Archive for the 'History' Category



A Nation of Immense Size and Diversity

Recently I’ve been writing about how the Romans didn’t think democracy was a workable form of government for their nation. For one thing, they didn’t think their non-patrician countrymen were up to it. Another reason they thought it to be impractical was because of the size and diversity of its population. In his book Roman History, second century Roman historian Dio Cassius recorded the words of Gaius Maecenas, a close associate and advisor to Augustus Caesar:

“The cause [of democracy being impractical] is the immense size of our population and the magnitude of the issues at stake. Our population embraces every variety of mankind in terms both of race and character; hence both their tempers and their desires are infinitely diverse, and these evils have gone so far that they can only be controlled with great difficulty.” [from Life in Ancient Rome by Don Nardo]

Like Rome, America also has an immense population (ours is 313 million compared to Rome’s 88 million at the time of its greatest expansion under Emperor Trajan) and our diversity has long been cause for marveling. Not because it was a good thing in itself so much as that so many people of infinitely diverse backgrounds could come together and live in peace as one nation.

E Pluribus Unum

From many, One

Our first, de facto national motto, and one of the keys to America’s success as a nation. Our early ideals were never about being “diverse” so much as about being free. About being a part of a new sort of government that guaranteed the freedom and equality of all men before the law. The credo from times past was that people came to America to be American, not to remain whatever they were before. They left the old country because the old country wasn’t working for them — was stifling them, starving them, abusing them, enslaving, even killing them. They came to embrace American ideals of freedom and the right to pursue happiness as they saw fit, to learn English, to work their way out of poverty into prosperity  — to become a part of this great nation, not a part in it.

Cultural trappings were brought into the great melting pot and assimilated, not singled out for special regard and treatment. Our Christmas traditions in particular are an amalgam of the customs of many different nationalities.  And if you don’t want to celebrate Christmas that’s fine too. This assimilation and amalgamation is what allowed us to survive,  what allowed our representative democratic republic to work. In other nations or regions where different tribes or cultures or ethnicities insisted on maintaining their separate “identities,” there has been continual warfare.

Unfortunately, more and more we’re beginning to see that sort of identity politics developing here: people who come to this country for the prosperity, but have no interest in acquiring a new language or new ways. Instead, clinging to their old tongue and culture, they create enclaves within the whole, gathering together with their fellows and, in so doing, insulating themselves from American culture. They don’t want to join it, to learn its language, to work side by side with its people and become one of them, they just want to get the goods — to keep their old ways and allegiances as they send what they get back home to the old, dysfunctional country.

And there are some Americans who are fine with that. Who even celebrate it.

Which is just one more reason why as a nation we are growing more and more fracture-lines by the day…

Eligible to Vote

A few posts ago, (which is also unfortunately now a couple of weeks ago — where does the time go?) I wrote about how in ancient Rome the Roman senators, all part of the “ancient and venerable patrician elite,” did not consider the common people fit to rule along with them. In the post, I drew comparisons to some people in our present day government who seem to hold to the same opinion regarding the so-called common people. The middle class, lacking an Ivy League degree, common man American. The Tea Party, if you will — those bitter clingers to their guns and religion.

Considering further, however, I can see some justification for the Roman patrician’s views. The people they considered unfit included freed slaves, foreigners, and middle class plebs, all mostly illiterate, all having to work all the time (they had no weekends off, not even Sundays and only a few yearly festivals for rest). Many of them lived in the Roman equivalent of tenements, or scratched out a living on rented farm property. The vast majority owned next to nothing, had no education but what they picked up on the job, and had no time to consider much of anything except where their next meal and entertainment might be coming from.

If you have people who own nothing voting alongside people who own something, it’s just human nature that those with nothing are going to vote to force those with something to “share.”

That’s one reason why in early America one of the conditions for being eligible to vote was that you had to own property. In this way people “without so much as a farthing” wouldn’t be able to vote in a legislature of Robin Hoods — making laws that take from the rich and give to the poor. Plus it was thought that those with property would be more likely to have a vested interest in doing what was best for the community in which their property was located.

This came under attack however with the onset of the Revolution and particularly in the time between the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution. There were many reasons for objection – concerns about veterans, concerns about the effects of increasing the scope of the electorate, and even concerns about how valid property rights were as a means of determining quality voters.

