Monday, February 28, 2011

Frank Buckles, In Memoriam

     Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, passed away yesterday at the age of 110.  He had served as an ambulance driver in France during the Great War.

     Born in 1901, Buckles had enlisted in the United States Army in 1917 at age 16 by lying about his age after several unsuccessful attempts with the armed services.  Buckles was also a civilian prisoner of war for three years in the Philippines after being captured by the Japanese during World War II.

     The last surviving Doughboy was awarded the Legion of War by the French and honored by President George W. Bush at the White House.  Although he did not see combat, Buckles will receive the unusual honor of being buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  Representatives of the British and French governments will attend his funeral.

     Buckles had campaigned for an American World War I monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Although there is a monument there to District of Columbia veterans of the war, there is no monument for the millions of American veterans of  World War I.  His family is requesting donations be sent to the National World War One Legacy Project.  I hope that his death increases awareness of the need for such a monument.

     In a completion ceremony at the Reading-Muhlenberg Vocational-Technical School in 2007, I addressed the graduates as President of the Joint School Committee.  I cited the example of Frank Buckles who, although he was 107 at the time, was still reading a book about history, in urging them to never stop learning.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Rest in Peace

     Dr. Bernard Nathanson died yesterday at the age of 84.  He was famous as a leading abortionist who converted to the pro-life cause.

     Dr. Nathanson, an atheist who was an ethnic Jew, had founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (known today as NARAL ProChoice America).  He personally conducted or oversaw thousands of abortions.  Dr. Nathanson was the first to argue that the child in the womb is only part of a woman's body, and was among those who coined the word choice to describe the abortion of one's child.

     With the advent of modern technology, however, Dr. Nathanson began to have a change of heart.  His famous 1985 film, Silent Scream, depicted sonogram images of a real abortion, the first major use of technology on behalf of the pro-life cause.  Dr. Nathanson produced another film and authored a number of books.  In one of them, he lamented his responsibility for ushering in a barbaric age through abortion.

     Dr. Nathanson later converted to Catholicism and conducted much penance to atone for his sins.  His conversion from the Culture of Death to the Culture of Life was also made by the two women, Jane Roe and Jane Doe, whose United States Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton led to legalized abortion in the U.S., meaning that all three of the most important pro-abortion pioneers all converted to the pro-life cause.  Dr. Nathanson's testimony inspired many others to convert or to become active on behalf of the Culture of Life. 

     May the example of Dr. Bernard Nathanson continue to inspire us to defend life and to use technology to better serve God and man.  May Dr. Nathanson rest in peace.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bush Promoted Freedom, Not Democracy

     In one of his last State of the Union Addresses, United States President George W. Bush declared that the policy of the United States would be to promote “freedom.” He did not say that it was the policy of the U.S. to promote “democracy.” These words are incorrectly being used interchangeably by the politicians, the media and other commentators.

     Freedom is a state of being. Specifically, it is the state of being free. Democracy, rule of the people, is a form of government. There may be freedom with or without democracy, and democracy with or without freedom. 

     There is a difference between a democracy and a representative republic. The American Founding Fathers distinguished between these two forms of government (See Federalist #14 by James Madison). Democracy is the direct rule of the people, whereas a representative republic is ruled by representatives. Representatives may be appointed or elected. If they are elected, the form of government is sometimes called “representative democracy.”

     When the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq were overthrown in 2001 and 2003, respectively, by coalitions led by the U.S., the Afghan and Iraqi peoples were thereby liberated. Democracy was not “imposed” upon them; they were allowed to be free. Indeed, it is impossible to “impose” freedom, for it is the natural state of being. Although provisional governments were established, as is necessary under a military occupation once major combat operations cease, the Afghans and Iraqis then exercised self-determination in choosing a parliamentary democratic republican forms of government. But they were already free from oppression once their oppressors were no longer in power.

