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Sanctuary: Kiev

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — just musing on the old and sacred meaning of the word ]
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From Ukraine’s Black Saturday:

Since this morning, around 200 young men and women have been hiding in the courtyard of the Mikhailovsky monastery, some 1.5 km from the Maidan Square. Frightened and freezing, they were taken in by the monks who have given them refuge. The students have barricaded themselves in the monastery, and have been visited by MPs and other Kyivians. The young activists assert that they want “to stick it out to the end,” but they don’t quite know what the end means; and nobody, unfortunately, can tell them.

The Ukraine, anyone? Kiev? Let’s talk…

Sent to Coventry and much else besides

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — shall we say, not a great enthusiast for war? ]
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This image of Winston Churchill in the bombed out ruins of Coventry Cathedral is almost a self-referential paradox in itself, if you still believe the canard that he knew the Germans were going to bomb Coventry that night, and did nothing about it to avoid divulging allied knowledge of the German ENIGMA code.

It it walks like a canard and quacks like a canard…

For a rebuttal of the suggestion that Churchill knew Coventry would be the target that night, see Sir Martin Gilbert, Coventry: What Really Happened [pdf, pp. 32-3] — the post-literate can listen to this Angry History podcast instead.

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As an aside, I wonder what Churchill had in mind when he coined his celebrated mot about Russia:

It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.

According to Wikipedia, the Poles had delivered their early Enigma-breaking theories, tools and sample cryptologic bombs to British military intelligence in Warsaw on 25 July 1939. Churchill’s broadcast, The Russian Enigma, was given on 1st October 1939.

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And another aside, while we’re here — just to note that conspiracy theories are often among the gaseous components of a fog of war…

On the other hand, conspiracy theories can often be revealing of popular and or archetypal hopes and fears. In the present case, the anxiety revolves around situations such as that invoked by Caiaphas’ claim “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people“.

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Coming at the destruction of Coventry Cathedral from another angle…

I have mourned before the losses at Bamiyan and Monte Cassino:

Here’s what’s happened to the Green Mosque or Mazjid Sabz, famous for its dome (upper panel only, lower panel h/t Bilal Sarwary), in the course of fighting in Afghanistan — the country whose oldest mosque it is:

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And yet prayer continues:

FWIW, the lower panel image (above) is from a Christian Science Monitor article titled Israeli settlers respond to mosque burning allegations — the caption reads in part:

Palestinian men pray Monday near a burnt part of the carpet in a mosque that was damaged in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem. Palestinians accused Jewish settlers of setting fire to the West Bank mosque on Monday

The upper panel image, as far as I can determine, shows the continuing celebration of Mass in a German church after Allied bombardment in World War II.

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It is at least worth pondering the words of these Trappist sisters in Azeir, Syria…

They came to Azeir to continue in spirit the work of the monks of Tibhirine, about whom I wrote, giving extensive background and the entire text of Fr. de Chergé‘s great, final testament here. The sisters write:

Today we have no words, except those of the Psalms that the liturgical prayer puts onto our lips in these days:

Rebuke the Beast of the Reeds, that herd of bulls, that people of calves…oh God, scatter the people who delight in war…Yahweh has leaned down from the heights of his sanctuary, has looked down from heaven to earth to listen to the sighing of the captive, and set free those condemned to death…Listen, God, to my voice as I plead, protect my life from fear of the enemy; hide me from the league of the wicked, from the gang of evil-doers. They sharpen their tongues like a sword, aim their arrow of poisonous abuse…They support each other in their evil designs, they discuss how to lay their snares. “Who will see us?” they say. He will do that, he who penetrates human nature to its depths, the depths of the heart…Break into song for my God, to the tambourine, sing in honor of the Lord, to the cymbal, let psalm and canticle mingle for him, extol his name, invoke it…For the Lord is a God who breaks battle-lines! … Lord, you are great, you are glorious, wonderfully strong, unconquerable.

We look at the people around us, our day workers who are all here as if suspended, stunned: “They’ve decided to attack us.” Today we went to Tartous…we felt the anger, the helplessness, the inability to formulate a sense to all this: the people trying their best to work and to live normally. You see the farmers watering their land, parents buying notebooks for the schools that are about to begin, unknowing children asking for a toy or an ice cream…you see the poor, so many of them, trying to scrape together a few coins. The streets are full of the “inner” refugees of Syria, who have come from all over to the only area left that is still relatively liveable…. You see the beauty of these hills, the smile on people’s faces, the good-natured gaze of a boy who is about to join the army and gives us the two or three peanuts he has in his pocket as a token of “togetherness”…. And then you remember that they have decided to bomb us tomorrow. … Just like that. Because “it’s time to do something,” as it is worded in the statements of the important men, who will be sipping their tea tomorrow as they watch TV to see how effective their humanitarian intervention will be….

