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Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004) and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).

On Vaclav Havel - and Chris Hitchens

Editor's note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.

Vaclav Havel is dead. Among other forces and powers, he is among the seven individuals most responsible for peacefully ending the Cold War: the great liberators who brought freedom and democracy. They are Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Havel.

With Havel's death, a majority of these seven are now gone, giving new voice and added meaning to what Chesterton deemed the democracy of the dead.

All waged battle against what Reagan inspiringly called the "Evil Empire," a brute creation cobbled out of a diabolical ideology that generated the deaths of over 100 million in the last century. At the core of that evil was what Mikhail Gorbachev characterized as a "war on religion," which, among other forms of malevolence, spawned what Vaclav Havel described as "the Communist culture of the lie." As they engaged the beast, John Paul II admonished all to "Be not afraid."

Vaclav Havel was unafraid. He and his Charter 77 movement were courageous, willing to go to jail rather than take orders from the devils who installed themselves as dictators from Budapest to Bucharest, from Warsaw to Prague.

As if all of this, unfolding here on earth a short time ago, was not profound enough, I'm suddenly struck at the profundity of Havel passing into the next world alongside Christopher Hitchens, and both shortly before Christmas.

Peter Robinson, who knows about the collapse of Communism, having written Ronald Reagan's Brandenburg Gate speech, interviewed Hitchens for his PBS show "Uncommon Knowledge." Robinson was troubled by Hitchens' willingness to concede credit to Havel for the collapse but none to Reagan. He took on Hitchens at that moment, not letting him get away with the slight against Reagan. I wish Vaclav Havel himself would have been there to set Hitchens straight. Havel said of Reagan, ironically at Reagan's death: "He was a man with firm positions, with which he undoubtedly contributed to the fall of Communism."

Havel had a lot to teach to Hitchens. Hitchens would have listened to Havel.

Indeed, of all people on this planet who God might have chosen to counsel a stunned Hitchens as he sits outside the Pearly Gates shaken in awed confusion, Havel would have been perfect, the one intellectual to merit Hitchens' intellect and respect. If Hitchens' un-merry band of atheists will forgive me, the religious romantic in me can't help but indulge an image of Hitchens sitting there, hunched over, head in hands, only to look up at a smiling Havel and saying, "Fancy that I'd see you here. You just getting here?"

Vaclav Havel was not just a man of politics and intellect, but a man of the arts, theater, literature - and, yes, of God. He exhorted the West and the wider post-modern world to seek "transcendence." Hitchens might have figured God "the ultimate totalitarian," but Havel saw God as the solution to totalitarianism, as tyranny's antidote, as the fountainhead of freedom. This was something Havel deeply admired about America and its roots - its fusion of faith and freedom and the recognition that the latter cannot genuinely exist without the former. "The Declaration of Independence states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty," Havel concluded in his July 4, 1994, lecture at Philadelphia's Independence Hall, home of that very sentiment. "It seems man can realize that liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it."

Vaclav Havel never forgot that principle nor its Endower. Neither did any of the Cold War seven that laid waste to the Soviet beast. And it was with the power of that conviction that they tapped the ultimate force that resolved the Cold War and won the victory for freedom and good against oppression and evil.

Vaclav Havel now joins the Heavenly majority. May he rest in peace, at last reaching true transcendence.

A Kim-Less Christmas

Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared at American Thinker.

This past Christmas, the people of North Korea were without their messiah. That is, their self-anointed messiah.

For a sense of just how bad was Kim Jong-Il, I thought I'd share a few anecdotes reflecting the singularly pernicious nature of this man and what he created in his own image.

Kim was truly a modern Stalin - in some ways, worse. His cult of personality began with the advent of his birth, which North Korea heralded as a second coming, eerily akin to the birth of Jesus Christ. Kim was born February 16, 1941, a date accorded the status of a national holiday and treated like Christmas. On that date, all North Koreans are allowed off work for the grandest parade, the highlight of which is a float marked by a glorious double rainbow and star - indicative of the double rainbow and new star that miraculously appeared in the sky the moment of Kim's birth.

Speaking of miracles, the totalitarian state's propaganda machine churned out outrageous distortions, easily exceeding even Stalin standards. State media claimed that in the first round of golf Kim ever played, he broke the all-time world record for the best round of golf in history. The government press also reported that Kim composed more and better operas - and at a younger age - than anyone who ever existed. Songs like "Dear Leader Dispels Raging Storms" were karaoke hits in North Korea.

An eyewitness to the madness was Kang Chol-hwan, author of the frightening memoir, Aquariums of Pyongyang. Kang recalled how as a child he and his wide-eyed classmates were taught that Kim and his late father were "Edenic" human beings, so perfect that neither man defecated or urinated. They were born without sin, if not purer. My faith teaches that Christ was both 100 percent human and 100 percent divine. North Korea tipped the scales even higher.

