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.
Gay-Marriage Conservatives? A Reply to Greg Gutfeld
Speaking on Fox News Channel's "The Five," pundit Greg Gutfeld said that "gay marriage, in my opinion, is a conservative idea." He noted that the left "generally hates traditions" and is all about "breaking with traditions," and that gay marriage offers conservatives an opportunity to "embrace a tradition" that strengthens families and communities.
I should acknowledge that Gutfeld spoke without notes, unscripted, live and off-the-cuff. I often talk with inexactness when I'm speaking live. Live speaking is a perfect venue to make mistakes. It's easier to type your thoughts and have the benefit of reflection, revision, and a word processor.
That said, let's go with Gutfeld's words, because they do represent a position held by some conservatives, and especially younger conservatives.
With all respect to Greg Gutfeld, who I usually agree with, gay marriage is absolutely not a conservative idea. Not unless, as liberals do with marriage, one redefines conservatism.
How is that? What is conservatism? That itself can be problematic. If you ask ten self-identified conservatives for a definition, you might get ten different answers. This much, however, can be said:
Conservatism aims to conserve the time-tested values, ideas, and principles that have been sustained over time by previous generations and traditions. (Here, a crucial correction to Greg Gutfeld: gay marriage is not a tradition.) These are values, ideas, and principles - usually with a Judeo-Christian basis - that have endured for good reason and for the best of society, citizens, country, culture, and order. That's a brief summation that the late Russell Kirk, probably conservatism's preeminent philosophical spokesman, would endorse - as would Ronald Reagan, the face of modern conservatism.
In an important speech at CPAC in February 1977, Reagan stated this:
Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before. The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations - found through the often bitter testing of pain or sacrifice and sorrow.
That's a solid definition of conservatism. Gay marriage, merely by its total newness alone, fails that rudimentary definition. Gay marriage has never been done before. One would never expect a conservative to rush into something as utterly unprecedented - and that directly repudiates the laws of nature and nature's God - as this completely novel concept called "gay marriage." Same-sex marriage not only revolutionizes marriage but also human nature generally and family specifically, the latter of which conservatives have always understood as the fundamental building block of civilization.
One would expect a progressive to support redefining marriage, because for progressives, everything is always in a state of never-ending, always-evolving flux. Progressives have no trouble rendering unto themselves the ability to redefine human life itself. Redefining marriage is small potatoes. A progressive can wake up tomorrow and conjure up a new "right" over a grande skim latte at Starbucks. For secular progressives especially, there is no absolute, set standard for things like marriage or, really, even for right or wrong. They are relativists who don't subscribe to established absolutes. Redefine marriage? Sure, says the progressive. Redefine family, parenthood, motherhood, fatherhood, womanhood, manhood, gender? Sure, says the progressive.
For conservatives, however, this is unthinkable. Indeed, a conservative cannot even "conserve" when it comes to gay marriage, because gay marriage is an untried idea unimaginable by any people until only very recent days.
To be sure, conservatives, especially those whose conservatism springs from religious underpinnings, should recognize and respect the inherent human dignity of all gay people - being fellow human beings made in the image of God - and should not mistreat them. But those conservatives cannot, in turn, blatantly violate (if not blaspheme) the teachings of their faith and their God on the sanctity of male-female matrimony.
As I write this, I implore readers to please understand that I've dealt with this issue at length. Last year, I did a book called 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. When I did the speaking tour, I spoke to many young conservatives. Gay marriage came up constantly. My latest book, just released, explores the deeply disturbing ideological history of those who sought to abolish marriage and family outright. In that book, Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage, I detail how the goal of fundamentally transforming family and marriage has been a staple of the far left for two centuries, from Marx and Engels to cultural Marxists in the Frankfurt School, to '60s radicals, to progressives today.
The point: a radical leftist is eagerly willing to remake marriage and family in his own image, but a conservative is not. To the contrary, the task of the conservative is to fight that rebellion, to affirm and defend and preserve and conserve the natural-traditional-biblical family - i.e., that time-tested institution that Reagan called "the most important unit in society," "the most durable of all institutions," "the nucleus of civilization," "the cornerstone of American society." And children, said Reagan, "belong in a family" with a mom and dad. In fact, Reagan maintained that it is in a family that children are not only cared for but "taught the moral values and traditions that give order and stability to our lives and to society as a whole." America's families must "preserve and pass on to each succeeding generation the values we share and cherish." Above all, Reagan stated that our "concept of the family" "must withstand the trends of lifestyle and legislation."
