History, Saints

The Murder of Saint Thomas Becket

Saint Thomas Becket QuoteThe Murder of Saint Thomas Becket (emphasis added)


“No more certain is the state of Thomas’s mind. The memorialists believed unanimously, although with varied insistence and consistency, that he was prepared, even anxious, for martyrdom. In such a case he should not flee from city to city, but given an example to his flock. He wished to follow the royal road, that trodden by his Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles. However that may be, he was undoubtedly not prepared either to go tamely into captivity or be pushed around and arrested by soldiers who were of only middling baronial rank. Henry himself had, more realistically, entrusted the task to earl, William de Mandeville. It was sacrilege to touch God’s anointed; and there was Thomas’s pride and dignity. This being so, only the utmost restraint on the part of the barons could spare him from injury or death. And that patience and forbearance were not forthcoming – in the circumstances were out of the question.

Yet it does not seem that their original intention, as they are supposed to have confessed later, was to capture Thomas and use greater force only if he resisted arrest, and that their immediate aim was merely to remove him from the Church. According to Edward Grim, and he should have known, the barons, when they caught up with the archbishop, demanded once more that he abrogate his sentences on the prelates, and, when he refused on the grounds that they had given no satisfaction, threated him with death. Thomas replied that he himself was willing to die, but forbade them to harm any of his men, whether clerks or laymen. They then tried to arrest him. Benedict and fitzStephen believed that one of the assailants, identified by Guernes as Reginald fitzUrse, shouted, ‘Run away: you are a dead man!’ And, when Thomas refused, menaced him with his sword and, with the point, dislodged his cap from his head. Then one of them, this time almost certainly Reginald, grabbed him by the border of his cloak with the help of others, pushing and tugging, tried to hoist him on to William de Tracy’s back. Thomas was outraged. Not only did he lash Reginald with bitter charges of ingratitude and shameful conduct, he even called him, according to Grim, a pimp (leno). He also resisted physically, shaking him off so fiercely that Reginald almost fell to the ground. With Edward Grim holy on tightly, Thomas could not be moved. Herbert of Bosham rhapsodizes over this feat of strength. Thomas was a second Samson, Paul, Jesus Christ in the temple, boy David!

In Grim’s view the barons wanted to get the archbishop out of the church either to kill him in a less sacred place or to carry him off as a prisoner. But the plan failed. Thomas’s resistance and the increasing number of onlookers, including townsfolk coming to evensong, made his rescue possible. The situation had got out of hand. While Hugh de Morville kept the watchers at a distance, the others struck in turn. When Thomas realized that he was close to death, he adopted a submissive pose, his head bent forward, his arms stretched out and his hands joined as in prayer. ‘I commend myself to God, the Blessed Mary, St. Denis and the patron saints of this Church,’ he said. Perhaps he also named St. Aelfheah, the martyred archbishop.

Grim believed that it was the baron whom Thomas had addressed as Reginald who struck the first blow. And he was most likely right. FitzUrse had been the leader all along, had clashed physically with the archbishop and had been called foul names. Grim thrust out his arm to ward off the blow. But the swung sword sliced off the top of the archbishop’s head. And cut through the clerk’s arm to the bone. Later that night at Saltwood William de Tracy is supposed to have claimed that he had cut off John of Salisbury’s arm. If he did say this, it would seem that he was doubly deceived. In the heat of the affray the baron’s could see no more than the onlookers. He was, however, probably the one who felled the archbishop to the ground, either, as fitzStephen and Benedict thought, at his first attempt, or, as Grim, followed by Guernes and Anonymous I, believed, with his second blow. Thomas subsided to his knees and then his hands, and finished flat on his face, with his head to the north and the altar of St. Benedict to his right. Grim alone reports that, as he collapsed, he murmured, ‘For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death.’ While he lay there, a third knight, identified by fitzStephen and Guernes as Richard le Bret, delivered the coup de grace. He struck the archbishop such a fierce blow to the head that he completed the severance of the crown and also broke his sword in two on the pavement. As he struck, he shouted, ‘Take this for love of my lord William, the king’s brother!’ Finally, the subdeacon, Hugh of Horsea, put his foot on the victim’s neck, thrust the point of his sword into the open skull and scattered blood and brains on the floor. ‘Let’s be off, knights,’ he cried. ‘This fellow won’t get up again!’ Some of the biographers note, and it was a disturbing feature, that the only one who tried to help and protect the victim was a complete stranger to them all.”

– Frank Barlow, Thomas Becket – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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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, Traditionalism

Revolution Begets Revolution

Martin Luther 95 ThesesThis year will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolt and will be celebrated by many who would consider themselves traditional, conservative, and biblical.

