Category archives: History

Abraham Lincoln: “The Judgments of the Lord” March 4, 1865

by Robert Morrison

March 4, 2015

Some might say he was clinging to his guns and religion. Abraham Lincoln began his Second Inaugural Address with a reference to the military situation. Gen. Grant’s powerful army then held the rebel Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a death grip, besieging it at Petersburg, with the Confederate capital of Richmond sure to fall to Union forces.

Lincoln expressed his satisfaction with “[t]he progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends…” He moved on to a brief recitation of the causes of the Civil War.He offered no condemnation of his foes as he related in a factual manner the reason for this most terrible of all of America’s wars.

By the time Lincoln spoke, most of the 630,000 lives that would be lost in this struggle had already perished. It was to protect and extend the institution of Negro slavery that white men came to sword points. “And the war came.”

He “would not play the Pharisee,” he often said. Almost alone among Northern leaders, Lincoln did not cloak himself or the Union cause in all righteousness. He knew what the Founders knew. Slavery was largely confined to the Southern States. He had told his dearest friend Joshua Speed how he “crucified his feelings” on seeing shackled slaves conveyed South “like trout on a line.” Now, it was almost as if he were speaking to his slaveholding friend as he acknowledged the sin of the whole nation in the offense of slavery.

Lincoln knew Massachusetts was the home of Abolitionism. But its great ports had also carried on what President Jefferson had called that “execrable traffic.” Great Yankee merchant families had made their fortunes. And some of those fortunes were built on bones.

Lincoln would not now disavow his anti-Slavery convictions. He evinced a decent respect for the opinion of mankind against “wringing one’s bread from the sweat of other man’s faces.” Still, he urged his countrymen to “judge not lest ye be judged.”

He knew how ships might leave West Africa with six hundred souls crammed naked and chained into stinking cargo holds and arrive in the Americas with only two hundred yet living. The worst of Southern plantations, Lincoln knew, could not approach horror of the Atlantic Slavc Trade in the bondsman’s “two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil.”

While Confederate President Jefferson Davis railed against the barbarism of his Yankee foes, Lincoln condemned no one. He never accused. He never sought to pluck the speck from his neighbor’s eye. Instead, he had mused in private and sometimes among small groups how the Almighty might have given victory to either side on a single day during the four-year Golgotha of “this fiery trial.”

What if Pickett’s Charge had succeeded at Gettysburg? What if Vicksburg had held?What if Gen. Sherman had been defeated before Atlanta?

When Jefferson Davis tried to rally his ragged rebels against Sherman’s all-conquering host, he boasted that the grizzled red-haired devil would meet the same fate in Georgia that Napoleon met in Russia. In one of his few recorded jokes, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had replied: “And who will supply the snow?”

If we look for a sublime example of American Exceptionalism, we will find it here. What other nation could conclude a four-year bloody Civil War with such an Address? Lincoln called for “malice toward none, charity for all.”

The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,” Lincoln said of the wholly unexpected bloody, protracted and revolutionary struggle. Not only had the Union been preserved, but the cause of Disunion—human bondage—had perished in the fires.

Abolitionist editor and orator Frederick Douglass that day entered the White House, the first time a black man was an honored guest an Inaugural reception. The President asked him his opinion of the address. “Mr. Lincoln, it was a sacred effort.”

Lincoln called America “the last best hope of man on earth.” Yet in our time, in our land, a thousand unborn children are beheaded daily by an organization that is sheltered and funded by our own taxes. This dread toll deprives our people of genius and industry. Every child born in America has the potential to earn a million dollars.

We know the truth about these unborn millions. “Ultrasound has made it impossible to deny that that thing in the womb is a human being,” writes TIME magazine’s Joe Klein. We agree with Lincoln that “nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon.” And yet we proceed as if the judgments of the Lord are not intended for us, and that His justice will sleep forever.

The 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural: A Meditation on the Will of God

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 4, 2015

My brilliant friend Daniel Dreisbach (Ph.D., Oxford), a professor at American University, has written a wonderful piece on the 15oth anniversary of what he rightly calls “among the most eloquent of all presidential utterances.”   

Lincoln’s remarkable, 700-word speech is a meditation on God’s will during a time of national crisis and massive bloodshed, the Civil War.  It also reflects the 16th President’s internalization of the Word of God and how it affected his understanding of this great American trial.

Read Daniel’s perceptive piece, and join with Lincoln in remembering that “the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”

17 FEB 1943, 17 FEB 1985 and Today

by Robert Morrison

February 17, 2015

This day was observed, almost as a holiday, in our family. My dad would point out the day that he was torpedoed in World War II. His ship, the SS Deer Lodge, was sunk by the German U-516 on this day in 1943. The lone merchant vessel’s skipper had signaled “Abandon Ship” as soon as the submarine’s periscope was sighted. Deer Lodge, plodding along at three knots, never had a chance.

