The St. Croix Review speaks for middle America, and brings you essays from patriotic Americans.
Editorial — Angus MacDonald
Editor’s Note: this essay appeared in February, 2000, in The St. Croix Review. This essay is offered in celebration of our 50th year of publication. Angus MacDonald founded the St. Croix Review in February, 1968. Angus died in 2011.
Time nominated Albert Einstein as the man of the 20th century, with good reason, for he is the father of much of the technological marvels of the century. We could also nominate Henry Ford for mass production and Bill Gates for his development of the computer; but, in the behavior of men with each other, with or without technology, we have to look elsewhere for those who have been prominent in this century
Politicians come to mind. The political beasts of the century are well known: Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao, and Mussolini. We are recovering from the wickedness they have caused. On the other side of the coin, Churchill and Roosevelt will receive much praise, and with good reason. Churchill recognized the wickedness of Hitler and Stalin, and gave the West an example of courage. We laud him. Roosevelt fought against Hitler with great competence, but he had trouble telling the truth and blamed Hoover for causing the depression, which was not true. Though he had a magnetic personality and promoted the song “Happy Days Are Here Again,” he prolonged the depression with a tight money policy and got us out of depression only by going to war. He used the depression and the war to centralize the country. Roosevelt thought of Stalin as “Good Old Uncle Joe.” Truman was not so gullible.
The great politicians of the century are three: Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan.
Mikhail Gorbachev knew the Soviet Union was falling apart and introduced Glasnost and Perestroika, permitting free speech for the first time in decades. After he became President of the Soviet Union, the Soviet parliament met for the first time since 1918. When Soviet citizens wanted to leave the country, he let them go, and he allowed the Berlin Wall to fall. It was the greatest political act of the century.
When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of Great Britain, she said, “I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician.” “You don’t follow the crowd. You make up your own mind.” Her father taught her that all individuals are responsible to their God, their family, their country, their community and even to themselves to work on behalf of others. Her moral courage and consistency to principle left their marks not only in Great Britain but also in the United States with welfare reform, tax relief, and a balanced budget. She was a trumpeter of freedom when the world was still socialist.
Ronald Reagan revived American traditions: “Should we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” “The answer to a government that’s too big is to stop feeding growth.” In 1982, when all the smart people were afraid of the Soviet Union and thought the Soviet Union was on the correct path, Reagan said, “Here is a political structure that no longer corresponds to its economic base.” In the same speech to the House of Commons in 1982, he said:
“What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term — the march of freedom and democracy that will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies that stifle freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”
Mr. Reagan got the country out of depression and high interest rates by cutting taxes. The smart people said that he would bring economic collapse because the engines of growth in the United States were shut down and would stay shut down. The foreign ministers of the seven largest industrial nations treated him with contempt. He proved the smart people wrong. Two years after he began his program the same foreign ministers of the largest industrial nations said, “Tell us about the American miracle.”
Ronald Reagan’s greatest achievement was a resurrection of patriotism. We absorbed, once, he said, a love of America from our families, neighborhoods, schools, the movies, and even television. An appreciation of this land and its institutions was in the air we breathed. For a moment, President Reagan made us lovers of the country of our birth or adoption. His message overwhelmed his opposition.
One does not need genius to recognize that the fundamental movers of the world are writers. Politicians, journalists, commentators of any sort talk about authors. They may talk about this event or that, but the events they talk about result from what some writer wrote.
Karl Marx has been the dominant figure of the 20th Century with his analysis of society, and we have not recovered in spite of his theories having been proved nonsense. He believed in universal socialism, believing that “capitalists” and wage earners were eternal enemies, and that the capitalist class would be swallowed by the workers, bringing peace and prosperity to all.
Many of us remember Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, a beautiful story of a man and woman who tried to insulate their lives from the violence of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the chaos that followed. Pasternak was interested in social problems only as they influenced human lives, and he saw the Communist state as the great oppressor of freedom and beauty. A gentle man, after his novel won the Nobel Prize, he lived precariously because he glorified life rather than a political creed.
“Like a beast in a pen, I’m cut off
From my friends, freedom, the sun.
But the hunters are gaining ground.
I’ve nowhere else to run.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a mathematician, was arrested in 1945 for writing a letter in which he criticized Stalin and then spent eight years in prisons and labor camps. In 1962 he wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich wherein he described a typical day in the life of an inmate in a forced-labor camp. The book was a political sensation abroad and in the Soviet Union. But he felt again the power of the state. When refused permission to publish, he distributed his short stories in self-published literature, an illegal activity. Continuing to write, in 1970 he published The First Circle, tracing the work of scientists who had to decide whether to cooperate with the authorities or be thrust back into brutal labor camps. His most famous work was The Gulag Archipelago, a record of the vast systems of prisons and labor camps over a forty-year period. He was arrested, charged with treason, and exiled from the Soviet Union. He declined to accept the Nobel Prize in 1970, but the day after his exile, February 12, 1974, he took possession of his Nobel Prize.
Solzhenitsyn rejected the Western emphasis on democracy and freedom and materialism, preferring a benevolent, authoritarian régime that drew on Russia’s traditional Christian values. He has been of no influence since he returned to Russia, and he was of little influence while he lived in the United States; but he moved the world away from Communist dogmatism. Whether or not he will influence a rediscovery of values greater than materialism we do not know.
The Nobel Prize was granted to Friedrich von Hayek October 2, 1974. After an analysis of the problems of centralized planning he concluded that only by a far-reaching decentralization in a market system with competition and free-floating prices could we have a rational economic system. The Road to Serfdom was a popularized version of his detailed analysis, with practical applications, and its influence was immense both in serious academic circles and the popular press. A list of the famous people who learned from this book would fill pages.
Milton Friedman wrote that the influence Adam Smith achieved in his century has been replicated in our time by Hayek. Personal discussions between Friedman and Hayek stimulated Friedman’s interest in public policy and political philosophy.
Thomas Sowell, the celebrated economist, wrote:
“The 20th Century looked for many decades as if it were going to be the century of collectivism. Anyone who would have predicted the reversal of this trend would have been considered mad just a dozen years ago. An alternative vision had to become viable before the reversal of the collectivist tide could begin. That vision came from many sources, but if one point could mark the beginning of the intellectual turning of the tide that made later political changes possible, it was the publication of The Road to Serfdom.”
The major work of Milton Friedman (Nobel Laureate in 1976) was The Monetary History of the United States, which made more of an impression on me than his popular books. Professor Friedman argued that the Fed deepened the depression of the thirties and did much to prevent a recovery. The causes of the depression have been politicized but they were a failure of monetary policy. The Fed limited the volume of money when it should have increased the supply. The Fed was also responsible for the inflation of the seventies that caused the breakdown of many financial institutions, such as the savings and loans. These institutions loaned at low rates and long terms and could not handle inflation. The Fed was created to handle inflation, and it failed. Professor Friedman believes that the Fed is not performing its function and could be eliminated. He is a moneterist and believes the goal of monetary policy is stable growth rather than a juggling of interest rates. Interest rates should be allowed to fluctuate relative to the supply of money.
The popular fame of Milton Friedman rests on two beliefs. 1) The most important political goal must be the reduction of the role of government. In 1992, government spending was 42 percent of the national income. We could add to that spending in the private sector that is mandated by government, such as antipollution equipment in our cars, farm subsidies, wage and hour laws. We can assume that 50 percent of the national income is spent by the government. While there are some things only the government can do, government would be wise to do only what it is good at: the protection of life and property. “In my view,” said Milton Friedman, “reducing the scope of government is our most important single objective.” 2) Education should be a choice among options rather than a government monopoly. This is so evident that a discussion seems superfluous, but the present educational monopoly is so deeply imbedded that the thought of alternative education is radical, something like Communism when, in fact, the monopolists are those imitating the Communist system. Government-run schools cost around $6,857 per pupil. Private primary and secondary schools charge around $2,500 per pupil. A voucher system would give better teaching at less cost and would free us from the threat of district-wide strikes by teachers.
Three other names deserve mention as effective in changing public opinion in the latter half of the 20th century. None of them has Nobel Prizes, I suppose because their influence has been domestic more than international.
William F. Buckley launched the National Review in the early fifties, not long after the publication of God and Man at Yale, a critique of teaching at Yale. He was unknown at the time save for those who read the Yale Daily News, of which he had been an editor as an undergraduate. Buckley’s book raised a great storm not only in Yale and among Yale alumni, but nationally, as it exposed the biased teaching of that pristine school of learning. Yale faculty protested vigorously and defended themselves from the charges of superficiality and bias Mr. Buckley presented, but the notoriety gained from the book permitted the successful publication of the National Review, which continues to this day. Mr. Buckley’s journal was the only one of its kind: witty, learned, comprehensive in the discussion of current political and religious events, and with what became known as a conservative orientation. Until Mr. Buckley, popular journalism had been monotonously liberal, hewing to a liberal, socialist point of view. The National Review threw down the gauntlet. Not only was Mr. Buckley editor and publisher of the new journal; he wrote a syndicated column in daily newspapers and presided over the “Firing Line,” a television program that ran for thirty years. In demand as a speaker where his appearances to large audiences were the rule, his words dominated conservative thought for many years. Those who subscribed to his publication believed they needed nothing more than the National Review to resurrect the country from its illness and to discover the principles we needed for recovery.
William F. Buckley established the term “conservative” to describe the new orientation of the fifties, due to The Conservative Mind that was written by Russell Kirk. Many people did not care for the title “conservative” to describe the reinvigoration of learning, believing that the hypocrisy of the title “liberal” that represented welfarism and the growth of centralized government should be resented and refuted; but the new title won the day so that everyone opposed to the growth of the state had to be called “conservative.”
