Leavin’ on a Jet Plane…

August 19, 2009

…on a trip that will keep me away from the Intenet for the next 10 days or so, so won’t be posting or replying to comments and emails.

The Heritage American is now more than one year old, having officially started, after a couple of test runs, on July 4, 2008 (the previous entries were tests). While our political situation is, on the surface, more discouraging than ever, my feeling has only grown that the truth is making its way to the surface. With this will come new hope and new possibilities.

To those readers who have stuck with this blog (those who haven’t won’t be reading, I suppose!), I offer my deepest gratitude.

See you in September.

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What a Difference Half a Century Makes

August 16, 2009

MacArthur and Hirohito

One of the iconic images of the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952) is the photograph of General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito taken at MacArthur’s headquarters. The photograph is a striking symbol of American dominance and Japanese submission, a brilliant propaganda move by MacArthur. The 44-year-old emperor, previously rarely photographed or seen by the public, appears nervous and awkward next to the 65-year-old MacArthur, who seems to tower above him and deliberately strikes a casual pose in his open-necked khaki shirt. Further, it was the emperor who paid audience to MacArthur, and not vice versa. Hirohito did have reason to be nervous: the Occupation authorities were in the midst of deciding whether to retain the imperial institution, or whether to have Hirohito tried as a war criminal and quite possibly executed, something that much of the American public and many of Japan’s other enemies were quite in favor of.

Historian John Dower writes in Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (1), that “Rigid royalists like the [Japanese] Home Ministry’s censors immediately saw the photo as an appalling sort of lese majesty” (p.293). Nevertheless, it was published, serving as a demonstration of American-style freedom of the press as well as as a reminder of the Japanese defeat.

And yet, the photograph was not as injurious to the emperor as it might seem. Writes Dower: “The photograph is often said to mark the moment when it really came home to most Japanese that they had been vanquished and the Americans were in charge. At the same time – and this is what the censors and the more overwrought superpatriots missed – it also made it plain that SCAP [Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers] was hospitable to the emperor, and would stand by him” (293). MacArthur’s audience with the Emperor was followed by a campaign, engineered by General Bonner Fellers and strongly supported by MacArthur, to prevent the criminal prosecution of the emperor. The preservation of the imperial household of Japan as a national symbol of a democratic nation came to be accepted by the Americans and by most Japanese.

I couldn’t help seeing the ironic resemblance of a recent photo containing similar elements, but taken and published under very different circumstances:

Jong-Il and Bill

While the height difference between the white man and the Asian man is the same, the other important elements have been reversed, and the American – a former president, no less – is the subordinate and the one being made a fool of. Of course, the photos differ completely in their particulars. The first shows a moment in history when America, having decisively defeated Japan in a total war that culminated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, commenced an occupation with a firm sense of her own rightness. The second incident is infinitely trivial by comparison: Asian-American female journalists put themselves in harm’s way and were nabbed by the enemy; the Obama administration decided to allow Kim his desired PR coup by providing him with a real U.S. president (and, Charles Krauthammer thinks, other forms of aid) in exchange for the release of the hostages. It is just one of the sharper illustrations of the results of a fifty-year breakdown of the American sense of identity and national interest.

It is easy, from a position of safety, to make fun of Kim Jong-Il, (yes, I think the linked video is funny) and Clinton’s own history has inevitably led to to jokes about the incident. However, the reality is not funny. I have no solution to propose for our relationship with the Koreas, but the permanent posting of 28,000 troops in the South to protect it from the North, even as the South becomes increasingly anti-American, is unacceptable. As is any policy, whether regarding North Korea or Iran or the admission of Muslims as graduate students in the sciences, that does not put as its highest priority, and minimum acceptable outcome, the prevention of a nuclear attack against the United States.

