99 Years Ago: The Week The World Caught Fire

Tuesday, August 6, AD 2013

Certain historical events are remembered in terms of a single event which, in the course of minutes or hours, ushered in a new era. People who lived through Pearl Harbor could remember exactly where they were when they heard about the Japanese attack, a point when the course of US history (and world history) changed in the course of a couple hours.

Ninety-nine years ago, as the world plunged into the First World War, the experience was different. Rather than a single sharp event which plunged the world into cataclysm, there was a long series of events, at first not much noted, which in late July and early August of 1914 plunged all the major European powers into war over the course of a week.

There’s a certain tendency to look, with historical hindsight, at the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 as an incident very likely to lead to world war. There were hints of such a possibility. German Chancellor Otto von Bismark famously observed in the late 19th century that the next great European war would start with “some damn fool thing in the Balkans”. When Archduke Ferdinant was assassinated, some people immediately worried that this would lead to a general war. (H. G. Wells was among those with the dubious honor of predicting a general war was coming after hearing news of the assassination on June 28th.) However, there had just been two full fledged wars in the Balkans during the last ten years, and neither had led to general war. Indeed, the great powers, for all their diplomatic entanglements, had been able to negotiate satisfactory (at least to themselves) peaces to both prior Balkan wars.

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18 Responses to 99 Years Ago: The Week The World Caught Fire

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  • Europe had not known lengthy wars since the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Wars after Napoleon had tended to be fairly brief. One or two major battles, albeit bloody, and the issue was decided. Most of the leadership and populations of the warring nations assumed that a swift resolution would occur again. They failed to reckon on technological improvements since the Franco-Prussian War and the ability of modern nations to keep in the field vast armies that could inflict and sustain huge casualties that in earlier times would have broken a nation in short order. The Great War was our Civil War on steroids. The heads of state of Europe would have done better to pay heed to our Civil War in its length and casualties, but that type of study seems to have been limited to the military academies of Europe and the civilian leadership in Europe was ignorant of the subject with the exception of Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at the beginning of the Great War.

    Europe sorely missed a statesman of the caliber of a Bismarck, a Metternich or a Castlereagh in 1914. The Sarajevo assassination was the signal that it was time for another European council. Diplomacy, with time for cooler heads to prevail, might well have been successful in forestalling a general European war.

  • Serbia, anxious to avoid war, agreed to all but one point of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum, however Austria-Hungary (which had withdrawn its ambassador as soon as the ultimatum was delivered) was determined to put an end to Serbia’s role as a regional destabilizing force and declared the concessions insufficient.

    The clause that Serbia rejected would have allowed Austro-Hungarian investigators free rein to find and capture those responsible for the assassination. Had they been allowed to do so, they would have discovered that the main instigator was the Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence (as you yourself pointed out in a recent post). That revelation would, if anything, have made war even more inevitable and as it was, everyone involved understood Serbia’s refusal as a tacit admission of complicity.

    Given all that, characterizing Serbia as a “regional destabilizing force” is euphemism of the highest order. Whatever one means by those words, they should hot extend to harboring (however unwillingly) court officials who assassinate opposing heads of state. Very few at the time would deny that that kind of skullduggery amounted to a de facto declaration of war.

  • HA,

    Certainly, the Serbians were and remain bad news. (Just how bad is arguably underlined by the fact that the only military use of force the Vatican has actually supported in the last 30 years was against the Serbs — though there are arguably other reasons for that as well.)

    I’m not sure that there’s strong evidence that the wider Serbian government knew about the antics of their intelligence chief ahead of time — he was, after all, also running a secret society which had at times acted against the Serb government. But certainly, I would agree that the Austro-Hungarians were right to see the Serbs as a serious (if regional) threat, as demonstrated by the fact that the head of the Austro-Hungarian general staff had been pushing for war with Serbia for a quite a while (mostly held back, before his death, by Archduke Ferdinand.)

    At the same time, one can at least see why the Serbs saw having Austro-Hungarian representatives come into Serbia and help run the trails of those involved as being a violation of sovereignty — something the Serbs were pretty sensitive about since they were so newly independent and overshadowed by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

    All in all, though, I certainly don’t blame the Austro-Hungarians much for wanting to go to war with Serbia over the assassination. (The way they behaved when they actually got into Serbia, on the other hand, is a whole other matter.) And the ones who engineered that very regional conflict into a general European war were clearly the Germans. The Austro-Hungarians wanted a regional war just between them and Serbia which would, they hoped, allow them to solidify the situation in the area and put down a disruptive local power.

  • Translations of the ultimatum and reply for those interested:

    http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/austrianultimatum.htm

  • so newly independent and overshadowed by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

    By this time, Serbia had been independent for about half a century, but your point is a valid one. While people these days tend to forget the rank barbarity that was then normal for the region – a memory lapse that anti-Catholics continue to make use of when it comes to the matter of Croatian Ustashe in the following war, who simply took a page from the Serbian playbook — it is worth noting that Serbia’s dysfunction was in some sense inevitable. Arguably, one cannot survive and overcome four centuries of Ottoman oppression by simply playing nice.

    Also, whatever the blame Serbia bears for the war, her people suffered inordinately for the misdeeds of their rulers. If I recall, half the male population was dead by the end, though as in much of the rest of the continent, disease was as much of a killer as bullets and bayonets.

  • I had not understood why Germany was blamed for WWI. I vaguely remember high school lessons suggesting that Germany was blamed because history is written by the victors.

    I am embarrassed to say that I have never had much interest in the First World War. Lessons in school blitzed through that section and I never picked it up again.

    Have you a recommendation for a general history of the Great War?

  • For a long time the First World War was neglected a lot in histories, and there’s been a lot of bad history of the conflict done. It’s one of those unusual periods where the historical analysis has been getting much better as we get further from the event, in part because some of the key documents relating to it are only now being de-classified by the involved governments.

    For a fairly short and readable general history, I’d recommend Hew Strachan’s The First World War from ten years back. There’s a paperback version that’s in print now, but it’s worth getting the hardcover from the library (or used) as it has a really good selection of pictures.

    For the longest time, I was fascinated by WW2 but pretty much ignored WW1, but it’s now become my main historical fascination. I’m hoping that it gets increasing attention and analysis with the 100th anniversary coming up.

  • Ah, Donald beat me to it.

    Keegan’s book is the first one I read when I started getting interested in WW1 again, and it’s also quite good.

  • Wow, twice today I have been greatly informed about world wars. Thanks guys!

    (this was the other fount of info in case you’re wondering*)

    *(Yes I am aware that the video is humorous. I just thought a lot of you history nerds would probably laugh at even more jokes I missed.)

  • It’s one of those unusual periods where the historical analysis has been getting much better as we get further from the event, in part because some of the key documents relating to it are only now being de-classified by the involved governments.

    Dunno. IIRC, there was a great mass of documents released very early on due to the controversy spawned by the war guilt clause. I think there were many early twentieth century diplomatic histories composed in various languages – I’ve held dozens in my hands.

  • A must-have for anyone interested in the Great War (as it is still known in the UK, the Second World War being simply “the War”) is the 26-part documentary of that name, broadcast by the BBC in 1964 to mark the fiftieth anniversary and drawing on over a million feet of original film, hundreds of exclusive interviews with surviving participants and contemporary diaries, letters and reports. It is, and will remain, the definitive film account of that conflict. The series editor was John Terraine.

    Darwin’s remarks about the Serbs is apposite. They were regarded as semi-civilized at best. In June 1903 the ruling dynasty was replaced in a bloody coup. A mob, led by drunken army officers, went on a murderous rampage through the royal palace in Belgrade. They eventually found King Alexander and Queen Draga hiding in a cupboard in the queen’s bedroom. They were shot, stabbed and mutilated, and their naked bodies hurled out of a window. The chief plotter, Col. Dragutin Dimitryevich, later founded the Black Hand terrorist group which assassinated Franz Ferdinand.

    Regarding the “Curragh mutiny” touched on by Darwin in his post – this was a declaration by some officers that they would resign their commissions if they were ordered north to impose Home Rule on Ulster. There was no question of anyone, particularly the rank and file, refusing to fight, and in any case the government was not planning to send them to Ulster. The Anglo-Irish families traditionally well-represented in the officer corps (Wellington is a famous example) were not Orangemen and would not have taken kindly to being so described.

    The Home Rule Bill had been passed by June 1914, but the Conservatives maintained it was unconstitutional. The Liberals did not have an overall parliamentary majority and in fact had only one more seat more than the Conservatives (272 as opposed to 271) and with a lower share of the popular vote (43.9% as opposed to 46.3%). They relied on the support of the 71 Irish nationalists in Parliament. They had used the new and controversial Parliament Act to override the House of Lords. Such a fundamental change in the make-up of the United Kingdom, opponents argued, needed a far stronger mandate.

    Winston Churchill, whose father Lord Randolph had famously “played the Orange Card” against Gladstone at the time of the first HR Bill in 1886, and who in 1914 was First Lord of the Admiralty, threatened to use the fleet to bombard Belfast into submission. To this day, he is not held in much esteem by NI protestants.

  • <i?They were shot, stabbed and mutilated, and their naked bodies hurled out of a window.

