Author archives: Robert Morrison

Missing Bill Bass

by Robert Morrison

April 24, 2014

What? Too many blacks in Annapolis High School?” That was the sharp comment I received in one of my first meetings with Bill Bass. I was being introduced as the new fellow in our Men’s Bible Study. Asked where my kids were going to school, I answered Annapolis Area Christian School. I was completely unprepared for such a kick in the solar plexus. In a Bible Study? Was this freshman hazing?

No, I was quickly assured. That was Bill’s style. He was then in his early 80s. Brilliant, fearless and blunt, he said what he thought and did not care who liked it. I was so taken aback I never had the chance, or the quickness of mind, to give a proper answer. I might have retorted: “Well, Bill, since my children attended our Lutheran elementary school, where 85% of the students are black, I guess I just got out of the habit of counting by race.” Or, I might have added that one of the few black students in my son’s class at AACS had saved his life.

Bill was a proud Texas liberal. He had been a top Navy and civilian aide to the legendary Vice Admiral Hyman Rickover. “The Admiral,” as Bill always referred to him, was the Father of the Nuclear Navy. And Bill was his right hand man for decades. Strong and brave men would get a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs when they received a pink telephone message: “Call Bill Bass.” And these were submariners.

Over the years in that Bible Study, it became clear that Bill Bass could take it as well as dish it out. He regaled us with many a story of “the Admiral.” When Bill Bass turned fifty, the Admiral took note. No touchy feely session, though. “So, Bass. You’re now fifty years old. I guess this is as good as you’re gonna get.” Another time, the Admiral admonished Bill. “Bass, you don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself. You could learn from other people’s mistakes, you know.” This was clearly before they invented self-esteem.

I recall a Saturday session of our group in 2005. Bill Bass was describing how he served on the great WWII battleship USS Missouri when she was grounded in Chesapeake Bay in 1950. Bill was a junior engineering officer at the time of that most embarrassing incident. Missouri’s Harry Truman was sitting in the White House then. And Harry’s daughter Margaret had christened this mighty warship. To run aground in home waters was a major blunder for the ship’s skipper and her crew. Nonetheless, Bill related every ingenious maneuver required to free the grounded battlewagon. In minute detail, for twenty-seven minutes, he kept us spellbound with an exact rendering of kedging, and of the pumping action that sloshed bilge water back and forth from port to starboard to rock the great ship free.

When he finished, we all applauded his total recall. And then we used his story as a text for not growing weary in doing good. (Our Bible Study gets a bit distracted at times.)

I generally try to keep my work week out of the Bible Study. Because Family Research Council believes that everyone deserves a birth day, that brides should marry grooms, and that this is one Nation under God, some people find us controversial. But there was one Saturday when I was asked to report on my travels on the FRC/Heritage Foundation Values Bus. I spoke of our defense of marriage. I quoted Dr. Patrick Fagan’s famous study of child poverty. Pat and his colleagues at Heritage Foundation, where he worked before coming to FRC, virtually married by computer modeling the parents of the four million American children living in poverty. Pat and his colleagues found that if those parents were married, only 750,000 of those unfortunate kids would still be living in poverty.

I thought that was pretty persuasive evidence of the power of marriage to lift young lives out of poverty. Most of my Bible Study friends agreed. Not Bill Bass. He piped up: If their parents had access to free and legal abortion, none of them would be living in poverty. I confess I was struck dumb. I had not expected such a Herodian viewpoint in our Christian Bible Study.

Bill Bass was as liberal in his theology as in his politics. He was forever saying we cannot take the Gospels literally. After all, they were written by fallible men some fifty or sixty years after the events they purport to chronicle.

Only years later did this rejoinder occur to me: Bill Bass — you related the entire story of the grounding of the USS Missouri fifty-five years after the event. You missed no significant detail. And “Big Mo” never ascended from that sand bar into Heaven!

I admit I was shocked by Bill’s recent death, just short of his ninetieth birthday. He seemed so alive, so strong-willed. When we visited him in the hospital, we asked him how the food was. “Lousy,” he roared! And then he proceeded to tick off every item he’d ordered for breakfast and how they gave him nothing he wanted.

Whenever he uttered some truly outrageous comment, I would remind myself of his service to God and country. For fifty years, we were all kept safe by our nuclear submarine force. Because of Admiral Rickover’s driving genius, and Bill Bass’s indispensable help, the rulers of an Evil Empire always knew they could not strike us with nuclear weapons without being wiped out themselves. They were deterred. Rickover and Bass were our shield and buckler.

In the end, the only thing Bill Bass and I agreed about was Jesus. That is enough. And I do miss Bill.

Setting the World On Fire” — Ben and Grace’s Holy Matrimony

by Robert Morrison

April 23, 2014

I was struck by a line in Scripture this past week that I had never noticed before. It occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prays and sweats blood: “Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56). All? Yes, all. And that desertion happened among the men Jesus had personally selected as His followers. He who knows all about each one of us chose men who would desert Him when put to the test? We all know what happened after that mass desertion. Those fearful, fleeing men stopped, turned, and seeing their Risen Savior, one of them even said: “My Lord and My God!”

