The region of France with the oldest claim to civilization is Provence, whose Mediterranean coast was honeycombed with Greek colonies as early as 600 B.C., of which the most important was Massalia (later Marseilles). The Hellenes brought with them the written alphabet, diverse and (ahem!) innovative sexual practices, philosophical discourse, and the art of making wine. Since these are precisely the cultural attributes about which Frenchmen still boast today, it behooves us as residents of the Hellenic colony of Astoria, NewYork, to remind the Frogs where they learned it all”from the Greeks. It was Grecian colonists who introduced the rude, blue-painted Celts to techniques of cultivating vineyards, planting the grapes which would thrive there for the next 2,600 years.
One of the oldest varieties in Europe, the Ugni grape dates back to the first Greek settlements”and still forms the backbone (if not quite the taste bud) of wine making. The most widely planted white grape in France, it also accounts on its own for a third of Italian white wine”filling carafes of $8 Trebbiano for impecunious college students on first dates even today. As you may have gathered, Ugni is not the finest or most interesting grape. It’s beloved by winemakers for its hardiness in bad weather and tendency to grow abundantly even in bad conditions. When one’s most delicate grapes wither and die, he can count on the Ugni to keep springing up and keeping the barrels full. Its plain, almost neutral flavor makes it useful as the base to which other, more flavorful varieties can be added, and also lends itself to distillation. Juice from Ugni grapes forms the backbone of many cognacs and brandies, and at least one brand of vodka”Ciroc, whose producers boast they still employ the techniques introduced by tenth-century Benedictines of the Abbey of St. Michel.
The Greeks did more than teach the Gauls how to plant the grape. They inducted the Gauls into the vast, pan-Mediterranean economy of trade, which linked in a web of growing prosperity the forests of Scotland with the granaries of Egypt, the purple factories of Tyre, and the spice merchants who carried their wares along the great Silk Road from Asia. This benevolent globalism is the single factor which, according to historian Henri Pirenne, allowed the Mediterranean region to become the most prosperous and advanced culture in the world. The wealth that resulted from this web of complementary trade is what lifted all of Europe and the Middle East from the Iron Age, and made possible the empires of Persia and later of Rome. If a metaphor helps, imagine the Mediterranean as a vast octopus of prosperity, with its head somewhere near Crete, tentacles reaching to Portugal, Scotland, Morocco, and India, exuding instead of ink the many varieties of worldly goods which traversed the wine-dark sea.
So how did this vast, mutually beneficial system of trade give way to the chaos and near-starvation which marked the Dark Ages? Traditionally, historians have pointed to the fall of Rome, the collapse of central authority and the incursion of vast numbers of untutored tribes of barbarians into Gaul and even Italy. Indeed, the sniffy Whig historian Edward Gibbon faulted the Christian Church for the empire’s collapse, and hence the next 700 years of relative darkness. But Pirenne offers another explanation, and one I like much better: He blames the Moslems.
Okay, he doesn”t really blame them. When an army of theologically motivated conquerors try to bring down the “infidel” civilization of their enemies, who can really blame them? Our own Puritan founders did the same favor for the Indians, and the Spaniards for the Aztecs. It seems to arise from a basic human urge to obliterate otherness, and far be it from me to moralize about this sort of thing. Nevertheless, as partisans of European civilization and peoples (I like to root for the underdog), I can”t resist pointing to Pirenne. In his ground-breaking history Mohammed and Charlemagne, Pirenne argues from archaeological and documentary evidence that the fall of the Roman empire was not in fact a catastrophe, that the disruptions of order which accompanied the fall of Rome were not sufficient to wreck the ancient economy. He shows the continued use of currency, the widespread trade and relative prosperity which continued under “barbarian” rulers who claimed continuity with Rome, learned to read and write in Latin, and quickly adopted Catholicism. To most residents of the old Roman empire, Pirenne argues, between the fifth and seventh centuries, the switchover from rule by Roman generals commanding barbarian armies to barbarians commanding themselves was not all that traumatic. In fact, life went on much as before.
So what happened to turn wealthy sixth-century Gaul into the howling wasteland it would become just a hundred years later? According to Pirenne, it was the Islamic conquest of the Middle East and North Africa, which cut Europe off from the ancient centers of grain production in Egypt, and Asiatic trade in Syria and Persia. Returning for a moment to my metaphorical cephalopod, it’s as if the tentacles of the Mediterranean octopus reaching into Europe had been hacked off. One of the first measures the new Islamic occupiers of these still mostly Christian regions took upon conquering the countries was to cut off all trade with France, Italy, and any other region inhabited by infidels. This draconian economic boycott had devastating effects, Pirenne reports”helping within a century or two to virtually destroy urban civilization in Europe, whose towns could no longer sustain their populations. He documents how cities such as Rome and Marseilles dwindled in size and wealth, ceasing to be cosmopolitan centers of trade, and shrinking into feudal forts surrounded by struggling farms. Instead of exporting wine to Africa and importing grain from Egypt, the Christians of regions such as Provence were reduced to a simple, subsistence economy. Those in Spain were simply conquered by Moslem invaders, and subjugated for 700 years. While this meant religious persecution, it at least entitled them to take part in the vast Islamic economy”which helps explain the so-called “golden age” of medieval Spain.
As for the winemakers, Islamic invasion frequently meant the end of their industry. As Desmond Seward notes in Monks and Wine:
In the tenth century, much of southern France was ravaged by Moors, whose unwelcome presence is still commemorated by the Montagnes des Maures. True to their prophet, they uprooted the heinous vine wherever they met it; according to the Koran, “there is a devil in every berry of the grape.” (p. 47)
These vines, which had flourished for over 1,200 years, were painstakingly replanted in most cases by Benedictine monks, the only men educated and organized enough to undertake this delicate task. In the Bandol wine region near Marseilles, the monks of the Abbey of St. Victor in the eleventh century restored the vineyards which produced Clairette, Sauvignon, and of course the Ugni grape.
The Abbey of St. Victor was an ancient center of Christian preaching in Provence. It was founded by the important theologian St. John Cassian in the 400s in an abandoned quarry that had been turned into a secret Christian cemetery. From the Church’s earliest years, Christians had made a practice of conducting the liturgy on the tombs of holy people and venerating the relics of the dead. This gave rise to the custom, current today, of placing in every Catholic altar a saint’s relic. Indeed, priests who are traveling in hostile regions without access to such altars carry an “altar cloth” with the bones, hair, or other relics of a saint sewn into the fabric, so they can make an altar out of any flat surface at need.
This abbey contained, most famously, the body of St. Victor (hence its name), a Roman officer executed in the second century for refusing to worship the emperor. It also boasted, tradition tells, fragments of the cross on which St. Andrew was killed, the clothes of the Virgin Mary and St. Mary Magdalene, and even the coffins which held the Holy Innocents slain by King Herod. Okay, so sometimes “tradition” likes to fib. (In reality, this was the site where Jesus and Mary Magdalene honeymooned, before taking off to found a goddess religion and sire a race of bumbling Merovingian monarchs. I know this for a fact: I read it on the beach.)
This abbey was destroyed several times by invaders during the chaos and poverty that descended on the region in the wake of its artificially induced economic collapse. The Benedictines built a new abbey on the site in the tenth century, which quickly became a center for evangelizing the region. The monks prudently built around their chapel an enormous fortress, with an eye to the still-rampaging Saracens, Vikings, and even Magyars. (Perhaps you haven”t dealt with many Hungarians, but if you have, you know they do still sometimes revert to type”unlike the poor Scandinavians, who seem to have entirely lost their “edge.” As for the Saracens… check today’s newspaper.)
The abbey became famous for its faithfulness to the Benedictine Rule, and its monks helped reform dozens of other monasteries throughout Europe. Two former abbots of St. Victor rose to become popes”albeit Avignon popes.
The abbey was destroyed, like nearly everything else of value in France, during the Revolution (See Drinking Song #7)”whose partisans tore down hundreds of historic churches, including the enormous Abbey of Cluny, one of the greatest cultural centers of European history, an exquisite building almost the size of St. Peter’s in Rome. It was blown up, and a highway built through its ruins.
As the post-Christian French”to the horror of the faithful remnant among them”complete the deconstruction of their Christian heritage, the heirs of the Moors and Saracens who once again populate Provence and other regions in prodigious, fertile numbers, meekly wait their turn to inherit the earth. If and when they do, I expect that the vast, green fields of Ugni grapes will once again be torn up and burned. So drink the stuff while you can.
Excerpted from The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song
CELEBRATE: There is something of a mild baby boom occurring among the Christian French, and a stirring of Christian practice. Besides the admirable bands of Traditionalists who have kept alive the ancient liturgy of the Church and the cultural heritage of France, lay movements such as the Emmanuel and the Bethlehem communities are reviving an interest among the young in the faith of their grandfathers (or more likely, grandmothers). Toast their efforts with a bottle of Bandol blanc, over a steaming plate of the delicious dish from southwestern France, cassoulet. It’s a complex, exquisite concoction of duck fat, white beans, and pork skin”a batch takes two days to properly make and a solid week to finish eating. It’s perhaps my favorite dish in this book.
WARNING: This dish is not halal.
Recipe by Denise Matychowiak—with a doff of the hat to Paula Wolfert.
2 pounds dried white beans
¾ pound fresh pork skin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 pounds bone-in pork shoulder, cut for stew
5 tablespoons goose fat
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, cut in rounds
8-ounce piece of pancetta
1 head garlic, whole
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 quarts chicken stock
Sprig parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and celery tied together
Rinse and pick through beans for any foreign rocks or debris.
Soak for 2 hours.
Tie pork skin in a roll and simmer 20 minutes in enough water to cover. Drain.
In large heavy stew pot heat duck fat. Season pork shoulder and brown on all sides. Add onions and carrots. Cook 5 minutes. Add pancetta. Cook another 3 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste; stir 1 minute. Add stock, pork skin, and herb bundle. Simmer 1 ½ hours.
Drain beans and add to pork ragout. Simmer 1 “ 1 ½ hours until beans are done, depending on the freshness of beans. Cool. Skim off fat that has risen to surface and reserve.
6 duck confit legs
1 pound fresh garlic pork sausage
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
Heat ragout gently on stove to just warm. Remove pork skin and set aside. Remove any bones that are free of meat as well as large pieces of fat. Remove herb bundle and discard. Remove garlic and squeeze back into ragout.
Steam duck legs in a colander over boiling water. Remove meat from bones and set aside.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Unroll the pork skin and cut into strips. Line 2 3-quart ovenproof bowls with the skin” fat side down.
Add ½ ragout to bowls. Scatter duck meat over and cover with remaining ragout. Swirl in reserved fat from Day 1.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Bake 2 hours.
