our military command centers and small colleges staffed by men who know the geography, languages, and battle lines of the Mideast. We must hear more from them. Professor Joshua Landis of Oklahoma is a reliable source about Syria with many excellent contributors to his site. Here is an analysis of the alliance of Syria and Iran which is not quite the "Shiite crescent." There is also a very revealing Iranian self-view as pan-Islamic, not sectarian. That perspective fundamentally differs from the salafist Sunnis of Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda, and ISIS.

Here is an excellent NYTimes/Mpls StarTribune article by an Iranian expatriate about different generational takes on the nuclear deal with Iran.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday BookReview: "In Defense of Purity" By Dietrich von Hildebrand

by David Pence


This book is an English translation of a study that grew out of a series of lectures given in Germany in 1925 to the Federation of Catholic Student Unions by Dietrich von Hildebrand (1897-1977). He was a German philosopher and theologian influenced by Husserl and Max Scheler, and a favorite of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  His study is not about “what is allowed.” It is not a defense against detractors. It is a study of the complete virtue of purity, and that “something completely new” which springs from the heart of consecrated virginity. This is neither an apologetic or ethical argument; it is a painting of the Sleeping Beauty who abides in Christian culture and will awake if we call her again by name.


Book One is called 'Purity' and is divided into three parts: 1) how sex is different than the other body appetites; 2) impurity, insensuality and purity; and 3) purity in marriage.

Book Two is called 'Virginity' and is divided into two parts: 1) the nature of consecration; and 2) nuptial relationship of all souls to Christ and the particular marriage of the consecrated virgin.

"It is impossible to understand the virtue of human purity without first considering briefly the distinctive character and unique position of sex in human nature."

Compared to the other bodily appetites, the desires for food, drink and sleep, the sexual desires are essentially deep. Body and soul meet in unique fashion so that sexuality and spirituality are complementary mysteries expressed in the peculiar intimacy of sex. The propagation of offspring, wedded love, and the sacramental character of the marriage act (proles, fides, sacramentum) are the three purposes of marriage which belong to man as an animal, as a human, and as a Christian. Von Hildebrand stresses what was under-stressed in his era: the conjugal unitive nature of wedded love. He also contrasts how terrible the sin when "man flings himself away, surrenders his secret, delivers himself over to the flesh, desecrates and violates the secret of another, severs himself in a mysterious fashion from God. Mysterious as the hallowed mystery whereby in marriage two become one flesh, is the abyss of sin to which the abuse of sex leads." Tenderness, mystery, union, intimacy are experienced inside wedded love while the "honeyed poison of lust has a fascination, alluring and intoxicating but which excludes anything beyond."

"Human Purity involves a distinctive attitude to the important domain of sex." Impurity is both a desecration and degradation. It is a submersion in physical flesh more grievous than gluttony, for it involves a surrender of the spirit from a more central and deeper level. There is, as well, "an impurity that makes its appearance apart from the abuse of sex." The Freudians "rightly call repression" this man who finds a certain sexual satisfaction in trying to make an impression, their sensibility, their carriage, the rhythm of their life which they consider particularly pure and speak of sex with disgust. They are particularly prudish and turn with disgust from anything in which the existence of sex finds open and unambiguous expression... Such men are "in bondage, their spirit is opaque as they have never uprooted their attraction to sex in its negative aspects as bemusing charm of diabolical lust."

There is another kind of man – the sexually insensible. He has an even greater "unspirituality" in his attitude. Too lazy and sluggish to be sexually responsive, too sleepy to possess the alertness  which susceptibility to the peculiar quality of sex demands. This attitude is no more pure or spiritual than a man forced to be poor is an exemplar of "an interior life independent of possessions."
Such men today -- often modern technocrats and bureaucrats -- are dismissive of too much emphasis on sex: "What is the big deal—my gay friends are just like the straight couples I know." Such insensibility is the opposite of purity.