The assumption was that there was only one tradition in the United States, and that tradition was liberal. Russell Kirk replied to that assumption. His Conservative Mind was a massive description of traditions other than liberal. Beginning with Edmund Burke, he presented John Adams, Coleridge, Randolph, Cooper, John Quincy Adams, Disraeli, Maine, Lecky, Henry and Brooks Adams, Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, and George Santayana, adding discussions of Law, Romanticism, Utilitarianism, Pragmatism, and Criticism. At the conclusion of the work, it was beyond question that other traditions existed than materialism, deceitful politics, the omnipotence of the state, and a decadent morality.
The Conservative Mind had an impact that we can hardly imagine, used as we are to popular books by those without a serious education, so that a young English instructor at Michigan State became an overnight national celebrity. Leading reviews appeared in the Herald-Tribune, New Yorker and Saturday Review. The whole issue of the July 4 issue of Time was devoted to the Kirk book and it was mentioned again in a news story. It was widely read and discussed in colleges and universities. After publication, Russell Kirk was a regular columnist for many years in the National Review, had a syndicated column in daily newspapers, was a popular speaker on college campuses, and wrote another thirty books.
The effort of Russell Kirk’s life was to promote what he called “permanent things,” the principles that abide through the ages and are preserved in our best traditions. He worked to preserve justice, freedom, moral order, and a decent culture. He touched our lives with graciousness.
My last great man of the latter part of the 20th century is Henry Regnery, a quiet little man who is honored by the few who knew him well but deserves wider respect. When Mr. Regnery became a publisher in 1947, publishing in the United States was dominated by a few houses on the east coast. In Chicago, away from the great center of influence, Henry Regnery entered the fray. Hayek would have been published without Henry Regnery, and Milton Friedman too, but we would never have heard of William F. Buckley or Russell Kirk.
Mr. Regnery began publishing with three books, a study of Hitler by Max Picard, and two books on Allied occupation policy by Victor Gollancz. An early author was Freda Utley, an early Communist who learned the evil of that philosophy from bitter experience and whose The China Story made the bestseller list. Then came God and Man at Yale and The Conservative Mind that were great successes. There were many other fine books: Freedom and Federalism, by Felix Morley, The Ethics of Rhetoric by Richard Weaver, The Sovereign States by James Kilpatrick, Congress and the American Tradition, by James Burnham, The Conservative Affirmation, by Willmoore Kendall, The Humane Economy, by Wilhelm Roepke. Mr. Regnery’s publishing company continues to publish important conservative literature under his son. *
Asphalt Driveway Co., Part II
A paver connects to a dump truck — it’s
A steel form the asphalt flows into when
The load is raised and it lays the mat and
There’s a place for the novice grunts to stand
And stir the searing heavy stuff to the
Corners with a shovel and because it’s
Often not as wide as needed and as
Constancy and speed are required the
Grunt must fling shovelfuls carefully with
Haste for as long as necessary with
The steaming asphalt and the blazing
Sun and a few of the new guys if they
Made it through the day if they returned to
The yard the next morning maybe could work.
The labor absorbs
attention so there’s no time
beyond the immediate
calling for utmost effort.
There was a job in the open country
On a hilltop with a glorious view
And we prepared the ground for a lengthy
Driveway on a cool morning tearing out
The old asphalt with a maul shovels and
The tractor and when the earth was smoothed we
Spread the underlying stones with shovels
And rakes and there’s an art to seeing the
High and low places and spreading smoothly
And as we were working sporadically
And then attentively we noticed the
Clouds becoming dark anticipating
Rain and it cheered our hearts at the prospect
Of honorably working half the day.
Our hearts jumped with the
prospect of lucky freedom
from a day’s labor
as children playing hooky
who are blameless and shameless.
“You are really good at taking s---” said
Steve who was on the way to becoming
A chief and I was puzzled as every
Grunt took abuse from Willie and why should
I take anything personally? I
Could do the work was paying for college
And was Steve complimenting? I don’t know.
Summers later near the ending of a
Day some kids were laughing at me because
I could hardly stand I was five-foot-two
And I looked like a kid and Carrie our
Chief told them to shut up and they did and
I was grateful because I was doing
Good work and had earned everyone’s respect.
In Oxford England
the university dons
and the students weren’t
exchanging profanity —
they didn’t know hard labor.
I was nearing the end of my time on
The crews and I had chosen not to drive
The trucks as I saw difficulty that
Might threaten my job so I stayed a grunt
Those summers and they knew I was going
To college but not to Oxford England
The final year and I didn’t tell them
Because some might have made it harder for
Me or not I don’t know but once Willie
Had an easy day sealcoating which meant
Pushing a broom and he chose me to go
Because he knew I was leaving and he
Let me sleep in the cab between jobs and
So we had the easiest day ever.
And then Willie said
I would tell my grandchildren
about him and me
about summers of hard work
about this one easy day.
Upon my arrival at Oxford and
St. Michael’s Hall for a year of study
Hearing the pealing bells in the morning
I thought of the guys lining up in the
Yard in the four crews before dawn ready
For a day of hard labor and I was
Grateful for the rich experience of
Putting in driveways paying my own way
Discovering “culture” and mixing with
A different sort of people with whom my
Words had to be carefully weighed before
I spoke — and today I’m very grateful
To have known wrenching metamorphosis
To have adopted whole-hearted effort.
I am so grateful
to see the capacity
the precision and
and the talent required
to control a tractor’s blade.
Another morning sun will sear the air —
Such humidity. The whole body aches.
To rise again to labor hard will tear
Muscles from sinews. The tired body quakes.
Shades don’t cool the blazing of the noon sun.
Within a soul a fury wakes to coil
A wrath to hurl the maul to powder tons
Of stone to hide a shame in deadly toil.
Evening glows with the grace of sunset’s rose.
At twilight the sweat dries in salty cakes
Across those huge slumped shoulders and he dozes
As he stumbles as he trudges as he aches.
He dreams of mountains cold rivers and lakes —
The earth is so beautiful that he aches.
Letters from a Conservative Farmer — Yom Hashoah Comes to Town
Because Yom Hashoah fell on a Sunday that year, Jo Ann thought of having a memorial service in a Christian church. Good idea, I said, but where will you find a church around here that’ll do it? After a long silence, Jo Ann triumphantly said, “Sister Agnes”! She’s a nun, a friend with whom Jo Ann had collaborated a couple of years ago in bringing a survivor to speak at the high school down at the Strait. Jo Ann wrote to her, and also to the National Council of Christians and Jews in New York. Sister Agnes replied at once, full of enthusiasm and interest, and the Council sent Jo Ann a manila envelope bulging with material — complete services, excerpts, sermons, background information — everything she could possibly want.
I was working in the woods on the day Sister Agnes was due, but I made sure I got home early. Papers were scattered over the kitchen table, and Sister Agnes was getting ready to leave.
“Everything set?” I asked.
“Just about,” she answered, buttoning her coat.
“In outline,” Jo Ann added. “Sister Agnes will work out the details of the program, and I’ll prepare a short talk.”
“That’s right,” Sister Agnes agreed emphatically. “I persuaded your wife to give a speech. I told her that’d be the sermon.” She laughed, bending over to struggle with her rubber boots.
“I’d like to give a little talk, too,” I said.
She quickly straightened up and looked at me with round eyes behind her rimless glasses. Before she could say anything, I went on.
“Look: This is a special Yom Hashoah service for Christians. Well, I’m a Christian and I want to talk about the impact of the Holocaust on me.”
To say that Sister Agnes was horrified would be an exaggeration, but not by much. As a sentimentalist, she thinks I’m a heartless cynic because I don’t share all her enthusiasms. Lord knows what she thought I might say to the congregation.
“Trust me, Sister,” I said, “I promise you won’t regret it.”
She bent down again and tugged at her boots. When she stood up, stamping her heels, she faced me squarely, her gray hair tousled and her face red. “All right. I’ll trust you. Just don’t tell me anything about it.”
We had trouble with our speeches. Jo Ann showed me her first draft, and I couldn’t make it out — it didn’t go anywhere or say anything. “It doesn’t seem to have any point,” I said. Jo Ann was glum. “I know what you mean. In some way it’s all wrong,” and she took it away to work on.
A couple of days later she said to me, “You know, the trouble is, I’m afraid of giving offense.”
“Jewishness. It’s a sensitive subject here; you never know how people are going to react. Remember when I was showing that woman from town the daffodils and I told her the same kind grew wild in Israel? She turned to ice. I mean, sometimes just to mention the word Jew is offensive.”
“Okay, you know the audience. But what’s the point you want to make? That the people in front of you are responsible for the Holocaust? Of course not. What the Holocaust did, or rather, what your knowledge of it did for you, was to reawaken your Jewishness. So tell about that, honestly and simply. Anyone likely to be offended by that wouldn’t be there. Think of it that way.”
My trouble was a little different. When I had volunteered to speak it was no more than an impulse to stand beside my wife, to be identified with her in her cause; I had no idea what I wanted to say. Now I turned to the material Jo Ann had collected, as well as to a pile of newspaper clippings, sent to us by a friend in New York, about Yom Hashoah services and sermons. By the time I was done, I had the stock speech by heart — all I had to do was patch together the clichés: Never Again with its precedent Never Forget pointed to the Lessons of History, i.e., the Face of Bigotry, Man’s Inhumanity to Man, Madness, and Brutality, finishing with Tragedy in all its varieties, National, Personal, Human, Inhuman, Unique, and so on. Pastor Martin Niemoller put in a cameo appearance, Speaking Out was advocated, the murdered Jews became the Six Million, Six Candles were lit, and it was all done for our Children’s Children. The speech of officials, the hollow voice of Everybody and Nobody.
