“This Memorial Day I find myself wondering if we are worthy of such an honor and such a duty.”
When I visit the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., I look up two names.
Greg Conant and Jimmy Plumlee were both friends, warm and smiling in my memory. I can see them like it was yesterday. Filled with all the emotions, hopes and dreams of young men. They loved life.
They fell in combat at places named Hau Nghia and Phuoc Long in ‘Nam, a very long way from the high desert of West Texas. They are etched into my mind as hard as granite. I will never forget them, and I will never cease to honor them.
They were - they are - the very best of our extraordinary nation.
My dad didn’t make the memorial, but he died serving the nation in another way in the political hell-hole called Vietnam, just the same. He was already a decorated war hero for flying 57 B-24 missions in the Pacific, but he died an unsung and unrecorded hero for serving his nation in the summer of 1969.
I think of the sacrifice and goodness of these men on this Memorial Day; and the thousands of incredibly brave warriors who have fallen in the last alone in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I find myself wondering, will there be men like this in the future to safeguard the Republic, to keep the flame of human freedom alive?
The answer, of course, is do you and I have the guts to make that a certainty?
This Memorial Day finds us a divided nation, as perhaps we have not been since the Civil War.
The war this time is on ideological and theological battlefields. It is between the takers and the producers; the Godless and the Godly; those who wish us to live as the wards of the paternal state that slips further into tyranny with every new law, and those who wish to live as free and autonomous men and woman, made in the image of the Sovereign High King.
Memorial Day this year finds the nation weary, beaten down by the stupidity and mendacity of a self-aggrandizing “ruling class” that neither knows nor honors sacrifice; craving only what they can leach from others and plundered from the nation’s wealth.
If this Memorial Day is to mean anything, it must be to honor the fallen with our own bravery. Human dignity and human liberty – the exception of all human history – has been handed to us to preserve for another generation. It exists only in the hearts and memories of the living.
This Memorial Day I find myself wondering if we are worthy of such an honor and such a duty.
The same neo-conservatives who successfully pushed the nation to war with Iraq, a country which never attacked us and which never possessed the "weapons of mass destruction" which the Bush administration promoted as a basis for war, are now back promoting war with Iran, a country more than three times the size of Iraq. The war in Iraq did not go well, defying the neoconservatives' prediction that U.S. troops would be welcomed with open arms. This war had a series of unintended consequences, as wars always do. One is the rise of ISIS.
Writing in The New York Times, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has this advice: "To stop Iran's bomb, bomb Iran...Force is the only option." Writing in The Washington Post, Joshua Muravchik, a longtime neoconservative who is now at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, asks the question, is "our only option war?" and responds, "Yes." William Kristol, whose Weekly Standard, is a voice for neoconservatives, shares these views. Evidently, Bolton, Muravchik, Kristol and the others have learned nothing from the Iraq war which they successfully promoted. For Americans to follow their advice again would be folly indeed.
There has been an obsession with Iran by neoconservatives for many years. Norman Podhoretz, long-time editor of Commentary, wrote an essay in 2009 depicting Iran's president as a revolutionary "like Hitler...whose objective is to overturn the going international system and replace it...with a new world order dominated by Iran..The plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force."
There has been much panic about Iran which seems in retrospect to have been mostly emotional hyperbole. In 2006, Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis, an adviser to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, predicted in a Wall Street Journal op-Ed (April 22) that Iran's then-president Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained, "is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to the farthest mosque, usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary the world." Needless to say, Professor Lewis's fanciful analysis, which was welcome in the Bush White House, did not come to pass. And President Ahmadinejad is long gone.
The fact is that there is nothing conservative about neo-conservatives. This movement emerged from traditional liberalism. Bruce Bartlett, a traditional conservative who served in the Reagan White House, notes that neo-conservatives "...we're conventional liberals who came to be horrified by the excesses of liberalism. The New Left shocked many with its anti-Americanism, anti-intellectualism and embrace of violence to achieve its goals. At the same time, the rise of crime and welfare dependency and the deterioration of the cities forced many liberals to reassess their thinking. It was often said that a neo-conservative was a liberal who was mugged by reality."