And then came Pentecost. Those men changed. From being fearful and cringing, they changed into bold and undaunted. They proclaimed the truth even when it cost them their lives.

We’ve seen too much hand-wringing during this past Lenten season in the U.S.; all the white flags are fluttering, and the idea that marriage is over in America and perhaps the world is taking hold among the chattering classes. It’s inevitable, they say. How can we “finesse” this issue so we can get about the business of politics — which is all about money, after all.

And this loss of confidence and nerve is spreading in little waves like a stone thrown in a pond — even to some timorous souls in the Church. There are some Christian writers and thinkers who are saying, in effect, we have to appeal to the winners to let us be Amish.

Well, they won’t let us be Amish. They are in this for all or nothing. No opposition to marriagending will be tolerated. If you ever opposed them overturning marriage, you will be hounded, harried, and harassed.

So nothing will suffice than for us to stop this headlong flight, turn and face eternal truths, and stand fast.

That’s why my wife and I drove twelve hundred miles over Easter weekend to celebrate a wedding, a true marriage of young Christian friends. We drove deep into the South to witness this great event.

My wife and I remembered the words of the Bishop of London at the Royal Wedding several years ago. He quoted St. Catherine of Siena, saying to the young couple: “Be who God intended you to be and you will set the world on fire.” We wanted to be there to see Ben and Grace set the world on fire.

Because Ben is a young officer in the military, the only time he could get leave was during Easter. And because of that, it was hard to find a church where their ceremony could be held. But if this young couple could not go to the church, the Church could come to them. Wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, Jesus is among us. So they chose a site in a tall building overlooking a lazy, winding river in a beautiful and historic Southern town.

The music provided was appropriate. We entered to the trumpet strains of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” That great Reformation hymn never fails to inspire. As we are seated, Martin Luther’s verse comes to mind:

Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us,

We tremble not, we fear no ill,

They shall not overpowr us.

The assembly hall is filled with family and friends, well-wishers all. A cloud of witnesses has descended on this scene. The members of the wedding party take their places. The young groom stands tall in his dress uniform. He has six groomsmen standing by. The bride is preceded by her six bridesmaids. The flower girl is the seven-year old sister of the bride. She has been adopted from China. The ring bearer is the four-year old nephew of the groom. “Taylor” has been named for a great Christian missionary to China.

I was honored to read from the Scriptures. From Genesis, I read:

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

I looked quickly to my right as I read these words. The lovely bride and her six bridesmaids were all arrayed there. To my left stood the towering young groom and his six groomsmen. Male and female, each had taken his place. The ceremony follows Nature. The ceremony affirms Nature. The ceremony celebrates Nature.

We have all been accused of lacking compassion, failing to love our neighbors as ourselves. They routinely picture us as holding tightly onto this red balloon called marriage that we do not want to share.

But we do want to share it. We want to offer true marriage as a powerful response to grievous social problems of poverty, educational deficit, and ill health. We who visit those in prison know we are there surrounded by fatherless young men. We have compassion for them. The divorced and abandoned women of today are Scripture’s needful widows. Marriage can be a blessing to those in the Church, to be sure, but it even blesses those outside the Church. Marriage bashes no one.

In order for us to share the blessing that is marriage, there must yet be marriage. Those who demand an end to marriage as we have known it do not want to share that red balloon. They want to burst it.

There is no rancor, no malice in our defending marriage. We have been given this priceless gift and we want only to pass it on unbroken and unadulterated to today’s young people. There is no thought of hatred in this. Instead, I have been given this Scripture to read from 1 John:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Ben and Grace exchange their vows. The groom’s father, a pastor, performs his duty with sureness. Both bride and groom speak clearly and strongly, yet even so their voices crack with the overpowering emotion of the moment. They deeply appreciate this poignant moment they have waited for all their lives. They know what it means to become one flesh in the Lord.

Ben and Grace exchange their rings. Each one knows these rings they will wear until death parts them. Each one knows that these rings are the sign and symbol of their love. They know that marriage has a certain ring to it.

Dawn over the Jefferson Memorial

by Robert Morrison

April 15, 2014

Well, she did it again this year. My dear wife of 425 months decided to add one more item to an already full schedule on Palm Sunday.

Let’s go by and see the Cherry Blossoms,” she piped up. I groaned. Not this Sunday. There will be millions of people there. We’ll get stuck in traffic, just like we did last year. Can’t we go some other time?

Of course, that’s part of the great appeal of the Cherry Blossoms in Washington. They come when they come. And it’s hard to predict how long they will last. Even a brief thunderstorm can put an end to them.