Ben Franklin made an excellent point in the latter regard:

“Today a man owns a jackass worth 50 dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the mean time has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is therefore better qualified to make a proper selection of rulers—but the jackass is dead and the man cannot vote. Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?”

Ultimately, property ownership was deemed undesirable and was replaced by the paying of taxes as a qualification to vote, and as we all know, the franchise has expanded greatly from there  — and not altogether to the country’s benefit, I fear.

Because voting is not so much a right as it is a privilege, something to be conferred with care and received with gratitude and a sense of sober responsibility. Today it seems to be taken for granted, given and received as an entitlement,  a means of bribery, or of gaining power, a pain in the neck, or something other people will do, because it really doesn’t matter and “I’m just too busy doing my own thing.”

Everyone born in America today has always had it. We’ve never lived in a time when we didn’t. And yet… the entire institution seems to have been so corrupted, it’s hard to remember what a privilege it is. Not that the politicians are necessarly less upstanding today than previously, nor that the process is any less vitriolic, but that the people… a lot of people don’t really pay attention. Or is it that they’ve been distracted by things that don’t matter?

During all the hooplah with Tim Tebow last month, I read that he was number five on some list of the most influential people in America. I don’t recall who assembled the list, only that it wasn’t all athletes. Tebow was seven places (if I recall correctly) ahead of Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots. He was however, still five below the most influential person on the list… Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga?

Originally the media, the fourth estate, was to work as a check for political processes. That’s long gone out the window, but worse, what I’m seeing today is the incessant barrage of messages, accusations, stories, speculuations, promises, claims, innuendo, and out and out lies. From the news outlets, the radio, Internet, and TV. Especially radio and TV. Whoever has the most ads wins, because the poplulace has heard those the most and simply through repetition of hearing has come to believe what those ads say.

Reminds me of the Hitler salute back in the beginning of his regime talked about in Eric Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts:  How people at first resisted it, but after awhile, when it was constantly an issue, they gave in, even though they didn’t believe in it, didn’t really hold with it… but then after awahile, all that endless saluting and Heil Hitlering eventually brought them around to where they did believe it, and wanted to do it and bought into the whole package without ever realizing what exactly was happening.

I see that happening so much today. Everywhere. In everything. And it’s sobering.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  Abraham Lincoln

Quote of the Day: John Adams

He might be arrested in some states today. Oh how far we’ve come…

“We talk of liberty and property, but, if we cut up the law of self-defence, we cut up the foundation of both. . . . If a robber meets me in the street, and commands me to surrender my purse, I have a right to kill him without asking questions.”     ~  John Adams

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Book I Am Supposed to Read

Some time ago, maybe March or April (I’ve forgotten)  I reserved a book from the Library. I’d seen the title somewhere — I’ve forgotten that now, too. I’m thinking maybe PowerLine Blog. They often do reviews of current books, and I recall thinking this book might be interesting. It’s a #1 bestseller from this year, and had a gazillion holds on it, which is why I didn’t get it until last week.

It’s called In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, and it’s about an American family in Hitler’s Berlin. I thought it was fiction, and by the time I got the notice that it had arrived at the library and was waiting for me to pick it up, I had no idea why I’d even reserved it. Did I really have time to read it? After all, I’ve just come to the conclusion that I need to start pruning things out of my slate of activities to give more time to writing.  Well I’d give it a look at least.

Shortly after that notice arrived came another telling me the Brad Thor novel I’d reserved had also arrived. I’d just finished rereading The Last Patriot (my previously posted review of it is here) and was eager to start the next one in the series. I figured that would likely be the first of the two books I’d read. So Friday I picked up both of them around lunch time.

Also at this time, as many of you know, I’m in the middle of writing a novel about an embassy and Ambassadors to an evil empire. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I can really make this analogy work, and have been seeking the Lord’s counsel on this matter repeatedly.  I’ve also been listening to Pastor John Farley’s series on discernment in the spiritual life, particularly about how people and organizations who are energized by evil are compelled to hide it, thus they do everything they can to appear good, right down to being in the church itself. The Bible says they may even come as pastors (disguised as “ministers of righteousness”) teaching false doctrine to the unwary (2 Co 11). It’s been a fascinating study.

Anyway, I got home with my books and started looking at In the Garden of Beasts.