Brown sausage in skillet and cut into 4-inch pieces.
Reduce oven to 300 degrees.
Place sausage on top and gently press into beans, stirring top level of beans. Cover with bread crumbs.
Cook 1 ½ hours until bread crumbs are browned.
Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes.
If desired, sprinkle with a tablespoon of melted duck fat.
Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.
The mother of my children rang me from Deauville and for probably the first time in her life asked me to retract something I had written. It was about Pal Sarkozy’s wife, Christine de Ganay, whom I described last week as the worst of a bad bunch. Well, I’m not exactly pussy-whipped, but Alexandra does have a point. I mixed up the cad’s wives. The poor de Ganey woman was left penniless with two young children by our pal Pal – and he is still very much with us as I saw a picture of him when his son was crowned at the Elysee. I simply mixed up his various wives and women and chose to call the best the worst. Stupid little Greek boy. This kind of thing happens to those who drink, fornicate (just) and think they know everything because they’ve been around for so long. My sincere apologies, and, believe you me, it’s not some Grabbit & Run hack lawyer who has sent me a threatening letter. Just the old wife asking me to play fair.
Be that as it may, my old boss Lord Black—I love it when the Yanks refer to him as Lord Conrad Black —seems to be doing well. The prosecution began like the Ardennes offensive conducted by my beloved Wehrmacht, but has now hit a rough patch. They came up with couple of bullshitters who had been promised an easy time where you can’t drop the soap, but, and it’s a very big but, if the jury has any sense, they’ll throw the case out the window and then comes party time. Conrad reminds me a lot of Richard Nixon. Misunderstood, portrayed as an ambitious anachronism, slapped with ludicrous adjectives by hacks whose copious research only cloak their prejudices. I have written about Black before, hence I will spare you. But I will yet again come back to Nixon.
He visited Moscow in July as vice-president to Ike, and at the Sokolniky Park American Exhibition, he had the famous contre-temps with Nikita Khrushchev over which super-power had the best kitchen. The Yanks won hands down. Uncle Sam had a lock on the contest. An all-mod kitchen complete with dishwasher and America’s most cherished possession—a huge refrigerator. The Russkies were still hauling ice from the Gulag in order to chill their vodka. Nikita baited Nixon, but my hero held his own. The American refrigerator was light years ahead of the Soviet Neanderthal contraption.
Switch to Wimbledon two years later. Thomas Lejus, a Moscow university graduate, was the first Soviet to be accepted to the Wimbledon draw after the war. An American friend of mine, “D,” (whom I cannot name because he is now a very big shot in D.C.) was also in the draw. He suggested we take Thomas out to lunch and get him to defect. “Do you know what this will do, if their first player defects ?…..” I agreed, and my friend and I invited Lejus to the Cafe Royal for lunch once he was out of the tournament. If memory serves, Lejus passed a round or two and on the second week the three of us met at Regent Street. After the boring opening pleasantries, “D” got to the point. I can actually repeat it word for word: “Look Thomas, If you leave the Soviet Union, we will give you a house near Washington which will have a refrigerator, and a Ford convertible with a hard roof, one that retracts even while you’re driving…” He made a sign with his hand how the roof worked. I remained silent. Then, after a long pause, Thomas answered.
“You mean to tell me that you would like me to leave the land of Pushkin for a refrigerator and a car whose roof retracts while on the road?” D was non-plussed. Then the penny dropped. Someone obviously had got to Lejus before us. “Who the fuck is Pushkin?” “D” demanded. That is when I stepped in. “Please,” I begged “D,” “Let me handle it.”
You can guess the rest. I recited Eugene Onegin to Thomas—after all, Pushkin is the only poet who wrote it first and did what he had written about in real life afterwards—told him how I would have done exactly the same thing as the man who was known to be as jealous as Othello and twice as dark did in his particular case ….. but it was no good. He saw us as a bunch of philistines with a capital P. Never mind. Back then I was the most right wing human being on earth, but I sure got Thomas’s point. And it gets worse: Thirty years later, in the spring of 1991, in Palermo, my old Davis Cup partner and I were playing a veteran tennis tournament when we spotted a very thin, tortured-looking man staring out in space, unaware of his surroundings. “Thomas?” I gently asked.
It was Lejus. It turned out he had walked in on his wife while she was on the saddle with another, and had killed her. Being a Soviet hero, and because of the passions involved, he got only eight years in a tough prison. He told us about it in the way people do when they have renounced all further intimacies of this kind. I was very moved, and tried a Flaubert line. “The absurd man is the man who never changes.” He gave me that immortal Russian look,
one that encompasses all the wisdom and hell those poor Russians have had to learn and endure. I never saw him again.
The New York Times“ firing of Judith Miller, allegedly for bad reporting, served the same purpose as the paper’s daily “Corrections” column: It suggested that everything else in the newspaper of record is pretty bloody good. It isn”t of course. Manufacture of news, faithful service on behalf of powerful interests, editorializing masquerading as reporting, mischievous misinterpretations and double standards pepper the pages much as they did when Judith Miller was on board. A classic case of the Times molding the news to make it fit to print was its recent coverage of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s suit against Serbia, charging genocide and demanding billions in reparations.
This was a suit in which the Times had a huge stake. The Balkan wars were halcyon days of U.S. journalism. Times reporters like John F. Burns and David Rohde collected Pulitzers reporting horrors, op-ed columnists like Anthony Lewis and Leslie Gelb weekly worked themselves up into a lather calling for bombs, all parroting the familiar line: The Serbs were to blame for the breakup of Yugoslavia; the Serbs were responsible for the wars in the former Yugoslavia; the Serbs alone committed genocide, as a matter of state policy and because they are a uniquely wicked people; and were it not for U.S. determination to bomb, the Serbs would have wiped out every ethnic group and realized their ancient dream of Greater Serbia. Not coincidentally, tales of Serb horrors, replete with photos of women wailing and girls lighting candles, serve the purpose of reassuring readers that, contrary to what they may see or hear, it is U.S. adversaries, and not the United States, that commit atrocities.
Thus the ICJ ruling that came down on Feb. 26 could not but have been a severe disappointment to the Times. The court ruled, first, that the atrocities in Bosnia did not amount to genocide. And, second, that the government of Yugoslavia not only did not commit genocide, but that it was not responsible for the killings in Bosnia because it didn’t exercise effective control over the armed forces of the Bosnian Serbs. To be sure, the court, following the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did rule that genocide took place on one occasion—in July 1995 in Srebrenica. However, even in this case the government of Yugoslavia bore no responsibility. There was no evidence, the court said, that the attack on Srebrenica was ordered by, or was undertaken in collusion with, Belgrade. Though the ties between the Yugoslav army and the Bosnian Serb army “had been strong and close in previous years…they were, at least at the relevant time, not such that the Bosnian Serbs’ political and military organizations should be equated with organs of the FRY.” Thus, the court said, the massacres at Srebrenica were not “committed by persons or entities ranking as organs of [Yugoslavia]. It finds also that it has not been established that those massacres were committed on the instructions, or under the direction of organs of [Yugoslavia], nor…that instructions were issued by the federal authorities in Belgrade, or by any other organ of the FRY, to commit the massacres, still less that any such instructions were given with the specific intent…characterizing the crime of genocide.” Therefore, the court ruled, Serbia did not owe Bosnia-Herzegovina any reparation payments.
The Times strategy was to mischaracterize the ICJ’s ruling and at the same time to attack it for its ruling. The triumphant headline on next day’s story, written by Marlise Simons, made it seem as if the ruling was a vindication of the Times‘s line: “Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide.” Now of course this was not what the court declared. Nor, incidentally, was this one of the issues on which the court had been asked to issue a ruling. The issue was Serbia’s responsibility for the alleged genocide. Simons admitted that the court had determined that Serbia was not guilty of genocide. But, she immediately added, the court “faulted Serbia, saying it ‘could and should’ have prevented the genocide.” The court said no such thing. The words Simons quotes are not to be found anywhere in the ruling. They come from statement made to the press by the ICJ’s president, Judge Rosalyn Higgins of Great Britain. She said: “The Court has found that [Yugoslavia] could, and should, have acted to prevent the genocide, but did not. [Yugoslavia] did nothing to prevent the Srebrenica massacres despite the political, military and financial links between its authorities and the Republika Srpska and the VRS.” However, Higgins, for whatever reason, was mischaracterizing the ruling. The court said, “In view of their undeniable influence and of the information, voicing serious concern, in their possession, the Yugoslav federal authorities should, in the view of the Court, have made the best efforts within their power to try and prevent the tragic events then taking shape, whose scale, though it could not have been foreseen with certainty, might at least have been surmised.”
There is a world of difference between saying that a person didn’t do everything in his power to prevent a crime and saying that that person could and should have prevented the crime. In fact, it was precisely because the court was unable to say Belgrade could have prevented the killings at Srebrenica that it ruled that no reparations were owed to Bosnia. “Reparations to Bosnia would be appropriate if the Court were able to conclude…that the genocide at Srebrenica would in fact have been averted if [Yugoslavia] had acted in compliance with its legal obligations. However, the Court clearly cannot do so….Since the Court cannot therefore regard as proven a causal nexus between [Yugoslavia’s] violation of its obligation of prevention and the damage resulting from the genocide at Srebrenica, financial compensation is not the appropriate form of reparation for the breach of the obligation to prevent genocide.”
Despite her show of bravado, Simons knew the ruling was a major disappointment. So she began mumbling darkly about political pressures that may have been exerted on the court. The ruling, she said, “even if strictly based on the law, hews close to the political wishes of Western countries that want to pull Serbia into a wider Western European community, rather than see it isolated as a pariah state, possibly accused of genocide, with its extreme nationalists growing in strength.” So Simons who reports uncritically, not to say awe, on the doings of the ICTY—a court established, financed and staffed by NATO, and whose rules of procedure and evidence are carefully crafted to ensure preordained outcomes—now has the gall to suggest that the ICJ judges, who really are international, are obeying diktats from certain unnamed “Western countries.”
Simons concluded her report by asserting that “the last word on the role of the Serbian leadership in the Bosnian war has not been said.” Based on the word anonymous ICTY prosecutors, she said, “The tribunal has part of the war-time records of the Supreme Defense Council, which included the former Yugoslavia’s military and political leaders….Tribunal officials have said part of the minutes of the meetings were blacked out and some whole sections were missing. But the minutes still provided much information on how the Serb leaders ‘ran their proxy army’ in Bosnia, one tribunal official said.” According to Simons, Serbia made a deal with the tribunal that only its judges and lawyers could see the records, but not those of the ICJ. In their ruling, she noted, “the judges made the point that they had been prevented from seeing them.” True, they did do that, but they ascribed no great significance to this, given the vast array of material that Bosnia did present.