But, this Palm Sunday was already looking very full. First, I had to visit a friend in jail. (Yes, we do that kind of thing.) Then, we were slated to attend worship services with friends at their Northern Virginia church. After that, we were slated to go to Sunday brunch. I was afraid we’d get stuck in one of those can’t go ahead, can’t go back congested affairs around the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin. We’d be locked in and it would throw off the whole day’s schedule.

Let’s go early, my bride countered. Very early. So we did. The sun was just rising over the Capitol as we entered Washington. The stately dome with its Statue of Freedom was bathed in a pink glow. I pass the Capitol Dome twice a day every day I drive in to work. I never stop marveling at its ever-changing classical beauty.

This day, I tried to envision a huge banner draped across the length of the western portico of the massive structure. At just about this time of year, April, 1865, the Commissioner of Public Buildings, Benjamin Brown French, had written a message to celebrate the victory of the Union army at Appomattox. French chose the words from Psalm 118: 23:

This is the Lord’s Doing; It is marvelous in our Eyes.

Around the grounds on Capitol Hill were many lovely trees just budding out. Beautiful. Wouldn’t they do?

Not quite. On we drove down Constitution Avenue. We passed the newly restored Washington Monument. The scaffolding that has surrounded that majestic obelisk is finally down. The monument is scheduled to open again for visitors on May 12th after nearly three years of repairs. The earthquake damage of August 23, 2011, threatened to permanently close this popular tourist attraction, but an excellent job of restoration has been done.

I’ll be especially eager to walk down the stairs to the 555-foot monument and report on the many tributes to our Founding Father inscribed there. Simply to take that descent is to learn a lot about our country’s history. And, of course, there’s the simple fact that the aluminum pyramid that tops the monument has an inscription—Laus Deo—on its east front. Because the law proscribes any other building from surpassing the Washington Monument in height, the first rays of the sun will always strike those words: Praise the Lord.

Finally, we come to the Jefferson Memorial. The dawn is breaking and the Cherry Blossoms are at their peak. It is truly a sight to behold.

So I dutifully get in line with ten thousand other beholders. Even at dawn, the crowds are dense. Forget about parking. The Park Service is not interested in having you park. So we look for a place to let my wife jump out to take pictures. I’m planning to make a circuit and pick her up again. And then, seeing gridlock ahead, we decide against it.

Then, she reminds me what day this is. It’s April 13th. Why, it’s Mr. Jefferson’s birthday! That’s a rare treat. And we are here at his memorial 271 years later.

Inside that classical dome, are inscribed his words that first inspired me to take up a cause our Supreme Court had rejected:

The God Who Gave Us Life Gave Us Liberty at the Same Time.

The best part is we made it to visit our inmate friend in jail and to worship with our friends on Palm Sunday. (We made it to the brunch, too.) Next year, we vow, we’ll come earlier still. We’ll park at the office and walk over.

I’m hooked. I confess I cannot resist the pleas of my loving wife. She is right. This beauty must be seen and savored.

The Coveted Wurlitzer Prize in Journalism

by Robert Morrison

April 4, 2014

You need to distribute your columns more broadly,” my friend Phil scolded me some months ago. “You’ll never win a Pulitzer Prize if you don’t get your stuff out there.” Phil is a columnist for our Annapolis paper and a retired international business executive. He’s like that classic E.F. Hutton commercial on TV: “When Phil talks, people listen.”

I took Phil’s criticism to heart, but added: “Phil, I will do as you say. But I’m not going to win a Pulitzer Prize. They don’t give Pulitzer Prizes to pro-lifers, or writers who defend marriage. Much less do they award Pulitzer Prizes to people who write to uphold religious freedom.”

I told Phil I was perfectly content to write five to seven columns a week, mostly on these topics. And if I offend the pink panzers of political correctness, that’s fine, too.

The reason we have a First Amendment is not so we can win Pulitzer Prizes, but so we can help to keep this Great Republic free. I remember reading Ben Franklin’s sage words to the Philadelphia lady who quizzed him. Did the Constitutional Convention give Americans a republic or a monarchy? “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it,” Dr. Franklin answered.

So, I told Phil, “I won’t even win a Wurlitzer Prize for quantity of output in journalism.” Phil got the jab. Wurlitzer is the maker of organs and the fictional Wurlitzer Prize goes to those who spend their days at the proverbial keyboard, turning out volumes of work.

I had forgotten about my imaginary Wurlitzer Prize when Phil showed up at our doorstep after 9 pm one evening several weeks later. I was hoping nothing was wrong. It was most out of character for Phil to ring our doorbell at that hour. We are believers in the Ronald Reagan rule that you know you are middle-aged when you are offered two temptations and you choose the one that will get you home by nine o’clock.

Putting on my robe, I rushed to get the door. There was Phil, holding out a cylindrical mailing tube. Puzzled, I tore it open to see what he might be offering me at that unusual hour. He had an impish grin on his face. I pulled out the rolled up document.