Neo-conservatives openly proclaim that they have little interest in small government, balanced budgets, traditional values and those other staples of conservative thought. William Kristol explains that he and his movement are trying, "To convert the Republican Party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy." Another Weekly Standard editor, Fred Barnes, explained that neo-conservatism is essentially "big government conservatism."
Washington Times editor David Keene, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union, points out that, "...today's big-government neocons...seem far more interested in the pursuit, acquisition, and exercise of government power than in the freedom these impulses threaten. But traditional conservatives have always understood the true nature of government and the will to power that beats at its core. True conservatives always have viewed government with a profound skepticism and sought to limit its reach, whereas the neocon impulse seems to be the same as that which animates liberalism."
What motivates the neoconservative desire for war in the Middle East is a subject which is less than clear. Many have pointed to the close ties of many neoconservatives with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's right-wing. Such prominent neoconservatives as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, James Colbert, and David and Meyrav Wurmser wrote a memo to Mr. Netanyahu in 1996 entitled "Clean Break,' which recommended the reordering of the entire Middle East to the benefit of Israel.
Writing in The American Conservative, Philip Giraldi, a former long-time CIA official, asks: "Why is it that a gaggle of self-proclaimed 'experts' has been able to capture the foreign policy narrative so completely, in spite of the fact that they have been wrong about nearly everything? Neoconservatives have two core beliefs. First is their insistence that the U.S. has the right or even the responsibility to use its military and economic power to reshape the world in terms of its own interests and values. Constant war becomes the new normal....The second basic...principle, inextricably tied to the first, is that Washington must uncritically support Israel no matter what its government does."
Discussing the embrace of Mr. Netanyahu, his policies and his opposition to a nuclear agreement with Iran on the part of potential Republican presidential candidates, another conservative commentator, Daniel Larison, writes: "It may be obvious, but it is worth emphasizing how deranged all if this is. It is already quite strange when anyone in this country has such a strong ideological attachment to another state, but to demand that all of a party's candidates must share that attachment and share it to the same degree is madness. If the relationship with that other country were extremely useful to the U.S. it would still be absurd, but it might be a little easier to understand. When the relationship does virtually nothing for the U.S. and imposes significant costs on the U.S., as is the case with Israel, requiring all candidates to give reflexive support to the other state is bizarre and indefensible."
In Israel itself there are many who oppose any march to war with Iran. Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, says that, "Even if the Iranians did obtain a nuclear weapon, they are deferrable, because for mullahs, survival and perpetuation of the regime is a holy obligation. We must be much more sophisticated and nuanced in our policies toward Iran." Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is critical of those who urge a pre-emptive attack against Iran, who, in his view, overestimate its potential danger: "Though rich in oil, Iran is a Third World country with a population of 80 million and a per capita income of $2,440...It's defense budget stands at...a little more than half of Israel's and less than 2 per cent of America's. Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except the United Arab Emirates."
Professor Michael Desh of the University of Notre Dame points out that, "...less fevered minds understand that, even if Iran developed a rudimentary nuclear capability, the U.S. and Israel would have a huge missile advantage. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has over 5,000 warheads deployed and a large number in reserve, while estimates of the Israeli stockpile range from 80 to 200 nuclear devices. At present, Iran has none and, even under the worst-case scenario, is unlikely to have more than a handful in the years to come..Iran is a nuclear pigmy; it has no long-range missiles that can reach the U.S. Its medium-range missile capability,which can theoretically reach Israel, is unreliable. In contrast, Israel has between 100 and 150 Jericho missiles, plus more than 200 F-4E Phantom and F-16 Falcon Aircraft, capable of delivering weapons. The U.S. has almost 1,500 nuclear delivery platforms."
Attacking Iran would have the opposite effect sought by neoconservatives and by Mr. Netanyahu. Professor Stephen Crowley, chairman of peace and conflict studies at Oberlin College, points out that, "Since nuclear weapons provide the ultimate deterrent, nothing could better persuade Iranian hard-liners to abandon negotiations and to develop such weapons full speed than calls to bomb Iran. Mr. Bolton speculates that bombing could set back Iran's nuclear program 'by three to five years.' What, then, Mr. Bolton? Where does it end?"
