Frustrated By The Fringes On the 4th

flag in the clowds

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this year, I have some anxiety about the polarized conversations that are coming, especially on social media. I feel like the last few years have seen two groups shouting at each other on account of this holiday. These groups may have been the fringe in the past, but they seem to be gaining ground. And the message of both sides leave me frustrated.

There are those with an irrational love of America that keeps them from acknowledging her faults, both past and present. These folks are offended by any suggestion that America has blood on her hands or mud on her face.  These folks are often very patriotic, and tend to whitewash history. Many of them confuse Christianity with America. They view any criticism of the U.S. and her history as a stab at all the brave soldiers who defended our country.  It is sometimes hard to take this group seriously, but they should not be ignored, as our last election revealed.

On the other hand there are a growing number with an irrational hatred of America that can only see her faults. They are so focused on fighting the nationalist zeal of the first group that they can only see her failings.  They simmer in the sins of the past (and their effects in the present) to such an extent that it blinds them to her virtues. They don’t see bad groups of people doing bad things contrary to our written values, as happens in every country in history.  They consider the worst elements of our country to be her essence.  This group can’t appreciate that the principles of our republic, while imperfectly applied (an understatement), have at least provided the possibility of excising her cancer. After all, history tells us that without freedom of speech you can’t criticize such a powerful government without bloodshed. Many in this group would like to see America as we know it destroyed and replaced.

I believe there is another position, and I would like to strive to attain to it.  I am probably too idealistic.  It is a position as a Christian where my highest loyalty is NOT to my country. Only Jesus is Lord. I think this allows me to be a true patriot, one that can love my country and yet honestly point out her failings. And one that allows me to condemn her sins precisely because I love the virtues of freedom and equality under the law. I would also like to be one that can see her faults and failures in full color, and yet avoid hating her people and her principles.  We don’t have to choose between ignoring America’s vices and loving her virtues. We don’t have to choose between being proud of our country and ashamed (often at the same time) of the many times she has missed the mark.

I love America, not because she is flawless or even the greatest country ever, but because she is my home. I do love the American experiment of democracy and freedom. I love her with all her faults, but I don’t love her supremely.  I ache for a day when she will shed the rest of her sins and trade them for something better.  I am heartbroken that the dreams of America have been elusive to so many, and I long for better days.

So I offer this for your consideration: The only way to love your country and not be corrupted by that love, is to have a higher and better love.

Happy 4th of July.

Music as Cultural Warfare: How the Nazi’s Co-opted the Orchestra to Serve Their Political Ends.

Art always bows to some greater ideology. There is no such thing as neutral art. It always conveys a message. Most often it is a servant of the strongest principles within a culture. This brief article reviews research to show how the Nazi propaganda machine slowly took over the Berlin orchestra to reinforce ideas of German National Socialism.  The author is clear that the foundations for this were laid many years before. Yet hearing about the actual events is both fascinating and chilling.

This process started with understanding the power of music as a cultural force. Then Goebbels “annexed” the  Berlin orchestra in the same way that Germany annexed land during the war.  But it started when members of the orchestra were willing to sell their autonomy and their souls for more money and other cultural benefits. After that, they were owned by the Nazis.

This kind of research is delightful stuff for history nerds like me. And the great question of history is always, “what does this mean for us today?” I think at present most people are associating fascism with Trump in the US. But to be honest, when I read this, I thought much more about the music and entertainment business in America as supporting the Left. In our country, one of the great weaknesses of the conservative movement has been second rate art. But within Hollywood there is a group-think that preaches leftist (rather than liberal) ideas.  Think I am exaggerating? Just listen to the speeches at the Oscar’s.  Add to this the recent censorship that is happening on University Campuses in the name of having “safe spaces” in the name of avoiding hate speech, and you can see that the Left has a much tighter grip on these cultural expressions.