It was almost seventy years later that a member of the crew, and a close friend of my father, would tell me of “Pop’s” role that night. My father never did. Leslie Morrison ran around the deck of the sinking ship and unlatched the pelican hooks so that the rubber lifeboats would float free as the ship went under. Without that courageous effort, his surviving friend, Manuel Dias told me, all the men might have died in the cold waters off South Africa. I was proud of my dad before Manny told me that story. Afterward, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Pop never boasted of his exploits in World War II. Few of those in that Great Generation did. But he did like to talk about having been in Shanghai in August, 1941. He was an avid photographer and wanted to get a picture of the Chinese city from the middle of the bridge that separated the Japanese-occupied sector from the International Zone.

There was a Japanese Marine with a rifle and bayonet standing on the white line that marked the border. Pop went right up to the line. Chinese civilians were forced to kowtow to their Japanese overlords, but Pop didn’t bow and didn’t back off. He went right up to that line and started taking pictures. The Japanese Marine put his bayonet point at my father’s belly.

Hearing this story thirty years later, we blanched. What was he thinking? He might have been run through. (Realizing this was before our parents met, we his children were rather personally involved in this telling.) How could you take that risk, we asked?

Oh, he wouldn’t bother me: I am an American Citizen,” our father said with an easy assurance.

Fast forward to 1985. I was serving in the administration of Ronald Reagan. President Reagan was just two months younger than my dad. He, too, spoke of the time when any American Citizen could put a little U.S. flag in his lapel and go anywhere in the world and still be safe.

I drafted a letter this day in 1985 for President Reagan to send to Congress. In it, I wrote:

Unless the rising generation is taught to read using phonics, I fear they will not achieve literacy, the basic tool of citizenship.” I was proud of that draft letter and happy to see it cleared by the Under Secretary and the Secretary and on its way to the White House.

Returning to my office after lunch, however, I was surprised to see my draft letter back on my desk with a large RED circle around those words: “I FEAR.” In the margin, in a hand writing not President Reagan’s, was a note in red:

THIS PRESIDENT HAS CONCERNS. HE HAS NO FEARS.

 

That rebuke startled me. It inspired me all the while I worked for President Reagan. And it continues to thrill me. Of all the virtues that Ronald Reagan possessed and shared with us, his courage stands out as the greatest.

This is a day for me to remember my father’s quiet courage and to recall how Ronald Reagan’s courage inspired so many of us. He was, in many ways, like a tough Irish cop talking a troubled young man down from the ledge. In this case, that troubled person was Western Civilization itself. As George Will memorably put it: “He calmed the passengers…and the seas.”

This is what we need more than anything else today. We face a monstrous tyranny, but we should not fear them. With courage and determination, they too will be overcome.

George Washington: He’s Still There

by Robert Morrison

February 16, 2015

Today is Presidents Day. By Act of Congress it is Washington’s Birthday. President Obama recently invited reporters into his kitchen and told them he the first president since George Washington to brew spirits in the White House. He was quickly corrected: George Washington laid the cornerstone for the White House, but he never lived to set foot in it.

I am more interested in distilling the spirit of George Washington than in his distilling of spirits. George Washington was described in a famous eulogy by Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” He was viewed by Americans for most of our 238 years as the greatest of presidents.

Arguably, Lincoln is the only serious competition as our greatest president. But that first great American Chief is always there setting the standard.

It is no exaggeration to say Washington was the most unifying of our presidents. Who else could win the nation’s highest office with back-to-back unanimous votes in the Electoral College? Thomas Jefferson pleaded with Washington to serve for (he never had to run for) a second term.“North and South will hang together if they have you to hang on,” Mr. Jefferson wrote to President Washington. Even that early, in 1792, the specter of disunion loomed.

Abraham Lincoln was the most divisive of our presidents. That does not diminish his standing, And it says more about us than about him. Still, it must be acknowledged. What other presidential election could have sparked a bloody four-year Civil War?

We can certainly thank God it did not come to that in the disputed 1876 election between Tilden and Hayes. In the 1960 cliff-hanger between Kennedy and Nixon, the winner’s margin was only 114,000 in popular votes. In the famous instance of Bush v. Gore in 2000, 537 votes in Florida and a Supreme Court ruling determined the outcome.

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Through all of this, George Washington was the model. He certainly was for Abraham Lincoln. Young Abe read Parson Weems’ biography as a boy. And when as President-elect he departed Springfield for Washington, D.C. in 1861, he told his loving neighbors he knew not when, nor whether, he would see them again.

The task before him, he sadly noted, was greater than that shouldered by great Washington. It was. And that word “whether” proved to be prophetic. Lincoln never again saw his Springfield neighbors.

My favorite image of President Barack Obama remains The New Yorker cover from January 2009 that welcomed his first inauguration. He was hailed as “First.” He was.

[http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/images/47112000/jpg/_47112111_01_26_2009friedman_obama.jpg]

Enslavement of Black Americans has rightly been called our nation’s “original sin.” The Founders struggled with it. How to gradually emancipate the slaves without sparking a race war was a question that haunted them. How could they prepare slaves for freedom so that they did not wind up like sailors suddenly given a wild liberty? How could they persuade white Americans to accept their fellow Americans of African descent as full and equal citizens?