When I was done, though, I knew what to avoid: I should try to speak directly and simply (as I had told Jo Ann) in my own voice about my own experience. Ah, but what was that, I asked myself? The renewal of Jo Ann’s Jewishness had had unforeseen consequences. Before that, we had gone along for years, not only without a religious affiliation, but seemingly without the cultural attachments associated with any religion. In fact, we assumed, however implicitly, even deprecatingly, that my culture, what would pass on a very dark night for WASP culture, was the real thing, the standard, our “home.” Now all that was overturned, and the oddity was that I had played such an ambivalent role. I insisted that she read that book about the Holocaust; I encouraged her; I read the same books; I discussed everything with her — and at the same time, I fought against it, tried to stop her, tried to defend and preserve the old dispensation. I remember once, near the beginning, when Jo Ann remarked that she thought the Christian churches had had a lot to do with anti-Semitism, and hence with the Holocaust. It was during evening chores and we were both milking, a time when we often talk over things, sitting on our stools, our heads resting against the cows’ flanks, the lantern light casting a yellow dusk around us. I pooh-poohed the idea, insisting that Hitler was a modern pagan whose ideas and appeal owed nothing to Christianity, but she persisted, and I, who really knew nothing about it, became exasperated, defending Christianity with a zeal astonishing to my own ears. Of course we wound up, as usual, by agreeing to look it up, with predictable results.
As March gave way to April, everything was ready. The service would be held in the convent chapel because, when Sister Agnes asked the priest about a church service, he groaned and said, “Why do they have to pick on us?” With just four weeks to go, we began to invite people, not formally, but just as we met them coming to the farm from day to day. We knew most of them quite well. Generally, their response was to make no response, none whatever, which is a Cape Bretoner’s form of tact. Where someone from a more middle-class place would make an excuse, a Cape Bretoner, without any sign of embarrassment, simply says nothing. One couple underwent the transformation Jo Ann had mentioned: They seemed, subtly but definitely, to grow rigid and cold, eyes glazed.
We got a ride with our friend Mike, a surveyor from Ontario working temporarily on the Island. It was a long drive — 40 miles — on a cold, raw April evening. And we went the back roads, passing here and there the skimpy farmhouses and trailers that make the dreary miles seem only lonelier. Once in a long while we’d see a few beef cattle out, though no grass grows in this thin, cold soil until late May at best. These were not farms, only what once were farms.
We arrived early enough to have tea and cookies with Sister Agnes in the convent kitchen, an interlude made somewhat tense by her nervousness as she spoke hurriedly in fragmentary sentences about her efforts to secure an audience. Beneath her optimistic formulas — this one was “interested,” that one “promised to try” — poor Sister Agnes obviously was very worried. I could see that she had worked hard to make the service a success, but too many of those she had depended on had disappointed her. Despite her sentimentality, I have always admired Sister Agnes, and never more so than on this night. Who else would have had the courage to sponsor a Yom Hashoah service in the face of the prevailing indifference and hostility?
When the service began in the chapel, a large room with a small altar and lectern against one wall, folding chairs arranged around the outer walls, there were 15 people in the audience. None of those we had invited were there, none of our friends or acquaintances. Sister Agnes’s fellow nuns were absent, as were the few Jews who lived in the town.
Looking at the program, I was surprised at the absence of any clue to the sequence of events: there were only pages and pages of mimeographed readings and songs and poems jumbled together from the Council brochures. The service was more muddled than the program because Sister Agnes was constantly stepping outside the door to fiddle with the lights or to put on a record of syrupy, 60s-type songs. We sang, we recited, we mediated in the dark, Sister Agnes lit candles, one thing followed another remorselessly, but each part seemed interminable. Everything seemed distant and muffled. I was caught, I realized, in an amateur version of the Never Again service.
The audience was beginning to show signs of stupefaction, and I could hear that almost inaudible, but persistent, fuzzy noise; as if all the wandering thoughts and distracted senses of each individual emitted a tiny hum, the static of boredom.
Jo Ann’s speech transformed the service. The force and clarity of her voice dispelled fuzziness: her passion compelled attention. The room grew still as Jo Ann recalled how she had first learned about the death camps at the end of the war in the pages of Life magazine.
I looked at the pictures and young as I was, I drew my own conclusions, which were quietly locked away in that part of my mind where all the unpleasantness associated with being Jewish was stored. Subtly but surely, throughout my childhood, I had received the
message, from my non-Jewish schoolmates, from their parents, from my teachers, from many remarks I heard around me, that there was something wrong with being Jewish.
It was then, when I came back to reexamine the Holocaust in recent years, that I was forced to think about my own Jewishness and the attitude of my own neighbors to that
mythical creature they so often abjured, “the Jews.” From the moment I recognized the dead as my dead, my people, I strove to recover what was almost lost to me, my precious birthright. I realized how wrong I had been to have acquiesced, to have excused anti-Jewishness.
At the end of her speech, Jo Ann acknowledged her debt to those Christians who had helped her, mentioning (among others) “my husband, who urged me to study the Holocaust as he had done and who supported my difficult journey back to Judaism.”
The words were no surprise to me; I had read them a month ago, and I had been pleased. Now I was ashamed. Looking over the pages of the speech at home had been one thing, but hearing Jo Ann speak them in public with such honesty and simplicity, was another. Yes, I had supported and encouraged her, but it was equally true that I had tried to hold her back. The devastating blow, however, was the full realization that I, too, for so many years of our marriage, had been one of those who had made her feel that there was something wrong with being Jewish.
My throat tightened and the room swam, but before I could grasp what was happening to me, Jo Ann had resumed her seat, and I was standing before the audience, gripping the lectern. Although I’m not much of a public speaker, I know how to avoid giving the impression that I’m just reading something, but after my first sentence, I gave it up. If I were to complete my little talk (only two pages), I would have to concentrate all my attention on the words in front of me on the paper, reading them very slowly and very carefully.
When we were first married, I thought, in a half-conscious way, that I was doing her a favor by introducing her to the superior world of Anglo-Saxon Christian culture. That condescension was punctured one evening when one of our dinner guests made an anti-Jewish remark. Later, when the guests were gone, my wife cried. I tried to comfort her, tried to explain it away. For the next 22 years, that was the extent of the impact of my wife’s Jewishness on my life. I learned ways to head off anti-Jewish remarks. If I failed, if I could not prevent such remarks, I learned how to isolate them. And finally, I comforted my wife. I did not hear those remarks until I was married to a Jew. They were there, though, maybe I even said some myself. But I did not hear them.
As I read, a fresh sense of my hypocrisy in the pose of my wife’s comforter assailed me, and my voice wavered. Instead of gaining strength and control, I was losing both. Then I knew my speech was lost, wasted, blotted out by the spectacle of a man trying to speak against his tears. Not that it mattered — Jo Ann’s speech had been enough. Anything else was superfluous, and if her words did not stay in their minds, nothing I could say would. I carried on because I had said I would. And now it was all for Jo Ann. The others could have the spectacle: the love and sorrow were for her alone.
Reading the last paragraph, the words blurred, but I knew what they were. Pausing, I heard the silence in the room, an electric stillness. I began the last sentences.
My wife has given me not only knowledge of another religion and culture but another gift. Thirty years ago, I loved one Jew. Because of that love, and what it led me to — the things I have just talked about, Jewishness, history, Christianity, and so on — I have come to sympathize with all Jews, and I am all the richer for it.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I uttered the words out of my distress. After “and so on,” there was a long pause. I spoke the next phrase, waited a moment, then firmly finished the speech.
When I returned to my seat, Jo Ann clasped my hand. I sat with my head back and my burning eyes shut. There was a long silence in the room. Finally, Sister Agnes came to the lectern and said, in a shaking voice, “I don’t think we need to go on with the rest of the program.”
One more sentimental song, and the first Yom Hashoah service in Nova Scotia under Christian auspices was over. It had been a success, thanks to my wife, and even in the midst of my personal failure, there were consolations: I had brought the dreadful program to an end, and I had shown Sister Agnes that I had a heart. *
A Message for Easter/Passover: Saving Christians in Muslim Lands from a New Holocaust
Jo Ann Gardner
Jo Ann Gardner is the author of Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants. She can be reached through her website: www.joanngardnerbooks.com.
Update: On March 17, after coming under increased pressure from Congress, and from reports submitted by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. This decision, however, does not obligate the U.S. to take additional action against ISIS nor does it prejudge prosecution against its members. Nor is there any guarantee that it would result in creating safe zones for them in the Middle East or helping them to immigrate to the U.S. These people still very much need our voices raised on their behalf as outlined below. We have seen, from Kerry’s decision, that this has an effect.
We have been living a nightmare. Christianity in Iraq is bleeding . . . we are extremely exhausted . . . every day we hope tomorrow will be better, but our tomorrows seem to bring only more tears and more hardship. . . . When will you rescue us?— An elderly woman in Iraq to Johnnie Moore, chief of staff of the Cradle Fund to rescue endangered Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
Last Christmas I came upon an online article posted by the American Jewish Committee blog, Virtual Global Forum, entitled “This Christmas.” It was accompanied by a photo of a displaced little Middle Eastern girl with black eyes and a smile that struck deep into my Jewish heart. Here, in part, is its message:
As the world prepares to mark Christmas 2015, we’re saddened by the steady decline of Christian communities in the Middle East, where Christianity began and where Christians have lived for centuries. A century ago about 14 percent of all residents of the Middle East were Christians; today they make up just 4 percent. . . . Even in Lebanon, a country whose borders and governmental system were set so that Christians could be assured a share of power and influence, the Christian share of the population has declined from 78 percent to 34 percent.
Throughout the region, disintegration of previously stable countries and the violent rise of radical Islam have affected all people — Muslims, Christians, others — but it is the 2015 Christmas reality that Christianity is disappearing in many places where Christian history dates back to the founding centuries of the faith . . .
After detailing the persecution of Christians in Iraq as well as the state-sponsored persecution of Christians and other minorities in Iran, now benefiting from the millions of dollars we have released to them as part of Obama’s deal, the blog ends with this hope:
This Christmas, join our pledge to spread awareness about the plight of Christians in the Middle East and beyond so that next Christmas, the world will be a more tolerant place.
