Archive for the ‘Heroism’ Category

Transcending Politics

August 13, 2015

I have to confess that I have been making fun of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. I do not have any particular animosity towards either him (He hasn’t had any surgery yet, not that that would really make a difference) or his choices in life. The reason I have found Caitlyn to be a legitimate target is because he is a celebrity in the public eye, and because of the inherent silliness of a sixty-five year old man claiming that he is now and always has been a woman, despite exterior appearances. Still, I ought not to be too harsh on Jenner. Except for his gender confusion and marriage into the Kardashian family, he does appear to have his head on straight. Consider this story I found posted at the Media Research Center.

Caitlyn Jenner, who famously came out as a Republican and a Christian, is now having his position as a spokesperson for the transgender community questioned after voicing criticism of the welfare state.

In a clip from last Sunday’s episode of “I am Cait,” Jenner stunned friends when discussing social welfare programs. In a conversation about providing entry-level jobs to struggling transgender people, Jenner asked, “Don’t a lot of times, they can make more [money] not working with social programs than they actually can with an entry-level job?”

“I’d say the great majority of people who are getting help, are getting help because they need help,” one of Jenner’s friends asserted.

“But you don’t want people to get totally dependent on it. That’s when they get in trouble. ‘Why should I work? I got a few bucks. I got my room paid for,’” Jenner responded.

These remarks made Jenner’s friends appear physically uncomfortable.

Jenny Boylan, a transgender activist, told the camera, “Now I am worried. Caitlyn has every right to be just as conservative as she chooses, but many transgender men and women need social programs to survive. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Living in the bubble is an impediment to understanding other people. If Cait’s going to be a spokesperson for the community, this is something she’s going to have to understand.”

I find it curious that there is an expectation that a person who is transgendered must also be a political liberal who supports the welfare state. Why? What possible connection could there be between the issues of gender identity and economic liberty? One would expect the same diversity of opinion on political issues among the transgendered as among any other particular group with varying economic circumstances and past experiences. The idea seems to be that if you belong to X group, you must have the same political outlook as everyone else in group X and usually this political outlook is assumed to be left-wing, or at least in support of the Democratic Party. Why is this? Thus, Blacks like Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell or women like Sarah Palin or LGBT like Caitlyn Jenner who identify as conservative are considered to be traitors to their race, sex, and sexual orientation respectively. Besides that, there is the expectation that lower income people who vote Republican are somehow voting against their own interests.

Why is this? One would expect as great a diversity of opinion within each of these, and similar, groups as there is in race, religion, gender, sexual orientation between them. Yet the expectation is that the members of each group must march in lockstep, all supporting the same sorts of policies that they perceive to be best for their particular group. It is as if each person is not really an individual with his or her unique thoughts and feelings but simply a representative of a particular group. Come to think of it, haven’t leftists and socialists always spoken of the masses or the workers and never of individual people. Marx believe you are what your class is. The Fascists said you are what your race is. The modern progressive seems to share this general viewpoint. If Caitlyn Jenner is transgendered, he must have the same thoughts as every other transgendered person.

Well, I am glad that Mr. Jenner has wandered off the reservation, though I am afraid that his credentials as a spokesperson for the transgendered community is in serious jeopardy. But then, perhaps we need fewer spokespersons and more thoughtful individuals.

The Demon Whisperer

August 10, 2015

They really don’t make popes like they used to. It is true that many of the Medieval and Renaissance Popes were very bad men and some were actually criminals. The Roman Catholic Church is fortunate that the general character of its popes seems to have improved considerably over the last few centuries. Modern popes may not be as interesting to read about as some of the more notorious popes of earlier ages, but they are perhaps more reliable in performing their pastoral and administrative duties. Still, if there are no remarkably bad popes in the present age, there are also no especially good popes either. Popes today are a rather bland lot compared to their predecessors. If there are no more Borgia Popes who assassinate their rivals or Great Schisms between rival popes, there are also no popes like Julius II who personally led armies into battle, Leo I who faced down Attila the Hun and convinced him not to sack Rome, or Gregory VII who made the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV stand in the snow for three days before granting him absolution. Popes were far tougher in the past.