Barack Obama in 2009 had a God-given opportunity to knit together the frayed fabric of America. He might have overcome the bitter divisions of Red State and Blue State, of liberal and conservative. He spoke of Americans in “flyover country” as people who would cling to their guns and their religion. It was for him as cutting a comment as dismissing 47% of the electorate.

He never looked to the Founders, or to Lincoln, for that matter, as a guide. He seems to resent the Founders for their failure to solve the slavery question. He coldly dismissed the Constitutional Convention:

I could not have walked through that front door.”

Most historians agree with that harsh assessment, regrettably. But I am not so sure. If young Barack Obama had arrived in Philadelphia, at the First Continental Congress, as a graduate of Harvard, and walking into the Old State House arm-in-arm with John and Samuel Adams, he might just have gained entry. The Secretary of Continental Congress was the Evangelical, Charles Thomson, an opponent of slavery. Or, had this Columbia University graduate been elected along with the staunchly anti-slavery Alexander Hamilton from New York State, he might have been admitted as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. An anti-slavery spirit was moving among the delegates from most of the northern states in the 1780s. They might have seen an intelligent and eloquent young Barack Obama as a key ally in their efforts to eradicate what almost all then considered a stumbling block for on our claims to represent “A New Order of the Ages.”

George Washington was a slaveholder. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in serene silence as his good friend Gouverneur Morris denounced slavery. Witty, urbane Morris condemned as “a curse of Heaven” upon all those states that continued to be shackled to it. Perhaps Morris’ stinging words moved Washington to free his slaves in his will.

Might the whole horror of the Civil War—with its 630,000 dead and its vast destruction of property—have been avoided if only every slaveholder had followed George Washington’s splendid example and voluntarily freed his slaves? Washington’s own motto—Deeds, not Words—could have been their inspiration. See what he did.

Barack Obama seems unwilling to give a presidential pardon to any of the Founders. He has an idea for “fundamentally transforming this country.” And he’s dead set on achieving it by any means necessary.

I’ve always found the “Progressives’” angry criticisms of the Founders on the slavery question more than a little hypocritical. The Founders tried, failed, and tried again and again to find a way out.

Today’s Progressives know that unborn children are human beings. Joe Klein told them so in TIME Magazine in 2012. “Ultra-sound has made it impossible to deny that that thing in the womb is a human being,” the liberal journalist wrote. Progressives like President Obama, however, live in that denial every day.

George Washington wanted the promise of freedom extended “to millions yet unborn.” He did his best personally and politically to fulfill that promise. When Progressives in the 1920s began their angry assaults on George Washington’s historic reputation, President Calvin Coolidge just pointed out his office window at his Monument: “He’s still there.”

 

Auschwitz Liberated 1.27.45

by Robert Morrison

January 27, 2015

The 2001 BBC film Conspiracy can be viewed on YouTube. The film opens servants preparing a great feast in an elegant mansion. Next, we see a snowy scene, looking down upon a forested lakeside villa The date of this gathering is January 20, 1942.

Black cars roll up to the front door of an elegant mansion. Out of those cars step dignified middle-aged European men who appear to be bankers or diplomats. They look sober and occupied in thought in their heavy topcoats and snap-brim fedoras.

Inside, the kitchens, halls, and conference room are being prepared. Tapestries and fine paintings line the walls, richly woven Oriental rugs are rolled out for the distinguished guests.

Liveried servants put out cut flowers—a festive touch for the dead of winter. At first, this film would appear to yet another episode of the popular PBS series Downton Abbey, with maids and butlers and footmen polishing the silver, placing name cards at each seat of the conference table. The best of salmon, meats and cheeses, caviar, wines and liqueurs are provided for the conferees.

A small plane circles above, preparing to land on the lake. On its wings we see Swastikas. This will be no party at a grand English country home. No, this is Wansee, a fashionable district in Berlin. As yet, this section on the outskirts of Hitler’s capital has not suffered bomb damage from nightly air raids by the Royal Air Force.

They are soon followed by an assortment of men in uniform. All the Mercedes have swastika flags. Out of these vehicles steps an assortment of men in military uniforms. Most are trim and fit. These are the notorious SS, the elite Nazi force with the Death’s Head on their high-peaked caps. Others of the conferees are fat and swinish. These are the Nazi party hacks.

British actor Kenneth Branagh, one of that nation’s greatest dramatic stars, plays SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Branagh makes no attempt at a German accent. But within minutes, he is Heydrich.

Slick, blond, affecting a hail-fellow-well-met manner, he moves the meeting along with Teutonic efficiency. Soon, very soon, it becomes clear what these men mean by the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe.” They are there to plan mass murder of the Jews.

One of the participants, the tall and courtly civilian, Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzlinger, is the Deputy Chief of the Reich Chancellery. He alone is troubled enough by what he is hearing to get up from the table and walk into the hallway. He comes back into the meeting, pale and shaken.

That we have determined to systematically annihilate all the Jews of Europe—that possibility has been explicitly denied to me by the Führer,” he says, expecting that Hitler’s personal assurances will stop the trains on their way to Auschwitz.