This, however, is a contradiction. Conserving tradition and furthering revolution are fundamentally at odds. Preserving that which has been handed down cannot at the same time be rebelled against in the name of its preservation; therefore rendering Luther’s claim to revive the Church by overthrowing it incomprehensible to the demands of reason.

Moreover, to be biblical means to possess and follow the Sacred Page in its entirety as the Apostolic Church has received it, interpreted it, protected it, and cherished it. Claiming to be biblical while manufacturing a truncated version of the written word of God in order to suppress revealed doctrines that are unbecoming of a heretical schematic, is to advance the machinations of heterodoxy.

Furthermore, the exemplification of revolutionary incoherence is found in the statement most Protestants cherish. The dramatized “Here I stand…” moment exposes the unoriginal futility of individually fabricated ideas. Every heretic in the history of the Church has echoed this spirited mantra in rebellion against divinely instituted authority. A difference between them and Luther is that he murmured the loudest when the same treatment was given in return.

Martin Luther didn’t understand, but soon found out, that revolution begets revolution. Protestant denominationalism, to this day, is a rebuke against the errors of private judgment.

The last 500 years of Western Civilization are an undeniable testimony to the all-consuming nature of defiance against truth. The contemporary culture of revolutionary political dialectics is not inexplicable. It is the natural unfolding of institutionalized principles of rebellion.

The liberally heterodox systems of theology, philosophy, and politics since Luther’s sedition have had a focused mission: seize power away from the Church in order to divide and dismantle Christendom. And all of this for the purposes of reshaping nature and reality according to autonomous individualism guided by the precepts of subjective private judgment.

There are consequences to such projects.

The barbarism of the French Revolution, the body count of Manifest Destiny, the death toll of world war, the cultural destruction in pursuit of making the world ‘safe for democracy,’ and the legal ratification of sexual revolution all testify to what men might strive for when building a world without God and the guiding wisdom of Holy Mother Church.

We are deadlocked in a culture war that has been raging for a long time. The roots of this war, however, weren’t planted in the 60’s. The leftist sexual revolution, the bureaucratic welfare state, and the technocratic military-industrial complex all share the same heritage with the Western cultural revolt initiated by the principle of “I will not serve.”

Historically speaking Martin Luther initiated a series of intricately interconnected events. The spiritual leader, however, has always been the serpent that deceives men into believing in their individual autonomy and their power to rebel themselves into a new order.

One of the most ironic things that will take place during the celebration of Luther’s revolt against the Church is that many will be calling for the reestablishment of Christendom. The irony of this exposes the deceptive nature of the revolutionary mind; they always want to have in their possession what they just overthrew.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

 

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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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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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History, Politics

Christopher Ferrara’s Judicial Thought Experiment

Christopher Ferrara's Judicial Thought ExperimentIn the article, A High View of Justice?, I argued that the interpretative theory mainstream conservatives utilize when reading the constitution has significant flaws,

“This gets to an important point concerning these competing views of constitutional jurisprudence. A primary problem with the conservative view is that they seem to adhere to a jurisprudence that does not consider the important question of what a justice ought to do. What a justice ought to do when deciding a case is much different than focusing on what the constitution affords justices the power to do when deciding a case. Progressives, on the other hand, seem to be totally focused on the question of what a justice ought to do when deciding a case no matter the constraints within the text of the constitution. This is why progressive justices will “legislate from the bench” on certain issues; they believe they have a duty to sanction justice exceeding the constraints considered to be culturally arbitrary. The problem with the progressive view, I maintain, isn’t that they focus on what justices ought to, it is that they are the philosopher kings of an erroneous political philosophy informed by the tenets of a fallacious liberalism.

Consider this from the perspective of the current debate concerning marriage and the Obergefell decision overturning laws throughout the states that had enshrined the traditional, conjugal view of marriage. What if the justices had decided differently? What if the justices not only upheld the traditional marriage laws where they already existed, but overturned the laws in other states that opened marriage to redefinition while stating that the only valid laws are those adhering to traditional marriage? Now, if the traditional view of marriage is true, right, and just could any conservative seriously argue that this is an act of unjust judicial activism? Would it be unjust to protect the family from progressive redefinition? It is important to also consider whether something being unjust and something being unconstitutional is the same thing.

The justice adhering to the textualist interpretative view of the constitution may argue that they cannot make such a ruling because they have no power to do so. The constitution does not afford them the authority to rule on the definition of marriage. This perspective will most likely result in these justices not being able to rule as they ought to in this instance. If this is the case, then it is a reasonable criticism to say that the conservative view of the constitution prevents justices from doing as they ought to in cases requiring adherence to a higher view of justice afforded by the written text of the constitution.