It’s well past Christmas and we’re now in the season of Jews celebrating redemption from slavery in Egypt and Christians remembering the resurrection of Jesus. The suffering continues:
Here’s Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute:
ISIS and other Islamist extremists are waging genocide, the most egregious of all human-rights atrocities, against Christians, Yazidis, Mandaeans, and other defenseless religious minorities. . . . Similar to Jews under Nazi domination during World War II, the Christians and other minorities in the Middle East today are facing, in addition to the wartime privations suffered by the general population, a relentless and deliberate extermination campaign being carried out in the name of Islamic purification. In the summer of 2014, ISIS launched its caliphate from Mosul by marking Christian homes with the red letter “N” for “Nazarene,” before confiscating them and exiling their owners. Since then, it has pursued Christians and other minorities with a systematic intensity intended to delete every trace of their ancient presence. Solely for their religion, Christians and Yazidis have been beheaded, enslaved, abducted and sold, forcibly converted to Islam, and stripped of all their property. Their houses of worship and their cultural artifacts have been expropriated or demolished, including the fifth-century monastery in Qaryatain and Nineveh’s fourth-century Mar Behnam monastery.
The situation in Syria is also horrendous. Its Christian population has been decimated by what Pope Francis has called religious genocide. Last November, Nina Shea reported that:
Tens of thousands of Aleppo’s 160,000 Christians have fled to Lebanon, after a thousand of their community, including two Orthodox bishops, were abducted and murdered.
Yet President Obama described as “shameful” the idea suggested by Ted Cruz that the United States should accept only Christian refugees while Muslim refugees are sent to majority-Muslim countries (as far as I know he and Jeb Bush are the only Republican candidates to address this crisis). Whatever one thinks about admitting Middle East refugees, Christians and other minorities in the region pose no terrorist threat and are, according to many reports, persecuted with the intention of their extinction. Why can’t we face this problem and deal with it rationally? Genocide is genocide and shouldn’t be subject to a religious test. When Obama rejects calls to admit specifically Christian and minority refugees from the Middle East by saying, as he has done, that it’s “not American. That’s not who we are,” does that mean that we must close the door to suffering Christians because they are Christians?
According to Nina Shea, Obama and other leaders shy away from relevant religious labels as if “Christians are the oppressors and they can’t be victims.”
The State Department’s public records show that while Christians from the various Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions represent 10 percent of the population, they constitute only 2.6 percent of the 2003 Syrian refugees the U.S. has accepted during the past five years of Syria’s civil war.
That is, 53 Syrian Christians, one Yazidi, and a handful of other minorities.
Is this who we are?
My gut reaction to this suffering is involuntary. Jews have long lived in adversity and suffered persecution. Helping endangered Jews is bred in our bones, an article of Jewish faith known as Pidyon Shevuyim, “redeeming captives.” In Jewish history, unfortunately, this principle has worked overtime, from the days of the Bible (Gen. 14:14-16) to the rescue by Israel of entire threatened Jewish communities in the Middle East (49,000 from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet, 1949-50; 120,000-130,000 from Iraq, 1951-52), to the lopsided prisoner exchanges in Israel. When, how, and whether to put this principle into practice in various situations (including the openly debated prisoner swap) has generated an entire literature.
The lack of any such response on behalf of persecuted Christians in America is especially striking in a country in which about 70 percent of the U.S. population calls itself Christian by belief. As Elliot Abrams observed this would mean more than 200 million people, “a potential pressure group if it ever got mobilized.”
Christians have had two pretty good millennia, and the idea that there are Christian communities being destroyed, and Christians being enslaved, raped, and murdered because of their faith, may be hard for many Christians in the year 2015 [or 2016] to understand. (“Why Do We Not Save Christians?” Oct. 12, 2015, The Weekly Standard.)
ISIS and other radical Islamists are not the first to target the Christian population. Since the Islamic conquest of the 7th century, Christians have lived as a minority at the sufferance of Muslim rulers, tolerated, like Jews, as second-class citizens, paying a special tax, their condition prospering or worsening depending on the rulers of the day. In the 14th century, 70,000 Assyrian Christians were beheaded in Tikrit, 90,000 more in Baghdad. During World War One, 65 percent of the Assyrian populations of northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeast Syria, and northwest Iran were massacred. They, along with 1.5 million Christian Armenians and 300,000 Christian Greeks were burned, slaughtered, and systematically murdered.
And the slaughter continues.
Whatever policy our country pursues regarding admitting Middle East refugees, we must face the fact that most Christians do not wind up in the UN sponsored refugee camps from which refugees are drawn for resettlement because they are fearful of living in close, unprotected conditions with the Muslims who make up the vast majority of inhabitants. Shea reports that in Britain, where the House of Lords debated the issue, it was noted that many Christian refugees will not be included in the UN camp referrals because they have had to leave the camps after the cruelties inflicted upon them. These include assassinations and abductions. Christians and others try to find church-run camps, not as numerous, the UN ones, nor as well funded.
Some countries in Europe have declared a preference for Christian refugees, especially after the New Year’s Eve raping and robbing by young Muslim men of women on the streets of Cologne and other places in Germany. These include Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Last December, the Jewish News Service posted an article about the then 96-year old British-Jewish publisher, Lord Weidenfeld [he died in January 2016], whose Weidenfeld Fund, through the Barnabas Fund and Operation Safe Havens, pledges to rescue 2,000 Syrian and Iraqi Christians. He had a debt to repay, he said, to endangered Christians for the work of Christian groups in saving Jewish children in Germany, 1938-1940, by bringing them to safety in England, as well as a personal debt in helping to save him and his parents. He had recently flown 150 Syrian Christians to Poland and more to the Czech Republic. Some countries, including ours, have refused to participate in this project. Why? Because it is supported by the regime of Syrian President Assad and because it is not “inclusive” — it does not aim to help Muslims who are also being terrorized by radical Islamists.
So if we cannot help to save these people because “that is not who we are,” can anything be done to help them?
American Evangelicals have been at the forefront of efforts to rescue members of the suffering eastern churches, despite the fact that Evangelicals are only a tiny fraction of the Middle East Christian population. Mainline Protestant churches have been largely absent from this effort. Sad to say, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and most recently, the United Methodist Church are too busy vilifying Israel to have any energy left for other matters. All have joined the shameful BDS movement to boycott, disinvest, and sanction Israel, the only country in the Middle East where Christians are safe. It seems that the powers that be in these mainstream institutions would rather hate Jews than love Christians, the exception being the Methodists who seem able to do both (see below).
Here’s a sampling of efforts to help endangered Christians and other minorities:
* The Cradle Fund (cradlefund.org) was established in 2014 with the goal of raising 25 million dollars to provide immediate humanitarian relief on the ground where it is most needed, in the form of food, shelter, and clothing.
* In 2013 a bill was introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) to create a special envoy at the State Department, charged with focusing exclusively on the plight of religious minorities in South Central Asia and the Middle East. The bill passed the House by a vote of 402 to 22. Approved by the Senate, it passed into law when it was signed by President Obama in August, 2014. As far as I know, an envoy has yet to be appointed.
* In April, 2015, the Washington-based International Religious Freedom Roundtable sent a letter to the President urging him to appoint the special envoy, calling the plight of Middle East Christians and religious minorities the “biggest humanitarian crisis we now face.” It was signed by Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore and various individuals, including Nina Shea, as well as organizations such as the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United Methodist Church, and the Universal Muslim Association of America.
* In September of 2015, a group called “In Defense of Christians,” a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization held its inaugural national leadership convention to raise awareness of the plight of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. Part of its mission is to urge governments to take in Middle Eastern Christians fleeing religious persecution, and to make the region safer for those who want to stay. Among the five Democrats and twelve Republicans who spoke at this event were Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Representatives included Chris Smith (R-NJ), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
The media has covered the plight of Middle East Christians and other minorities in detail, among them the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, National Review, and The Weekly Standard, to name a few. We cannot claim ignorance of what is going on, but do we have the will to do anything about it?
Here are some suggestions: educate yourself — the material is out there on the internet — discuss the issue with your spiritual leaders and congregations (use this editorial as a starting point), demand action from your representatives in Congress, and give to the Cradle Fund.
When I read the first published study of the Holocaust (Nora Levin’s The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933-1945, 1973), I was devastated, not by the cruelty of the Nazis and their helpers, but by the world’s indifference. Dare we, on our watch, do nothing about the genocide happening before us when we know right now what is occurring?
In this spring season of celebrating renewal and rebirth, remember those who cannot speak for themselves and let your voices be heard. Do not abandon these people. *
The following is a summary of the April/May 2016 issue of The St. Croix Review:
In the editorial, “A Message for Easter/Passover: Saving Christians in Muslim Lands from a New Holocaust,” Jo Ann Gardner asks us not to abandon the Christians in the Middle East as we did with the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Paul Kengor, in “Trump and the Vulgarians at the GOP Gate,” finds Donald Trump’s words and tactics to be disqualifying; in “Undying Devotion: The Untold Story of How Nancy Reagan Would Have Taken a Bullet for Her Husband,” he takes the measure of Nancy Reagan; in “Donald Trump on Bush’s WMD ‘Lie’,” he demonstrates the absolute falsity of the charge.
Mark W. Hendrickson, in “TheWall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan Repeats Leftwing Propaganda about Capitalism,” takes issue with the famous columnist’s view of the free-market; in “Hillary, Guns, and a Divided America: Two Different Worldviews,” he shows how Americans are divided by ideology, idealism, and psychology concerning gun ownership; in “Antonin Scalia, George Washington, the Constitution on Our Future,” he lays out the case for the importance of constitutional integrity in the defense of American liberty; in “Financial Regulation and the Conceit of the Do-Gooders,” he gives a powerful bureaucrat a lesson in basic economics.
Allan C. Brownfeld, in “With Clinton and Trump as Front Runners, We See the Irrelevance of Contemporary American Politics,” he reviews the demagogic rhetoric and obvious moral shabbiness of the leading presidential contenders; in “Hillary Clinton’s Cynical Assault on Bernie Sanders Tells Us A Lot — About Hillary,” he considers how Hillary’s use of gender and racial politics will work for her; in “Brooklyn in the 1950s: An America That Lives Only in Memory,” he writes about immigration and the melting pot and the specialness of America.