So there we have it. According to Simons, the court ruled that genocide took place in Bosnia and that Serbia violated the Genocide Convention. But its failure to rule that genocide in Bosnia was orchestrated from Belgrade, which Simons knows to be the case, can only be explained by some kind pressure applied to the court by unnamed Western countries and because some documents had been blacked out.
To be sure, the ICJ ruling was problematic, to say the least. The court said no genocide took place in Bosnia, other than in Srebrenica. But this makes no sense. Genocide, if it means anything, is an attempt to destroy an entire nation or an entire ethnic group. If you kill many members of an ethnic group in one village, but leave them alone in the next village, and, indeed, in every other village, you may, if they are unarmed, be committing a war crime, but you are not committing genocide. Raphael Lemkin, drafter of the 1948 Genocide Convention, defined genocide as “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.” Thus, in ruling that the killings in Bosnia didn’t amount to genocide, but that the killings in one small town—Srebrenica—did amount to genocide, the court was hardly in accord with the convention.
Moreover, the court, again following the ICTY, held that the Bosnian Serb forces had no intention even to capture Srebrenica, merely to reduce it in size. According to the court, “at some point…the military objective in Srebrenica changed, from ‘reducing the enclave to the urban area’…to taking over Srebrenica town and the enclave as a whole.” Thus, the supposed “plan” to kill all of the military-age men in Srebrenica wasn’t even conceived until after the capture of the town. “The necessary intent was not established,” the ICJ said, “until after the change in the military objective and after the takeover of Srebrenica, on about 12 or 13 July.” In addition, the court accepted that this “intent” didn’t encompass the entire Muslim population of Srebrenica. The court, like the ICTY, didn’t dispute that the Bosnian Serb forces transported Srebrenica’s women, children and old men to safety.
Since, according to the ICJ, the takeover of Srebrenica was an improvised plan, since there was no intention on the part of the Bosnian Serbs to carry out executions until after the change in the military objectives, since Belgrade had no effective control over the Bosnian Serbs, since Belgrade didn’t know ahead of time about the intention to capture Srebrenica, since Belgrade had no armed forces of its own in Bosnia, it is hard to see what it “should have” done to prevent the alleged massacres. The United Nations, which actually had forces stationed in Bosnia, was in a far better position to do something to prevent them.
In addition to Simons’ front-pager, the Times ran another story the same day in the inside pages, written by Nicholas Wood, bitterly complaining about the ICJ, under the headline “Bosnian Muslims View Ruling as Another Defeat.” The ruling, Wood wrote, “greatly disappointed relatives of the mainly Muslim victims of the conflict.” The verdict “marked the second setback in a year.” What was the first setback? The death of Slobodan Milosevic. “His death forestalled a decision on whether Mr. Milosevic was guilty of committing war crimes and possibly genocide. The Milosevic trial pointed to the substantial involvement of the Serbian state in helping to finance, equip and plan the war in Bosnia.” By “decision,” Wood of course meant a decision that Milosevic and Serbia were guilty as charged. He wasn’t expressing fury that Milosevic’s death cheated the Serbs of an acquittal.
Like Simons, Wood took the tack of both attacking the ICJ and mischaracterizing its ruling. He blithely declared that the court “found a clear link between Serbia and the Bosnian Serb military. According to the court, Serbia had been in a position to stop the genocide of close to 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.” The first statement is misleading, since the crucial finding was not the existence of a “link,” which no one ever doubted, but that the Bosnian Serb armed forces were not de jure or de facto “organs of the FRY.” Wood’s second statement is an outright lie. The court didn’t say that Serbia was “in a position to stop the genocide.” It said that Serbia had failed to show “that it took any initiative to prevent what happened, or any action on its part to avert the atrocities which were committed.” In other words, it could and should have done more.
Six days later the Times weighed in with an editorial, declaring smugly that the ICJ had “established the official complicity of the former Serbian government” in the Srebrenica genocide. This again is a flat-out lie, and a particularly stupid one. The court had explicitly ruled “that Serbia has not been complicit in genocide, in violation of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Next day, on March 6, Simons returned to the matter of the ICJ ruling. She again repeated the lie that the court found that but found that Serbia “ ‘could and should’ have prevented the [Srebrenica] killings as the Genocide Convention requires.” The court’s findings, she wrote “variously described by international law experts as timid, ambiguous or a tactful compromise, have caused anger in Bosnia and relief in Serbia, which was absolved of having to pay the war reparations that Bosnia had demanded. Bosnian Muslims, who were a majority of the victims of the 1992-1995 war driven by Serbia, called the ruling a disgrace.” This is classic New York Times: intimidate readers by reference to unnamed “experts.” One international law expert Simons didn’t consult was Ian Brownlie, one of the world’s most distinguished international law experts, Chichele Professor of Public International Law at Oxford and author of the standard text on international law. Brownlie was one of the attorneys who represented Serbia before the ICJ.
This time around Simons sounded more satisfied: “Serbs in Bosnia expressed anguish at seeing their forces explicitly accused of genocide. At the same time, the court strengthened the hand of Ms. Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal, who has unceasingly called for the arrest of Mr. Mladic, Mr. Karadzic and three other Bosnian Serb leaders.” On top of that, she happily reported, “the ruling associates Serbia’s present government with the scourge of genocide, even if it happened under the past government of Slobodan Milosevic.”
One month later, on April 9, Simons could not hold her fury back any longer. In an 1800-word article, under the title “Genocide Court Ruled for Serbia Without Seeing Full War Archive,” she asserted the existence of a massive conspiracy involving both the ICJ and the ICTY to whitewash Serbia’s crimes. In 2003, she wrote breathlessly, Serbia handed over to the ICTY hundreds of documents that “contained minutes of wartime meetings of Yugoslavia’s political and military leaders, and promised the best inside view of Serbia’s role in the Bosnian war of 1992-1995.” However, the Serbs outwitted the ICTY, “Citing national security, [Serbia’s] lawyers blacked out many sensitive—those who have seen them say incriminating—pages. Judges and lawyers at the war crimes tribunal could see the censored material, but it was barred from the tribunal’s public records.” 2003! Four years ago, and we’re only finding about this now?
Now, Simons continued, Belgrade has “made its true objective clear: to keep the full military archives from the International Court of Justice, where Bosnia was suing Serbia for genocide.” Belgrade attained its objective when the ICJ “absolved it from paying potentially enormous damages.” As Simons tells it, these minutes of Supreme Defense Council meetings, or rather just the blacked-out sections, constitute the “smoking gun”—the final, undeniable proof of Serbia’s guilt. “Lawyers who have seen the archives,” Simons said, “and further secret personnel files say they address Serbia’s control and direction even more directly, revealing in new and vivid detail how Belgrade financed and supplied the war in Bosnia, and how the Bosnian Serb army, though officially separate after 1992, remained virtually an extension of the Yugoslav Army. They said the archives showed in verbatim records and summaries of meetings that Serbian forces, including secret police, played a role in the takeover of Srebrenica and in the preparation of the massacre there.” Wow! Amazing stuff! All of that can be found in archives that the ICTY has had in its possession since 2003, but which for some reason it kept to itself!
When these minutes handed over, “the lawyers said, a team from Belgrade made it clear in letters to the tribunal and in meetings with prosecutors and judges that it wanted the documents expurgated to keep them from harming Serbia’s case at the International Court of Justice. The Serbs made no secret of that even as they argued their case for ‘national security,’ said one of the lawyers, adding, ‘The senior people here knew about this.’…When Belgrade’s lawyers met with tribunal judges to request secrecy for their archives, they produced a letter of support from Carla Del Ponte. ” Simons then quotes del Ponte as saying “ ‘It was a long fight to get the documents, and in the end because of time constraints we agreed,’ she said. ‘They were extremely valuable for the conviction of Slobodan Milosevic.’ ” Conviction? That’s odd. Didn’t Milosevic die before his trial ended? But then at the ICTY, “trial” is synonymous with “conviction” unless, of course, the defendant is an agent of the United States.
Simons’ claims are baffling. If the ICTY has had these documents since 2003, why didn’t it make use of them? The Milosevic trial was notable for the prosecutors’ total failure to present any serious evidence that the war in Bosnia was instigated and orchestrated from Belgrade. The claim that they had to be kept out of the tribunal’s public records is utter nonsense. The ICTY has innumerable mechanisms at its disposal, which it puts to frequent use, to keep testimony, evidence and the identity of witnesses secret. Trial transcripts are replete with the redacted testimony of anonymous witnesses. In none of the smug analyses during the past year and beyond, often proffered in the Times, about the inevitable guilty verdict that awaited Milosevic had there been any mention of crucial evidence being missing.
Let’s see then. After more than 15 years of blaming everything in the Balkans on Serbia in general, and Milosevic in particular; and after more than 10 years of trials at the ICTY, bluster from prosecutors Louise Arbour and Carla del Ponte, not to mention tens of millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money and billions of dollars of free publicity, courtesy of Marlise Simons, New York Times, CNN and the BBC, everything continues to hang on some documents in some “archives” in some Belgrade ministry that only a few people have seen, but which definitively prove whatever needs to be proven—that the Bosnian Serb army, under Belgrade’s direct command, carried out genocide in Bosnia in accordance with orders from Belgrade. And now the conspiracy to absolve Serbia of guilt has succeeded in recruiting del Ponte.
The ICTY prosecutors who had clearly spoon-fed this story to Simons have every incentive to shift the blame from themselves for their meager success. Within days of Simons’ story appearing, her key source, Geoffrey Nice, the chief prosecutor in the Milosevic trial, publicly lashed out del Ponte. In a letter to a Croatian daily, Jutarnji List, he accused del Ponte of making a deal with Belgrade to “place part of the archive under protective measures” without consulting him. The deal, Nice declared, “had no legal grounds and served only to conceal evidence of Yugoslavia’s involvement in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Why Nice chose to write this letter to an obscure Croatian newspaper rather than the New York Times or the London Times is a mystery, the answer to which we will no doubt learn at some point. Del Ponte immediately fired back and issued a statement declaring “The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTY rejects in the strongest terms allegations that the OTP is in any way involved in ‘concealing documents’ from the International Court of Justice or in any ‘deal’ whatsoever with the Belgrade authorities.”
What all this shows is how ready the New York Times is to entertain bizarre conspiracy theories and to impute malign motives to others in its loyal service to the U.S. war machine.
George Szamuely was born in Hungary and educated in England. He has served as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press.
