Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new
Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife
Friday, September 15, 2006
What Happened to the Curve?
The other day I was doing a google search for an article I'd written and (much to my surprise), this long-defunct blog popped up. Then I saw that the Curve had been visited by more than 13,000 unique visitors . . . which is about 10,000 more than had visited it when I was posting back in '03-'04.
So I realized I had to do one last post to explain to anyone who might care where I went and what I do. So, I quit my blog in '04 because it was causing a bit of heartburn for my law firm employer, but I have since moved on the nonprofit world. Currently, I am the director of the Alliance Defense Fund's Center for Academic Freedom. I blog regularly at the Center for Academic Freedom website, and I blog for National Review Online at their "Phi Beta Cons" blog. (You can see my blog archive here).
Also, my wife and helped found a grassroots group dedicated to helping put Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney into the White House. Evangelicals For Mitt seeks to address questions raised by a Mormon candidate's potential quest for the presidency. To be clear, I'm not Mormon (I attend a Presbyterian (PCA) church), but I think Governor Romney is the best man for the job.
So that's it. That's what I do and where I blog. If you want to read some insightful (but old) political commentary, you're welcome to nose around a bit.
Posted by David French
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
APPEASEMENT. AGAIN. There really is nothing new under the sun. In the last few weeks, I've read two excellent new books about the beginning stages of World War II -- "The Fall of France" by Julian Jackson and "19 Weeks: America, Britain and the Fateful Summer of 1940" by Norman Moss. Both books describe the collapse of the French nation in 1940 and both books vividly describe France and Britain's desperate efforts to appease Hitler in 1938 and 1939.
The parallels between that time and the present are instructive. There is, however, a critical difference between the pre-World War II appeasement period and the present War on Terror: the efforts of 1938 and 1939 were much more justifiable.
In 1938, the leaders of Britain and France had lived through a war so destructive that it boggles the mind. While Americans still rightly mourn the loss of 53,000 in Vietnam -- and the shadow of the Vietnam hovers over us even today -- French and British leaders were grappling with a war that cost more than 600,000 British lives and more than 1.5 million French lives. In France, by some estimates, World War I killed 27 per cent of France's male population between the ages of 18 and 25. Another 25 to 30 per cent were gravely wounded. Simply put, the entire population of England and France was in mourning.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the paramount concern of the western democracies was ensuring that large-scale war could never happen again. Disarmament conferences were held and -- through the Kellogg-Briand pact -- the world's major powers even attempted to outlaw war as an instrument of national policy. British students at Oxford voted to never again die for King and Country. American peace activists had political influence that even the leaders of Vietnam's peace protests should envy.
When Hitler rose to power and began to violate his treaty obligations by re-arming Germany, European leaders refused to take decisive action. Even if they wanted to act, their populations would have revolted. Instead, they sought to understand the roots of German rage and to "appease" (a word that had a different, less cowardly, meaning at the time) that rage. Germany was mistreated by the allies following World War I and many German-speaking people were oppressed by foreign governments, thus it was "understandable" that Hitler would seek to restore German national boundaries.
Yet the European leaders made a critical mistake: They refused to believe Hitler's own words. In "Mein Kampf," Hitler outlined his plan for European domination and displayed his hatred and contempt for the Jews. In speech after speech, Hitler expanded upon that hate. Yet Europeans (and Americans) kept hoping for the best. We kept hoping that Hitler would "grow" in office and that his rhetoric was just rhetoric -- political posturing for a desperate population. Neville Chamberlain was greeted as a hero when he came back from the Munich Conference in 1938, waving a peace treaty and declaring "peace in our time." Within months, Hitler violated that treaty. Less than a year later, Panzers were in Warsaw.
Today, we still refuse to believe our enemies. We still believe that if we address historical grievances, then our enemies will lay down their arms. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations do not simply want a Palestinian state -- they want a second Holocaust. Al Qaeda doesn't just want to end colonialism, it wants to see the Muslim world dominate the West. They will not be content until they see the new Caliphate and the world of the infidels subjected to the will of Islam.
Today -- just as in the thirties -- European anti-semitism makes appeasement more palatable. Hitler's persecution of the Jews raised few hackles in France in 1938 and the relentless terror bombings in Israel offend few in France today. Instead, Europeans just wish the Jews would defend themselves a bit less vigorously.