It was a colorful poster, a blow-up of the 1995 U.S. Postage Stamp honoring the Wurlitzer Corporation. The poster—featuring a Wurlitzer-made juke box—was inscribed: “To Bob Morrison—Deserved Wurlitzer Prize for Writing that is Music to so many Ears.” It was signed by the retired CEO of Wurlitzer Corporation.

Phil had been sending this gentleman my columns and decided to surprise me with my own coveted Wurlitzer Prize.

As you read this, you may be saying to yourself: How absurd; no one has ever heard of the Wurlitzer Prize. But everyone has heard of the Pulitzer Prize.

That may be. But since things are valued as they are rare, my comeback question is this:

How many Pulitzer Prize winners have you heard of? Dozens, right?

You are now reading a column by the world’s only Wurlitzer Prize winner.

Thanks for reading.

March Mildness

by Robert Morrison

March 20, 2014

My friend Frank invited me to watch the last basketball game between the University of Virginia and University of Maryland. The 61-year rivalry between the near neighbors ended earlier this month. University of Maryland is leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for the Big Ten. Frank and his pal Charlie are fanatical Maryland alums (are there any other kind?) Frank told me not to wear any U.Va. fan gear as we would have good seats — in the heart of Terrapin Country. “Wear your high school ring,” Frank said, “and we’ll pick you up at the IKEA parking lot in College Park. We wouldn’t want your car to get rolled over.” Are they always like this?

It was a great last game. Virginia and Maryland see-sawed throughout, but Maryland pulled it out 75-69 in overtime. The fans in the Comcast Center are perhaps the noisiest this side of the Seattle Seahawks. It’s been decades since I’ve taken in a college game of hoops. What a good-natured crowd it was, too. They booed one of the Virginia players mercilessly every time he held the ball. That’s because he committed to Maryland but changed to U.Va. after the Terps changed coaches. Seems reasonable enough for me.

Even though the Virginia Cavaliers came up short in that Maryland home game, they’ll always be winners in my book. Seems they take some guidance from a respected coach and a certain good book. Here’s a March Mildness story for this crazy month.

In Patrick’s Footsteps

by Robert Morrison

March 17, 2014

I was just going along for the ride. My good wife had always wanted to go to Ireland. Since I didn’t speak Irish, and since I didn’t have any known Irish ancestors, I wasn’t sure why I should go. Still, since it meant so much to my beloved spouse and since it was our thirtieth wedding anniversary, I thought I should go along with her.

We flew into Shannon. Immediately, we had a wrinkle. Lots of wrinkles, actually, since our airline lost our bags. Happily, my missus had planned an extra day in the little town of Ennis prior to the start of our scheduled tour.

We rushed to the local department store to buy some extra clothing for what we expected would be a 10-day stay. Everywhere, the people were amazingly friendly. So we decided to take a walking tour of Ennis. It was not known as a tourist spot, but tour guide Jane O’Brian could make any stop interesting.

With her freckles and long red hair, she seemed my idea of Irishness. She started by asking each of us for our Irish roots, our connections. Most in our group of ten listed relatives who had come from Ireland to America in the 19th century. My wife named her grandfather, Jim Daugherty, a good Irish name. When Jane got to me, I said I had no Irish roots. “Well, where are your people from,” she pressed. “Denmark,” I said, thinking it might be more diplomatic to avoid all those Germans in the family tree. “Ah, sir,” she smiled, “the Danes founded Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin. You’re home!” Well, from that moment, I felt at home.

Throughout our Irish vacation, we traveled the West and saw the sights. It was the greenest and cleanest place I’d ever been. They actually have “Tidy Village” contests in Ireland, so proud they are of their neat whitewashed cottages with their thatched roofs.

Everywhere we went, we saw large cemeteries from the Nineteenth Century Potato Famine. These there were for those who never survived to immigrate to America. The Celtic crosses speak to the deep Christian roots of this ancient people. Our guides put special emphasis on the term potato of the famine. That was because, they told us, there were plenty of other grains produced by Ireland in those years of the 1840s. But absentee English landlords required that those grains be shipped to England in fulfillment of prior contracts.

Thousands of Irish immigrants booked passage aboard ships to America. Many of these were so unhealthy that they were called “Coffin Ships.” Many an Irish village celebrated their departing sons and daughters in parties that differed little from the famous Irish wake. They doubted they would ever see one another again.

The soil of the West is so thin that it can barely support vegetation. English conqueror Oliver Cromwell complained in the 1650s that these counties contained “not enough soil to feed a man or to grow a tree to hang him on.” Cromwell is not, needless to say, a local hero.

Our guide tells us that Ireland was historically too poor to afford “modern” agricultural techniques. Thus, their beef cattle were grazed only on mineral-rich grass. Now, Irish beef is the most prized in Europe. (I can attest that Ireland had the best beef I have ever tasted. And the best fish, lamb, and pork, too. As well, the best potatoes, bread, and butter. I have the numbers on my scale to prove it!)

The best part of our Irish trip was to stand in a sixth century church in Glendalough.

