Culture, Political Economy

Our Luxurious Lives

Old Fashioned Water PumpA few months back I wrote a post called “Our Land of Plenty” in which I reflected on the superabundance of food available to us in the United States. I pointed out that we today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world.

In this post, I’d like to continue on that theme by calling attention to how luxurious modern western life really is.

While there are always going to be some discomforts, our lives in the United States today are more comfortable than almost any other people’s from the beginning of time. Yet how often do we take the time to consider and appreciate this fact? I would venture to guess that the answer to this question is “seldom to never.” Oftentimes, instead of being thankful for how good we have it, we like to complain about those things in our lives that aren’t perfect.

For example, we gripe when the weather is warm and muggy, and we forget that we have the unprecedented option to escape to air conditioned areas indoors. We also complain when it’s cold outside, and fail to appreciate that all we really have to do to make ourselves more comfortable is to turn up the thermostat. For most of us, there’s no gathering wood, no starting fires. It literally takes a turn of the wrist for us to perfectly control our climate.

Then there’s transportation. Most of us gripe about having to drive in a car for a few hours to get somewhere. We forget that in order to travel the same distance, our forefathers—if they were wealthy enough to do so—would have had to hitch up a carriage and spend several days on the road, staying at inns along the way. On those same lines, we like to gripe about 15-hour airplane flights to Europe while forgetting that a mere two centuries ago, that same trip would have meant several months at sea with a very real possibility of dying. Our travelling ancestors had bigger worries than lukewarm, in-flight meals.

Another modern convenience I think we often forget to appreciate is indoor plumbing. The fact that we, even as middle class  or working class people, can take a hot shower in our own homes every day would have been totally unbelievable to even the wealthiest aristocrats of the middle ages. In this regard—as in many others—the poorest among us are living better than even kings of centuries past.

Returning to the topic of food, I think we also take for granted the convenience of modern refrigeration, which allows us to safely store many products that were often eaten partially spoiled in past times, leading to serious health problems.

One final point I’d like to mention is our ubiquitous access to the internet. We live in the information age. The answer to almost any question—whether important or not—is instantly at our fingertips on a wide array of devices like desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. While bibles and other books were once kept chained up because they were so expensive to produce, we today have a world of information at the flick of our index finger or even at our verbal command.

Let’s face it. At least from a physical perspective, we in the 21st century western world have been born into the easiest possible time and the easiest possible place to be alive. Ever.

In general, we today lead more comfortable lives than any other people in history. But among its many other lessons, history shows that comfort isn’t the best way to improve a people’s character. The greatest generations are born out of times of hardship rather than times of luxury.

There are a couple of morals to this story. The first is that we ought to have a better appreciation for how good we have it. Instead of whining about how low the water pressure is, we should be overjoyed to have hot water flowing into our homes at all. Instead of complaining that we’ve only got leftovers in the fridge, we should be thankful that we can even safely store food.

The second lesson is that we should realize that our present conditions are a perfect recipe for molding us into a soft, indolent people, and that in order to keep ourselves from becoming this, we need to begin practicing such things as fasting, mortification, and self-denial. If our current environment won’t shape our character in a positive way, we have to make an extra effort to do so ourselves.

Thirdly and finally, we should all recognize and consider the fact that we might not always have it as good as we do now. The recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and especially in Puerto Rico have shown how quickly all of our creature comforts can be taken away. There may well come a day when we don’t have our perfectly controlled climates, our hot showers, our ease of travel, and our instant access to information. Let’s not make our happiness dependent on our modern conveniences and easy way of life.

I’d like to close by paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, who once said that the best way to appreciate anything is to realize that it might be lost. To that end, let’s appreciate our modern comforts, and let’s also realize and be prepared for the possibility that we might not always have them.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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History, Our Lady of Fatima, The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Final Countdown

Immaculate Heart of MaryThe 13th of next month will mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. Among the requests she made to the three shepherd children there was that the Holy Father, in union with all the Catholic bishops of the world, consecrate the nation of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. She explained that if her request were honored, Russia would be converted and a period of peace would be given to the world, but that if her requests were not honored, there would be terrible wars and persecutions of the Church, and that the Holy Father would have much to suffer.

