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 The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).
When the Communists Murdered a Priest
It was October 19, 1984 - 30 years ago this week. A gentle, courageous, and genuinely holy priest, Jerzy Popieluszko, age 37, found himself in a ghastly spot that, though it must have horrified him, surely did not surprise him. An unholy trinity of three thugs from Communist Poland's secret police had seized and pummeled him. He was bound and gagged and stuffed into the trunk of their cream-colored Fiat 125 automobile as they roamed the countryside trying to decide where to dispatch him. This kindly priest was no less than the chaplain to the Solidarity movement, the freedom fighters who would ultimately prove fatal to Soviet Communism - and not without Popieluszko's stoic inspiration.
The ringleader this October day was Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, an agent of Poland's SB. Unlike Jerzy, who grew up devoutly religious, Piotrowski was raised in an atheist household, which, like the Communist despots who governed Poland, was an aberration in this pious Roman Catholic country. The disregard for God and morality made Piotrowski an ideal man for the grisly task ahead, which he assumed with a special, channeled viciousness.
Piotrowski's first beating of the priest that evening was so severe that it should have killed him. Jerzy was a small man afflicted with Addison's disease. He previously had been hospitalized for other infirmities, including (understandably) stress and anxiety. But somehow, the priest was managing to survive as he fought for his life in the cold, dark trunk of the Fiat. In fact, somehow he unloosened the ropes that knotted him and extricated himself from the car. He began to run, shouting to anyone who could hear, "Help! Save my life!"
He was run down by Piotrowski, a dedicated disciple of what a Polish admirer of Jerzy, Pope John Paul II, would dub the Culture of Death. "I caught up with him and hit him on the head several times with the stick," Piotrowski later confessed.
I hit him near or on the head. He fell limp again. I think he must have been unconscious. And then I became - never mind, it doesn't matter.
It did matter. It certainly mattered to the helpless priest. What Piotrowski became was something altogether worse. He seemed overtaken by another force. As recorded by authors Roger Boyes and John Moody in their superb book, Messenger of the Truth, which is now a gripping documentary, Piotrowski's accomplices thought their comrade had gone mad, "so wild were the blows." It was like a public flogging. Jerzy's pounding was so relentless that it wouldn't be misplaced to think of Christ's scourging at the pillar. This young man in persona Christi, not much older than Jesus Christ at his death agony, was being brutally tortured. It was a kind of crucifixion: the kind at which Communists uniquely excelled.
One is tempted to say that Piotrowski beat the hell out of Father Jerzy, but such would be inappropriate and inaccurate for such a man of faith. Really, the hell was coming out of the beater, in all its demonic force and fury.
After another round of thrashing, Piotrowski and his two fellow tormentors ramped up the treatment. They grabbed a roll of thick adhesive tape and ran it around the priest's mouth, nose, and head, tossing him once again in the vehicle, like a hunk of garbage on its way to the heap.
Though he could barely breathe or move, Father Jerzy somehow again pried open the trunk as the car continued to its destination. This set Piotrowski into a rage. He stopped the vehicle, got out, looked sternly at the priest, and told him that if he made even one more sound, he would strangle him with his bare hands and shoot him. Boyes and Moody report what happened next:
He [Piotrowski] replaced the gun and lifted [his] club. It came down on the priest's nose, but instead of the sound of cartilage breaking, there was a plop, like a stick hitting the surface of a puddle.
The perpetrators didn't realize it quite yet, but it was the final, deadly blow. They had no doubt the next time they saw Father Jerzy.
The killers drove to a spot at the Vistula River. They tied two heavy bags of stones, each weighing nearly 25 pounds, to the priest's ankles. They lifted him in a vertical position above the water and then quietly let him go. He sunk into the blackness below them. It was 10 minutes before midnight, October 19, 1984. "Popieluszko is dead," announced Lieutenant Leszek Pekala to his collaborators in this revolting, sad crime. The third helper, Lieutenant Waldemar Chmielewski, solemnly and simply affirmed, "That's right."
They drove away, downing a bottle of vodka to try to numb what they had done. Pekala thought to himself as he drank, "Now we are murderers."
Indeed they were. Of course, so was the system they represented. It and its handmaidens had consumed countless Jerzy Popieluszkos and tens of millions of others whose names tragically will never be remembered on the anniversary of their deaths.
This priest, however, was remembered, by the millions. When he didn't show for 7:00 a.m. Mass the next morning, his parishioners were immediately alarmed. This wasn't like the loyal and punctual man of the cloth. A search for his whereabouts quickly commenced. It would take some time, but the truth eventually prevailed, as it did against Communism generally. Among those sickened by the news was a Polish priest in the Vatican, Karol Wojytla - Pope John Paul II. The shocked pontiff could relate: he had experienced many fellow Poles and priests killed by totalitarianism. He himself was a survivor. The Communists had wanted him dead as well; they tried to assassinate him three years earlier.
And like John Paul II, Jerzy Popieluszko's torment at the hands of devils was not in vain. Millions of Poles poured out of their homes and into churches to pay him homage, as they had for their native son, Karol Wojtyla, back in June 1979 - a historic, life-changing visit that a young Jerzy helped coordinate. Ironically, Jerzy had been charged with working between the Vatican and Polish Ministry of Health to arrange emergency safety measures during that trip. Then, too, he had the mission of protecting people from harm - harm by Communism.
Ultimately, Jerzy Popieluszko's struggle, like that of his pope, was not in vain. As Tertullian once put it, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The Communists could not extinguish the Poles' desire for the Church, for God, and for freedom. It would take another five years after his death, but the saintly priest's demise had further fueled the flames for the torch of freedom and the corresponding crash and burn of Communism.
In retrospect, Jerzy's murder in 1984 marked the mid-point between two cataclysmic events that put nails in the coffin of Communism: John Paul II's June 1979 visit to Poland, and the crucial free elections held in Poland in June 1989. Those elections, more than anything else, signaled the coming collapse of Communism. Mikhail Gorbachev later said that when those elections were held in Poland, he knew it was all over. It was no coincidence that the Berlin Wall fell five months later.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko was one of many martyrs at the hands of atheistic Communism. But his cause was an especially significant one. His service and death were not in vain.
The Liberal Religion of "Tolerance"
I've said it before, and I'm hardly alone. Many have observed it. Liberals revere tolerance. They practically worship it. It's like a religion to them. Well, now comes a study that supports the point.
A new survey by Pew Research finds that when it comes to teaching children, liberals place a far higher priority on teaching "tolerance" than teaching religion. That liberals do this in schools is abundantly clear, but they apparently do it in their homes as well.
In this, Pew finds, liberals are the opposite of conservatives. "The starkest ideological differences [between liberals and conservatives] are over the importance of teaching religious faith," reports Pew.
Among those who have consistently conservative attitudes across a range of political values, 81 percent think it is especially important for children to be taught religious faith. . . . Among those with consistently liberal views, just 26 percent rate the teaching of religious faith as especially important, and only 11 percent regard it as among the most important child-rearing qualities.
Moreover, finds the survey, a staggering 88 percent of "consistently liberal" Americans list tolerance as their most important value in teaching their children.
While this data is significant, it's also limited. It depends first and foremost on how one defines "tolerance," and especially how liberals professing tolerance define tolerance.
I believe, in general, that liberals are not tolerant. Liberals tolerate only what they what want to tolerate. They tolerate things they agree with - which, of course, isn't tolerance. Tolerance is about accepting the often-difficult differences between you and someone you strongly disagree with, and respecting that person's right to an opposing point of view. Obviously, that's not liberalism. This could be demonstrated multiple ways, but consider two salient examples pervasive in daily headlines: liberals' behavior regarding same-sex marriage and abortion.
Liberals are relentless in denouncing, demonizing, boycotting, picketing, prosecuting, suing, fining, and even threatening to jail people who disagree with them on same-sex marriage. If your family owns a barn in New York (or elsewhere) and declines to rent it to a gay couple for a wedding ceremony, because such an arrangement violates your religious beliefs and freedom, liberals will fine you $13,000. If you're Elaine Photography in New Mexico and beg not to photograph a same-sex wedding, liberals will sue you. If you are the Kleins in Oregon and plead not to make a cake for a same-sex ceremony, you will be picketed, hauled before state commissions, and have your livelihood ruined by liberals. If you are Jack Phillips, a baker in Colorado, or a florist in any number of states, who likewise prefers not to service same-sex events, you will be threatened with imprisonment. If you are the owner of Chick-fil-A or other businesses, and you dare admit that you're against redefining marriage because you believe your God says you can't, liberals literally will assert at your death that Jesus is going to send you to hell. I could go on and on with such examples: Mozilla, Craig James, the owner of Barilla pasta, the governor of Arizona, etc., etc., etc.
Liberals refuse to tolerate those who refuse to redefine marriage.
As for abortion, liberals not only refuse to respect your opposition; they insist you pay for their abortions. From Hobby Lobby to the Little Sisters of the Poor, they're making you pay. If you don't, you will be fined mightily.
I could go on and on with other examples from other issues. Look at how liberals run the universities, the training grounds for their missionaries of diversity. The faculty at these colleges are 80-90 percent liberal, and conservatives are not only marginalized but often barred from speaking on campus or angrily protested by these self-professing champions of free speech and open-mindedness.
All of this tells us much about liberals, but it especially reveals the phoniness of their claims to "tolerance."
In truth, what liberals really practice is a selective "tolerance." And when that selective tolerance doesn't extend to you and your viewpoint, they tell you that you're against tolerance, that you're against diversity, and that you "hate."
All of which brings me back to the Pew survey. I think it reveals something even deeper. Many liberals have left religion because it doesn't accord to their definition of what religion (or God) should be. They've jettisoned Christianity because certain aspects don't accord to their worldview. Their Christianity is, at best, a kind of cafeteria Christianity, where they pick and choose the elements they like and discard those they don't. It's a selective Christianity.
Liberals are instead embracing the faith of tolerance. But here, too, it's a selective faith.
And most ironic, this selective tolerance often excludes the religious - or at least the religious that liberals disagree with.
The Scandal Continues: President Obama's Skipped Intelligence Briefings
Two years ago, I wrote about a scandalous presidential reality. I'd say I'm shocked to report that the scandal continues, but I'm not. And that's even more scandalous.
In October 2012, I commented on the revelation that President Obama had been absent from the vast majority of his daily intelligence briefings. According to a then-study by the Government Accountability Institute, Obama failed to attend a single Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) in the week leading up to the recent anniversary of 9/11, and despite the chaos that erupted in the Arab world, most notably in Libya. The mere fact that we were approaching a 9/11 anniversary was an essential enough reason to attend all the briefings. And yet, President Obama attended none. That's right, not one.
Worse, this was nothing new. Obama attended only 43.8 percent of his Daily Briefs in the first 1,225 days of his administration. For the year 2012, he attended a little over a third.
There was no excuse for this. It's unacceptable for a president, especially one criticized for spending so much time vacationing and campaigning.
By comparison, President George W. Bush not only didn't miss the PDB but actually expanded it to six meetings per week. Or consider President Ronald Reagan, who, ironically, liberals portrayed as a detached, lazy, unengaged, uninformed idiot. In my 2012 piece, I quoted two advisers who briefed Reagan. One of them was Bill Clark, Reagan's right-hand man at the National Security Council. As Clark's biographer, he told me often how Reagan craved that regular morning update. Reagan ate up these briefings. He devoured the written report and then asked probing questions of his advisers during the live briefing that followed. Reagan used the briefings precisely as presidents should.
That brings me back to Barack Obama.
When this was reported in October 2012, it was embarrassing to President Obama and potentially damaging politically, with the presidential election only a month away and Mitt Romney moving ahead in the polls. One would think that, by now, this would have been corrected by Obama, not only for political reasons, but (more important) national-security concerns. This president has an ongoing PR problem with ill-advised statements about not having strategies and dashing for the golf course and fundraisers immediately after beheadings and aircraft downings.
But alas, we now learn that this problem continues to fester: The Government Accountability Institute is back with a new report revealing that President Obama has missed over half of his briefings in his second term, obviously learning little (literally) since the first term.
The man has skipped hundreds of daily briefings.
My colleague Wynton Hall notes that these findings come on the heels of Obama's "60 Minutes" comments on Sunday, where he seemed to blame the surge of ISIS and events in Syria on his intelligence chief James Clapper.
I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria. . . .
Obama averred, coolly passing the buck. (For the record, this was something that a Ronald Reagan would never have done to his CIA director, Bill Casey, and nor would George W. Bush.)
The defense and intelligence community was not pleased with Obama's statement. Wynton Hall quoted the liberal Daily Beast, which reported that Pentagon officials were "flabbergasted" by Obama's passing the blame. "Either the president doesn't read the intelligence he's getting or he's bulls---ing," said one angry official.
. . . others in the intelligence community similarly blasted Obama and said he's shown longstanding disinterest in receiving live, in-person PDBs that allow the Commander-in-Chief the chance for critical follow-up, feedback, questions, and the challenging of flawed intelligence assumptions.
No question about that. The facts speak for themselves. And the president's resultant lack of facts has evidently and obviously hurt our foreign policy.
But here's a troubling question: Do President Obama's supporters even care? They'll make ludicrous excuses they would never make for a Republican president. "No big deal," they'll shrug; "He's fine."
Indeed, in 2011, two of Obama's top spokesmen, Jay Carney and Tommy Vietor, did just that, insisting that "the president gets the information he needs." Sorry, but there's no substitute for the give-and-take that comes with daily briefings by advisers and experts. Obama doesn't have ESP-like, Solomon-esque powers; he cannot place briefing papers aside his extraordinary brain and divine all contents and any questions that might have been hashed out during briefings.
And meanwhile, the world burns.
Yes, the world is on fire. And as it is, we're stuck with this dismal White House leadership for another two years. I'm not asking for a perfect president, but I'd at least like a president who attends his security briefings. *