Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

05/25/2009 (7:49 am)

The Martyrs of the Race Course


The Washington Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina was one of several sites converted to prison camps for Union soldiers when the Confederacy evacuated the Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia to prevent General Sherman from freeing the prisoners during his March Through Georgia in 1864. The soldiers, who arrived there already starved and diseased, were herded into the track’s infield and kept there in the open, without shelter. They soon began to die. Two hundred fifty seven were buried in shallow, unmarked graves behind the judge’s stand.

Freed blacks from the city of Charleston saw the irony of the race course, a symbol of the planter aristocracy, being used to house ill-treated prisoners of the war to free them, and decided that the soldiers who died there needed proper burial as a means to honor their sacrifice. In April of 1865, just days after the Confederacy’s surrender at the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse, a few dozen volunteers calling themselves “Friends of the Martyrs” and “the Patriotic Association of Colored Men” spent 10 days exhuming the bodies and burying them properly in individual graves with caskets and headstones, although there was no way to identify most of them.

On Monday morning, May 1, 1865, 10,000 freed black residents of Charleston attended the funeral for these, their liberators. Almost 3 thousand black children filed past them singing “John Brown’s Body”. They were joined by several “colored regiments” of the Union Army: the 104th and the 35th, and the famous Massachusetts 54th, the first colored regiment. They prayed, listened to sermons, dedicated the place as a Union cemetery, and held picnics. They called it Decoration Day. And in the next few years, they returned to decorate the graves at the race track with flowers.

Celebrations to honor the Union dead spread for several decades, and then were recognized as a national holiday. There were separate days to honor the Confederate dead created by southern states, who did not want to celebrate the honoring of the Union dead; these continued until the mid-20th century, and then were merged into the national Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has been expanded to commemorate all those who have died defending the United States of America in any fashion. The first Memorial Day, however, was a spontaneous expression of genuine gratitude by freed blacks for those who had died to free them.




12/19/2008 (6:45 am)

Those Who Make the Hard Decisions

Watch the video, above, from a few days ago, in which Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledges that he was consulted concerning the procedure for questioning Khalid Sheik Muhammed.

I got engaged in a conversation with a progressive about Barack Obama’s habitual lying and his possible involvement in Gov. Rod Blogojevich’s Senate seat auction, and the fellow pointed to this event and suggested that I was focused on fairly ordinary human failings when there was significant evil afoot. The man is a Christian, and accused me of “straining at gnats, and swallowing camels;” for those of you not familiar with the New Testament, he’s quoting Jesus’ indictment of religious hypocrites from a sect called the Pharisees, and accusing me of a pretty serious moral failure. It led me to ruminate for a day or two, prayerfully, over what we mean when we use the word “evil,” and how it applies to national leaders. Joe, if you’re reading this, please understand that I did not take your challenge lightly at all, nor is this a reflexive response; but you’re wrong.

Progressives around the country are practically exploding because Vice President Cheney acknowledged that he was involved in the discussion regarding what could and could not be done to the terrorists in custody in order to discover what they knew about al Qaeda’s plans and operations. The discussions were carried out according to the law of the land, with oversight by the appropriate Congressmen, and the program of interrogation was approved, waterboarding and all. Cheney observes correctly that the Bush administration has achieved remarkable success in preventing further attacks against the US by terrorists, once having been delivered a cataclysmic wake-up call on Sept. 11, 2001.

Did the approved procedure include acts that could properly be called evil? I think so.

Harry Truman, as President, ordered men to fly over a foreign city in an airplane and throw an object out of the plane that immediately incinerated the entire city — men, women, children, pets, dolls, hairbrushes, taxicabs, everything burned to a crisp. Thousands of survivors died of horrible diseases in the aftermath, and were continuing to die for about the next 25 years. Truman did this twice. He decorated the individuals who performed this act on his behalf, raising them to hero status.