Many Catholics believe that the consecration Our Lady requested was completed by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984, despite the fact that he didn’t mention Russia as the object of his consecration nor did he include all the world’s bishops as Our Lady specifically requested. While his consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart undoubtedly brought many blessings, it can hardly be said to have fulfilled Our Lady’s request for the consecration of Russia.

The most obvious indication of this is that the period of peace which Our Lady promised would follow the consecration of Russia has remained tragically elusive. In fact, there has not been a single year of peace in the world since the 1984 consecration.

There are some Catholics who take issue with this argument, claiming that the consecration has been properly done, but that we can’t expect the period of peace to come about all at once. In answer to this, I would first say, why not? After Our Lady appeared at Guadalupe in 1531, the pagans in what is today Mexico began converting to the true Faith by the millions. They didn’t require a waiting period of several decades, so why should the case be any different with the Russian people who are not even pagan but rather schismatic?

Secondly, I would point out that it’s been nearly 35 years since the 1984 consecration of the world. That’s 35 years without any peace. And not only has there been no peace, the geopolitical and moral situations of the world have been getting steadily worse, as anyone who reads or watches the daily news can see.

Consider for a moment the current state of affairs in the following places: Iraq; Syria; Yemen; Afghanistan; Pakistan; Egypt; Libya; Nigeria; Mexico; Ukraine.

All of these places just mentioned are presently trapped in cycles of violence, bloodshed, and war.

Is this really the peace promised by Our Lady?

Is this even moving slightly in the direction of that peace?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Now, as the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s final apparition approaches, the world is facing the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and the strong U.S. reaction to it. It seems likely that eventually the tensions between North Korea and the United States will boil over into an actual war. In that event, does anyone really believe that China will side with the U.S. against North Korea? And in the event of war between China and the United States, does anyone really think that Russia will side with the U.S. against China?

It would seem that our world is on the cusp of another major war. To say that such a prospect is unpleasant would be a severe understatement. Regardless of who won, such a conflict would cost countless lives and cause untold suffering.

Thankfully, Our Mother has shown us the way to avoid this nightmare. She’s already given us the key to peace. While as laymen we don’t have the authority to fulfill her request for the Consecration of Russia, we can pray for those who do, that they might be strengthened to carry out the task with which God has charged them. As Our Lady requested, we must especially “pray very much for the Holy Father.”

The situation in the world is dark, but we must not lose hope. As Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us back in June, “God will win in the end.” And we already know how He will ultimately win, because His Mother revealed the details a hundred years ago to three, humble, shepherd children in Portugal. “In the end,” she said, “My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Culture, History

Horatius at the Bridge

Horatius at the BridgeMy introduction to readers at the Socratic Catholic included the fact that I teach history at both the high school and college levels. I recently gave the following excerpt from one of my lectures on ancient Rome as a speech for my local Toastmasters International club.

The story is that of Publius Horatius Cocles, a low-ranking army officer who single-handedly saved Rome from destruction by her enemies in 509 B.C. I’ve simplified some minor details, but the story itself is true, and I think it contains a valuable lesson for us as Catholics today.

Oftentimes our situation in the world looks hopeless. More often than not, our ecclesiastical leadership seems to be in full retreat from the enemy, and it can sometimes be tempting to join them in their flight. After all, if the bishops and cardinals aren’t standing up for the truth, why should we feel the need to do so? And even if we chose to, what difference could we possibly make?

The answer to that question is that we can make all the difference in the world. As you’ll learn in the following video, sometimes all it takes to change the course of history is for a few, humble warriors to stand their ground and fight, especially when all hope seems lost.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Letters

Forgiveness

The Prodigal SonWhere has my summer gone? It seems every single one flies by faster than the one before it.