He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — borrowing my title from Shakespeare, though Chaucer and Erasmus said it first ]
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You may or may not like John Kerry. You may or may not like Assad. You may or may not like Mother Teresa, or Michèle Duvalier and Papa Doc. Rumsfeld and or Saddam. GW Bush or Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud. But paired photos of someone you dislike with someone many of us loathe is a neat visual tactic in which the not-so-bad party of the first part is tarred by association with the way-more-evil party of the second.

Does it ever work the other way around, though? is the party of the second part ever redeemed through contact with the party of the first? or even relieved of a few tens or hundreds of thousand dollars for authentic, charitable purposes?

What would I know?

The simplest way in which the two images above can be seen as similar to one another is that each one features someone named Teresa. But that’s not the point.

And I do have to say, that restaurant in Damascus looks pleasant enough.

Kill the Department of Defense

Monday, August 12th, 2013

[by Lynn C. Rees]

Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew bureaucracy: “You know, I’m a juggler, and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does.”

Uncle Theodore

Uncle Theodore

As in many aspects of FDR’s life, his wife’s uncle was a model. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, young hotshot Uncle Theodore proved chronically wearisome to his boss, veteran Massachusetts state Republican machine cog John Davis Long. When Long took a day off once, Uncle Theodore, liberated by the sudden vacuum of adult supervision, tried to start a war. Long countermanded Uncle Theodore’s orders but it was too late: Uncle Theodore had his war and it was splendid.

Padawan

Portrait of the master as a young man

In 1913, to prevent regime uncertainty, newly elected Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) said, “Fine, you want a Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, I got your Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy right here.” Into the family sinecure went spunky 31 year old New York State Democratic Senator Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He immediately began his Long struggle against his boss, Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer publisher Josephus Daniels. While Daniels focused on high-level issues like controlling every radio in America, FDR Uncle Theodored him by secretly lobbying Congress to build up U.S. naval strength to levels Daniels opposed. FDR even attempted to start his own splendid little war by mobilizing the U.S. Navy against unrestricted Hun submarine attacks in 1917.

Direct adult supervision in the schoolmarmish form of Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) thwarted him. There would be no Roosevelt family shenanigans on his watch: Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) sided with the Army and reintroduced conscription rather than let Uncle Theodore ride Rough Riders II to a second bid for a third term. He also kept FDR in the Navy Department and out of uniform to prevent his own Roosevelt from showboating. He couldn’t stop every FDR attempt to emulate Uncle Theodore: as Uncle Theodore was able to turn Rough Riders I into the Republican vice presidential nomination in 1900, twenty years later FDR turned his Assistant Secretary exploits into the Democratic vice presidential nomination.

Not Wilsonian

Not Wilsonian

That attempt failed due to public weariness with Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed). In Wilson (mhbbc), FDR had one extreme example of presidential management: Wilson (mhbbc) was a dictatorial micro-manager who rarely delegate, micromanaged details, and even typed his own speeches. His madness for control killed his precious precious Versailles treaty in the U.S. Senate and nearly killed him with such a serious stroke that Mrs. Wilson became our first woman president.

Silent Hand Will

Silent Hand Will

FDR’s other example, the non-Wilson (mhbbc) opposite, was Silent Hand Will. While Uncle Theodores sought to move events by moving the world, William McKinley, Jr. let the world rotate to him. Like Tolstoy’s Marshal Kutuzov, he was a Taoist sage king: he did everything by doing nothing:

So a wise leader may say:
“I practice inaction, and the people look after themselves.”
But from the Sage it is so hard at any price to get a single word
That when his task is accomplished, his work done,
Throughout the country every one says: “It happened of its own accord”. (chap. 17, tr. Waley)

Brownian motion generated by Uncle Theodorish tumults brought opportunity to Silent Hand Will’s front porch without Silent Hand Will having to leave it. He moved events by not moving: McKinley did not go to the mountain. The mountain came to McKinley. International Anarchy assassinated McKinley out of fear: as a ruler who ruled without ruling, he was a living rebuke to their fantasy of governing without government. Their efforts were more than rewarded by Uncle Theodore’s make up bumper crop of frenetic governance after he succeeded the dead McKinley.