There are other intriguing threads between the two pictures. In both cases the possession of nuclear weapons is the source of the victor’s power. Another link is the figure of MacArthur himself, who became the commander of UN forces during the Korean War, and was dismissed by Truman for insubordinate behavior. He seems to have been both more aggressive and more idealistic than his administration in his Korea policy. And the occupation of Japan that he headed, while by any standard a historically unique and massive success, set the precedent for the U.S. policy of trying to help and democratize other countries, including our defeated enemies. The liberal universalist rationale of the American occupation has become standard in all our foreign military activities, and continues to distort our understanding of the Korean situation. Finally, the contrast between America’s wartime propaganda against the emperor and the eager fraternization of occupation authorities with Japanese court circles (described by Dower) gives pause for thought.

MacArthur’s America was strong, though flawed. Today, America “no longer exists,” as Lawrence Auster put it in his commentary on the reason for our tepid response to the Chinese capture of the personnel of a U.S. spy plane in 2001. That is, we have lost a sense of being part of a larger national entity whose identity transcends that of the individuals who belong to it. As a result, when a hostile nation like North Korea commits an act of aggression against us as a nation, we respond solely in terms of the welfare of individuals. From this point of view, Clinton’s mission to North Korea was a resounding success, praised even by Republicans like Douglas Paal, who in an opinion piece for the New York Times, supports the Clinton visit. His approval is based on the simple belief that Clinton’s visit was the only way to free the journalists, mixed with some wishful thinking that Kim “may be ready now to turn a more cooperative face to the outside world.” Lee and Ling themselves have expressed emotional thanks to the U.S. government and the individuals who supported them, but don’t appear to be conscious of the considerable burden they placed upon their nation.

Meanwhile, the palpable humiliation of America, in the person of our former president, is recorded on film for posterity, quite visible to the rest of the world and to the North Koreans, though suppressed from the consciousness of most Americans. There is no way to escape the daily humiliations and increasing threats to our physical safety until we recover a historically rooted sense of who we are as Americans.

Notes

(1) John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.


Outlook Murky – The New York Times

August 10, 2009

I spent some time looking through the New York Times today (to be precise, the Friday, August 7 issue). Conservatives, of course, are deeply suspicious of the Times. Its left-wing bias goes way back, well before 1969 when its editors showed their lack of happiness at the successful Apollo moon landing. Still, it remains in my mind the newspaper. Nowadays it is available everywhere, and even given out free on college campuses.

When I was growing up in the Midwest, the Times was hard to get hold of. You had to go to a larger town to get the Sunday edition, or get it by mail subscription. For practical purposes you could only read it at the library. I remember going to visit my grandparents in the New York area in my early teens, and being impressed at how they had the Times delivered to their home every day. On July 4, the paper would always reprint the Declaration of Independence. I suppose they probably still do. When I went to college, I made a point of subscribing to the Times at a discount through the student agency. I felt I had “arrived” as a student.

Nowadays, I doubt many students read newspapers at all. Those I have talked to say that the news is all bad anyway, or that they get their news from the Internet. I am like them in that last respect. And yet I still feel one should read a newspaper, just as one should write real letters to people (I don’t do much of that either). They should be our bread and butter for understanding society; not a final authority, but a fundamental source. That’s what my father said.

I might still read the Times regularly if its only problem were liberal bias. After all, you can still get useful information from a biased source. But it has fallen far below that. If you are a person who still believes in some of the traditional American values – say, limited government; personal responsibility; national identity; national interest – the Times is almost unreadable. Its stories and editorials adhere to “scripts” that reduce every issue to simplistic liberal paradigms. There is less variety of perspective, I imagine, than there was even in Communist publications during the Cold War; the only advantage the Times has over those is its sense of style – which probably makes it the more dangerous of the two.

What a strange, grim world is portrayed on those pages! It reminds me of something I have said before, that the one thing conservatives and liberals in America have in common is a deep sense of foreboding about the future. No one could read this paper day in and day out and come out with any sense of optimism for the future.

The headlines this particular day:

Headline: Senate Confirms Sotomayor for the Supreme Court: First Hispanic Is Approved by 68-31 Vote. Comment: Justices in our highest court are now chosen based on an ethnic spoils system. Americans: from now on you will see more and more “Hispanics” presiding over you. Did anyone ever ask you if you wanted this?