Ireland gives you this sense of the Church Eternal. They have survived invasions by Danes, by Vikings, by English, and other barbarous raiders bent on destruction. Just to see these ruins, these ancient walls, is to realize what Jesus meant when he said “the gates of hell” will not prevail over His Church.

When we got to Dublin, the only big city on our route, we ran to O’Connell Street, the major thoroughfare. I wanted to see the General Post Office, the scene of the famous, failed Easter Rebellion of 1916. Entering the impressive classic facade, we saw postal clerks dispensing stamps and taking in packages. Could this be the place where the British fired artillery point blank? We asked an aged guard — a squat fellow who looked for all the world like Archie Bunker — if this was the scene of “the Rising.”

Ah, sure,” said Joe, as he pointed to a bullet hole still visible in the high window. We asked Joe what he thought of the idea of a Royal Visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II. It was a question raised by some of our fellow American tourists. Joe answered with a fierce look. “The French had the right idea about monarchs,” he said, drawing his finger across his throat.

Then, Joe pointed outside to the bustling commercial street named for Irish patriot, Daniel O’Connell. “Look up and down the street,” he gestured, “you’ll see German flags and Swiss flags, American flags and Chinese flags, but you’ll never see that Butcher’s Apron anywhere in Dublin,” he said. He meant Britain’s Union Jack. (Shudder)

Actually, the Queen did visit Ireland, in 2011. And in general, the visit came off without any untoward incidents. But Irish national feeling is still strong.

They say the Irish are “drunk on history.” With my love of history, it was like discovering a new planet. I went on a history bender. I gained a much deeper appreciation of my own beloved America by understanding the struggle of millions of Irish who came to join us in the Great Republic.

Visiting Ireland, I finally understood my late friends, Joe Barrett and Mike Schwartz. They had actually led demonstrations against Queen Elizabeth II when she came to the White House in 1992. I was inside the gate, holding my little Union Jack of welcome. Joe and Mike were protesting outside. They were two of the strongest pro-lifers whose ancestors hailed from Eire. They gave me the strength to carry on, even when all looked grimmest.

When my wife and I saw the Book of Kells at Dublin’s Trinity College, our guide was Dervla, She is a highly educated Irishwoman of decidedly liberal views. She made that clear from the start. “We’re not so much interested in what the monks were writing, but in the marvelous artistry of their illuminations,” She was literally praising the letters while ignoring the spirit that lives through those brilliantly illustrated Gospel pages that date from 800 AD.

My wife looked at me as if to say: Don’t make a scene, please. I didn’t. But I did marvel that Dervla could lead tours of this ancient treasure and miss the testimony of Christian faith and fidelity that they represent. I was reminded of a quote from Martin Luther about scholarly unbelievers: “They behold these wonders like a cow staring at a new door.” The Book of Kells is alone worth a trip to the Emerald Isle. Everything else is pure joy.

Churchill’s March 5, 1946 Iron Curtain Speech: A Lesson for Today?

by Robert Morrison

March 6, 2014

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on this day in 1946. His phrase — “an iron curtain has descended across Europe” — was seen by some as the beginning of the Cold War. But Churchill wanted nothing more than to rally the democracies to take a strong stand, a united stand for their own freedom.

Churchill understood Russia’s great suffering during World War II. More than twenty million Russians, Ukrainians, and other peoples of the then-USSR had perished in what they called “the Great Patriotic War.” Churchill certainly wanted no new world war.

His message was essentially the same that wise American presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan had spoken of — peace through strength. With President Harry Truman on the same stage, the honored world statesman said:

From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness. For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound. If however [the Western democracies] become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.

Last time I saw it all coming and I cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely must not let that happen again.

Because President Truman and the Western European allies heeded Churchill’s timely warning then, we were spared a Third World War. With American leadership from both political parties, programs like the Marshall Plan and military and political institutions like NATO brought us together in time to save freedom and peace.

What we have seen in recent years is the very opposite of what Churchill counseled. President Obama ceremoniously tossed Churchill’s bust out of the Oval Office. With it, into the snow, went much of Churchill’s wisdom, too.

In his first week in office, Mr. Obama flourished his pen and affixed his left-handed signature to an Executive Order closing the U.S. Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This was so ordered within one year. “So let it be written! So let it be done!” [Sound the trumpets.]

And nothing happened. I have never thought it was a good idea to close Gitmo. But if the President of the United States so commits his administration to a policy — and then so clearly fails to follow through, he invites contempt. He broadcasts weakness. Five years later, Gitmo is still open.

Former Sec. of State George Schulz was once asked what was the most important foreign policy decision made by his chief, President Reagan. Without hesitation, he said: “The firing of the air traffic controllers.” Reagan hated firing those hard-working government employees, but he knew that federal law forbade such strikes. He appealed to the controllers to return to work. They refused. He fired them.

Even the secret police of the Soviet Union took notice. With Reagan, said the KGB, “words are deeds.” With President Obama, the world has learned, words are words.