In any case we need to be aware that culture-makers are trying to recruit us (and at times enslave us) for their view of the world. This is an inescapable reality for good or bad. Dictators who want to hijack culture will always move toward this source of power and it is in the best interest of free people to be aware of the greater agenda. I think the ideal situation is a culture of arts that is both free and reinforces important virtues.

Some tidbits from the article:

 

“The alchemy of the transformation began with a gradual relinquishment of autonomy, especially stark in Berlin. The Berlin Philharmonic, nationalized into a state-owned company in January 1934 under Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda, began to perform in the old Philharmonie on Bernburger Straße under an immense swastika. It was now expected to render service to “the German cause.” (Even Goebbels did not speak of “Nazi music” but of “German music.”) Goebbels, who began to call it “my orchestra,” increased its subsidies and its musicians’ salaries and personally signed letters of exemption from military service for its members. Goebbels also lavishly funded a movie about the orchestra (released in late 1944), which Trümpi calls “the most expensive advertising campaign ever undertaken on behalf of the Berlin Philharmonic.”

And again,

“After the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, things were even worse in Vienna, which liked to think of itself as the “music city” par excellence. Trümpi, the first historian granted full access to the Vienna Philharmonic archives, reports that a blacklist compiled in 1938 named 11 Jewish orchestra members, and ten more who were married to Jewish women. After the Anschluss, an annexation as much cultural as territorial, all were either forced into retirement or dismissed. Seven of them would be murdered in the Holocaust. Close to half of the philharmonic’s remaining musicians joined the Nazi Party.”

Source: The Baton and the Jackboot

Some Leadership Lessons From The Hunt For Bin Laden

Leadership is leadership. The same principles apply when leading in sports, music, business and war. But these principles may be expressed in different ways. Sometimes seeing elements of good leadership on display in another realm can help to us to understand these lessons without so much background noise.  How about the hunt for the most wanted man in history?

“The CIA is a global institution that undertakes high-risk missions to defend the United States. Its analysis is scrutinized every morning by no less an exacting customer than the president of the United States. Its successes are largely unknown; its failures are legendary. Simply put, CIA has one of the toughest jobs in all of government.”

And it should be no surprise, the main lessons have to do with priorities, focus, and taking the long view.

Source: The Former Head of the CIA on Managing the Hunt for Bin Laden

Another Dark Chapter In The History of Free Sex

captain-cook-entertained-by-the-natives-of-tahiti

The section below is from the book, “The Age of Wonder” which is an award winning volume that chronicles the connection between scientific discovery and the ideals of the Romantic Age. In the first Chapter the author writes about the history of Captain Cook’s voyage of discovery. Here he gives ample attention to the time Cook and his crew spent in Tahiti.

I am posting a lengthy section below, and it is worth reading all 4 paragraphs. This narrative is largely taken from the diary of James Banks who documented their experience. As I read this I was struck with more than a bit of Deja Vu. There is something familiar operating here.  What they witnessed in Tahiti fits the appetites of our generation for a mythical paradise of free and open sex.  But, he also narrated the suffering that grows from this kind of selfishness. What am I talking about? Infanticide and more. It is tempting to view native cultures as pure and innocent, uncorrupted by the ideas of western culture. However, the truth is different.  Every society has it’s own virtues and vices. Attempts to  portray any one culture or age as a eutopia usually exaggerate the virtues and ignore the vices.

This snapshot from history is not unique. It has been repeated many times in cultures ancient and modern.  The American generation that started the sexual revolution forgot to study history.  So now we are stuck in the painful double loop of both repeating and failing to learn from the sins of the past.  In spite of our most prurient longings there is no such thing as sex without consequences.