A recent exchange held on WDAY’s Hot Talk with Scott Hennan between Serb journalist and author of Sword of the Prophet, Srdja Trifkovic and best-selling neocon celebrity Dinesh D’Souza underscores the silliness of what today passes for high-toned political discussion. In a widely discussed book, The Enemy Within (Doubleday, January 2007), D’Souza, a John M. Olin Scholar at American Enterprise Institute,” contends that orthodox Islam and “American conservatism” (whatever that may mean at the present moment) are eminently compatible. Traditional Muslims, we are told, object not to Christianity or to traditional Western values but to American pop culture. Complicating this situation is the phenomenon that D’Souza, borrowing the phrase of his talking partners on the PC Left, designates as “Islamophobia”— an evil that he attributes to right-wing disparagers of Islam, including Trifkovic. Such slanderers have produced attacks on “the Koran as a gospel of violence” and on “Muhammed as the inventor of terrorism.” D’Souza, who claims to have studied the Koran, considers such positions “tactically foolish” and “historically wrong.” He conveniently presents Islamic Fundamentalism as a deviation from the historic religion founded by Mohammed in the seventh century. Since the detailed coverage of his work in the Washington Post in January might lead to the conclusion that D’Souza is an expert on Islam, one might also think that he has mined the relevant primary sources.
But Trifkovic, a multilingual critic who seems to know some Arabic and a great deal of Near Eastern history, revealed in less than a minute of questioning that D’Souza had no idea of what was in the Koran. He also reproduced the radio conversation (which I actually listened to) for the May issue of Chronicles. Any fair judge would have to conclude with Trifkovic that “D’Souza has not studied the Koran, and that he may never have even held one in his hand.”
For the successful author, however, a Catholic from Southern India who is showered with honors as a “conservative” intellectual beloved to the media, such chutzpah is part of the game. In an earlier, New York Times-best-selling work, The End of Racism, part of whose arguments the author borrowed from the late Sam Francis, whom he then accused of “racism” and helped to kick out of his job at the Washington Times, D’Souza makes a host of counterfactual assertions. For example, he told the reader repeatedly that “racism” was a product of nineteenth-century Europe, an assertion that might have made sense if it had been modified to read “scientific racism in the West arose during the Enlightenment, and it then underwent further development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” The most outrageous thing about this journalism is that it is puffed up as serious scholarship in a culture in which real scholars have trouble publishing and marketing their books.
An acquaintance of mine, already in his mid-sixties, Anthony T. Sullivan, has been presenting an argument similar to D’Souza’s, about the overlap between Christian traditionalists and Muslims, for several decades. Unlike D’Souza, Sullivan is a distinguished Arabic scholar who spent a large part of his life in the Middle East. His bad relations with the neoconservatives, caused by his known anti-Zionist opinions, may have doomed his career but there is no question that Sullivan fully anticipated D’Souza’s arguments. He did this, however, without getting his research published by Doubleday and without the honor of being treated as a scholar of high standing in the Washington Post. Sullivan’s ideas, which are framed in elegant but guarded prose, have come out in slender monographs that only reach limited numbers of educated readers. The characterization of D’Souza in promo material as a respected scholar and a leading “conservative” thinker, both terms that would describe the less well-known Sullivan, is entirely out of place.
This imposture reminds me of another incident, in which arrogance was made to mask questionable learning. Last year the second most widely circulated political science journal, after the American Political Science Review, namely Political Science Quarterly, reviewed my work The Strange Death of Marxism. The person who was given the assignment, George Ross, is a faculty member at Brandeis University, and his remarks suggest to me that he understands the contents of my book about as well as D’Souza does the chapters of the Koran. The reviewer raged over the half dozen typos that showed up in the book, before going on to describe my scholarship as a “strange minestrone [sic!]of intellectual history.” “The book’s recurrent problems of scholarship show quickly” when I mistakenly identify Jean-Paul Sartre and his compagne Simone de Beauvoir as “Communists.” Technically Ross is correct that neither of these celebrated longtime defenders of Stalin and denouncers of any “fascist” who dared to expose the crimes of the goulags ever formally joined the Communist Party of France. But starting both, from the Liberation of France in 1944 onward, expressed unflinching support for the Soviet regime and for a Moscow-oriented CP in France. In the preceding period neither one did such things, nor they did show any scruples about taking copious favors from the Vichy government, as demonstrated by Gilles and Jean-Paul Ragache in 2.0.CO;2-B”>Des écrivains et des artistes sous l’occupation.
Ross also attacks me for my “remarkably idiosyncratic” “order of arguments,” in a stricture that continues to amaze me. Since my transitions from Marxism to Neo-Marxism to something even less related to Marxism follows the evolutionary pattern proposed by a number of European scholars, some of whom I cite in my footnotes, it is hard to figure out why my unoriginal divisions are seen as “idiosyncratic.” Ross then proceeds to misrepresent my references to Habermas, as the preacher of the negative view of the German past that emerged from the Nuremberg Trials. Pace Ross, I am not linking Habermas to “the hard-nosed American colonels and Nuremberg lawyers who tried to de-Nazify Germany after the War” but to the pro-Soviet advisors and Frankfurt School “anti-authoritarian” psychologists who advised these non-intellectuals. If Ross can bring himself to look up some non-authorized reading on the themes of my book, he should consult Caspar von Schrenk-Notzing’s Charakterwäsche. This is the best work, in my opinion, treating the intention and range of “German postwar “reeducation,” a process that Habermas and Germany’s present academic and journalistic elites maintain was not sufficiently thorough or relentlessly enough “antifascist.” My chapter on Germany focuses on why national masochism, as preached by Habermas, has become a dangerous, aberrant characteristic of German public life.
The review also makes the astonishing statement that Western Europeans were less anti-Communist and more anti-fascist than Eastern Europeans because they had suffered under the Nazis but not under the Communists. Thus Western Europeans “had good grounds for worrying about a renaissance of extreme-right hate politics after the war.” My immediate response was “Go tell that to the Poles!” who suffered grievously under both Hitler and Stalin but who were never as “antifascist” as today’s European leftists. Ross also seems blithely ignorant of the bloodbaths, affecting tens of thousands of people, that the Communists unleashed in 1944 in Rome, Paris, and other Western European cities, to punish “Fascist collaborators,” but which conveniently took no account of their own collaboration with Hitler during the period of the Soviet-Nazi Pact. Such actions were undertaken to intimidate political opponents, and they certainly give the lie to the contention that Western Europeans had no sense of the violence that the revolutionary Left was capable of producing. Moreover, the statement about the “good grounds” for Western intellectuals to fear [note the generic] “Fascism” rather than Stalinism after the War borders on the moronic. Communists came close to taking over France and Italy several times after the war, with popular votes. They were kept from doing so because the more democratic Socialists had no stomach for an alliance with Stalin’s Western European puppets, and because in the Italian case, the U.S. meddled properly to prop up the Catholic Christian Democrats. (See my forthcoming essay in the Fall issue of Orbis.) There was no chance of “Fascists,” let alone Nazis, winning majorities or pluralities anywhere after the War, unless one accepts Ross’s quintessentially post-Marxist leftist designation “extreme-right hate politics” as our reference point. Presumably a popular failure to move far enough leftward in the multicultural spectrum to please Ross may be taken to reflect “hate politics.”
Before dropping this subject, I would note that there are points of view developed in my book which are indeed open to challenge. Such acute reviewers as Daniel Mahoney, Nino Langiulli, William Lind, and Paul Belien offer critical observations about my core arguments in discussions that are available to those who are interested. One can certainly challenge the degree of American influence that I ascribe to the European post-Marxist Left; and it is also possible to insist that I understate for dramatic effect the gulf between traditional Marxism and the present multicultural Left. Such criticisms have considerable merit, and they have made me reconsider some of my arguments. But Ross’s clumsy efforts at authenticating himself as an academic leftist do not fall into the same category of useful assessments.
As soon as I read his review, I called the editorial office of PSQ at Columbia University and asked if they would publish my response. Although I was led to think that open exchanges had been the practice of this publication, apparently in my case non-leftist facts have no status if cited for reactionary purposes. I then asked a well-healed, neoconservative-funded organization that purports to fight for academic freedom whether it would investigate the double standard. Although I was assured that “this is entirely up our alley,” I was not surprised when the organization did not pursue the matter. The reason is not far to seek: I did not qualify as someone who had suffered from academic intolerance, as a pro-Iraq War or outspokenly Zionist student or professor. Indeed nothing that I complained about fitted neoconservative concerns—and what is even more significant, my name would not have evoked warm feelings among those payrolling the watchdog enterprise. In retrospect it seems that I wasted my time by calling the journal’s editors and then the supposed guardians of my freedom. Still this frustration no less than the fruitless exposure of D’Souza’s pretence underscores the bad choices offered by what Russell Kirk facetiously called our ”higher learning.” Among these distasteful choices are media charlatanry, pseudo-conservative guard rails, and the post-Marxist sanctimony exemplified by my critic at Brandeis.
Let me tell you a sad tale of Russian politics. In July, 1990 I attended a conference in Prague on the emerging democracies in the former Soviet orbit. Most of the speakers told the audience that the Soviet Union would live forever; but that it would lose Eastern Europe. When I got up to speak, having been there since 1989 and by this time having been to a number of the Soviet States, I said that what the audience was hearing was a bunch of nonsense. I said I believed that the Soviet Union was falling apart and soon there would be no Soviet Union. That was not well received by much of the establishment in attendance. I was roundly criticized.
Former U.S. United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was to have been the keynote speaker but she cancelled because her husband had taken deathly ill. So the sponsors of the Conference asked then Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, a leader in the democracy movement, if he would substitute. Kasparov, noted for his sharp tongue, said he would do so if I would sit on the stage with him and feed him questions. He added to the sponsors that I was the only one of the speakers who knew what I was talking about. The sponsors, desperate, agreed to Kasparov’s terms. I was astounded because here was this world-renown figure insisting that I, who was known only in the United States at best, be on the stage with him in front of hundreds of important political figures from Eastern and Western Europe and even the Soviet States. Thus began a friendship based upon what was happening in the Soviet Union.
The next year Kasparov was in New York for a chess championship. He asked me to meet him at a particular hotel so I took the train to New York and did so. Kasparov said the Soviet Union was falling apart faster than even he had thought and we needed to plot together who could take power.
I was greatly honored that a man of this stature would ask me to plot with him as to what would happen in Russia. In subsequent trips to the Soviet Union and later Russia I visited with Kasparov and always enjoyed his company.