     Although freedom is usually associated with democratic states, some rulers get elected and then usurp democracy and govern as tyrants, often much more less free than the non-democratic regime they replace, as I have noted repeatedly. Napoleon and Hitler are infamous examples in world history. There have been numerous examples in the post-colonial period in Africa, most notably Robert Mugabe, who is still in power. Haiti’s John Baptiste Aristide and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez are recent examples about whom I have posted. In 2009, the Honduran President, inspired by Chavez, intended to usurp democracy, but was thwarted constitutionally by the Honduran government (See my post, A Coup for Democracy, from June of 2009).

     This phenomenon has also occurred in the Islamic World. The Iranian Revolution was ostensibly democratic, but led to a despotic regime far more brutal than the one it replaced – one that became the greatest state sponsor of terrorism. Lebanon became democratic, but the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization first became part of the governing coalition, and, as I mentioned in my last post, has now become the governing majority of the Lebanese republic. It remains to be seen whether or not it will govern democratically.

     It also remains to be seen whether the Tunisian and Egyptian democratic Revolutions I have posted about have been successful. They were ostensibly democratic, but included a significant number of anti-democratic Islamists among the opposition who could get elected like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Whether these revolutions lead to freedom will be the measure of their success, not whether they lead to democracy – especially one that allows anti-democratic forces to usurp freedom.

     There have been protests in the republics of Algeria and Yemen and in the absolute monarchies of Jordan and Bahrain, all of which are allies of the United States in the War on Terrorism, as well as in the dictatorships of Syria and Iran, which are both state sponsors of terror. Libya, where there have also been protests, renounced terrorism, but is still ruled by an authoritarian dictator.

     I hope that these protests lead to freedom in all of those states, especially if they do not replace allies with foes and do replace foes with allies. If they do lead to freedom, they will represent the fulfillment of Bush’s policy regardless of the forms of government they produce, for it is better to be ruled by a benign dictator while free than to be enslaved by a democrat. Therefore, his successor must take care to focus more on freedom than on the forms of government these regime changes produce.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Foreign Digest: Haiti, Portugal, The European Union, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt

     Former Haitian dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti after more than two decades in exile in France, to which he had fled after being overthrown. The Haitians rightly arrested the man who had oppressed and terrorized them during his rule from 1971-1987 after succeeding his father.

     Portugal’s conservative President was reelected. Although he disagreed with the increased taxation of the poor by the government of the Socialist Prime Minister, he has not blocked the government’s austerity program. As I have been noting, Portugal is the next most vulnerable member of the European Monetary Union to financial collapse.

     Italy has been attempting to get the European Union to condemn the persecution of Christians in foreign states, but the Europeans have become so secular that they have been unable to bring themselves to specifically condemn the persecution of “Christians,” instead of the persecution of “minorities,” according to ANSA, the Italian news agency. As I have noted, the E.U. refuses to acknowledge the contribution of Christianity to Western Civilization.

     The results of the referendum for the independence for Southern Sudan have been announced. An extraordinary, but not unexpected, 98% of Southern Sudanese voted for independence in the referendum, in which voter turnout was high. The northern Sudanese government has accepted the results, although, as I have posted before, citizenship, boundaries (especially over the region of Abyei) and oil remain unresolved issues between the Christian and animist Southern Sudan and the Islamist Arab Sudan to its north. The referendum was the result of the mediation between the parties by the United States during the Administration of President George W. Bush after a two-decade long war that killed one-to-two million people. Southern Sudan will become independent in July.

     Lebanon’s pro-Western government collapsed after the Prime Minister supported the United Nations inquiry into the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The pro-Iranian terrorist organization Hezbollah and Syria are believed to have been complicit in the murder. Fearing its findings, Hezbollah withdrew as a minority member from the coalition government, thereby precipitating its collapse. A wealthy businessman it supported was named the new prime minister. Syria and Iran now once again dominate politics in Lebanon, which is a vassal state. Hezbollah’s political success underscores the danger of which I have been warning of anti-democratic forces who use the democratic process to gain power.

