The Case for Columbus

 

 

Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks): “Imagine if Christopher Columbus had come back from the New World and no one returned.” Apollo 13 (1995) Universal Pictures.

They’re tearing down statues now. And history. And memory. The purveyors of political propriety who dictate the latest of whose in and whose out may swing around in any direction, at a moment’s notice, and point bony fingers at past heroes and declare them anathema. So who will be next? Who will be the latest victim of our past who cannot muster the madness of the new norms of societal acceptance? And, what test must they pass in the eyes of the pretended proletariat who falsely claim to be champions of justice?

Columbus, I think. He doesn’t stand a chance.

He’s been under attack in academia for years. Are there reasons for this? Yes. Of course there are, as anyone does who we put under a microscope and see for the first time through the eyes of modernity. But, that’s no reason to discount the historic victory Columbus achieved. He prevailed where the Vikings failed. He transcended ordinary thinking and centuries of legitimate doubt that said no one could sail west to reach the prize of the Indies because there was no port to replenish and re-provision ships on such a long voyage. This took guts. It was a unique vision of how the waves and winds acted in concert. And it required a brave and extraordinary man to not only sell this idea to the courts of Europe, but to actually do it.

But, this is not what modern man remembers. He knows only that Columbus brought destruction on an innocent populace. Search any Common Core web site and find that, surprise! Columbus was actually a very bad actor in a very bad play that brought nothing but misery and disease and slavery to the innocents of the western world. Ergo, he must not be emulated, esteemed, or, God forgive, remembered in granite as a hero for Americans of Italian heritage to honor and respect. Trust me. This is coming to a town near you. But, why?

For the very same reasons they uproot statues of Robert E. Lee. Like Columbus, and Washington and Jefferson and you name it in American history, these people had their faults and were a product of their times. Yet there are those today who cannot countenance any sins whatsoever that do not yield to their righteous indignation. Much like a preacher who only sees someone else’s sins and not their own, they clamor for popular acceptance thereby alleviating personal culpability. Case in point is Quinn O’Callaghan, who wrote a commentary piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. In his diatribe against the anticipated Philadelphia Columbus Day Parade he says this:

“The truth is that the defenders of Columbus Day and Confederate statues are the ones committed to rewriting history”

NO! The ones committed to rewriting history are those who ignore or dismiss it like an annoying fly or gnat who gets in the way of enjoying themselves at a family picnic. Or, diabolically, by deliberately skewing historical evidence in order to achieve a political agenda. Most Americans, I trust, are of the former persuasion only because we really don’t teach history any more. Just agreed upon garbage carefully sorted through sifts of universal sand where the bad guys are always what used to be called western civilization. Remember courses in college called Western Civ?

Although, it has become evident in recent years that forces (I mean money) have been provided to certain groups to alter the balance of power. Nevertheless, you can’t deny history with every whim that seems popular today and you can’t ignore truth when it faces you square in the face. You can, however, dismiss it if that suits your fancy. O’Callaghan continues:

“Monuments and holidays celebrating Columbus extol the Schoolhouse Rock edition of a conqueror and killer.” And, and this is really grist for the mill, “the iteration of Columbus we give a federal holiday to is born out of antiquated textbooks and bad junior high social studies classes.”

Having taught junior high school, I can agree with O’Callaghan on at least one thing, we should never have digressed to teaching “social studies” at all. We should have stuck to the time-honored liberal disciplines of history and geography. If we did, perhaps such nonsense would never be published in a major American newspaper.

Today, well, for the last fifty years or so – we’ve been looking at history through opaque lenses. Tinted so that we can only see what we’re told to see. It’s been a history lesson in optical illusion where facts are replaced or dismissed or ignored to make room for a triumphant exposition of progressive clarity.

When my kids were younger – I’m sorry, even to this very day, I always told them to look at the big picture when witnessing and evaluating current events. Because anything current has happened before whether we like it or not. Our culture dictates us to view ourselves, each other, and those who came before us with a new morality that is anything but transparent. In doing so, we fool ourselves. Nothing that much has really changed in the past millennium or two. We’d like to think that it has and that’s a comfort to us. But, human nature, whether it was Christopher Columbus’ or ours hasn’t changed that much at all. And, that’s the big picture. You can call Columbus a killer, blame him for genocide against innocent people, even say he began slavery. If it makes you feel good. But, it won’t come out in the wash.

I think Rodney Stark said it best in his book How the West Won (2014, Intercollegiate Studies Institute):

“Perhaps the primary conclusion to be drawn from these historical episodes involves the fundamental similarity of human nature. Just as there is nothing surprising about the fact the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas imposed great empires on those unable to resist them, so too it was to be expected that Europeans would impose empires on the people of the New World, especially since those indigenous peoples lacked metal weapons but were not short of precious metals. It surely is an instance of moral progress that colonialism has become unacceptable – at least in most Western societies. But it is pointlessly anachronistic to suppose that sixteen-century Europeans, Aztecs, or Incas should have known better.”

