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Guest Post: Hays on Choosing a Side

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

 “Jack Hays“.  Mr. Hays has considerable experience in a number of political and policy positions inside government and out and shares with the ZP readership our appreciation for history, strategy and other things further afield. He wrote this brief essay elsewhere and gave permission to share it freely.

Nearly the entirety of American history resolves to an argument over whether the Declaration of Independence is true. If all men are created equal and the sole legitimate purpose of government is to secure liberties conferred by a Creator, then those premises yield a series of imperatives that tend inexorably to the expansion of the American promise to all men of all origins.

This is not a new observation: to the contrary, it has been the engine of our life as a free people. To paraphrase Ferling in his epic 2015 “Whirlwind,” the American Revolution did not end monstrous injustices like slavery — and by implication every societal oppression rooted in a denial of man’s nature — but it made inevitable their end. Throughout the history of the republic we see Americans return again and again to this: that however awful the circumstantial particulars of America, the only hope is the fulfillment of the aspirational idea of America. So we see Frederick Douglass, a former slave at the apogee of the slave power, nonetheless declare the Constitution a “glorious liberty document.” So we see Abraham Lincoln conclude that the Declaration inexorably moves his governance to the end of enslavement. So we see Jose de la Luz Saenz, a south-Texas schoolteacher in a decade when the Texas Rangers waged a campaign of murder and terror against Mexican-Americans like him, respond with enthusiasm to his draft notice to serve in the First World War — and exhort his students to remember George Washington and Valley Forge in his farewell. So we see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ascend the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declare that he has come to redeem the “promissory note” of the American Founding.

So we see my father, who attended a (de facto) segregated elementary school in the Rio Grande Valley and was told as a child that as a Mexican, he should be “realistic” about his prospects in life, join the United States Air Force and serve America in war and peace.

On the one side, you have these Americans. They see America and her imperfections with immediacy and pain. But they also see the ideas and symbols of America, and they understand that these things are for them too. And they know their only recourse is the “appeal to heaven” — and the appeal to America’s promise.

On the other side, you have the others: those across nearly two and a half centuries who have argued, implicitly or explicitly, that the Declaration of Independence is a lie: either because its core assertions are false, or because America is so corrupted by its nature that those assertions are effectively fiction, un-fulfillable and kept vital as an opiate to the masses. There have been many of these too.

So, on the one hand you have the American Founders, Lincoln, Douglass, King, Saenz, and every single man and woman who saw the flag or read the Declaration and believed that this too was for them and their children.

On the other hand you have His Majesty George III of Great Britain, John C. Calhoun, the Confederate States of America, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the alt-right, and all the Pittsburgh Steelers save one.

Choose your side.

Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

***


Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

Nationality is no object, money talks

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — whether Russian or Chinese, European or American, the wealthiest are, d’oh, world citizens ]
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Arrangements have been made..

What’s fairly interesting here is the role the purchase of real estate plays in moving indivudals to where their money would like to go.

Sources:

  • Bloomberg, EU Passports for Sale in Sunny Cyprus Lure Rich Russians’ Cash
  • WaPo, PoliticsChina pitch by Kushner sister renews controversy over visa program
  • Ideal vs Real at State

    Friday, May 5th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? ]
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    Sources:

  • Lowy Interpreter, Trump’s telephone diplomacy accelerates Southeast Asia’s slide
  • AP, Tillerson calls for balancing US security interests, values
  • The quote in brackets at the head of this post, totally impractical as a guide to realpolitik, is from the Gospel according to St Matthew 16.26.

    Onward, Christian Soldiers

    Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — as sung by FDR and Winston Churchill in August of 1941 ]
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    It seems only appropriate first to bring you the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers as performed by the Manchester Citadel Band and Yorkshire Chorus of the Salvation Army — Christan Soldiers and Salvation Army both having meaning that blends the military with the religious:

    As regular readers here will know, the disjunction and conjunction of the spiritual and military is a central focus of my thoughts and posts here on Zenpundit.

    **

    It may seem entirely trivial in comparison with the stunning footage that follows, but the article that brought me to think once again of the military-religious nexus was a piece from Russia’s Pravmir today, titled Bishop of the Russian Church compares Russia airbase in Syria to a monastery:

    “The situation is interesting in spiritual sense, it reminds of a big convent without Internet, television and almost without a telephone. All servicemen are involved in sport activities, they have a great demand in reading,” the hierarch said in his interview with the Pobeda radio.

    The bishop noted that the servicemen participated in pastoral conversations with great interest.

    “This informational blockade helps them refresh their conscience, in result they have a demand to talk about important spiritual moments. It impressed me much,” he confessed.

    The church official said he saw “an absolutely new face of our military forces there.”

    “Not only weapons and outfit, but their new way of thinking impressed me. It was seen in their discipline, in organization of service, which we witnessed during the week. It differed so much from all the things I saw before that I sincerely rejoiced,” the bishop said.

    That’s worth pondering, you know, as we think about Putin‘s Russia and current events in Syria..

    **

    The near-pacifist son of a World War II naval war hero in me was intrigued enough to go searching for Onward Christian Soldiers as a musical match for this article, and it was in search of an appropriate rendering of the hymn that I ran across the FDR / Churchill footage.

    I am profoundly glad it did.

    In my view today, the most riveting rendering of Onward Christian Soldiers must be the one captured on archival footage here, with Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt present on the Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales in August 1941:

    The other hymn sung in that clip is the quintessential naval hymn, Eternal Father, Strong to Save with its refrain, O hear us when we call to Thee / For those in peril on the sea..


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