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Ramblings

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Ramblings

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Thanksgiving: A Time to Reflect Upon America's Uniqueness

Now that the 2012 election campaign has come to an end, it would be good if Americans could set partisan acrimony aside as the nation prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving.

This holiday has an interesting history and debate continues over where, in fact, the first Thanksgiving took place. Those of us who live in Virginia believe that the Old Dominion has a powerful historical case that others have tended to overlook.

This writer visited the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, many years ago as the plantation prepared to host a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first commemoration of Thanksgiving. Plantation owner Malcolm Jamieson displayed letters from President John F. Kennedy and former Massachusetts Governor John Volpe declaring that Berkeley was the site of the first formal Thanksgiving in the New World.

Berkeley is the site of other historical firsts as well. The land on which it stands was part of a grant made in 1619 by King James I to the Berkeley Company and was designated "Berkeley Hundred." On December 4, 1619, the settlers stepped ashore there and in accordance with the proprietors' instructions that "the day of our ships' arrival. . . shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving" celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day more than a year before the Pilgrims arrived in New England.

There is much history at Berkeley. In 1781, it was plundered by British troops under Benedict Arnold. During the Civil War it served as headquarters for General McClellan after his withdrawal from the Battle of Malvern Hill. Federal troops were encamped in its fields, transports and gunboats were anchored in the James River. While quartered here with McClellan in the summer of 1862, Gen. Butterfield composed "Taps." It is also reported that the first bourbon distilled in America was distilled at Berkeley by an Episcopal minister.

Walking around the grounds at Berkeley is to enter another world. This is where America began. It was strong men and women who built a nation on these often inhospitable shores. They made many mistakes, as people are always wont to do, but they created a new society in which, as George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, there would "be none to make men afraid." We are a young country, but we are also an old one. Our Constitution is the oldest in the world, and we have continuously maintained the freedoms to which we first paid homage. There has been no period of an elimination of freedom of religion, or of the press, or of assembly. We have weathered wars and depressions. We will also weather the difficulties in which we are now embroiled. But we will do so only if Americans begin to recall their history and their values and not give assent to those who seek only to condemn and to destroy.

Several years ago, I visited a U.S. military ceremony in Italy - near Anzio - with my son Peter and grandson Dario. This visit caused me to reflect on the unique nature of American society.

It was instructive to read the names of the American dead. Virtually all nationalities, ethnic groups and religions are represented. In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that, "We are heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance." If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the whole world.

America is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters From an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:

Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.

Author Mario Puzo declared that:

What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries - whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn't get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering, why not? And some even became artists.

As a young man growing up in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, "For a thousand years in Italy, no one in our family was even able to read." But in America, everything was possible - in a single generation.

In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal party leader, said that America was becoming the "distant magnet." Apart from the "millions who have crossed the ocean, who should reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?"

America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany, Frenchmen have loved France, Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. America has been beloved not only by native Americans, but by men and women of every race and nation throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man.

As we gather for our Thanksgiving celebrations it is proper that we reflect upon that first Thanksgiving in Virginia. We have come a long way since that time, and most of that way has been good. Happy Thanksgiving!

Can a Free Society Endure if the Values Needed to Sustain It Are Not Transmitted?

The history of the world indicates that freedom is not natural to man, but must be carefully cultivated and taught. Through most of recorded history, man's natural state has been to live under one form of tyranny or another. Freedom must be learned and carefully transmitted from one generation to another if it is to endure.

There is little effort in our contemporary society to transmit our history, or culture, and the values upon which a free society is built. In an important new book, American's Best Colleges! Really? (Crossbooks), John Howard, at 90, continues his strenuous efforts as an educator to reverse recent trends.

This book is dedicated to Angus MacDonald, the long-time editor and publisher of The St. Croix Review and to James Crawford, the founding editor of The Herald Examiner of Freeville, New York.

John Howard has lived an extraordinary life. During World War II, he served in the 745th Tank Battalion, First Infantry Division, and received two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts. From 1960-77 he was president of Rockford College. He then served as President of the Rockford Institute and at the present time is a Senior Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.