     The military takeover of Egypt was an outcome that I suggested as preferable in my January post, Analysis of the Egyptian Revolution. The Egyptian people are to be congratulated for their accomplishment and the military for its restraint. It is hoped that the military transitions to a representative democracy, as long as anti-democratic forces, such as the Islamists, are not allowed to take advantage under the guise of being democratic, as in Iran in 1979 or Lebanon most recently. A broad base of the Egyptian people must participate in the process, including the Christians, who comprise a tenth of the country’s population. The Obama Administration was right to support freedom, but after initially backing dictator Hosni Mubarak, instead of calling for liberalization and working behind the scenes to nudge Mubarak from power, the Administration abandoned him publicly to such an unnecessary degree that it appeared disloyal to an ally. The Administration’s humiliation of Mubarak undermines other allies’ confidence in the U.S.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Historian’s Thoughts on the Reagan Centennial

     Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of United States President Ronald Wilson Reagan. The Federal Holiday in February known as “Presidents’ Day” ought to honor him, as well as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, for he was one of the greatest American presidents.

     When he left office, Reagan was popular with the American people, but not with the media, economists, historians and liberal Democrats. Although they credited him at least with reducing nuclear weapons through the IMF Treaty in 1988, they reviled him for his policies and dismissed him as simple-minded and simplistic. However, Reagan appears even better now to the public and even to the academics because of perspective and the availability of more historical information.

     The subsequent collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union particularly vindicated his policies of rebuilding American defenses, placing missiles in Western Europe, supporting freedom fighters against Communist governments (the Reagan Doctrine) and Pope John Paul II and the Solidarity movement in Poland, liberating Grenada, and speaking frankly against the evil of Communism and in favor or human rights. The prosperity of the Reagan Boom of 1982-2008, with the continued low inflation and low interest rates we enjoy today can now be observed more clearly and be attributed to his tax cuts, reduced regulation and optimism and confidence in America. The later discovery of Reagan’s handwritten essays revealed him as an intellectual and original thinker. He was not only a spokesman, but a leader of the conservative movement. Reagan was skeptical of conventional wisdom and delighted in outsmarting the “experts.”

     The 40th President’s other most noteworthy accomplishments included firing federal employees for illegally striking (which sent a message to the Communists that Reagan meant what he said), appointing conservative judges (such as the one mentioned in my last post; a legacy that continues), supporting the right to life, beginning the fight against terrorism, tax reform, and the free trade agreement with Canada.

     There are two big myths about Reagan that are still widely believed, especially by liberals. One stems from a misunderstanding of his statement that it takes an actor to be president. Reagan did not mean that he was acting in performing the most important role of his life, but that actors were especially skillful at determining whether someone was telling them the truth or not. The other myth is that his tax cuts increased the budget deficit. Revenues to the federal government nearly doubled. Overspending, not tax cuts, were the reason for the deficits. They were held stable relative to the gross domestic product the first several years of his Administration and even declined the last few years.

     Some conservatives and others, however, have drawn a wrong lesson from Reagan’s fiscal policies. It is not the government that causes prosperity. Government can only make itself less burdensome (e.g. by lowering taxes, reducing regulation), which provides a better opportunity for the economy to grow. They should also follow Reagan’s example of being optimistic more than they often do, as well as sharing his concern for fellow human beings and belief in resisting evil in all its forms around the world, which some isolationists do not.

     I must note that Reagan’s fiscal policies deserve even more credit for winning the Cold War than they are given. It is not only that he bankrupted the Soviets because they were unable to compete in the arms race, it was the prosperity he unleashed that not only funded the American arms buildup, the Strategic Defense Initiative (missile defense) and the Reagan Doctrine, but provided a contrast between the free market and Socialism, a contrast that prior to the Reagan Administration was not nearly as sharp.

     Reagan was a heroic, inspirational figure to me personally. He validated my common sense and moral beliefs amid the liberal conventional wisdom that surrounded me. Thus, when he would go over the heads of the arrogant experts, he established a personal connection with the American people the elites could never understand.

     I never saw or met this great American, but was privileged to view Reagan’s casket lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda. When I signed his guestbook at the Capitol, I promised as a historian to record Ronald Reagan’s greatness. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to fulfill that promise. May God Bless America.