Was that evil? Ignore the context for the moment, and just look at the act. Was it evil? I hope there’s no question about it. It was an unspeakable evil. Angels wept. So did millions of men and women around the globe. It was so stark an evil that succeeding generations have bent themselves into pretzels to make sure such a thing never happens again. Allow yourselves to feel the enormity of it for a moment.

Franklin Roosevelt, as President, engaged in the planning of acts that included things like this: an American man walked up to a concrete building full of men on the beach in France, stuck a pipe into the room and filled it with jellied gas, and then lit the gas, burning the men slowly and painfully to death (think flame-throwers and concrete bunkers.) Was that evil? If you didn’t think so, I would think you were not civilized.

Abraham Lincoln had somewhat less advanced technology to work with. He planned events that included Americans running up to other Americans on American soil, screaming like banshees, and jamming 18-inch-long stakes of sharpened metal through the other man’s body, causing the victim to die slowly of internal injuries over the next several hours (think of a bayonet charge.) Was that evil? Of course it was. When I think about things like this, I thank God — seriously — that I’ve never had to do such a thing to another man.

Adding the context does not necessarily help, especially if you’re trying to make it sound monstrous. Lincoln ordered this atrocity a hundred thousand times over, simply to prevent several states from carrying out a political decision they had every right to make. He had no Constitutional authority to prevent the southern states from leaving the Union. He ordered men by the hundreds of thousands to burn, pillage, stab, shoot, pulverize, route, and imprison other Americans simply to prevent a political divorce. We celebrate his birthday because he did that. Roosevelt ordered those millions of atrocious acts to stop one European leader from coercing other European leaders. The Germans never attacked us directly, nor were they any sort of immediate threat to us; we could easily have let the Europeans settle their own disputes, and made a treaty with Hitler to keep him on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Truman ordered his atrocity to avoid the unpleasantness of invading another country’s homeland. We could have blockaded them, and continued to engage their vanishing navy indefinitely, rather than incinerate hundreds of thousands of civilians.

It’s easy to make these things sound monstrous because, in fact, they are monstrous. War itself is evil. Never mind the necessity; God weeps when men go to war. The suffering produced by human violence, even violence justified by political necessity, creates an eternal weight of shame so great that God, Himself, had to suffer and die to atone for it. And even among those men whom God accepted, the Old Testament records that God would not permit King David to build a temple for Him because David was a man of war, and had too much blood on his hands. God does not take war lightly.

We do things inside ourselves to accommodate these evil acts, because at some level we believe the causes in which they were committed were just. We elevate the moral necessity of protecting our homes and families. We recognize our obligation to serve the nation that protects our liberties and permits our prosperity. We erect elaborate moral constructs to ennoble liberating enslaved or oppressed fellow-humans in other countries, and imagine that we hope they would do the same for us if our roles were reversed. Soldiers who have served in combat sometimes testify that they committed their unspeakable acts of violence mostly to honor their brotherhood to the man standing next to them. Is this enough? As a civilization, and possibly to our eternal shame, we believe that it is.

For the men at the time of the Civil War, there was a national covenant before God that made the preservation of the Union worth fighting for. We may not understand that sense of urgency from our modern point of view, but we can honor their commitment and devotion (no, the Civil War was not fought to abolish slavery; that was a military tactic and a side effect.) We certainly understand, from our modern point of view, the corrosive evil that Nazi Germany represented, and do not regret the atrocious acts we committed attempting to free the world from that terror (and, yes, American servicemen committed acts like waterboarding, and worse.) The Japanese did, in fact, threaten and attack us, and needed to be pushed back. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably prevented an invasion that would have resulted in casualties numbered in the millions.

None of this eliminates the evil of the acts committed in the pursuit of those ends. Sometimes we call on our Presidents, Vice Presidents, Congressmen, or Secretaries of Defense to engage in evil acts on our behalf, or to order us to commit evil acts. Sometimes it’s necessary. That’s part of living in a fallen world. Ultimately, we permit such evil in order to prevent even greater evils from occurring. As Ernest Hemingway once observed, there are worse things than war, and they happen after defeat.