    Well, to be fair, there was the matter of Draga’s sham pregnancy that supposedly led to Serbian humiliation at the Russian court, and also the rumour that her brother would be appointed the heir (the mob murdered him as well). In any case, the Sicilians (yet another tribe schooled in Ottoman micro-statecraft) had nothing on these people. There may have been even a pet direwolf there, too, somewhere, but don’t quote me on that.

  • Art Deco,

    Dunno. IIRC, there was a great mass of documents released very early on due to the controversy spawned by the war guilt clause. I think there were many early twentieth century diplomatic histories composed in various languages – I’ve held dozens in my hands.

    Certainly, there have been a huge number of histories trying to get at the causes and conduct of the Great War. And there was indeed a large release of documents right after the war by Germany in order to try to make their case against the accusation of war guilt.

    I think that makes a lot of the earlier historiography problematic is:

    – In the diplomatic arena, part of the problem is that right after the war the people writing had such a huge stake in particular interpretations of what happened. Plus, the German release of documents was selective and intended to move guilt away from them. Fritz Fischer’s Germany’s Aims in the First World War in 1967 was one of the first works to start to get at additional documentation which showed pretty clearly that far more than any other great power, Germany was gunning for a general European war in 1914, but that from the very beginning there was a systematic attempt by German leadership to obscure the causes of the war. So we have Bethmann Hollweg endorsing war as a response to mobilization even while acknowledging that Russian mobilization is not an existential threat for Germany because Russian mobilization is not the kind of launch-a-war mobilization that constituted German plans. But you also have him stating that in order to avoid problems with the Social Democrat’s, it’s essential to at all times represent Russia as the guilty party. (Fischer covers this and also Fromkin more recently in Europe’s Last Summer: Why the World Went to War in 1914.) So I’d argue that as the documentary record has become more complete, the diplomatic history writing has become a lot better.

    – On tactics and strategy, I think part of the issue is that shortly after the war a lot of the people writing had a very strong agenda. Brock Millman has a book out called Pessimism and British War Policy, 1916-1918 which makes the case that while Haig believed he could win the war on the Western Front, after the Battle of the Somme a lot of the politicians (including Lloyd George) became convinced that the war could not be won, and instead were focused on winning strategic resources in the East and the colonies which would allow Britain to be successful against a still-strong Germany when the war kicked up again after a 5-10 year armistice. (I suppose arguably they were right on the resumed war part, though off on the length of time.) As a result, they’d quietly made things harder for Haig and the Western Front. When Haig went and unexpectedly won, it became necessary to defend those decisions which might otherwise be seen as having extended the war, and so it became necessary to emphasize a claim that Haig’s leadership had been inept and wasted lives. This account in works by Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, along with the works by disaffected veterans like Sigfied Sassoon and Robert Graves, provided grist for inter-war pacifism and then for the more class based critique of the Great War which became current after WW2. That too is something I think we’re finally starting to get behind in the last 10-20 years of scholarship.

    John Nolan,

    I’d have to go look this up, as I was reading it several years ago in William Manchester’s massive three volume Churchill biography, but I seem to recall that there was moderately good evidence during the home rule crisis that Unionist organizations were making some rather significant arms purchases — possibly with help (or at least winking) from Unionist officers in the British Army.

    And as you say, Churchill managed to get himself into rather hot water with the NI, with at least a credible danger of assassination. So depending how much Manchester is being influenced by his subject’s view of things, perhaps that’s an overly biased source.

  • Both the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers were gun-running in 1914; the former via Larne and the latter via Howth. Interestingly, the Ulster gun-runners landed their arms under cover of darkness and attempted to evade the authorities, whereas the southerners ran their shipment of Mausers in broad daylight, with a large crowd present and under the noses of the military. The soldiers were taunted into opening fire and three people were killed; this incident at Bachelors Walk on 26 July has now acquired mythological status in the somewhat overblown annals of Irish republicanism. During the Easter Rising of 1916 the rebels were suspected of using dum-dum bullets, but the truth was that the ‘Howth Mausers’ were obsolete black powder weapons which fired a lead slug.

    The term ‘Unionist’ had a different connotation in 1914 than it has now. Since the defection of the Liberal Unionists to the Tories at the end of the 19th century, the Conservative Party was officially called the Unionist Party and indeed referred to itself as the Conservative and Unionist Party until the 1970s. Only later was the term used to describe those who wanted the separation of the Six Counties from the rest of Ireland.

  • On this day in 1918 began the Battle of Amiens, an offensive by Sir Henry Rawlinson’s 4th Army (British, Australian and Canadian) which Ludendorff referred to as the German army’s “Black Day”, and which was the start of the Allied ‘advance to victory’. The battle is noteworthy for a number of reasons:-

    1. The element of surprise. Men and materiel were moved into position under cover of darkness and radio silence was maintained (except for misleading radio traffic to make the Germans believe the Canadians were being moved to Ypres).

    2. A combination of sound-ranging and aerial photography enabled nearly all of the German batteries to be located and neutralized by ‘predicted’ counter-battery fire, i.e. without preliminary ‘ranging’. The troops could advance leaning on a creeping barrage, and the use of an instantaneous fuze enabled artillery to cut wire.

    3. Over 500 tanks were deployed; in addition to the much improved Mk V heavy tank there were light Whippet tanks and armoured cars. Tanks and infantry were well co-ordinated.

    4. Tactical airpower was used effectively; the RAF employed some 1,900 machines including dive bombers and fighter ground attack. Continuous wave radio made ground-to-air communication possible. The aim was to keep the enemy off-balance.

    Even cavalry played a part. It was the all-arms battle. The lesson was not lost on the Germans – they used it in a later war. Ironically, Rawlinson is usually remembered in connection with the first day of the Battle of the Somme, two years earlier, rather than as a pioneer of Blitzkrieg.

    Attached to the British 47th (2nd London) Division was an American unit – the 131st Infantry Regiment.

Maybe World War One Generals Weren’t Idiots

Monday, July 22, AD 2013

I was interested to read this British opinion piece, making the case that British military leadership during the Great War was not the clutch of bumbling fools which has become the stereotype of the war.

In 1928, following the sudden death of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, more people took to streets to mourn his passing that had ever been seen previously or indeed since. The very public mourning as a result of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 was dwarfed in comparison to those that came out to pay respects to Earl Haig.

It took literature and some key individuals to change history. As one of my university lecturers once said to me, history does not happen, it is written, and that principle could not be applied more strongly to the case of First World War history.

With the publication of Alan Clark’s The Donkeys (1961) and the production of Joan Littlewood’s musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), a wave of popular history provided the foundation through which all subsequent knowledge of the First World War is filtered – precisely the problem with which we are now faced. Historians and thespians took the critical words of those men that had a grudge and an agenda to push, namely Lloyd George and Churchill, thus generating the idea that generals were both inept and callous.

But beyond the Blackadder episodes there is a raft of history that is desperate to break into the mainstream. No one doubts that there were a handful of poor officers at various stages of the command structure who made bad decisions that ultimately cost the lives of hundreds of men.

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30 Responses to Maybe World War One Generals Weren’t Idiots

  • Mud, Blood and Poppycock is an excellent revisionist history by Gordon Corrigan, who was a serving officer in the British Army:

    http://www.amazon.com/Mud-Blood-Poppycock-Everything-Paperbacks/dp/0304366595

    In World War I the British managed the considerable feat of raising a mass army for the first time in their history, bringing rapidly on line new technology of which tanks and fighter planes and bombers were only three examples, and slugging it out with the finest army on Earth. Mistakes were not uncommon in this process, sometimes grave ones, but they learned all the time and by the end of the War had a military force that was able to be the spearhead of the Hundred Days Offensive that broke the German Army in 1918.

    I think Douglas Haig, the British Commander in Chief on the Western Front from 1915-1918, has been especially badly maligned. Portrayed as a blundering cavalry officer, he was actually an enthusiast for new technology, especially tanks. Considered a completely callous butcher he was anything but. Early in the War his staff had to stop him from visiting hospitals because the sight of wounded and dying British soldiers was too much for him emotionally. When a painter came to his headquarters to do an official portrait of him, he told him to paint the common soldiers instead, saying that they were the ones saving the world and they were dying every day while doing it. He refused to take a viscountcy from the British government after the War, resisting even lobbying from the King, until financial assistance was approved for demobilized soldiers. Without his stand it is quite possible that the former soldiers would have been left to private charity. He spent the rest of his life helping the men who had served under him and forming the veteran’s organization, the British Legion, of which he was President until his death. When he died at 66 in 1928 endless lines of his veterans filed by his coffin to pay their last respects. British Legion halls almost always had a picture of Haig on the wall.

    Haig never deigned to reply to his critics, but his victory dispatch I think is an eloquent defense of what he and his “contemptible little army”, as the Kaiser referred to the British Army at the beginning of the War, accomplished with their French allies:

    http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/haiglastdespatch.htm

  • Darwin

    Actually the military staff’s British, French, and German were highly competent. If they weren’t they could not have put those mass armies in the field and kept them fed, equipped and attacking for four years. But – Breaking the stalemate with technology at hand would have required a level of genius that can’t be guaranteed to happen in any generation or profession.

    I saw a review a modern biography of Gen Haig (I forget the title.) The author, was critical of Haig, felt it necessary to first debunk the criticism of him from the 1920’s as worthless, so he could build an honest picture and point out his real failings. Much of that criticism came from political leaders deflecting attention from their own bad decisions, often made against Haig’s advice.