It’s not fiction, it’s nonfiction that reads like fiction. So says the material on the cover flaps. It’s about a real man and his daughter. The man, William E. Dodd becomes America’s first AMBASSADOR(!) to Hitler, “in a year that proved to be a turning point in history!”  What? An ambassador? Did I know this when I reserved it? I might have, but I had completely forgotten if I had.

He’s there with his wife, son and 24-year-old daughter Martha. The tale is told from his and his daughter’s perspectives. It’s a story about an ambassador and embassies and all the things they do. I found out in the very first chapter that he was born October 21, 1869. The date I had picked up the book and was examining it? Friday, October 21, 2011.  Weird.

It’s about “Hitler’s ascent from chancellor to absolute tyrant.”  Which is more or less the story path my villain is to take in Sky.

More… the prologue from the author reads like an illustration of recent Bible lessons. Here’s an excerpt:

I have always wondered what it would have been like for an outsider to have witnessed firsthand the gathering dark of Hitler’s rule. How did the city look, what did one hear, see, and smell, and how did diplomats and other visitors interpret the events occurring around them? Hindsight tells us that during that fragile time, the course of history could so easily have changed. Why, then, did no one change it? Why did it take so long to recognize the real danger posed by Hitler and his regime?

<snip>

Every morning [my two main protagonists] moved through a city hung with immense banners of red, white and black; they sat at the same outdoor cafés as did the lean, black-suited members of Hitler’s SS, and now and then they also caught sight of Hitler himself… But they also walked each day past homes with balconies lush with red geraniums; they shopped in the city’s vast department stores, held tea parties, and breathed deep the spring fragrances of the Tiergarten, Berlin’s main park. They knew Goebbels and Göring as social acquaintances with whom they dined, danced and joked — until, as their first year reached its end, an event occurred that proved to be one of the most significant in revealing the true character of Hitler…

<snip>

There are no heroes here… but there are glimmers of heroism and people who behave with unexpected grace. Always there is nuance, albeit sometimes of a disturbing nature. That’s the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside what we all know — now — to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it.

These are complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature. “

Could it be any clearer that I was supposed to read this book?

Yes.

After looking through it and reading a couple of chapters and marveling at all the above, I picked up the Brad Thor book, just for a peek. This is a dangerous practice that all too often leads to six or seven hour reading marathons as I delude myself with the assurance that I’ll read just one more chapter and then I’ll put it down. Besides, I’d already read its first chapter at the end of the Thor book I’d just finished and I wanted to find out… Wait… what’s this after page 6? Someone’s ripped out page 7/8?  And here’s another:  page 51/52, also missing. And 53/54 practically gone as well. I could just go ahead and read it, but I’ll be frank. I want to read ALL the pages of the book as it was written and the very idea of just skipping over them grates.

Better to bring it back and get a new one and not let someone else get this rude surprise. So I took the Thor book back, the person at the library threw it away, took it out of their catalogue and reserved a new book for me. Temptation removed.  “Read this one now,” God says to me, in reference to In the Garden of Beasts.

Very well then. I will. And I have started it. It is fascinating, definitely “addictively readable.” I’m learning many things. One that stood out: they didn’t call it a swastika at the embassy, but the Hakenkreuz or “broken cross.”

Thoughts from Black Hawk Down

I was going through some papers in my office the other day and found the following, which I pulled from the Afterward of the book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, which I read many years ago. I remember this section surprising me at the time; now it seems profound in its truth , a very clear elucidation of the human condition with respect to volition and something worth recalling and reflecting on from time to time:

“It was a watershed,” says one State Department official . . . “The idea used to be that terrible countries were terrible because good, decent, innocent people were being oppressed by evil, thuggish leaders. Somalia changed that. Here you have a country where just about everybody is caught up in hatred and fighting. You stop an old lady on the street and ask her if she wants peace, and she’ll say, yes, of course, I pray for it daily. All the things you’d expect her to say. Then ask her if she would be willing for her clan to share power with another in order to have that peace, and she’ll say, ‘With those murderers and thieves? I’d die first.’ People in these countries — Bosnia is a more recent example — don’t want peace. They want victory. They want power. Men, women, old and young. Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and the killing continues because they want it to. Or because they don’t want peace enough to stop it.” (pg 334-335)

And then a little later, this from p 345:

“Every battle is a drama played out apart from broader issues. Soldiers cannot concern themselves with the forces that bring them to a fight, or its aftermath. They trust their leaders not to risk their lives for too little. Once the battle is joined, they fight to survive as much as to win, to kill before they are killed. The story of combat is timeless. It is about the same things whether in Troy or Gettysburg, Normandy or the Ia Drang. It is about soldiers, most of them young, trapped in a fight to the death. The extreme and terrible nature of war touches something essential about being human, and soldiers do not always like what they learn. For those who survive, the victors and the defeated, the battle lives on in their memories and nightmares and in the dull ache of old wounds. It survives as hundreds of searing private memories of loss and triumph, shame and pride, struggles each veteran must refight every day of his life.

[snip]

“Many of the young Americans who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu are civilians again . . . They are creatures of pop culture . . . Their experience of battle, unlike that of any other generation of American soldiers was colored by a lifetime of watching the vivid gore of Hollywood action movies. In my interviews with those who were in the thick of the battle, they remarked again and again how much they felt like they were in a movie, and had to remind themselves that this horror, the blood, the deaths, was real. They describe feeling weirdly out of place, as though they did not belong here, fighting feelings of disbelief, anger, and ill-defined betrayal. This cannot be real . . . To look at them today, few show any outward sign that one day not too long ago, they risked their lives in an ancient African city, killed for their country, took a bullet or saw their best friend shot dead. They returned to a country that didn’t care or remember. Their fight was neither triumph nor defeat; it just didn’t matter. It’s as thought their firefight was a bizarre two-day adventure, like some extreme Outward Bound experience where things got out of hand and some of the guys got killed.

I wrote this book for them. “

I Fought for You

First thing in today’s post I want to say is thanks to all of you who commented on the Common Courtesy post. I appreciate your encouraging remarks and insights. Loved the analogy of the soccer player wandering into the middle of the baseball game.  I started  a post in response, but had to quit as it was too late and my brain stopped working before it got it to make any sense.  Probably a good thing, since I’m not sure it’s worth posting anyway.

Then I watched the following video which my husband sent me the link to, a salute to veterans, I Fought for You by the Sound Tank. Strange title, I thought, and when it opened I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. But by th end it moved me deeply, so I’m sharing it.

The Barbary Pirates

Today as I was researching embassies on Wikipedia, I came across mention of the Barbary Wars I’d just encountered mention of in The Last Patriot. Curious, I clicked on the links and read about them, or at least the first one. Seems there were some muslim North African states (called the Barbary States) — Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli — who’d been preying on the shipping traffic in the Mediterranean, capturing ships and crew and holding them for ransom, then afterward demanding tribute from whatever nation the ships were from for safe passage. At first American ships were protected by the British Navy since we were a British colony; during the revolution the French took over that job. But once we won our Independence protection of our ships was rightly deemed to be our responsibility.

Not having much of a Navy this was problematic, so Congress voted for funds to be allocated to pay the tribute to the pirates. In 1783 our Ambassadors to Britain and France (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) were sent over with the money and the charge of seeking to negotiate peace treaties with the Barbary States. Unfortunately the price for a treaty was more than the tribute money Congress had approved.

 Two years later, Adams and Jefferson tried again, this time in Britain where they sought to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy to London.  When they asked him on what grounds his nation took it upon itself to attack other nations who’d done it no harm, his reply, according to Jefferson’s report to the US Secretary of Foreign Affairs, was that…

“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.   [From “American Peace Commissioners to John Jay,” March 28, 1786, “Thomas Jefferson Papers,” Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827, Library of Congress. LoC: March 28, 1786 ]

And I just found that fascinating. Rush says sometimes that for most people history begins the day they are born, and everything before just doesn’t exist. I can see a lot of justification for the statement. I did know that Islam began in the seventh century, that the Ottoman empire had dominated the Middle East for six centuries (1299 to 1923), a sort of Islamic version of the old Roman Empire… but that was “over there”. And we were over here. So it really surprised me to find out the United States had already had interaction with fundamentalist Islam, more or less at its birth. And now it’s back again. Which I believe is something Jefferson warned about, at least according to The Last Patriot: “Jefferson was convinced that one day Islam would return and pose an even greater threat  to America…”

And so it has.

The  painting above is of the burning frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli in 1804, painted by Edward Moran in 1897.


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