Russian President Putin has not brought down the Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe. But every move Mr. Obama has made in five years toward Russia has telegraphed American weakness.

From the adolescent stunt of Hillary Clinton’s red “reset” button in early 2009, to Mr. Obama’s behind-the-hand comment to Dmitri Medvedev “Tell Vladimir I can be more flexible after the election [of 2012],” the message has been one of irresolution and confusion.

Reagan built up the U.S. military in order to deal with the Soviets from a position of strength. He was able in 1987 to sign the biggest arms reduction treaty with Gorbachev in world history.

It’s worth saying again: Ronald Reagan signed the biggest arms reduction treaty – INF — in world history.

Did that get Reagan the Nobel Peace Prize? Of course not. President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for oratory. For words.

Everything that Reagan, Thatcher, the Pope, Lech Walesa, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others achieved in the 1980s is at risk today.

Churchill had words for that, too. Noting the failure to back their words with strong actions, Churchill warned the democracies not to “resume the follies which had nearly cost them their lives.”

Churchill’s “Iron Curtain Speech,” delivered this day in 1946. It’s well worth reading.

Ronald Reagan and the Bible: “Rock on which our Republic Rests”

by Robert Morrison

February 7, 2014

It came up again this week as I was preparing for an FRC radio interview: What to say about President Reagan’s faith, especially in a week when his 103rd birthday coincided with the annual Congressional Prayer Breakfast?

Well, President Reagan used his remarks at the 1983 Prayer Breakfast to announce his Proclamation of the Year of the Bible. Clearly, the participants at that long ago breakfast were happy to hear this good news. Just as clearly, the atheizers and the cultured despisers of religion were unhappy. It was too much mixing of church and state to their taste.

Even so, President Reagan held firm. He never wavered in declaring that:

the Old and New Testaments of the Bible inspired many of the early settlers of our country, providing them with the strength, character, convictions, and faith necessary to withstand great hardship and danger in this new and rugged land.

He even went on to quote President Andrew Jackson in his own. Jackson had said the Bible is “the Rock on which our Republic rests.” Jackson was the first president of the modern Democratic Party, the man most associated with building a powerful political movement that embraced millions of immigrants, especially Irish and German refugees fleeing tyranny abroad.

Many of these new Americans were Catholics and some were Jews. But they came here yearning to breathe free and hoping to avail themselves of the religious, civil, and economic freedoms that America even then afforded.

Reagan’s proclamation quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words about the Bible.

There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called “the best gift God has ever given to man … But for it we could not know right from wrong.”

In early 1983, the American economy was still in deep distress. The “malaise” of Jimmy Carter’s failed policies was still being felt in the workplace, the offices, and factories of a recovering nation. Unemployment was still at 10% and inflation had not yet been brought under control.

Many of the atheizers and liberals carped that the President of the United States had, or ought to have, more important things on his mind than proclaiming a Year of the Bible.

Take U.S.-Soviet relations, they said. Why, Reagan has not even met with his Soviet “counterpart,” the ruler of the Communist Party of the USSR. President Reagan was too polite to lecture these editorial writers that he had no Soviet counterpart. He was the constitutionally chosen leader of a great Republic. He had won almost 44 million votes in a free and open election. The ruler of the USSR had been unanimously chosen by Communist Party delegates who were responsible to no one except the Communist Party.

Instead of a political science lecture, however, on the essential differences between a free country like America and the Soviet Union holding all its Captive Nations behind the Iron Curtain, Reagan deflected critics with humor.

How can I meet the Soviets when they keep dying on me?

Looking back on 1983, that long ago Year of the Bible, we can note some interesting events.

  • President Reagan addressed the nation in March of that year to announce his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Critics jumped on it and said it was dangerous and wouldn’t work. They called it “Star Wars” to show their contempt. Reagan didn’t mind: He knew Americans loved the Star Wars movies and readily identified the Soviets with the bad guys in the movies.
  • Reagan spoke in March to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and warned them not to turn a blind eye to “the machinations of an evil empire.” He only used that term once. He never said the USSR was that evil empire. But the next day, in Moscow, the Communist editors of Pravda and Izvestia exploded in rage, charging him with labeling the Soviet Union with those “provocative” words. Deep in the bowels of the GuLAG, the Soviet slave labor system, prisoners read of Reagan’s words and took heart. They excitedly tapped out the words “evil empire” on plumbing pipes. Finally, an American president gets it, they said to each other.
  • In September, the Soviet Union shot down a straying civilian jet liner, Korean Airlines Flight 007. All 269 passengers and crew of the unarmed aircraft were murdered in cold blood. Throughout the West, liberals feared Reagan would use this as his pretext for a war with the USSR. Reagan exercised amazing restraint, using the shoot down as an occasion for closing Soviet consulates and tightening the screws of his economic boycott. But he had the grim satisfaction of letting the world see the Russian bear as it truly was—with teeth and fangs bared.
  • One month later, President Reagan ordered U.S. forces to liberate tiny Grenada from Soviet-backed Cubans and homegrown Communists. The Caribbean island nation was only 1/10 the size of Rhode Island, but its 100,000 residents, most of them black, greeted the American troops ecstatically. They blessed the Americans for their new-found freedom. In this short, successful, nearly bloodless campaign, Reagan disproved the idea that Marxism was a “historic inevitability.” Leonid Brezhnev had proclaimed: What we have, we hold. Reagan thought otherwise.
  • Also in October, 1983, the U.S. economy turned the corner. Job creation began to pick up robustly. Inflation had come way down. The economic indicators all started to show healthy signs of recovery. Reagan joked that his friends could put “egg on their faces and go to their Halloween parties as liberal economists.” The Reagan recovery that began in October 1983 lasted until October 2008—a quarter century of prosperity.