Christopher Columbus was and is an icon of modern civilization. He ushered in the Age of Discovery. He personally found a way west to a new world. He should be honored for his great deeds. Let parades march in Philadelphia for as long as we can honestly appreciate history and those who made it.

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Jˈaccuse…! D’Souza’s Big Expose

There were times while reading Dinesh D’Souza’s new book The Big Lie where I was reminded of Emile Zola’s famous letter of 1898 to the French newspaper LˈAurore accusing President Félix Faure of antisemitism. Like Zola’s historic, combative and wide ranging defense of Captain Alfred Dreyfus involving false accusations of espionage, D’Souza launches an all-out attack upon the Democratic Party in America and its progressive allies. The “big lie” to both Zola and D’Souza is a carefully laid out conspiracy to cover up the sins of the past and accuse the innocent in order to distort the truth. The bulk of D’Souza’s work mirrors my own in the study of Social Darwinism[i] in that it chronicles its diabolical and bloody march through most of the 20th century, and its iniquitous implications for today. But, first a quick synopsis.

Let’s start with D’Souza’s true intent on writing his book:

“My goal is to produce a genealogy in the sense of the term that Nietzsche wrote in his Genealogy of Morals.[ii] Nietzsche hopes, by giving an account of the origin of Christian morality, to discredit it by revealing its allegedly base roots. My goal is to show the base origins of fascism, not so much to discredit it–it should hardly be necessary in our time to do that–but to put to bed once and for all the big lie that makes fascism a phenomenon of the Right. Without this lie, the claim that Trump and the GOP are fascists simply crumbles.”

And what a genealogy. D’Souza traces the roots of the Democratic Party from its inception in 1828 to the present day. Throughout his well-researched and well cited work, the author meticulously documents the political party’s poisonous footprint on American history starting with Andrew Jackson signing the Indian Removal Act in 1930. Because of this heinous legislation members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations were forced to move west of the Mississippi River. Thousands perished in the “Trail of Tears” along the way.

D’Souza then details the Democratic Party’s fight to make slavery an institution guaranteed by law. In the Dred Scott decision, the seven democratic justices declared blacks not people but property. Through the Plantation Period or Antebellum Era, Democrats strove to legalize slavery in newly arriving states and established territories. The American Civil War was an inevitable clash of national consciousness brought on not by the firing on Fort Sumter, but by the intransigence of a political party that could not recognize “that all men are created equal.

D’Souza pursues the democrats in the decades following reconstruction, and into our previous century with its Jim Crow laws, lynching’s, and the history of the Ku Klux Klan (a de facto militia organization utilized by the Democratic Party to enforce its racist agenda).

Where D’Souza’s research and mine dove tail is in uncovering the history of euthanasia and eugenics. We agree it has its genesis in Europe and America as part of the theory of Social Darwinism. We diverge a bit in that D’Souza concentrates solely upon the sins of the Democratic Party and conveniently omits mention of the culpability – indeed, the orchestration of the eugenics movement both as a racial and radical pseudo-scientific movement by republican stalwarts Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie. In England supporters included Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and Lord Balfour.

D’Souza implicates, with justification, the role of academia in pushing the progressive ideas of eugenics. Still, despite support from Ivy League professors, there began, in the years leading up to World War II, a wave of dissention because the zeitgeist and early euphoria eugenics and euthanasia enjoyed began to crumble around the edges. Not so much because of Nazi programs (read pogroms) but because many scientists were becoming outraged at the lack of scientific methodology and they started to speak out.

Sustained intellectual opposition, very early in the discussion of eugenics, included American sociologist Lester Frank Ward,[iii] anthropologist Frank Boss,[iv] G. K. Chesterton,[v] and Pope Pius XI.[vi] Yet D’Souza fails to credit these credible adversaries of eugenics, possible because it doesn’t follow his genealogical narrative.

Additionally, D’Souza is remiss in following the money trail throughout the post-WWII period. Rockefeller funding continued to pour into organizations espousing eugenics and euthanasia, and, to an even greater extent, pro-abortion advocates. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s republicans turned a deaf ear to prolife pleas for help. This continues with liberal and moderate republicans today.

Yet, the overwhelming evidence compiled correctly in D’Souza book is that the Democratic Party is guilty of gross injustice to the most vulnerable in our society: minorities, the poor, the aged, those with mental and physical disabilities, and, of course, the unborn. This is indeed a collaborative effort from the Left that has re-resurrected socialist hegemony. Hear D’Souza’s reasoned opinion:

“I am also referring to what the Nazis called Gleichschaltung. The term itself means “coordination” and it refers to the Nazi effort to use intimidation across the cultural institutions of society to bring everyone into line with Nazi priorities and Nazi doctrine. Progressives in America are using their dominance –-actually their virtual monopoly–in the fields of academia, Hollywood, and the media to enforce their own Gleichschaltung. They do this not merely through the type of blatant propagandizing and outright lying that would do Joseph Goebbels proud, but also through the relentless battering and forced exclusion of dissident voices from their cultural institutions, so that there is only one point of view that is communicated to the vast majority of students and citizens.”