The last time I saw him was perhaps in 1994. I was in Moscow with the late, great Dr. Robert (Bob) Krieble, sponsor of the Krieble Institute of the Free Congress Foundation. We had been training people all over Russia in how to build small businesses and how to participate in the political process. Arkady Murashev, a former Member of the Soviet Duma, with whom I had been friends since 1989, was with us and since it was a Sunday and we had time, he suggested we take advantage of an invitation to come to Kasparov’s home. It seems that the Russians had permitted Kasparov to build a home not only for himself but also for several other families who played non-stop chess. Kasparov had been married but his wife had left him, saying he was really married to chess.
Anyway, here we were in a nice home, which would be comparable to an upper-middle class townhouse. Kasparov, whose mother lived with him, served us sandwiches. As usual, Kasparov wanted to talk politics. He wanted to know our views on how a member of the democracy movement could be elected as Prime Minister. Igor Gaidar had been Boris Yeltsin’s first Prime Minister but the Communists, who at that time still dominated the Duma, demanded that he be fired and Yeltsin subsequently did so. Here again I was thrilled to be in Kasparov’s living room discussing the future of Russia.
In a subsequent trip to Russia, Murashev said Kasparov had split with Murashev on the future of the democracy movement. I was sorry to hear that but I didn”t think much of it.
After that I didn”t hear much about Kasparov except an item in the American media that he was leaving chess.
Then I saw an item in our media saying that Kasparov was planning a new political party to oppose Putin. I knew that Putin was more popular than any Russian politician. His popularity was still above 70 per cent. When Yeltsin was in his second term he was blessed if he hit 29 per cent. So I wondered how Kasparov was going to be able to oppose Putin, who at this writing is still scheduled to leave the Russian Presidency at the end of his second term. I was thinking of the old Kasparov. This past week I had the chance to visit with Murashev in my home and the topic of Kasparov arose because it bothered me that the Western media had reported that he was held for several hours after a demonstration.
Murashev’s views I have come to respect over the past nineteen years. He is very objective. He has seldom been wrong. He tells me that Kasparov has joined with a Marxist who campaigns for the return of Communism. Here is this important pro-democracy figure, Kasparov, who has now joined with his former arch-opponent to get political attention. Murashev says that unfortunately Kasparov has become an almost clownish figure.
He still has a good image in the Western media, however. I feel very badly that Kasparov, who no longer is involved with chess, is no longer respected in Russia. I liked the man. I was honored to be with him. We have our sad figures who have fallen from grace as well. Think of Harold E. Stassen. I can only wish Kasparov well, but given his reputation, it is not likely we will be seeing him as a serious political figure ever again.
Meanwhile our conversation with Murashev turned to coverage of Russia by Western media. Murashev makes the case that it is terrible. I have seen it up close. Murashev is correct. The question is why? Is it simply ignorance on the part of Western reporters? How can it be? They can see things with their own eyes.
I once asked Igor Gaidar why Russia was receiving such bad coverage. He said that the Soviets had spent millions to infiltrate the Western media, “Just because the Soviets went away, it doesn”t mean these reporters have gone away. They are still there.” I have no idea if that is the reason Russia gets such a bad rap. Perhaps some reporters are not Communist plants but were sympathetic to the Soviet Union and resent what has taken its place. I have met so many reporters who looked to the Soviet Union as a remarkable model. They blame the West for its collapse. Former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky said that the West did not so much defeat the Soviet Union; it just imploded.
Regardless of which notion is acceptable, the West actively defeating the Soviet Union or its simple implosion, there is no rational explanation for the coverage that Russia is receiving. My own view is that most likely the reason for the bad coverage is resentment over what has replaced the Soviet Union. A member of a prominent American Democratic campaign once told me that I had no idea how much liberals looked to the Soviet Union as an appropriate model for the West and how angry and confused the left is now that it has fallen. Most reporters, of course, belong to the left.
I would often say I would attend a hearing in the Senate and would not recognize the coverage of the same on the evening news. Now the Russians are having the same experience. Is this proof of growth?
A Free Congress Foundation Commentary. Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.
The Feast of Pentecost is one of the most important to Christians, for a number of reasons. First, it marks the birthday of the Church, the day when the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles and Mary, and gave everyone the nerve they needed to preach the risen Christ to a hostile mob.
Pentecost also reverses the story of the Tower of Babel—the Old Testament tale of a king so ambitious he wanted to reach heaven through technological means. God tweaked him by inventing that bane of American schoolchildren over the millennia: foreign languages. In what we might call multiculturalism’s founding moment, God scattered the king’s workforce into a squabble of hostile ethnic groups, who couldn’t communicate with each other. Then, at Pentecost, He reversed the process—giving the Apostles the gift enjoyed by Star Trek crewman ever since the very first episode: the ability to be understood by anyone, no matter his native language. The Holy Spirit provided this universal translator, which is called “the gift of tongues,” to kick start the Church into universality. For just a few hours on Pentecost morning, the Apostles came out speaking Aramaic; but they were heard in Greek, Latin, Esperanto—you name it. They were so jumped up with joy that people assumed they must be drunk; Peter quipped back at them that it was only nine in the morning—they couldn’t be drunk. (For later generations of Catholics, this wouldn’t prove a thing-but we digress.) This is what it means to “speak in tongues.” When Texas-based televangelists lapse from prayers into gibberish, mumbling “Hamana-shamana-freddigah-limina-bop-bop-a-doowop…” then ask you to send in a check…. Well, that’s something else.
But the very best thing about Pentecost, from this book’s point of view, is that it involves fire. Fire is cool. Setting fires is cool—except that it’s usually illegal. Well, Pentecost gives us a marvelous excuse to set lots of fires, all around the house, in the form of a flambé dinner party. To decorate the house in flaming red, and send out invitations replete with fiery puns. To stage a night-time party that none of your friends is liable to forget (especially the dimwits who come away with third-degree burns). Since the theme of the feast is universality, this is the party to which you should invite your international friends. Fill up the house with foreigners, and watch the Holy Spirit (and other spirits) break down those barriers of culture and conversation. Present a multi-ethnic menu with some incendiary treat to please everyone. But keep the boys away from the 151 rum….
Think red. Think flaming. (No that’s not what we mean—though we do want you to have what the Flintstones called “a gay old time.”) Hang bolts of scarlet silk in place of your curtains, and fill the house with glimmering red candles—you know, like in Rosemary’s Baby. Get hold of as many silver platters as you can—and this time remember to polish them. No, the tarnish isn’t quaint, no matter what your husband says. Dim the lights, maybe burn some incense to get the room fragrant and smoky. It’s that simple.
In the Old Testament, Pentecost made its first appearance as a harvest festival, marking 50 days after Passover, under the title the “Feast of First Fruits.” Carry on this part of the tradition by providing lots of tasty fresh edibles, from kiwis to kumquats, arrayed around the house in bowls. It will help the guests’ digestion—since the meal doesn’t include the ordinary quantities of greens. (They’d clash with the red; we’re not going for a Christmas theme.) The Israelites also hung the home with garlands and flowers—a custom that in the Christian East meant roses throughout the house. (The Greeks called Pentecost “the feast of roses.”) If you can afford the expense, collect a few dozen red roses or other flowers, and plant them all over the house.
Many curious activities arose to mark this feast—perhaps the strangest in Merrie Old England. Some villages in Gloucester still keep alive these customs—which include a cheese-rolling contest, that pits country folk against each other in a race with enormous cheeses down the nearest hill. The winner gets to keep, and presumably eat, the giant, dusty cheese. In St. Braivels, the villagers celebrate the day after Pentecost by hurling baskets full of bread and cheese from a castle wall, for the common folk to scramble and fight over on the ground. It’s said that this custom began as a way to pay the villagers’ wages, but it strikes us as a nasty bit of mischief perpetrated by aristocrats on famished peasants. So we encourage you to try it with your hungry guests. Make sure that no appetizers or snacks are laid out to precede dinner. When people start to grumble about being hungry—as they smell the sizzling meats in the kitchen—cast each one a fresh, crusty baguette from the bakery, and an individually wrapped cheese, such as a chevre or a wedge of Laughing Cow. Explain that “it’s an English tradition.” Then casually announce that tonight you’re serving all English food. This should provoke a wave of anxiety, as they visualize plates piled high with flaming Scotch Eggs, Spam sauté, Toads-in-the-Hole and Marmite-smeared dry toast. When your flambéed international delights come out of the kitchen, they’ll be greeted by sighs of relief.
In Italy, rose petals were traditionally scattered from the church ceiling on this feast; in France, trumpets were blown to sound forth the Holy Spirit. Before the Reformation, English priests released a dove inside the church during Mass. Any variation on these customs would be most festive—until you have to clean up after the bird.
The most exotic Pentecost activity we found arose on the tropical island named for the feast, near the Pacific tax haven of Vanuatu—the home of the original “Cargo Cults,” where cannibalism, we must insist, is no longer legal. On the Catholic half of religiously divided Pentecost Island, the natives practice a perilous sport they call “Nagol,” or land-diving (on the Anglican half, they practice golf). As soon as the yam crop is ready, the island’s Catholics start to build enormous towers out of wood cut from the forest, tied together with liana branches, standing 40-50 feet high. Any male old enough to be circumcised (see Jan. 1) is expected to climb the tower, have his ankles tied with vines, and leap to the ground, bungee-style. If the vine is even a foot too long, he splats on the ground in an ex-Pentecostal heap, so divers pay close attention to the art of measurement. Missionaries say that this leap of faith is meant to evoke the descent of the Holy Spirit on His feast day. Locals know better: The diving is what ensures the next year’s yam harvest. We strongly advise that you make this a central part of your festivities.
If you don’t have the nerve for Nagol, there’s a simpler game you can play at the Pentecost party that doesn’t involve quite so many lianas or yams: Speaking in tongues. Not the real thing, which happened in Jerusalem, or even the charismatic variety which occurs in Sunbelt megachurches, but your own improvised “miraculous speech.” After everyone has adequately been washed in the spirits, as the hostess emerges with dessert, have the host lead everyone at the party in a chorus of polysyllabic flim-flam, waving their arms, rolling on the floor-even handling rubber snakes (which you’ll discreetly provide each guest upon arrival). Nothing brings a group of friends closer than a few minutes spent babbling and writhing before a platter of flaming pineapples.
Excerpted from The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living.
Menus and Recipes by Denise Matychowiak
Kava “blong” Pentecost is a mudlike drink made from the root of a pepper plant, popular on Pentecost Island. Kava drinks are available online from www.kavaking.com. To keep in the fiery spirit, be sure to add some pepper vodka to the mix.
Whitsun (Pentecost) Ale, a light fruity traditional ale available from www.arcadiabrewingcompany.com.
Polish Fire Vodka (Krupnik). This hot, mulled vodka drink combines the tastes of honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Flaming Spinach Salad. (See recipe.) The last thing your guests expect to see on fire.
Saganaki. A beloved appetizer of flaming Greek sheep milk cheese (see below).