I began preparing my fall semester classes the same week spring semester ended, and I’ve been focused on that planning for all of May, June, and July. Then, about ten days ago, I realized that school was again upon us, and that instead of feeling refreshed after a nice, long summer break, I felt totally burned out. I realized that if I wanted to survive until Christmas—not always and easy feat for me—I would need to at least take a few days off to recharge my “batteries” before the start of the new school year.

I had a lot of options as to how to spend my “vacation” time, because I have a to-do list that I know will still be twelve miles long by the time I die, but since I was trying to relax a bit, I wanted to do something slightly less productive. Thus, I chose to take a few days off in order to travel about the state visiting people who’ve been important parts of my life over the last few decades but who I rarely see anymore. My list was extremely long, and I could only hit a few places, but it ended up being some of the most meaningful days of my entire year.

Of course I had to see the usual suspects. First I spent some time with my parents. Later I visited my grandparents for dinner. Then I dropped in on some of my old landscaping coworkers and spent a little time catching up with them. After that I visited another coworker who retired years ago and who now lives alone. He and I drank some beer and swapped some old stories. It was all very enjoyable and refreshing.

I wished that I’d been able to see more people, but the visits that I did make were great. The most important one though stood out above the rest, not because the company was better, but because the circumstances were initially so difficult. I made the decision to visit someone who was once a very close friend, but with whom I’d had a falling out over the course of the past year or so. This sort of negative parting doesn’t happen to me very often, so the reasons for it were fairly significant.

I didn’t realize until shortly beforehand just how much bitterness toward this friend I’d been harboring in my heart. Our conversation was difficult at times, but as we chatted and shared our own perspectives on everything that had happened, my anger softened and began melting away.

Looking back on the whole affair, I am struck by the wisdom of Our Lord’s words in Matthew 5:23-24. “If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.”

I think the point Our Lord was making here is that we can’t truly love God while at the same time harboring resentment toward our neighbor.

With our fallen human nature, it’s all too easy for us to become bitter and jaded when we feel wronged or hurt, but we must not allow for that to happen. Animosity is a heavy burden to carry, and the longer we go on carrying it, the more it bends us down and deforms us.

It’s never easy to forgive—or to ask to be forgiven—but it’s far easier than the alternative.

In my personal situation, while I know that things will never be the same as they once were, there is a great sense of peace in the knowledge that I won’t spend the rest of my life holding a grudge against someone who once meant so much to me. By sitting down and discussing the matter honestly, openly, and charitably, we’ve been able to avoid a lifetime of bitterness, and for that I am truly thankful.

Good friendships are some of God’s greatest gifts to us in the valley of tears that is this present life, and we ought to always recognize them, treasure them, and protect them, and—whenever possible—preserve them.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Culture

The Lesson of Diapers & Toys

The Lesson of Diapers & ToysOn two separate evenings this past week, I found myself roped into moving a massive pile of boxes across town. Moving in and of itself wasn’t at all a new experience for me, but moving what was in those boxes was.

The cardboard crates in question contained hundreds of pounds of diapers and blankets and car seats and toys. I and the other volunteers—most of whom I’d never met before—loaded the tender cargo into the backs of trailers, pickup trucks, and mini-vans, and then proceeded across town as part of a caravan to deposit it at its new, larger home.

When a friend had asked me a few days earlier if I might be available to help the local Options for Women clinic move to a new location in town, I’d given my standard reply that I’d check my calendar and get back to him. As I’m sure is true with most people, moving is not one of my all-time favorite things to do, and so I was a little disappointed to see that I had both the evenings wide open.

When my younger brother and I arrived at the appropriate time, we were happy to find that most of the packing had already been done, and that the boxes merely needed to be loaded onto the trucks and then driven across town and unloaded. Clearly someone else had already put in a lot more time and effort than was being asked of us. Better yet, there was a spread of food put out for the volunteers, even for those who had just arrived.

As we were eating, I made my usual jokes about having come there mostly for the free food, but as I looked around at the faces in that room, my mind kept wandering to more serious thoughts. A wide variety of ages was represented there—older people, middle-aged adults, and a large number of college students. Some were professional staffers, but most were volunteers like myself, probably recruited by their friends.