The toughest of these medieval popes had to have been Pope Honorius III. He was not content to vanquish mere earthly foes but, according to legend, he actually summoned demons from Hell in order to battle with them and send them back. Even better, he wrote a book, or Grimoire, on summoning, controlling and banishing demons for the benefit of clergymen who might need such knowledge in their work.  Pope Honorius III was the Demon Whisperer, at least according to legend.

The Demon Whisperer

The Demon Whisperer

The sober facts about the life and papacy of Honorius III are impressive enough even without bringing in fantastic tales of his wrestling with demons to keep in spiritual shape. He was born Cencio Savelli in Rome in 1150. Savelli began his priestly career as canon of the Church of Sainta Maria Maggiore. In January 1188, he was made Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman Church. This post put Savelli in charge of Papal lands and finances and was perhaps a sign that he was considered honest and trustworthy. In February 1193, Savelli was made Cardinal Deacon of Santa Lucia and was acting Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from 1194 until 1198. Savelli was dismissed from his post as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church in 1198 and given the post of Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals, making him the treasurer of the College of Cardinals. In 1200, Pope Innocent III raiused Savelli to Cardinal Priest. Meanwhile, in 1197,  Savelli also managed to gain the post of tutor to the future Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.

On July 16, 1216, Savelli’s predecessor Innocent III died. Innocent III had been one of the most powerful and active popes of the Middle Ages and his reign would be a tough act to follow. Because of the unsettled political conditions in Italy, the College of Cardinals wanted to select a new pope quickly and they met only two days after the death of Innocent III, on July 18 at the city of Perugia. The College decided on Cencio Savelli as a compromise candidate acceptable to every faction and Savelli, somewhat reluctantly, was consecrated Pope Honorius III on July 24.

Honorius was a popular pope, at least in Rome where the Romans were pleased to have a local as pope. He was also known for his kindness and generosity which endeared him to the people of Rome. Like Innocent III, Honorius III was ambitious for the Papacy to play a leading role in European politics, but he proved to be less inclined to use coercion against the princes of Christendom, preferring to use persuasion. It may be that Honorius was too ambitious and tried to get too much done during his reign. He wanted to recover the Holy Land for Christendom and promoted the Fifth Crusade. This crusade involved a campaign against Egypt from 1218-1221 and ended in failure. Most of the rulers of Europe had their own difficulties at home and were not able or willing to leave their lands for any length of time. Honorius’s former pupil Frederick II became Holy Roman Emperor in 1220 and was an obvious choice to lead a crusade. Although he promised Honorius that he would go crusading in the Holy Land, Frederick II kept putting off and delaying his departure until after Honorius was dead.

In addition to promoting the crusades against the Infidel, Honorius also continued the French crusade against the Albigensians or Cathars begun by Innocent III. He supported the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors and missionary activity to convert the Baltic peoples, the last pagan holdouts in Europe. On a more positive note, Honorius endeavored to promote the spiritual reform of the Church. Honorius approved the Dominican, Franciscan and Carmelite orders and supported their reforming efforts. Honorius was a man of learning and strongly encouraged standards of education among the clergy, going so far as to dismiss illiterate bishops. He granted privileges to the Universities of Paris and Bologna and ordered arrangements made for talented young men who lived far from any universities to be taken to them and learn theology for the purpose of teaching in their own dioceses. Honorius himself wrote many books, including biographies of Popes Celestine III and Gregory VII as well as an guide to Papal finances. Even without the legends of wrestling with the supernatural, Honorius comes across as one of the more impressive figures to assume the Papal tiara.

Summoning Demons for Dummies

Summoning Demons for Dummies

It may have been Honorius III’s reputation as an author and scholar that gave rise to the legend that he wrote a grimoire and summoned demons in his spare time. Naturally, modern historians do not give any credence to such legends. The educated in our secular age reject outright any suggestion of the supernatural, especially stories of witchcraft and demon summoning and few are inclined to suppose there can be any truth to such legends. Aside from that, experts on the history and theology of the Roman Catholic Church point out that any work of witchcraft or magic, including the act of summoning demons, is and always has been strictly prohibited by canon law and it seems unlikely that a pope such as Honorius III, who was at pains to promote Catholic teachings would go against those teachings. Still, the idea of a pope relaxing by summoning demons and then sending them back to Hell is a strangely  appealing one, and I’d like to see one of these wimpy modern popes try to fight a demon.

One of Honorius's demons would chew him up and spit him out.