If Dick Cheney, or any other American for that matter, engaged in acts of cruelty solely for the sake of enjoying the cruelty — if, say, they ordered that Khalid Sheik Muhammed’s fingers be cut off with a pruning shear just because they did not like him — I would want them punished severely. There’s never any reason for sadistic pleasure; schadenfreude is deep sin. That’s not what happened, though. Allowing fierce interrogation of prisoners, as part of a larger program of interrogation aimed at preventing Muslim radicals from hijacking airplanes full of civilians and flying them into buildings, I regard as a sensible part of the conduct of war. Yes, it’s evil. War is evil. I wish we didn’t have to do it, but the 1990s showed us what would happen if we avoided the evil of war; we suffered an escalating pattern of violence against ourselves that was only going to get worse. Those of us who read history recall the Muslim invasions of Europe and North Africa, and recognize that what we’re facing is not so different from what they faced. We’re protecting our homes and our civilization.

There are those tender-hearted souls among us who cannot make themselves watch the horrors of war, and who lack the inner fortitude to do the necessary things to protect home, country, virtue, or humanity from the corrosive evils that attack us. Rep Jane Harmon (D, CA) was the only Congressperson to object to the program of interrogation outlined by the CIA during the legal evaluation of the War on Terror; she is one of those tender-hearted persons, and she has my respect for her stand of conscience. There are others who, out of religious conviction from traditions that condemn violence, refuse to participate in the conduct of war. There must remain a place among us for those whose soul or conscience cannot stand the violence necessary for sound national defense. These people are honorable.

Most of those who are calling Dick Cheney “evil,” however, are not honorable in this fashion. On the contrary; they participated in an 8-year-long, full-throated, whole-hearted attempt to make every ordinary act of governance seem criminal. The biblical name for this behavior is “perverting justice,” and I cannot respect the moral sense of anyone who regards such wholesale perversion of justice as small potatoes. Their goal was partisan; some wanted power or office for Democratic politicians, others wanted to persuade the culture to abandon the Western tradition of virtue in order to produce a different world. Theirs is not conscientious objection; on the contrary, theirs is an act of bald treason. They deliberately, knowledgeably, and systematically, by means of propaganda, attempted to cause our nation to be defeated morally and politically before our enemies in the eyes of the world. They defend their treason by pretending they belong to the group I described in the last paragraph, but they lie; they are as different from those honorable people as night is from day. They are our enemies, and in a sane world, they would be punished.

I honestly don’t know to which group the fellow belongs with whom I was holding the discussion. I hope for his sake that it’s the former, and not the latter. I simply know that there’s no shame, nor sin, in defending the hard decisions leaders have to make in order to protect a nation from its enemies. Sometimes their decisions result in armies committing acts of violence that make the angels weep. Sometimes they make mistakes. Always, the innocent suffer. War is a horrible thing; but wars are fought among men, and not only should we honor the men who have to fight them, we should honor the leaders who surrender their clear consciences to make the hard decisions during those wars. Attempting to make criminals of them perverts justice, and endangers us all.

11/26/2008 (4:20 pm)

Thanksgiving Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America–

A Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor–and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their Joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be–That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions–to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us–and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Prepared by the Division of Cultural History,
National Museum of American History,
in cooperation with the Public Inquiry Mail Service,
Smithsonian Institution

10/07/2008 (9:39 am)

Normalization is Nigh

This is useful background information, and 17 minutes well worth spending. This interview is more than 20 years old, but the Soviet defector in the interview describes tactics that appear still to be in play in American society. Understanding these tactics is especially vital in these days of Obama Joy and crises being used as a lever to nationalize huge portions of the economy.