Heydrich does not miss a beat. Smiling benevolently, he says: “And it will continue to be.
Holocaust denial is born in that Wanseekonferenz—the same room in which the mass murders are planned in chilling detail.

We will outfit Auschwitz with “shower rooms.” They victims will be herded into the gas chambers, told they are there for de-lousing. They will be gassed and their bodies burned at the rate of 2500/hour. Sixty thousand innocent men, women, and children will be killed every day at Auschwitz.

Heydrich thanks the Americans—whom it is noted—have just come into the war against Germany. He notes with ironic detachment that American techniques of mass production—the assembly line invented by Henry Ford—will be used to effect genocide.

At 60,000 a day, we will advance the human race in a space of time so short Charles Darwin would be astonished,” says the grinning Heydrich. At his elbow is the ever eager to please SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann. This conference is Eichmann’s project. So will be the Final Solution.

Agreeing grimly is a familiar face. Playing the part of SS Chief, Gen. Heinrich Müller is Brendan Coyle, known now to millions as John Bates, Lord Grantham’s faithful valet in the Downton Abbey series.

As Müller, he unsmilingly repeats Heydrich’s evolutionary message: Charles Darwin would be astonished.

Is there any one of these conferees who doubts that Darwin’s description of all Nature as a struggle for “the survival of the fittest” applies as well to the Nazis’ war on the Jews?

Within months, Heydrich will be known as the Butcher of Prague in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. In June, 1942, Heydrich was assassinated by Czech resistance fighters parachuted in by the British. In reprisal, the entire Czech village of Lidice will be wiped off the face if the earth, even pets.

That leaves Eichmann to carry out the mass murder of the Jews.

All of this ended long ago. Threescore and ten years ago. Surely, the world wants no more of this kind of thing. Surely, the Liberation of Auschwitz on this date in 1945 means that the entire world has pledged “Never Again.”

Today, President Obama is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He joins Saudi rulers who allow no Jews to live in their country. They are in mourning for King Abdullah, who refused to let the U.S. question Madani al-Tayyib in 1998. Al-Tayyib was the finance chief of al Qaeda. He might have helped us unravel the 9/11 plot before it occurred. Abdullah refused the urgent request of then-Vice President Al Gore. Abdullah’s refusal is documented on p. 122 of the 9/11 Commission Report.

Did President Obama know of this refusal to help us when he bowed to King Abdullah in London in 2009? Does he know that the Saudis are funding Islamist extremist throughout the world with their petrodollars?

King Abdullah was only upholding a family tradition in his refusal to help us or to even recognize the possibility of a Jewish state in the Mideast. Abdullah’s father was Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia. Abdul Aziz fathered all the kings of Saudi Arabia until today.

When President Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz on February 14, 1945, just a few weeks after the Liberation of Auschwitz, he pleaded with the Arab ruler to agree to let desperate Jews settle in their ancient homeland in Palestine. Nothing doing, the king told the president. But, millions of Jews have been murdered by the Nazis in Poland and Germany, FDR told the king, appealing to his humanitarian instincts.

Then there should be plenty of room in Poland and Germany to settle the remainder of the Jews, the Saudi king told Roosevelt. So much for humanitarian.

From that date until this—seventy years later—the official position of Saudi Arabia and virtually every member of the Arab League is their own translation of the Nazis’ call:

Juden raus. Jews get out! U.S. policy in the Mideast might be more successful and more honorable if we recognized that basic fact.

Appeasement of Hitler did not stop the trains rolling into Auschwitz. Appeasement of Islamists—whether of the Saudi or Iranian stripe—will not stop war or genocide now.

The most admired man in the Muslim majority lands is Hassan Nasrallah. This leader of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon is armed and paid by Iran. He wants Jews to gather in Israel. But only so it will save him the trouble of “hunting them down.”

Is it any wonder Mr. Obama’s Mideast policy is in shambles?

What We Owe Winston Churchill-Liberty Itself

by Robert Morrison

January 26, 2015

I’m indebted to my good friend Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy for this excellent reminder of the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Fifty years ago, a great State Funeral was held in London for Winston Churchill. Britain’s Prime Minister in World War II, Churchill was the man who through the 1930s had been a voice crying in the wilderness against the rise of the Nazis (Nozzies). Then, when appeasement failed to stop Hitler, Churchill arose to fight him. President Kennedy would say: “He martialed the English language and sent it into battle.”

Half a century ago, Winston Churchill was laid to rest in a solemn ceremony in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The subject of Churchill’s faith—or lack thereof—has been discussed for almost as long as Winston himself has been discussed. And that’s a very long time. He first became famous escaping from a South African prison during the Boer War, just weeks before the year 1900 dawned. Young Churchill hated every minute as a POW and contrived to climb out of a bathroom window and escape. As some would say later, he leaped out of the “Loo” and onto the stage of history.

And what a performance. Winston Churchill’s life was the most documented human life ever lived. When I made that claim to some of our FRC interns several years ago, one of the brighter ones challenged me. What about Prince William? We have even seen his ultra-sound picture. Good point. But we don’t know what William thought about matters—from the age of seven. And we do know that about Winston Churchill.