Here are a few things I took away from this passage:

  • This level of sexual debauchery often starts early. Young girls were taught to engage in lewd dances before they reached puberty.
  • There is no sexual sin without grave consequences to others.  We seem to believe that as long as we do not transgress the one sexual absolute of consent that everything will be just fine. But the way we wield the weapon of sex leaves deep wounds. Every culture that lives this way ends up damaging the weak and vulnerable, even if they once offered their consent. The rest of the account describe the horrible consequences of the plague of sexually transmitted diseases among the natives and sailors.
  • There is always a double standard in the world of free sex. In Tahiti men were allowed to get away with adultery while a woman would be beaten for it.  Part of this is because of that natural strength advantage that men have. The other is the fact that in reproduction the woman’s body is designed to carry the child. This is the way we are and it has implications, even in our sin. And the answer to this double standard is NOT that women should be able to be just as bad as men.
  • Banks spoke with several couples that had previously murdered 2 or 3 children and THEY EXPERIENCED NO REGRET. This is the long term effect of cultural sin. The fact that some people can commit horrible acts without empathy doesn’t make those acts virtuous. Just because some cultures engage in certain practices doesn’t mean they ought to.
  • The decision to kill an infant was driven by the men. When a man wanted free sex but was unwilling to take responsibility for the child, then that child would be killed, even against the wishes of the woman. The way that men manage their strength and leadership is often a driver in this kind of depravity.
  • The status of motherhood was despised. Once a woman had born a child, she was viewed with some degree of contempt.  High views of motherhood  are not compatible with a free-sex culture.

“The idea of sexual innocence proved more complicated for a European to accept: ‘All privacy is banished even from those actions which the decency of Europeans keep most secret: this no doubt is the reason why both sexes express the most indecent ideas in conversation without the least emotion; in this their language is very copious and they delight in such conversation beyond any other. Chastity indeed is but little valued especially among the middling people; if a wife is found guilty of a breach of it her only punishment is a beating from her husband. Notwithstanding this some of the Eares or chiefs are I believe perfectly virtuous.’

“What later came to be regarded as the most scandalous of all Tahitian customs, the young women’s seductive courtship dance, or ‘timorodee’, Banks describes with calm detachment and a certain amused appreciation: ‘Besides this they dance, especially the young girls whenever they can collect 8 or 10 together, singing most indecent words using most indecent actions and setting their mouths askew in a most extraordinary manner, in the practise of which they are brought up from their earlyest childhood. In doing this they keep time to a surprizing nicety, I might almost say as true as any dancers I have seen in Europe, tho their time is certainly much more simple. This excercise is however left off as soon as they arrive at Years of maturity. For as soon as ever they have formed a connection with a man they are expected to leave of Dancing Timorodee-as it is called.’

“The only Tahitian practice that Banks found totally alien and repulsive was that of infanticide, which was used with regularity and without compunction as a form of birth control by couples who were not yet ready to support children. Banks could scarcely believe this, until he questioned several couples who freely admitted to destroying two or three children, showing not the slightest apparent guilt or regret. This was a different kind of innocence, one far harder to accept. Banks pursued the question, and found that the custom originated in the formation of communal groups in which sexual favours were freely exchanged between different partners: ‘They are called Arreoy and have meetings among themselves where the men amuse themselves with wrestling &c. and the women with dancing the indecent dances before mentioned, in the course of which they give full liberty to their desires.’

“He also found that the Arreoy, and the custom of infanticide, owed their existence ‘chiefly to the men’. ‘A Woman howsoever fond she may be of the name of Arreoy, and the liberty attending it before she conceives, generally desires much to forfeit that title for the preservation of her child.’ But in this decision he thought that the women had not the smallest influence. ‘If she cannot find a man who will own it, she must of course destroy it; and if she can, with him alone it lies whether or not it shall be preserv’d.’ In that case both the man and the woman forfeited their place in the Arreoy, and the sexual freedoms associated with it. Moreover, the woman became known by the term ‘Whannownow’, or bearer of children. This was, as Banks indignantly exclaimed, ‘a title as disgracefull among these people, as it ought to be honourable in every good and well governed society.”

Holmes, Richard. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. Print. p. 37

Real Men Cry, At Least In Epic Stories and Older Generations. A Brief Literary and Cultural History of Public Male Crying.