One of Honorius’s demons would chew him up and spit him out.

The Return of the King

August 6, 2015

By the end of the Return of the King, the quest of the Ring Bearer is completed. The One Ring is destroyed and the Realm of Sauron and all his works are destroyed. The King returns to the Reunited Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor and his rule is established throughout the West of Middle Earth. Good is victorious, yet the victory is bittersweet, for with the passing of Sauron, the end of the Third Age has come and the beginning of the Fourth Age and the dominion of Man. The Eldar, High Elves, have lost all interest in remaining in Middle Earth and will pass back into their home in the West. For a time the Hobbits will prosper in the Shire. The Dwarves will found a new colony in the caverns of Helm’s Deep and perhaps will reconquer their old home, Moria. The lesser wood Elves will remain in Mirkwood and Legolas will bring some of his people to the woods of Ithilien. But it will not last. The Hobbits and Dwarves will diminish in stature and numbers. The Elves will fade away to be forgotten to pass into the West. Even the works of Men may not last. While walking the streets of Minas Tirith, Legolas predicts that the works of men will outlast those of the Elves and Dwarves. To that, Gimli replies that they may come to nothing but might-have-beens. To that, according to Legolas, even the Elves know not the answer, and if the Elves do not know it, presumably no one does.

Elves_leaving_Middle-earth

The Return of the King, then, returns to the theme of loss, found in the first two volumes of the Lord of the Rings. Even in victory, the world will never return to what it was before the coming of Sauron and much that was fair and worthy in Middle Earth must forever pass away. Even the Hobbits are not unmarked by their experiences. Frodo is wounded and will not find healing in Middle Earth. The other Hobbits are not so unfortunate, but they have grown to become worthy of sitting with the mightiest heroes of Middle Earth. They are no longer the light-hearted, carefree Hobbits who set out with Frodo at the beginning of the quest.

Speaking of the Hobbits, once again, Tolkien shows that the small and the humble can do what the proud and the strong cannot. The armies of Rohan and Gondor can do no more than knock on the gates of Mordor while Frodo and Sam can creep through the defenses of Mordor undetected. The Dark Lord’s greatest captain, the Witch-King and Lord of the Nazgul cannot be defeated by the hand of man and even Gandalf feared encountering him, yet he was slain by a Hobbit and a woman who was little more than a girl. The proud Denethor and Saruman dare to look into the palantirs, knowing that Sauron dominates them with the palantir he has captured and Saruman is corrupted into serving Sauron while Denethor is driven mad with despair. Aragorn also dares to look into the palantir. As the heir of Elendil he has the right to use what belonged to Elendil, yet he acknowledges that he barely had the strength to wrest control from Sauron. Aragorn is among the powerful, yet he shows himself to be humble enough to understand his limits. The humble Faramir also understands his limits in a way his proud brother Boromir and his father Denethor do not. Faramir, at least, is not so proud that he imagines he can master the Ring and so he does not fall into the temptation that Boromir fell into.

Don't look into it!

Don’t look into it!

It is the weakest character of all that plays the pivotal role in the quest, through he could hardly be described as humble. He is Smeagol or Gollum. Smeagol is a pathetic figure throughout the Lord of the Rings. Sly, treacherous and murderous, he is completely dominated by the Ring. Smeagol is weak and wretched. He does not have a sword or any weapon but can only attack from behind and attempt to strangle his enemies. He cannot bear the light of the Sun or Moon or anything made by Elves. Yet without Smeagol’s guidance, the quest would have failed as soon as Frodo and Sam left the Fellowship. Smeagol guides them through the Dead Marshes to the Black Gate and then to Ithilen and Cirith Ungol. After he betrays Frodo and Sam, he makes his way through Mordor, following them without supplies. In the end, it is Smeagol who manages to destroy the Ring, albeit unintentionally and at the cost of his own life. In Smeagol, we see a character who intends evil, but ends up doing good.