The Times sees this as a “resounding victory” for their side. I have to admire the brazenness of the photograph of the victorious Justice “returning to her Manhattan home,” with graffiti on the brick wall in the background. Seems to symbolize the third-worldization her confirmation represents.

Headline: Economists See A Limited Lift From Stimulus: Jobs Report Due Today – Outlook Murky. Comment: The “economists” seem to belong to the Obama administration. They and a few “private analysts” think they see a teensy benefit from the massive “stimulus” expenditures. The Times writer hopes this is the case, because when higher unemployment figures are released today, this will provide “Republicans and conservative economists new ammunition to argue that the stimulus has been a waste of taxpayer money.” This seems to leave out the possibility that the stimulus actually has been a waste of taxpayer money….

Headline: A New Battle of Vieques, Over Navy’s Cleanup. Comment: A Puerto Rico story, obviously paired with the Sotomayor confirmation. The Navy used this island of 9,300 residents for military training from World War II to 2003. They are now cleaning up unexploded munitions, with residents unhappy with the possible health effects of detonating munitions to clean them up. It appears to be the usual give and take between the U.S. government and the locals that one would expect, which the Hispanic author of the article attempts to spin as a major incident.

Headline: For Iraqis Released by the U.S., Little Hope and Plenty of Suspicion. Comment: The Times must have published hundreds of stories following this template. The poor Iraqis, detained for trying to attack us! When they get out, they find there are no jobs, so they’re likely to join the insurgency again. Apparently, America needs to create jobs for all of them, or let them immigrate to America. And of course, people are always “suspicious.” We just need to try harder, and spend more, to win their hearts and minds!

Headline: ANOTHER HURDLE FOR THE JOBLESS: CREDIT INQUIRIES. DISCRIMINATION FEARED. Employers Defending a Practice Some states Seek to Restrict. Comment: Poor Juan Ochoa! He thought he had a job lined up as a data entry clerk. “Before he could do much more, though, the firm checked his credit history. The interest vanished. There were too many collections claims against him, the firm said.”

Actually, I am not comfortable with the enormous significance credit ratings are taking on in our society, and the regularity of credit checks in daily life. But if this guy has a bunch of unpaid debts…but the author didn’t think it important to fill us in on those details.

Headline: High-Risk Drug Is in Spotlight In Wake of High-Profile Death. Comment: Propofol, the drug that may have killed Michael Jackson, is being abused by some people. The article discusses an anesthesiologist from Nebraska who supposedly got to the point of injecting himself with the drug 15 times in one night, and another medical professional who used it 100 times a day. A serious problem, if this is so, but the Times writer does not choose to question the character of this anesthesiologist, obviously a seriously irresponsible, out-of-control person, who apparently is now back on the job after several months of rehab.

The Times, and its cousins, provide daily intellectual fodder for our elites in all fields. Presumably they read it to stay “informed” in ways relevant to their work and lives. But what do they learn? The theme is always the same. The economy, the health industry, foreign relations, war, unemployment – in each realm discontented people, usually foreign or minority, present a problem to government or other authorities, with their grievances, dysfunctions, or illnesses. To solve these problems, “experts” must conduct studies and the government must then attempt solutions based on their findings, using public money. But like the heads of the Hydra, the problems multiply endlessly, while there is never even a fraction of the money available that those experts insist is needed. With no concept of the larger, timeless truths that form the foundation for the social order and teach the limitations of what man can accomplish on earth, all you can do is rely on hope – in the person of figures like Obama and Sotomayor, who have no conception of the Good but do believe in Change, Change, Change.

I have long been disillusioned with our liberal media, but I still miss the days when I could take pleasure in reading the New York Times.


The Peaceful Warrior-King: Enemy of Progress? (More on The Lady of the Lake)

August 1, 2009

Lady of the Lake

O minstrel Harp, still must thine accents sleep?
‘Mid rustling leaves and fountains murmuring,
Still must thy sweeter sounds their silence keep,
Nor bid a warrior smile, nor teach a maid to weep?