    Modern research is showing that the political leadership was highly involved in the decision process, agreeing and sometimes directing with most every major strategic decision, sometimes considering domestic political issues to over come adction that would have saved the lives of some of their soldiers.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • Hank,

    Agreed. In case it wasn’t clear from the post itself: I am very much of the revisionist camp, not the “lions led by donkeys” camp.

    Don,

    From the author description: “The author was commissioned from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in 1962 and retired from the Brigade of Gurkhas in 1998. A member of the British Commission for Military History and a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, he speaks fluent Nepali and is a keen horseman.” What else does one need to know! I’ll have to look it up. Philpott had a lot of great stuff attacking the census view, but in a restrained, scholarly kind of way. Corrigan simply sounds fun.

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  • Yes, i think it’s easy to make generals the scapegoats for what is usually politicians’ doing.

  • I agree with Jerry. The generals make an easy scapegoat. It’s the politicians who screw everything up. The so-called “Great War” was a war that should never have been fought in the first place.

    And the punitive “peace” that was imposed on Germany, as John Maynard Keynes foresaw in his work The Economic Consequences of the Peace (the subject of one of my Economics term papers in college), and as Churchill argued in the first volume of his 6-part history of WWII, created the conditions that led to another war that might have been avoided altogether had idiotic politicians not bungled the whole affair. Far be it for me to praise Keynes for anything, but he was correct in arguing, along with farsighted politicians like Churchill, that the reparations imposed on Germany following the Great War were a disaster in the making.

    When wars don’t go the way they should, and when the consequences thereof lead to undesired repercussions (see, e.g., the wiping out of long-established Christian communities in the Middle East following “democratization” efforts), it’s generally wise to look to the politicians for the blame, not the generals.

  • I think that the Great War is similar the US Civil War in that the generals were operating under principles and tactics that did not match the technological advances in arms and logistics.

    Plus, see Einstein’s defintion of insanity: doing over and over the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

  • Part of the reason WW1 generals have a bad reputation is the abject failure of WW1 strategies in WW2. France was well prepared to re-fight WW1, with their own corresponding WW1 heroes leading the preparation. As a result, it took Germany just over a month to completely defeat France.

  • It’s interesting how popular myth is virtually impervious to demonstrable truth. A lot of Americans still believe that the major cause of the Revolution was economic exploitation and oppression, which is utter nonsense. The (mostly expat) Irish still bang on about 800 years of English oppression whereas in fact Anglo-Norman influence didn’t extend beyond the Pale until the 16th century. The plantation of Ulster had exactly the same rationale as the plantation of Massachusetts, and with a similar disregard for the native inhabitants. One of the things that the Pilgrims gave thanks for at the end of 1621 was that 90 per cent of the indigenous peoples of New England had died of disease in the decade before their arrival, having – very considerately – tilled the land and buried stores of corn for the winter. As a result of massacre and introduced disease, the number of American Indians declined from an estimated 2 million in 1500 to a mere 325,000 in 1820. It doesn’t stop Irish-Americans from celebrating Thanksgiving.

    Another widespread American myth is that they were somehow victims of colonialism rather than colonialists par excellence. They colonized an entire continent, and whereas the Brits had the honesty to describe their efforts as imperialism, the Americans called it ‘manifest destiny’.

  • “It’s interesting how popular myth is virtually impervious to demonstrable truth. A lot of Americans still believe that the major cause of the Revolution was economic exploitation and oppression, which is utter nonsense.”

    The Revolution was all about the right of the Americans to rule themselves John, and that is always worth fighting for. Edmund Burke understood this:

    “Again, and again, revert to your own principles—Seek Peace, and ensue it—leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, not attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they antiently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it. They and we, and their and our ancestors, have been happy under that system. Let the memory of all actions, in contradiction to that good old mode, on both sides, be extinguished for ever. Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it. Let this be your reason for binding their trade. Do not burthen them by taxes; you were not used to do so from the beginning. Let this be your reason for not taxing. These are the arguments of states and kingdoms. Leave the rest to the schools; for there only they may be discussed with safety. But, if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government, by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question. When you drive him hard, the boar will surely turn upon the hunters. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. No-body will be argued into slavery. Sir, let the gentlemen on the other side call forth all their ability; let the best of them get up, and tell me, what one character of liberty the Americans have, and what one brand of slavery they are free from, if they are bound in their property and industry, by all the restraints you can imagine on commerce, and at the same time are made pack-horses of every tax you choose to impose, without the least share in granting them. When they bear the burthens of unlimited monopoly, will you bring them to bear the burthens of unlimited revenue too? The Englishman in America will feel that this is slavery—that it is legal slavery.”

    “The (mostly expat) Irish still bang on about 800 years of English oppression whereas in fact Anglo-Norman influence didn’t extend beyond the Pale until the 16th century.”

    The worst of the oppression occurred after the English Reformation, but I doubt if the English would have liked to put up with the type of invasions that the Irish had from the English from the time of Strongbow.

    “The plantation of Ulster had exactly the same rationale as the plantation of Massachusetts, and with a similar disregard for the native inhabitants.”

    Actually one of the main purposes was to introduce a large Catholic hating minority into Ireland. Mission accomplished.

    “One of the things that the Pilgrims gave thanks for at the end of 1621 was that 90 per cent of the indigenous peoples of New England had died of disease in the decade before their arrival, having – very considerately – tilled the land and buried stores of corn for the winter.”

    I would be careful John with accepting current demographic estimates of Indian populations based on no more than bad guess work. If the Indian population had declined so rapidly it had a wonderful rebound by the time of King Philip’s War

    “As a result of massacre and introduced disease, the number of American Indians declined from an estimated 2 million in 1500 to a mere 325,000 in 1820. It doesn’t stop Irish-Americans from celebrating Thanksgiving.”

    Same point as above John. Additionally, many Indians simply became part of the settler culture, including some of my Cherokee ancestors. There were probably around 600,000 unassimilated Indians in the continental US by 1820 around 250,000 by 1890. My Cherokee ancestors would not have been counted in 1890 since they were living in Illinois by that time, completely assimilated.

    “Another widespread American myth is that they were somehow victims of colonialism rather than colonialists par excellence. They colonized an entire continent, and whereas the Brits had the honesty to describe their efforts as imperialism, the Americans called it ‘manifest destiny’.”

    We live here John, instead of say the Brits claiming to own India back in the days of the Raj. A key difference.

  • General Haig isn’t remembered with much sympathy or kindness in this part of the world.
    Under his command, 5 NZ soldiers in WW1 were executed by firing squad for desertion when the poor buggers were so shell shocked, they didn’t know where they were. or even cognisant of the charges against them. One of the sad realities of NZ troops being still under the command of British officers.
    The Aussies were a bit better off. When the Australian troops were ordered to advance in the face of ridiculous overwhelming enemy forces and refused to, Haig wanted to line them up and shoot them for mutiny. Fortunately, the Aussies, after the debacle of being under the command of British officers in the Gallipoli campaign, had put their own command in place, their own officers denied Haig his wish, because they refused to allow volunteer troops to be executed. Fortunately, the NZ army adopted the same position after WW1, but too late to save the five volunteers executed by Haig.
    Its common knowledge down here, that Haig used the colonial troops as cannon fodder. To his amazement, the ANZACs achieved what his own forces could not, with only a fraction of the numbers.

  • I can understand why hard feelings still exist Don, but executions and Haig is another area where the reputation and the reality are at odds. British courtmartials handed down 3000 death sentences on the Western Front in World War I. They all had to be confirmed by Haig. He commuted all but 12% of the death sentences.

  • Don the Kiwi is in danger of perpetuating another myth, all too prevalent in Australia, and even to a certain extent in Canada. Incidentally “common knowledge” is almost invariably fallacious. The ANZACs were quite happy to serve under Sir William Birdwood until 31 May 1918 when he was promoted to command 5th Army and an Australian, Sir John Monash took his place. Birdwood toured Australia in 1920 to great acclaim, and would have been made Governor-General in 1930 had not the Australian PM, James Scullin, insisted on the post going to one of his political cronies.

    Similarly the Canadians greatly admired their Corps Commander, Sir Julian Byng, who led them to their great victory at Vimy ridge in April 1917. In June of that year Byng took over command of 3rd Army and the Canadian Sir Arthur Currie took command of the Canadian Corps. After the war Byng was a very popular Governor-General of Canada.

    The idea that Dominion troops were used as cannon fodder is not just myth but pernicious nonsense. Haig had great respect for their fighting qualities, and for the ability of Monash and Currie, despite the fact that neither had been a regular soldier before the war (so much for DH being hide-bound). They certainly punched above their weight, but they did not win the war on their own, and ordinary British divisions which made up the bulk of the BEF were capable of performing equally well.

    Most of the 300-odd executions carried out after general courts-martial were for desertion, and If you examine them on a case-by-case basis, you do find some examples of a miscarriage of justice. In most cases, however, those shot did not have the sympathy of their comrades. Shell-shock was a diagnosed medical condition (wrongly attributed to concussion caused by bursting shells) and was treated by hospitalization. Military justice is different from civilian justice in that wider considerations apply. Before confirming a sentence Haig would not only have to look at the individual case, but also consider the state of morale in the offender’s unit. If it was considered shaky, then it was more likely that the sentence would be carried out.