Today, unfortunately, there is a convoluted interpretation of what fascism (Benito Mussolini), National Socialism (Adolf Hitler), and international communism (Joseph Stalin) really mean. And, this is the “Big Lie” D’Souza is constantly alluding to. Fascism, Nazism, and communism all find their genesis on the Left of the political spectrum; not on the Right as is commonly misunderstood today.

D’Souza quotes Mussolini in his Autobiography:

“The foundation of fascism is the conception of the State. Fascism conceives the State as an absolute, in comparison to which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. For us Fascists, the State is not only a living reality of the present, it is also linked with the past and the future, and thus transcending the brief limits of individual life, it represents the immanent spirit of the nation.”

This flies in the face of our constitutional guarantees of individual liberty which is sacrosanct in our nation’s history. There is no room for fascism, Nazism, and communism within the parameters of our constitutional republic. It would be beneficial for all Americans to look back at where we have come from, what we have fought and died for, and what our country’s flag truly stands for.

Emile Zola’s letter forced France to look within itself. It not only saved Captain Dreyfus from the perdition of Devil’s Island, it eventually helped bring down the government. Zola never extolled the virtues of violence in order to accomplish this. He used a weapon rarely tolerated today: the truth. D’Souza thinks he has done likewise. Give The Big Lie an unprejudiced read. Our system of government and our very way of life in America may depend upon your conclusions.

Notes:

[i] https://en.widipedia.org. (2017). Applying the evolutionary concept of natural selection to human society

[ii] Nietzzsche, Friedrich. 1887.

[iii] Ward, Lester F. 1913. Eugenics, Euthenics, and Eudemics. Chicago: American Journal of Sociology.

[iv] Boas, Franz. Eugenics. The Scientific Monthly Vol. 3 (July-December, 1916).

[v] Chesterton, G. K. 1922. Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientific State.

[vi] Encycl. Casti Connubii. Dec. 31, 1930.

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Our Sacred Honor

Maybe it’s not in the current vocabulary of today’s world with the exception of many of our military and law enforcement personnel. It’s rarely mentioned in the media, hardly ever in modern literature, never in today’s movies or television, because it’s not even thought about or taught about or even alluded to in our grade schools, our high schools, and our universities. It’s called honor.

I’m not talking about egotism or the scratches upon one’s vanity that led to duels in previous centuries. That’s just the sin of pride. True honor is virtuous, just, and bespeaks wisdom. It evokes and demands upon our consciousness a sense of fidelity. It can never be contradicted by those who actually internalize its meaning because that would mean self-destruction. The person who lives by its code is duty bound to abide by divine dictates and must lead a life of pious contemplation which can often conflict with the status quo. There simply is no other way.

In this there is truth. St. Thomas Aquinas put it succinctly in his Two Precepts of Charity: “There are three things necessary for the salvation of man: To know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; to know what he ought to do.”

The brilliance of this quote lies not in secret but in the obvious. It’s all about being honest with yourself. It speaks of duty and obligation. Aquinas’ words of instruction kindle within our souls a sense of concrete destiny.

Despite current theological and philosophical arguments, especially concerning gradualism in the reception of Holy Communion (as if this had any standing in Catholic teaching which it does not), and the politically correct dictates of moral and cultural relativism, there is and always has been the pang of innate and supreme wisdom instilled in all of us to do the right thing. Of course this is sometimes never easy. We seek, like water, our way to lower ground. Driven by gravitational forces for the easiest path. Downhill we may go for a while but there is something in us that propels us to greater things, greater pursuits, greater knowledge and wisdom. And this greater inclination is God’s voice, sometimes subtle yet always real and compelling and stringent. It’s what “we ought to do.”

Today, we struggle for meaning in our lives. We search for promise in a world devoid of hope and rife with promises broken. This is because the world offers us little in the way of true happiness and satisfaction. It cannot deliver what it claims. Since it is not God-centered it can never do so. And, since it dismisses the “honor” of God, it drives us into an oblivion of dissatisfaction and eternal remorse. It compels us to obliterate faith in a higher power and stake our claims on the state as our lord and savior. No wonder we wander in a desert of “fake news” and rumors of things which hold no truth. No wonder we seek pleasure in fleeting experiences and popular, but not well-grounded, illusions that the world would be a better place without any religion at all.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It certainly wasn’t for our Founding Fathers. Whether they believed or not in an all-encompassing and hands-on God who directly did intervene in the lives of mankind (like George Washington), or who passively let things go as they may after the act of creation (like Thomas Jefferson), they certainly referenced sacred scripture on a daily bases and in our most important and historical documents.