What struck me most of all was the sense of joy that I could see in that room. It wasn’t a namby-pamby, rainbows-and-butterflies sort of glibness, but rather a genuine sense of being involved in something incredibly important. The people I saw around me, while probably as initially hesitant as I had been, were happy with the knowledge that they were working to help disadvantaged mothers keep and raise their babies.

Across town, after what seemed like a thousand trips carrying boxes into the new building, I stopped to get a sip of water and to admire the growing stack of ‘merchandise.’

“How does this work?” I asked one of the women in charge. “Can expectant mothers purchase this stuff at a discounted rate?”

“No,” she replied. “We don’t charge anything. Moms earn points by taking the free classes we offer on topics like nutrition and newborn care and potty training. They can then use those points to ‘purchase’ the items in our store here.”

I stared at the mound of baby paraphernalia, and I thought back to several previous conversations I’d had on the topic of unplanned pregnancies. During those talks, without fail, the advocates of abortion would say something like the following: “Sure, these people claim they’re pro-life, but once the babies are actually born, they stop caring about them.”

I’d heard this statement many times, and I’d never really believed it, but that pile of toys, baby clothes, and car seats helped me recognize just how blatant a lie it really is. I couldn’t help but wonder how many teething rings and boxes of diapers were stockpiled at the local Planned Parenthood branch. To ask the question was to answer it.

By contrast, the people there in that room— the ones working hard all around me as I polished off my bottle of water—were there because they truly did care about babies and their mothers, and not just up to the point of birth, as their detractors love to claim.

They were there because they are really, genuinely, 100% pro-life.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Culture, History

Stuff! And the Greeks

Stuff! And the Greeks“Gosh I’ve got a lot of junk!”

I must have said that line a couple dozen times over the course of the last few weeks. As I know is the case with many people, my recent move to a new place made me realize once more just how many material items I actually own.

I think most of us have been in this situation at one point or another, piling all of our worldly possessions into storage totes, bags, and boxes so we can move them to a new location where they will go mostly unused and collect a new layer of dust. At least until the time comes to move them yet again.

Let’s face it, in our modern, American society, we have a lot of stuff. And I don’t just mean knick-knacks and clutter.

Much like our overabundance of food, our level of material prosperity is unprecedented in history. For example, a hundred years ago, automobiles were still considered luxury items for the wealthy. Today nearly everyone has one, including plenty of kids who are still in high school.

Then there are our electronics. Even those of us who are of rather modest means still tend to have laptops and smart phones. We like to complain that we have no money, yet we can find a way to drop $600 on a new iPhone. Our great-grandparents who lived through the Depression Era would mock us to scorn—and rightfully so—for complaining that we are poor. The vast majority of us have no idea what that word even means.

By way of contrast, I would point to the Athenians of Classical Age Greece. As I explain to my students every year, even wealthy Greeks would have been considered poor by our standards. While we today have so much stuff that we need to hold garage sales or make regular trips to the thrift stores in order to get rid of it, most people in Classical Athens owned their clothing, a few blankets, a little pottery, some metal cooking utensils, and a bit of jewelry. And that was about it.

Keep in mind too that this wasn’t some backwards, stone-age civilization. Athens was the cultural center of the western world during the Classical Age. Its citizens weren’t a bunch of country bumpkins. Many of them were quite wealthy, in fact, and they had a flourishing culture with art, architecture, music, theater, and philosophy.

What they didn’t have though, was a lot of stuff. And they were probably a lot happier for it.

It might not hurt us to take the Greeks as role models in this regard. If nothing else, it would make moving a lot easier.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Book Review, History, Military History

A Higher Call

A Higher Call Book Cover“It’s probably the best book I’ve ever read,” my dad told me.

“It’s really, really good,” my brother Phil confirmed.

Though I’d purchased the World War II aviation story for both my dad and brother after being drawn to its intriguing dust jacket at Barnes and Noble, I’d not yet found the chance to read it for myself. However, once I opened its pages, I understood exactly what they were talking about.

A Higher Call by Adam Makos tells of a kind of heroics we don’t often get to hear about in the 21st century. It’s a story of chivalrous behavior between men who are mortal enemies.

The following is from the book’s blurb:

“December, 1943: A badly damaged American bomber struggles to fly over wartime Germany. At the controls is twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown. Half his crew lay wounded or dead on this, their first mission. Suddenly, a Messerschmitt fighter pulls up on the bomber’s tail. The pilot is German ace Franz Stigler—and he can destroy the young American crew with the squeeze of a trigger…

“What happened next would defy imagination and later be called “the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II.

“The U.S. 8th Air Force would later classify what happened between them as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention for fear of facing a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search the world for each other, a last mission that could change their lives forever.”

While the climax of A Higher Call is the suspenseful encounter between the desperate American bomber crew and the German ace, the book is about much more than that, as it carefully traces the paths of the two pilots which led to their dramatic meeting in the skies over war-torn Europe.

There are a couple of important morals that stand out in this masterfully written story.

The secondary moral, which I will address first, is that there were good people on the German side of World War II. As Americans, we tend to forget this, as we prefer to see ourselves as having been the unquestioned heroes of the war, fighting against pure evil. We don’t like to be reminded that much of the Nazis’ wicked, eugenic philosophy originated in the United States and was even defended by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell.

By contrast, there were many Germans, including those serving in the armed forces, who despised Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist regime and blamed the Nazis for Germany’s unfolding destruction and for the appalling suffering of the German people. The majority of Germans voted against Hitler in the election of 1932, yet the popular support he did have enabled him to rise to power anyway and then drag his country into war.

Once in control, the Nazis ruled Germany with an iron fist and would brook no dissent. Among the stories Makos relates is that of a widowed wife of a German soldier who was executed because she told a joke about Hitler to her fellow factory workers.

In an oppressive environment like this, men like Franz Stigler fought not for the hated Nazi regime and its dreaded SS enforcers, but rather for their families and friends who lived in ever-increasing squalor in the bombed-out cities below the German skies.

Against this rather dramatic historical backdrop, Makos paints a play-by-play picture of Stigler’s noble decision to spare the lives of his defenseless enemies, even at grave risk to his own. It’s in this act that we find the primary moral of the book.

As the reader will discover, Stigler had every reason to shoot down the wounded American bomber plane and no practical reason whatsoever to spare it. Despite this, in that adrenaline-fueled moment over his devastated homeland, he decided to put aside his desire for personal glory and chose instead to answer a higher call.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

 

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History, Politics

Catholics on the Court: Then and Now

Catholics on the Court“All-male, all-Roman Catholic majority on Supreme Court puts religious wrongs over women’s rights.”

Thus read an advertisement which appeared in the New York Times in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and other employers who objected on religious grounds to providing their employees with various forms of birth control.

The obvious insinuation of the ad, which was placed by the atheist group, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, was that the male, Roman Catholic justices were swayed by their religious beliefs to vote in favor of allowing corporate owners the freedom of conscience to abstain from paying for their employees’ birth control and abortifacients.

While it is more likely the five justices came to their decision based simply on the rule of law, the principle of religious freedom, and plain common sense, various groups are pressing the accusation that the justices let their Catholic religion influence their decision. It is most interesting to note that this is not the first time such an allegation has been levelled against a member of the Supreme Court.

In 1927, the Court ruled in Buck v. Bell that the forced sterilization of those deemed “unfit” to procreate was a constitutionally acceptable practice. It was in this case that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. gave the world his now infamous statement, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

The plaintiff in the case, 18-year-old Carrie Buck, was considered “feeble-minded” and had already become pregnant, though it was later discovered that this was due to rape rather than to her alleged genetic proclivity for licentious behavior. Today it is strongly suspected that she was actually fairly healthy, and that her adopted family had institutionalized her in order to cover up the sexual assault, which had been perpetrated by a nephew. Nevertheless, after a poorly-argued case, the Court ruled 8-1 in favor of forcibly cutting her fallopian tubes against her expressed will.

Only one justice—Pierce Butler—dissented from the majority decision. He was the Court’s lone Catholic.

Because of his Catholic religious affiliation, Butler’s fellow justices questioned beforehand whether he would, as Holmes put it, “have the courage to vote with us in spite of his religion.” Afterwards, it seemed to them that he had not. History though, would vindicate Butler.

Less than two decades after Buck v. Bell, the Nazis (who modelled their own system after American laws) demonstrated to the world the true horrors that eugenics programs could produce, and thereby helped to shock society, at least for a time, out of its quest to create a perfect master race.

During the Nuremburg trials, the Nazi eugenicists tried to defend themselves by pointing to the Buck v. Bell decision. Eugenics was, after all, considered a proven science at that time and was believed by many to be crucial for the common good.

In retrospect, most people realize that Buck v. Bell was a terrible miscarriage of justice, yet it was a decision in which only one of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices had the courage to dissent. It was a decision in which only one Supreme Court justice had the foresight to resist the latest trend in “healthcare.”

That justice was Pierce Butler—a Catholic.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky


(This article was originally written by Nicholas Kaminsky in summer, 2014 for The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy.)

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History, Military History, Politics

Cato the Elder & John McCain

Cato the Elder & John McCainLearn from history or repeat it, the popular maxim goes. The problem is, no one ever seems to learn from history.

Consider the following case in point:

From 264-146 BC, ancient Rome fought a series of major wars against its greatest rival, the city of Carthage. All three of these Punic Wars, as they are known, ended in Roman victories, which ultimately led to Roman dominance of the Mediterranean.

It would be a mistake though to think that these wars were a cakewalk for Rome. Perhaps the greatest danger to the Romans came during the second war when the Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest military commanders in world history, performed the impossible task of leading an army of men and elephants over the Alps and into Italy where he rampaged around the countryside for 15 years, destroying all the Roman armies sent against him.

Hannibal’s reign of terror was ended when a young Roman general named Publius Scipio launched a counterattack against the city of Carthage, causing Hannibal to be recalled from Italy to Africa, where Scipio defeated him at the decisive Battle of Zama in 202 BC.

Despite this second defeat of Carthage and the application of crushing sanctions and indemnities, many Roman senators could not rest easy while their old enemy existed, even as a shadow of its former self.

The most vocal of these senators was Cato the Elder, who as a young man had fought in the Second Punic War. In his later years, Cato held a variety of political offices, where he was well-known for his enduring hatred of Rome’s ancient rival. He was famous for ending every speech he gave, regardless of the topic, with the exhortation, “Carthage must be destroyed!”

In 149 BC, Cato’s wish came true as Rome declared war once more after Carthage violated the nations’ peace treaty by defending itself against military aggression on the part of Rome’s African ally, Numidia. After a series of hard-fought battles, Roman troops captured the city of Carthage and utterly destroyed it, selling the survivors into slavery. The Punic Wars were over.

Whenever I tell my class the story of the Punic Wars, I am struck by the uncanny likeness between the old curmudgeon, Cato the Elder, and our own American politician, Senator John McCain. Both were once soldiers who served bravely on the field of battle, yet both appeared to have difficulty moving beyond their respective wars. Just as the aging Cato couldn’t get Carthage out of his head until it was annihilated, so the octogenarian McCain seems obsessed with the idea of reigniting the Cold War and even of dragging the United States into a hot war with his old nemesis, Russia.

The following are but a few examples of McCain’s belligerence toward his Eastern foe of yesteryear:

1.) In 2008, when the Russian military intervened in Georgia to help a strongly pro-Russian section of the country assert its independence, McCain famously promised the president of Georgia that the United States would support Georgia against its former Cold War partner, saying “Today we are all Georgians.”

2.) In 2011, McCain—along with Hillary Clinton—pushed for U.S. assistance in the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which ultimately led to Gaddafi’s murder and to the collapse of his country into anarchy. The American intervention in Libya was opposed by then-prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the bloody aftermath reportedly galvanized Putin against softening his stance toward the U.S. as Gaddafi had done.