Herbert London, in “‘Shining City on a Hill’ No More — The World Senses That America Has Lost Its Self-confidence,” he relates the views of our allies and antagonists; in “The Crumbling of Western Culture,” he cites examples from the U.S. and Europe where Western people don’t defend Western virtue; in “Iran vs. Saudi Arabia,” he discusses the diplomatic consequences of increasing tensions in the Middle East.
Timothy S. Goeglein, in “Remembering Scalia, Peer of the Founders,” has written a marvelous eulogy for AssociateJustice Antonin G. Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In “Income Inequality — 1950-2016,” Francis P. DeStefano traces a portion of the history of this issue in America.
In “Lessons of Faith Radiating from Chernobyl,” Gary L. Welton shares the words of survivors of the nuclear disaster that occurred on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
In “‘The Slaughterhouse of the World’ — The Battle of Verdun at 100,” Robert H. Clemm describes the consequences of the W.W. I battle
In “Letters from a Conservative Farmer — Yom Hashoa Comes to Town,” Jigs Gardner describes the impact of holding the first-ever service honoring the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in a church in Nova Scotia.
In “Writers for Conservatives 59: Literary Ruminations,” Jigs Gardner comments on how his literary essays came to be, and he solicits comments from his readership.
The following is a summary of the February/April 2016 issue of The St. Croix Review:
In the editorial, “Perilous Immigration,” Barry MacDonald explains the potency of immigration issues.
Allan C. Brownfeld, in “A Time for the Introspection Our Society Desperately Needs,” presents Christ’s message through the words of Malcolm Muggeridge and G. K. Chesterton; in “Free Speech Is Under Attack on the Nation’s Campuses with Too Few Willing to Defend It,” he provides many examples of the stifling of views contrary to politically correct notions; in “The War on the Police Is Making America a Much More Dangerous Place,” he cites many instances where police are unjustly abused and under threat, and shows the detrimental effects on morale and law enforcement.
Mark W. Hendrickson, in “Let’s Hope Not All Billionaires Emulate Mark Zuckerberg’s Philanthropy,” reminds us of the importance of capital formation in the promotion of new businesses and a higher standard of living for everyone; in “What Do the Democratic Candidates and a College Coed Have in Common?” he shows the parallel thinking of presidential candidates and a student who believe she deserves a free college education and the rich deserve punishment; in “Good Grief, Charlie Brown! Secular Fundamentalism Goes After Linus at Christmas” he points that out air-brushing the birth of Christ from world and American history is a great injustice.
Paul G. Kengor, in “Planned Parenthood and Hillary Clinton,” discusses the mutual admiration of the abortion provider and Hillary; “Hollywood’s Blacklisted Communist: The Truth about Trumbo,” he shows the long history of a secret alliance between Hollywood filmmakers and the Soviet Union; in “Joe McCarthy: Despicable or Prophetic?” he reveals the unacknowledged extent of Communist infiltration of U.S. culture and government following W.W. II, and he throws a fresh light on a much maligned historical figure.
Herbert London, in “Islamophobia and Political Correctness,” considers efforts to silence speech perceived to be critical of Islam; in “Perversion of Islam?” he takes issue with the Obama administration’s unwillingness to recognize the Islamic character of Islamic militancy, and he calls for leadership; in “Why Belief and Foreign Policy Matter,” he describes the various historical components that compose our Western culture, he shows how Western culture is at odds with aspects of Islam, and thusly why our present course of diplomacy with Iran is futile; in “The Danger of Going Secular,” he calls for a return to the power of faith and prayer.
John A. Howard tells one soldier’s story in “Some Remembrances of World War II.” John A. Howard, the former President of Rockford College and veteran of W.W. II, passed away this August at the age of ninety-three. John Howard was a long-time supporter of and a greatly appreciated author for The St. Croix Review.
Philip Vander Elst, in “Resisting Socialism in Early 20th Century Britain,” shares the history of the Anti-Socialist Union, formed in 1908, as a pioneering organization promoting classical liberalism.
In “Are “Unisex” Restrooms Coming to Elementary Schools?” Michael D. Dean shows that the left is not finished pushing for radical reform.
In “The Burgeoning Anti-Culture,” Robert L. Wichterman shows how same-sex marriage is being used by the left as a wedge to collapse our Judeo-Christian traditions.
In “The Downside of Immigration,” Al Shane makes the case for the assimilation of immigrants as it was done in previous generations.
Michelle Martin, in “‘Full of Grace’ Sparks Reflection on Faith,” presents an inspirational movie about Mary, the mother of Christ, in the latter years of her life, and about Peter and the other apostles as they form the early church.
In “Letters from a Conservative Farmer: Reputation,” Jigs Gardners reveals the brief period when “hippie-homesteader magazines” flourished in America and they were stars.
In “Writers for Conservatives 58: Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Jigs Gardner explains the novel’s appeal at the time of the Civil War, and its impact on the war. Its subject is both Christianity and slavery.
Some Remembrances of World War II
John A. Howard
John A. Howard passed away this August at the age of ninety-three. John Howard was a long-time supporter of and a greatly appreciated author for The St. Croix Review. He was the former President of Rockford College and a veteran of W.W. II.
On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor, our huge navy base in Hawaii, and tore up the shipyards, and sank many of our warships, it was a thunderbolt that exploded in every living room in America. You can’t imagine the terrible shock. The battles and bombings in Europe that we had been reading about for two years were suddenly no longer just tragic news stories, but a real and terrible thing. We, too, were in a war.
At that time and in the months that followed many Americans volunteered for military service and millions were drafted by the U.S. Government for military duty, soldiering in whatever armed service to which they were assigned. In those days, the American people loved their country. And they were very proud of it.
The people in our battalion were farmers, factory workers, accountants, dishwashers, grocers, truck drivers, athletes, couch potatoes, college graduates, and high-school drop-outs — a whole united nation of people whose families had come from many different countries.
It was the army’s task to transform this variety of talents and experiences and attitudes into a physically fit, alert fighting force skilled in the use of various weapons, vehicles, and many other areas of critically important knowledge. Just think about the requirement of training millions of Americans to be able to perform in work they knew nothing about. And yet the American military forces carried it out. A modern miracle!
I entered the U.S. Army in August of 1942 and was sent with a couple of hundred men all from Illinois to Camp Grant here in Rockford. Until they decided where we were going, they put us through a tough program of physical fitness training, with exercises, long marches, and obstacle courses. They also taught us how to take apart, clean, care for, and shoot the basic army rifle.
In October, we boarded trains to Camp Bowie in a desert area of central Texas to become a tank battalion. We learned how to load and fire and maintain the tank’s big cannon and the large machine gun on top of the turret and the small machine gun in the front of the tank. We learned how to drive it and store the ammunition inside. After ten months of training we were sent to New York to board the Queen Elizabeth, one of the earliest very large ocean liners. Fifteen thousand of us! Forty-five soldiers were assigned to every bedroom. There were five banks of three beds, one above another around the walls. We had eight hours for sleeping and then had to get out for the next group and its eight-hour sleep time. And then the next group also assigned to our bedroom, so the beds were in constant use. When we left the bedroom, we went to the dining rooms, where meals were served continually. We ate twice more before returning to the bedroom, and the rest of the time we were on the decks or in the lounges.
As the ship left the New York harbor we looked for the navy ships that would be our escort across the Atlantic to keep us safe from the German navy. There was no escort. Gulp! Then we learned the Queen Elizabeth traveled faster than German submarines and other war ships. After five days of good weather, we arrived in Scotland. We were welcomed with cheers and applause and bagpipe music and by hundreds of women serving us tea and cakes and tearful thanks to us for joining in the war against Hitler.
From Scotland we took a long train ride to a camp near Swindon in south central England. It was a night trip and the blackout curtains were closed but we could see around the edges bombs bursting on the horizon as the German air force continued their nighttime destruction of targets in England they had been attacking for almost two years. Already we were experiencing war.
In England, from our arrival at the end of August until the Normandy invasion ten months later, we had various kinds of special training.
One of the skills we had to learn was map reading. Just how important that was I suddenly learned when I was assigned to be the lead vehicle in taking the entire battalion from south-central England all the way to Land’s End at the Western tip of the country. When you are leading a column of thirty-six tanks and probably seventy other vehicles, you don’t want to take a wrong turn. That would be the worst nightmare.
Well, hour after hour, things went along pretty well and then, suddenly, we came to an impasse. We were going through a small town and the road, which was very narrow, took a sharp right turn. There was no way we could get the tanks around that corner. With the whole column stopped, I radioed headquarters and asked, “What are we to do now?” The colonel said the reconnaissance people who had planned our route said we probably couldn’t get through. There was no alternate route. Just beyond the town was the only bridge over a river that could stand the weight of a tank. We had to get to Land’s End to take special training in recognizing enemy aircraft. I would simply have to use my tank to take out the corner of the house. Our tanks weighed thirty-two tons, sixty-four thousand pounds, so it could go through the walls of a house. When the Colonel told me that, I exclaimed “You’ve got to be kidding!” “I am not!” said the Colonel. “Go do it.”
So I knocked on the door of the house. An old man opened it and was terrified at the size and the noise and the number of the tanks. I explained why we had to get through and what we had to do. He said “You can’t do that! This house was built in 1686!” I told him the United States Government would pay him well for the trouble we caused and he had ten minutes to clear the furniture. Guess what? Three weeks later when we returned, he was just finishing the house repairs. That man and his family through the generations will hate America forever.
The last few months we were in England, we became a training center for new recruits fresh from the United States to teach them how to be tankers. We graduated 3,000 students in this program who would be sent as replacements for war casualties. When American officers were killed or wounded, the army sometimes selected able and combat-experienced soldiers and commissioned them as officers. I received one of those battlefield commissions during the war.