Flambeed Mushrooms in Sherry. A sweet and satisfying Spanish tapa.
Flaming Chicken Brochettes. Easy to serve, delicious, decorative and light.
Sizzling Steak au Poivre. One of the richest, most satisfying concoctions we know about.
Catalonian Cornish Hen. Tender little birds roasted with sherry and Seville orange glaze.
Carmelized Pineapple. A simple, explosively enjoyable dessert.
Flaming Strawberry Shortcake. A spirited variation on the traditional summer favorite.
Flaming Spinach Salad
This is particularly fun flambé to serve—burning salad is always such a nice surprise! Serves 8.
4 bunches spinach, washed and dried
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup bacon drippings
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1/2 cup malt vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
11/2 ounces brandy
Toss spinach, eggs, salt and pepper.
Combine dressing ingredients in a sauce pan. Warm dressing and cook for a few minutes to balance flavors. Adjust seasoning. Heat brandy, add to dressing, and ignite.
Toss salad as it flames, before guests. Serve on warm plates.
Saganaki (Greek Flaming Cheese)
2 pounds Kasseri or Halloumi cheese
Flour, for dredging
3 lemons, cut in quarters
If the recommended cheese is not available ask your cheese monger for a recommendation or search out a Greek purveyor. He will be sure to have an opinion about the best cheese as well as how it should be cut. Of course, “the only way it should be done” will differ from vendor to vendor.
Slice cheese into 1/2 inch thick rectangles. Keep cold at all times when not working with it.
Heat a medium size sauté pan and melt 1 tablespoon butter.
Dust cheese with flour in a shallow plate, lightly tapping to remove excess.
Gently lay 2-3 slices at a time in pan and cook until golden on each side.
Remove to serving dish and cook remaining slices, adding butter as needed. As cheese comes out of pan, squeeze lemon over slices. (Work quickly as the cheese is best eaten hot.)
Heat a few tablespoon of cognac. This can be done by holding it in a large spoon over a flame. Pour over the cheese and ignite in front of your guests. Serve with lemon quarters.
The funny thing about Sarkozy being president of France is not his size, but his family. His father, Pal Sarkozy, used to frequent the same nightclubs I did back in the early Sixties. Of the beau monde he was not. Pal was rather sleazy, a bit of a conman, and something of a playboy. None of us knew what he did, and by that I don’t mean to suggest he was dishonest, but there were always rumours about him. And an inveterate womaniser, a good thing for a father of a French president to be. But his women, alas, were a pretty lousy bunch. Except for one of them—Beatrice de M, a close friend of mine whom he promised a trip to the altar but then dropped—most of his ladies were not ladies. His third wife was the sister of a very old buddy of mine, Bernard de Ganay, and she was the worst of a bad lot.
Last year, her daughter from the union with Pal arrived in Gstaad and was seated next to me at dinner. Although married, she chose to use the Sarkozy moniker in order to impress the peasants she was dining with. She was opinionated and aggressive, the two most horrible traits a woman can be betray. She got very much on my nerves but I held my tongue. Caroline Sarkozy had been brought to the dinner by a common friend, so I gave it a pass. Now that her half-brother is president of France I regret not telling her what I thought. Having enemies in high places is very important after 70. Mind you, I hope she does not return to Gstaad. The place has enough rich phonies as it is.
And if Pal Sarkozy is still with us, I’m sure access to the Elysee Palace will improve his taste for tarts. And while I’m on French politics, the new foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, is a brilliant choice. Kouchner called Sarkozy a “man who feels no shame,” yet was chosen by the diminutive Greco-Hungarian to be his first minister. Here again, there is a slight Taki connection. This time with his longtime partner, Christine Ockrent. La Ockrent was France’s numero uno news announcer, a blonde with smarts as well as looks. I first met her in 1967, when she came to Athens following the Colonels’ coup working for CBS’s 60 Minutes. I had to wine her and dine her while she vainly waited for an interview with the top dog, Colonel George Papadopoulos. We got to be quite friendly but she did not give in. Ten years later, at a chic dinner party given by Baron Leon Lambert in Gstaad, Christine greeted me with “Comment sava, Taki, toujours fascist?” “Sava Christine,” said I, “et vous, toujours putain?” Well, Leon’s sister-in-law, my now great friend Marion Lambert, only heard my riposte and thought it an appalling way to address a lady. I was made to apologise but there were never any hard feelings.
Kouchner is an elegant, dapper man with film-star looks who co-founded the Nobel-Prize winning relief organisation Doctors Without Borders. A man of the extreme left, he and Christine are stuck with the label “gauche caviar,” but I have never understood why someone cannot be communist and still eat in the best restaurants, as the Kouchners always do. They live in a grand duplex overlooking the Luxembourg Garden, probably the best address in Paris. Sarkozy and Kuchner will make a great combination. My choice would have been Le Pen, but at least France did not end up with Segolene, the Gallic version of the ghastly Hillary.
Otherwise I am sad to be leaving the Big Bagel. Last week I went to the wedding of Minnie Mortimer to Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan. (Traffic, Syriana). The Mortimers are a very old and distinguished American family whom I will not call American royalty because ignorant hacks say that about the Kennedys. Needless to say, the Mortimers resemble the Kennedys in the same manner the Habsburgs bear likeness to the Corleones. Minnie is a delightful girl whom my son had a crush on when both were six. It runs in the family. I’ve had a crush on the bride’s cousin, Amanda Burden—now the Bagel’s Planning Commissioner, a most powerful post—all my life. Again, no cigar. After the ceremony, at a great lunch which lasted for hours on end—with band and dancing—I sat next to my old friend Michael Thomas, a polymath who is the only man I know who resigned from White’s “because they let in too many vulgar Americans.” And he didn’t do it for effect, either. He can be grumpy and cynical but for all the right reasons. Sitting next to him was like sitting between Chesterton and G.B. Shaw. Humorous and eloquent, he was a delight to listen to, and for once I didn’t get a word in edgewise, as they say. Next week it’s Washington for a speech about the future of the American Right—there is no future, the neocons took care of that—and then on to London and some serious partying. I have my opening line all ready for my speech: What is the difference between neoconservatives and women? You can sometimes find women on the battlefield.
— The Spectator.
The attempt by Congressman Ron Paul of Texas to discuss what happened and why—to account for the 9/11 terrorist attacks—is an enormous breakthrough on the American political landscape. The incident occurred during last week’s Republican “debate” among Presidential hopefuls and was aired live on Fox News from Columbia, South Carolina. This may be the first time that the subject has been broached in a serious, intelligent manner by any U.S. Presidential candidate. Rudy Giuliani saw his opportunity to grandstand, and he jumped on it. He chose to dodge, distort and demagogue the issue. As a result, Giuliani received almost a standing ovation. Not surprising. No politician on the national stage has gone, or wants to go, anywhere near the question of why New York and Washington were attacked on a clear day in September of 2001. Should some honest and frank answers be forthcoming, it would negatively impact their political careers, starting with funding. It is in their own interest, therefore, to keep the public confused and distracted. The easy option is simply to wave the flag. That is what Giuliani did, and that is what Cheney/Bush have done from the start.
As we know, in the years since the 9/11 attacks, Rudy Giuliani has made a fortune off the terrorism business, by consulting with governments and corporations about how to fight it. Well, I guess it’s a living. 9/11 also catapulted Giuliani into the national spotlight. As for Cheney and Bush, “the war on terrorism” has defined their unfortunate co-consulship. You see the results: Total disaster. Neither Cheney nor Bush—and none of the Democrats, who constantly kick Bush in the pants for the war, as if he alone were to blame—has ever given a credible explanation for why we were hit on September 11th, 2001. Aside from the nonsensical reason initially proffered by the White House that the bad guys hate our freedom and democracy, we have been handed next to nothing. To be fair, we have demanded next to nothing. When anyone with intellectual honesty (or simple human curiosity) like Dr. Paul raises questions about this important topic, he is ridiculed and dismissed out of hand by the establishment mountebanks who hold center stage.
Paul seemed to suggest that the 9/11 terrorists may have been motivated by the bombing of Iraq during and after “Operation Desert Storm.” These cruise missile attacks by Washington lasted over ten years, and would be followed in 2003 by a full-scale “pre-emptive” invasion which commenced with “shock and awe” in the skies over Baghdad. Paul did not touch upon the larger and more murderous event—the economic embargo championed by Washington (Bush I, Bill Clinton, and Bush II) and shamefully enforced by the UN Security Council, for which see The Scourging of Iraq by Geoff Simons. (We should never forget Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s infamous crack by way of response to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children directly caused by the Clinton sanctions: “It’s worth it.” Her remark speaks volumes.) By suggesting a possible connection between Washington’s bombing of Iraq and 9/11, Congressman Paul hit a nerve, but at the same time he ironically lent some credence to the Cheney/Bush/Neocon canard that Saddam was behind the 9/11 terrorist atrocities.
Which begs the question: Isn’t it likely that Dick Cheney and his cabal of “neocon” operatives felt confident that what Washington had done to Iraq in “Desert Storm”—the deliberate wrecking of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure by bombing power plants, factories, and water purification stations, and then in the Clinton years, the comprehensive embargo of vital food and medicines—amounted to a long-standing provocation for Saddam to strike back? Contrary to the befuddled and misinformed American public, as represented by the aforementioned South Carolina audience, the “neocons” knew perfectly well that Iraq had been eviscerated during and after “Desert Storm.” Wolfowitz in particular was obsessed with the idea that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen must have had financial and logistical support from Iraq to execute the 9/11 attacks. To Wolfowitz, knowing the inside story as he did, it made sense.
After all, there had to be motivation from somewhere, a framework of cause and effect. An earth-shattering event like 9/11 does not happen out of the blue. What was the motivation for these attacks on New York and Washington emanating from the Middle East, and what can we learn from the experience? Congressman Ron Paul was attempting to make that point. This is commonsensical stuff. Giuliani chose to feign amazement and outrage, pretending that Paul had said something over the top. It was an act.
In an outstanding article at the indispensable Antiwar.com, Scott Horton has picked up and run with a remark by Wolfowitz contained in the May 9, 2003 issue of Vanity Fair about how everything is going to be wonderful (according to Wolfowitz) in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq:
“There are a lot of things that are different now… we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It’s been a huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.”
Come again? Offhand, can anybody name just one positive thing which has blown through the door left ajar by Wolfowitz’s War? Just one. I’m waiting.