I cannot vouch for the individual in the video, a defector named Yuri Bezmenov who claims to have a big-picture overview of KGB strategy, having been trained by them to work subversively as a journalist in the 1960s. He sounds authentically Russian by his attitudes, accent, and figures of speech, and he seems to be describing accurately a set of strategies that work, but I can find very little information about him online.

The interview was recorded in 1985, during the closing days of the Cold War. It was the product of a filmmaker named G. Edward Griffin, who is arguably a nut case, and came to us by way of the George Wallace campaign. I wouldn’t bother, except it’s not Griffin who’s talking most of the time; Griffin’s role was to find and feature Bezmenov, and I happen to agree that he’s worth hearing out.

If Bezmenov is to be believed, the level of infiltration into American media and education by active KGB operations is astonishing; indeed, Bezmenov says it was astonishing to him. Lots of people will not believe him, which creates a tricky circularity: if he’s telling the truth, the testimonials of guys like Bezmenov get reviled because of activism by guys like Bezmenov. I can provide independent verification only from two sources. First, you can read this review by Rob Hafernik at Roborant; skip over his unbelievably long analysis of one Look Magazine issue, the sum of it is that Bezmenov spoke truly about it. Also, Paul Weyrich noted a couple of years ago a comment by one of Boris Yeltsin’s officials that the KGB’s plants in American media were still there long after the Cold War ended, a comment which I featured in an early blog article in 2006. These make Bezmenov seem believable but don’t fully corroborate his story.

Toward the end, Bezmenov notes that the enemy is not the Soviet Union, but World Socialism. He was correct about this even at the time, and doubly so today. Anybody who thinks Socialism simply vanished when the Soviet Union folded has not thought things through. If you’re curious to know what did happen to all the socialists, the book to read is David Horowitz’s Unholy Alliance. The plan for the advance of World Socialism continues as before, lacking only the official Soviet state sponsorship it once enjoyed.

The role of the American Left is particularly worth noting here. I’ve been saying for years that most of them are dupes, and have no idea what they’re serving. Bezmenov notes that the historical record proves that they’ll mostly be taken out and shot once the government is under the sway of normalized socialism.

06/27/2008 (3:01 pm)

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

I’m reading a fascinating book called The Irrational Atheist, by Vox Day (his real name is Theodore Beale). The book is a rational evaluation of the arguments raised by the recent champions of atheism, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Onfray, Daniel Dennet. Day is Christian, but doesn’t spend any of his effort defending Christianity; his purpose is simply to horsewhip the atheists on their own terms, showing factual, scientific, and logical errors in their arguments. He does it in a GenX-ish, conversational tone, with dry humor, and with some pretty astonishing research. Day is the guy who scanned the history of wars and determined that fewer than 10% of them manifestly had anything to do with religion, and that’s if you don’t count the later Crusades as political, which they were. I’m reading the book mostly because I’m preparing to engage in public apologetics, and I figured it’d be easier to read Day than to read Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett in the time I have available.

Jumping forward in the book a bit, I learned some fascinating facts about the Spanish Inquisition this morning. My introduction to the Inquisition came early in life, as my Hebrew School teachers gave me the history of conversos in Spain. Spain was historically one of the few European nations that did not expel Jews during the Middle Ages, so lots of European Jews moved there; later, the Spanish crown offered them sanctuary if they would convert to Christianity, which a number of them did, but they continued to practice Judaism in secret. It was the conversos, also called Marranos (which is apparently not a very nice name), who were the stated target of the Spanish Inquisition, and I’d always figured it was just another of the long list of anti-Semitic acts of the Church during the Middle Ages. Turns out I was wrong.