(Lady of the Lake, Canto I)

Most wars, I suppose, are caused in one way or another by a territorial conflict between two peoples. It is simply a fact of life that to be a people requires that there be some territory that belongs exclusively to that people. Historically, the differences between even similar peoples have been sufficient to cause much bloodshed. We Americans have our own experience of civil war to show how fragile peace and national unity can be.

Walter Scott, in The Lady of the Lake (1810) (1), portrays a 16th-century conflict between James II, King of Scotland, who is attempting to bring the Border region under control, and a (fictitious) rebellious Highland clan, the Alpine, led by Roderick Dhu, vengeful and cruel, yet honorable in his way. The “lady of the lake” is the beautiful Ellen with the angelic singing voice, living in hiding on an island in Loch Katrine under Roderick’s protection. Her father is Douglas, former Earl of Bothwell and attendant to the king, who has been banished from his estate due to suspected hostile intentions towards the throne. Douglas and his daughter seek reconciliation and peace, but the volatile Roderick, hearing reports of a mustering of the king’s followers for war, summons his clan to war. Ellen is pursued by both Roderick and one James Fitz-Hugh, who has wandered into Highland territory while hunting, but she refuses them in favor of her beloved, Malcolm. After a duel in which Fitz-Hugh kills Roderick, Douglas and Ellen achieve peace by surrendering themselves to the King – where a final surprise awaits them. The king restores Douglas to his rightful position and orders an end to the hostilities.

Grounding his story in the contrast between the Gaelic-speaking, not-quite-civilized Highland Scots and the “Saxons” or Anglicized Scots under James, Scott paints a romantic picture of warriors on both sides, extolling their courage, vitality, and masculine beauty. Fitz-Hugh, for example, is portrayed thus:

On his bold visage middle age
Had slightly press’d its signet sage,
Yet had not quench’d the open truth
And fiery vehemence of youth;
Forward and frolic glee was there,
The will to do, the soul to dare,
The sparkling glance, soon blown to fire,
Of hasty love, or headlong ire.
His limbs were cast in manly mould,
For hardy sports or contest bold;
And though in peaceful garb array’d,
And weaponless, except his blade,
His stately mien as well implied,
A high-born heart, a martial pride,
As if a Baron’s crest he wore,
And sheathed in armour trod the shore. (Canto I)

Yet Scott in no way glorifies fighting for its own sake, unless in the pastime of hunting – and even here a noble stag is supposed to be given a fair chance to flee. Indeed, the most “martial” figure of all, Roderick, is rejected by Ellen for his savagery and vengefulness:

…I grant him brave,
But wild as Bracklinn’s thundering wave;
And generous – save vindictive mood,
Or jealous transport, chafe his blood:
I grant him true to friendly band,
As his claymore is to his hand;
But O! That very blade of steel
More mercy for a foe would feel:
I grant him liberal, to fling
Among his clan the wealth they bring,
When back by lake and glen they wind,
And in the Lowland leave behind,
Where once some pleasant hamlet stood,
A mass of ashes slaked with blood. (Canto II)

Although the poem’s immediate subject is the conflict between Fitz-Hugh and Roderick, it is really about the effort of King James to peacefully consolidate his rule. This rule the poet considers legitimate, although tainted by the king’s flaws – a certain rashness of character, and inclination to chase fair maids. His reign has been harmed by ambitious nobles who have falsely denounced Douglas and others to him. The king declares that his purpose is to “watch…o’er insulted laws” and “to right the injured cause.” Thus he made a fair judgment of Douglas:

Calmly we heard and judged his cause,
Our council aided and our laws….
…Bothwell’s Lord henceforth we own
The friend and bulwark of our Throne. (Canto VI)

At the same time, the reconciliation is achieved not only by adherence to law, but by a spirit of loving-kindness native to the king and personified by Ellen, who in some small way turns the heart of each man in the story away from rash warfare. Not that Ellen is a pacifist, as the last lines of this passage suggest:

Her kindness and her worth to spy,
You need but gaze on Ellen’s eye;
Not Katrine [the lake], in her mirror blue,
Gives back the shaggy banks more true,
Than every free-born glance confess’d
The guileless movements of her breast;
Whether joy danced in her dark eye,
Or woe or pity claim’d a sigh,
Or filial love was glowing there,
Or meek devotion pour’d a prayer,
Or tale of injury called forth
The indignant spirit of the North.