He died at age 90, seventy years to the day after his famous father had died. His father was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Party government of Lord Salisbury. Lord Randolph Churchill had married a stunningly beautiful and sensuous American heiress. (Fans of PBS’s Downton Abbey will be familiar with the plan: British noble, down at the heels financially marries wealthy American beauty and, surprisingly, actually falls in love with her.)

Lord Randolph died in his forties. He may have suffered from tuberculosis of the brain, or, as some have suggested, from syphilis. Winston always expected to die young. Perhaps that accounted for his incredible energy.

During World War II, as Prime Minister, he was famous—or notorious—for sending out memos with red stickers saying “Action this Day” on them. He wanted a full report—on one side of a piece of paper, before sundown. Winston himself always worked two shifts. He would sleep late, work in bed before noon. And then every afternoon take a nap of 1-2 hours. By this method, he could go well into the wee hours of the morning.

He had almost no consideration for his staff. No holidays. No vacations. No breaks at all. He would smile mischievously at 10 or 11 pm and say “I shall need two young ladies tonight.” He meant as typists. He wore them out and roared at them if they ever got something wrong, failed to double-space everything, or dared to ask him to repeat something.

Now, he was forever chewing on a fine Havana cigar and he had a speech impediment. He could not properly pronounce the letter “S.” That, and the fact that he drank alcohol from the moment he awoke in the morning until well after midnight sometimes made it hard to make out what he was saying as he paced back and forth, dictating. His drinking led some to conclude, incorrectly, that he was alcoholic. “I’ve taken more out of whiskey than whiskey has taken out of me,” he said.

Those who knew him best knew that his whiskey and water was very weak. And it was probably true that it fueled his lightning imagination. [Don’t try this at home. The Lord makes only one such in a century!]

Standing atop the Air Ministry in London during an especially heavy bombing raid, Winston looked out on the city in flames. Suddenly and somewhat surprisingly, he turned to his young secretary and asked: “You’re not afraid, are you, Miss Holmes?” No sir, the intrepid young woman answered, “I could never be afraid with you, Sir.”

He had that effect on millions of people. His courage was contagious. After the war, a Polish survivor of the concentration camps said: “We didn’t have bread, but we had Churchill.”

That comment hurts me as an American. I want oppressed people around the world to say that of my President. When Ronald Reagan told the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983 they should not turn a blind eye to the “machinations of an evil empire,” those words rang around the world. Reagan never said the Soviet Union is an evil empire. He let the Communists howl in indignation. He let them scream in protest: “Reagan calls USSR ‘Evil Empire.” He hadn’t. But just like the demons, they knew who he was talking about. And they headlined it in Pravda and Izvestia. That’s how Natan Sharansky and other Jews and Christians in the Gulag found out what Reagan had said. Finally, an American president who gets it!

Churchill always got it. He denounced the Nozzie butchers from the first days. After barking at one of his subordinates, and hurting the young man’s feelings, he felt bad. He actually apologized and said: “I’m only fierce toward one.” It was Hitler.

Why do we keep bringing up leaders like Churchill and Reagan? Because they got it. They understood that regimes that started off persecuting Jews would soon come for the British and the Americans. They gave no encouragement to the appeasers of their day.

When I was young, we learned a song in school: Hail Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. One of the lines in it is: “Thy banners make tyranny tremble.” Do our banners make tyranny tremble today? Or do they make tyranny comfortable?

President Obama heads the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history. He has virtually ignored the deaths of tens of thousands of Christians while he bows to cruel Muslim rulers.

He is the leading protector of Iran’s Mullahs in the world. Shocking, but true. He shields Iran’s Mullahs from sanctions, even from the threat of sanctions.

Does anyone believe he would use military force to stop the Number One state-sponsor of terrorism from obtaining a nuclear weapon? He won’t even threaten to use economic sanctions. And he has long since given up any diplomatic sanctions.

Churchill’s weak predecessor, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, appeased Hitler only once—disastrously—at Munich. President Obama has appeased the Iranians every day for six years. All of this gravely threatens the cause of liberty throughout the world.

So, today, I thank God for the life and legacy of Winston Churchill. When, at the end of his life, his daughter tried to cheer him up as the weight of age and infirmity quenched his indomitable fire, she said to him: “I owe you what every British man and woman owes you: Liberty itself.”

Millions in Eastern Europe could say that today about the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Who will say that about today’s U.S. leadership? 

The Dreyfus Affair: One Historic Landmark for Jews in France

by Chris Gacek

January 16, 2015

Commentary magazine recently posted a powerful article entitled, “The Existential Necessity of Zionism after Paris.” They noted of the massacre in the Parisian kosher grocery that it “was not the beginning of a new threat to French Jews and the Jews of Europe.” Rather, the editors noted, it marked “the culmination of a decade of crisis. And it will not be the end.”

There have been tensions between Christians and Jews since the days of the early church. Thankfully, during the past century relations between most Christian denominations and Jews have improved greatly. Much of this change has been prompted by the growing Christian appreciation of and affection for Israel.