Let’s not get into the separation of church and state thing, please. For anyone knowledgeable, and that’s an understatement, on American history, there is no question about the impact of biblical authority on both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. These men knew this and knew it intimately. The bible was their mainstay. It spoke to them as it speaks to us now. Our republic was founded upon it, no matter what they teach in schools today.

Our founders did, without question, a heroic and historic deed. When they signed the Declaration they knew it was a death warrant. They knew that their homes and property would be forfeited. They certainly knew the impact it would have on their families. They accepted, somehow, the fact that everything they had worked for would be compromised, destroyed, ruined, and annihilated because of one signature on a document. Eleven of them did lose everything. A few lost their lives.

Yet, there is one thing they never lost: their sacred honor. Because they knew and had internalized the code of Aquinas. They knew what “they ought to do.” They did it. And that’s what we celebrate with parades and banners and marching bands and hot dogs and ball games and fireworks today.

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On Dads, Stick Ball, and Ice Cream

I read an article recently on the dangers of obesity in children and how this threat is growing not just in American culture but throughout all first world nations. I know (you do, too), this is not news. It’s been endemic in developed countries for the last thirty years or so. But, the author of the story seemed to suddenly discover it amid the controversy about taxing sugared drinks in some major American cities. Of course, it had nothing to do with a new source of revenue only about the health of our children.

If my father was alive today he would probably have had a conniption fit (people back in the day used to have conniptions, in fact it was quite commonplace especially after your team lost in overtime). Dad would have said that government had no place taxing a beverage, any beverage, just because elitist community and municipal planners, who know better than the helots that populate this planet, deigned to protect the ignorant masses out of the benevolence of their own hearts. Yes, dad would have said that because he saw the coming intrusions of dictatorial social engineering as far back as the sixties. Sometimes, I’m glad he is not on earth today to see the havoc that has ensued in our schools, our military, in our places of work, in our neighborhoods since the advent of Orwellian master planning and the devastating effects it has had on our lives and how it has brainwashed our children to believe, no longer in a higher power, but on governmental largess. He would have been sickened by the consequences of politically correct mind control. Dad would have been crushed to see this even penetrate our church and be championed by a pope named Francis.

He always maintained that, given their own imaginative resources, kids could pretty much take care of themselves, as long as they were instructed and disciplined enough to eat their vegetables at dinner, attend to their religious obligations, obey the law, respect elders, and come home when the streetlights came on.

Unlike today, where our children eat what they want, have no idea who and what God expects them to be, and are slaves to electronic devises that keep them inside four walls, deprive them of social skills, increase inertia (if that’s possible), and cause corpulence unimaginable just a generation ago.

Yet, we (if you were part of the baby boomers) had sugar, I mean real sugar, and plenty of it. And ice cream and Italian water ice and Coke and Pepsi, not to mention pizza and French fries and hot dogs and potato chips and popsicles and candy and carbs galore! What changed?

A lifestyle changed.

Case in point is stickball. Mind you, dad introduced this to us when we were very young. Like most kids growing up in the northeast, especially in an urban setting, stickball (in its many variations) was an ideal sports activity which occupied our time over sultry summer days. Ideal, because it required limited space when a spacious ballfield was not conveniently located just down the street. In fact, you could and did play it in the street. What better place? That’s where all your friends were anyway. And when nobody had any money to spend on expensive sports equipment or uniforms, it was the perfect antidote to what the nuns taught us about idle hands and minds being the Devil’s playground. It also taught us a sense of discipline.

Now, here’s the Philly version:

It’s called stickball because you would play it with the broom or mop handle you stole out of your mom’s cleaning closet. You’d saw off the broom or mop, then wrap some electrical tape (“Stickum” really, before “Stickum” became illegal in the NFL in 1981) around the stick handle. This gave you a firm grip on the stick (bat) and we used it because nobody had any rosin that I knew of. Then you’d take a simple pimple ball and cut it in half. I know they really don’t sell these anymore, but they were abundantly available at any drug store or five-and-dime in the sixties. In a pinch, you could use a tennis ball and cut that in half, it would go farther, too.
My dad taught me how to pitch the half-ball (which some people called the game). You could toss it underhand hoping that it would be a flat saucer when it came to the plate, or you could wing it side-armed and curve it like Kent Tekulve did in the seventies with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Either way it was effective.

Because it was cut in half, the ball, after contact, never went that far, never broke a window or dented a car. You didn’t want to over swing, because one strike meant an out. You simply wanted to make contact. This taught us to be patient and choose judiciously. But there were other ways to occupy your time if the guys on the block weren’t available to play.

If you were by yourself with nothing else to do you could invent your own game playing curb ball. Throwing the ball against the curb and having it ricochet, hopefully, into your glove and causing an out. You could do this for nine miraculous innings all the while playing the major league game in your head. It was all about using your wits, your fantasies, your imagination, and thoroughly enjoying and entertaining yourself on an otherwise hot and boring summer afternoon. It was also about using your muscles. Every day, and I mean every day, this was a child’s routine, along with hopscotch and jump roping for the girls.