He believes that our institutions of higher learning have let us down in carrying out their responsibility of introducing our history, culture, and values to the new generation of Americans. He quotes Aristotle: "Of all the things I have mentioned, that which contributes most of the permanence of constitutions is the adaption of education to the form of government." And Montesquieu, in The Spirit of the Laws, analyzed various forms of government. He stated that each one had a unique relationship with the people, and if that relationship changed, that form of government would perish.

In despotism or tyranny, he argues, the government could last as long as the people were afraid of it, doing what they were told to do for fear of severe penalties. A monarchy could last as long as the people were loyal to the crown.

"But a democracy," writes Howard:

. . . or other self-governing regime, depended upon a virtuous populace, which voluntarily abided by the laws and other settled standards of behavior. This free society was the best form of government, and the hardest to achieve and sustain. America's free society was destined for success because the colonists who came to New England and left England for the sole purpose of finding a land where they could practice the Christian faith. . . were already deeply committed to a virtuous life, wholly suited for the government of a free society.

John Howard believes that the Founding Fathers fully understood and supported the cardinal principle proclaimed by Aristotle:

On July, 1787, the Continental Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance. It set forth the plan for the government of the residents of the Northwest Territory and the basis on which a region might qualify for statehood. Article III begins, "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind. . . ." Here is an acknowledgment that our self-government is dependent on religion, morality, and education in that order of importance. That document, and the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution were so intelligently conceived that they reflect a breadth of knowledge and wisdom often said to be superior to the products of any other deliberative body in world history. Certainly, there have been no comparable accomplishments in recent times.

The stress on religion and morality was echoed in the main body of George Washington's inaugural address. American education's attention to the development of character among students was summarized in a 1979 report published by the Hastings Center. The author was Columbia Professor Douglas Sloan. He wrote:

Throughout the 19th century, the most important course in the college curriculum was moral philosophy, taught usually by the college president and required of all senior students. . . . The full significance and centrality of moral philosophy in the 19th century curriculum can only be understood in the light of the assumption held by American leaders and most ordinary citizens that no nation could survive, let alone prosper, without some common moral and social values. . . . However, moral philosophy did not carry the whole burden of forming the students' character and guiding their conduct, the entire college experience was meant above all to be an experience in character development and the moral life.

The wise political philosopher Edmund Burke declared that political liberty cannot exist unless it is sustained by moral behavior. This truth was embraced by our Founding Fathers. President John Adams' Second Inaugural Address was the first one given in the new capitol building. He urged:

May this residence of virtue and happiness . . . here and throughout our country, may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever.

President James Madison wrote:

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1830s. His book Democracy in America is a classic description of the government and people of America: "By their practice, Americans show they feel the urgent necessity to instill morality into democracy by means of religion."

John Howard declares: "Instill morality into democracy by means of religion - De Tocqueville saw this as the only means by which liberty can be perpetuated in all democratic nations."

John Howard has dedicated his long life to promoting the values upon which a free society depends. In this book are collected a series of his speeches and essays, as well as his latest thoughts on how to preserve a free society and extend it into the future. Those who seek to understand how the values upon which such a society depends can endure into the future would do well to ponder John Howard's thoughtful words on this subject.

What Does an Epidemic of Cheating Tell Us About Today's American Society?

American education is in the grip of an epidemic of cheating on the part of students and, sad to say, teachers as well.

In August, some 125 students at Harvard University were being investigated for cheating on a final examination.

Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted a study of 100 of Harvard's "best and brightest" students nearly 20 years ago. "The results of that study," he writes

. . . surprised us. Over and over again, students told us they admired good work and wanted to be good workers. But they also told us they wanted - ardently - to be successful. They feared that their peers were cutting corners, and that if they themselves behaved ethically, they would be bested. And so they told us in effect, "Let us cut corners now and one day when we have achieved fame and fortune, we'll be good workers and set a good example.". . a classic case of the end justifies the means.

During the past six years, Gardner and colleagues have conducted reflection sessions at elite colleges. They found "hollowness at the core." In one case, that of a dean who was fired because she lied about her academic qualifications, the most common student response was, "Everyone lies on their resumes." In a discussion of the movie, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," students were asked what they thought of company traders who manipulated the price of energy. Not one student condemned the traders.