  • There is a wider sense in which mythological history is corrosive and damaging. If people in Australia and NZ really believe the nonsense that Don the Kiwi claims to be “common knowledge” (and those who actually fought in the war thought otherwise) then it can poison relations between countries. By the 1930s the pacifist argument that the Allies had not won the Great War was grist to Hitler’s mill. Recently an article on the British Empire posted on the BBC’s education website peddled a left-liberal Marxist line made worse in that it was grossly oversimplified. This re-writing of history (worse than anything that Soviet Russia could come up with) is hardly likely to improve race relations.

    A further aspect of mythical history is its Manichean character – one side good, the other bad. Real history rarely allows this dichotomy. This applies as much to the American revolution (where the mythical version is still taught to schoolchildren and tourists, to the despair of serious historians) as to everything else. Irish historians have criticized a national identity based on “blame everything on the English; we may act like savages but it’s not our fault” and thankfully they have made some progress. Ironically the present Irish hierarchy has succeeded in virtually eradicating Catholicism in Ireland, something the English failed to achieve in four-and-a-half centuries.

    Regarding Strongbow, memo to 12th century Irish kings; enlisting the help of Norman robber-barons to sort out your domestic problems is probably a bad idea. Too late now.

  • It’s not confined to the Commonwealth.

    During the Civil War, certain NYC newspapers editorized that the Republicans used the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, etc. to kill Democrat Irishmen.

    Anyhow, if Good Quee Bess and her parliament decided to invade Upper Slobovia, will Autralia, Canada and New Zealand be required to send grunts?

  • John and Don.

    Those writing history in the cold light of past battles and records may indeed give a more accurate account of events. What I have repeated – that happened nearly 100 years ago – were related to me by my maternal grandfather Don Piper, and his brother-in-law, my Uncle Eustace Nicholson; who were on Gallipoli and in the trenches in France; also my father’s oldest brother (who was gassed in France) George Beckett.
    What they recounted may have been partly untrue, and part rumour. However, these were the men on the ground in battle, and to them, the perception was reality. Rightly or wrongly, what they recounted has gone into folk- lore for the period and is unlikely to change. As the generations pass, so will the story – fact mixed with myth.
    However, to say that these things never happened is to indulge in revisionist history, which is equally corrosive and damaging.

  • T Shaw
    The Dominions (which then included South Africa) were not ‘required’ to enter either of the World Wars; they did so of their own volition, although Imperial solidarity was more important then than now. Commonwealth troops who fought in Korea did so in support of the United Nations, and Canadian troops are in Afghanistan because Canada is a member of NATO. In 1982 NZ offered naval support (a frigate) in the Falklands War, although the important behind-the-scenes support was from the US and Chile.

    Australia and NZ sent troops to Vietnam, whereas Britain refused LBJ’s request for even a token force (he asked for the Black Watch, and the Jocks would have jumped at the chance, better than smashing up bars in Minden) but Harold Wilson knew that the Labour Party wouldn’t countenance it.

  • Jay Anderson wrote, “The so-called “Great War” was a war that should never have been fought in the first place.”

    I am old enough to have talked to veterans of WWI. They all thought it was a national necessity and they all spoke of the same things – the Saverne incident, the march of the Strasburg students past Kléber’s statue, the Alsatians who gathered, year by year, to watch the great 14 July review at Belfort and the thousands of young men in the lost provinces, who, at the age of twenty, left home and family behind, knowing they would not be allowed to return and crossed the frontier to perform their military service in France.

    Some of them recalled how, after the first impetuous advance after Charleroi, soldiers returning on leave brought back the hated red, white and black frontier markers and piled them before the tomb of Déroulède, whose funeral in February of that year had been the largest and most imposing since Victor Hugo’s.

  • In my earlier reply to Don the Kiwi, I fell into the common error of conflating the Australian experience with the New Zealand one, for which I apologize. The commander of II ANZAC Corps, who was also the commander of the NZ Expeditionary Force, Sir Alexander Godley, did not have the same rapport with his soldiers as Birdwood did. A good administrator and trainer (he arrived in NZ in 1910 and prepared the army for war) he had an aloof manner and tended to favour British over NZ officers when making appointments. He performed creditably as a divisional commander at Gallipoli, but some of his actions on the Western Front were criticized, in particular the failed attack, in bad weather, on 12 October 1917 during 3rd Ypres. Plumer’s Second Army, of which his Corps was part, had had a run of successful actions, culminating with the battle of Broodseinde, which led Godley to underestimate German morale.

    There was a feeling in NZ government circles, and probably among the general population, that their troops were shouldering an excessive burden and that the Australians and Canadians were not pulling their weight. This wasn’t the case, but led to increasing criticism of Godley and British command in general. In April 1917 the Australians were badly mauled at 1st Bullecourt, as a result of an over-ambitious plan, using tanks for support, authorized by Sir Hubert Gough, the youngest of the five Army commanders. The Australians’ enthusiasm for the commander of I ANZAC Corps, Birdwood, was not shaken and a month later a follow-up attack, using artillery support and a creeping barrage (itself a technological innovation) was successful.

    More than anything else, it was the scientific use of artillery which unlocked the Western Front, including the use from 1917 onwards of an instantaneous fuze which was capable of cutting wire. A few years ago I attended a talk given by Gordon Corrigan in which he compared the careers of Haig and Montgomery, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter. He does tend to overstate his case, but the case is a sound one and has been argued by military historians since John Terraine fifty years ago.

  • Michael PS:

    Jay Anderson’s comment, “The so-called ‘Great War’ was a war that should never have been fought in the first place,” most likely refers to the common perception of how it was started. As we commonly read it, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would probably have been a footnote in the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had not the various European powers locked themselves into specific reactions by several decades’ worth of treaties and alliances. This too is a revisionist interpretation that needs to be torn down.

  • Or, you could’ve just asked me what I meant. I would’ve told you that, in my opinion, “the war to end all wars” was a war that cost too many lives and accomplished too little other than to create or exacerbate the conditions for future conflicts, from the Bolshevik Revolution to World War II right down to the Bosnian Conflict of the 1990s.

    In the end, I just don’t see the point of the Great War, from either a European or American perspective. From a strictly American perspective, Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 partly by promising not to get the country involved in the war, and then promptly did so less than 6 months after the election. And I am by no means a pacifist but, again, just don’t see the point of it all. But let us not forget that there was a great deal of opposition, pacifism, conscientious objection, and outright civil disobedience associated with the Great War. I’m certainly not the first person to express the opinion that the Great War was unnecessary, and, given that such opposition to the war existed contemporaneously, nor can such opposition be dismissed as being based strictly on revisionist interpretations.

  • Jay, I apologize for misconstruing your statement.

    From a strictly American perspective, we might have avoided direct involvement had we stopped trade with the belligerents, especially France and Britain; this might have kept American ships safe when the Germans decided to pursue unrestricted warfare against shipping. As it was, our “non-intervention” was pretty superficial, and Wilson’s re-election was by the narrowest of margins — not everyone viewed his having “kept us out of war” to be a good thing.

    While WWI did exact a horrendous cost and springboard future conflicts, I’m not convinced that it was evitable and unnecessary, except in the theoretical, optimistic way that war is always avoidable and never necessary. Nor am I ready to grant the opponents of war/intervention any kind of prescience. The growth of nationalism amid the Balkan and Central European cultures, the imperialism of the major powers, the effects of colonialism on Africa and the Middle East, religious and cultural tensions spread throughout half the globe — the First World War may have sparked by any number of incidents and taken on any number of shapes, but I don’t think it could have been put off forever.

  • I think there were pretty clearly a lot of points after Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination and before it became a general war when the Great War could have been avoided — it certainly was not inevitable. Sure there’d been a huge arms build up and tensions were high in Europe, but we had that in the Cold War and there was never a general war between the US and USSR.

    – Austria-Hungary could have not attacked Serbia.
    – Russia could have let Austria-Hungary knock Serbia around for a bit without threatening to intervene.
    – Germany arguably bears the greatest blame, since it declared war against Belgium, France and Russia solely on the basis of Russia having mobilized (but not actually fired a shot.)

    – Belgium and France both arguably had virtually no choice in the war and had the clearest moral case for war. They were both given ultimatums that amounted to “allow Germany to invade peacefully or we’ll do so by force” and were simply trying to fight off occupation.

    – Great Britain was not itself attacked, so theoretically it could have sat things out on the sidelines. Arguably, Germany might then have ended up successfully beating France and Russia by 1916.

    Personally, given how bad German occupation of Belgium, France and Poland was, I think there was a very good case for opposing Germany rather than letting it become the permanent occupier in those areas. If we think that Versailles treaty was bad, it was downright gentle compared to the peaces imposed by Germany on Russia and Romania when they sought separate peaces.

  • “Personally, given how bad German occupation of Belgium, France and Poland was, I think there was a very good case for opposing Germany rather than letting it become the permanent occupier in those areas. If we think that Versailles treaty was bad, it was downright gentle compared to the peaces imposed by Germany on Russia and Romania when they sought separate peaces.”

    Completely agree. The Imperial Germans weren’t Nazis but life under the Prussian Eagle during World War I for those luckless enough to live in occupied territories was truly miserable.