The hero of the story

The hero of the story

In some ways, the Lord of the Rings is a pessimistic story because of the theme of loss found throughout the plot, especially towards the end. Yet it really isn’t. Certainly some things must be lost but the good is victorious in the end, even though a price must be paid for the victory. One of the greatest lessons of the Lord of the Rings is that we must not lose hope, even against odds that seem insurmountable. The Dark Lord’s victory seems inevitable and many of the men of Minas Tirith are certain that the fall of the city is at hand. For me, one of the most poignant scenes of the Return of the King is when Frodo and Sam are wandering about the fences of Mordor. While Frodo sleeps, Sam looks up into the sky and sees that through the smokes and clouds of Mordor, a single star can be seen. Sam realizes that no matter how powerful the Shadow might seem, in the end it is only small and passing thing. There is light and beauty forever beyond its reach. This is something to remember in our own dark days.

The Two Towers

June 28, 2015

Although The Lord of the Rings is almost always referred to as a trilogy, that was not Tolkien’s intent. Tolkien meant for The Lord of the Rings to be a novel composed of a single volume divided into six books. The publisher’s decision to divide the The Lord of the Rings into three volumes, each comprising two of Tolkien’s books was dictated by the economics and shortages in post war Britain and once established, Tolkien’s work has remained a trilogy even when there is no particular why it shouldn’t be published as a single volume.

The trilogy concept works well enough for The Fellowship of the Ring and the The Return of the King. Books one and two are in strict chronological order and there is only slight overlap in books five and six. The Two Towers chronicle the adventures of the scattered members of the fellowship with book four focusing on Frodo and Sam while book three deals with the other hobbits and their companions. Placing two books covering the same period of time with no interaction between the main characters of the two sections gives the impression that The Two Towers is really two novels somewhat arbitrarily placed in one volume.

10565496934_0fddbefabd_b

This impression is mistaken, however. Books three and four actually complement one another. Book three begins small with just the hobbits Merry and Pippin led captive by orcs across the plain of Rohan with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli following in a seemingly vain hope of catching up and rescuing them. Both the hobbits and their would be rescuers encounter other peoples and forces, the Ents and the Rohirrim, and get drawn into the larger world as part of the war against the traitor Saruman. In book four, the plots remains focused on Frodo and Sam. They take Gollum as their guide, they meet Faramir son of the Steward Denethor, and they see the Morgul army as it marches out to destroy Gondor, but throughout it is simply Frodo and Sam. The first part keeping growing into the wider world while the second part narrows to two hobbits.

Morgul1

The Two Towers shares the themes found throughout the Lord of the Rings. Once again it is the small and the humble who get things moving. The two hobbits rouse Treebeard and the Ents into marching against Saruman. The seemingly insignificant Gandalf in a tattered gray cloak is revealed as the mighty Gandalf the White. And of course, Frodo and Sam accomplish the nearly impossible by traveling into Mordor.

The sense of loss found in the Fellowship of the Ring is even greater in the Two Towers. In this book, Men and Orcs are the actors. Except for Legolas and Gimli there is not an Elf or Dwarf to be seen. Their time is passing and Middle Earth will become a world of Men, whichever side wins. King Theoden is amazed to learn that Ents still exist but laments that much that is unknown to him will be ended by the war. Faramir admires the Elves but does not seek them out. Men and Elves have become estranged and each walks further down their separate path. His own people, the Dunedain, have declined over the centuries and are now hardly better than other Men. The Ents have lost the Entwives so no new Entings can be born. The old world is passing into a newer, and lesser world.

 

Patrick Stewart Channels Voltaire

June 11, 2015

Voltaire is supposed to have said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He probably didn’t really say it but Patrick Stewart effectively did. I have read about this in various places, but here is the story at the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Actor Patrick Stewart is supporting the free speech rights of Christian bakers from northern Ireland who declined to decorate a cake with a pro-gay-marriage message.

An Irish court fined the owners of Ashers Bakery £500 for not writing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake.

The bakery owners say they’re happy to bake a cake for anyone, but reserve the right to decline messages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

Stewart, who is known for his roles in “Star Trek” and “X-Men,” told BBC “Newsnight” that no one should be forced to write things they disagree with.

Gay activists have been attacking Stewart for his comments.

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Sadly, it has become increasingly rare in our politically correct world, with its microaggressions and trigger warnings, for anyone to adopt Voltaire’s view on permitting freedom of speech, even for those you don’t like and Patrick Stewart deserves some praise for doing so. Naturally, he was subjected to the usual criticism from the supporters of tolerance and diversity and he felt he had to clarify his position on his Facebook page.

