Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Supporting our troops?

According to this link at, 30 per cent of troops returning from Iraq have mental health problems, and those who suffer the most are the truck drivers and convoy guards who spend the most hours on the dangerous roads.

It seems increasingly more outrageous that the children of our poorer American families must suffer these disabilities so disproportionately. More and more it seems that we are not a nation at war at all; the great majority of us go about our heedless business while the less privileged take all the hits. "Draft the Bush Twins," a slogan from the 2004 campaign, makes even more mordant sense than it did last year.

Shelby Foote R.I.P.

Dan Huntley of the Knight-Ridder newspapers writes:

Foote was one of the few celebrities I ever met who actually listened to the people he met, instead of expounding upon his own illustrious past. My litmus test to determine if big shots are wise is--do more words go in their ears than come out of their mouths? Foote had a 2 to 1 ratio.

"Now tell me your name, son."
"Tell me where your people are from."

...Foote was a gracious gentleman with a humorous élan that he wore as casually as his trademark seersucker suits--permanently wrinkled in the moist Delta heat. He was a literate and worldly grandfather who used both hands to shake your one...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The martyrs of Algeria

Excerpt from Philip Yancey’s column, Christianity Today, November 2004.

A lieutenant in the French army, Christian de Chergé, assigned to Algeria during a violent uprising in 1959, found he could talk about God more freely among Muslims there than he could back in France, where such talk made people uncomfortable. As a Muslim policeman named Mohammed told him, “We never see French soldiers praying. You say you believe in God. How can you not pray if you believe in God?”

Later, as the lieutenant was walking with Mohammed, rebels surrounded them. Mohammed placed himself in front of the rifles aimed at Christian’s chest, insisting that the soldier was a godly man and a friend of Muslims. The rebels withdrew without harming the Frenchman, but the next day Mohammed was found with his throat slit.

Lt. De Chergé ultimately resigned his commission and joined a Trappist community in remote Algeria. The monks ministered to the sick, gave refuge to the poor, and spent most of their time in prayer, thus creating an oasis of Christian faith in a land mostly hostile to it.

Ultimately, the terrorists had their way. In 1996, seven monks, including de Chergé, were taken away, held hostage for two months, then beheaded. This brutal incident, however, became a tipping point in the war of Islamic radicals against Algeria’s government—-a war that had cost perhaps 100,000 lives—-by turning the majority of Algerians against the radicals. Mainstream Muslims called for an end to the violence. Today the monks are honored as martyrs throughout Algeria.

....“There are no final proofs for the existence of God,” Rabbi [Abraham] Heschel said in [a] 1966 speech; “There are only witnesses.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Elusive Nature of Evil

This excerpt is from an expanded version of a commencement address given by the journalist/writer Mark Danner to the graduates of the Department of English of University of California at Berkeley, May 15, 2005 (published in The New York Review of Books, June 23. Emphasis added.)


“When I was sitting where you [graduates] are sitting now the issue was Central America and in particular the war in El Salvador...[America was] supporting a government in El Salvador that was fighting the war by massacring its own people. I wrote about one of those events in my first book, The Massacre at El Mozote, which told of the murder of a thousand or so civilians by a new, elite battalion of the Salvadoran army—a battalion that the Americans had trained...Looking back at that story...I see now that in part I was trying to find a kind of moral clarity; a place, if you will, where [the] gulf...between what we see and what is said didn’t exist. Where better to find that place than in the world where massacres and killings and torture happen, in the place, that is, where we find evil. What could be clearer than that kind of evil?

“But I discovered it was not clear at all. Chat with a Salvadoran general about the massacre of a thousand people that he ordered and he will tell you that it was military necessity, that those people had put themselves in harm’s way by supporting the guerrillas, and that “such things happen in war.” Speak to the young conscript who wielded the machete and he will tell you that he hated what he had to do, that he has nightmares about it still, but that he was following orders...Talk to the State Department official who helped deny that the massacre took place and he will tell you that there was no definitive proof and, in any case, he [denied] it to protect and promote the vital interests of the United States. None of them is lying. I found that if you search for evil, once you leave the corpses behind you will have great difficulty finding the needed grimacing face.

Tough Questions About the Iraq War That We Should Be Asking
Excerpts from "The New World Order" by Tony Judt
New York Review of Books, July 14, 2005

Those of us who opposed America's invasion of Iraq from the outset can take no comfort from its catastrophic consequences. On the contrary: we should now be asking ourselves some decidedly uncomfortable questions. The first concerns the propriety of "preventive" military intervention. If the Iraq war is wrong—"the wrong war at the wrong time"[1] —why, then, was the 1999 US-led war on Serbia right?

…The apparent difference—and the reason so many of us cheered when the US and its allies went into Kosovo —was that Slobodan Milosevic had begun a campaign against the Albanian majority of Serbia's Kosovo province that had all the hallmarks of a prelude to genocide. So not only was the US on the right side but it was intervening in real time—its actions might actually prevent a major crime. With the shameful memory of Bosnia and Rwanda in the very recent past, the likely consequences of inaction seemed obvious and far outweighed the risks of intervention…

And yet it isn't so simple. Saddam Hussein (like Milosevic) was a standing threat to many of his subjects: not just in the days when he was massacring Kurds and Shiites while we stood by and watched, but to the very end. Those of us who favor humanitarian interventions in principle—not because they flatter our good intentions but because they do good or prevent ill—could not coherently be sorry to see Saddam overthrown…