Kang Chol-hwan remembered how North Korean children were told that Kim was a "kind of Father Christmas," because of whose benevolence every child was graciously entitled to a new pair of shoes.

The regime was hell-bent on this messiah complex. The consistent, dogged application of this divine narrative was unrelenting and sickening. I could give example after example that would make you cry. It was evil, just plain evil.

Compounding the obscenity is this tragic truth: no modern people have been so repressed and persecuted. North Koreans experienced a government-induced famine where two-to-three million people (10 to 15 percent of the population) starved to death from 1995-98. The place is a living, breathing (actually, dying) tragedy. At its apex sat Kim, whose omnipresent face and figure literally hovered above the masses in murals and statues and screens.

I recall one day watching a C-SPAN broadcast of U.S. senators returning from a fact-finding trip to this prison state. It was one of the first overseas trips of Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who had replaced Bob Dole. Roberts was asked what term he would use to classify the North Korean regime, perhaps "Stalinist," maybe "totalitarian," or simply "Communist?" I'll never forget Roberts' response: He quickly said "theocracy."

Yes, very good. This viciously atheistic regime that pursued a classic Communist war on religion was devoutly religious itself. Ironically, it had not banned religion; it had nationalized it, centralized it, redistributed it - all in the form of Kim Jong-Il. Just as North Korea's Communist government had taken over all industry, all agriculture, and even all crime, it had also seized all faith.

When Whittaker Chambers once commented on the ultimate crime of Communists, he explained that they had grossly repeated humanity's original mistake: "Ye shall be as Gods."

Ah, in that sense, Kim was indeed "Edenic."

Kim Jong-Il presented himself to his suffering people as their god and their salvation. Instead, he was their downfall. He was the worst embodiment of the fall of man, and he in turn felled a nation and a people in the ugly process.

Christmas is no time for false messiahs. The worst of them, Kim Jong-Il, spent this season no longer among the living. His people can rest in peace. I have a strong suspicion Kim is not. This Christmas time, little old Kim finally had some explaining to do. He is at long last accountable for his sins.

Two Septembers: When Wall Street Erupted

Editor's note: A shorter version of this article first appeared in today's issue of USA Today.

As the indignation of the Wall Street Occupiers spreads across the nation, it is time to step back and consider the broader historical perspective. What will history books record about the Wall Street Occupation? For starters, what was the start date? The answer to that simple fact alone has some potentially profound meaning.

The Wall Street Occupation began on September 17. How ironic that date is.

If the Wall Street Occupiers could hop into a time machine and read their New York Times from September 17 almost a century ago - specifically, September 17, 1920 - they would be struck by this headline: "WALL STREET EXPLOSION KILLS 30, INJURES 300; MORGAN OFFICE HIT; BOMB PIECES FOUND."

At noon the previous day, a horse-drawn wagon carrying hundreds of pounds of explosives and deadly shrapnel exploded in front of the headquarters of J. P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street, the heart and busiest section of America's financial district. The final death toll was 38, with over 400 injured.

The suspects were surprisingly similar to the spectrum of leftists who are occupying Wall Street right now. They ranged from radical progressives to socialists to Communists to anarchists, from homegrown Bolsheviks to Italian Galleanists to Communist Party USA. No matter their labels, all shared one thing in common: they were anti-capitalist, anti-Wall Street, anti-banker, and generally despised what President Obama constantly refers to as "millionaires and billionaires" who do not "pay their fair share." They saw banks, loan-makers, investors, Wall Street, and the wealthy as sinister forces. They, too, shouted "down with capitalism!"

As the bomb immediately produced millions of dollars in damages and worse still in human carnage, certain wealthy bankers and investors, like J. P. Morgan, braced themselves for a march on their homes by anti-capitalist mobs - a prelude to what happened in New York this time around. The September 17, 1920, New York Times, in a lengthy page-one article titled, "RED PLOT SEEN IN BLAST," noted not only that Mr. Morgan's home was being guarded but - in another similarity to the current Wall Street Occupation - that "many cities" around America were preparing their financial districts "against similar disaster." Mayors nationwide worried about the Wall Street chaos metastasizing to their cities, organized by left-wing ringleaders connected to the New York fiasco.

It strikes me that today's Wall Street Occupiers, as they go national, have become increasingly belligerent and violent. Reports abound of widespread theft, destruction of property, rampant drug use, sexual assaults from groping to alleged rape, knocking over trash cans, defecating on police cars, clashes with police - involving rocks, tear gas, riot gear, shouting down police as "Pigs" - stabbing threats, mass arrests, blatant anti-Semitism, refusals to report crimes, and all sorts of other violent outbursts. Incidents have occurred across the country, from New York to Boston to Baltimore to Cleveland to Denver to Oklahoma City to Oakland, California.