I am no expert on Franco-Jewish history, but I know that one major event that shook the foundations of French society and reverberates to this day was the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that stretched from 1894 to 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish, French Army captain, was convicted falsely of espionage and sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in French Guiana for over four years. Eventually, Dreyfus was released and completely exonerated.

The Dreyfus Affair was a seismic event infused with anti-Semitism. Its impact on French society was at least one order of magnitude greater than Watergate was on the United States. Consequently, any consideration of the life of Jews in France must include the Dreyfus Affair and the treatment of Jews during World War II by the Vichy regime. Dreyfus is an elephant in the historical corner that colors all that came afterward.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Dreyfus Affair, Robert Harris’s historical novel,

An Officer and a Spy: A novel, makes the history exciting. (There are a number of good histories on the topic as an Amazon search will indicate.)

International religious persecution made itself clearly visible to us in the recent attack on the Parisian kosher store.  Last week, I posted a brief discussion of the Dreyfus Affair and its implications, a century later, for understanding anti-Semitism in France today.  Over the weekend, the John Batchelor Show posted its excellent interview of Robert Harris (An Officer and a Spy) by John Batchelor.  Listening to this 40-minute discussion is the best way get a sense of this event, its scope, and its lasting effects.  If may be found via this link to the iTunes podcast page (1/17/2015). 

The Miracle at New Orleans

by Robert Morrison

January 8, 2015

If you don’t believe in miracles, skip this page. If you don’t think America is an exceptional country, read no further. The story of the Battle of New Orleans, the Bicentennial of which we observe today, is a story of an almost unbelievably one-sided victory.

At this point two hundred years ago in the War of 1812, both Britain and the U.S. had failed repeatedly in attempts to strike a knockout blow. The Americans failed spectacularly in attempts to invade and occupy British Canada. We were driven out of Canada after humiliating defeats at Lundy’s Lane and elsewhere. At the commencement of the war, retired President Thomas Jefferson had said the conquest of Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.” It was not one of the Sage of Monticello’s better predictions.

Jefferson’s loyal lieutenant and successor as president, James Madison, had had to hightail it out of the White House in August, 1814, to avoid capture. Then, a powerful British amphibious force sailed up the Chesapeake almost unopposed and landed disciplined troops in Maryland. They marched overland and summarily defeated panicked local militia at Upper Marlboro, Bladensburg, and eventually even Washington, D.C.

While President Madison courageously rode into action against the invader (the only president ever to take up arms against a foreign foe), his equally brave wife, Dolley Madison, saved the famous Gilbert Stuart “Lansdowne”portrait of George Washington. As Dolley was evacuating the White House, Sec. of State James Monroe ordered clerk Stephen Pleasanton to throw some old government documents in a burlap sack and hurry them out of the embattled capital. Pleasanton did his duty. He took that sack in a wagon to Great Falls, Virginia, and thus we still have the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The British burned the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress. The entire capital city might have gone up in flames but for a sudden hurricane that extinguished the flames. With the capital still smoldering, however, the mayors of Georgetown and Alexandria finally got an audience with the invading British Admiral, George Cochrane. “We’ve come to surrender our cities to you, Sir,” they bleated. “I’m not even going there,” harrumphed the haughty conqueror. (Liberal Georgetown and Alexandria have a long tradition of pre-emptive surrender!)

Adm. Cochrane instead went to Baltimore, where his attack failed. And the Star-Spangled Banner still waved above Fort McHenry. None of this would have helped, however, if the British had made good their invasion of Louisiana.

This was perhaps the gravest threat of the entire war. In Europe, Napoleon had at last been defeated and exiled. Now, Britain could turn her undivided attention to crushing the upstart Americans. To show their seriousness of purpose, they dispatched Gen. Sir Edward Michael Pakenham to join Adm. Cochrane and a huge force of 14,000 battle-hardened troops to wrest the entire Mississippi Valley from the United States. Pakenham was a seasoned soldier and the brother-in-law of Napoleon’s nemesis, the great Duke of Wellington. Among Sir Edward’s papers was a Royal Commission naming him as Governor of the Province of Louisiana. When, as expected, he overwhelmed the American rabble at New Orleans, Britain would hem in America on the North, the South, and the West.

All of this might have happened but for the flinty courage and iron will of Gen. Andrew Jackson. Known as “Old Hickory” to his troops (and not always fondly), Jackson was already a veteran of Indian wars and border conflicts with the Spanish. He bore a scar on his temple from a sword cut made by a surly British officer when he had been just a lad in South Carolina, during the Revolution. Jackson hated the British with a Scots-Irish fervor.

Gen. Jackson had been alerted to the British invasion by a local militia officer, Major Gabriel Villaré, one of the French Creole planters of Louisiana. Villaré had evaded British capture by diving through a window at his estate when the British barged in. Maj. Villaré then ran through the swamps to sound the warning.