FDR blended Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) and Silent Hand Will: he micromanaged by doing nothing. FDR would appoint two competent yet ambitious men, a Harry Hines Woodring as a boss and a Louis A. Johnson as his Assistant. The Woodring and the Johnson would have beliefs that both fell within the range allowed by FDR’s coalition but differed enough that the two men came from opposite camps within FDR’s coalition. The Woodring and the Johnson would also be alpha males with rival ambitions. They would energetically pursue their agendas but couldn’t coordinate with each other out of mutual loathing. They would need an arbiter. And who would this disinterested arbiter be? Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Both the Woodring and the Johnson would seek Roosevelt’s support in their turf battle. They would both find a sympathetic listener who whispered pleasant but vague sweet nothings in their ears. Roosevelt would triangulate between them, bending this way and bending that way as the men and their respective political support networks waxed and waned. They would compete for his support by trying to out effective the other. While they were useful, they were kept. When they were done, they were tossed overboard with smiling yet ruthless efficiency. His right Woodring never knew what his left Johnson was doing.

The men who followed FDR were less effective. As adherents of the cult of Frederick Winslow Taylor, a faith-based approach FDR had opposed from the beginning of his career, they drew a map and saw territory where FDR saw territory and drew a map. Where FDR understood that politics is the division of power and shaped government in ways that allowed the internecine feuding of the inevitable private fiefdoms and tribes arising in any human institution be channeled into salutary channels, his successors committed four major fallacies of politics:

  • the appeal to virtue: if we only get the right people people in there, politics will be banished through virtue
  • the appeal to Führerprinzip: if we only get the right leader in there, politics will be banished through leadership
  • the appeal to de-duplication: if we only eliminate duplicate efforts, politics will be banished by reducing multiple competing centers to one harmonious center
  • the appeal to boxes and straight lines: if we only have the right boxes connected by the right lines, politics will be banished by rational compartmentalization and proper channels

So they folded the old Navy and War Departments coupled with an independent Air Force liberated from the Army into one organization under a single Secretary of Defense. This allowed the services to continue their age old war of land vs. sea vs. air as before but now they had enough consolidated interest to band together as needed to shield their parochial turf battles from from outside meddlers. It created a single bottleneck so fragile that William “Not Refrigerator” Perry, acting under the broader Clinton-era policy of expanding the funding base of the Democratic Party by recartelizing American business under the guise of naive free market ideology, could force consolidation on the military industrial complex. The result, as with Clinton-era cartelization in other sectors, was the rise of too-big-to-fail defense contractors who needed assured rents in the form of too-big-to-fail procurement programs to stay afloat. It also distorted the strategic configuration of power as the political need to keep a united front against outside intervention meant that organic capabilities like close air support were moved to alien hosts to keep the peace between services and branches.

The Department of Defense should be abolished. Gouverneur “the Constitution was written by the fingers, which write this letter” Morris had a subtle, though characteristically un-American perspective on aristocracy which, by analogy, explains why:

His commitment to republicanism for America was complete, though it was not made without qualms. As he put it, “In adopting a republican form of government. I not only took it as a man does his wife, for better for worse, but what few men do with their wives. I took it knowing all its bad qualities.” The worst of these, in his view, was the tendency of republics to degenerate into “Democracy, that disease of which all Republics have perished, except those which have been overturned by foreign force.”

His distrust of democracy was shared by many if not most of the Framers, but it was of a substantially different variety from that expressed by such delegates to the Convention as Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. He thought the people fickle, governed by their feelings and prejudices, “not to be reasoned out of their Notions.” “Expect heroism from a sheep, charity from a wolf, and music from a crow, and perhaps you may not be disappointed”; but it was futile to expect reason from the people. “Those who court the People have a very capricious Mistress. A Mistress which may be gained by Sacrifices, but she cannot be so held for she is insatiable.” He told Lafayette in June of 1789 that he was “opposed to the Democracy from Regard to Liberty,” and that the revolutionists were “going Headlong to Destruction.” Lafayette responded “that he is sensible his Party are mad, and tells them so, but is not the less determined to die with them.” That kind of attachment, combined with what Morris witnessed during the next three years. made him appreciate Americans more than he had before: in a letter to Rufus King, he referred to “the People or rather the Populace. a Thing which thank God is unknown in America.” He also maintained, in a speech written for Louis XVI that was never delivered, that “History informs us, that, both in ancient and modem times, the leaders of popular Assemblies have been bought by foreign powers, and that thus nations un-conquerable by arms, have become the victims of seduction.”