The example set by professors, Gardner argues, is not good:

. . . all too often they see their professors cut corners - in their class attendance, their attention to student work, and, most flagrantly, their use of others to do research. Most embarrassingly, when professors are caught - whether in financial misdealings or even plagiarizing others' work - there are frequently no clear punishments . . .

In surveys of high school students, the Josephson Institute of Ethics has found that about three-fifths admit to having cheated in the previous year. Michael Josephson, president of the institute, states that:

Few schools place any meaningful emphasis on integrity, academic or otherwise, and colleges are even more indifferent than high schools.

Some teachers have actually encouraged students to cheat and some have cheated themselves when reporting test scores. In July 2011, a cheating scandal erupted in school systems in and around Atlanta. Georgia state investigators found a pattern of "organized and systemic misconduct" dating back over 10 years. One hundred seventy-eight teachers and the principals of half the system's schools, aided and abetted students who were cheating on their tests. Top administrators ignored news reports of this cheating. A New York Times story described "a culture of fear and intimidation that prevented many teachers from speaking out."

This was not an isolated incident. In a feature on school testing, CBS News reported:

New York education officials found 21 proven cases of teacher cheating. Teachers have read off the answers during a test, sent students back to correct wrong answers, photocopied secure tests for use in class, inflated scores, and peeked at questions and then drilled those topics in class before the test.

William Damon, professor of education at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that

It is practically impossible to find a school that treats academic integrity as a moral issue by employing revealed incidents of cheating to communicate to its student body values such as honesty, respect for rules, and trust. . . . I have noticed a palpable lack of interest among teachers and staff in discussing the moral significance of cheating with students. The problem here is the low priority of honesty in our agenda for schooling specifically and child-rearing in general.

In the past, Professor Damon points out:

. . . there was not much hesitancy in our society about using a moral language to teach children essential virtues such as honesty. For us, today, it can be a culture shock to leaf through old editions of the McGuffey Readers, used in most American schools until the mid-20th century, to see how readily educators once dispensed unambiguous moral lessons to students. . . . As the Founders of our Republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy. . . . Honesty is no longer a priority in many of the settings where young people are educated. The future of every society depends upon the character development of its young. It is in the early years of life, when basic virtues that shape character are acquired. . . . Honesty is a prime example of a virtue that becomes habitual over the years if practiced consistently - and the same can be said about dishonesty.

The cheating scandals among students and teachers are, of course, simply the tip of the iceberg of our society's retreat from honesty - and honor. Ethical lapses on the part of Wall Street, Congress and other sectors of society seem to be growing. Each time a political leader speaks, the fact-checkers fill columns reporting about their misstatements. Didn't anyone think that if we stopped teaching morals and ethics - and the difference between right and wrong - that society would lose its moral compass? It appears no one did.

A Look at Late 20th Century America from a Perceptive and Talented Observer

New York Times columnist James Reston once noted that writing newspaper columns about the events of the day is like making "footprints in the sand," quickly covered by something new.

Some writers, however, while focusing upon the events of their own time, write for the future as well, applying their philosophy and worldview to the events of the day, but focusing upon the timeless principles that reflect their view of the past as well as the future.

One such writer who graced late 20th century America was Joe Sobran, who died in 2010. He was referred to by Pat Buchanan as perhaps "the finest columnist of our generation."

In 1972, Sobran began working at National Review and stayed for 21 years, 18 as senior editor. He also spent 21 years as a commentator on the CBS Radio "Spectrum" program series and was a syndicated columnist, first with the Los Angeles Times and later with the Universal Press Syndicate.

In a new book, Joseph Sobran: The National Review Years, the Fitzgerald-Griffin Foundation has gathered together some of Sobran's best articles from 1974 to 1991. These cover a wide range of topics, including Christianity, the media, the Constitution, motion pictures, Shakespeare, and baseball. In the foreword, Buchanan writes that, "What is extraordinary about this book of essays is the range of Joe's interests and the quality of his insights."