Here is a fascinating article on an unexpected subject: Men crying in public. Sandra Newman writes about the literary and cultural history of masculine weeping. She makes a good case that our current western practice of restraint is not the norm throughout history. The Greeks, the Bible, Christian history, English literature, and even Japanese literature is full of mass, public, unrestrained, and unapologetic weeping by manly men.

Based on research men today cry far less in public than women do. And the author tries to challenge the idea that this is a result of genetic differences. She does this based on her journey through history and literature. But I am not convinced. Even if men in other cultures and eras cried more than they do now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that public crying is biologically a gender neutral affair. She has made a good case that modern men do not cry as often as the men of other cultures. But that is not the same as saying men and women are identical. In fact, if anything is a cultural anomaly it is our attempt to prove biological equality between the sexes.

She suggests that the change in our view of crying can be tied to 2 things: First, we moved from an agrictultural economy into the industrial revolution. Second, we moved from living in small villages with close relationships to big cities where we lived with strangers. In I opinion, these ideas have merit.

Also interesting is the idea that crying serves an important social purpose. When we cry, especially in public, it is good for us as a release and it is a call for help to those around us.  If this is true, then failing to cry would not be good for us.

The Bible does say, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joyful shouting.” Psalm 126:5

She writes,

“However, human beings weren’t designed to swallow their emotions, and there’s reason to believe that suppressing tears can be hazardous to your wellbeing. Research in the 1980s by Margaret Crepeau, then Professor of Nursing at Marquette University in Milwaukee, found a relationship between a person’s rate of stress-related illnesses and inadequate crying. Weeping is also, somewhat counter-intuitively, correlated with happiness. Vingerhoets, a professor of psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, has found that in countries where people cry the most, they also report the highest levels of satisfaction. Finally, crying is an important tool for understanding one’s own feelings. A 2012 study of patients with Sjögren’s syndrome – whose sufferers are incapable of producing tears – found they had significantly more difficulty identifying their emotions than a control group.

“You might also suffer if you simply hide your tears from others, as men are now expected to do. As we’ve seen, crying can be social behaviour, designed to elicit care from people around you. While this might be inappropriate in the context of a performance review, it could be an essential way of alerting friends and family – and even colleagues – that you need support. Taboos against male expressiveness mean that men are far less likely than women to get help when they’re suffering from depression. This, in turn, is correlated with higher suicide rates; men are three to four times as likely to commit suicide as women. Male depression is also more likely to express itself in alcoholism and drug addiction, which have their own high death toll. Think of stoical Scandinavia, whose nations rank high for productivity – but also lead the world in rates of alcoholism and suicide.”

Source: Is there anything wrong with men who cry? – Sandra Newman – Aeon

‘Notes on the Death of Culture’ by Mario Vargas Llosa

Vargas

Wow… I want to read this book. Here are a few quotes from a review in the Irish Times. My first time at this website though I do have some Irish ancestry… In this book, an  aged Nobel Laureate and thoughtful critic mourns the state of our culture. He is not a Christian preacher, but according to the reviewer, his anger makes him sound like one at times. Is it possible for us to appreciate the speed of decay in our own generation?

He suggests that while we may not be living in the worst of times, we are living in the stupidest….

“It’s not easy, however, to be orderly on such an all-encompassing and sensitive subject as the way we live now. On some aspects, such as the art business, Vargas Llosa practically foams at the mouth. The art world is “rotten to the core”, a world in which artists cynically contrive “cheap stunts”. Stars like Damien Hirst are purveyors of “con-tricks”, and their “boring, farcical and bleak” productions are aided by “half-witted critics”.

“We have abandoned the former minority culture, which was truth-seeking, profound, quiet and subtle, in favour of mainstream or mass entertainment, which has to be accessible – and how brave if foolhardy of anyone these days to cast aspersions on accessibility – as well as sensation-loving and frivolous.