Our battalion landed in Normandy on D-Day. It involved more than 4,000 invasion ships, 600 warships, 10,000 airplanes and 176,000 Allied troops. More than 1,000 soldiers were killed on Omaha Beach where our battalion and others landed. God was looking out for me on D-Day. Our platoon had never received the large Sherman tanks equipped with assault guns that we had been promised. We had been operating in light tanks for the nine months we had been in England. We got word that our real tanks had finally arrived, so I took our three drivers down to the railroad station to get them. Shortly after we left, the invasion camp where we had assembled was closed for the D-Day assault and nobody could get in or out. As a result the three drivers and I landed in France with our new tanks three days after D-Day when the fighting on the beaches was over.
After the invasion we were under enemy fire much of the time for the eleven months until the German surrender in May. Each of our companies, mostly with about fifty men, had its own traveling kitchen and cooking staff. When possible they would set up a buffet. When we were scattered as fighters, we had waterproof meals in our vehicles, and drinking water. We were fortunate in that we could sleep under the tanks and other vehicles, as shelters from snow and rain and pretty good protection from incoming German shells. We had waterproof sleeping bags and used our steel helmets as washbasins when we had time for a shave or a sponge bath.
In September the Allied forces had reached the Rhine River, a very large river, almost as wide as the Mississippi. It was the border between Germany and France. The Germans had blown up the Rhine River bridges to stall the Allies’ advance. However, most of the dynamite charges placed under the Remagen Bridge had failed to explode but the ones that did go off had weakened the bridge and the Allied commanders wanted to rush as many troops as possible across while it was still standing.
Our battalion was one of the first to cross but only after I had received our battle instructions at a temporary headquarters in a lovely house on the French side of the Rhine. When I entered the house, I had to wait. There was a very large, elegant piano in the living room and I started to play it. A woman came down the elegant stairway and said, “Madame does not allow the Americans to play her piano.” I said “Oh!” Very soon a majestic lady, very beautifully dressed, came down the stairs and said:
I must apologize for the rudeness of my companion. It is a joy we forget about in wartime that all people share a love of good music. That Chopin waltz you were playing is one of my favorites.
I asked her if she would play it for me. She smiled and sat down and did. It turned out she was Madame Hilda Gummersbach, a retired and famous opera singer.
We crossed the bridge and immediately encountered the Siegfried Line, an imposing military fortification the Germans had built along the Rhine River. It included very large concrete triangular blocks that they called Dragon’s Teeth. They were placed close enough together so that tanks couldn’t get between them. If a tank tried to go over them, it would get hung up on them. During the war Americans invented new ways to deal with new problems. They had welded bulldozer blades on the front of some tanks and bulldozers were available to move the dragon’s teeth. We started up the steep hill along the river and suddenly a swarm of Germans came down the hill in a major attack. I had to make a quick decision. We couldn’t use our big cannons against them even though we had ammunition that would explode in the air covering a large area, because the shells would go over their heads.
However, the shells for our assault gun cannons had two parts, the explosive part on the front and a removable back chamber containing five powder bags to propel the explosive missile toward the target. The more bags you used the farther the missile went. We had instructions not to use less than two bags. I thought we were goners anyway, so I radioed the three tank commanders to start firing with just one powder bag. That decision worked. The shells exploded where the enemy was and ended the attack. I received an award for that success, but my gamble could have been a disaster if the shells had exploded while still in the cannons.
In December Hitler’s troops mounted a large and very powerful attack in an effort to try to break through the Allied front and capture the ammunition dumps and supply depots of the harbor cities north of us from which came all our food, gasoline, replacement vehicles, and ammunition to carry on the war. That attack became known as the Battle of the Bulge. If it had been successful, Hitler might have won the war. A heavy fog for some days had prevented any American airplane support. The Americans had no idea of the very large build-up in preparation for this breakthrough. The Germans spearheaded their attack with two divisions of the huge, heavily armored Tiger tanks and Panther tanks with bigger and more powerful cannons than ours and they overwhelmed the Americans on the front line. During the five weeks of that fiercely fought struggle, there were 77,000 American casualties, killed, wounded, or captured.
On Christmas day, our outfit was in position on the north flank of the German advance. Up in the turret of our tank, the gunner and I were standing trying to see through the fog when the gunner jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow and said, “Look at that.” I whirled around. A girl, nine or ten years old was walking toward our tank. She told us that when the fighting came back toward her town all the people left. But her grandfather was an invalid and couldn’t travel. She had stayed behind to take care of him. She said they had no food left and wondered if we had any to spare. We immediately gave her all the rations we had in the tank. She made sort of a basket out of her apron to put them in. She looked up at us, as she turned to leave, and said, “Oh! It’s a wonderful, wonderful Christmas after all!” The marvelous thing is that all of us in the tank agreed with her. It had become a wonderful Christmas for us too. Providing help to that girl was a happy thing for us.
When Germany surrendered, there was no wild rejoicing — just a stunned shock. I said I was going over to a nearby barn to offer a prayer of thanks to God and invited anyone who wished to, to join me. The whole platoon did. This is that prayer:
Dear God, we pause to offer up our simple thanks that this day for which the world has waited is at hand. God help our leaders and statesmen to build a world of harmony and brotherhood that these last years of cruelty and agony may not be repeated. God help our leaders, and God, help us too, to be worthy of the fact that we were chosen to survive the war. Let us not forget our friends who gave their lives that we might see this day. In their memory may we be better men, may we have the courage to stand for what we know to be right, and, if necessary, may we have the courage to carry out whatever tasks are assigned to us if we are sent to the Japanese war. God, keep our loved ones safe until we return to them. Amen.
After the war ended, a whole German army surrendered to our First Infantry Division. Our platoon happened to be at the crossroads where they came by for three days and nights being directed to temporary prison camps, an unending parade of military and civilian vehicles, horse-drawn carts, and, of course, hundreds and hundreds on foot. A large number of the soldiers were old men and boys who had been casualty replacements.
All the officers in our battalion were assigned to take the Germans back to their hometowns. I led a group of trucks taking men back to Nuremberg, a beautiful old city that had been the center of the German Renaissance in the 15th and 16th century. I went to the trucks and asked for someone who spoke English. I took the volunteer to the lead jeep with me. I asked him if he knew where the city hall was, the place where I was to bring the convoy of trucks. He said, “Of course.”
As we approached the city, there were more and more buildings that had been demolished by airplane bombs. In the midst of this rubble, with tears streaming down his cheeks he said, “This was the city hall.”
After the war, the United States undertook the Marshall Plan, a massive program to help European nations rebuild their buildings and economies and address the needs of their societies. It is a fitting conclusion to this report on the death and destruction of World War II to remind ourselves that our nation is in a class by itself as the kindest and most generous and helpful country the world has ever seen. *
Our Mission Is to Reawaken the Genuine American Spirit . . .
Barry MacDonald — Editorial
Adios America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third
World Hellhole, by Ann Coulter. Regnery Publishing, 300 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001, ISBN 978-1-62157-267-1, pp. 392.
It was no coincidence that Donald Trump gained traction in polls while he was pledging to build a wall across the southern border and forcing Mexico to pay for it. It’s not surprising that he remains a towering figure in the presidential campaign as he keeps a hard line on immigration while saying he wants to make America great again.
He is boorish enough to talk about deportation.
The U.S. is being invaded by illegal immigrants who either take jobs away or depress the wages of lower-skilled Americans. They are straining our health, education, and welfare systems in a way the previous generations of legal immigrants did not, and they are thusly taking resources away from needy Americans.
Illegal immigration has been a festering issue before the days of Bush Administration, and I believe President Bush’s inability, for whatever reason, to secure the border had a big influence on the splintering of his support among ordinary Republicans. And, as the Republican Congressional leadership is taking no discernable or effective action to stop the continuing flow of illegal immigration, cynicism has spread.
The words “comprehensive immigration reform” when heard by ordinary people raise suspicions: What are these politicians hiding with these words? We know elected Republicans are beholden to big donors, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who want the cheap labor costs illegal immigrants provide. Have the politicians been purchased?
Personally I can’t claim to know what motivates the Congressional leadership of the Republican Party, but I can say they have failed to adequately explain themselves. Saying illegal immigration is an “act of love,” as Jeb Bush does, doesn’t allay the fear that our nation is being transformed against our will by politicians who no longer have the best interests of our nation at heart.
The most honest thing Barack Obama has ever said was during the 2008 presidential campaign: he pledged to “fundamentally” change the United States. He really means to.
The Democrats have been losing the majority of white voters in presidential elections since 1948, according to Ann Coulter, and, rather than align with the preferences of Americans the Democrats have chosen to import as many poor, unskilled, uneducated people as possible because they believe, given the histories of the countries they come from, they will vote for Democrats by a margin of eight to one (Ann Coulter’s estimation). Democrats dislike how Americans vote so they are replacing us.
The brazenness of President Obama’s disregard and disrespect for the sentiments of the American people is especially grating. In addition to encouraging illegal immigration, he insists on bringing into American tens of thousands of refugees from Syria in spite of the fact that one of the terrorists involved in the recent Paris attack was a Syrian refugee. ISIS has stated their intention to infiltrate the Syrian refugees with terrorists, but President Obama and the Democrats claim to have an adequate vetting system in place. As there are no reliable records to check for the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, Obama’s claim is a transparent lie — the obviousness of the dishonesty is grating.
A mob of a thousand men, mostly Arabs, or from North Africa, sexually molested and robbed one hundred German women on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany. There were 561 criminal complaints. There were also attacks in Hamburg, Stuttgart, and five other German cities. German chancellor Angela Merkel had just broadcast a New Year’s Eve welcome, with subtitles in Arabic.