3.) In 2013, McCain publicly goaded President Barak Obama to deploy the U.S. military to enforce his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Russian-allied Syria, despite a lack of constitutionally required Congressional authorization for the President to do so.

4.) In 2014, McCain declared “We are all Ukrainians” in regard to Russian invasions of the Crimean Peninsula and parts of the Ukraine after the pro-Russian president of that country was driven out by angry mobs spurred on in part by rhetoric from McCain himself, who travelled to Eastern Europe for that purpose.

5.) In 2016, McCain claimed that alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election was “an act of war.”

6.) In 2017, McCain sought to give NATO membership to Montenegro, yet another country in Russia’s backyard, and went so far as to accuse fellow senator Rand Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin” when Paul opposed the move on the grounds that it unnecessarily risked pulling the U.S. into yet another major war.

7.) Finally, John McCain has for years been one of the staunchest advocates of U.S. military action against Iran, a move that would assuredly ignite yet another proxy war between the United States and Russia, much like the one currently raging in Syria.

While he hasn’t yet thumped his fist on his Senate-chamber desk and declared, “Russia must be destroyed,” it’s clear that Senator John McCain—like Cato the Elder two millennia before him—has an obsession with his country’s chief opponent from the days of his youth.

Of course this is not to say that the Russians are merely innocent victims of American aggression as some would have us believe, but neither were the Carthaginians helpless lambs being led to the slaughter by an oppressive Rome. Rome certainly had some good reasons to fight against Carthage, at least during the first two Punic Wars. Despite this, it would behoove us to remember that the Punic Wars cost both Carthage and Rome a tremendous price in blood and treasure, leading to the annihilation of the former and setting the stage for decades of social strife and civil war in the latter.

Despite these historic similarities, there is one major difference between our modern, international situation and that of Cato’s time, of which everyone involved should take note. The difference is that neither Rome nor Carthage had a stockpile of nuclear weapons capable of wiping out humanity.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Culture, Politics

That Sounds Like Something Hitler Would Have Said

That Sounds LIke Something Hitler Would Have Said(From November 30, 2016)

Yesterday morning, president-elect Donald Trump laid out his plans to build concentration camps around the United States in order to begin his work of exterminating all minority groups.

Actually, I’m lying.

In reality, Trump didn’t say anything like that at all. But anyone who’s read the rhetoric flying around on Facebook could be forgiven for thinking that he had.

It’s been three weeks since the U.S. elections brought an unexpected victory for “the Donald.” Video footage from across the country on November 9 showed weeping, hand-wringing Democrats lamenting what seemed to be nothing less than the end of the world. It was only a matter of time—and very little time, as it turned out—before the memes and articles comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler began popping up in Facebook news feeds.

The comparisons between the president-elect and the German dictator certainly came as no surprise. If the election had gone the other way, we all know that nearly identical memes targeting Hillary Clinton would have flooded social media just as heavily as those targeting Trump did.

In the United States, we love comparing our political opponents—or anyone else with whom we seriously disagree—to Hitler. Doing so is an easy way to discredit those we don’t like.

It’s also lazy. And dangerous.

Regardless of how you might feel about keeping new immigrants out of the country or about deporting those already here in violation of the law, it’s hard to deny that there is a world of difference between policies like these and the mass execution of millions of innocent people. To portray the two as morally equivalent is an insult to the countless victims of the Nazi regime.

Giving insult, however, is not the worst result of these shoddy comparisons. Far more serious is the fact that these associations desensitize us to what true dictators actually look like. It’s much like the story of the boy who cried wolf or that of Chicken Little making his claim that the sky is falling.

If we continue on this path of lazy arguments and quickly-generated memes, I’m afraid we’ll one day get to the point where most of us will brush aside or gloss over genuine concerns about a particular candidate or office holder. That’s definitely not a place we want to be.

In order to avoid getting ourselves into this situation, I think it’s important that we try to focus on and debate the actual issues at stake. Doing so might take a little more effort than making rash comparisons to Nazi dictators, but in the long run it will be much safer for everyone.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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