  • Since the publication of Fritz Fischer’s ‘Griff nach der Weltmacht’ in 1961 the historical consensus is that Germany, and the German General Staff in particular, were mostly to blame. There was a perception that the window of opportunity for Germany to achieve her strategic aims (which could not be attained peacefully) would have closed by 1916. It was not so much a question of giving Austria a ‘blank cheque’ as keeping up the pressure on the ‘hawks’ in Vienna to declare war on Serbia after Serbia had accepted nearly all of the Austrian demands. Russian mobilization was intended as a warning to Austria, but the exigencies of the Schlieffen plan meant that as soon as Russia mobilized Germany had to declare war not just on Russia but on France as well.

    The international situation in 1914 was better than it had been in recent years. Britain and France had settled their colonial differences, and Britain had even reached a rapprochement with Russia. The Anglo-German naval race had been decided in England’s favour. The alliance systems, later much maligned, were essentially defensive.

    AS Layne has a point though – Ruth Henig in her 1989 book on the origins of the war identifies a feeling among most European governments by 1912 that war was probably inevitable, and perhaps even desirable. Whatever the cause, it was a disaster for European civilization.

  • It’s interesting to look at the kind of “peace without victory” terms that started being floated in 1915 and after by various parties (including Pope Benedict XV.)

    Peace advocates among the French and English were willing to accept a peace that didn’t involve beating Germany, but they insisted that it would only be fair that Germany fully vacate all conquered territory (and in some cases give back Alsace and Lorraine as well.)

    In other words, the peace terms proposed looked a lot like what the victory ended up looking like. Virtually no one on the allied side countenanced the idea of a peace in which Germany kept all its winnings.

    Similarly, German ideas for peace without total defeat of its enemies still involved Germany keeping many of its gains in both East and West.

    The Brits were the ones who had room for a pacifist stance of “let’s just go home”, but that partly just serves to underscore that it was very much a continental war.

  • In other words, the peace terms proposed looked a lot like what the victory ended up looking like. Virtually no one on the allied side countenanced the idea of a peace in which Germany kept all its winnings.

    Just to point out that by the Spring of 1916, Germany’s winnings included the loss of all overseas dependencies other than German East Africa.

    If we think that Versailles treaty was bad, it was downright gentle compared to the peaces imposed by Germany on Russia and Romania when they sought separate peaces.”

    Russia was compelled to convey a large bloc of territory inhabited by minority nationalities. However, I am not seeing anything about any indemnity, any contrived disarmament, or any insults like the war guilt clause.

    http://www.marxists.org/history/ussr/government/foreign-relations/1918/March/3a.htm

    ==

    Although not a function of the treaty provisions itself, one might note that the Hapsburg dynasty lost its entire empire when all the subject nationalities departed (taking local German populations with them), not just their western march.

  • In the end, the Allies did not really have an option. A German army, undefeated in the field, (“unbesiegt im Felde” is the inscription on thousands of war memorials) was betrayed by cosmopolitan (and traditionally anti-Christian) elements at home, in an incident that historians call the “Dolchstoss im Rücken,” or “Stab in the back.” A compromise was inevitable.

  • The stab in the back myth is just that, a myth. The German army was thoroughly defeated.

    Wikipedia has a good run down on the myth:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stab-in-the-back_myth

    The Nazis made use of the myth later. They blamed Jews and socialists for the defeat of Germany. Jewish veteran groups noted that over 12,000 German Jews died fighting for Germany in World War I, a number in excess of what one would expect given the Jewish percentage of the population. Hindenburg and Ludendorff had been in effective control of the German state since 1916. They were the ones who laid the groundwork for German surrender when they became convinced that Germany was beaten in August 1918. After Ludendorff’s nervous breakdown, Hindenburg helped engineer the abdication of the Kaiser on November 9 and the coming to power of a civilian government to sign the armistice and to take the blame for the defeat of Germany. (Ludendorff and Hindenburg both seized eagerly on the stab in the back myth to avoid their responsibility for Germany losing the war.) Of course the truth and the Nazis were ever strangers.

  • Much as commentators like Liddell Hart in later years might have criticized the “continental commitment”, once that commitment had been made the British could not have unilaterally packed it in and gone home. Those who rush to criticize the British commanders tend to forget that for most of the war they were ordered by the politicians to comply with the demands of their French allies, who not surprisingly were unconcerned with British casualties. The Battle of Loos (September 1915) in which there were over 2,000 officer casualties, including three out of the six divisional commanders being killed, was fought over unsuitable ground, with inexperienced troops, a shortage of guns and shells, and against the advice of the C-in-C Sir John French and the Army commander, Sir Douglas Haig.

    In 1940 the British did indeed “go home”, but only after the collapse of their allies. Four years later they had to fight their way back in, fortunately alongside a more reliable partner.

99 Years Ago Today: The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and His Wife

Friday, June 28, AD 2013

On June 28th, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, fifty-year old Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a 19-year-old Bosnian-Serb nationalist. The assassination began an at first slow-moving diplomatic crisis which would result a month later, July 28th, in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia.

The assassination plot itself was so badly botched that its success is one of the surprising events of history. A group of Bosnian-Serb nationalists (half of them teenagers) — who wanted Bosnia-Herzegovina to be independent from Austria-Hungary and integrated into a pan-Slavic state — had received bombs, pistols and cyanide pills from officers in the Serbian army sympathetic to their cause. They planned an assassination attempt against the Archduke and his wife and stationed themselves along the route which their open car would travel through the city. Several of the assassins failed to make any move when the car passed and another threw a bomb at the car, however the bomb bounced off the folded convertible hood, fell behind the car, and exploded, disabling the next car in the motorcade and injuring a number of bystanders. The assassin who had thrown the bomb bit a cyanide capsule and jumped off a bridge, but the cyanide only made him sick and the fall wasn’t far and the river nearly dry, so he was quickly arrest by police (though not before members of the angry crowd beat him.)

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22 Responses to 99 Years Ago Today: The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and His Wife

  • As Bismarck predicted, when the great European war came it was over “some damned foolish thing in the Balkans”. Ironically Franz Ferdinand had always believed in a cautious approach to Serbia, fearing that harsh action against the Serbs would lead to war with Russia and the ruin of both empires.

  • How beautiful and noble is the family of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

  • Both sons of the Archduke were sent to concentration camps during WWII. Their behavior was exemplary.

  • How beautiful and noble is the family of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

    Ironically, the Emperor was staunchly opposed to the marriage of his heir and a virtual commoner, despite the depth of their devotion, and only relented after international pressure on condition that the marriage would be morganatic and that their descendants would not have succession rights to the throne. Sophie would not share her husband’s rank, title, precedence, or privileges; as such, she would not normally appear in public beside him…[and]… not be allowed to ride in the royal carriage or sit in the royal box in theaters”

    Ironically Franz Ferdinand had always believed in a cautious approach to Serbia…

    The same Serbian military clique tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the Emperor three years earlier. The Archduke was their Plan B. op cit

  • There was more than enough blame to go around between Austria and Serbia. Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of Staff for the Austrian Army, had been calling for years for preventive war against Serbia. Idiots, and I mean that descriptively and not pejoratively, in positions of authority in both Serbia and Austria, merrily lit fuses against each for a very long time before they finally got their war and took most of Europe over the cliff with them.

  • In a course back in college, a professor traced the decline of Christianity in the West to WWI. If I still have my notes – one never know what odds and ends can be found inthe filing cabinets around this place – I’ll sketch it out the way he did.

    If memory serves, he explored the losses of life, particularly men, in Europe during the War, connected it to the number of fatherless children after the war, and the vaccuum this created for socialism and communism.

  • Everyone wanted war in 1914

    1. Ever since the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Austria and Germany had been determined to prevent Russian expansion in the Balkans.
    2. Austria knew that, if she allowed herself to be humiliated by Serbia, she could not keep control of her minorities.
    3. Germany saw war with Russia as inevitable and wanted it before Russia completed her rail network and gained the ability to mobilise reserves quickly.
    4. With her prestige already damaged by her defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, Russia knew if she allowed her ally, Serbia, to be humiliated, she could well face revolt in her Western provinces, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, from which the bulk of her tax revenue was derived.
    5. With her stagnant birth-rate and Germany’s growing one, France knew she could not wait another generation, if she were ever to recover the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and avenge the defeat of 1870.
    6. Italy wanted to incorporate Austria’s Italian provinces (Italia Irredenta).
    7. Tirpitz’s naval expansion and the consequent arms race with Germany was ruinously expensive for Britain.

  • Great post Darwin Catholic and excellent comments everyone. It is interesting to note as David points out that the Left saw the carnage as an opportunity (where have we recently heard those words–using crisis as an opportunity before) to push their Big Government anti -God system playing to the heartstrings of the suffering masses. The Church was viewed as too institutional by some and Modernism was already creeping into many seminaries (just as many pontiffs had warned.) What followed was the faithful looking to recent holy figures like St Therese of Lisieux and the mystical as in Fatima and numerous other apparitions (some approved by the Church, some not) to ease their sorrow.