But today, unlike in 1938, there is no one to negotiate with. Neville Chamberlain could see Hitler, talk to Hitler and even get Hitler's signature on a treaty. How can we negotiate to end terror? And today, unlike in 1938, war has already been declared. Europe's appeasement becomes even less rational after the bombs have exploded. Consequently, Spain, France, Germany and others are merely making guesses, hoping that if they give the terrorists a few things -- if they surrender their national policy to the Jihadists just a small amount -- then the terror will stop.
Yesterday, Spain's new government announced it would withdraw its troops from Iraq and gave Osama bin Laden his first victory since September 11. Spain taught Al Qaeda that elections can be transformed by terror -- with hawks replaced by doves and resolve replaced by surrender. Thank you, Spain, for setting this precedent. Just as the world suffered for the allies' pre-war cowardice in 1938, so will we all suffer from Spain's capitulation on Monday.
Friday, February 27, 2004
THE PASSION OF CHRIST -- A REVIEW. I am writing this not because I have anything profound to say about the movie or because I can add anything substantial to a debate that is raging with white-hot intensity around this country but because it is helping me to understand what I just witnessed. I can't even use words like "moving" or "powerful" to describe what the movie. "Dead Poets Society" was "moving." "Saving Private Ryan" was "powerful." This was something else entirely.
I have been a Christian my entire life. I cannot think of a time when I didn't believe in Christ, and I have sat through countless sermons, testimonials and dramatic presentations. I attended a Christian college where I had a Bible class and Chapel service every day of my four years. In short, when it comes to the Christian message -- even to emotional presentations of the Gospel -- I thought I had heard (or seen) it all. I knew that the movie would affect me, but I felt prepared. I felt ready.
How foolish. When the movie ended, I just sat there. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. Not only was I completely emotionally shattered by the experience, the moments immediately after the movie felt almost holy -- like the most logical and rational response was not to go out to dinner and discuss what we saw (which is what we did) but instead to sit quietly and pray.
I think the thing that stands out to me was how intensely personal this movie is. There were moments when I felt like I wanted to be anywhere else but in a theater full of strangers as I watched it, but there were also moments when the collective experience and obvious collective awe had its own power. But the bottom line is that it will strike each one of us differently, and the nature of the experience does not necessarily depend on the differences between believer and non-believer (although that is certainly one major factor) but the difference from human heart to human heart.
For me, I could not attain any separation from the movie. For a typical movie, if things get too intense or difficult to handle, I'll often take a breath, look at the people around me and say to myself, "This is only a movie, and I'm sitting in a movie theater." I couldn't do that with this film. I tried, but I couldn't. The movie was a shattering personal event.
Some people have criticized the movie because it doesn't portray the aspect of Jesus that the critic most admires (to the extent that the critic admires Jesus at all). Where is the "social revolutionary?" Where is the "tolerance?" Where is the "uplifting message." The criticisms often betray the conditions we place on Christ. I love (or respect) him because of the various aspects of his ministry that either resonate the most with me or that I have projected upon him myself. Progressives tend to see Jesus the advocate of social justice. Conservatives see Jesus the holy and righteous. Our "up with people" suburban guitar-strumming seeker churches see Jesus the friend. The movie gives us Jesus, the Lamb that was slain.
The movie makes clear that Christ's ministry -- all of it, from the social justice to the compassion to the holiness to whatever else is your favorite thing about Christ -- was leading up to THIS moment, the moment when he no longer becomes "Jesus, the great moral teacher" or "Jesus, the social revolutionary" but instead Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. The Savior. It is in those moments that Christianity was born and redemption came to the world. The most powerful scene in the film (for me) comes when Christ is bloodied and bent under the weight of the cross, and his mother desperately seeks to comfort him. Christ's only words to her: "Behold, I make all things new."
Is the movie anti-semitic? No. Empirically no. An anti-semitic movie would characterize a race as something apart from ourselves, something uniquely evil. Instead we see Jews and Romans (the only relevant races in the movie) as human beings -- some profoundly evil, some mindlessly brutal, some cowardly, and some capable of remarkable acts of kindness and compassion. Jews do good things and bad. There is dissent at every turn -- with the Sanhedrin divided, cries for compassion from the mob and ambivalence on the part of at least some of the Roman authorities. What becomes clear from watching the film is how fallen we all are . . . how much we need to be "made new."