Still, Wolfowitz had a point. The stationing of U.S. ground forces in Saudi Arabia was indeed a “huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda”—just like the American intervention in Iraq is today! How did it come about? When did American troops arrive in Saudi Arabia, and who was responsible for placing them there? This involves the build-up for Gulf War I, “Operation Desert Storm” in 1990-91 under George Bush I. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia had his two arms twisted out of their sockets, figuratively speaking, before he would allow the entry of American soldiers into the Kingdom. Prior to that, Saudi Arabia was a sacrosanct entity, a closed system, and relatively serene.
But then, due to Saddam Hussein’s misperception that he had been given, in effect, a “green light” on July 25th, 1990 by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, to deal with Kuwait as he saw fit, Saddam invaded and annexed Kuwait on August 2nd. The toppling of the Emir of Kuwait, a fellow petroleum plutocrat and fellow absolute monarch, sent a bad signal to King Fahd. It was a wake-up call that made him nervous. The Saudi King wanted the Iraqi dictator smacked. For whatever contrived reason or cover story, the White House was of the same mind. Fahd was cornered. Secretary of State James A. Baker III stated at the time that Washington’s military and diplomatic response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait had something to do with “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
In any event, at the end of the day, U.S. combat troops—“crusader forces”—found themselves encamped on the Arabian peninsula for the stated purpose of protecting the custodian of Mecca and Medina, King Fahd, from the alleged Iraqi threat. It is a strange world. To bin Laden, this was an affront to Islam and demeaning both to Saudi Arabia and to the Arab world at large. Did this horrible miscalculation by George Bush I in 1990 ultimately lead to the 9/11 attacks during the reign of his inexperienced, ill-prepared and ill-equipped son, George Bush II, in 2001? There are experts, foremost of whom is Michael Scheuer, the man in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who put the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia at the top of the list of what sent bin Laden and his acolytes over the edge. For my part, as a non-expert, I wrote in The Unauthorized World Situation Report, published in 2005:
“At the start of this process it probably never occurred to George Bush Sr., and his foreign policy team that they were creating a monster by the way they handled the Kuwait annexation brouhaha. The monster they created was a maniac named Osama bin Laden. This came about due to bin Laden’s close connections with the Saudi royal family and bin Laden’s adverse reaction to King Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz’s decision—forced upon him by Washington—to allow the U.S. Army and Air Force to install themselves inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and then stay there indefinitely after Operation Desert Storm had concluded.
“It was apparent to bin Laden—a wealthy young Saudi Islamist just back from fighting with the Mujaheddin volunteers against the Soviets in Afghanistan—and to many other Saudis as well that the House of Saud had devolved into a handy straw man for Washington’s “Superpower” agenda. Thanks to petroleum, corruption, plutocracy and extravagance, King Fahd was a captive ruler. The Kingdom, home to the sacred Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina, was revealed by the crisis in Kuwait to be incapable of acting on its own and of defending itself, even though it had purchased a hecatomb of modern American weapons. The Kingdom had allowed itself to become a vassal state for the American “infidels”—the same infidels who were in bed with the Zionists occupying Palestine and Jerusalem, wherein was located Islam’s third holiest shrine, Haram al-Sharif.”
In addition to (1) the ongoing immiserization of Iraq caused by U.S.-imposed economic sanctions and the gratuitous destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure during “Operation Desert Storm”, and (2) the perceived insult of “infidel” troops encamped near the Moslem sacred cities of Mecca and Medina during and after “Desert Storm”, there was still more substantial gist for al-Qaeda’s mill, pre-9/11. There was (3) the obvious plight of the Palestinians, with refugees in camps all over the Middle East, to complete the picture, for which Washington was deemed equally responsible.
It is an impossible state of affairs which American foreign policy commentator William Pfaffof International Herald Tribune fame, has termed the “permanent provocation” of the unresolved conflict over Palestine. Pfaff has written that this conflict constitutes for the Arab masses “their chief motive for detesting the United States.” It is the same problem we face today, post 9/11, only it has gotten worse, if that is possible. Thanks to the White House and Capitol Hill, and thanks especially to the Israel Lobby,which has a hammerlock on both, the occupation of Palestine remains ongoing and the ruination of the Palestinians continues unabated. The status quo is enforced by Ariel Sharon’s determined successors, enabled by the “Superpower” co-Consulship of Cheney and Bush, as assisted by their “neocon”, pro-Likud advisors. A strange world, indeed.
During the days, weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks, the focus in America was on the lack of warning and the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to uncover the plot. The entire affair was viewed solely as a colossal intelligence failure, rather than a foreign policy consequence. The question as to why such dramatic attacks had happened in the first place was not addressed. But on the day of the attacks, where I was, at a roadside tavern in Glencar, Ireland, the subdued talk—aside from shock, bewilderment and sympathy for the innocent victims—centered upon that very question: Why had it happened? And everybody there instinctively knew why—as did every other adult European on the Continent with whom I conversed in the days immediately following. It was only the American public and especially the American news media, who appeared to be in the dark and who studiously avoided the subject.
Perhaps you have heard of an American CIA agent by the name of Robert Baer. He worked for the CIA’s Directorate of Operations for 25 years, with assignments mostly in the Middle East and Europe. He appears on American television from time to time, as a terrorism and Middle East expert. He has written articles for Vanity Fair. He is highly critical of the Saudi Royal family and of its cozy relationship with Washington. He has written two best selling books, See No Evil and Sleeping with the Devil, about his experiences. Some six months after 9/11, I found myself reading an article about Baer in the Sunday Observer of London, dated March 3rd, 2002, and entitled “Bombing Saddam is Ignorance.”
Here was another eccentric character—in the same boat with Marine Colonel Scott Ritter, British Diplomat Carne Ross, U.S. Ambassador John Brady Kiesling, and Senator Robert Byrd—all of whom were very much in the minority, paddling against the tide, in opposition to the Cheney/Bush private-agenda war in the Middle East, and finding it wildly incomprehensible. Baer had been there, on assignment behind the lines, in 1995. To quote the article:
“Robert Baer, the ex-CIA man in Iraq during the failed uprising in 1995, says the U.S. is not in a position to strike against Iraq because it does not understand anything about the country…. Robert Baer’s objections to an attack on Iraq could hardly be principled. As the CIA’s point man in Iraq during the failed uprising in 1995, he encouraged dissident groups to believe that the United State s wanted the overthrow and death of Saddam Hussein. Yet Baer, whose memoir of life in the CIA, See No Evil, is published in Britain tomorrow, is appalled at the idea of a US strike against Iraq today. ‘If the U.S. is to bomb Saddam and his army until there is no army, what comes after that? No one is discussing the ethnic composition of Iraq or what Iran is likely to do…. ‘The US is in no position to rejigger [Iraq] because we don’t understand anything about the country.’”
All perfectly true, as we have learned to our bitter regret.
On the subject of the 9/11 atrocities, it was even more surprising and illuminating to read the following: “After a quarter of century abroad, Baer hardly recognises the States and is appalled at the level of public ignorance. [My emphasis.] ‘There is no debate,’ he says. ‘People will not address the question of Palestine in the context of the World Trade Centre attacks. It’s not in the terms of the discussion. They simply believe that Israel has the right to defend its democracy like the U.S. does. They don’t understand that Israel gives no democratic rights to the Palestinians whatsoever. They don’t see that it’s not a democracy.’” Such was the third pillar of Washington’s Middle East foreign policy, which provided the impetus for the terrorists who targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. In CIA parlance, it was “blowback”—the most gigantic and undeniable example to date. Rien n’arrive par hasard.
Patrick Foy is author of The Unauthorized World Situation Report.
Book cover photo courtesy of New American Library
I’ve already briefly mentioned my recent trip to West Point for the funeral of Timothy J. Vogel, one of America’s greatest warriors. Tim meant a lot to me, so please forgive me if I repeat myself a little. Before I go on, however, a brief and nostalgic look at the soldiers of another war and their representations in celluloid. The film was The Bridges of Toko-Ri, after the book by James Michener, starring William Holden, Grace Kelly, Frederic March and Mickey Rooney among many others. The plot was a simple one. Our hero, played by Bill Holden, is recalled to duty off the Sea of Japan during the Korean conflict. He is a reluctant warrior. He is a successful lawyer married to a beautiful blonde, Grace Kelly, with two young children. He nevertheless answers the call. The admiral on board the carrier is Frederic March, who knows Holden’s father and his comfortable situation back home. He worries about him, especially when he meets his wife on a brief shore leave in Japan. “What kind of man risks his life when he has so much to lose…?” he asks himself.
And lose his life the hero does. Assigned to blast the heavily defended bridges of Toko-Ri in order to stop Chinese men and supplies reaching the enemy, Holden has to ditch in North Korean territory as his plane takes machine gun fire and loses fuel. His buddy Mickey Rooney flies off on a chopper trying to save him once Holden is on the ground. Both men die when surrounded by North Korean regulars, fighting to the end. “What kind of men are these..?” asks March, once again when informed of their deaths.
Well, I’ll tell you. The Holden character, who was called Brubaker in the movie, was based on Sully Vogel, the strongest man ever to attend the Naval Academy, and the one who was shot down over North Korea, but already a legendary fighter pilot before his death. He left behind three boys, Tim Vogel, my friend, Bill, a submarine commander, and Freddy, a Marine Colonel and later in the CIA. (There was also a daughter.) Tim Vogel was teased throughout his life for having Grace Kelly as his mother. (“I’d like to do your mother,” was an opening greeting by many). He wasn’t teased about anything else, however. Vogel became an even greater pilot than his dad. He won 17 awards for gallantry in action, two DFC’s, flew 200 missions over the most heavily defended targets in history over North Vietnam, and had 600—yes, 600—landings on pitching carriers. He was the most popular cadet at West Point, became a Commander in the U.S. Navy, and was as fierce a warrior as he was a warm and giving friend to everyone who knew him. My friend Chuck Pfeifer—two Silver Stars in the Nam as a Special Forces captain—introduced us and it was love at first sight. I took him to Elaine’s, we both got very drunk, and all he wanted to know was about my experiences in Phu Bai and Firebase Birmingham. Like a lion asking an ant about the hunt.
About ten years ago Timmy contacted MC, a more lethal cousin to Multiple Sclerosis, and was given a year to live. He stretched it to ten by his warrior spirit. His funeral with full military honors took place last week at the Point. The chapel was packed with heroes, his brothers in arms. Pfeifer, Dennis (the Horse) Lewis, Bob Jones (6 years in the Hanoi Hilton and looking twenty years younger than the rest of us) the legendary Johnson brothers, Oliver and Johnny, one a fighter pilot, the other a chopper ace, Robbie Stichweh, the best back in the nation while at the Point, Jim Hall, a fighter pilot who volunteered for a suicide raid north of Hanoi and was awarded the DFC, John Seymour and on and on. Tim was laid to rest along the cemetery line of the class of 65, next to the pyramid, among the beautiful maple and oak trees that line that sacred place. There were very few tears. Tough guys keep their grief to themselves.