As part of my advocacy for Amnesty International, I gave an interview on a number of subjects related to human rights, civil rights and freedom of speech. During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs. In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other. I know many disagree with my sentiments, including the courts. I respect and understand their position, especially in this important climate where the tides of prejudices and inequality are (thankfully) turning. What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I’m anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. I have long championed the rights of the LGBT community, because equality should not only be, as the people of Ireland powerfully showed the world, universally embraced, but treasured.

There are a couple of things about this statement that bother me. Why does Patrick Stewart feel the need to declare his fealty to politically correct orthodoxy. I feel as if he is saying that he supports the right of thought criminals to speak freely but he is certainly not a thought criminal himself, or that he is most offended by the idea that he might be one thought of as one of those ignorant mouth-breathers who are opposed to same-sex marriage. I understand that Stewart does not want his views on this issue to be misconstrued and that he probably doesn’t intend his statement to be taken this way, but this assurance that he is on the right side gives a somewhat begrudging feel to his defense of free speech, as if he is saying he supports their right to be wrong. But, maybe I am reading too much into it.

The other thing that bothers me about Patrick Stewart’s statement is that he had to make any clarifying statement at all. I do not know precisely what his critics have been saying, but it seems that their reasoning is that the only reason that Patrick Stewart would support the right of a baker to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro gay marriage message is that he must agree with the baker. The idea that one can support the free speech even of people one disagrees with seems not to have entered into their minds. Voltaire’s statement could be left untranslated in the original French for all the good it does people like this.

Is Voltaire’s concept really so hard to grasp? Does it not ever occur to these people that defending the free speech of others is the only way to protect one’s own free speech, or that once free speech is abridged, they might be next? Do they never consider that the other side might be right but if they shout them down, they will never learn any better, or that if the other side is wrong, compelling outward compliance to orthodoxy does not persuade anyone? Perhaps they don’t think much at all.

Patrick Stewart stated that freedom of speech and equality are fundamental rights. I would say that freedom of speech is far more important. If we have freedom of speech, we can speak out about whatever changes are needed to ensure equality. Without freedom of speech, we can do nothing. The real danger here in America and throughout the West is that there seems to be an increasing number of people who either believe freedom of speech is, at best, a secondary right inferior to the struggle for social justice and equality or that freedom of speech is not a right at all. I’m glad at least one person from Hollywood is willing to publicly support the right to dissent from liberal orthodoxy. I hope others follow Stewart’s lead.

Memorial Day

May 25, 2015

Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have fallen fighting for their country and for freedom.

Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_Day

Memorial Day first started to be observed after the Civil War. That war was the bloodiest in American history and the casualties of that war were unprecedented. The number of killed and wounded in the three previous declared wars, the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, were insignificant compared to the slaughter house that the Civil War became. After the war people in both the North and South began to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country. The date of this commemoration varied throughout the country until it settled on May 30.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This law moved the dates of four holidays, including Memorial Day, to the nearest Monday in order to create three-day weekends. This, I think, was unfortunate. I believe that converting the day on which we honor our fallen heroes into a long weekend tends to diminish the significance of this day. It becomes no more that day to take off work and for businesses to have sales. There should be more to Memorial Day.

 

Ben Carson for President

May 7, 2015

Retired neurosurgeon and conservative icon Dr. Ben Carson has announced his bid to run for president in next year’s election. I cannot say that I support Dr. Carson’s campaign for president. While I have no doubt that he was a competent, even brilliant neurosurgeon and he certainly seems to possess more wisdom and courage than most, I question whether he has the right experience. He has never held any political office. Telling off President Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast is not, in itself, a sufficient qualification for the presidency.

He looks the part anyway.

He looks the part anyway.

As the former head of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital,  Dr. Carson has had some experience in executive leadership, perhaps more than the current occupant of the White House. It is not clear how well directing a division at a hospital will translate into skill in national politics. A candidate may have all the right ideas on solving the nation’s problems, but unless he has spent some time getting to know some of the influential people in Washington and learning the culture, he will find it very difficult enact his ideas. The presidency is not an entry-level position and giving the job to a person with no experience is asking for trouble. Barack Obama held only a single term as a Senator from Illinois before being elected to the presidency and his relative lack of experience has caused him to make mistakes that a more experienced politician might have avoided. While Dr. Carson may be more suited for the job of president temperamentally, it is hard to imagine he won’t be any better than Barack Obama as avoiding missteps. I would be happier if Dr. Carson began his political career running for Congress. If he does well, I would have more confidence in supporting a presidential bid.