  • I have always tried to discern God’s will during the First World War. Here are some of my theories:

    1. After the war, Germany, Austria and Russia ceased being monarchies, so the war was an indictment of Europe’s crowned heads.
    2. Since Napoleon’s time, France and Germany had been on each other’s throats – Prussia became resentful at France because of the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian War was Bismarck’s revenge on France, and the First World War was France’s revenge on Germany. So the First World War was punishment for France and Germany’s hard-heartedness. (But even then, the cycle of violence would not end, as the Nazis intended the Second World War to be their revenge on France. Maybe Versailles really isn’t an auspicious place for signing treaties.)
    3. The war was punishment for every nation’s greed.

  • There was more than enough blame to go around between Austria and Serbia.

    True, but then again, regicide instigated by the ruling circles of a neighboring power ups the ante by an order of magnitude, when it comes to the matter of blame games.

    Admittedly, the Serbian crown was not pleased with the assassination, and took measures to reign in the perpetrators, but without success. The history of Serbia and Royalist Yugoslavia is rife with examples of the crown being unable to control the crazy radicals in its midst (or else, getting deposed or assassinated themselves).

    Apparently, enduring and then ending centuries of Ottoman/Muslim occupation leaves deep scarring and trauma in a nation (assuming those scars were not there to begin with), as the Sicilians and Armenians have also learned. Come to think of it, the Irish (and a few people within America’s own borders) might have similar tales to tell.

  • How much of a “world” war was it, though? Europe usually has a major war twice a century, during which non-Europeans (particularly the Turks) take whatever advantages come their way. I’ve always thought that the Napoleanic Wars were the world’s first worldwide war, with the War of 1812 and Latin American independence being being part of the whole. I don’t see WWI as having a bigger scope than that – although there are theatres I don’t know much about. It definitely wasn’t as big as World War Two.

  • A lot of fighting in Africa, and the Middle East. Minor fighting in Asia. America sending millions of troops across the Atlantic. Clearly a world war but not as much of a world war as World War II. I would give the title of World War to the Napoleonic wars, the Seven Years War, the War of the Austrian Succession and the mammoth War of the Spanish Succession where Corporal John demonstrated a rare combination of superb military and diplomatic skills.

  • very interesting post. Some interesting semi- questions occur to me– I say semi-questions because they are not really formed but just related ideas.
    about national-ism and what that actually means compared with national self responsibility, national interest. Also local control, one world government, Christendom

  • World War 1 saw the end of the Age of Empire in Europe. The empires were doomed regardless of present day Catholic admiration for the Habsburgs.

    Prussia, Austria and Russia carved up Poland in the late 18th century and the Polish people revolted several times. The Poles were not the only people tired of the empires.

    I submit that the decline in Christianity in Europe began with the Protestant Reformation. the French Revolution advanced that decline and WWI added to it.

    As France was terribly wrecked by WW1, and they demanded reparations that Germany could not repay, all of the groundwork was laid for WWII. Germany assisted Lenin in getting Russia out of the war. I could go on, but it’s getting late and tomorrow is Monday.

  • Anzlyne

    The fall of the Ottoman Empire saw an Arab revolt against Turkish rule and a Turkish repudiation of Arab influence, (including the adoption of the Roman alphabet and of the Swiss Civil Code and the Italian Penal Code). In other words, national identity on both sides trumped religious identity, as witness the abolition of the Caliphate.

    Again, the fall of the Dual Monarchy saw a great revival of Pan-Germanism in its German-speaking regions. The Balkans, too, were, well, Balkanized

  • One way to look at Chistendom is as a fantasy of sorts, a necessary fairytale.

    Martin Luther ushered in a formal rebellion against authority already well underway. Christendom was already fracturing and, perhaps a better way to think of it, was always fractured. It was the external threat of rising Islam in Iberia and in the Balkans that made the idea of Christendom necessary. Once Europe was exhausted of the Crusades and successful in uniting Spain under a Christian monarch, her attention turned inward and outward, away from Islam.

    Christendom turned inward politically and outward, beyond North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. Without the external threat, nationalism replaced a general sense of Christianity as the binding force for society and the legitimate authority for the Church in Civil Society. Rebellion against Church authority grew, both within and outside of the Church.

    Reformation and war were the natural consequences. These, in turn, drove nationalism and the establishment of stronger and stronger centralized national governments. That drove war, which drove nationalism, which drove stronger centralized government, and on, and on.

    Lost in the conversation were the many millions of poor, impressed to fight on the one side, taxed into oblivion, most landless, most illiterate, with little prospect for advancement… Fertile ground for new ideas that would elevate their condition to reclaim something of the dignity enshrined in the magnificent palaces built all about them.

    The Church was politically weakened and only a shadow of the civil society authority that she had been. She was driven inward and wisely turned to theology to heal herself. The Counter-Reformation entirely re-cast Christianity as an individual conversation with God through the Body of Christ. The ideas had been perculating for hundreds of years but the Chruch gave them voice. Those ideas were, in turn, applied to the political sphere through Protestant philosophers, leading to 18th Century revolutions in Europe and the rise of Communism.

    Boney was the last hurrah, not og Monarchy-as-such, but og strong, centralized authority focussed outward. Napoleon completed the turn of civil society in on itself, the concerns of others being their concerns alone. Tyranny from an external force became a relic, one that should be resisted by the common man. Thus, the explosion of war in 1917, was entirely different, precisely because it was the common man fighting the common man for an ideology that was personal and seemingly clear.

    In that sense, it was the first World War, not because of where it was fought or by which combatents but because it was individualized across all strata of society, everywhere in Europe. Thus, the destruction it wrought was individualized too, personalized, if you will, ushering in the ages we have now.

    We live in a time of Man abandoning formal social structure because it has failed us, generation after generation. Each articulation seemd to present an answer, only to fail. Thing is, Man is a social animal and, try as we might, we can never be ourselves alone. A new articulation will emerge but, until it does, chaos must reign.

    The Church will articulate the next structure under which Man lives. The question is whether She will be articulating a structure established by others or will establish the structure by articulating it.

  • David Spaulding

    The all-important fracture was not the Reformation, but the Great Schism. The emergence of Russia as the great Orthodox power and the natural guardian and protector of the Orthodox Slavs, convinced both Britain and France of the need to shore up, at all hazards, the decaying Ottoman power. For more than half a century before 1914, the great fear had been a Russian occupation of Constantinople and the emergence of Russian client states in the Balkans. This was also the reason for the protectorate in Egypt and the Sudan.

    Britain, in particular, anxious about her sea-route to India had actually welcomed the growing power of Prussia as a bastion against the Slav, only to realise, almost too late, that they had backed the wrong horse.

    Hence, too, the need to establish British and French spheres of influence in the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman power

  • I think David’s right, in a way. Christendom was an ideal. Compared to what’s followed it, it was a pretty good ideal. It was a norm – remember those? like faithful hetero marriage? – that people didn’t necessarily achieve, but everyone looked to with an understanding that we should try to attain it.

    It’s a truism that the strongest argument against monarchy is the actual guy who becomes king. The great states of Christendom, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, et cetera, were always a poisoned beverage away from having a lousy ruler. Along with internal struggles, there was always competition between the states, and rivalry between the state and the Church. Or between the Church thinking it was a state and a state thinking it was the Church. And the heresies – Luther’s was bigger than most, but the Church was constantly in battle against them.

    World War I marked the end of the powerful monarchs, but not the end of the internally and externally powerful ruler. There’s very little about Castro and Stalin that couldn’t be found in the average caliph or inbred royal.

  • Pinky

    It is worth recalling Pascal’s defence of monarchy: “The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable, because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.

    This law would be absurd and unjust; but, because men are so themselves and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality to something indisputable. This is the king’s eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the greatest of evils.”

  • The twists and turns od these discussions makes The American Catholic enjoyable.

    I never heard a defense of monarchy before. What an interesting idea.

  • “-national identity on both sides trumped religious identity-” seems like that would be true every time. it worked so well for Henry VIII.
    Although I would like to think religious sense precedes the geo political urge of a people, when National identity is formed around shared family/tribe/ and shared land or place It seems religion always gets subsumed into the state–

  • Even with the caesar/pope idea eventually the Caesar wins. Didn’t that Schism have more to do with cultural identity than actually with dogma- and having a very real shared outside enemy was not enough to heal that fracture-

Priest of the Lusitania

Monday, June 3, AD 2013

It was a great victory of the human mind which annihilated space and time, and circled the globe with telegraph wires.  But greater still is the victory which gives a man strength and courage to receive with equanimity over those wires a message telling him that all he valued in life has been taken from him.

Father Basil W. Maturin

Torpedoed by German U-Boat U-20 on May 7, 1915, the sinking of RMS Lusitania moved the United States closer to eventual war with Germany, 128 Americans being among the 1,195 passengers and crew lost.  Shrouded in controversy as to the amount of war munitions that the Lusitania was carrying, the sinking outraged American public opinion against Germany.

In our time of the Anglican Ordinariate, one of the passengers lost at sea commands our attention:  Father Basil W. Maturin.

Born in Ireland on February 15, 1847, he was a second cousin of Oscar Wilde.  His father was William Basil Maturin, an Anglican priest who was associated with the Oxford Movement.  Educated at Trinity College in Dublin, he followed in his father’s footsteps and was ordained an Anglican priest.  In 1876 he was sent across the Atlantic to be the rector of Saint Clement’s in Philadelphia.  A popular preacher at Saint Clement’s he was nonetheless sent back to England in 1888 when it became clear that he was beginning to lean towards Catholicism.  In England he was treated quite civilly by the Society of Saint John, Anglican mission priests to which he belonged, and was sent by that Society on various missionary activities including one to Rome, where it was hoped he could determine if he wished to remain Anglican or swim the Tiber.  After years of reflection and study, he converted in 1897 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1898.