The U.S. permitted the neoconservatives to take us to war with Iraq on false premises, and with disastrous results. To permit them to lead us down this path once again, this time with Iran, would be folly indeed. Hopefully, sanity and an enlightened concern with America's long-term best interests will prevail.
"Every now and then even Bill Buckley got confused; Stan Evanswas never confused."
Coming to Washington as a young lieutenant in the Reagan Revolution in 1981, I had the great fortune and honor of being hrown in the mix with some of the great conservatives of an era.
On top of that list was Stan Evans.
Last week Stan rested from this life at age 80, to labor in a greater one forever. He has left a movement and a nation so much richer for having been here.
When I got to Washington - I'd never set foot in the town before - I was stunned to quickly learn that far too many the men and women populating the new government and the new majority in the Senate on the Hill were, to put it charitably, not exactly conservatives.
Oh, they called themselves conservatives mostly - because Reagan won - but many were actually more interested with making big government "work" and self-promotion than with the "movement." It was a bit disheartening to learn this lesson.
But, as fate would have it, great conservative mentors quickly steered me to Stan Evans and his Monday Club meetings on Capitol Hill, where over the years, anyone who was someone came to discuss anything and everything that mattered.
It was a mixing bowl of real conservative thought, stirred up by the utensils of Stan's great mind and his large heart.
He was a gracious and very funny man - was there anyone with a quicker wit in Washington? Not that I know of.
Was there a quicker defender of bedrock conservative philosophy, or a more insightful expositor on any current crisis? That would be emphatically no.
Was there anyone more ready to engage and help a fellow conservative? This week's obits on the character and mind of this giant answers the question.
When the weight of Official Washington and the connivance of some of those in his own party began to have its effect on Reagan's policy direction, there was no more ferocious critic than Stan.
He would tell us that truth and principle would always win in the end. Time proved him right.
I was lucky enough to become friends with Stan (who wasn't?) over the years and he assisted and commented on my writing and suggested research techniques on many occasions.
I walked into a Monday Club gathering one time, after I had a published a pretty fiery article in the Washington Times that had raised a few hackles.
Stan came over and put his arm around me and congratulated me on the piece, its research and the controversy (which he loved). Then he whispered, "Look in the backseat before you get in the car tonight!" He knew the ways of Washington like the back of his hand.
Many others who knew Stan far better than I did, have written thoughtful and moving comments on his life that speak volumes about the man.
For me, he was a giant because he never bent, he never wavered from speaking the truth. And he never missed an opportunity to try to pass on to others the importance of sticking with and communicating the truth. No matter what.
His vast reporting and commentaries over the years, his foundational work with William Buckley and others in building Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), CPAC, and later the National Journalism Center (that has trained countless conservatives in the tradition of truthful and well researched journalism) stand as monuments to Stan.
His many books (especially The Theme is Freedom, Stalin's Secret Agents, and Blacklisted by History) are still must-reads for conservatives.
M. Stanton Evans has passed on, and with him a long line of post-War II conservative heroes is closing fast.
But Stan would be the first to remind us: an era passes, but the truth doesn't.
Goodbye dear friend.
Mike Giere has written extensively on politics, foreign policy, and issues of faith. He is a former candidate for the US House; worked for Ronald Reagan in 76 & 80; and served in both the Reagan and Bush (41) Administrations.
My friends, I was born into a Catholic family. Though my parents were not devout Catholics, all of that changed when mom nearly died of TB back in the 50s and suddenly my parents started to attend church regularly and soon thereafter got married by the church.
Luckily for me, mom sent my sister (Cecilia) and me to San Jose Catholic School, which had a predominately Hispanic student body and where the Sisters of St. Mary of Numur gave us Hispanic students not only a good education in regular school subjects but also taught us our Catholic faith well.