Democrats have responded to the Wall Street Occupiers in varying ways, from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's strange, "God bless them for their spontaneity," to President Obama expressing empathy with their "frustrations." "I understand the frustrations being expressed in those protests," Obama told ABC's Jake Tapper:

In some ways, they're not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party. . . . I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren't looking out for them.

Likewise, Vice President Biden has framed the protests as a sort of leftist version of the Tea Party.

More generally, the Occupy Wall Street behavior is a cautionary tale to President Obama and Democrats: Class-based rhetoric and demagoguery is poisonous and destructive. Once the enraged masses spill into the streets in more and more cities, the chances for violence magnify exponentially. Class envy and hatred engenders an unhealthy rage. I'm amazed that the protests have not gotten much more violent. Roseanne Barr literally called for guillotining wealthy bankers - and she was deadly serious.

The September 17, 1920, New York Times was a picture of that violence. It was at newsstands on Wall Street the exact same day the current Wall Street Occupation took hold on September 17, 2011.

Is the date a coincidence? Yes, I think so, even as the symbolism is jarring. The planners in September 2011, as far as I can tell, have no idea of the irony of the set of dates, being inspired and led by other forces. Unless, that is, the devil has a sense of irony.

Deer Season a Half Century Ago

This week [the end of November] hunters across America storm the woods loaded for deer. For yet another indication of how times have changed, consider this account of Deer Season a half century ago:

My mother's family lived in Emporium, Pennsylvania, as did dozens of their relatives. Emporium is a tiny town nestled in the mountains near the north/central part of the state. Back in the 1940s, when my mother was born, my grandmother had worked as a Rosie the Riveter at the Sylvania plant. Some reading this article will remember owning a huge, heavy Sylvania TV - back when you got only three channels.

Sylvania employed half the town. Farming was another means of employment, which my grandfather and his parents and nine siblings had done down the road in Rich Valley.

Still, neither Sylvania nor farming nor anything else did much to populate tiny Emporium.

Once a year, however, the place was flooded with people. That time of year was Deer Season, when out-of-town hunters arrived like an incoming Army, loaded with rifles and bullets. "Army" is a good metaphor, given that a large portion of the hunters were World War II vets. They came from the mills and mines of Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. They came to shoot a deer.

During that special week, Emporium's streets were bustling, the bars were jammed, and churches had more people than usual, including St. Mark's, where hunters sought out the priest for a blessing before heading into the woods.

The lone hotel was full, leaving hunters looking for lodging. Some packed into makeshift hunting camps. Some slept in their cars. Sleeping in a car was no big deal to guys who had fought in Germany, France, and the Battle of the Bulge. Nonetheless, they searched for a place with a roof, heat, a bathroom - which brings me to my main focus:

My grandmother always took in boarders during Deer Season. In fact, the whole town did. Up and down every street, hunters knocked on doors asking if the home was taking boarders. Bear in mind, these were complete strangers carrying guns and lots of ammunition. And yet, there was never any fear that they were a threat to a household.

"I never heard of any problems anywhere," recalls my mother, who was a little girl when the hunters stayed at her house. "There was never any concern about the safety of anyone, including the kids. Today you can't trust anyone. It was different then."

It was very different. There was also a general trust of hunters, a trust I believe is still merited and shared in those areas. My Uncle Carl, my mom's brother, says, "I still think that hunters are a special breed and even though they kill animals most are very caring, trustworthy, and law abiding."

My uncle remembers my grandparents taking in so many people that he lost track. "During hunting season our house was a zoo," he says.

For a few dollars per person, my grandparents hosted two or three hunters per night, giving them a bedroom and maybe the backroom. The hunters marched inside with all their gear. As evening fell, early in the winter, my grandmother made dinner for everyone. They all shared a meal. The hunters talked and played and joked with the kids. After dinner, they got their equipment in order and went to bed - snoring loudly through the night.

Around 5:00 a.m., my grandmother made breakfast for the hunters, typically bacon and ham and eggs.

The meals were special. "I enjoyed the stories at night and breakfast in the morning as much as the hunting," says my uncle.

Then they were off to the woods. If they shot a deer early, some headed straight back to Pittsburgh, hoisting the gutted carcass atop the Oldsmobile. Others, if they got a deer late, might return to the house, where my grandmother cooked up some venison. If they had no luck, they stayed another night or two.

This scene was repeated in house after house in Emporium. My Aunt Della, who lived across the railroad tracks and river, took in boarders in an apartment above her garage. She tended to get the same guys year to year. I'm sure her rigatoni and meatballs were a factor.

Can you imagine this today? Any of this?

Yes, the culture has really changed. America has changed. *

Read 3771 times Last modified on Saturday, 05 December 2015 11:04
Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007) and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).

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