Along with his priestly duties, Father Maturin wrote several books including Laws of the Spiritual Life (1908),  Self-Knowledge and Self-Discipline (1909), Christian Self-Mastery (1912) and  The Price of Unity (1912).   He was appointed the Catholic chaplain of Oxford University in 1913.  In 1914, very few students being left at the University after the outbreak of World War I, Father Maturin went to America to preach a series of Lenten sermons, something he had also done in 1913.  He returned to England on the Lusitania, and ate lunch with another Catholic priest shortly before the ship was torpedoed on May 7, 1915.

As the Lusitania sank, Father Maturin reacted with courage.  Described as pale but calm he was seen giving absolution to all who requested it.  He did not seek to board the life boats himself, instead handing a child into the last lifeboat with the request that the child’s mother be found.  When his body was washed ashore it was found to be without a life jacket, Father Maturin doubtless having given his to some other passenger.  England and Ireland were united in mourning his loss.

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Both World Wars Were A Catalyst For Religious Growth; What Future Tragedy Will It Take For Another Revival?

Sunday, December 16, AD 2012

Sadly it often takes tragedies for religious faith to grow. It seems an unfortunate part of our fallen nature. We have been hit by a spate of tragedies as of late; in its wake we often see churches full of worshippers seeking answers where once there were but a few. Following both world wars, there existed a religious resurgence that unlike the recent tragedies did not ebb and flow. It remained constant due in large part to the horrific loses of human life.

Modernism was alive and well and condemned by the likes of Pope Pius X even before the Guns of August began in 1914. The Catholic and Protestant churches were increasingly seeing relativistic elements entering their seminaries. However unlike recent times, they were quickly addressed. Though we are gaining the upper hand, it has been 40 years since Pope Paul VI lamented that “The Smoke of Satan” had entered the Church. In my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn, I speak about the positive events occurring within the Church, as well as those movements who aim to do us harm. In addition, the book delves into how we got into this mess in the first place.

Following World War I there was a great return to religious devotions, especially those having to do with the Blessed Mother. The events of Fatima which had occurred during the war and were being followed closely around the Catholic globe. As I mentioned in my article on the Schoenstatt Movement, the likes of Father Josef Kentenich chastised theological authorities who were giving short shrift to these devotions as well as those who dismissed popular devotions to those who recently passed away like the future Saint Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower.) Father Kentenich reminded these scoffers that Jesus did indeed say that we must become like little children if we are to enter the Kingdom.

The well heeled of Europe and many American ex pats found their way to Paris to rebel against the religious side of the equation. On the whole, they were a gloomy lot who seemed to drown their sorrows in all matter of drink and sexual exploits which only made them more unbearable. Some even found their way to more exotic locales like Casablanca, as did the fictional Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in the epic film Casablanca.

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7 Responses to Both World Wars Were A Catalyst For Religious Growth; What Future Tragedy Will It Take For Another Revival?

  • In Spain, the Franco regime and its views led to pent-up hostility towards the Catholic church after Franco died.

    France began slipping away from the Faith at the time of the Revolution and not even the numerous apparitions of Mary have been able to return the French to her former status as Eldest Daughter of the Church.

    The unification of Italy in the 19th century unleashed hostility towards the Catholic clergy, seeing them as privileged (gross oversimplification).

    Germany, Holland, Austria….others know the reason for the decline better than I do.

    In the USA, I blame the turn in popular culture as well as the Kennedys. In the 1950s, during the beginnings of the Cold War, Hollywood made many movies based on Old Testament stories. Fr. Peyton and Loretta Young made Catholic themed programs and Bishop Sheen was popular.

    The 1960s…there was the heartwarming Dragnet episode where the little Latino boy returns the Baby Jesus to church before Christmas Eve Mass.

    The 1970s were indifferent to religion.

    Today, there is open hostility to religion from Hollywood and academia, and far too many young people eat it all up.

  • Dave.
    Fr. John Hardon, (d.2000) gave striking warnings of a future American landscape if Catholics didn’t return to the sacraments.
    Catholics because they are the privileged members of the Body of Christ.
    Fr. Hardon; “If American Catholics do not return to the true faith, return to frequent the sacraments, then they will experience the sufferings of First century Christians.”

    The battleground is Christian America.

  • Penguins Fan wrote

    “France began slipping away from the Faith at the time of the Revolution…”

    The “slipping away” began almost a century and a half earlier, in the aftermath of the Wars of Religion in France (1562-1598) and the Thirty Years War in Germany (1618-1648) These ended in a stalemate; the Reformation gained no new territory, but it proved impossible to restore the unity of Christendom. The all but inevitable result was the growth of scepticism: both sides could not be right, but they could both be wrong. Theology, as a science (a means of knowledge) was generally viewed as discredited. It was to such people that the Pensées of Pascal were addressed.

    On the eve of the Revolution, few of the middle classes went to Mass in the great towns, hardly any of the artisans. The faithful were a sincere though ill-instructed and dwindling minority. Nothing better illustrates the condition of the Church than that priests like the Abbé Sieyès and bishops like Talleyrand were not untypical. Acton notes that “Those among them who had been chosen by the Church itself for its supreme reward, the Cardinal’s hat—Rohan, Loménie de Brienne, Bernis, Montmorency and Talleyrand—were men notoriously of evil repute.” Maury, afterwards Cardinal and Archbishop of Paris, was a man whose character was below his talents.

  • ‘However, what price will it take for our hubris and narcissism to defer to God’s love, truth and reason?’

    Vital question. Something like pulling the plug or a ‘forty’ day or year span of character building or voices to balance the scale in culture.

    ‘In the USA, I blame the turn in popular culture as well as the Kennedys. In the 1950s, during the beginnings of the Cold War, Hollywood made many movies based on Old Testament stories. Fr. Peyton and Loretta Young made Catholic themed programs and Bishop Sheen was popular.’

    The 1960s…there was the heartwarming Dragnet episode where the little Latino boy returns the Baby Jesus to church before Christmas Eve Mass.

    The 1970s were indifferent to religion.

    Today, there is open hostility to religion from Hollywood and academia, and far too many young people eat it all up.’ –

    … to the point of Churches being locked due to the victimization.

    The violent insane seem to attack the defenseless, such as in schools, theaters, and gatherings. What provokes violent behavior are celebrated elements of the culture which have lost civility and balanced character traits of decent restraint.

    I think of some not funny comedians, the loss of board games to computer ones played alone, the gang phenomenon, the irony of the women’s liberation movement and the outrageous displays of today’s women, artisans becoming ‘artists’ of the useless, and more, and vaguely, electronic replacement of human activity/work. Mental inability and illness, loss of human care to gov. regulations and courts strangling progress.

    ‘On the eve of the Revolution, few of the middle classes went to Mass in the great towns, hardly any of the artisans. The faithful were a sincere though ill-instructed and dwindling minority.

    … a man whose character was below his talents.’ ***

    Education becoming unrelated to the character building of good judgement or virtue. Lifetimes given to learning from the inspirations and beauty of our Creator have value. So what will bring more than a temporary turn to religion in reaction to sorrowful tragedy is what M P-S wrote. Character. The culture of death is deterring religious growth and its strength of character; so maybe, simply accepting God’s gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love (in even horrible circumstances brought on by evil afoot) would serve to rebuild His recommended culture of life.

    People finding the great comfort of a more religious life, however found, will grow to see the discomfort in a solely material world and loss therein. Hunger and thirst for more works both ways.

  • I think this is a complete misreading of the past century.

    WWI saw the collapse of faith in state, royalty, race, and progress, which were the reigning beliefs in Europe. The facade of faith was slipping away, and France drifted into despair. Nihilism, drugs, and eventually existentialism did little to fill the void. Russia fell. The US won the war and retained its optimism or something like it, until the decadence of the 1920’s collapsed into the Great Depression. Germany went a different route, re-embracing race and progress in an awful way. By the end of WWII, the spirit of despair ruled most everywhere. European countries gave up their empires and gave in emotionally to the Soviets. America held together because of its devil rather than because of its god.

    There are little ripples throughout history which can make it seem like one decade is holier than another. And we are affected by (not controlled by) our culture, so I shouldn’t say that all of us within a given country move in lockstep. But the trendline for the past 100 years has been ugly. The wars led to loss of faith among millions.

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  • There are some great posts here. Yes, Penguins Fan when faith begins to slip it can fall in a hurry, much like someone climbing a mountain, a momentary slip can take the climber a great deal of time to return from where he momentarily slipped.

    Philip, Father Hardon was prophetic, he was fond of saying the modern rebellion began in the 1930s. I can’t remember exactly the date he was referring to but it had to do with a group of priests in pre- WWII (Belgium?) taking liturgical matters in their own hands. He saw the slipping away of reverance and the degree to which the sacraments were being dismissed as a harbinger of something awful to come.