Secular scholars, of course, will laugh at the notion that President Reagan’s Proclamation of a Year of the Bible had anything to do with any of these favorable events in our nation’s life. Let them laugh. God laughs, too. He laughs his enemies to scorn.

Why World War I?

by Robert Morrison

February 7, 2014

World-renowned scholar George Weigel addressed a large gathering at Washington’s elegant Mayflower Hotel last night. The biographer of Pope John Paul II spoke on the approaching Centenary of the outbreak of World War I. That struggle consumed some twenty million combatants’ lives and even more, twenty-one million, of non-combatants. Think of any of the mass movements—especially violent mass movements—of the past century, and we can see their origins in the 1914-1918 catastrophe. Winston Churchill had prophesied that the wars of peoples would be far more terrible than the wars of kings. So this one proved to be. Describing bombing cities from the air, shelling cathedrals and universities from railroad cars, using poison gas against defenseless troops huddled in fetid, rat-ridden trenches, strangling enemies with naval blockades, or sending women and children to the bottom of the ocean with torpedoes, Churchill said the only depths of savagery not plumbed by the rulers of  “civilized” Europeans were cannibalism and torture. And these, Churchill ruefully wrote, were not employed only because they were not found useful.

Weigel, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, delivered the William B. Simon annual lecture in a polished style and with a thorough mastery of the literature. And there will be a Lusitania hold of new books on the Great War, as evidence of Europeans’ keen interest. They follow World War I with the same avidity and intensity that Americans show for the Civil War.

From the unresolved issues of this war, and from its most uneasy Armistice and dispiriting Paris Peace Conference, we can see the origins of Communism, Nazism, pan-Arabism, Islamism. The attempts to counter or contain these “isms” can be seen in the League of Nations and its successor body, the UN.

Zionism and the British Balfour Declaration of 1917 that promised a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine were given a great boost by the exigencies of this vast struggle. Britain needed the help of Jewish troops in the Mideast and Jewish supporters at home and in the U.S.

George Weigel is strongest where the conventional historians are weakest: He shows how the collapse of religious authority contributed to the breakdown of comity among nations, neighbors not loving, but deeply hating neighbors. He described a sorrowful scene where the College of Cardinals assembled in Rome in September 1914. A German Cardinal said to his brothers, “I hope no one will talk of war.” His Belgian counterpart shot back: “I hope no one will talk of peace.”

Neutral Belgium had been that summer overrun by the Kaiser Wilhelm II’s troops and the world was shocked by the atrocities German soldiers committed. The mercurial Kaiser  had once urged his soldiers to play the Hun, and the Hun they soon became in Western eyes. “The Rape of Belgium” was said to be the inevitable result of the Germans’ avowed policy of shrechlichheit (frightfulness).

Weigel described the previous century’s philosophies that had taken the place of religious commitment in a Europe once known as Christendom.

Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” evolutionary doctrine was translated into Social Darwinism. Germans adopted this view of nature “red in tooth and claw” as they demanded their own “place in the sun.”

Not content with colonial expansion, Germany’s Kaiser soon began to view the Japanese as a racial threat. He coined the term “the Yellow peril.” Even fellow Europeans were seen in racial terms as Slavs and Latins began to be described by pseudo science and eugenics as lower orders of humans. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche notoriously said “God is dead” and substituted for Him the “will to power” of the Super Man, or Ubermensch. A great blond beast, remorseless and irresistible, was the ideal. Again, Germany’s famous institutions of higher education promoted the idea of Weltmacht oder niedergang (a stark choice of world power or decline).

These same universities had given rise to German Higher Criticism, which immersed words of Holy Writ in an acid bath of skepticism.

So, why? We will see oceans of ink on the Who, What, Where, When, and How of the Great War. We will all go a long way to Tipperary for answers. But George Weigel firmly locates the WHY of the First World War in the 1983 Templeton Address by a Russian Nobel Prize Laureate. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told us why this Cataclysm of Western Civilization happened. It happened because “Men have forgotten God.”