I don't doubt that many people won't be affected like I was. I don't doubt that many people will be outraged by the violence, by the portrayal of the High Priest and his henchman or by a million other things in the movie. I can imagine that many Christians will see it and -- for a variety of reasons -- be less than impressed, or impressed less. And that is fine. This film is hardly a litmus test of faith or sincerity and should not be used to divide Americans into the camp of "us" or "them." But for me, the movie gave me a renewed sense of purpose and showed me -- in no uncertain terms -- that when Christ asked his followers to "take up your cross" and follow him, he was not asking that we simply be nice, or do the right thing sometimes, or pay lip service to piety but to live lives of selfless, sacrificial love.
Friday, February 13, 2004
THE CASE FOR BUSH. In recent days, I've been trying to figure out how I'd make the case for Bush's re-election -- how I'd distill my arguments into a few hundred words that were fact-based and persuasive. As part of that effort, I put together an imaginary "stump speech" -- the speech I would write for the President if I were running his campaign.
While not every eloquent (it was off the top of my head), I think it makes some compelling points:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to take you back in time, for a moment, to January, 2001, the day I took the oath of office. The challenges we faced were daunting:
The economy had just entered a recession;
The stock market bubble had burst and Americans were losing billions of dollars in personal savings and retirement;
Several major corporations were committing massive fraud on investors and had been doing so for some time; and
Congress was at an impasse -- and had been for 15 years -- in providing seniors with needed prescription drug benefits.
In addition to these domestic issues, problems were looming on the world stage:
The Middle East peace process was dead as Israel was besieged by near-daily suicide bombings;
Saddam Hussein was defying the United Nations by working to develop weapons of mass destruction, slaughtering his own people, shooting at American soldiers and supporting terrorists;
Libya was working diligently to develop nuclear weapons;
The entire nation of Afghanistan served as a training camp for terrorists while the Taliban instituted a regime of medieval oppression; and
Most ominously -- in a development unknown to the Clinton administration or to my administration -- a terrorist named Osama bin Laden had planned and put into motion a devastating terrorist attack that would change America forever.
The September 11 attack was a defining moment for our country. 3,000 civilians were killed in the worst attack against an American city since Washington D.C. was burned to the ground in the War of 1812. Economic losses from the attack reached hundreds of billions of dollars as towers fell, airlines faltered and our nation's largest city was paralyzed for days on end. By the evening of September 11, we faced an historic choice. Were we the same country that united to expel foreign invaders almost 200 years ago? Were we the same country that responded to the Pearl Harbor attacks by launching a military effort that ended two of history's greatest tyrannies? Or were we different? Had prosperity, peace and the bitter legacy of Vietnam permanently weakened our resolve? Were we so self-critical that we worried more about what others thought of us than we did about protecting our homes and families?
I believe we have answered these questions. I believe America has risen to the challenge of September 11, and America has risen to the challenges of recession, of stock market slumps and of basic care for its seniors. We have met these challenges as Americans do, with courage, with optimism and with respect for human dignity and freedom. So, where are we now? Domestically, we are recording the highest levels of economic growth in 20 years, the unemployment rate is steadily shrinking, the stock market has come back strong, corporate criminals have been caught and vigorously prosecuted, and we have broken the Medicare impasse and provided a prescription drug benefit. All of these accomplishments are indisputable. All of these accomplishments are improving the lives of Americans all over this country.
On the world stage, al Qaeda is decimated, and Osama bin Laden is either dead or on the run, incapable of directing his shrinking army. Afghanistan is liberated, and -- for the first time in a generation -- its children can look to the future with hope. Saddam Hussein is in custody, his regime is destroyed, his weapons programs terminated, and one of the Middle East's great nations is enjoying its first taste of freedom in decades. The liberation of 50 million afghans and Iraqis and the continued war against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq has cost us dearly, but the results are obvious. Libya has terminated its weapons of mass destruction program, Iran has agreed to an international inspection regime, and we are beginning to see the stirrings of democratic revolution not just in Iran but also in Syria.
But even in the midst of war, we have found the time and resources to reach out to the world's poorest and weakest citizens. This administration's Africa AIDS initiative has done more to address and combat that deadly plague than all other previous government actions combined. We are now the world leaders in providing funding and treatment for children and adults who previously suffered without solace and without hope.
Despite these accomplishments, our work is not yet complete. The battle continues in Iraq -- with our troops in daily combat. The remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban lurk in the Afghan countryside, eager to exploit any weaknesses. Our enemies have been weakened, but they have not yet suffered final defeat. So, they wait and hope . . . they hope for America to repeat the mistakes of the past, to give up on its allies, to shy away from the blood and toil of war. But so long as this administration exists, they will wait in vain.
At home, we must work hard to complete the economic recovery. My administration began the long road to economic recovery with a simple argument: Americans will spend more when they have more money to spend. So we cut taxes -- not just for the rich, but for everyone. And those tax cuts worked. Our economy is gaining strength every day. The stock market is going up, unemployment is down and the prosperity of the American family is increasing.
So what must we do now? We must stay the course. We cannot roll back the tax cuts. The recovery will not be completed by taking money back out of the hands of Americans and placing it in the hands of the government. We must also reduce the deficit, a deficit that has grown as we've fought through war and recession to liberate millions and restore economic growth. In my next term, we will use the fruits of prosperity to hold the line on spending and reduce the deficit by more than half. In my next term, we will make our tax cuts permanent, so that Americans will have greater resources to spend on their families and their futures.
My opponent, unfortunately, disagrees with this agenda. My opponent wants to turn back the clock. Believing that the terrorist threat is exaggerated, he wants to view our fight against terrorists not as a war but as a police matter, an issue for law enforcement. This policy has been tried before, and it failed. The ruins of September 11 bear witness that a law enforcement approach is perceived as weakness and that police actions do nothing to destroy terrorist sanctuaries and do nothing to deter or defeat rogue regimes. For decades, America treated terrorists as criminals rather than enemies and for decades terrorists grew in strength. We must not return to the failed strategies of the past.
My opponent wants to turn back the clock in foreign policy. The last three years have taught us that we cannot delegate our national security responsibilities to others. American security is an American responsibility, and we cannot expect the French or the Russians or the Germans to either understand our security needs or to endorse our security actions. We will continue to reach out to all our friends, but we reach out not for permission but for cooperation. My opponent wants to return to the days when America did not act unless all of its allies agreed it should act. Terrorists and rogue regimes were not impressed or intimidated by this deference and instead viewed the inevitable delay and indecisiveness caused by accommodating all viewpoints -- no matter how unreasonable -- as an opportunity to plot, to plan and to kill.
Finally, my opponent wants to turn back the clock on domestic policy. Once again, we hear the call for higher taxes. Once again we hear scare tactics about Medicare and social security. This administration succeeded where others failed and passed a needed prescription drug benefit for seniors. I remind you, for eight years before my administration, the Democrats were unable to enact a prescription drug benefit. Do we really want to return to a time when the rhetoric of compassion was apparently more important than the reality of action? What kind of vision does my opponent offer? A vision dominated by fear.
I say we shed the fear and press on. Press on to prosperity and justice at home, to victory in war and to freedom for the oppressed people of the Middle East. Now is not the time to turn back. This administration has demonstrated its resolve, and no one can doubt America's strength. But we need four more years. Four more years to strengthen our families and to confront our enemies. Four more years make America stronger, more free and more just than it has ever been. Four more years of compassion and four more years of courage.
Thank you, and may God continue to bless America."
KERRY AND THE PEACE MOVEMENT. John Kerry is a war hero. No reasonable person -- no matter how partisan -- can dispute that fact. He served his country honorably and showed incredible bravery under fire. Very few Americans can even imagine what it's like to be engaged in combat, with friends dying around you and with your own life hanging by a thread. I honor John Kerry for his service. We all should.
However, we are not electing a swift boat commander. We are electing a president -- a political leader -- and it goes without saying that courage under fire does not necessarily translate into outstanding political leadership, nor does it insulate a person from criticism for the political positions they take after the shooting stops. Our two greatest wartime presidents -- Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt -- either had negligible military experience or no military experience, while their foremost wartime opponents (the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis and Germany's Adolph Hitler) were both combat veterans of previous wars.
While there is no question that Kerry's military service was more impressive than President Bush's (though one should never denigrate the value of flying F-102's for Air Defense Command), there is also little question that Kerry's post-Vietnam behavior was repugnant. As many people know, John Kerry -- upon his return from Vietnam -- allied himself with Jane Fonda and became a leader of Vietnam Veterans against the War, a left-wing anti-war group that never represented a significant percentage of Vietnam Vets. In the midst of mainstream media's nostalgic whitewash of the antiwar movement, we forget what John Kerry said and what the organization he helped lead did to destroy American morale at home and to slander men and women who were still fighting for their lives in Vietnam.
Vietnam Veterans against the War was an extreme antiwar group and did much to persuade America that our war in Vietnam was unjust (more than unjust -- an atrocity). Kerry, other VVAW members, Jane Fonda and other prominent antiwar types organized the so-called "Winter Soldier Investigation" which featured a parade of (purported) combat veterans testifying about war crimes committed by U.S. Soldiers. These veterans made it appear that war crimes were a matter of U.S. policy and that the My Lai massacre, far from being the tragic exception from the rule, was actually representative of normal American conduct. The "Winter Soldier Investigation" triggered a formal military investigation into its claims.
What did they find? That the Winter Soldier Investigation was built on a foundation of falsehoods. Not only was the most lurid testimony found to be false, but many of the "veterans" testifying were discovered to be fake witnesses who had appropriated the names of real veterans. Other veterans were discovered not to have served in the roles they claimed (for example, noncombatants claiming to have experienced combat and witnessed atrocities). The Winter Soldier Investigation was a fraud.
Kerry also helped organize demonstrations in Washington that featured veterans marching under the Vietcong flag, desecrating the American flag and throwing their Vietnam medals over a fence onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. (For many years, Kerry claimed that he threw his own medals over the fence. He has since admitted that he threw away SOMEONE ELSE'S medals). These demonstrations (organized in part by Kerry) also featured VVAW members organizing fake "search and destroy" missions and staging fake massacres of civilians. Kerry and other leaders of the VVAW demanded that America concede to Vietcong demands and presented a "peace proposal" that was entirely appropriated from the Vietcong proposal then pending at the Paris peace talks.
Additionally, Kerry testified before Congress and repeated many of the false claims made at the Winter Soldier Investigations. His testimony also contained this nugget:
"In our opinion and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart."
Given the horrific facts of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian communism -- which resulted in the deaths of literally millions -- can Kerry actually say that American lives were not lost fighting for freedom? Given the experience of the South Vietnamese in the Tet Offensive, when thousands upon thousands were summarily executed by the Vietcong, could Kerry have honestly said (as he did) that Vietnam was "ravaged equally" by "American bombs" and "Vietcong terrorism?" He also repeated known falsehoods like blacks constituted the "highest percentage" of U.S. casualties in Vietnam.
Kerry even wrote a book, the "New Soldier" (by "John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans Against the War") whose cover is a parody of Marine flag-raising on Iwo Jima and features a rag-tag bunch of fatigues-wearing protestors holding an American flag turned upside down. This book repeats many of the false claims of the fraudulent Winter Soldier Investigations.
In response to these facts, columnist Mark Steyn summarized Kerry's post-war actions perfectly:
"The only relevant lesson [regarding the War on Terror] from Vietnam is this: Then, as now, it was not possible for the enemy to achieve military victory over the US; their only hope was that America would, in effect, defeat itself. And few men can claim as large a role in the loss of national will that led to that defeat as John Kerry."
Men were still dying in Vietnam when Kerry condemned them as a gang of rapists and murderers. Kerry was instrumental not only in advocating for American military withdrawal but also in cutting off all American aid to South Vietnam -- an act that led directly to South Vietnam's defeat and the loss of an entire nation to the darkness of a totalitarian regime. When Kerry was elected to the Senate, he was a consistent advocate of drastic cuts in military spending and in spending on intelligence.
The bottom line: John Kerry was an outstanding soldier, but there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- in his political record that indicates that he has the necessary political resolve to lead a nation in war. In fact, all available evidence indicates the opposite. The lies of the Winter Soldier Investigations resonate even today and help falsely brand America's war in Vietnam as an atrocity. While American soldiers undoubtedly did commit some atrocities, there is no question -- looking at Vietnam then and now -- that the good guys lost, and the bad guys won.
And John Kerry helped them win.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
THE TRUTH GULF. To his credit, The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof is one of the few prominent columnists who consistently addresses the political implications of the widening spiritual gap between increasingly religious Republicans and increasingly secular Democrats. Unfortunately, while accurately diagnosing the political reality, Kristof often makes comments that betray his poor understanding not simply of history but also of present reality and of basic theology.
Spend much time with mainstream secular thinkers, and you almost always encounter the following stereotypical critiques of religion in general and conservative Christianity specifically: First, religion is the cause of most wars and human suffering. Second, most professing Christians are hypocrites. Third, the only truly admirable religious acts are those which favor the poor at the expense of the rich. Christians should contest these stereotypes whenever they are encountered
In his most recent column, The God Gulf, Kristof hits the trifecta. His column, which laments the coming war between overly-religious Republicans and phonily-religious Democrats, begins with the obligatory first critique: "Religion may preach peace and tolerance, yet it's hard to think of anything that -- because of human malpractice -- has been more linked to violence and malice around the world."
While it is undoubtedly correct that religious wars have plagued humanity for thousands of years, is it actually true that Mr. Kristof finds it difficult to think of "anything that . . . has been more linked to violence and malice around the world?" In Mr. Kristof's own lifetime, the world has witnessed Hitler's genocide, Stalin's purges, Mao's forced famines, Pol Pot's killing fields and Saddam's gas attacks. Each of these acts of genocide has been perpetrated by self-consciously secular (and sometimes explicitly atheistic) leaders. Further, these men are responsible for more death and destruction than the sum total of all wars prior to 1939. While Mr. Kristof's comment is politically correct, it is sloppy and inaccurate.
Next, after acknowledging the apparent sincerity of the President's Christian beliefs, Mr. Kristof cannot resist charging Bush with hypocrisy: "To me, nonetheless, it seems hypocritical of Mr. Bush to claim (in the last campaign) that Jesus is his favorite philosopher and then to finance tax breaks for the rich by cutting services for the poor."
The charge of financing tax breaks for the rich on the backs of the poor is a common refrain in Democratic circles. Kristof's twist is to use it to not only charge Bush with insensitivity but also with hypocrisy. This charge, however, suffers from a fatal flaw -- it is simply not true. The fact of the matter is that Bush has given tax breaks to all Americans (rich and poor alike) while simultaneously expanding government services -- especially for the poor. How quickly Mr. Kristof forgets the recent passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a program that not only represents the largest entitlement program in a generation but helps poor seniors more than anyone else.
Finally, through his hypocrisy charge, Kristof also indulges in the third stereotypical critique: expressing a clear preference for religious actions that favor the poor at the expense of the rich. One gets the clear sense that Kristof would find Bush's religiosity much more palatable if he repealed his tax cuts and tripled spending on Head Start.
While it is abundantly clear that Christ did not favor the strong over the weak or the rich over the poor, we cannot accept the liberal mantra that the public policy interests of one are always set against the other. If a tax cut spurs increased economic activity that results in an increased standard of living for hundreds of thousands of lower-income families, is that a morally inferior outcome than keeping taxes high and pouring money into the bottomless pit of a federal poverty bureaucracy that mires families in a cycle of dependency and neglect? It is simply not true that it is always wrong to "cut services for the poor." Cutting a service is not always the same thing as inflicting harm.
Christians are often shamed into supporting failed social policies by liberals who twist Christ's concern for the poor into a divine endorsement of the modern welfare state. Yet, Christianity is not a faith of good intentions but instead a faith that should be characterized by effective service. We do the poorest among us no favors when we accept a failed status quo rather than run the risk of be labeled "cruel" by a liberal elite.
Nicholas Kristof should keep writing about faith and politics, but he should do so without resort to flimsy stereotypes and fuzzy logic.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
THE BLOG IS BACK. After one war, two elections and almost fifteen months, I've decided to resume blogging -- to resurrect the Curve (now that all the readers are gone . . . very smart).
Why? The reason dates back to a December lunch conversation with my colleagues at my law firm. The location was Wendy's near Rupp Arena (also known as Basketball Jerusalem) in Lexington, Kentucky. The topic was the War on Terror. One of my partners remarked that it was amazing how often his friends and neighbors shifted their opinion on the war. When the news was good, they proclaimed their support for the President and for the Iraq occupation. When the news was bad, or when there was extended period of no news (other than the continual trickle of American casualties) they grumbled about the lack of WMDs or about "no plan for peace" or "unilateral war."
After asking my friend if he ever tried to counter their negativity, to inform them of facts they might not know or to remind them that the war and occupation -- by historical standards -- were remarkably successful.
"No," he replied. "It's not worth the argument."
At that moment, I was struck by a reality that I know many others understood long before me.
"Not worth the argument? Don't you realize that we're not going to lose this war on the battlefield? If we lose, we'll lose it at the kitchen table. Everyone knows that Al Qaida is hoping to kill just enough of to make us give up and bring our boys home. How do you think a nation cracks? It's not as if an announcement is made on CNN, or the President goes on national TV and says, 'that's it, I'm tired of it all.' It happens much more slowly. Family by family, friend by friend, we convince ourselves that we can't win, that they don't want us there country, that the peace activists are correct, that violence never solves anything. In giving in to this despair we abandon facts, we abandon principle and, most importantly, we abandon people -- the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East."
It's at that moment that I realized I would restart my blog. Not because it will win the war, but because it is my small contribution to the effort. While I can write, I can remind those who do choose to read that we are on the right side of history, that the invasion of Iraq was one of the best and most courageous things that our country has done in more than 200 years of history, and I can point out how often the mainstream media is simply wrong or so biased that it cannot or will not report the entire story.
But this blog is not simply (or even primarily) Iraq. It is about our culture and about an American Christian community that is sorely in need of new leadership and new ideas. My very first post dealt with the need for Christians to find a new public face. Little did I realize that, in 2003, Christian America's new public face would be the (former) Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore.
The Culture War will also be won or lost at the kitchen table, first in our own Christian homes and then in the homes of those who do not share our beliefs. If we continue to follow demagogues, to support oathbreakers, to plead for special privilege rather than equal rights, we will find ourselves firmly (and rightly) exiled to the fringe of American society.
The Culture Curve is simply one person's effort to bring his kitchen table thoughts to those who care. While the internet is crammed with competing voices, many of whom have opinions remarkably similar to mine, the call for Christian character and national resolve simply cannot be made too often or by too many people. I can't serve on the front lines (too old), and I could never win public office (too poor and too ugly), but I can write.
I was wrong to stop.
Monday, October 21, 2002
WHY I'M NOT A PACIFIST. In recent weeks, I've had several interesting e-mail conversations with good friends that consider themselves to be relatively pacifist (or at least much more pacifist than me). In general, they are opposed to any attack on Iraq and have challenged me to explain not only why America should pre-emptively strike another country but also why such an action would be consistent with scriptural principles.
About two years ago, I had an interesting conversation regarding pacifism with a pastor friend of mine. My friend explained that -- despite a personal interest in military history -- he was becoming increasingly pacifist. I challenged his pacifism with the equivalent of the Royal Flush of the anti-pacifism argument: "What about Hitler? Wouldn't pacifism have doomed even millions more? Wasn't pacifism largely responsible for the millions of deaths that did result?" He didn't respond with a defense of American or English pacifism in the face of the German threat, he responded (as I remember) with the statement that Brits and Americans had to fight because German pacifism failed. Had German pacifists had the courage of their convictions -- or had they existed in sufficient numbers -- Hitler would never have been able to initiate wars of conquest or implement the "Final Solution."
This response brought to mind numerous examples of massive social change brought about by nonviolent protest movements -- Ghandi and Indian independence; Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement; "People Power" in the Philippines and the end of Marcos' reign; and, most recently, Bishop Tutu and the end of apartheid in South Africa. However, for each of the examples above, you'll note that the nonviolence worked because the powers in place were civilized enough -- had just enough of a pacifist approach -- that the protestors were given the opportunity to make their case and change the hearts of the nations. In other words, unlike in Germany, British pacifism did not fail -- and neither did American.
By contrast, imagine a nonviolent protest movement in Stalin's Russia, or Mao's China, or Kim's North Korea, or Hitler's Germany. Would Ghandi have lived even for ten minutes after the SS discovered his sedition? For a more modern example, Syria's Hafez Al-Assad once caught wind of a large protest gaining strength against his regime in a town near Damascus (I think its name is Hama, but I could be wrong). Assad's response was to call out the army, circle the town with troops and fire artillery into the city until 20,000 Syrian protestors lay dead. Thus ended the protest movement. Saddam Hussein is known to pave over bound and gagged protestors with hot asphalt. In Southern Iraq, there are streets in Shi'ite towns where you literally drive over the entombed bodies of dead families.
When Neville Chamberlain triumphantly proclaimed "peace in our time," he did not do so out of malevolence or out of any sympathy for Hitler's anti-semitic evil. He did so because, frankly, he could not bear the thought of another war. We in America still weep for our 57,000 Vietnam dead. Imagine Britain in 1938. They were exactly 20 years removed from a conflict where they lost more than a million men -- an entire generation of young people. World War I was supposed to be the event that woke everyone up to the futility of "national greatness" wars -- to the futility of war in general. A great wave of disarmament swept the world. Pacifist-influenced isolationism was so strong in America that we were happy (HAPPY!) to sit on the sidelines as Hitler's panzers blitzed across Europe and as first thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered.
War should never "feel good." War should never be something like it was in August, 1914, when festive crowds gathered in the streets to drape soldiers with flowers and celebrate the dispatch of millions of young men to history's (then) greatest bloodbath. We should never fight simply for "national greatness." Or to avenge an assassination attempt. Or to ensure electoral victory.
But there are things that feel less right than war. It feels less right to allow a nation that is a sworn enemy of Jews and of Americans to build weapons for the purpose of killing Americans and completing Hitler's work in the Holocaust. Think about history. Think about geographic and demographic reality. Saddam has fought against Israel in every major Israeli/Arab war of the last century and unilaterally launched attacks against Israel in 1991. With just three or four nuclear bombs of substantial size, he could kill or maim five million Jews. With one nuclear weapon, he could hold the world hostage while he launches wars of conquest throughout the region. The CIA says that if Saddam can get his hands on fissile material (through the black market or otherwise) he could have a bomb in six months. Why do we think that our first inkling that the danger's "imminent" won't be a mushroom cloud and a tragedy so profound that we as a people never recover?
How many times can we see genocide coming and yet avert our eyes and cover our faces? Rwanda. Bosnia. Kosovo. Can there be any doubt that the hearts of men can be very dark indeed? Can there be any doubt that there are some cultures that learned nothing from Stalin's purges, Hitler's gas chambers, Mao's famines and Pol Pot's killing fields? In the words of Hitler, as he planned the Final Solution: "After all, who remembers the Armenians?" It is our responsibility to remember the Armenians, and the Jews, and the Ukrainians, and the Chinese, and the Cambodians, and the Tutsis, and the Bosnians, and the Kosovars. It is our collective responsibility to swear the same oath sworn by Jewish nation in 1948 -- "Never again."
Many Christians like to draw distinctions between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. While there are two testaments, there are not two Gods. From the dawn of time, there has always been, in the words of Solomon, "a time for peace and a time for war." In the immediate aftermath of September 11, I heard a prominent evangelical Christian note that it was not the place of the American government to punish Osama, that vengeance belonged to God. He quoted Romans 12:19 "It is mine to avenge, I will repay." Yet he forgot to keep reading into the next chapter: ". . . rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."
I believe God is able to change the hearts of men in response to prayer . . . to bring peace when war seems imminent. The story of the Philippines' "people power" revolution is nothing short of astounding. Yet God himself also recognized that there is a time for war. A time for the sword. Our responsibility is to attempt to accurately discern the times -- to ensure that the sword is unsheathed only when it must be unsheathed. With respect to Saddam Hussein, when a man plots genocide, when he attempts to obtain the weapons of genocide, when he has committed genocide and when he has sworn an oath of hatred and enmity against a people that have already suffered genocide, that is enough for me. Let us unsheathe the sword. Let us liberate a nation from the specter of death and let us stop the genocide before we add one more nation, one more people to the long line of those who died while the world slept.
For the pacifist in the face of horrific danger, I am reminded of the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." The wounds are serious. The lives of millions of God's children hang in the balance.
I pray for the Iraqi people. I pray for peace in the Middle East. But did we not pray for the Bosnians? Did we not pray for the Tutsis? How many millions shall die while we pray? Can we not pray and act decisively? Or do we stand and wait until we believe nuclear war is imminent, until genocide is in progress, until our morally depraved "allies" receive sufficient financial guarantees, or until another beautiful Tuesday in September?