…There are lots of individual sovereign states. But only one of them, the United States of America, has both the will and the means to back international armed intervention and help deliver it. This has been obvious for some time, of course. But far from being grounds for international anxiety it was for many a source of reassurance. Not only did the US appear to share the humanitarian and democratic purposes of the various agencies and alliances it had helped set in place in 1945, but it was governed by a political class that saw the advantage of exercising a degree of self-restraint, believing with Harry Truman that we all have to recognize—no matter how great our strength—that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please.[9]

[Some believe that] the United States itself has changed in unprecedented and quite frightening ways. Andrew Bacevich would agree with them. Bacevich is a graduate of West Point, a Vietnam veteran, and a conservative Catholic who now directs the study of international relations at Boston University. He has thus earned the right to a hearing even in circles typically immune to criticism. What he writes should give them pause. His argument is complex…but his conclusion is clear. The United States, he writes, is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.
Why does the US Department of Defense currently maintain 725 official US military bases outside the country and 969 at home (not to mention numerous secret bases)? Why does the US spend more on "defense" than all the rest of the world put together? After all, it has no present or likely enemies of the kind who could be intimidated or defeated by "star wars" missile defense or bunker-busting "nukes." And yet this country is obsessed with war: rumors of war, images of war, "preemptive" war, "preventive" war, "surgical" war, "prophylactic" war, "permanent" war. As President Bush explained at a news conference on April 13, 2004, "This country must go on the offense and stay on the offense."

Among democracies, only in America do soldiers and other uniformed servicemen figure ubiquitously in political photo ops and popular movies. Only in America do civilians eagerly buy expensive military service vehicles for suburban shopping runs. In a country no longer supreme in most other fields of human endeavor, war and warriors have become the last, enduring symbols of American dominance and the American way of life. "In war, it seemed," writes Bacevich, "lay America's true comparative advantage."

As a former soldier, Bacevich is much troubled by the consequent militarization of American foreign relations, and by the debauching of his country's traditional martial values in wars of conquest and occupation…

The unrepublican veneration of our presidential "leader" has made it uniquely difficult for Americans to see their country's behavior as others see it. The latest report from Amnesty International—which says nothing that the rest of the world doesn't already know or believe but which has been denied and ridiculed by President Bush —is a case in point. The United States "renders" (i.e., kidnaps and hands over) targeted suspects to third-party states for interrogation and torture beyond the reach of US law and the press. The countries to whom we outsource this task include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria (!), Pakistan— and Uzbekistan…

…The Amnesty report lists sixty alleged incarceration and interrogation practices routinely employed at US detention centers, Guantánamo in particular....All of these practices—and many, many others routinely employed at Guantánamo, at Kandahar and Bagram in Afghanistan, at al-Qaim, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere in Iraq—are in breach of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention against Torture, to both of which the US is a signatory (in January 2002, even the British Secret Intelligence Service warned its personnel in Afghanistan not to take part in the "inhumane or degrading treatment" of prisoners that was practiced by their US allies, lest they incur criminal liability [emphasis added] )[13]

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this grim story is the undisguised contempt with which the Bush administration responds to criticism. In part this is because criticism itself has become so uncommon…Bullied into acquiescence, newspapers and television in the US have allowed the executive power to ignore the law and abuse human rights free of scrutiny or challenge.

….Amnesty International cites several cases of detainees who "just could not believe Americans could act this way." Those are exactly the words said to me by an Albanian friend in Macedonia— and Macedonian Albanians have good reason to count themselves among this country's best friends and unconditional admirers. In Madrid a very senior and rather conservative Spanish diplomat recently put it thus:
“We grew up under Franco with a dream of America. That dream encouraged us to imagine and later to build a different, better Spain. All dreams must fade—but not all dreams must become nightmares. We Spanish know a little about political nightmares. What is happening to America? How do you explain Guantánamo?”[16]

….there is a fundamental truth at the core of the neocon[servative] case: the well-being of the United States of America is of inestimable importance to the health of the whole world. If the US hollows out, and becomes a vast military shell without democratic soul or substance, no good can come of it. Only the US can do the world's heavy humanitarian lifting (often quite literally....

[1] Tony Judt, "The Wrong War at the Wrong Time," The New York Times, October 20, 2002.
[3] That is also the message of The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing Inter-national Humanitarianism (Princeton University Press, 2004), by David Kennedy, an international lawyer at Harvard. Kennedy accuses international humanitarians—lawyers, doctors, relief agencies, election observers, and the like—of fetishizing their own structures and routines. They are too readily tempted, he suggests, into idealizing (and idolizing) their own work, with the result that they ignore or downplay both the frequently perverse outcomes of their efforts—furnishing cover for dictators and others with agendas of their own—and alternative, more radical solutions and policies that fall outside their remit.
[9] Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1945 (US Government Printing Office, 1961), p. 141.
[13] See Guantánamo and Beyond: The Continuing Pursuit of Unchecked Executive Power, p. 90.
[16] Conversation at Real Instituto Elcano, Madrid, October 14, 2004.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

David and Jonathan: Gay Lovers?

It is now asserted by many that the relationship of David and Jonathan (the son of King Saul), described in I Samuel 18:1-3 and II Samuel I:26, was homoerotic.

Edmund S. Morgan, by any standard one of the pre-eminent American historians of his generation, wrote a review of Ron Chernow's acclaimed biography, Alexander Hamilton, in which he [Morgan] makes these observations about young Hamilton during the Revolutionary War:

"Hamilton's ebullient energies found expression in close friendships with other young officers and romantic attachments to young women...He formed an intimate bond with John Laurens...Their relationship was so close that Hamilton's son and biographer described it as approaching 'the tenderness of feminine attachment.'...Bonding of this kind has always been common among warriors and what seem today to be extravagant expressions of love by one young man to another can be found in other eighteenth-century letters where the relationships were almost certainly not erotic." (The New York Review of Books, 9/23/04)