Muslim asylum seekers in Germany were among the attackers — shouldn’t they be behaving with more circumspection before their cases are adjudicated? Apparently their arrogance and disrespect for Western women is such that they won’t control themselves. I believe the West and America are vastly unprepared for the presence of people who don’t conform to Western notions of proper behavior.
The West has foolishly decided to surrender the defense of our borders to masses of Muslim immigrants — a result that Muslim armies couldn’t achieve in over a thousand years. Where is the compassion of the Muslim nations for the women and children among Muslim refugees? Why aren’t Muslim nations taking in Muslim refugees? And, considering the emergence of Islamic terrorism throughout the world, shouldn’t the West and America be concerned about self-defense? Don’t the Democrats claim to care about women’s rights? Haven’t they been prattling on about the Republican “war on women”?
The above-mentioned issues are so obvious to Americans of clear vision that only bitter left-wing intellectuals, politicos consumed with political expediency, media people educated to distain traditional American norms, or Americans transfixed by political correctness can fail to be alarmed by the present state of affairs.
Ann Coulter has written a revealing book on illegal immigration: Adios America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. The most startling fact I found in Ann Coulter’s book is that no one really knows how many illegal immigrants are in the U.S.
In 2005 the Pew Hispanic Center estimated the number of illegal immigrants at 11 million. In 2005 the Dept. of Homeland Security asserted 10.5. At the same time The New York Times, the Center for Immigration Studies, the Urban Institute, and the Current Population Survey had similar estimates.
All these organizations rely on census data for their conclusions. Isn’t it a bit crazy to believe that people who broke the law to enter the U.S. would honestly fill out a census form?
Ann Coulter cites two analysts from Bear Stearns, Robert Justich and Betty Ng, who considered electronic money transfers from the U.S. to Mexico, the growth in housing permits, school enrollments and the reported growth of populations of certain cities. They concluded there were probably 20 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2005.
Ann Coulter cites Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, who did a report for Time magazine in 2006. They concluded:
. . . the number of illegal aliens flooding into the U.S. this year  will total three million — enough to fill 22,000 Boeing 737-700 airliners, or 60 flights every day for a year. It will be the largest wave since 2001 and roughly triple the number of immigrants who will come to the U.S. by legal means.
The journalists wrote the above ten years ago.
Since 2005 politicians of both parties, pundits, reporters, and organizations have been putting the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. at 11 million, as if the illegal immigration stopped in 2005. Every Republican presidential candidate refers to 11 million illegal immigrants except for Ted Cruz who said 12 million in a debate.
No one knows how many illegal immigrants are in the U.S. today.
Ann Coulter believes there are 30 million Mexicans here illegally. If she’s right we have a quarter of Mexico’s population living within the U.S., as Mexico’s population is 120 million!
Why does everyone keep referring to 11 million illegal immigrants? Ann Coulter believes 11 million is:
. . . the smallest number illegal immigration advocates think they can get away with. The usual impulse of special interest groups is to overestimate their numbers. But with illegal immigration, the number has to be just large enough to hector Republicans about alienating the coming Hispanic majority, but not so high that Americans boil politicians in oil.
For several years tens of thousands of children from Central America have been crossing the U.S. border illegally without their parents. The Obama administration has been busing these children throughout the U.S. without bothering to notify the governors of the states where the children are going.
Why are children coming without their parents? Could it be that their families are aware of our family reunification policy?
There are two egregious policies Republican candidates should be eagerly explaining to the American people with as much clarity and prominence as they can muster, because most Americans are unaware of their transforming effects.
One was introduced in 1965 by Ted Kennedy’s 1965 immigration act: the family reunification policy, permitting recent immigrants to bring in their relatives, and for these immigrants also to bring their relatives.
Ann Coulter remarks:
We’re bringing in grandparents, second cousins, and brothers-in-law of Afghan pushcart operators — who then bring in their grandparents, second cousins, and brothers-in-law until we have entire tribes of people, illiterate in their own language, never mind ours, collecting welfare in America.
The Boston Marathon bombers entered the U.S. through the reunification policy. We have one hundred thousand Somalis in Minnesota, and entire villages from Pakistan in America, because of the reunification policy. And officials aren’t able to reliably confirm who is related to whom. Ann Coulter writes:
In 2008, the State Department suspended the family reunification part of the African refugee program because DNA testing showed that only 20 percent of “family members” were actually related.
Ann Coulter writes that two-thirds of legal immigrants — the vast majority — enter the U.S. through the family reunification policy.
In addition there is the “anchor baby” policy, by which American citizenship is bestowed on the baby of a mother who is in the U.S. illegally as long as the baby is born in the U.S. How did this policy come about?
In 1898, in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the Supreme Court granted automatic citizenship to babies born to legal immigrants. In 1982, in Plyer v. Doe, Justice William Brennan wrote — in a footnote — that “no plausible distinction” could be drawn “between resident aliens whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident aliens whose entry was unlawful” — thusly was established our “anchor baby” policy.
What are the implications? Ann Coulter quotes The Wall Street Journal:
The Silverios from Stockton, California, are illegal aliens . . . . Cristobal Silverio came illegally from Oxtotitlan, Mexico, in 1997 and brought his wife Felipa, plus three children aged 19, 12, and 8. Felipa . . . gave birth to a new daughter, her anchor baby, named Flor. Flor was premature, spent three months in the neonatal incubator, and cost San Joaquin Hospital more than $300,000. Meanwhile, [Felipa’s oldest daughter] Lourdes plus her illegal alien husband produced their own anchor baby, Esmeralda. Granma Felipa created a second anchor baby, Cristian.
Anchor babies are valuable. A disabled anchor baby is more valuable than a healthy one. The two Silverio anchor babies generate $1,000 per month in public welfare funding. Flor gets $600 per month for asthma. Healthy Cristian get $400. Cristobal and Felipa last year earned $18,000 picking fruit. Flor and Cristian were paid $12,000 for being anchor babies. This illegal alien family’s annual income tops $30,000.
Ann Coulter points out:
. . . in 2003, 2,300 babies born in Stockton’s San Joaquin General Hospital’s maternity ward were anchor babies. By 2013, Stockton was bankrupt. . . . anchor baby foolishness takes this country’s immigration policy completely out of Americans’ hands and puts it into the hands of foreigners.
Guess which prominent politician said the following in the U.S. Senate in 1993:
If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn’t enough, how about offering a reward for being an illegal immigrant? No sane country would do that right? Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission, and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship and guarantee full access to all public and social services this society provides — and that’s a lot of services. Is it any wonder that two-thirds of babies born at taxpayer expense in county-run hospitals in Los Angeles are born to illegal alien mothers?
These are the words of Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. He changed his mind once he discovered that illegal immigrants vote for Democrats eight to two.
Democrats see legal and illegal immigration as a pathway towards a permanent voting majority. As they can’t convince a majority who are presently Americans of the rightness of their policies they hope to enlist the votes of foreigners.
I believe in the importance of free speech and “limited government” — that any politician, bureaucrat, or any other kind of government functionary or crony should be held to account before the rule law. I believe in a free economy with property rights held in respect.
I don’t believe free speech, concepts of limited government, the rule of law, the free economy, and property rights can survive an influx of foreigners who have not been educated or acculturated to appreciate these principles.
How could foreigners be expected to appreciate America’s unique institutions when students who are born in America to American parents are forming mobs on college campuses to silence the opinions of people they oppose?
I believe the careful assimilation of legal immigrants over time is necessary. And I believe an open debate about who comes in and how they come in is long overdue.
Judging by the rhetoric of the presidential campaign so far, only one candidate for the Republican nomination is prepared to speak openly about immigration without hiding behind nuance and Washington code words: Donald Trump.
This essay is not an endorsement of Donald Trump — given his history what he would do in office is unpredictable. But Donald Trump has found a winning issue: Americans find his boldness refreshing and appealing.
The massive influx of foreigners, designed to benefit the Democratic Party, must be checked and reversed. I hope elected Republicans and influential conservatives take notice.
In the next issue we will be publishing an editorial on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. *
The following is a summary of the December/January 2015/6 issue of The St. Croix Review:
In "The West and Islam," Mark E. Mishanie remarks on the nature of Islamic ideology and Michael S. Swisher responds.
Don Lee, in "I Will Discriminate," distinguishes between politically correct notions and common sense judgment.
Thomas Martin, in "Who is in Charge Here?" offers Platonic wisdom.
Paul Kengor in , "Paris, Brussels, and Twenty-first Century Europe," sees post-Christian Europe as extremely vulnerable to Islamic conversion; in "Cherry-Picking Pope Francis," he makes the point the Pope is neither liberal nor conservative, but he is a dedicated proponent of the traditional family; in "Pope Francis vs. the 'Demon' of Gender Theory," he shows the Pope's passionate reinforcement of traditional views on gender; in "Surviving Hitler's 'Hell-Hole' . . . Remembering Frank Kravetz," he retells the story of how an airman kept his spirits up while he was a POW.
Mark Hendrickson, in "Feeling Good About America on a Chilly Autumn Evening," reminds us of the ties that bind us together; in "Thoughts on Jeb Bush's Tax Plan," he considers the pros and cons of the plan and looks beyond just the economic factors; in "Hillary Clinton's 'New College Compact' Raises an Important Question: Did She Ever Take Econ 101?" he sees layer upon layer of error; in "The 'Not Enough Jobs' Scenario: An Economic Fallacy," he contests the recurring arguments for more government interference by showing that economic freedom is the source of our prosperity.
Herbert London in, "The Iran Deal Is a Turning Point," he considers strategic consequences and ends with an intriguing question; in "Why Government Has Grown," he sees weakness in the mediating institutions that used to infuse vitality into society: the family, the schools, the churches, and the civil associations; in "Russian Attacks on U.S. Backed Rebels," he compares Russian goals and actions and President Obama's embarrassing ineffectiveness; in "Israel Defending Itself," he considers the perils Israel is facing due to President Obama's deal with Iran and Russia's aggressive posture in the region; in "Blindness in the Rationalist Tradition," he describes the mindset of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who refuse to recognize evil and who downplay the words "Death to America."