“Value-free, this kind of culture is essentially valueless.

“Vargas Llosa adopts a name for this age of ours coined by the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord. We live in the Society of the Spectacle. A name that recalls the bread and circuses offered to a debased populace in the declining Roman empire. Exploited by the blind forces of rampant consumerism, we are reduced to being spectators of our own lives rather than actors in them.

“Our sensibilities, indeed our very humanity, is blunted by those who traditionally saw their role as the guardians of it.

“The intellectuals, the supine media, the political class have abandoned substance and discrimination and with treacherous enthusiasm adopted the idea of the image as truth. The liberal revolution of the 1960s, especially the events of 1968 in France, and French theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard come in for a lot of invective. They have turned culture into “an obscurantist game for self-regarding academics and intellectuals who have turned their backs on society”.

“Meanwhile the masses exist, docile and passive, in a world of appearances, reduced to no more than the audience in a kind of tawdry theatre where scenes shift from violence to inanity before our bored and brutalised gaze. Rock stars are given more credence than politicians, comedians are the new philosophers. Lifestyle merchants such as cooks and gardeners are revered as writers once were. It’s a sad and hopeless devolution from what we used to have and used to be.”  (emphasis mine)

Source: Book review: ‘Notes on the Death of Culture’ by Mario Vargas Llosa

A New Kind Of War: JFK’s Prophetic Remarks at West Point in 1962

JFK at West Point 1962, forwhattheygave.com

These are some of the remarks that JFK made in 1962 to the graduating class at West Point.  The context was the fight against communism that was raging in Asia. I found this quote in the book “Legend” by Eric Blehm, which tells the story of Roy Benavidez, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. JFK’s words were written in the front of the training manual for the Green Berets.

He points to the fact that America was facing a different kind of war. One with different opponents, different objectives, and different requirements. His remarks were true enough then and he may not have known how much they would describe the evolution of war against extremist forces in the next 50 years.

“This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin–war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It is a form of warfare uniquely adapted to what has been strangely called “wars of liberation,” to undermine the efforts of new and poor countries to maintain the freedom that they have finally achieved. It preys on economic unrest and ethnic conflicts. It requires in those situations where we must counter it, and these are the kinds of challenges that will be before us in the next decade if freedom is to be saved, a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training.”

Source: John F. Kennedy: Remarks at West Point to the Graduating Class of the U.S. Military Academy.

When Did Leaders In The West Know About the Holocaust?

This article chronicles the investigation of an important question from history.  Exactly when did the leaders outside Germany have reliable knowledge that the Nazi’s intended, and indeed were in the process of exterminating the Jews?  It obviously contains the kind of details that you would have to include to do reliable detective work of this nature. The answer is this: it seems that a lot of people knew an awful lot, and did nothing.

What strikes me is that this contains an example of what it means to be “on the wrong side of history.”  That term has been bandied around a lot recently.  In the case of the Shoa, there are examples of many leaders, politicians, journalists, and relief workers who knew what was going on, but they did nothing. They failed to speak up. They failed even to acknowledge that this evil was taking place. They failed to take even simple, low-risk actions to save lives.  History is not looking kindly on them, to say nothing of God’s perspective.

“After the war the ICRC [International Committee of The Red Cross] came under much criticism for its unwillingness to make public, however cautiously, the known facts about the murder of the Jews… Eventually, more than fifty years after the event, the ICRC through the head of its archive (not the president of the International Red Cross) admitted that the activities of the organization (or rather their absence) had been less than honorable.” (emphasis mine)

Are there any modern examples of atrocities happening beneath the indifferent eyes of the watchers?  Are there situations where politicians and leaders refuse to acknowledge that bad things are even happening? Where they refuse to speak up, or even watch the videos? Where they refuse to take action to save lives? Where news agencies refuse to cover solid stories of millions of dollars made in exchange for innocent lives?