Robert E. Lee once said that duty is “the sublimest word in the English language.” Yes it is, but dodging duty has now become the operative word in the neocon language. They talk about supporting our troops and all that blather, but how many of these bloodthirsty donut eaters have ever answered the call of duty? Some of us helped with Timmy’s bills toward the end of his life. He never asked, but we knew he was needy. This is the greatest outrage of them all. While the fat Kagan brothers feast at the White House and TAE institute, Tim Vogel needed help to get around on his wheelchair. The blood of America’s fighting men cannot indefinitely be spilled by a government made up of people who have avoided military duty, which is unwilling to meet the needs of those who have served.
—The American Conservative
We all know that picture of the late
Warren Gamaliel Harding Calvin Coolidge bedecked in a Sioux war bonnet. In my own youth, in late May thirty seven years ago, a rather less honorable man crowned himself with a construction helmet bearing the title Commander in Chief, a consolation prize for the honorary doctorate my Alma Mater withdrew at the last moment, after the invasion of Cambodia. Richard Nixon was king at least of the building trades, laborers in which had violently disrupted commemorations of the four students who died protesting the invasion.
I remembered the incident last Christmas. I was at the Bible museum near Lincoln Center for a wonderful lecture on Giotto with music by the Communion and Liberation choir, and took a tour of the current display. Featured was a copy of pop sculptor George Segal’s moving depiction of the sacrifice of Isaac, intended as a memorial to those students shot by the Ohio National Guard at Kent, but now in the sculpture garden at Princeton. I was haunted by this stark reminder of my first semester of graduate school, especially because I fancied the figure of Abraham had been inspired by old photographs of philosopher William James, whose deeply misguided conception of truth, which he called pragmatism, has had such a tragic effect on American life and thought.
In May 1970, I was at Columbia studying higher education, in which I hoped to make a career, and my advisor was Walter Sindlinger, a wise, gentle, and good man, from Ohio himself. Sad and bewildered, he explained to us that the riots at Kent State, with college kids turning cars upside down and setting them on fire, were an annual event which had nothing at all to do with Vietnam, Cambodia, Nixon, or Kissinger. Surely, he implied, the Governor knew this, even if the President did not. Nixon of course saw himself as the new Lincoln, Father Abraham, called to save the nation from the sin of rebellion, and the young men, the very young men, of the National Guard were ordered to lock and load. According to his henchman Haldemann, it was the beginning of the end for Nixon.
It was certainly the end of my identification with a conservative movement he had so successfully seduced, this old New Deal bureaucrat, the quintessential proto-neocon. And yet, as I collaborated more and more closely with the antiwar movement (though not the Communist, anti-American wing of it), I became more and more obsessed with the philosophy of pragmatism, and especially with Charles Peirce, who started it, and with his lifelong crusade against nominalism. Nominalism? Nominalism. Remember Richard Weaver? Ideas Have Consequences?
“Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.”
Weaver’s words, Peirce’s sentiments. Poor Willy James just didn’t get it. Or those damned Republicrats, slippysliding down the steep slope to neoconnery. But there are universal standards of human decency, and that’s what hapless George McGovern was calling us home to. But Charles Peirce knew, Richard Weaver knew, that we began to turn our back on them long before the so-called Reformation. (Dear Phil Sherrard, all too briefly my teacher in Athens, blamed Charlemagne and the filioque, but I wouldn’t go that far.)
May 4, 1970. It’s not that some frightened kid in uniform pulls the trigger. It’s not that, in the general panic and confusion, gunshot victims don’t get the prompt medical attention that might save their lives. It’s the all too general sentiment: Too bad for their parents, but those Commies had it coming — a sentiment Elton Trueblood, the Quaker Pope of the Midwest, duly repeats to a (presumably) shocked Bill Moyers, in a part of the interview that was cut from the book version. The cynical spurning of common human decency. The fruit of that systematic indoctrination in metaphysical nominalism and moral relativism known as public education.
The Ohio war protesters are shot and killed on Monday; Friday is set aside as a day of mourning. On Wall Street organized gangs of men dressed as construction workers converge on peaceful demonstrators, beating them with tools and stomping them with work boots. They attack a line of New York City police at Federal Hall, where Washington was sworn in in 1789, and proceed to storm City Hall, where the flag has been at half mast, in order to raise it, and to denounce the Mayor as a Communist.
It is lunch hour on Wall Street. A Lehman Brothers partner comes to the aid of a demonstrator and is himself attacked. So is another member of the financial community who moves to protect him. The rioters storm Trinity Church, Washington’s parish, where a first aid station has been set up, but are locked out, and must content themselves with ripping down the flag of the Episcopal Church. Many of the rioters are employed at the World Trade Center site and one or two other buildings under construction. They have been ordered to report for this duty, and their movements are directed by men in suits using hand signals.
On May 20, a grateful President receives a delegation from the leaders of New York’s construction unions, accepting from them the “hard hat” of Commander in Chief. He tries it on, grinning for a photograph in the National Archives, though not for the press. One of union leaders, James Brennan, becomes Secretary of Labor after the 1972 election.
These people are shameless: they glory in their very shamelessness; they expect Americans to abase themselves before it. Burke saw it in France long ago: “All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved… All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.”
I did not then use the F-word, Fascism, and rather despised those who did. Moreover, the interwar European right had had, if not a certain grandeur, a certain aspiration to grandeur, or at least a nostalgia for it. Mussolini had had his Pound, Franco his Roy Campbell. And our Nixon? He had… Elvis!
To be a Burkean conservative at a small Quaker college in the swinging Sixties was a bit of an affectation, and, to tell the truth, perhaps more than a bit. On Morningside Heights in the wake of the Cambodian Incursion Burke’s moral imagination was an urgent necessity to be clung to with passion. I kept coming back to Burke’s furious indictment of Warren Hastings for the crimes of imperialism, his ringing defense of Natural Law, upon which my own Republic, not so incidentally, had been founded:
“He to have arbitrary power! My lords, the East India Company have not arbitrary power to give him; the King has no arbitrary power to give him; your lordships have not; nor the Commons; nor the whole legislature. We have no arbitrary power to give, because arbitrary power is the thing which neither any man can hold nor any man can give away. No man can govern himself by by his own will, much less can he be governed by the will of others. We are all born in subjection, all born equally, high and low, governors and governed, in subjection to one great, immutable, pre-existent law, prior to all our devices and prior to all our contrivances, paramount to our very being itself, by which we are knit and connected in the eternal frame of the universe, out of which we cannot stir. This great law does not arise from our conventions or compacts; on the contrary, it gives to our conventions and compacts all the force and sanction they can have; it does not arise from our vain institutions.”
My friends on the Left despaired at the thought of rebellion against the seemingly omnipotent State. The poor fools could not imagine that it was — it is — merely a matter of refusing to take part in a doomed rebellion against the truly omnipotent Creator of the universe:
“Every good gift is of God, all power is of God; and He who has given the power, and from whom it alone originates, will never suffer the exercise of it to be practised upon any less solid foundation than the power itself. Therefore, will it be imagined, if this be true, that He will suffer this great gift of government, the greatest, the best, that was ever given by God to mankind, to be the plaything and the sport of the feeble will of a man, who, by a blasphemous, absurd, and petulant usurpation, would place his own feeble, contemptible, ridiculous will in the place of the Divine wisdom and justice?”
“Blasphemous, absurd, and petulant usurpation… feeble, contemptible, ridiculous…” The Left had its own words for Mr. Nixon and I had mine, borrowed from the best. Apply them as you will to his successors How sad that some today, who were young then, or younger, at any rate, grow rich, or richer, by vilifying their own resistance to this usurpation. To be sure, their opposition was too often justified, if not entirely motivated, by a system of belief as blasphemous, absurd, feeble, contemptible, and ridiculous as that of the Republicans, if, indeed the Republicans had anything consistent enough to be rightly called a system of belief — or do now. I like to think that common human decency played its part in the antiwar movement as well, even though the Marxists leading it, or pretending to lead it, affected to scorn all such bourgeois sentimentality.
For Burke there is of course a duty to resist: “Those who give and those who receive arbitrary power are alike criminal, and there is no man but is bound to resist it to the best of his power, wherever it shall show its face to the world. Nothing but absolute impotence can justify men in not resisting it to the best of their power.”
But there is no duty to be successful, or to appear to be successful. Our impotence may not be absolute, but our potency is sometimes pitiful. Burke himself failed to stop the Jacobins of his day, much less the Napoleonic, the Bolshevik, the Bushite armies of liberation, or even the somewhat kinder and gentler British Raj. Indeed, he is vilified to this day for taking his stand, as those of us who stood up for America against an unjust war and a corrupt administration are condemned as traitors by those whose only abiding loyalty is to an alien power in the Levant.
The work of resistance God demands of us takes many forms, according to our personal powers and opportunities. For the philosopher and the educator it is an unceasing struggle to recover the cultural sanity of the West, the appreciation that this universe of ours, mathematical, physical, vital, mental, spiritual, is the manifestation of Mind and to be understood by mind. That universals are real. That the law of nature and of nations has unconditional authority over our actions whether our masters acknowledge it or not.
May 1970 was a turning point in what Yale law professor Charles Reich would call, in his runaway best seller of the end of the year, The Greening of America. The bewildered elder generations reluctantly concluded that those young people they saw on the television were on to something. (The protesters, I mean. A greater number of the young were still getting shot at in the jungle in a war we had neither the will to win nor the decency to end.) Whatever the military necessity or geopolitical prudence of the Cambodian incursion, events were surely out of hand.
The arson at Kent called for the apprehension and conviction of the arsonist, not the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators in order to intimidate dissent. The rioting of the the construction workers may have been understandable if regrettable, but the hearty commendation of the rioters by a national administration was nothing to be proud of. On the younger generations the intimidation worked, but in an ultimately counterproductive way. Many of us concluded that we were better off in the hot tubs and encounter groups than in the streets. Some of us, for a brief moment, even thought we were better off in the classrooms and libraries. But the scholarship we produced, and the teaching we undertook, did not serve the Nixonian vision of America, to say the least.
This May I remember the dreams of our youth, the radical dream of peace, freedom, and justice, the conservative dream of order, decency, and grace. I invite all who were young then, of either persuasion or both, to cry out with Tennyson’s Ulysses,
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Shall we not say to all who marched against the war in Vietnam, but also to all who labored silently, tirelessly, thanklessly to preserve what of Western civilization is left to us, shall we not say
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Frank Purcell is a teacher and scholar of philosophy living in New York City.