Allan C. Brownfeld, in "'White Privilege': Not a Term Generations of Hardworking Immigrants Would Understand," points to the difficulties Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants had upon their arrival in America, and he highlights the historical ethos of America - through hard work anyone can succeed; in "The Sin of Contemporaneity: Cleansing History by Applying Today's Standards to Our Ancestors," he cites the world-wide prevalence of slavery throughout history and at the Founding of America; in "Remembering a Time When Our Leaders Risked Their Lives and Fortunes for What They Believed," he compares the wisdom and courage of our Founders with the cravenness of modern politicians.
We have learned that John A. Howard, the former President of Rockford College and veteran of W.W. II, passed away this August at the age of ninety-three. John Howard was a long-time supporter of and a greatly appreciated author for The St. Croix Review. We are publishing "Some Reflections on Choosing a College," as tribute to him: he writes about the need to transmit the virtues necessary for self-governance to the young, and he explains how well our universities are doing (not well).
In "Obama's College 'Scorecard' Doesn't Measure Up," Paul J. McNulty, the current President of Grove City College, in Grove City Pennsylvania, shows how Grove City College is truly a school a cut above the rest.
Philip Vander Elst, in "Resisting Socialism in Early 20th Century Britain," shares the history of the Anti-Socialist Union, formed in 1908, as a pioneering organization promoting classical liberalism.
Alvin Shane, in "Political Outlaw," assesses Hillary Clinton's character.
Jo Ann Gardner, in "Reading Genesis from the Ground Up," presents a reading of the bible including the symbolic importance of shepherds.
Jigs Gardner, in "Letters from a Conservative Farmer: My Days as a Hedge Vet," tells delightful stories about a neighbor and caring for farm animals.
Jigs Gardner, in "The Scarlet Letter," considers Nathaniel Hawthorne's great novel.
Reading Genesis from the Ground Up
This article has been adapted from Jo Ann's book, Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants. She can be reached through her website: www.joanngardnerbooks.com.
For me there was no choice. My experiences of living on and from the land for many years determined the way I understand the Bible. As soon as I began reading it in earnest in preparation for my book, Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants, the biblical text reached out to me, drawing me into a world of very down-to-earth shepherds and farmers who seemed familiar, even though I am separated from them in time and space through millennia (in retrospect, we have always known them as our rough-and-ready country neighbors wherever we have lived). I think that the "ground up," earthy, approach is important for others to see too. Commentaries have much to offer. Their learned authors have studied the text with close attention to structure, the nuances of biblical language, and, in the case of the Higher Critics (as in the discussions of the Documentary Hypothesis), an examination of different narrative voices. Yet we miss much when we pass by the Bible's details of a real, physical life. For in the Bible's "ground," so to speak, we begin to find our way to the top, to an understanding of the Bible's unique spiritual vision.
An example: It is important to understand what it would be like to glean in a biblical field of grain in a Middle Eastern summer and to grasp the farmer's and gleaner's obligations according to the law in such a situation. It is only then that we can appreciate the depth of hesed, loving kindness, or biblical love on the part of gleaner Ruth and farmer Boaz. It is what drives Ruth to pick up fallen stalks for hours without rest in the hot grain field to feed her destitute mother-in-law (she, too, is destitute). It is what propels Boaz, a witness to her extraordinary selflessness, to ensure that her efforts are rewarded, even if it means stretching the law by allowing her to pick up more fallen grain stalks than was the custom, even going so far as to instruct his workers to pull them out of the sheaves for her. And we do need to understand hesed in the Book of Ruth, for it is what moves the plot forward to the fulfillment of the law (levirate marriage). This is not incidental, it is the way the law is meant to be fulfilled, through a sense of loving duty. Thus, when we discount the physical world of the Bible, we miss the full force of its message.
In reading and studying the text from a "ground up" perspective we are never far from biblical reality. The very name "Bible" is derived from the Greek byblos, the inner pith of the papyrus plant from which biblical scrolls were produced (the papyrus plant also plays an important part in the story of baby Moses as described in Exodus).
And so we come to Genesis, from the Greek "beginning" or "origin," the first of the five Books that comprise the Pentateuch (Greek for "five"), known in Jewish tradition as the Torah (literally "teaching"). The Hebrew name for the first book of the Torah is Bereshit, after the opening words of the text, "In the beginning." Genesis/Bereshit is the foundation, the essential building block of the entire Torah. Its story of creation in the opening chapters clearly defines a new way, a new vision for explaining origins, for while drawing on Near Eastern motifs it is set apart from them and from the contemporary pagan world by its uncompromising emphasis on God as the sole creator of the universe and every living thing in it, and the importance of man's (humankind's) moral relationship with God.
A quick synopsis (lightning quick, considering all the words that have been spilled trying to explain it): Genesis is divided into two parts: the first is concerned with the creation of the world and the origins of the human family; the second centers on the beginning of the Israelite people and their early, often turbulent, history according to the well-known stories of the Patriarchs (their wives, too), concluding with the descent of the children of Israel into Egypt.
The beginning chapters of Genesis are rich in material: God's appearance on the scene (no background given), how He alone creates the earth, sky, vegetation, animals, the first garden, Eden, and man and woman to tend it. God asks only one thing from them: not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We know what happened. With the eating of forbidden fruit the first couple acquires a sense of morality (knowing the distinction between good and evil) and are now responsible for choosing their own destiny, rather than to remain in a place of perfection - but also limitation. It is clear that Adam, fashioned from the earth's dust (adama) will be forever bound to the soil and all the practical work that necessarily follows from it. God tells both Adam and Eve (haya, meaning life) in devastating detail what hardships are in store - rather than sprouting all the good and beautiful plants as in Paradise, for instance, the land will bring forth only "thorns and thistles." But although he was expelled them from Eden, it is also clear that God will continue to have an interest in humankind and they in Him.
The history of humanity continues with an account of its shortcomings, moral failures, and family strife. The influence of the land in all its physical character - its very soil - and the plants that grow from it are evident throughout the biblical text where the struggle to attain a moral and ethical life is often expressed through the imagery and symbolism of nature and agriculture, as in the riveting story of the brothers Cain and Abel. The first offspring of Adam and Eve, they represent the first sibling rivalry in Genesis (Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers follow), as well as the traditional enmity between farmer and shepherd. The story is told in gripping detail and will have a tremendous impact on the Torah and on the entire Hebrew Bible.
To recount the heart of the story: Cain murders his brother out of jealousy when God prefers Abel's offering of "the choicest of the firstlings of his flock," to his offering "from the fruit of the soil" (Genesis 4:3, 4).
A biblical audience would understand the distinction between farmer Cain and shepherd Abel as the universal distrust between those who grow crops from productive soil and those who graze their flocks on poorer adjacent or outlying areas unsuitable for farming (Jeremiah, from the village of Anatot, came from such a place). In Jewish tradition, shaped by the people's origin as shepherds and their later farming experience in hill country where they had to overcome great difficulties in raising their crops successfully, the desert shepherd like Abel represented purity of spirit, as in the leader David who leads his flock beside the still water in the paths of righteousness (Psalms 23:2-3), while tillers of the soil such as Cain, suggest corruption because in their anxiety for a good harvest they resort to the worship of idols. The prophetic Books of the Bible take it as their mission to bring the farmer back to God. The prophets saw in God the ideal shepherd: "Like a shepherd He pastures His flock: He gathers the lambs in His arms, and carries them in His bosom" (Isaiah 40:11).
The biblical narrative moves forward to the lively, fast-paced stories of the Patriarchs and God's promise to Abraham to make their descendants a people in their own land, following God's laws and teachings (Genesis 13:14-16; 26:3-5). The obstacles and struggles that intervene in transferring the promise from generation to generation drive the vivid narrative of the Patriarchal sagas - shepherd-based before the period of settlement farming - beginning with Abram (later renamed Abraham). We come to know him as a real person whose character and moral development match his skills as a successful leader-shepherd, setting the standard for the archetypal leader-shepherds to follow: Jacob, Moses, and David.
Consider the story of Moses as given in the opening chapters of Exodus. Saved from death by an Egyptian princess (daughter of the cruel Pharaoh who has ordered the destruction of all Hebrew first-born sons), he is raised as an Egyptian prince, seemingly out of touch with his enslaved people. But he flees this protected life ("privileged" in today's parlance) when he kills an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave. To where does he flee? To the desert, to return to the shepherd roots of his people, and it is here, while tending his flock that God appears in the burning bush to direct him to bring his people out of Egypt to freedom.
For contemporary readers, Moses' time as a shepherd may seem relatively unimportant, an interlude before he is called to greater things. A biblical audience, however, would understand the importance of shepherding in the prophetic tradition as a trial period for future leaders (such as David). From ancient Jewish sources, beginning with the Bible, elaborated in the Talmud, and collected in legends, the good shepherd is the model and synonym for extraordinary leadership, the idea being that the shepherd who protects his flock from danger, provides it with sufficient water and pasture under the difficult conditions of prolonged drought, and understands each animal's needs, also possess the qualities to lead God's "flock," Israel: "He who knows how to look after sheep, bestowing upon each the care it deserves, shall come and tend My people" (Shemot Rabbah 2,2).
The beginnings of the nation Israel, as told in the stories of the Patriarchs, do not shy away from moral ambiguity and human weakness (similar themes are pursued throughout the Hebrew Bible), causing us to understand that life, wherever it is lived, poses problems of behavior for which the laws fulfill an obvious need. Yet as soon as Abram answered God's call to "Go forth from your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation . . ." (Genesis 12:1-2), the seeds were planted for transcending shepherd culture toward a new moral vision. The thrilling aspect of Genesis is that the problematic humans we meet along the journey unfailingly manage to carry the torch forward toward a new order, borne in the heart of pagan culture.
When you start at the bottom you reach the top to a deeper understanding of the Bible's message. *