Commanding Gen. Jackson quickly put the Crescent City under martial law, jailed a federal judge who defied his orders, and prepared to hold New Orleans against the expected assault. Jackson commanded a motley force of American regular army, half-wild Tennessee and Kentucky militia, and the Baratarian Pirates. These were French-speakers whom Jackson himself called “hellish banditti” The pirates were led by Jean Lafitte, who was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and English and who had offered his services—for a price, of course—to the redcoat invaders. The shrewd Jackson quickly accepted Lafitte’s offer of alliance. Add to this mix, the local “Gens du Couleur.” These were free black citizens of New Orleans. Their aid would prove indispensable and their example would help to tamp down any idea of slave rebellion in the state.

The British had expected the Americans to panic at the sight of their latest weapon, the Congreve rockets. These spectacular new sights on the battlefield had led Americans to throw down their weapons outside Washington as men and horses fled in terror. They reckoned without Old Hickory, who rode back and forth along his lines, exposing himself to enemy sharpshooters while calling out “these are terrors for children, men. Hold your ground!”

Hold it they did. And when the redcoats advanced toward the American breastworks, these “wild” frontiersmen let loose with devastating volleys. They had been trained to shoot, fall back, re-load, and shoot again with lethal accuracy. Gen. Pakenham and other top British attackers were killed in the onslaught. As related by famed historian, Robert Remini in his acclaimed biography of Jackson, “the destruction of the high command in one blow ‘caused a wavering in the column which in such a situation became irreparable.” The British suffered 2,037 casualties to the Americans’ 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. British survivors would tell their American captors they had never faced an enemy who did not run away when hit by the new Congreve rockets.

In mere minutes, Britain’s hope of re-establishing its North American dominance faded. Jackson’s victory was celebrated in a Te Deum Mass in the Cathedral of St. Louis in New Orleans. Jackson, the staunch Presbyterian, obligingly attended that event and several society balls in his honor.

In Washington, D.C., late word arrived of the Treaty of Ghent. That document officially ended the War of 1812. It had been signed on December 24, 1814, in that Belgian city—three weeks before the Battle of New Orleans. That treaty essentially restored the Status Quo Ante—that is, neither side could claim a victory in the war.

Still, news of the “Incredible Victory” at New Orleans followed on the heels of the peace announcement. Not surprisingly, Americans tended to view the events as one and ever after claimed “bragging rights.” President Madison basked in new public esteem. As for Gen. Andrew Jackson, from January 8, 1815, until his death in 1845, Americans all knew who “The Hero” was.

Fifty Years After

by Robert Morrison

October 27, 2014

Every poll confirmed that the Republican nominee for President in 1964 was headed for a major defeat. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had pulled off an amazing victory to gain the GOP nomination in San Francisco. He had soundly defeated such Eastern Establishment figures as Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R-N.Y.) and Gov. William Scranton (R-Penn.) Goldwater’s campaign for the nomination is seen today as the beginning of the modern conservative movement in politics.

The liberal media was determined to destroy Sen. Goldwater. They depicted him as the “mad bomber.” Their editorial pages ran hostile cartoons. One typical one showed him as a crazed trainman on a San Francisco cable car. “Streetcar Named Disaster” was the caption for that political cartoon, a reference to the play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Despite all this, and fully aware that he was about to make his national political debut backing a losing cause, actor and TV personality, and former union president Ronald Reagan went on national television to deliver a 29-minute speech titled: “A Time for Choosing.”

It’s worth watching this speech in its entirety. We see her a younger, edgier Ronald Reagan than we may be used to. He is angry but his righteous indignation is kept under tight control. He clearly believes that his friend, Barry Goldwater, has been savaged by the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign and by their willing accomplices in the press.

Reagan hammers home point after point, but he takes care to use stories to convey his message. My favorite line is about the Cuban exile who tells of his brutal mistreatment under Communist dictator Fidel Castro. When his American businessmen listeners remark how lucky they are to live under freedom, the Cuban says how lucky he is. “I had some place to escape to!” Reagan makes the point: If we lose freedom in America, there will be no place to escape to.”

I was too young to vote in 1964 and I missed this famous speech. In those days, you couldn’t DVR or TiVo TV broadcasts. But I certainly heard about Reagan’s amazing speech. It raised millions of dollars for the doomed Republican campaign. It was perhaps the only bright spot that fall for the outgunned GOP.

President Johnson carried forty-four states that fall and swept thousands of liberal Democrats into office on his coattails. Towns in Vermont and Kansas that had never elected a Democrat to any office at any level went with the Democrats that Election Day.

But within two years, the wheels were coming off the LBJ bandwagon. Within his own party, opponents to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam began to be heard. Inflation took off, leaving millions of Americans—especially retirees on fixed incomes and service members still enduring the military draft—falling further and further behind. By the time of the 1966 mid-term elections, scores of those Johnson had swept into Congress were swept out by voters.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California. He defeated liberal Democrat Pat Brown (father of the current Gov. Jerry Brown) by more than one million votes. Reagan served two highly successful terms as California’s governor.

His election as President in 1980 was still considered something of a long shot, largely because the liberal media continued to view him as “extreme” and “dangerous.” Reagan, however, never reacted angrily. He learned to keep his temper in check and use his well-developed sense of humor to puncture liberal shibboleths.