I know this might be pure nostalgia, perhaps even wishful thinking: that children today could revert and revel in the joys of my own past that has always brought me fond memories of stickball and curb ball and riding a banana bike seat searching for adventure without a penny in my pocket but with full expectations of a glorious day ahead of me.

Perhaps the days have gone when dads used to play “pepper” with their kids using only a bat and a ball and glove, where your father would challenge you with a ground ball, a line drive, or a pop up, and always directing his bat to surprise you with which way the ball was going; perhaps kids can’t exercise their imaginations anymore without the use of artificial stimuli to spark preconceived notions not embellished in their own minds, but placed there by manufactures of a false and cruel unreality that robs them of their innocence and their very childhood. By violence. By seductive and sexual innuendo if not overt corruption.

For all the Little League dads (and moms for that matter) who cherish every game and encourage their young ones on to persevere despite adversity, I congratulate you on a job well done. But, remember, victory for your children is not in winning anything. It is in the freedom you give them to exercise their innate potentials they have been blessed with, possibly from the beginning of time, by Our Lord and Master; in the potential to express themselves with imagination and exuberance. Maybe even with just a stick and a half ball.

And, oh, treat them to an ice cream cone with jimmies and a cherry on top.

Happy Fathers’ Day.

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Reagan’s Memorial Day Question

Perhaps, like you, I’ve always enjoyed hearing again President Ronald Reagan’s speeches (you can hear them over at You Tube, please treat yourself to find out what political speeches are really meant to be).

In 1976, when Reagan ran against the incumbent, Gerald Ford (really the constitutional successor of Richard Nixon since Ford was never elected to the presidency), my family of blue collar democrats cheered Reagan as we heard him deliver a speech in support of Ford at the Republican National Convention. We cheered because we knew, as everyone attuned to politics did at that time, Reagan should have been the nominee. He spoke to our hearts. Ford was not the right candidate for the times. And we felt the farmer from Georgia was not either. The world was changing, certainly not in a good or holy way. Catholics clamored for a return to normalcy the church refused to grant us. We were in the midst of the “spirit” of post Vatican II. We didn’t like it. It was forced upon us like a thunderstorm with cloudbursts which certainly dovetailed with the times but left the faithful like a ship without an anchor.

Like us, millions of hard working Americans anticipated the campaign of 1980 and the return of “the Gipper.” After four painful years of Jimmy Carter, America was ready to express, not its collective “malaise” but a new and energetic sense of patriotism. Reagan, with a sparkle in his eye and conveying an unmitigated certitude of nationalistic pride provided us with the raw materials to make that happen.

I know, an actor he might have been, but even Tip O’Neill, the crafty and astute democrat and long-time Speaker of the House from Massachusetts, knew Reagan could and would communicate his opinions with a homespun Midwestern voice that stretched across our Continental Divide and reach both coastlines with ease and a magnetic message, comforting to the listener, of enduring values and time-tested virtues. In the lifetimes of those that had experienced the uproar of the sixties, political assassinations, a presidential abdication, and vast changes in our national mores and morality, Ronald Reagan was a tonic much needed and very much a balm applied to and alleviating our country’s aches and pains.

But, it was his voice which made all the difference.

And, it was something he said in a Memorial Day Speech on May 31st, 1982 that opened up this, at that time, young democrat’s mind. It was a question. It was the way he subtly put it. It was a question not of Reagan’s making, he did not write it, nor any of his speechwriters, who he really didn’t need any way for he was, himself, like Lincoln, a great writer. He was only quoting the lyrics of our national anthem. Yet, I’d never really thought about it before or even given it any credence whatsoever.

Me, who has written two novels based on the War of 1812. And I thought I knew everything about that time in our nation’s history, even to the last stich on the magnificent flag of our great “Old Glory” flying proudly over Fort McHenry, in Baltimore Harbor as the sun finally broke through a perilous night and revealed to a young Francis Scott Key that our flag was still there.

Remember, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. He was young, but old enough, perhaps, to remember the “Great War,” (1914-1918) supposedly “the war to end all wars.” World War I surely would have come to have an influence on him and had an effect upon his family and Tampico residents in general as it did everywhere in the world, especially among the “Doughboys” and their families in the Midwest. Much more so would be the influence World War II had upon all Americans, including Reagan, who had to endure stateside service because of his failing eyesight. Add to that, he lived through the so called police actions in Korea and Vietnam. Through all of this turmoil, Reagan never forgot the price to be paid for our freedoms. It was instilled in him and forever would peal out like a church bell on Sunday morning. Certainly, his magnificent Memorial Day speeches both in 1984, where he dedicated his thoughts to courageous Vietnam veterans, and 1986, when he singled out three American veterans buried at Arlington: Joe Lewis, Audie Murphy, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, were more than fitting and decidedly memorable. But, it was his 1982 speech at Arlington which caught my attention and imagination. Listen to this in your mind’s eye and hear his voice:

“The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery. One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero, and in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GI’s of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike. Like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way.