I am, however, glad that Dr. Ben Carson has decided to run for president. For the past six years, the progressives have insisted that the only reason conservatives have disliked Barack Obama is because he is African-American. It has to be racism. It couldn’t possibly be President Obama’s extreme left-wing politics. If a White president had proposed the same policies, the Republicans would have supported him all the way. It will be interesting how these same tolerant progressives treat a Black conservative who is running for president. My guess will be that he will become the latest Emmanuel Goldstein.

Goldstein

Goldstein

I expect that as the latest subject of the two minutes hate, Dr. Carson will be subject to the worst sort of personal abuse, including blatantly racist insults. The liberals can’t stand for any members of the groups they think they own; Blacks, women, gays, Hispanics to wander off the plantation. Once again, we will get to see the tolerant, compassionate, diversity loving liberals show their true nature as the worst sort of intolerant bigots.

The First World War

February 12, 2015

The First World War was the single most important event of the twentieth century. Every event that followed that war, all the other wars, the great movements and revolutions, and even the scientific discoveries and inventions, began in some way, direct or indirect, from the great and terrible happenings of the years 1914-1918. A world in which that war had not occurred would be a very different and perhaps better world.

Despite the importance of World War One, I have never known very much about it. I had some knowledge of the general outlines, which countries fought on which side, and which side won. I knew the names of some of the battles, the Somme, Verdun, but nothing in detail. I had some familiarity of the conditions of the Western Front but knew almost nothing at all about the Eastern Front, save that Russia ended up losing. I do not think that I am alone in knowing so little about World War One. The First World War tends to be overshadowed, in contemporary minds, by the still greater and more catastrophic Second World War. Yet, had the first war not been fought, it is very unlikely the second war would have broken out. At first the nature of the combatants would have been different, no Nazis in Germany and no Communist Soviet Union. In the United States, World War One tends to get little attention because we only entered the war in its last year. While the US contribution was crucial to the Allied victory, the war did not hurt us as badly as it did the European powers that fought it. Unlike France, Germany or Britain, America did not lose much of a generation in the fighting.

keegan_first_l

To learn more about this war, I turned to The First World War by the eminent military historian John Keegan. I am happy to report that Mr. Keegan does a truly marvelous job in relating the course of the war, from its beginnings, in the plans by the military staffs of the various combatants to fight the next war, to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that sparked the war, through the years of trench warfare when massive armies butted heads to no avail, all the way to the last desperate attempt by the Germans to knock Britain and France out of the war before fresh American soldiers arrived to reinforce them. He seems to pay equal attention to both the Western and Eastern fronts. I learned quite a lot about the fighting between Russian and the German-Austrian alliance, not to mention the fighting in the Balkans where the war started.
Keegan mostly dwells on the military aspects of the war and has relatively little to say about the domestic politics of the European nations. He does go into some detail about the diplomatic maneuverings the nations of Europe engaged in during the Balkan crisis that led up to the war. It is somewhat poignant to learn that neither side really wanted a general war in Europe, but no one seemed strong enough to end the crisis. Keegan speculates that if Austria-Hungary had launched an immediate invasion of Serbia in retaliation of their support for terrorist activities, the crisis would have ended before it had grown out of control. As it happened, Austria-Hungary waited for support from Germany, and the wait proved fatal for Europe.

Keegan challenges some myths and ideas that have grown up about the war. He argues that the various generals were not as incompetent or unconcerned about casualties as is often supposed. As he points out, they tried to fight the war as best they could, but technological development was at an awkward phase for fighting a war. Barbed wired and the machine gun made defended positions nearly impregnable, while the technologies that would have aided the offensive, tanks and airplanes were only beginning to be developed. Improvements in transportation, especially trains, made it possible to send many thousands of men into battle, but the generals had no way to keep in contact with their armies once battle had begun. It was no longer possible for generals to lead their men in person; the battles were too large for that. Telephone and telegraph wires were easily cut. Radio was still in its infancy. The generals were removed from the battlefields because they had no choice. They sent their men to be slaughtered because wars cannot be won without attacking the enemy and attacking the enemy’s positions killed thousands.