At San Jose Catholic Church, our pastor, Father Louis Dot, of the Claretian Order recruited me, a sort of bright kid to be an altar boy, a church chore I soon learned to love for several reasons. The main one was that Father Dot paid me a nickel for each weekday mass and a quarter for each Sunday mass. Father Dot, a hard working missionary founded 3 parishes in the Hispanic communities in Fort Worth and would thus have me not only serve mass at San Jose, but would take me along to the other small missions to serve mass. I recall Father Dot giving me 1.50 every Sunday after helping him serve weekday and Sunday masses. Needless to say I was a high roller kid!
As I grew into a teen and then went to public school I never quit going to mass on Sunday’s and on Holy Days of obligation. Though I have my faults like most of us do, I always tried to do as the nuns taught us about attending church and trying to follow God’s commandments, which I regret breaking many times.
After I graduated from high school and made good money building mobile homes, I soon became a big party animal! Man, how I loved drinking with my buddies and dancing the night away at local night clubs and dance halls. I recall waking up on Sunday mornings with a huge headache from partying and drinking and how bad I wanted to stay in bed. However, I could hear Sister Lawrencia whispering in my ear, “James, it is Sunday and you need to go to church!” So folks, tired and with a big hangover I’d get up and go to mass!
In 1960 after partying, having a great time with my girl friend of 2 years I asked her to marry me and she accepted and we got married at All Saints Catholic Church. This coming year, January 16, 2015, my wife and I will celebrate 55 years of marriage! Wow, how did she ever put up with me I now ask? Have I been a perfect husband and good father to my 3 kids? Yes and no is my answer. Again, I’m well aware of what is right and wrong according to the teachings of my Catholic faith and what is expected of me according to God’s laws as written in the Bible. But I know I’m a sinner and I daily pray to God to forgive me and as the Lord’s Prayer so plainly states, “deliver us from evil”.
Where are you taking us with this James some of you might wonder. Folks though knowing God’s laws fairly well, I never try to cast stones at others for their misdeeds and so, I keep my opinions to myself about what others do good or bad and I let others judge me as they see fit without trying to portray I’m holier than thou because I happened to go to church.
A few weeks ago, as I left my bank I tried to open my car and for some reason I couldn’t. All the while a black gentleman keep looking at me. Finally the man said, “Sir, that’s my car! Why are you trying to open it?” I then realized that my car was parked next to his and they were almost identical. I asked him to excuse me and that I should have noticed that his car didn’t have a rosary my mom gave me that hangs in my rear view mirror. Laughing he asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I responded that I was. He then asked me if I was a devout Christian and followed God’s laws to the letter. I told him I knew God’s laws very well but sadly I was a sinner and many times I broke them but always asked Him to forgive me. He then told me he knew God’s laws backward and forward and he followed them to the letter as written in the Bible. I told him, “Good for you sir, you will be rewarded by God one of these days for following His laws without question, nor swayed by the evil that lurks in this world.” I then asked him, “Sir do you believe in abortion?” “No! No!” he responded in a loud voice “that is against God’s 6th commandment, Thou shall not kill!” I then asked him, “sir do you believe in a same sex marriage?” Again the black gentleman responded vehemently, “No! No! No! God detests those sins and their blood with be on their own heads as so written in the Bible!” I then asked him, “Sir, are you a Democrat and did you vote for Obama?” Proudly he responded, “Yes sir I did twice!” I then told him, “sir the party you support the Democrats and President Obama wholeheartedly support abortion and same sex marriage! And sir, did you know that annually, over 300,000 black babies are aborted in our country yearly and black women have the highest rate of abortion!” I then told the black gentleman that since Roe v Wade in 1973, 16 million black babies have been aborted far larger than any other ethnic group and though some Republicans are Pro Choice most Democrats by and large support abortion on demand. I ended my conversation with the gentleman by telling him, “Sir, you are a hypocrite, you claim you follow God’s laws but sadly like me, you and I are big time sinners. You sir, remind me of a Jew who would have voted for Hitler!” With those parting words, the black gentleman lowered his head , got in his car and drove away.