But can this be a correct and moral jurisprudence, let the constitution reign though justice be thwarted?”

Keep these arguments in mind when considering this judicial thought experiment taken from the pages of Christopher Ferrara’s book, Liberty: The God that Failed.


Changing History: A Thought Experiment

It is not hard to imagine what would happen if Catholics in public life awoke from their liberty-minded trance and remembered that the God who judges His creatures for failing to obey His law does not require a visitor’s pass to enter the courtrooms and legislative chambers of the Western democratic republics. He is there already, and the same judges and legislators who routinely defy His will even piously invoke His name.

Suppose for example, that five of the six Catholic justices now sitting on the Supreme Court bench join in a majority opinion overruling Roe v. Wade. Let us suppose that this opinion holds that the Fifth Amendment protection against the deprivation of life and liberty without due process of law, applied to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment, extends to life in the womb. Suppose further that the opinion holds that the Fourteenth Amendment itself, which provides that no state shall ‘deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws applies to persons in utero. Finally, let us suppose that the opinion ends with this astonishing declaration:

The Constitution was not drafted and ratified in a moral or theological vacuum. The Framers lived in a society whose common law tradition still recognized the Law of God, and in particular the ‘divine positive law’ of the Ten Commandments, as the ultimate source of human positive law. The classic commentaries of William Blackstone place this historical conclusion beyond serious dispute. The justices of this very Court take an oath to God, and we deliver our opinions while sitting beneath a frieze depicting Moses the Lawgiver holding the tablets containing the Commandments.

We recall here Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic declaration in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ in the midst of the civil rights movement of the 1960s: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’” For too long, the legal distortions created throughout the fabric of this nation by our unprecedented legal decision in Roe have placed conscientious Americans in the same position as Dr. King, writing from his jail cell. Indeed, Roe has given rise to a new civil rights movement and concomitant social turmoil that show no signs of abating nearly forty years after Roe divided this nation in a way not seen since the abolition movement that followed the everlasting embarrassment of our decision in Dred Scott vs. Sanford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857).

But beyond a mere appeal to history, which provides the context for our textual interpretation, we hold today that the Constitution’s morally freighted terms ‘person,’ ‘life,’ and ‘liberty’ cannot be considered apart from the same ultimate source of moral authority that Blackstone, our nation’s common law tradition, and Dr. King had in view. As this Court observed in Zorach v. Clausen, 343 U.S. at 314, ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ Men are creatures of that Supreme Being, accountable to Him for any human law that contravenes His law, which is written on the heart. Our unfortunate decision in Roe is such a human law. We overrule it today, not only in the name of history and tradition, but in the name of God.

That the issuance of such an opinion now seems absolutely inconceivable is in itself a demonstration of the depth and breadth of the dictatorship of Liberty. But what would happen if the Court so decided? The mass media would of course erupt in an unprecedented storm of outrage. These would be calls for impeachment proceedings to remove all five Catholic justices. But what would be the impeachable offense – that the five justices had violated their oaths to God by citing His law in their opinion? Who in the Senate would be foolhardy enough to lead a prosecution of five sitting Supreme Court justices based on their adherence to God’s law, supported moreover by references to history, tradition and Saint Martin of Birmingham?

Consider the galvanizing effect the decision would have on a nation whose population is still overwhelmingly at least nominally Christian. Surely, in response to the liberal onslaught, conservative talk radio and TV would hail the justices as heroes, as would evangelical Christian leaders and even many members of the ordinarily craven United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Pope would hail the decision, emboldened by the courageous witness of the justices, and Catholics around the world would join the Pope. Certain orthodox Jewish leaders who have long allied themselves with Christians on moral and social issues would lend support to the justices as they come under attack by the media jackals and Congress. And what could the President do? Like Thomas Jefferson in his frustration over Justice Marshall’s interference in his attempt to railroad Aaron Burr to the gallows… he would be reduced to ranting having no legal effect on the life tenure of the five justices. The justices would hold on to their seats and the ‘separation of powers’ that was supposed to characterize the American Republic would receive a tremendous vindication.

In the States, pro-life initiatives in the courts and legislatures would gain powerful impetus. If not outright bans on abortion, state after state, freed from the dead hand of Roe, would be able to enact measures that drastically reduce the number of abortions. Christians would come out of hiding throughout the political process, now openly proclaiming that God’s law ought indeed to govern positive law and judicial decisions, and what were we thinking before? The resulting rightward shift in national politics could produce a fundamental realignment in Congress and even another Catholic president, but this time one who would not be afraid to proclaim his faith while urging Americans to unite on the great moral issues of our time, using the bully pulpit of the presidency to preach national repentance and conversion of hearts while the liberals seethe with rage.