And yet, gay marriage is no mere trend of lifestyle and legislation. By breaking the ancient Western standard of marriage between one man and one woman, it will forever alter our concept of family that has formed the nucleus of civilization.
I'll wrap up with a key question that I get asked all the time by conservatives on this issue: Can one still be a conservative and support gay marriage?
I'd have to say that if someone is conservative on 90 out of 100 issues, but gay marriage isn't one of them, that person probably ought to still be regarded as a conservative - albeit with a really skewed misunderstanding of how gay marriage fits their conservative worldview.
But while some conservatives will support gay marriage, gay marriage is flatly not a conservative position.
Seven Brothers? A Remarkable World War II Story
This time last year [Memorial Day] I did a commentary on five brothers who served in World War II. Very impressive. Imagine my surprise when someone who caught the commentary sent me a package with this note:
Dear Professor Kengor: Your [commentary] about the family whose five sons served in WW II was interesting. You might be interested to know about families who had more than five sons who served in WW II.
Well, Ted Walters of Uniontown, Pennsylvania certainly had my attention. He continued:
My mother, Stella Pietkiewicz, had seven sons serve in WW II. She had the honor to christen the plane, Spirit of Poles, because she had the most sons who served in WW II.
Yes, seven sons.
Along with Ted Walters' letter was an old newspaper clipping that showed six Pittsburgh-area mothers, all of Polish descent, who had thirty-three sons in service. Anna Lozowska, Maryanna Sawinska, Katarzyna Antosz, and Mrs. Joseph Wojtaszek each offered five boys to the cause. Honorta Lachowicz provided six sons. Stella Pietkiewicz took the prize with seven.
Bless their souls. These moms gave their boys to the cause of freedom.
The ladies were brought together by an organization called the Central Council of Polish Organizations in Allegheny County for a fundraising effort called the "Spirit of Poles" bomber campaign. The campaign sold over $500,000 worth of war bonds, a lot of money at the time.
The Polish influence is a big part of the story. World War II started in Poland in September 1939, first with the Nazis invading from the West and then the Soviet Red Army invading from the East. Ultimately, Poland suffered a higher proportion of death than any country in the war. It also had a huge Jewish population, which was corralled into dens of unspeakable evil, such as Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto. When the Nazis were finally defeated, Poland's reward was four decades of brutal occupation by totalitarian Communists headquartered in Moscow.
And so, these Pittsburgh-area Polish women knew this battle was worth fighting. Their sons did, too. And Stella Pietkiewicz gave the most.
I don't know the fate of all thirty-three boys, but Stella's sons, remarkably, all returned home safely. For the benefit of their one hundred-plus descendants reading now, here were the boys' names: Edmond, Walter, Wilfred, Roderick, Vitold, Leon, and Stanley. Some of the boys later took on their father's first name, Walter, as their last name (they added an "s," making it "Walters"). It was much easier to pronounce and work with.
Their father was no slacker either. Walter Leon Pietkiewicz, born March 25, 1883, immigrated to America and thrived. By age 23, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh's pharmacy school. He became a pharmacist in Pittsburgh's Polish Hill section.
The boys were all over the map during this terrible war: Europe, the Philippines, Okinawa, Tokyo Bay, Morocco, Africa, the Middle East. Wilfred was decorated for invading and occupying Iwo Jima. His ship bombed the Japanese mainland. Edmond fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Five of the seven brothers went overseas.
Stella was apparently pretty tough herself. She gave birth to 14 children, nine boys and five girls. (One boy was born stillborn.) Ted was the only boy who didn't serve in World War II; he was too young. He later volunteered for and served in the Korean War. Of the entire clan, only Ted and one sister, Hope, are still alive.
It's quite a story of quite a family. And the Pietkiewicz family wasn't the only family that lent multiple sons to the cause. The Pietkiewicz family was fortunate enough, however, to have them all return home.
But while that part of the story has a happy ending, there's a definite tragic component: Stella did not survive the war. She died of cancer before the war ended. She didn't live to see all her boys come home.
All that time, she kept a stoic silence. "There wasn't talk about it [the war] around the house," remembers Ted, who was 12 years old when the war ended. His parents "didn't talk about it much." The same was true for the brothers once they came home. Ted says he never heard any war stories from his older brothers. Ted's wife, Pat, adds: "And we were with them a lot! But we never heard any war stories from them."
They did their duty, came home, raised families, and served their country in other ways.
Seven boys. Seven boys in World War II.
How can we repay families like these for their sacrifices 70 years ago? We can start by not destroying the America they were willing to die for. *