"The pure man perceives the mystery of sex." He perceives its depths, its seriousness, its profound significance. He shrinks from contact which is isolated from love and thus poisonous. "Reverence is a fundamental component of purity." The pure man understands that sex belongs in a special manner to God, and only with his express permission may we eat from the fruit of this tree.  The language of sex and purity is high and reverential or debased and desacralized. To speak of it clinically is to prepare much for its debasement than its sacralization.

The specific value of purity is that it is a particular path which attaches to the inner unity and beauty and splendor of God. "It is the surrender to this splendor which formally constitutes purity." Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.  It is not just that God has sanctified sex but that purity in our approach to sex allows an access, even understanding, about God which is not given to the impure or insensible.

Von Hildebrand distinguishes chastity from purity. "Chastity  is exclusively tied to sex. We speak of the 'girdle of chastity' and the symbol expresses its character perfectly." Chastity is the fortress which secludes and guards. Purity is "an unsullied whiteness, the lily, the unclouded light." There is something of purity which is only possible in a Christian morality because its highest expression is a clarity of vision into the sanctuary of the Trinity. This begins with a reverential encounter with holiness which comes from seeing the radiance of Christ’s countenance. This is the privileged locus of the pure.

Book Two is on virginity -- the nature of consecration (in part one), and why the virgin is the bride of Christ (part two). "The essential nature and incomparable magnificence of Christian virginity can be rendered intelligible by love alone, and specifically by the highest among all created loves -- love of Jesus -- in whom dwells the entire fullness of the Godhead." In the natural order, woman represents, in contrast to man, the receptive principle. In relation to God, however, this characteristic of receptivity is not confined to the female sex. Here where Infinite and finite being, Creator and creature, God and man meet, the man as an individual soul is as purely receptive as the woman… This is preeminently true in the supernatural order of the soul as the bride of Christ – the God man." Hildebrand spoke of “metaphysical femininity” and insisted that masculinity and femininity could not be confined to the biological.

Asceticism calls upon us to renounce the enjoyment of lawful goods. “The renunciation closes and keeps closed the outlet for certain fundamental instincts and keeps dominion over pride and concupiscence.” These are the two attitudes which most cause man to spiral downward from his lofty calling. They appear in many 'alloys' as a consequence of original sin. But more than ascetics, virginity produces an undivided oneness -- it is not simply "renunciation of earthly lust but the renunciation of that community of love and life which marriage represents." Giving this up must not lead to what Pope Francis called the shriveled spinster. It must instead lead to the bounty of love radiating from the joyful spouse. Virginity is the external form of life and the outward sign that all things are forsaken for the sake of Jesus. "The virgin's heart must be far more generous in its love than even the heart of the married; it must be inebriated by that supernatural love which destroys all selfishness and must contain super-eminently all genuine love and surrender to creatures." We now know why consecrated virginity represents the most exalted state on earth; because it is the objective embodiment of love’s supreme mystery -- a marriage in the strictest sense to Christ. The state of the greatest purity is the state of the greatest love.

Hildebrand ends his text:
The virgins, like the martyrs, anticipate heaven, and take the kingdom of heaven by force: even on earth they can say; “Behold what I longed for I already see; what I hoped for, I already possess. I am espoused to Him who the angels serve, at whose beauty sun and moon stand in amaze.” 

This little book is a great tribute to the special access which purity affords love. It gives us a language to approach the mystery of sexuality as a portal to the Divine. It is a tribute to the embodied role of the consecrated virgin in Catholic life, and a celebration of how her veiled presence is a dramatic sign to the whole world. It is an embarrassing indictment of those women who have hardened their hearts inside of religious orders and traded their high calling for the thin porridge of life as an all-female NGO.

A single word of disagreement. The author states: "There is no essential difference between the purity of man and the purity of woman -- for the same interior attitude before God is demanded in both cases. It is the same with virginity." It is surely true that all our souls are feminine and receptive before the Holy Spirit. However, a man purer and braver than I should argue in a friendly addendum that the embodiment of purity in males is the purity of David’s soldiers who were allowed to eat the temple bread on their way to war, and the purity of the 144,000 who “know not women” and will fight the final battle in the Book of Revelation. Purity allows men to understand their consecrated masculinity as a public formation under the King. It represents not the intimate nuptial love of the consecrated virgin as much as the communal imitative love of brothers. The eschatological visions of consecrated purity in males and females are different. The virgin lets us see more clearly a reflection of the final wedding feast. The consecrated monks and priests are a living sign of the gathering hosts for the final battle before that feast.