All of these things could well happen because five jurists had the courage to remind their nation that there is a God in heaven, that we must all die and face His eternal judgment, and that both men and nations have a duty in this world to follow His law. In short, our imaginary Supreme Court scenario could be a defining moment in the battle for the soul of the West, with the potential to change not only the course of American history, but the history of the world. And what is to stop this imaginary event from becoming a reality? Nothing, save fear of the powers that be. When our leaders overcome that fear, the rescue of the West from the clutches of Liberty can begin.

As the Protestant-led NRA movement recognized long ago, only when conservatives – both on and off the bench, in America and in every Western nation – begin to invoke and defend the law of God, rather than the will of the people or the text of a document standing alone, can there be any hope of regaining the vast moral territory we have already lost and of avoiding a final defeat that can only mean the destruction of what is left of the moral order and the overt persecution of believing Christians throughout the Western world. Whoever among us still does not see this is fiddling while the West burns.


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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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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History, Military History, Politics, Uncategorized

The Praetorian Guard, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and Michael Flynn: Dangerous Precedents

The Praetorian GuardOn the first day of my Ancient and Medieval Civilizations class, I always ask my students why we study history. One of them always replies that if we don’t learn from history, we will be doomed to repeat it.

I think this is true. I also think that we as a people never learn from history.

The early weeks of the Trump administration brought up an interesting case in point. President Donald Trump’s National Security Director, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign after someone in the intelligence community intercepted and leaked to the media a recording of a conversation between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak, in which Flynn seemed to suggest that relief of U.S. sanctions against Russia was possible under Trump.

Many in the media hailed the leaker as a hero who’d exposed an alleged violation of the 1799 Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in diplomacy. After all, Flynn wasn’t appointed National Security Director until a few weeks after the conversation with Kislyak.

Not everyone, though, viewed this development in a positive light. Nor was it only Trump supporters and fellow Republicans who expressed concerns about the wiretapping and leaks. Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is perhaps best known for his attempts to impeach President George W. Bush in 2008, gave an interview in which he strongly condemned the actions of the mysterious leaker and warned of the secret power plays at work in the CIA. “The American people,” Kucinich said, “have to know that there’s a game going on inside the intelligence community where there are those who want to separate the U.S. from Russia in a way that would reignite the Cold War. That’s what’s at the bottom of all this.” He also mentioned that “what’s going on in the intelligence community with this new President is unprecedented. They’re making every effort to upend him.”

Whether they like Trump or hate him, I think all U.S. citizens should be troubled to learn of unknown and unelected bureaucrats working covertly to sabotage a presidential administration. We are not the first civilization to tread over this dangerous ground.

For much of its early history, the city of Rome did not tolerate armed troops within its official boundaries. Returning armies marching through the city in victory processions had to leave their weapons outside the city limits. The presence of armed troops within the city was viewed as too great a danger to the freedoms of Rome’s citizens.

This policy changed with the rise of Caesar Augustus and the emperors who followed in his footsteps. Augustus, arguing that he needed bodyguards, allowed armed troops into the city in the form of his elite Praetorian Guard. As the years passed, the Praetorian Guard grew more influential and more accustomed to protecting its own interests. It eventually became so powerful that it was able to depose emperors and proclaim new ones.

Over the centuries that followed Augustus’s reign, a total of thirteen Roman emperors died at the hands of those who were supposed to be their bodyguards. It’s true that many of these rulers were evil or incompetent or both, but the Praetorian Guard wasn’t just looking out for the good of Rome. It had a vested interest in ensuring that there would always be an emperor in need of its protection. Thus, after the Praetorians murdered the vicious emperor, Caligula, they moved quickly to thwart the plans of the senators for restoring the Roman Republic by declaring Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, the new emperor. By doing so, they ensured that they would maintain their position of power within the Roman government.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Trump or any future President is going to get assassinated by the CIA or any other government agency. But I am questioning how comfortable we should be with unelected bureaucrats pulling strings and calling the shots from the shadows, especially when those bureaucrats belong to an agency known around the world for its role in regime changes.

In the United States we have a Constitution with a system of checks and balances in place to prevent any branch of the government from becoming too powerful. If a President (or one of his subordinates) does something illegal, he needs to answer to the people’s representatives in Congress. That’s how our system is supposed to work. While it might be easier to let the intelligence services take care of the problem, it’s also far more dangerous.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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