The lawfulness and humaneness of the civilizing order are understood to be Christian qualities, contrasted with the rougher ways of the Highlanders, still partly pagan.

A search of articles on The Lady reveals that it was being taught in middle schools in the 1930s; I am not sure exactly when it fell from favor. There is no doubt, though, that neither its content nor its style would have commended it to educators in the later 20th century. Scott’s extolling of traditional virtues like faith, chastity, valor, and honor in a hierarchical world of inherited positions did not reflect the modern egalitarian ideal. The actions of his characters were motivated largely by their given roles and their virtues or lack thereof; there was little of the psychological complexity favored in modern literature. And the flowery, descriptive style with its redundancy and its heavy rhymes was no longer considered to be good writing.

Not only that, Scott was under suspicion of being a source of dangerous ideas – of popularizing a fantasy code of honor that Mark Twain almost literally blamed for the Civil War. The famous passage, from Life on the Mississippi, is quoted in this recent, very derogatory article from The Atlantic:

Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still.

There may be aspects of Scott’s writing that merit Twain’s criticism (which in any case is deliberately exaggerated and probably more applicable to Scott’s imitators); but The Lady contains nothing that can be understood as a call to brash rebellion, let alone to acts of terror. It is true that the portrayal of the loyalty-unto-death bond uniting the members of Clan Alpine remind one the “band of brothers” rhetoric of the South during the Civil War:

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honour’d and bless’d be the ever-green Pine!
Long may the tree, in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line! (Canto II)

But Scott ultimately calls for peaceful union under a just ruler, and Roderick in the end pays the price for his ill-considered rebellion (I do not venture here into the question of whether or not that epithet should be applied to the Southern venture). Why should Scott’s message not have continued to be passed on to young Americans, in their English classes and in Classics Illustrated?

Alas, we – or at least our intellectual class – came to believe that Scott’s ideals, and ideas, were not nuanced enough. Scott, said people like Twain onward, portrayed people according to absurd, unlivable ideals instead of as they really are; in doing so, he impeded, or at least failed to help, the progress of the human race. Our real mission was now to transcend boundaries of clan, nation, and race so we could leave behind, once and for all, the ridiculous conflicts which these engendered.

But it was not Scott who lacked subtlety; it was us. He understood the importance of kinship and race, and who controls a narrow swathe of land, and the right of a traditional people to defend their way of life. (Though not supportive of rebellion, he certainly admired the unique virtues of the Highlanders.) He denigrated mercenary soldiers, who “drew not for their fields the sword,” fighting instead for money and adventure. He had a vision of peace between different peoples, but it was peace with mutual respect and with borders, transgressions of which would be punished. And he rightly looked to history as key to understanding the soul of a people, and saw music and poetry as coming from that same soul.

The peaceful life most of us still enjoy in the United States is not the result of our valuing “tolerance” and “diversity.” It is the product of a civilization built up by a linguistically, culturally, and racially homogeneous people, a civilization set up to enforce and propagate a transcendent moral order – just as Scott’s King James sought to do. When we begin to understand this again, Scott will no longer seem so alien to us – and his stories and songs will speak to us once again. We will come, once again, to value and cultivate a sense of personal and national honor. Meanwhile, the true aliens among us, whom we are currently inviting into our society far more quickly than we can “assimilate” them, will become clearly visible for what they are. A nobler and greater culture will become possible.

Notes

(1) The former popularity of the poem is suggested by the fact that it was the source of the last name of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass as well as the source of the Ku Klux Klan’s idea of cross burning (though that practice has little connection to the ritual described in the book). Schubert set a number of songs from The Lady to music, including the famed “Ave Maria;” and the “Boat Song,” also known as “Hail to the Chief,” is the source of the tune played for our President today. It is also the source for Rossini’s opera La donna del lago.