“Winston Churchill said of those he knew in World War II they seemed to be the only young men who could laugh and fight at the same time. A great general in that war called them our secret weapon, “just the best darned kids in the world.” Each died for a cause he considered more important than his own life. Well, they didn’t volunteer to die; they volunteered to defend values for men have always been willing to die if need be, the values which make up what we call civilization. And how they must have wished, in all the ugliness that war brings, that no other generation of young men to follow would have to undergo that same experience.

“As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. And let us also pledge to do our utmost to carry out what must have been their wish: that no other generation of young men will have to share their experiences and repeat their sacrifice.

“Earlier today, with the music that we have heard and that of our National Anthem – I can’t claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don’t know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: Does that flag still wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? This is what we must all ask.”

Think about it. Every generation must ask this question. The question at the end of the first stanza of Francis Scott Key’s poem. Key didn’t put in an exclamation point, he put in a question mark I’d never noticed before. But it makes sense doesn’t it?

This Memorial Day we must, for it is our duty to do so, ask this question of ourselves and of our nation. We must answer it honestly as if our country’s future depended upon it. Because it does.

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The Luck of the Irish

I was fast asleep. It was late on a billowing March night on the eve of the feast of St. Patrick when I heard my father urgently whisper up the steps to my bedroom “Jiggs!”

I was sixteen and it was 1973. There was a lot going on. The War in Vietnam still waged on even though Nixon and Kissinger would soon skillfully manage a tactical withdraw that was anything but “honorable.” Watergate would soon predominate the headlines. Roe v Wade changed everything in January of that year and Catholics went to war with each other over the sanctity of life. No small things.

I say this because my dad sometimes woke me up in the middle of the night to bounce some ideas off me that disturbed, impressed or excited him. Sometimes he would wake me up to listen to the end of a ball game on the radio. Sometimes to watch William F. Buckley or David Susskind on channel twelve, our PBS station. More often than not, he would rouse me out of bed to watch a movie. One that he enjoyed. Say, any classic featuring Paul Muni. Or, one of his favorites, Twelve Angry Men. Certainly anything starring John Wayne. It wasn’t abusive, not even in today’s sense of that word. It happened occasionally. And, it happened because he knew I was a thinker. That I was a born story teller. That I thought outside the box before that maxim ever came into fruition.

On this night, however (because it was a weekend and dad didn’t have to work two jobs to put food on the table and I didn’t have school the next day) it was something very special.

It would prove to be a long night.

“Jiggs,” by the way, was an Irish-Philly nickname for George or Georgie, just like “Happy” is for Harold. Why this is I don’t know. It was just the way it was and everyone accepted it.
But, on that night so many years ago my dad and I shared something special.

Drinking Porter

When I came down the stairs I was fully awake. Well, yawning of course, but looking forward to what my father had in store for me. I was a very skinny kid. Pretty much like the cartoon ads describing the 97-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face at the beach that were in all the boy’s magazines in the fifties and sixties. You know, Charles Atlas stuff.

Dad noticed.

That night, as he sat in front of the black and white TV, he put two bottles of porter (black beer) in front of me with a peanut butter and banana sandwich. “That’ll put meat on your bones, Jiggs,” he said. “And this movie will be something you’ll want to see.”

We lived in Levittown, just north of Philly. Yet, if you could direct your antenna sitting atop your roof the right way and the wind was just right you could pick up stations from New York. And, when you could accomplish that, you could not only get Yankee baseball but something marvelous called the Million Dollar Movie on WOR-TV Channel 9, just before the national anthem played and the test pattern came on.

As I ate the sandwich and downed the porter (it didn’t work, by the way. My metabolism kept me trim until I reached fifty), we watched a most remarkable movie. And, this is where our story begins.

Leprechauns and Morality Plays

There are, indeed, many great Irish movies. Sure, John Ford’s The Informer (1935) and The Quiet Man (1952) are my top two. Yet, the movie dad shared with me that night, so lovingly seared into my adolescent memory, did more than just inform and entertain. It changed me.
It’s called The Luck of the Irish (1948) and starred Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter, Cecil Kellaway, Jayne Meadows, and Lee J. Cobb. The film was directed by the legendary Henry Koster, a Jewish emigrant from Nazi Germany, who also directed The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Come to the Stable (1949), Harvey (1950), The Robe (1953), and, his last film, The Singing Nun (1966), among many other classics.