Let us be thankful for the clarifying insight of Dr. Hildebrand’s pure heart, and let us pray with the psalmist:

 "A pure heart create for me, O God;

 Put a steadfast Spirit within me."


Alice von Hildebrand with Benedict XVI

 UPDATE: His widow, a college professor of many years, is interviewed about her husband's conversion by Marcus Grodi.

Catholic World Report recently had a review of Dietrich von Hildebrand's memoirs.

A truly fascinating essay (and interview) by Patricia Snow on how churchmen downplayed celibacy after Vatican II.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday BookReview: Harry Truman

[first published July 3, 2015]

                                                   "I tried never to forget who I was                                                                                           
                                                    and where I'd come from                                                                                                                   
                                                    and where I would go back to."

Presidents Johnson and Truman with wives, flanking HHH

How can one not gratefully doff his hat to the simple man from Missouri -- he who had to take over the large chair of Mr. Roosevelt in the midst of our desperate war against the Axis? Harry Truman spoke bluntly, refused to put on airs, read through the Bible again and again, and loved his (difficult) Bess purely.

Here are excerpts from a review of David McCullough's biography of President Truman -- by Wisconsin professor Stanley Kutler:
Shortly after John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, a bumper sticker appeared with the following line: "I Miss Ike." Below, in smaller letters, there was an additional message: "Hell, I Even Miss Harry." 
Eight years after leaving the White House with only a 23 percent approval rating in the polls, Harry Truman was on his way to folk idol status -- aided no doubt by the failures and mediocrities who succeeded him in the presidency. But now, nearly 40 years later, David McCullough`s splendid biography confirms that Truman`s record and character make him one of our more remarkable and successful presidents in his own right. 
After Franklin D. Roosevelt died, many Americans received a rude shock when they heard the unknown Truman's Missouri twang as he addressed Congress on April 16, 1945. But the loss of FDR, whom many knew as their only president, also unleashed a flood of goodwill toward his successor. "I was tired of Eastern accents," wrote a woman from Indiana. And a New Yorker said that he had "never known a man named Harry who really amounted to a damn," but that Truman had his support anyway. Truman`s anonymity proved a blessing, for he did not have the entrenched, bitter enemies such as Roosevelt had raised during his long tenure. 
Truman joined the Senate in 1934. He won a bitter primary fight for re-nomination in 1940, despite Roosevelt`s tacit support for his opponent. Four years later, a cabal of administration insiders and politicos conspired -- no other word will do -- to persuade Roosevelt to drop Vice President Henry Wallace and select the Missourian. Truman`s sponsors sensed that Roosevelt had little likelihood of surviving another term; they recognized, to be blunt, that they were selecting the next president of the United States. 
Harry Truman was born in 1884. His family reflected the political and social divisions resulting from slavery that had nagged Missouri since its beginnings in 1820. Truman`s grandparents had been slaveowners; his mother, who had an enormous influence on him, remained an unreconstructed rebel. He always recalled his childhood as especially happy, with warm memories of family, friends, teachers. Truman was a studious child and developed a lifelong love for reading -- whether history or the poetry of Alfred Tennyson. He learned the virtues we commonly celebrate: family, hard work, thrift, and responsibility. 
Truman was nearly 30 when he became engaged to the only woman who ever interested him. "How does it feel to be engaged to a clodhopper who has ambitions to be Governor of Missouri and Chief Executive of the U.S.?" he asked Bess Wallace in 1913. During World War I, "Captain Harry" commanded an artillery battery. After an unsuccessful postwar business venture, Truman acknowledged his ambition and plunged into what became his life`s work: politics. He became a county official and served with exceptional honesty and efficiency. But as part of the infamous Pendergast organization that dominated local politics in Kansas City, Mo., he always carried the burden of being a "machine politician."          