It was susceptibility to being “bought” that especially concerned Morris about popular participation in government. More than a decade after the Constitution had been established, he wrote that “the strongest aristocratic feature in our political organization is that, which democrats are most attached to, the right of universal suffrage. This takes from men of moderate fortune their proper weight; and will, in process of time. give undue influence to those of great wealth.” He had elaborated this idea in the Philadelphia Convention. Speaking in support of his own motion to have a freehold requirement for voters, he said, “Give the votes to people who have no property. and they will sell them to the rich who will be able to buy them.” At that time, he declared, nine-tenths of the white adult males were freeholders, but the “time is not distant when this Country will abound with mechanics & manufacturers who will receive their bread from their employers.” Such people could not be “faithful Guardians of liberty” or a “barrier agst. aristocracy,” for they could not be regarded as having a “will of their own.”

On the other hand. he was equally chary of aristocrats and plutocrats, though many doubted the sincerity of his protestations in that regard. After all, he was an aristocrat himself, having been born into an old landed family, and while he did not inherit the bulk of the estate, he became quite wealthy through his own endeavors. Besides, as Washington candidly pointed out to him in explaining why some Senators had opposed his appointment as minister, his “habit of expression, indicated a hauteaur disgusting to those who happen to differ from you in sentiment,” and they considered him “as a favourer of Aristocracy” in France. Morris thought talk of the “natural equality of mankind” was absurd. and regarding that great bugbear of arch-republicans, luxury, he said that “it is not so bad a thing as it is often supposed to be,” and, indeed, “there is a less proportion of rogues in coaches than out of them.” Even so, his distrust of aristocracy was deeply felt; it may have stemmed from his reaction to the hypocrisy and opportunism of the Tory DeLancey family connection in exploiting the rabble of New York on the eve of the Revolution.

His feelings were revealed in comments about the aristocracies in England, Poland, and France. Traveling in England with his friend John Penn, he was shown the elegant, mansion-like stables of the Duke of Clarence and was told that “this Prince” was allowed £12,000 a year by the British government. Morris responded “that the Effects of monarchic Government are wonderful when from the Force of the Term Loyalty a Man must take Bread from the Mouths of his own Children to bestow the Means of Luxury and Dissipation upon those of another.” As to Poland, he observed that that country had recently established a hereditary (in place of elective) monarchy, enfranchised its peasants, and given the towns a share in government: “These are the great Means of destroying pernicious Aristocracy.” And as to France, though he thought abolishing the nobility had been a grave mistake, inasmuch as it destroyed the balance of power. he nonetheless had contempt for most of the aristocrats. They were “burning with the lust of vengeance” and hoped with the support of foreign armies to “re-establish that species of despotism most suited to their own cupidity.” They were, to Morris, simply a necessary evil.

Thus it is easy to understand the rather outré reasoning he used in the Convention to justify his advocacy of a Senate that would not represent states, would receive no salaries, would be appointed by the President, and would serve for life. ‘It will then do wrong, it will be said. He believed so; He hoped so. The Rich will strive to establish their dominion & enslave the rest. They always did. They always will. The proper security ag[ain]st them is to form them into a separate interest.” The democracy would thereby be able to recognize and “controul” the aristocracy, and the aristocracy the democracy. But, “Let the rich mix with the poor and in a Commercial Country, they will establish an Oligarchy.”

Adopting the Progressive Era-esque naive reductionism that the authors of the National Security Act of 1947 did resulted in taking what pre-1947 were discernibly visible separate interests and consolidated them into one indiscernibly invisible single interest. What were once clearly feuding fiefdoms are now one internally squabbling Leviathan. What was one a diversified procurement base is now a narrow necrotic oligopoly of de facto state owned companies. It is more fitting with the spirit of republican institutions to return to pre-1947 practice. A more politically rational national defense structure, one that throws sunshine on inter-service squabbling rarely seen since 1947, could resemble the following:

  • War Department – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of War who commands all military forces in event of a declaration of war. Oh yes, you don’t wage a long war without a clear congressional declaration of war. You don’t go to peace without a clear congressional declaration of peace. And you don’t appoint a the commanding general unless you declare war. Before that, it’s all colonels.
  • Department of the Army – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Army, fights for dollars for the U.S. Army
  • Department of the Navy –  led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Navy, fights for dollars for the U.S. Navy and commands its continuous efforts to deny the seas to foreign commerce. They have some nukes.
  • Department of the Marines –  led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Marines, fights for dollars for the U.S. Marine Corps. Also handles all land-based tactical air support following the Safranski Plan. Shields land-based tactical airpower from Fighter Mafia depredations with glamorous dress uniforms. They have some nukes.
  • Starfleet Command – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Navy, seeks out new life and new strategic air power targets in Douhet’s name. They have some nukes.
  • Treasury Department – they run the Coast Guard
  • Department of the Militia – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Militia, fights for dollars for state militias