I enjoyed learning about World War One from John Keegan’s book and I think it serves as an excellent introduction to the war. It covers all the major battles and aspects of the war without getting bogged down in details. Best of all, it can be understood easily even by the reader not familiar with military affairs. I can highly recommend The First World War.

 

Whose Side are They On?

January 18, 2015

There have been some encouraging developments in Egypt recently, particularly in the speeches and actions of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which somehow have been underreported in the mainstream media. Raymond Ibrahim has written a little about this at PJMedia. Although born in the US, Ibrahim’s parents are Coptic Christians from Egypt, so perhaps he has a better understanding of Middle Eastern affairs and Islam than many who comment on such topics.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi continues to be the antithesis of longstanding mainstream media portrayals of him.

First there was his historic speech where he, leader of the largest Arab nation, and a Muslim, accused Islamic thinking of being the scourge of humanity — in words that no Western leader would dare utter.  This remarkable speech — which some say should earn him the Nobel Peace Prize — might have fallen by the wayside had it not been posted on my websiteand further disseminated by PJ Media’s Roger L. Simon, Michael Ledeen, Roger Kimball, and many others, includingBruce Thornton and Robert Spencer.

 

Next, Sisi went to the St. Mark Coptic Cathedral during Christmas Eve Mass to offer Egypt’s Christian minority his congratulations and well wishing.  Here again he made history as the first Egyptian president to enter a church during Christmas mass — a thing vehemently criticized by the nation’s Islamists, including the Salafi party (Islamic law bans well wishing to non-Muslims on their religious celebrations, which is why earlier presidents — Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and of course Morsi — never attended Christmas mass).

Accordingly, the greetings Sisi received from the hundreds of Christians present were jubilant.  His address was often interrupted by applause, clapping, and cheers of “We love you!” and “hand in hand” — phrases he reciprocated.

Sisi stood side-by-side with Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II — perhaps in remembrance of the fact that, when General Sisi first overthrew President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Pope Tawadros stood side-by-side with him — and paid a heavy price: the Brotherhood and its sympathizers unleashed a Kristallnacht of “reprisals” that saw 82 Christian churches in Egypt attacked, many destroyed.

It is also significant to recall where Sisi came to offer his well-wishing to the Christians: the St. Mark Cathedral — Coptic Christianity’s most sacred church which, under Muhammad Morsi, was, for the first time in its history, savagely attacked by both Islamists and the nation’s security

Yet, he reports, the mainstream media’s coverage of al-Sisi has been generally very negative.

Instead, MSM headlines on the day of and days after Sisi’s speech included “Egypt President Sisi urged to free al-Jazeera reporter” (BBC, Jan 1), “Egyptian gays living in fear under Sisi regime” (USA Today, Jan. 2), and “George Clooney’s wife Amal risks arrest in Egypt” (Fox News, Jan. 3).

Of course, the MSM finally did report on Sisi’s speech — everyone else seemed to know about it — but, again, to portray Sisi in a negative light.  Thus, after briefly quoting the Egyptian president’s call for a “religious revolution,” the New York Times immediately adds:

Others, though, insist that the sources of the violence are alienation and resentment, not theology. They argue that the authoritarian rulers of Arab states — who have tried for decades to control Muslim teaching and the application of Islamic law — have set off a violent backlash expressed in religious ideas and language.

In other words, jihadi terror is a product of Sisi, whom the NYT habitually portrays as an oppressive autocrat — especially for his attempts to try to de-radicalize Muslim sermons and teachings.

Why is this? Whose side is the mainstream media really on? Do they really want to see Egypt turned into another Iran or Afghanistan? They are, of course, on the same side Barack Obama is on, whichever side that might happen to be.

There is, of course, a reason the MSM, which apparently follows the Obama administration’s lead, has been unkind to Sisi.   One will recall that, although Sisi led the largest revolution in world history — a revolution that saw tens of millions take to the streets and ubiquitous signs and banners calling on U.S. President Obama and U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to stop supporting terrorism (i.e., the Brotherhood) — U.S. leadership, followed by media, spoke only of a “military coup” against a “democratically elected president,” without pointing out that this president was pushing a draconian, Islamist agenda on millions who rejected it.