In The Luck of the Irish, Tyrone Power plays the role of an urbane newspaper man, Stephen Fitzgerald: a foreign correspondent who has traveled and seen the world but who was disgruntled and dissatisfied with making “nickels and dimes.” He wanted more. He had rubbed elbows with the rich and powerful and he yearned to become one of them. Yet, deep inside, he is not a greedy man. This becomes evident early in the film when, staying at an enchanting inn in Ireland, owned by a beautiful colleen named Nora (Anne Baxter), on a trip from the continent to America, he chases and tackles what he had been told was a leprechaun (Cecil Kellaway, nominated for best supporting actor). Although Fitzgerald forces the leprechaun (Horace) to dig up his pot of gold just for the fun of it because the reporter doesn’t really believe in fairy tales, he gives back the gold. To Fitzgerald it would have been like stealing a poor man’s savings. Horace never forgets this kindness. But, Fitzgerald forgets the whole incident, thinking it was just a bad dream.

Fitzgerald flies to New York and accepts a position as a one-man think tank and writer for a wealthy publisher (Lee J. Cobb) who is running for a U.S. Senate seat. The publisher promises Fitzgerald that he would have the freedom to keep his integrity and his high ideals. Along with a generous salary, furnished apartment and car, he is given a man-servant so that he can concentrate all his powers on the publisher’s agenda. He even gets the publisher’s daughter (a surprisingly sexy Jayne Meadows) and that seems to seal the bargain. Fame and fortune are all his. Or so it seems. The man-servant turns out to be Horace, who Fitzgerald only vaguely remembers.

Horace subtly teaches Fitzgerald a lesson in personal integrity and magically encourages a relationship with the owner of the inn, Nora, back in Ireland where the story began and just happens to be in New York on family business.

And here’s the rub. Fitzgerald is ordered by the publisher to publicaly recant himself on an important policy matter. He must do this in front of his friends at the Correspondents Dinner. Now, everything hangs in the balance. Does he do as he is told? How do you give up money and power and prestige? In other words, do you give back the pot of gold?

I won’t tell you what happens next. But, trust me, you’ll be delighted to make this movie a part of your St. Patrick’s Day celebration. And, perhaps, if you watch it with a sixteen-year-old who has dreams of what lies hidden at the end of a rainbow, you’ll be planting seeds in a fertile young mind while laughing at the artful and whimsical humor that is the cornerstone of Irish wit. Oh, and have a few pints of porter too.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Mother’s Milk

In the delightful movie, Scrooge (1970), a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starring Albert Finney, there’s a scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present gets the decrepit, miserly-meanie protagonist-antagonist drunk from a cup brimming with “the milk of human kindness.”

Scrooge hesitates. After all, nothing is really for free in his world. There must be some hidden cost, even for a cup of milk freely given. Scrooge drinks and becomes enamored with the enticing, delicious elixir, and then gets hammered while pleading, as Oliver Twist did with his porridge, for “some more.”

Both Ebenezer and Oliver shared a miserable start in life. They were both tragically deprived of the true “milk of human kindness.” They were motherless. They yearned for the kind, supple embrace of a mother’s arms and to drink deeply from the warm wells of their mothers’ nurturing breasts.

As infants, we are all divinely programmed to suckle and slurp our mother’s milk. Nothing is more natural. Nothing is quite as good for us, despite the pediatric nonsense the baby experts foisted upon the expectant mothers of the baby boomer generation, actually well into the 1970’s, that breast feeding wasn’t really necessary. That any nipple, even a plastic one, would do. So, the modern world of post-natal bliss came to be found from a bottle not from a breast. How chic. How progressive. How like us to just take another detour to break the inconvenient bond between mother and child through the marvelous, almost unthinking acceptance of a can of formula vis-á-vis the real McCoy.

But a mother’s instinct is not to be trifled with. Science can sometimes be trumped by innate reasoning. As it so happened, the popular march toward natural childbirth back in the 1980’s dovetailed with the wholesome and age-old practice of breast feeding. Mother’s milk was now back in vogue and so was common sense. This was, and is today, beneficial for both mother and child.

And, so it was for the Madonna and the Christ child, too.

You, of course, remember the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, when, after the Magi had visited with King Herod, they reacquired their celestial search:

“They were over joyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Mt 2:10-11).

Please note the Magi didn’t enter into a stable where there would be a manger and a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes as did the shepherds. The Magi entered in “a house.” Hence, it’s surmised by some the Holy Family had already left Bethlehem.

And this is where a beautiful story begins to unfold.

This is supposition on my part, of course, but just south of Bethlehem Joseph may have led his wife and infant son to “a house,” possibly some sort of abode hewn from rock. Perhaps carved from the indigenous limestone prevalent in that part of Judea. It’s not a farfetched supposition. There are houses and churches there still today sculpted into the landscape of the hills and mountains.

Perhaps Joseph was led there on his journey by a kind soul he met along the way. Maybe it was an abandoned house and could be used by travelers searching for warmth and protection. In any event, here Joseph may have stopped in his long journey back to Nazareth.

Why? Possibly a storm was threatening or some other urgency. Maybe because the donkey had picked up a stone in his hoof and needed time to heal. Perhaps it was for another reason.

And why not? After all, the decree from the purple-robed Augustus had been satisfied. The census had been taken in the City of David. Now was the time for Joseph to pay attention to the great and grave responsibility he had pledged to God he would fulfill.

Yet maybe, in light of all this, he just needed to sit awhile and contemplate fully the trust the Lord had placed upon his strong shoulders. Given the historic implications, which must have occurred to him and the frightful weight of such an undertaking, most men would have second thoughts; perhaps plan a self-indulgent escape, shirk responsibility, take cover and hide as so many men do in our day.

Not this man.

Duty coursed through his princely veins as deep as the river Jordan. Yet, like all men, he needed guidance. There was no other choice then but to stop on his travels and do something men hesitate to do: ask for directions.

Joseph prayed.

How did he pray? Well, simply, no elaborate formal recitations or formulas here, but in humility and with sincere sweat beading on an overtaxed brow. Joseph knew the magnitude of the moment. He knew his place in it. Moreover, he recognized Mary’s place in the sacred unveiling of God’s plan for the coming of the Messiah. The curtain between heaven and earth was suddenly parted. And then there was the baby.

That very day or sometime soon after, a caravan arrived from the east. Perhaps it was in the evening or early in the morning. Three, obviously wealthy explorers alit from their beasts of burden and politely requested and audience with the king. Did this surprise Joseph and Mary? Did the visit of the shepherds at the stable before they left Bethlehem shock them?

No. Both husband and wife knew, as we should, that there is no such thing called coincidence. Especially when you are wholeheartedly following the will of God and have already surrendered your heart to His justice and mercy. This surrender, as it was with Mary and Joseph, is not capitulation. It is the re-gifting of free will and it is wonderful.

After the Magi left the “house” Joseph had some new things to consider. The gifts the travelers left were of enormous value. But, what should he do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? The answer came through a dream. An angle appeared to Joseph:

“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him” (Mt 2:13).

Joseph, not one to panic, took the answer to his prayers for directions literally and began immediately to embark on an unforgettable journey to a land his forefathers fled centuries before following the staff of Moses.

Quickly, preparations were made to flee Judea. Joseph would have left no footprint of his family’s presence at this “house.” He believed and he obeyed the message given him by the angel in his dream. Nothing, this side of heaven or hell, would prevent him from fulfilling his mission to get his family to safety.

But, there was something Joseph couldn’t control. Something completely out of his power to manage or even anticipate: Jesus was hungry. He needed nourishment. He needed sustenance. And this could only be procured from His mother. He required milk. So, His mother began to feed him.

Still, Joseph was in a hurry. Time was short and the family desperately needed to move, and move now. Herod’s troops were in proximity and were scouring the countryside in and near Bethlehem determined to find and destroy the newly proclaimed king. The warning of the angel reverberated in Joseph’s ears, the visit of the Magi may have confirmed this because they had a dream warning them not to return to King Herod.

Joseph, perhaps, asked Mary to delay the feeding of the infant. Couldn’t she do this on the road? Surely she could. Because now was the time to escape and escape quickly before inevitable disaster would most certainly strike and kill the God-child.

Yes. She agreed. She could feed her son as they ventured down the road. Why not? Joseph would make certain the passage would be gentle enough that she would be able to breastfeed her child.

Mary stood and removed her breast from the hungry Christ child’s lips. As she did so, a few drops of her precious milk squirted down onto the limestone floor. Suddenly, the entire small edifice, the whole of the “house” which had been shadowed and gray turned into a creamy color of milky-white. Neither Joseph nor Mary noticed. They were in too much of a hurry to escape the egotistical wrath of the tyrant Herod and his soldiers who were butchering male children with impunity. And, escape they did. Just in time.

But, someone else must have noticed the change to the “house.” It could be that there was an eyewitness. The visit of the Magi would certainly have attracted attention of neighbors or wayfarers nearby. In any event, we know today that devotion to Our Lady, under the title Our Lady of the Milk, began fairly early. A church was built atop of the stone structure and is dated back to the fourth century.

Our Lady of the Milk is venerated by both Christians and Muslims. If you make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land you can worship there and see it for yourself. You can also ask for some “milk dust,” or the scrapings of the limestone flooring. Many miracles are directly attributed to the consumption of the limestone dust and the devotional prayer.

It wasn’t long before the story of the Lady of the Milk spanned across Europe. Spain was enamored with the tale and devotion to Nuestra Sénora de la Leche captivated its faithful. It was spread to the New World by the conquistadors, explorers and missionaries. In fact, if you’re a snowbird and travelling south this winter, stop by St. Augustine, in Florida. There’s a beautiful shrine there dedicated to Sénora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery).

For many souls, the “milk of human kindness” has been realized in a way Charles Dickens never thought possible. In this Christmas season, especially on the Feast of the Epiphany, we should recall the events depicted in Matthew’s gospel and take comfort in the loving, sweet nurturing power of mothers everywhere.

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