One essay deals with an incident in 1987 when a gang of young toughs in Queens, New York, beat up three young men. When one of the three, trying to escape, was hit by a car and killed, Mayor Ed Koch called the crime a "racial lynching," because the perpetrators were white and the victims black. The media referred to America as an increasingly "racist" society, even though all indications pointed toward improving race relations.

In what came to be known as the "Howard Beach Incident" Sobran saw a built-in bias on the part of the media at work:

All news is "biased" in that it's the selection of information in accordance with tacit standards of relevance. We notice the bias when the news is chosen to fit a "super story" the audience doesn't necessarily subscribe to. . . . The super story behind the Howard Beach Story was Racist America. The very fact that it was empirically atypical made it all the more dramatic as a synecdoche. . . . The media are so saturated by myth that it's fair to see "news" as an early stage on the assembly line whose final product is a New York Times editorial.

In a review of the book Whatever Happened to the Human Race by Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer, Sobran confronts the growing advocacy of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, what he calls the "cheapening of life." He declares that

. . . as the abortion issue shows, the definition of "defective" has quickly broadened to mean anything not wanted by people in a position to kill. There is the case of a young couple who asked for a prenatal test to determine the sex of the child they are expecting: they said they feared a boy would be a hemophiliac. When the test showed it was a girl, they admitted they actually wanted a boy, because they preferred a boy. The girl was aborted.

In an essay on censorship and stereotypes, Sobran points out that

Religion is still a real and vital part of American life, but it is amazingly "underrepresented" (to use the liberal term) in mass communications. This is not a matter of conspiracy or even conscious avoidance, but of unconscious habit, much like modes of dress: religion simply isn't in the intellectual wardrobe of media people.

Sobran's 1990 essay, "The Republic of Baseball" is accompanied by a picture of the author on National Review's cover in Yankee uniform at Yankee Stadium. To all Americans who grew up in the mid-20th century - particularly men - baseball was central, as Sobran shows:

Not to play means missing out on the common experience of the male sex. And once you get into it, it's easy to get absorbed. In Ypsilanti, Michigan, I spent long winters studying baseball statistics to while away the endless cold grey days until the snow melted. Then, around mid-March, we started our new season in the park, or any empty field. . . . Baseball wasn't just something we played and watched. It was something we lived.

Beyond this, writes Sobran

The statistics, discreetness of individual performance, set against the game's stable history, gives achievement in baseball a permanence and stature that other sports can seldom confer. . . . The rules are really impartial. . . . There are no "racist" balls and strikes . . . only balls and strikes. . . . In politics, men are elected to bend the rules in someone's favor. It shouldn't surprise us when they break them too. A key difference between baseball and democracy is that in baseball the winners don't get to rewrite the rules. And it never occurs to the losers to blame the rules for their losses.

Sobran was an admirer of the British author G. K. Chesterton, to whom he has been compared. He reports about his attendance in Toronto of a meeting of the Chesterton Society in 1979 and recalls Chesterton's early opposition to "the science of eugenics" whose "consequences he foresaw." Advocates of eugenics included Oliver Wendell Holmes, who supported mandatory sterilization. Of Chesterton, he wrote:

His defense of the poor was rooted in a defense of the family and of liberty against those state planners who pined for population refinement. It is not hard to see the likeness to those enlightened souls who think the state should now promote contraception and abortion among the poor. . . . It reminds us that we who are alive today are the lucky survivors of Nazism and related evils; those of the next generation will be the lucky survivors of abortion "reform."

There is, of course, much more excellent writing - and thoughtful insights in these essays, including several advancing Sobran's thesis that the 17th Earl of Oxford was, in fact, the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare.

In the afterword, author Ann Coulter states that

Joe could say in a sentence what most writers would need an entire column to express. His specialty was to make blindingly simple points that would cut through mountains of sophistry.

One need not agree with all of Sobran's views to appreciate the keen intelligence and moral perspective he brought to his work.

Fran Griffin and the Fifzgerald-Griffin Foundation are to be congratulated for publishing this collection of Joe Sobran's essays. Hopefully, through this book a new generation of readers will be made aware of some of the best writing of the recent past. *

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Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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