That Sisi remains popular in Egypt also suggests that a large percentage of Egyptians approve of his behavior.  Recently, for instance, after the Paris attacks, Amr Adib, host of Cairo Today, made some extremely critical comments concerning fellow Muslims/Egyptians, including by asking them, “Are you, as Muslims, content with the fact that today we are all seen as terrorists by the world?… We [Egyptians] used to bring civilization to the world, today what?  We are barbarians!  Barbarians I tell you!” (More of Adib’s assertions here.)

I must here give a very short synopsis of recent Egyptian history before proposing a thought experiment. In January of 2011 the long reigning autocratic president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by a popular revolution. In the election that followed in November of that year, Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president in what was apparently the first free and fair democratic election in Egypt’s history. Once in power, Morsi began to place fellow members of the Muslim Brother in positions of power and to rule as a dictator. The Egyptians did not seem to want to replace one dictator with another nor to live under a theocracy and protests broke out all over the country. The army overthrew Morsi in a coup in June 2013 and Field Marshal al-Sisi became the new president. As Ibrahim writes, al-Sisi seems to be genuinely popular among the Egyptians and perhaps his religious views better reflect those of the relatively liberal views of the Egyptian Muslims.

Consider this thought experiment. Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933. He hardly won the post in a landslide, despite the claims of later Nazi propaganda. Although the Nazis had become the largest single party in Germany, they never managed to obtain more than about a third of the vote. Although Hitler was probably the most popular politician in Germany, there were many Germans, especially in the army and civil service who didn’t approve of him. What if the Wehrmacht had overthrown Hitler in a coup when it became apparent that he intended to seize total power and become dictator? Would Barack Obama have called for the reinstatement of the democratically elected Hitler as Chancellor and Fuehrer? Would the New York Times have denounced the generals’ autocratic behavior?

Whose side are these people really on?

Je Suis Charlie

January 11, 2015

That’s what everyone is saying in support of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Right now everyone is standing up for the editors and cartoonists’ right to satirize and ridicule whatever they choose even in the face of violence. I am afraid, however, that once the dust settles and the shock and memory of the recent attack fades, there is going to be an almost irresistible temptation for some people to blame the victim and propose craven counsels. The cartoonists and editors brought their trouble upon themselves, the argument will run. They should have known better than to mock the prophet of such an easily offended and potentially violent following. Certainly, they have a right to print whatever they want, but surely they should exercise some degree of  prudence and only mock safe targets, like the Pope.

Consider this partial transcript of a White House press briefing, provided by Breitbart.com,  from a earlier time when Charlie Hebdo published offensive cartoons way back in September 19, 2012.

REPORTER: The French government has decided to temporarily close their embassies and schools in several Muslim countries after a satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Is the White House concerned that those cartoons might further fan the flames in the region?

CARNEY: Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution.

In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence. Now, we have been staying in close touch with the French government as well as other governments around the world, and we appreciate the statements of support by French government officials over the past week, denouncing the violence against Americans and our diplomatic missions overseas.

Sure, they have a right to publish what they want, but they shouldn’t if what they publish leads to violent objections. As a call for freedom of speech and the press, this is somehow not quite as bold as Voltaire’s apocryphal, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, or even Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty, or give me death”. It seems more like, “Give me liberty, unless someone is offended enough to shoot or bomb me.” Ian Tuttle has some more recent examples of this rush to blame the victims, National Review Online.

The reason that Muslim terrorists attack publications like Charlie Hebdo is because they have good reason to believe that such attacks will be successful in achieving the goal of silencing criticism of Islam. This strategy wouldn’t work if the political elites in Europe and America really believed in freedom of speech or at least had any real courage in confronting the threat that Islam poses  to Western civilization. As it is, they are all too ready to condemn any criticism of Islam as racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia. The Terrorists hardly needed to bother with shooting anybody. Given time, I am sure the French government or the EU would have been happy to shut down Charlie Hebdo for its hate speech.

220px-Charliehebdo

The problem with this sort of censorship against commenting on an increasingly obvious threat is that it cannot work in the long run. The average French, German, or British citizen is aware that there is a problem, no matter how much his betters try to reassure him. If the mainstream parties and politicians of Europe will not address the problem with reasonable solutions, European voters might well turn to the people who will talk about it, the real racists and fascists. Their solution is not likely to be reasonable or pretty, though perhaps more desirable than a Islamized Europe.


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