Only through open feuding between the armed services, without opportunities to make intradepartmental peace treaties in house, can a diversified military-industrial base supported by feuding patronage networks be contemplated, let alone partially realized. As was said by FDR and as it was said of old, in the greatest strategic library of all time:

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

— Matthew 6:3 , King James Version

The black flags of Athens and Athos

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — mostly about monks vs riot police on the Holy Mountain ]
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I’ve written often enough about the black banners in Islamic iconography — here are two examples of black flags from Greece, one of them specifically Christian:

The flag in the upper image you probably know: it’s one version of the Greek nationalist Golden Dawn party flag, with its swastika echo that the party describes as a “meander”. The lower image is described thus by photojourno Nikos Pilos:

Father Paulos is holding the black flag with the white cross, Esfigmenon’s Monastery and zealots’ symbol. The meaning of this flag is “orthodoxy or death “. The monks of Esfigmenon Monastery have stopped since 1972 (time of the patriarch Athinagora, Dimitrio and Vartholomeo) to mention in their preys the name of Constantinople’s Patriarch, blaming him as a heretic because he had and he has conversations with the Pope. The last dramatic episode in the history of one of the earliest Orthodox monasteries, 1500 years after it was first built in Mt Athos, the Holy Mountain in northern Greece.

Let me offer you some angles on what’s given rise to that monk with a black banner

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July 29th’s Vatican Insider carried an article titled Patriarchate of Constantinople wages war against rebel monks on Mount Athos, describing the most recent event with a little background:

The Greek government sent riot police to Mount Athos in Northern Greece this morning, to forcibly remove a group of monks from Esphigmenou monastery, one of the twenty monasteries that form part of this famous Eastern orthodox complex. Esphigmenou monastery is renowned for the war it has waged against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople which it accuses of betraying the Orthodox Church by opening ecumenical dialogue with the Vatican. A war which has been going on since the 70s. According to an Associated Press report, the traditionalist monks threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police and judicial officials as they attempted to storm the building .Patriarch Bartholomew declared the monks of Esphigmenou an illegal brotherhood in 2002 and ordered their eviction. But the monks ignored this, claiming the Patriarch of Constantinople does not have the power to evict them.

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In response to news media, the monks posted a friend’s report, Correcting the Record:

I just spoke with one of the Esphigmenou monks, Father Sava, and want to correct the record about the ongoing attacks against the monastery today.

This morning, a group of around 20 large armed men armed attacked the Esphigmenou monastery building in Karyes, Mt. Athos where the monks were engaged in quiet prayer. This is the 12th day that the monastery has been under siege. The monks twice asked for the men to leave in peace after a city clerk attempted to serve them with eviction papers. Then the 20 large men attempted to smash their way into the monastery building with a construction bulldozer. As you can see in the video, uniformed Greek police stood around while a bulldozer attacked the property and attempted to smash down the front door:

This bulldozer came within 15 centimeters of killing a defenseless monk (who was behind the door and did sustain injuries) with its steel blade.

Contrary to media reports, they did NOT throw any bombs. I specifically asked Fr. Sava about these alleged “bombs” and he said that they do not have bombs and did not throw any bombs. It appears Greek government officials are trying to cover up their complicity in these lawless and criminal activities by spreading false reports to media outlet now that their nefarious activity has been exposed. The video of the attack shows that there is no evidence of bombs or aggressive action by the monks.

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Finally, here’s the Theology of the dispute, also from the monks’ site:

The fathers of Esphigmenou struggle against the heresy of ecumenism which states that there is no one church which possesses the Truth. The Orthodox Church believes, as the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery believe, that the Church has never lost the Truth or its unity. The Nicene Creed states the Orthodox Church’s dogmatic basis, “I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I believe in one baptism.” Ecumenism rejects these fundamental truths of the church by teaching that there are many churches and many baptisms.

The beliefs of ecumenism and the beliefs of Orthodoxy are mutually exclusive. You can either believe in the Creed or you can believe in ecumenism, not both. By embracing ecumenism Patriarch Bartholomew has embraced a belief in conflict with the teachings of the Orthodox Church. This is what the monks object to and what they wish to discuss with the Patriarch. There is not a single saint of the Church, ever, who believes in what Patriarch Bartholomew teaches and practices with regards to ecumenism, and this has caused great concern on the part of the monks. The Patriarch refuses to allay those concerns and refuses to engage in constructive dialogue with the monks. He has, however, demanded an apology in writing for questioning him.

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DoubleQuote Sources:

  • Golden Dawn black banner: IB Times
  • Monks’ black banner: Nikos Pilos

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