Still, it’s well worth remembering that it all began for Ronald Reagan this day in 1964, half a century ago. Reagan was what they call a conviction politician. Or, in more recent computer jargon, WYSIWYG—What you see is what you get.

Here’s an example: I attended a staff conference in the federal education department in 1985. Mrs. Patricia Hines had convened the meeting of Reagan appointees to decide on a policy to pursue about education. Of five options offered us by the career civil service employees, Mrs. Hines opened the meeting by saying: “Options number three and number five are off the table, but let’s look at one, two and four.”

Innocently, I asked why she had ruled out those two choices. As if she was gently chiding a slow student, Mrs. Hines said: “Numbers three and five are specifically condemned in the Republican Platform on which President Reagan was elected. This president may not be able to do all the things the Republican Platform recommends, but he will never do something the platform condemns. That’s basic to government by consent of the governed.”

I was embarrassed that I had not studied the Platform, but I was thrilled to be so corrected. Ronald Reagan believed that the people who nominated him and elected him had done so because they believed in him and trusted him to do what he said he would do. He would not break faith with them.

For thirty years—from this day in 1964 until that day in 1994 when  he wrote his dignified and moving letter telling us he had Alzheimer’s Disease, Ronald Reagan was the acknowledged leader of American conservatism.

I especially like the fact that he quoted Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in his 1964 speech:

The nation that prefers disgrace to danger is ready for a master—and deserves one.”

This quote reminds us that Reagan quoted the timeless wisdom of the Founding Fathers more than any of the four presidents who preceded him (and more, too, than any of the four presidents who have succeeded him.)

America’s leaders have disgraced us all too often in the tumultuous years since President Reagan left us. Strong majorities today tell public opinion pollsters our country is on “the wrong track.” There is deep cynicism about political leadership.

Studying Reagan’s career is not an exercise in nostalgia. It is a necessary task if we would seek to place our beloved country on a better course.

Columbus Day: A Time to Celebrate Religion in America

by Christina Hadford

October 14, 2014

Dedicating his voyage “In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ” and offering himself as an instrument of God, Christopher Columbus set sail into the great unknown on August 3, 1492. Approximately two months later — 522 years from this very week — Columbus’ great ship Santa Maria de Immaculada Concepcion approached the New World. Upon arriving to the shore, he knelt to the ground, raised his eyes to Heaven, and proclaimed, “Blessed be the light of day, and the Holy Cross we say; and the Lord of Verity, and the Holy Trinity. Blessed be the light of day, and He who sends the dark away.”

Christopher Columbus was a deeply pious man who structured his day around prayer and sacrifice. His true joy in discovering the Americas rested in this new opportunity to bring Our Lord’s love to his brothers and sisters across the world. Columbus’ legacy survived many trials and tribulations, and eventually fueled the formation of the great nation we live in today. Centuries later George Washington echoed Columbus’ faith-filled vision, proclaiming, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”

Although both men were driven by divine inspiration, they also saw religion’s pragmatic application. Social science data shows that religious practice, especially within an intact married family, is associated with a number of positive societal outcomes.

For example, studies show that religion promotes familial relationships. Religious attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability, and those in intact marriages who worship weekly were most likely to say they felt thrilled and excited during intercourse with their current sexual partner. Parents who attend religious services are more likely to enjoy a better relationship with their children and to be more involved in their children’s education. A father’s religious affiliation and religious attendance are positively associated with his involvement with his children in ways such as interacting one-on-one, having dinner with his family, and volunteering for youth-related activities.

Religious attendance is also associated with better education. Frequent religious attendance correlates with higher grades, lower dropout rates, greater school attachment, and higher educational aspirations. Overall, Students who attend church weekly while growing up have significantly more years of total schooling by their early thirties than peers who do not attend church at all.

Moreover, social science data shows that religious attendance boosts health. Greater longevity is consistently and significantly correlated with higher levels of religious practice and involvement, regardless of the sex, race, education, or health history of those studied. Young people who both attend religious services weekly and rate religion as important in their lives are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving, riding with drunk drivers, driving without a seatbelt, or engaging in interpersonal violence. They are also less likely to smoke (tobacco or marijuana) or drink heavily. Not surprisingly, religious affiliation and regular church attendance are among the most common reasons people give to explain their own happiness.

Clearly, religious practice is imperative for a strong and altruistic community. Among those who feel compassion for the disadvantaged, religious respondents are 23 percent more likely to donate to charities at least yearly and 32 percent more likely to donate monthly than are their secular counterparts. Religious people are also more likely to volunteer. They are 34 percent more likely to volunteer at least yearly and 22 percent more likely to volunteer monthly.

Unfortunately, religion, particularly Christianity, is being attacked in America today. Data shows the pressing importance of reinfusing religious practice into society for the sake of the well-being of our nation, no matter what the cost. As Christopher Columbus said, “No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.”

Full citations can be found in MARRI’s synthesis paper, “95 Social Science Reason for Religious Worship and Practice.”

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