In 1934, he leaped from his obscure political post to the U.S. Senate. Truman always was a bit of a latecomer; he married late, and he chose his career when he was nearly 40. But when he found politics, a close relative remarked, "he struck his gait." A politician, and always proud to say so, he mocked the notion of being a statesman. "When a good politician dies he becomes a statesman," Truman said. He liked being alive, "he liked being Harry Truman," McCullough writes. 
Truman loyally supported the New Deal. But his 1940 re-election gave him a new sense of direction and independence. He was respected on both sides of the Senate aisle. During the war, he distinguished himself as chairman of a committee investigating defense production and military contracts. He remained relatively obscure, but knowing insiders acknowledged his growing importance. Washington correspondents ranked him among the 10 most important persons to the war effort -- the only congressman included... 
Truman`s first year as president was nearly as demanding as those Lincoln and FDR confronted in 1861 and 1933. Truman brought the war to a successful conclusion, having decided to use the atomic bomb. He dealt with the disintegrating Soviet alliance; he grappled with the conflicting pressures for demobilization and the growing demands to maintain American military dominance and he led the nation to an orderly reconversion to a peacetime economy. 
To be sure, he stumbled on occasion: "To err is Truman," partisan critics joked. Nevertheless, his decisions and policies set the course for American society for the next three decades, one that engaged the nation in international affairs and promoted the most sustained growth and prosperity the nation had ever known. And he balanced budgets. 
The momentous achievements of his first term are the basic markers for Truman`s presidency. His containment policy, coupled with the contradictions and failures of the Soviet system, eventually resulted in the disintegration of the Soviet Union. All subsequent presidents followed his lead, including those who built their political careers attacking containment as cowardly. 
Domestically, Truman`s bold, innovative support for civil rights set the agenda for the ongoing struggle for equality in American life. When segregationist Strom Thurmond abandoned the Democrats over this issue in 1948, he admitted he had never objected when Roosevelt had made similar promises on civil rights. "But Truman really means it," Thurmond noted. 
Despite Truman`s memorable victory in 1948, his second term proved anticlimactic, if not disappointing. His Fair Deal proposals ran into staunch Republican and Dixiecrat opposition, and the Korean War was an albatross from June 1950 to the end of his term. In some ways, the Korean conflict brought out the best in Truman, but the limited war frustrated the nation, eroded his popular and congressional support and squeezed the joy out of his presidency. His advisers feared that requesting official congressional sanction for the war might compromise the president`s authority as commander-in-chief; bad advice, for it led to increasing partisan conflict. 
Truman`s record was not without failures, either of judgment or purpose. He could "shoot from the hip," blunder badly on occasion and be incredibly naive. ("I like old Joe [Stalin]! He is a decent fellow." "Well, I guess I goofed," he admitted to reproachful aides)... 
Truman is an elegantly written, even moving, work. McCullough has mined the papers of Truman and his associates to invariably find the insightful revelation. He has used his sources wisely and shrewdly to paint an unforgettable portrait... 
Truman surrounded himself with first-rate advisers (George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and Clark Clifford among them), weighed conflicting views and decisively acted. On his famous whistle-stop tour during the 1948 election, he disarmingly told his audiences: "You don`t get any double-talk from me. I`m either for something or against it, and you know it. You know what I stand for." And they did. 
In this era of sound bites and reading lips, we no longer believe political leaders in the same way... Truman knew himself, and he rarely trimmed his sails to momentary fashions. He was, as Dean Acheson aptly described him, the "captain with a mighty heart." We may never see the likes of him again.                                                          

Walking with the priest who had been chaplain of Battery D in WWI

Here is a perfect video piece to watch on this Independence Day: Mr. McCullough chats with Morley Safer about Harry Truman -- as well as George Washington, Ben Franklin, and the events that unfolded in the summer of 1776 at Philadelphia.

UPDATE: Take a look at this reflection on Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln.