" /> I write: December 2009
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December 30, 2009

Extreme Measures

Vince Flynn - ISBN - 978-1416505044

I am generally disinclined to read books of this genre, and I never write reviews on them; at least until now. It is too often said "this is a page turner." I've said it myself. But after reading this book I will be more cautious with that observation. This really is a page turner.

Flynn's plot is elaborate but tight, and he really does keep you on the edge of your chair, figuratively, for the entire read. There is passion, threat, violence, profanity, all you'd expect--and a lot you wouldn't. There are no sex scenes. They're unnecessary.

This episode again involves Mitch Rapp, a 20 year veteran of the CIA. He's an unbelievably tough, dedicated, competent man involved with terrorists for much of his career. His second is Mike Nash, a former U.S. Marine and an agent for 10 years.

The CIA has begun surveillance of Muslim mosques in Washington, D.C. because the FBI will not. The CIA is forbidden to operate within the U.S., which invites trouble. They have discovered a terrorist plot, but haven't sufficient detail to act. One cell leads to a related second cell. Both have been wrapped up, but it is rumored that there is a third cell under the same al-Qaeda command.

The story begins at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, moves from remote training camps, thru Cuba and finally on to Washington. The well integrated sub-plot is the Washington establishment, which is out to get Rapp and others. They've been after him for years. Nasty senate hearings are proceeding in the attempt to crucify the recalcitrants since they don't play nice. They "torture" and violate the rules, including those of the Geneva Convention. (We hear it all the time.) But this time the Harry Reid of the Senate (a lady indistinguishable from Nancy Pelosi, except that she's smart) seems about to succeed. The judiciary committee is stacked with kindred souls who hate Rapp, the legend and the person. The long knives are unsheathed.

As now, 9/11 is all but forgotten. Back then anything done was o.k. Just gettum. But no longer. The fact that America treats terrorists better than its own citizens never seems to occur to them. Everyone gets a N.Y. trial, right? These disastrous "crimes" can be handled thru the courts. But terror attacks are not disasters. Hurricane, floods, and earthquakes are disasters. "You can't stop God or Mother Nature." But terrorists can be stopped, just not while playing by Mickey Mouse rules.

Rapp is finally adamant. He takes congress on. "We've spent the last six years avoiding this fight. I mean to end this s**t right here. . . . We've avoided the problem . . . We spend every day looking over our shoulders wondering if our government is going to ambush us." The fight is unavoidable, so he wants to pick the time and the place. He's convinced that an immediate strike is coming and observes that no senator has ever asked him why he would take gamble by running an illegal surveillance operation. Why would he risk losing his career, his pension, and risk spending decades in prison?

Rapp accepted long ago that most of the players intend no harm, but they downplay or ignore the threats. Most think the letter of the law is the most important thing; that we are a nation of laws and mustn't lower ourselves to "their" level. The first sentiment is naïve, the second is impractical. "Politicians are like parents." They adopt an issue--it's like their child--they lose all objectivity. Enough of this "we are a nation of laws." And "we can't just have the CIA running around doing whatever it wants." Just so!

Until the third cell strikes. Washington is devastated, important people are killed, the operations center is almost destroyed, panic and havoc reign. What went wrong? How did we not know? Who is to blame? Is there evidence of nuclear contamination? Will there be follow-up attacks? What's to be done?

What will Washington do? Will congress finally get the message? It is a riveting read and a far more than passable way to spend a few hours. It's entertainment, sure . . . but it's also very real, and likely a variant of what will happen after the next attack.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:52 PM

December 27, 2009

The Wordy Shipmates

Sarah Vowell - ISBN - 9781594484001

"Part scholar, part standup comic, Vowell has enlivened such dour subjects as presidential assassinations and the mistreatment of Native Americans with a mix of wisecracks, pop-culture references, and self-deprecating anecdotes."
The Miami Herald

"Somehow simultaneously [a] patriot and rebel, cynic and dreamer, and an aching secularist in search of a higher ground."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"[Exercises] her trademark sweet, silly, arch sense of the incongruous ways we memorialize the American past."
The Chicago Tribune

"Vowell's funny, imaginative take on musty, buckled-up Pilgrim notables brings the era wickedly to life."
The Washington Post

After cover blurbs like these I couldn't wait; especially being a history buff who likes to collect peculiar observations and other "takes" on American History.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Vowell to be little more than a smart-assed, secularist snot--only slightly better informed than Janeane Garofalo or Rachel Maddow, and no less agendized--determined to perform serial smack downs on conservatives. Silly, sweet and lighthearted she is not; Incongruous, rebellious and wicked, perhaps! Patriotic, hardly. If she's self-deprecatory I missed it, but she deprecates lots of people, so maybe that counts. As for misinformed history, she "revealed" little that I had never heard before, even as she molded it to present factoids which she imagines to be contemporary parallels of traditionalist hypocrisy.

Years ago Roger Rosenblatt (in a book titled Rules for Aging), observed that "appearance is frequently reality, despite what you were told in college." It applies, since what is advertised as a witty walk thru misrepresented history "appears" more like a series of convoluted "reality" sketches offering opportunity to savage conservatives, using John Winthrop as a cudgel.

Some 25% of the narrative is about how downright nasty these Puritans really were, another 25% about actual history as reported, using their notes and magnified by Vowell's elaborately contrived perspective, and the remaining 50% uses her twisted approach to the actualities of the era by showing how much these original, malevolent English settlers resemble contemporary conservatives like Reagan, Bush, Ron Paul and their ilk while rhapsodizing over Kennedy as she studiously avoids Carter and Clinton. One would think the Puritans ran Stalinist Gulags where they tortured colonists and killed those Indians who had somehow escaped the original holocaust of European germs.

To be sure she grudgingly allows that these were people very serious about education. They did found Harvard College, after all. As well she notes that their culture predated the European Enlightenment, then promptly judged them by today's standards. They were "America's medievals." They surveilled their fellow colonists like the NKVD--sorta like Roosevelt monitored and imprisoned the Japanese, though she overlooked that parallel. They put 'em in stocks, and cut off the ears of settlers who didn't obey the rules. They ostracized and forced colonists like Roger Williams to leave Boston, which drove him to found Rhode Island. She emphasizes, however, that Winthrop at least let him stay thru the winter rather than send him out to freeze . . . of course Reagan or Bush would have let him die!

Earlier she noted that Winthrop (whom she equates with Jay Gatsby) stated that "some must be rich, some poor" which doesn't comport with the Declaration of Independence. It declares that "all men are created equal." Typical. To a Lib, equal means equal in all parameters, whereas it actually means equality of opportunity and equality before the law, which sadly is not yet the case, but it was and is the goal.

She hammers on the Winthrop quote about founding a "city on the hill," skewering Reagan for adding "shining" to the phrase. Jeez, he changed it! What a nasty, inattentive, stupid, lying SOB. Now, that might qualify as being silly.

I was reminded of the Washington columnist who, after Nixon was elected president, was vexed by the fact that she knew no one who had voted for him. Vowell makes a similar comment, noting that Reagan swept 49 states in 1984, while his opponent won only his home state. How could that happen? Like most of the Left, she doesn't understand reality. (Ya know: how it actually is, not how you'd like it to be in Utopia?)

The lady is unfair, unbalanced and, like Don Quixote, off tilting windmills.

She claims to be happy, with a "serviceable" sense of humor, as she abides in her nice N.Y. apartment. But having decided to devote years to the study of thoughts and feelings of "the dreary religious fanatics who founded New England" she had to lie to her friends who couldn't believe she would so waste her time. After 9/11, watching buildings crash and people die, she "took comfort" in Winthrop's words on mourning and suffering together. She "finally understood what he meant," and why the words were so matter of fact to him. It took a catastrophe, being the selfish, self-centered snipe that she is. Yet she took this time to reflect upon the Reagan-Mondale election, commenting that the people of this country decided to elect the man speaking of the "shining city on the hill" rather than the blues singer reminding that we are "members of the same body." Americans not only elected and reelected him, "we became Reagan." Wow! Get it? (The connection, I mean.) Gee whiz, neither do I. And why the "we", since she and her ilk clearly aren't Reaganesque.

In contrast--contrast to what isn't clear--"Kennedy spoke of Pericles," and Athens, quoting "We do not imitate--for we are a model to others." She opines that she can't imagine a future president from Massachusetts who would be allowed to evoke Pericles in a state which now allows homosexuals to marry! Hyperbole anyone? Or abject stupidity? Reminds of What's the Matter with Kansas? (reviewed here several years ago.)

Having completed this epistle I looked her up in Wikipedia, where she's touted as an author, journalist, humorist, commentator, and "social observer," who claims to be part Cherokee, and an acrophobic atheist who considers Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert, Dave Letterman, Paul Begala and Norman Lear amongst her friends.

Now I understand.

(On the subject of friends, why not Al Franken? He's a stand-up comic and commentator as well. Indeed, he's is now Minnesota's representative to "the greatest deliberative body in the world!" Or at least pretended to be prior to his arrival.)

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:08 AM

December 24, 2009

There is no Alternative

Why Margaret Thatcher Matters
Claire Berlinski - ISBN - 9780465002313

The title references Thatcher's oft repeated slogan that despite some problems with capitalism "there is no alternative." Socialism simply cannot work, and there is no Third Way. Said she: "The economic success of the Western world is a product of its moral philosophy and practice. It is superior because it starts with the individual, with his uniqueness, his responsibility, and his capacity to choose. . . . Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose."

Reagan is noted for his comment: "tear down this wall." Thatcher, asked by Gorbachev how she made sure the British people got enough food, tartly replied: "I don't. Prices do." She took a sledgehammer to her own command economy and tore it down.

Theodore Dalrymple, a noted conservative essayist, remarked that the book is probably "as powerful a defense of Thatcher's record as will ever be written." The WSJ noted it to be "a pleasure to read in part because of its unflinching judgments." Berlinski is certainly no fawning acolyte.

The author is quite skilled: delicate yet persistent. She interviewed numerous people--supporters and antagonists--exchanges with whom are some of the book's highlights. She quotes extensively from recordings made at the time of her interviews, and often encourages interviewees to say things they'd probably have preferred not to have on the record.

Thatcher was attractive, articulate, intelligent and as single-minded as it is possible to be. The same might be said about Berlinski. Her reportage is unsullied, original and very well constructed. Over hundreds of pages she proved that Thatcher remade Britain, and to a remarkable extent the world, which is why I am an acolyte of both Reagan and "The Iron Lady.")

More than any politician in history--including Reagan--Thatcher was able to convey a particularly devastating message about socialism. It is not just that socialism is economically inefficient. In the form of the Germany, Russia and China it was responsible for drenching the world in blood. It is, in all of its permutations, morally corrupting and thoroughly contemptible. It turns good citizens into bad ones; strong nations into weak ones, and promotes vice while destroying virtue. It transforms hardworking and self-reliant people into whining, weak and flabby loafers. Socialism is not a fine idea misapplied, it is inherently wicked.

"That was Thatcher's signal contribution to the debate." And she emphasized it repeatedly. Reagan was relaxed and genial. Thatcher was intense and wrathful. Both were effective, yet the latter conveyed a "scorn and fury of Old Testament proportions."

At the height of Pax Britannica a quarter of the world's population and land mass were under British rule. For good or ill Britain was the most powerful nation on the globe. She had long been the world's leading scientific and intellectual power, and was the financial center of the world. She was the world's preeminent naval power, controlled the world's raw materials and markets, and was the leading merchant carrier. Britain invented Common Law and modern parliamentary democracy. The list could continue for pages. During the 19th century she was ahead of all nation states in every category of economic, military and political endeavor.

Though decline had followed the WW I Britain was still powerful, but after WW II she was no longer the greatest power, or even, perhaps, a great power, though she still had considerable influence. By the mid 1970's she was an economic basket case. She was disgraceful, having sunk to begging, borrowing and stealing.

The year before Thatcher came to power, Britain--the upon who's empire the sun never set--endured the Winter of Discontent. Labor unrest shut down all public service and paralyzed the entire nation for months on end.

"The Iron Lady" conveyed by word and action that Britain's decline was not an inevitable fate, but a punishment--not for the sin of imperialism, but for the sin of socialism. The good and gifted men and women of Britain had chosen a wicked path. It could be reversed, but it would take commitment, courage and time. She would restore it to virtue, and make it once more worthy of greatness.

She achieved things no woman before her had ever achieved, and did so whilst retaining her femininity. She turned every conventional expectation of women upside down, refuting a thousand years worth of assumptions about women, power, and women in power. She was important, she was interesting, and she passed into mythological status even before her death. She captured the imagination of the world as she presented her case and exhibited her transformative effect.

She authored a revolution. Over daunting odds she turned Britain around in fewer than 10 years. It was bloody and intense, but she rewrote the book, achieving things no other living politician could claim. And she did it with Labor in full throated, brutal opposition. She won. Britain thrived and prospered.

Labor had driven the country into the tank, nearly achieving third world status. She reversed it, but now they're back in power, doing it all over again.

She matters because she proved that moral redemption is possible, and that it is possible to change a country. Unfortunately, in the aftermath it has been proven that without care and attention the likes of Tony Blair and socialism can revisit it all--as can and will Barack Obama if we let him.

Read it and cheer--read it and weep--but read it you must. It is a truly extraordinary book. I've reread much of it already. It's that good! She was magnificent. Berlinski leaves no doubt about that. America needs someone just like her--right now.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:13 PM

December 21, 2009

Welcome to Obamaland

I Have Seen Your Future and It Doesn't Work
James Delingpole - ISBN - 9781596985889

This book is dynamite. Written by an Englishman, I suppose it wasn't expected to do very well. I ordered a few, but my wholesaler was already out of stock. It will be on the best seller lists before long, since it is more informative and readable than any of the conservative "manifestos" of the past.

Delingpole is a conservative, versed in the issues, passionate and nimble when arguing them. He isn't just preaching to the choir, he's trying to make converts. His wry sense of humor exhibits little invective, but enough irony and "twist" to make one snicker as he deftly skewers "Progressives." It should appeal to anyone interested in the future of the U.S., but probably won't be read by many liberals. A pity, that. They'd actually learn something! Instead they'll find themselves countering logic, with their "feelings." One might expect that from an altruistic, addled, adolescent, but adults should never be drawn to a political philosophy derived from feelings. Progressives are noted for their reluctance to deal with anything with the scent of fact, hard evidence or analysis.

He is middle-aged, and came of age during Margaret Thatcher's rescuing tenure, only to see it all flushed down the lou by Tony Blair. As a consequence he's seen our future and testifies to the fact that it will not work, as he explains why. "Few social injustices in the world are so unfair that they can't be made worse by well-intentioned government meddling." Besides, equality is the last thing any of us should want. It's what makes us unique individuals. It isn't fair to distort reality by rewarding those who make no effort, while punishing those who do. It demeans all aspiration and diminishes all achievement. If you arrive where you are because of Big Government how can you be truly satisfied? And when it comes to economics . . . no contest!

Liberty, he remarks, gives "human nature its best hope of self expression." The Left's huge popular appeal is that it requires neither thought nor scrutiny. "Vote Blair, vote Obama and your work is done; you have said all that needs be said about the kind of person you are. Nice, Well-meaning. One of the Gang. . . . [but] vote for anyone on the right and you automatically place yourself in a position where you are expected to justify yourself. . . . 'You may think I did it because I'm a selfish bastard. But . . .'" Seeing the world as it is, rather than as you'd like it to be, is neither easy nor popular with the Left. What concerns the Right is the practical stuff: "family, friends, good food, hunting, a decent game of bridge, a bigger home, a better life, and above all liberty--it is from liberty that everything that makes life worthwhile springs." The Left's greatest victory is having convinced the world that being right-wing is not a political, but proof of moral deficiency.

While socialists talk about equality, Animal Farm testifies to the fact that it is not equality they're after. The masters are always to be more equal than others.

Then he launches into intelligent, logical, fact filled pursuit of many things, including:
• the British National Health Service, not what it's cracked up to be
• global warming, equating carbon trading to medieval indulgences sold by the Catholic Church
• nuclear power, the safest, cleanest way to generate electricity but the bane of liberals
• corruption of the young by movies and culture, and the abolition of winning and losing because it involves "stress." Oh, yea, and the fact that schools don't teach much anymore, other than being fair, feeling good, not bullying, being non-judgmental, etc. Math? Language? Nah!
• that diversity should not extend to the truth, and can be viciously divisive
• that acceptance of plurality of laws leads to disaster; Muslim violence against women is not the acceptable to Western custom and morality and must not be allowed.
• that media coverage of any war involving the U.S. or Britain seems always to fault it as imperialistic; that viewing the enemy as the good guys is ridiculous. We're the good guys, damnit
• the Left's disinclination to support the military or to defend our culture.
• the disinclination to accept absolutism. Why is it no longer permissible to argue that some ideas, cultures, music, books, moral values and systems really are better?
• the Left's way of ending all debate over issues by caricaturing disagreement as "right-wing rants"
• the Left's insistence on devaluing tradition and substituting new think--remember "newspeak" (from 1984) and you'll be reminded of the impact.

As a conservative one believes in tradition; not just because it's quirky, handcrafted, bears the patina of age, tells a great story, and is quite valuable, but also because tradition is something that has evolved and lasted through time It has been assessed and reinforced by generation after generation as something worth keeping. How can one generation be so arrogant as to think it knows better?

What puzzles him most about Progressives is how people who are ostensibly dedicated to "all the nice things in life" can yet be so astonishingly vicious, nasty and bullying in their policies.

Read it. Be informed. Be challenged. Be entertained. Maybe convert? It's worth the time.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:45 PM

December 16, 2009

Patriot Pirates

The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune n the American Revolution
Robert H. Patton - ISBN 978-0375422843

As advertised, this tome explores the government sanctioned privateering during the Revolutionary War. And quite well, indeed. This is a subject seldom discussed except in passing, and a subject worth the exposition because it contributed mightily to the effort expended in our separation from the budding British Empire.

It proved a boon to the battered economy by employing shipbuilders, related workers and trades, and a network of agents and legal officials necessary to adjudicate the captured "prizes." It also employed thousands of seamen. As well, it provided government revenue for the prosecution of the war, as it enabled investors to create fortunes, some of which persist to this day. These men, of course, were amongst the many investors who fueled America's industries after the war.

Robert Morris was already wealthy, but became more so. Amongst the rest were men named Cabot, Peabody, and Lowell, now Boston Brahmin families all. The Browns of Newport deserve mention, honorable and otherwise. (The Browns became particularly wealthy as slavers after the war.) One cooper's apprentice in Beverly (Israel Thorndike) skippered a privateer at age 19 before going on to amass one of New England's largest fortunes in banking and textiles. Patton remarks that additional and important benefit from these endeavors was the effect on business practices, banking, finance, etc.

Government records reflect that 832 seamen died in Revolutionary combat, but there is no certain way to establish the number of death amongst the privateering navy. It is known that Newburyport listed 22 vessels destroyed with 1,000 men dead, while Salem lost a third of its registered 54 vessels and Gloucester lost all 24. The adult male populations in these communities were reduced by half during the period. A third of Marblehead women were widowed and a fourth of children were fatherless. Clearly the privateers contributed mightily to the war effort.

The cost to Britain was immense. Though fewer transports were lost, the greater wealth and breadth of British trade corresponded to a higher level of the individual cargoes--the difference was between American vessels carrying barrel staves while British vessels bore sugar, textiles or slaves. They simply had more property to lose.

The book explores the ships, their cargoes, their battles, the men and some of their biographies, and does so comprehensively. It is very interesting, but too much detail for my taste. However, if you enjoyed the Hornblower series, or Patrick O'Brian's works, you'll like this book as well.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:17 PM

December 11, 2009


The Fourth Great Western Religion
David Gelernter 9780385513128

No matter how convinced you are about the secular foundation of America, if you still believe that on completion of this tome it will have been accomplished by willful misunderstanding of the facts as exposed by Gelernter!

Gelernter was one of the first victims of the Unabomber, and suffered grievous wounds which left him badly crippled, but he has resurrected himself from the awful consequences of that act to become a well recognized writer, as he continues to be a noteworthy professor of computer technology. This is one of his best books; clear, concise, well written and meaningful. He refuses to apologize for the America most of us love, which pleased me immensely.

This Jewish man begins with a message for the Christians of America: "You built America and Americanism. In so doing you gave mankind one of the greatest gifts it has ever received. Do not allow yourselves to be spiritually disposed in your own homes! This country will never have an established, official religion; it will never abandon religious freedom. But neither should it be allowed to abandon its history and origins, or lie about them. Christians are (rightly) prohibited to preach Christianity in public schools; secularists should be prohibited to preach secularism, too!" (Emphasis in the original)

While we are used to hearing that the basis of any Creed is philosophical, our creed is, at root, religious. "The intensity of belief in the [American] Creed among people who have never heard a philosophical argument in their lives belies the assertion that these ideas are 'philosophical.'" In his Gettysburg Address Lincoln "built out of words a sacred shrine" for our fundamental tenets, and it is "one of the most beautiful shrines mankind has ever seen, and one of the holiest."

Those of us who accept Americanism simply believe her principles to be true, not because anyone argued philosophically that this is so. He continues by showing how the Bible and Puritanism molded America, including the south--Anglicans notwithstanding. Indeed, as modern Puritan country becomes more liberal, the south stands strong. Further, contrary to received wisdom, America was founded by religious fanatics. The Puritans were zealously dedicated to their God, but quite different from modern Islamic fanatics who murder as they claim to be doing God's work--"a slander on every religious believer who ever lived."

Others are proud of their countries, but few are able to recite the principles upon which their nations were founded . . . because there are none. Other countries are based upon shared descent or ethnicity, or were cobbled together by conquest or decree. America is more, and she is a biblical, not secular republic.

Liberty, equality and democracy were ordained by God for all mankind; Americanism is humane in the best sense. While you can believe in Americanism without believing in God, you cannot, without believing in man. And you must not neglect the fact that America grew on "a strong Judeo-Christian stem, rooted in the rich, deep soil of the Bible."

These and other facts are argued persuasively between the covers of this brilliant book, emphasizing that one of the all-important missing ingredients in American intellectuals' worldview today--and far too many of our young--is chivalry (in its largest sense.) Chivalry itself is biblical and worthy of armed defense. Valor, honor, bravery and heroism are Godly causes, though most American intellectuals draw a blank when you mention these things." (See my relevant review of the book Honor, a History)

Traditional business, commerce and hard work are more reputable in America than in Europe--or in most of the rest of the world for that matter. Having learned at Plymouth Plantation that socialism didn't work, personal responsibility was found to encourage all hands to be industrious. Property, comfort, even honor were to be earned, not passed along by progenitors as was the case in Europe.

Most think the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution were rational, secular and "Enlightenment" in spirit. Not so. The cousins, Puritanism and American Zionism, were crucial. The first written constitution of modern democracy was inspired not by democratic Athens, or republican Rome, or Enlightenment philosophy or British commercial practice, but by a Puritan (Thomas Hooker of Hartford, CT in 1638) preacher's interpretation of a verse in the Hebrew Bible: "The choice of public magistrate belongs unto the people by God's own allowance . . . The foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people."

He lectures on the religion of the founders as well as Lincoln, indicating that Lincoln's second Inaugural Address is the incandescent core of the American Religion. Abe "transformed Americanism into a full-fledged, mature religion--not by causing America to embody its noble ideals, but by teaching the nation that it ought to embody them. "In the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, Lincoln produced the two greatest sacred narratives in the English language (outside of the English Bible itself.)" He was inspired by the Puritan message, and delivered it in the language of Americanism, marking the evolution of one to the other. Lincoln achieved the completion of the creation of Americanism which exceeds mere patriotism and philosophic doctrine. He didn't Christianize America; rather, he Americanized Christianity. His martyrdom was catastrophic, politically and in human terms, but in religions terms it sealed his achievement. He deserves to be remembered as the most important religions figure America has ever produced.

At Gettysburg he commented on the new birth of America. In actuality it was the third birth:
• The first was the arrival of Puritans in the new world
• The second was the revolution and independence
• The third was the freeing of the slaves
Each was a monumental event in world history, and illuminated the biblical text: let my people go.

Gelernter goes on to review in some detail subsequent history, noting that the First World War authored the modern world, as it cemented American dominance of the world thereafter. As well it confirmed modern Americanism and with it, modern anti-Americanism.

European nations tended to feel guilty, drifted toward pacifism and appeasement. They learned that war was unthinkably awful, pacifism was mandatory, nationalism was dangerous and that world organizations like the League of Nations and the UN were mankind's only hope. Americans had no such crisis of conscience--"a hugely important fact that continues to shape world politics to this day." America had done nothing to start or fuel the war and had not rejoiced when it started. We helped the Allies to win, then came home to forget about it. Most Americans, he comments, remember WW I -the "war to end all wars" -- only because there was a WW II.

And the end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the USSR, in fact, represented the long delayed end of WW II. That war was, in reality, the "semi-finals in a long match for world domination." While America and the allies contributed mightily to winning the war, it must be acknowledged that the USSR was the main player, and it transformed the USSR from a staggering ex-empire to a superpower with only one serious rival on earth.

"Europe today is essentially the Europe that emerged from the First World War." The similarity is amazing, with its love of self-determination and its loathing of imperialism and war; its liberal Germany and its weak, shrunken Russia; its map crammed with small states; its causal, endemic anti-Semitism; its politically, financially and masochistically rewarding fascination with Muslim states that despise it; its undertone of self hatred and guile, and of course its contempt for America.

Europe's passion for appeasement, born of WW I, is now back in vogue. Rather than challenge or defeat one's enemies, placate them and make them your friends. More than a little of their disdain for America is that the American mainstream, with equal passion, studiously--even contemptuously--rejects appeasement.

To understand the Vietnam War's effect on the U.S. one needs recognize that it was our WW I. American intellectuals responded by preaching appeasement and pacifism. They still do. Conservative Americans still believe in Americanism. Liberals do not. Their attitudes are dominated by four falsehoods

• We were wrong to fight the communists in the first place since they only wanted what was best for their country
• The war was unwinnable and we had no business sending our men to a war they were bound to lose.
• As the people learned the facts they turned against the war and forced our withdrawal from Vietnam
• The real heroes of Vietnam were the protesters and draft resisters who forced America to give up a disastrously wrong policy

He deals with each of these "falsehoods" in sufficient detail to justify the fact that they are false, as he emphasizes that they weren't necessarily wrongheaded during the war, but it now requires a mighty act of will to maintain such pristine ignorance.

Americans continue overwhelmingly to believe in God, much to the bemusement and frustration of the intellectual and secular classes. The founders believed that a religious public was necessary for our way of government/life. Ultimately morality can get no purchase without religion. Without divinity to hold on to, morality is like a first-time roller skater trying but failing to avoid falling. Secularists have left morality behind. They foresee a society where human rights replace human duties, where only the state has obligations as the bovine citizenry relaxes and permits the government to take care of everything. Secular ethics suggests that we must be "careful, and mature, and imaginative, and fair and nice, and lucky." Nothing there is inspiring, noble or even difficult. Nothing exhorts us to be generous or just, decent, honest or kind; gracious or merciful, patriotic or brave; loving or good. All of that is biblical, and part of the American Creed

Someday soon someone will remind this whole nation that tolerance is American but secularism is not. Absolute religious freedom is American but contempt for religion is not. Religious doubt is American but religious indifference is not. Heated religious debate is American but cold academic disdain is not. Chivalry is American but complacency is not.

Six cheers and a 42 gun salute for and to "Americanism." This is a profoundly moving book which properly dispels any notion that America is wrong, or evil, or in need of the changes to be wrought by secularism and the modernity proposed by the left.

Read it. Enjoy it. Think on it. It is well worth the time, the effort and the indulgence. If you are not already so inclined you might even be moved to again love our country. And be willing to fight for it, by debate or by force of arms. America is indisputably worth it!

PS: sorry this review is so long, but it was necessary to properly address this masterpiece.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:47 PM

December 9, 2009

Love and Hate in Jamestown

John Smith . Pocahontas . and the Start of a New Nation
David A Price - ISBN - 9781400031726

For those of you who read Lee Miller's Roanoke (previously reviewed here), this is another of the same genre; but the history of the first durable English settlement in the New World.

Price is "heavy" into John Smith and his importance no only to Jamestown--without him the colony would surely have failed--but as well to the early English settlement of America. There is a mini-bio of Smith developed throughout the text. Little known is that Smith was in many respects responsible for the Puritan colonies of New England . . . he led a voyage in 1615 to establish a settlement there. A prior attempt had been made to settle in Maine. And the 1620 Plymouth pilgrims planned to settle much further south. They, too, were also sponsored by the Virginia Company of London.

Jamestown was first settled in 1607. Most of the immigrants died, but were replaced annually by new recruits. Good thing, since between famine, Indian skirmishes, individual disagreements and the composition of many of the groups the early attrition rate exceeded 80%. Most were unsuited for such crude living, and many were scions of wealth who expected others to care for them. They were both unaccustomed to, and too "important" to work.

Originally the indigenous population was reasonably acceptant of the settlement, but became disenchanted as the settlers moved up river establishing multiple sites of occupancy. The too frequent murder of an Indian, and the colony's perpetual need for food didn't help a lot, either. Especially when they stole food the Indians refused to sell them. (They refused because their stores were inadequate to sustain themselves. They later refused in order to starve out the interlopers, who still hadn't learned to be independent.)

One of the first natives to become infatuated was Pocahontas, favored daughter/princess of the "Injun in Chief," Powhatan. You'll find Price's history of Pocahontas considerably different than Disney's, and from most of whatever else you have read. She was, however, a very important figure. She seemed attracted to then contemporary English ways and saved Smith's life several times. You'll recall that she married an Englishman, moved to England with him, was "honored" by the Queen--whom she never met--and loved the high life of London. Several years later, however, she died of Tuberculosis.

Her husband, John Rolfe, was one of the original tobacco cultivators of the New World, and marketing of the product to the Old World, a venture he returned to upon the death of his wife.

For the most part, being aware of the riches of the Spanish settlements, the Jamestown settlers were interested in the quick riches of gold and silver. They were sponsored by the Virginia Company, which anticipated immediate returns on their investment. (Sorry guys, wrong place.) The settlement didn't become productive until tobacco became popular and profitable, several decades later.

There is a too detailed history of the trials of early settlement, including Indian trading, sporadic conflicts and the exploration of the extended area. Originally the exploration was a continuation of the search for gold, but there was also the incremental search for other settlement sites. Slaves were an early item in Jamestown. And, surprisingly, some were dealt with as indentured servants, able to purchase their freedom, as were the white Europeans.

Later the text explores other and more distant settlements, and becomes arduous to read. As I have said about several books in my reviews, there is really too much detail to be of great interest to the non-historian. I found myself fast-forwarding thru some of his meticulous recantations of how many bushels of corn were traded for how many knives and hatchets, guns, powder and beads; details of altercations, invasions, wars and executions. Too many "notes."

Of interest was his diversion into a discussion of Bermuda--then unoccupied--and how it figured into the Jamestown settlements. His dissertations on King James--a living pig--were interesting, even humorous. Seems he never changed clothes until they fell apart, and bathed so rarely that his odor was indescribable.

The arrogance of these early Englishmen was appalling. They seem to have misunderstood why the natives were not enamored of their endless acquisition of land. After all, there was plenty to go around, and settlements were rather sparse. What could be the harm? The 10,000 acres set aside for a college at the site of Pocahontas' conversion to Christianity didn't seem inappropriate to them. There was little recognition, even when territories were occupied by thousands of newcomers who viewed native territory as an English birth-right. Not surprisingly the interlopers eventually annihilated the inhabitants, which was, of course, what the natives had feared.

I'd give it a 6 on a scale of 10, unless one is very interested in minutiae.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:30 PM

December 4, 2009

Wars of Blood and Faith

The Conflicts That Will Shape the Twenty-First Century
Ralph Peters - 9780811702744

This account informs and concerns readers regarding the world of wars in the 21st century. It is comprehensive, well documented and clearly opinionated--though he amply explains the basis of his opinions; not always right, but always worth consideration. After retiring from the Army he became one of the most respected military commentators of our time. He is wise, experienced, and has solid sources. The book is a selection of his essays from 2006.*

The "wisdom of our Age of Ideology" posits that ethnicity and religion are fading. They are not. Ideology has faded, leaving timeless, indestructible identities behind: "Arab or black African, Sunni or Shia, Christian or Muslim, Kurd or Arab." Human beings remain who they were a millennium ago. They like it that way; they are more secure that way. Globalization is not unifying the world. It may homogenize the choices of autos and vacations for the privileged (and their world views), but for the masses its effect is disintegrative. It undermines fragile national identities, narrows tribal and religious affiliations and promotes growth in exclusivity rather than being inclusive. We may consider "others" madmen, but their view of humankind is no less bizarre than our own mix of self-serving beliefs. We imagine rationality, thus living in a comparable dream world. Our insistence that human beings will grow ever more alike defies the historical evidence. Comically, we make a fuss over diversity while claiming that human values are converging.

Ours is an age of super-technology and superstition. The struggle is between those who believe in a merciful god and those who worship a divine disciplinarian; between those who believe in the equality of the sexes and those who oppose; between those content to "live and let live" and those who are not. After centuries of pretending warfare can be limited by laws, savagery is back. Robust jihad is a struggle in which adversaries will do anything, in any sphere, to wound us, while we debate illicit monitoring to their phone conversations.

His comments on Beijing are jarring. One can only admire the "intellectual integrity" of Chinese strategic thinking. Without war, per se, they have engaged us in economic, financial, diplomatic and military spheres, while our response has been periodic, piecemeal, inexpert and ineffective. We, too, need to instill a warlike spirit in other fields of national policy. Otherwise we make "real war" inevitable.

He suggests interestingly that Clausewitz actually had it backwards. His maxim should read: "politics is war carried on by other means." He hammers the preposterous dictum that "war doesn't change anything." It does. Negotiations rarely solve much unless done between victors and vanquished. They may work well in business, but not so in war. It is first necessary to win.

I take issue with his attitude that "winning hearts and minds" is only done over the corpses of the violent. It is not altogether misguided, but an old Psychological Operations commander from my army days was certain that we can't kill all of them. It is necessary to convert a few. However, a few corpses do make the villagers comfortable that you will take measures to protect them. Most of them find the here and now intolerable and dangerous, making the peasants easy prey for prophets promising a return to some mythical lost golden age--and victims of vicious dictators we have supported in the interest of maintaining "stability."

It is true that "early ferocity" saves countless lives . . . as I observed in an early blog when, after the taking of Baghdad in Gulf War II we refused to shoot the looters and criminals destabilizing Iraq. We had replaced a dictator with . . . nothing! Mayhem reigned. Mercy can follow victory but it cannot precede it. It is certainly not a substitute for it.

The press is inherently hostile to American values and activities. They willingly divulge documents and information announcing how we obtain intelligence. They presume our fighting men to be guilty of any charge leveled, yet reluctantly expose the barbaric activities of the opposition. The insurgents are our open enemies while the world's media are their conscious or unwitting allies.

The modern, elitist media emerged in the wake of Vietnam. Its practitioners are from families that belong to country clubs and "train" in select, liberal institutions. Almost none of the modern reporters are from the mean streets, and none have come up thru the ranks. Ernie Pyle was in the trenches with the GIs in WWII and Bill Mauldin lived their experiences. Back then the press reported on what was happening. Now they seclude themselves in distant hotels, have stringers who check things out for them, and offer their own interpretations of what is reportable. People like "the trusted" Walter Cronkite determined that we were beaten after Tet, while moderns were the decisive power in Fallujah.

He takes particular exception to our present attitude toward war, noting that the purpose of an Army is to fight, and the point of going to war is to win. You can't negotiate with a guy who believes God is instructing him to kill you. It is unlikely that we can win an Eastern war while employing Western values. Israel has been trying for years, while Hezbollah uses every possible ruse or evil tactic, regardless of consequence. Morality and rules have nothing to do with its way of making war.

He is certain that "Eurabia" is a myth. "These people perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing." When Europeans feel sufficiently threatened they don't just react, they overreact with stunning ferocity. Recall the Spanish in 1492, the massacre of French Huguenots during the St. Bart's massacre of 1572. Oh, yeah, there were the Crusades before and Hitler, Stalin, and . . . .

From have a little faith--recently reviewed--the rabbi observed that more wars have been fought over religion than anything else. When asked why such killing goes on if God doesn't approve, his reply was that man doesn't want it to stop.

We harbor the weak and dangerous attitude that our adversaries are predisposed to act rationally. Meanwhile, Tehran is on the verge of misjudging America's will and resources as dangerously as did the Japanese in 1941 and al Qa'eda on 9/11. "Iraq is the Arab world's last chance to board the train to modernity; to give the region a future, not just a bitter past."

It is fatal to suppose that all populations want what we want, and can be influenced to support us in our endeavor to deliver what we know to be good for them. Not all share our vision for their future. Even we don't always agree amongst ourselves. A majority of Americans presently disagree with the future that progressives insist is best for us! And we're presumed to be friends and countrymen of like mind.

We need to make it clear we will leave them alone in their squalor if they will do the same. But we must make it clear that we are prepared--as the West has always been prepared--to annihilate them if that is what becomes necessary. Only they can prevent that. They cannot win, unless we allow it. I often recall Lincoln's observation that a nation of free men cannot be defeated. It must die by suicide. We'll see if modern America commits "honorable seppuku" (ritual suicide of the Samurai warrior).

*I would highly recommend reading his essay "The Return of the Tribes" in the Weekly Standard in September of 2006. If you will copy and paste the link here, the article is still "up" on the web: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/012/616fcajg.asp

Posted by Curmudgeon at 4:26 PM