Ignoring facts is what you do when you want to keep your blood money and maintain plausible deniability.  Investigating the facts and responding courageously is what you do when you care more about doing the right thing than about keeping your job.  I wonder what history will say about our modern-day indifference?

Source: When and How Did Authentic Information About the Shoah First Become Known? – Tablet Magazine

A Girl’s Life in the Siege of Leningrad- The Russian Anne Frank

Russian women emerge from an air-raid shelter during the German blockade of Leningrad from 1941. Photo Alamy

There are too many interesting books that I will probably never have time to read. This is one of them.  So I will settle for a few reviews of the book.  The diary of Russian teenager Lena Mukhina was recently released.  She survived the horrors of the siege of Leningrad during WW2.  Over 700,000 civilians died in the battle. Some have called her the Russian Anne Frank.

Stalin said “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”  This statement sadly and accurately reflects how we respond to waves of human suffering expressed in massive statistics.  Its almost like 700,000 isn’t a real number for us.  It is too much to wrap our minds around. We get weary. We yawn. We move on.  As a result, biographies and diaries can help us see beyond the statistics to the depth of human tragedy.  An individual story can make atrocities in the abstract become concrete. 

A few things stood out from the review. The first is the bizarre nature of the propaganda pumped out by the Russians.  Socialism has been a catastrophic failure, but you would never know it from listening to socialists, even when the city is burning.

Lena Muchina [Photo: Ullstein Buchverlage]
Lena Muchina [Photo: Ullstein Buchverlage]
“By the time she returns to Leningrad at the end of August, the city is surrounded. On 8 September, the same day that the last road out of the city was captured, the Germans launched their first raid. Lena’s diary becomes a Blitz-like record of sirens, midnight dashes to a basement shelter and long, frightening hours spent listening to the thunder of explosions and anti-aircraft fire outside. Having earlier uncritically regurgitated Sovinform assurances that the Germans were surrendering en masse, she starts questioning government propaganda, scoffing at a radio report that fires are being ‘quickly extinguished’: ‘Quickly indeed, they were burning for five hours!’ News of the fall of Kiev shocks her into her only direct criticism of the leadership: ‘I’m no longer sure they’re not going to surrender Leningrad … So many loud words and speeches: Kiev and Leningrad are unassailable fortresses! … But now this.’

Also, I am struck by the horrors of the siege and the effect of starvation on the human soul. All of this is so foreign to me. I have a hard time imagining such cruelty and desperation because I have never experienced it. I can’t imagine being so hungry that eating wall paper paste would be a welcome treat.

“In the depths of the siege winter, many households disintegrated emotionally as well as physically. Lena’s held together. Her mother continued to walk to her workplace daily, bringing home and sharing whatever she was given for ‘lunch’. A windfall was sheets of carpenter’s glue, which could be boiled up and turned into edible jelly. Aka [her governess] queued at the bread shops, for hours at a time, in temperatures that dipped into the minus thirties. Both adults turned a blind eye when Lena hid the pathetic quantities of ‘meat jelly’ she brought home from school. By the end of the year, though, Aka was too weak to leave her bed. ‘Aka’, Lena records on 28 December,, ‘is just an extra mouth to feed. I don’t know how I can even bring myself to write such things. But my heart has turned to stone. The thought of it doesn’t upset me at all… If she is going to die I hope it happens after the 1st, so we’ll be able to get her ration card.’ Aka obliges, dying on New Year’s Day. A few weeks later Lena’s mother follows suit: a one-line entry for 8 February reads, ‘Mama died yesterday morning. I am all alone.’ From then on, Lena fights as much against despair as against hunger: ‘When I wake up in the morning, at first I can’t believe that Mama has really died … But then the awful reality sinks in. Mama has gone! Mama is no longer alive! … I feel like howling, screaming, banging my head against the wall and biting myself! How am I going to live without Mama?’

lena_cover_3205212a

Source: Literary Review – Anna Reid on the Siege of Leningrad