Day supplies some relevant context to the Inquisition, beginning with the Muslim conquest of Spain. The Umayyads invaded during the 8th century, and captured pretty much the entire Iberian Peninsula in an 8-year campaign. They were stopped from capturing northern Iberia by Payalo of Asturia at the battle of Covadonga in 722 AD, from invading France by Charles Martel at Tours in 732 AD. From that point, it took the Spanish Christians nearly 800 years to push the Muslims out of Spain again. Eight hundred years is a lot of war, and a lot of blood and money wasted. They were not eager to have to do it a second time.

What my Hebrew School teachers forgot to mention to me is that the Jews collaborated with the Muslims in Spain. Apparently, Jews in Spain had encouraged the Umayyads to invade back in the 8th century, and had been given weapons and responsibility for managing certain southern cities on behalf of the Muslims.

“It remains a fact that the Jews, either directly or through their correligionists in Africa, encouraged the Mohammedans to conquer Spain. . . . The conquered cities Cordova, Malaga, Granada, Seville, and Toledo were placed in charge of the Jewish inhabitants, who had been armed by the Arabs.”

The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906). Vol XI, 485.

When Ferdinand and Isabella finished the Reconquista, Isabella expressed concern about the Jews who had converted, fearing that some were not wholehearted Christians. The part we don’t get, from a modern perspective, is that in Isabella’s mind, if these converts were not truly faithful to the Church, it seemed likely to her that they were also not faithful to the Crown. They did not need Muslim spies among them. Ferdinand pressured Rome to establish a Spanish branch of the Roman Inquisition, and after playing hardball and threatening to withdraw his military protection from Italy, received official support from Pope Sixtus IV to question recent converts about their adherence to the faith.

He didn’t appoint any inquisitors for about two years, though. Apparently, he was not all that keen on getting started. Historians aren’t sure why he changed his mind, but I like Day’s suggestion: about 3 months before the first Inquisitor was named, a Turkish navy landed in southern Italy and sacked Otranto, killing about 10,000 people. In a still-remembered incident, 800 men of the city who refused to convert to Islam were taken to a nearby hill and beheaded en masse; the hill is still called the Hill of the Martyrs. The Turks then bounced along the coast, sacking more cities, and eventually left.

Apparently that was enough to remind Ferdinand of the stakes. Call it their version of 9/11. It probably took a few weeks for the news of Otranto to reach Spain, and another month or two to find the right individuals to start the process rolling. By the time five months had passed, the Inquisition had identified 6 false Christians and turned them over to the civil authorities.

The point is that the Spanish Inquisition was not some ruthless, demented rush to torture people who just happened to be different. It was, in fact, an understandable and appropriate response to very real contemporary threats.

It also was not the horror most people think it was. The common image of the Spanish Inquisition that we see in films and documentaries, and that most people have in their minds, is mostly fantasy, having been created by a Protestant smear campaign in the 16th century that is now known as the Black Legend, and extended by imaginative 19th century literature. The methods of the Spanish Inquisition were actually common for the period. Torture was seldom used, only in instances where the investigators were pretty sure they were being lied to, and even then under strict oversight and rules; there were excesses, but the reason we know that is that the Church identified them and held the perpetrators accountable. The Spanish law enforcement regimen was actually more lenient than most European practices at the time, and was followed strictly. Anybody complaining about the Inquisition as an assault on human rights, needs to complain about the entire world’s law enforcement regimen during that time period.

The Inquisition was later extended to examine Muslim converts to Christianity as well, and also to discover Protestants. It was brought to an end in the 18th century; in all, around 3,000 people were tried, convicted, and put to death over a period of about 400 years — about 1/3 of the number killed by the Turkish attack that goaded Ferdinand into action. The Inquisition was never used to produce converts to Christianity; that’s a myth. Thumb screws, toe screws, and torture chairs are also myths. The Pit and the Pendulum was Edgar Allen Poe’s whiskey-soaked imagination, not history.

No Christian need be bothered by claims of the Inquisition’s brutality; it was just the way the world was back then. As a Christian of Jewish ancestry, I’m much more dismayed by 800 years of official Church anti-Semitism in Europe.