This writer was led to faith by the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Chaplain Garland White, Preaching to a Free Richmond

by Robert Morrison

February 4, 2014

Georgia Planter Robert Toombs was determined never to break up the family of one of his slaves, but when he received into service young Garland White; he may have realized that his entanglement with the “peculiar institution” had already involved him in the breakup of a black family. Garland White was just ten when he was prepared for sale further South. Garland’s mother Nancy wept as the boy was taken from his home Northwest of Richmond, Virginia, and sold to Robert Toombs.

Toombs went on to become a prominent Georgia politician, serving as a Whig in the U.S. House of Representatives. His close political ally, Rep. Alexander Stephens (Whig-Georgia) also formed a friendship with an Illinois Whig, Rep. Abraham Lincoln. Although he opposed the Mexican War, which many Northern “conscience” Whigs opposed, as well, Toombs was an unapologetic defender of slavery. He once bragged on the floor of the U.S. Senate that he would take his property into any Northern state and would “call the roll of his slaves in the shadow of the Bunker Hill monument.” Few words could have inflamed his Northern opponents more. Robert Toombs’ roll of slaves would be missing one trusted and confidential servant, however. Garland White took flight to Canada and freedom in 1860.

And when Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November, 1860, Georgia Senator Robert Toombs urged the Southern states to secede from the Union. He resigned his seat in the U.S. Congress with a powerful speech in which he said: “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship; …and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.”

Despite his brilliant mind and his eloquent oratory, Toombs was passed over for president of the new Confederate States of America because, it is generally accepted, of his serious drinking problem. Nonetheless, he was chosen as the Confederacy’s first Secretary of State. In that capacity, he was a standout in the small circle of advisors to Jefferson Davis, named as head of the provisional C.S.A. Almost alone among the leading secessionists, Toombs warned Davis not to attack Fort Sumter, the federal installation in the harbor of Charleston, S.C. He said:

Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal.”

Toombs lived to see his prophetic words come true. The deeply divided North rallied to the flag once Fort Sumter was attacked.

Meanwhile, Garland White in Canada watched all this with mounting excitement. He very early offered his services to carry arms for the Union, but was initially rejected. Lincoln’s administration was concerned for the loyalty of slaveholding Border States — Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. And many of the white troops from Northern states like New York, Ohio, and Illinois were openly voicing their opposition to “fighting for the negro.” For war Democrats, the watchword was “The Union as it was and the Constitution as it is.” They would vocally oppose any move to make the Civil War an Abolition War.

Abolition leader Frederick Douglass loudly denounced the policy of excluding black troops from the Union ranks. We were good enough to fight for General Washington, he said, why aren’t we good enough to fight for General McClellan? How long can we continue this life-and-death struggle with one arm — he called it memorably “Uncle Sam’s sable arm” — tied behind our back?

By 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation in effect, the Lincoln administration threw off all restraints and began vigorously recruiting black troops. Garland White, now the pastor of a African Methodist congregation in Toledo, Ohio, threw himself into the effort. He helped enlist the Twenty-Eighth Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry and soon was serving as its chaplain.

In 1864, the 28th Regiment joined the Army of the Potomac in the siege of Petersburg. This was the final chapter in the Union assault on Richmond. An ingenious plan to blow a giant hole in the rebel breastworks was brought forward by Pennsylvania coal miners serving in the Union ranks. They dug a long tunnel and filled it with explosives. The huge blast they set off was the greatest explosion to that point on the North American continent, and it could be heard twenty-two miles away in Richmond, the Confederate capital.

Desperate to take advantage of the momentary opportunity to end the war, Gen. Meade ordered the 28th Regiment to advance toward the giant crater the blast had created. But knowing they faced certain death, black soldiers of the 28th asked Chaplain White to write to their families and tell them they died bravely fighting for the Union.

Chaplain White would return to his hometown of Richmond. This time, he would enter the city as a free man in the company of his fellow Freedmen of the 28th. With the fall of Richmond on April 2, 1865, a dramatic scene occurred. Bruce Levine’s Fall of the House of Dixie picks up the thread:

White thrilled to “the shouts of ten thousand voices” celebrating liberation on the streets of the former Confederate capital. Black men and women gathered around him, urging him to speak, and so he did: he “proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind.”

Prof. Levine continues:

As White stood in the street, trying to take it all in, an older woman approached him and asked his name, his birthplace, and the name of his mother. When he had answered all her questions, she quietly informed him that “this is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”

It was in Richmond in 1775 that Patriot leader Patrick Henry had cried out: “Give me Liberty or give me Death!” Now, ninety years later, many a soldier in the 28th U.S.C.T. had received his liberty, only to be given death in the crater. Nonetheless, their sacrifice made possible this tender mother-and-son reunion, and the reuniting of many a family broken up by slavery.

In this Black History month, we can reflect on the importance of the church, the pastors, and the faith of Americans of all races as a powerful force in the reunion of our divided land. May that prove as true for our future as it was in our past.