My friends, I didn’t instigate that conversation nor, did I ever proclaim to the gentleman that I was a true Christian as he insisted that he was!
Let’s face it—when we usually think of judges, we think of them as little more than stern, humorless authority figures, perpetual bearers of a dour expression as if to remind all onlookers of the immense gravity of court proceedings. For such judges, the words in their orders and judicial opinions are to be read as the most omniscient of narratives, like pronouncements from Mount Olympus itself. Most legal scholars and observers readily excuse such a detached style, pointing out that judges must remain aloof in order to maintain the necessary aura of authority and impartiality.
I have a different take on this. Judges are human too, as recent headlines like the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice caught up in an email porn scandal remind us. My favorite judges are the ones who embrace their humanity and strive to remain accessible in their professional roles. Sometimes they inject a little humor or a pop culture reference or two into their opinions. One of my personal favorites is Justice Don Willett of the Supreme Court of Texas. His opinions are well-written, scholarly, and well-reasoned, as you would expect from a judge on our state’s highest court. But Justice Willett is also intellectually secure enough to throw in the occasional dose of humor or pop culture, as when he cited “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” for the principle of the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.
Justice Willett takes the same everyman approach off the bench. He is active on Twitter; since joining the social networking site in 2009, he’s authored over 12,800 tweets. When referred to him in a recent profile as “the most avid judicial tweeter in America,” Justice Willett responded with typical humor that such a distraction was “like being the tallest munchkin in Oz.” His tweets run the gamut from mentions of family outings, sports talk, and occasional forays into political commentary to witty observations. A September 8 tweet included a photo of two federal judges during an appellate argument, one appearing to doze off while the other engaged in a little nasal exploration, complete with the caption, “This is why some judges (not me) resist cameras in the courtroom.” Last year, he tweeted a photo of a delicious-looking Bundt cake with the caption “I like big bundts and I cannot lie”—a sly reference to the iconic rap song “Baby Got Back.” While Justice Willett is keenly aware of the pitfalls of social media, he also embraces the opportunity to connect with the public; after all, he points out, they vote and we live in an age in which it is “political malpractice” not to use social media.
Justice Willett isn’t the only entertaining judge out there. Justice Joseph Quinn of Canada’s Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently issued an opinion in a contentious breach of contract lawsuit that dragged on for nearly 3 years over the purchase of a hearing aid business. After 72 days of trial, Judge Quinn awarded the plaintiff a whopping $423.20. The reasons for the minimal award have much to do with how unconvincing the judge found the plaintiff, Stefan Fridricksson, to be. As Judge Quinn put it, “Fridriksson has taken everyone on a hideously time-consuming and obscenely expensive journey down his private yellow brick road to the outskirts of the Emerald City where, it appears, he has a residence. It was not a worthwhile adventure.”
Justice Quinn reserved his best zingers for recounting how Fridriksson fared as a witness. As he led off, the Canadian jurist observed that
“Determining credibility can be a challenge for a trial judge. We have no special powers in that realm and, wherever possible, avoid reliance upon darts, dice, and Ouija boards. However, rarely has a witness generously offered up so many reasons to be disbelieved. Fridriksson was an evidentiary gift who kept on giving. He ignored rule number one in the Litigants’ Credo: ‘Know thyself, because others soon will.’ Enough of this preamble, come with me now on a visit to the phantasmagorical world of Fridriksson. Pack lightly.”
Justice Quinn continued the barbed and often hilarious analysis of Fridriksson’s testimony, saying that “In the world of Monty Python, Fridriksson would be the Minister of Silly Expectations,” and that Fridriksson “plays Lieutenant Columbo with Inspector Clouseau results.” After Fridriksson finished testifying, the judge noted, the plaintiff was “noticeably dazed, his credibility was reduced to existential confetti and he even appeared to be physically shorter than when the trial began.” Ouch! By that point, the judge said, “The case for the plaintiff was leaking oil (at one point, I thought that I saw smoke).”
The opinion itself is very long, but well worth a read for the humor value alone. Justice Willett and Justice Quinn, thanks for restoring my faith in judges’ humanity.