    Michael Paterson Semour, yes few realize the true impact of the Reformation when it was put into the hands of men like Jean Calvin who saw to it that mystery was dismissed. In addition, Calvin saw to it that churches were closed during the week to prevent “superstitious rituals” like Marian Devotion and Eucharistic Adoration from continuing. Putting doubts in people’s minds certainly set the stage for the unholy terror that was the French Revolution. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton saw it for what it was but even thinkers like Thomas Jefferson were fooled into thinking that it was an Englightened event.

    PM, yes as I indicated in my article it is hard to believe that Hollywood helped the faith with many fantastic films, and it even had powerful messages in TV dramas as late as the 1970s. However, Father Peyton saw the troubling signs years before and tried to prevent the catastrophe which is now controlling our media culture. In the 1940s, Father Peyton believed Hollywood could evangelize the world through films, but he also knew it would also become a target of the dark side.

    Pinky, true we are responsible for our actions but wealth and prosperity have always been the tool to which the dark side lures societies going back to Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh, Rome etc to walk away from God. However, tragedies have sobered people up long enough to see the error of their ways. For a decade starting in the mid 1990s, Poland was ordaining half of Europe’s priests. Look at the saints France gave us after the nightmare of 1789.

    It is important to note that we will be the last man standing so to speak. The faithful will come our way because Jesus predicted that it would happen (The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.) Let’s hope and pray that in the final showdown large segments of the populace see through the demonic disguise of the evil one.

The Schoenstatt Movement Nearly 100 Years Old

Saturday, December 15, AD 2012

I must admit a certain reticence to writing this article because I don’t think in one article I can truly do the Schoenstatt Movement justice, but the movement’s nearly 100 year old story and that of its founder Father Josef Kentenich really needs to be told. In 1914 a young German priest Father Kentenich started a movement that was so unique it took nearly 50 years before many would understand the groundbreaking effects it could have on the Church. This future saint would not only survive the suspicions of some on the theological left and right, but he would also survive Dachau. He died in 1968, the same year as another misunderstood priest, Saint Padre Pio.

When writing my just released book, The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn,  even I was stunned about the new movements that keep cropping up within the Church, even as so many have written off the Church. Indeed this is the History of the Church, when one thinks she is coming under attack by the dark side, she only grows stronger in faith due to her burgeoning movements.

However, Father Kentenich left behind an amazing outlook which every believer should emulate and a perseverance that few could imagine. In a modern world full of individuals making millions of dollars on self help, pep talks and new age “spiritual guidance,” Father Kentenich reminded everyone that Jesus is our true Spiritual Guide and His Blessed Mother the model for us all to follow.

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7 Responses to The Schoenstatt Movement Nearly 100 Years Old

  • I do not share your optimism about the Catholic Church, but I am not saying it to look for a retort. However, feel free to make one if you so desire, although I will not reply to it.

    That being said, the following is not true:

    “However, the father doesn’t really show his until the baby is placed in his arms for the first time and his paternal instincts of protection and education immediately come to the surface,”

    I loved our children and understood my place and obligations long before each of them were born and in fact, from the moment I learned of their conception was praying for them, my wife and myself. The priest was very naive, to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was not a fitting quote and I wish you would disavow it. It sounds quaint but really is harmful and demeaning to fathers. I am sure it was not intended that way. It was a naive statement of his belief in that regard.

    I delivered our first child because the OBGYN had the perception to see my devotion and my capabilites.
    Years later, that child returned that little delivery favor and, literally, saved MY life, when she was about 12 or 13. No one placed her in my arms, I held her from the moment her precious head presented itself to my waiting hands. I am grateful to Dr. Hainje for having allowed me to deliver our first daughter. The older she gets, now a mother, herself, she and her siblings are growing aware that, one day, my life will be in their hands. That daughter knows well, she will, then, hold me as I once held her. There is not a doubt in my mind that her hands will lovingly care for me, saying goodbye, as mine did welcoming her.

    For that, I do not have sufficient words to thank God.

  • Karl, I will continue to write about the Church as being our last best hope. It is not my opinion or hope. If Jesus said it, I believe it. In my writings I have delved into the good happening in the Church, as well as the continuing attacks we are under and have always been under. It is what it is. We will be the last man standing so to speak. It doesn’t mean we will not go through a tremendous trial, but the faithful will come to us, because Jesus said it would happen. He also spoke about the everlasting consequences for those who think they don’t need God.

    Perhaps you misunderstood the words of Father Kentenich, I certainly hope so for he has been one of the smartest men to come our way in a long, long time. He was not saying that men don’t spend lots of time praying and thinking about their unborn children. He was simply making the case that for us it is different than it is for the woman. God made us different for a reason, which is substantiated scientifically, medically and theologically. I would hope you would reflect on this and see the true meaning in what he was saying.

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  • The paragraph beginning with “Following World War I” needs some editing. The first two sentences contradict each other.

  • My sister is a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary and I, myself, am a Third Order Carmelite. I had not realized our two religious directions were so linked, and I appreciate your article. Mys sister, Ann, (Sister M. Anna Astell) who is a Shoenstatt sister of Mary has always had a devotion to the Little Flower and I believe she is working on a book about Teresa of Avila. My sister teaches at Notre Dame in Indiana high level theology courses although her background is in Midieval literature. She is an example of Father Kentenich’s spirituality, being very simple and childlike despite a very brilliant career and writing a number of books, one on the Eucharist which I especially liked is titled “Eating Beauty” (I designed tje cover for that book). Schoenstatt spirituality is very down to earth and family oriented and while I was called to the Carmelites, I do feel a kinship with their movement and its great devotion to our Blessed Mother. The rosary movement has been a source of love and spiritual kinship for many.

  • Thanks for your kind words Mary, so glad to read of your personal testimony regarding your sister who is a Schoenstatt Sister. Father Kentenich was such an amazing man. Greg the Obscure, sorry to contradict your editorial advice, but no they don’t.

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Veteran’s Day: Why We Remember

Sunday, November 11, AD 2012

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

World War I was a ghastly conflict with tens of millions of men slaughtered in all the horrors that war in the industrial age was capable of mustering.  After the War which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Veterans Day was set aside on November 11 to honor those men who had fought with courage for their country.  In our country Veteran’s Day eventually came to honor all those who had served in the military.  As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “It is all together fitting and proper that we do this.”  Why it is important that we do that I will leave to Father Francis P. Duffy who served as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th in France in World War I.  You may read prior posts about him here and here.  Father Duffy was a man of faith and courage, so much courage that it was proposed that he be nominated for the Medal of Honor until he laughed at the idea.  His leadership skills were so valued that General Douglas MacArthur even briefly considered placing him, a chaplain, in command of the 69th, which would have been a first in American military history.  When the 69th got back to New York after the War Father Duffy wrote about its reception and why it was important to honor the men who had served, and, especially, the silent victors who remained in graves in France:

It was a deserved tribute to a body of citizen soldiers who had played such a manful part in battle for the service of the Republic. The appreciation that the country pays its war heroes is for the best interest of the State. I am not a militarist, nor keen for military glory. But as long as liberties must be defended, and oppression or aggression put down, there must always be honor paid to that spirit in men which makes them willing to die for a righteous cause. Next after reason and justice, it is the highest quality in citizens of a state.

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13 Responses to Veteran’s Day: Why We Remember

  • Your account of how General MacArthur wished to give Fr Duffy command of the 69th reminds me of another remarkable Allied chaplain.

    In 1939, Père Louis de la Trinité was Prior Provincial of the Paris Province of the Discalced Carmelites. He had served with distinction as a naval lieutenant during WWI and, as a member of the Reserve, he was recalled to the navy; members of religious congregations were not exempt from military service. After the Fall of France, he escaped to England and volunteered as a chaplain in the Free French Navy on 30 June 1940.

    Alas, such was the shortage of experienced officers that De Gaulle successfully applied to his superiors for him to take up the appointment of Chief of Staff of the Free French Naval Forces. He commanded the naval forces at the landings in Gabon and the combined operations at Dakar. Having undertaking several naval commands and diplomatic missions during the war, after the Liberation, he was sent to Indo-China as High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief.

    In 1947, Admiral Georges Thierry d’Argenlieu, Inspector-General of Maritime Forces, retired and finally returned to his convent at Avon-Fontainebleau.

    On a personal note, in 1955 he clothed me with the scapular of the Third Order of Mount Carmel.

  • I think it is more than fitting that the Gospel reading for the Mass today is from 12:38-44 about the poor widow who gave everything she had and that today is also Veteran’s Day. A fitting coincidence.

  • As I was holding my squirming 11 month old son, it was hard to concentrate on the Gospel. I took my family (despite my wife’s reluctance) to the Pittsburgh TLM this morning. I am tired of wishy washy Masses. I do not want to hear a Marty Haugen hymn ever again.

    One other significant thing to note – today, November 11, is Independence Day in Poland. As World War I concluded with the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary, independence was reestablished in Poland after 123 years. Poland fought several battles against Germany to reclaim the portion of Poland that Germany continued to occupy (Greater Poland) after WWI until about March 1919.

  • I’m old enough to remember when November 11 was “Armistice Day.”

    I read (I guess it’s true) there is no living WWI veteran: faded away.

  • “I read (I guess it’s true) there is no living WWI veteran: faded away.”

    Sadly correct. The last Doughboy, Frank Woodruff Buckles died last year at 110:

    https://almostchosenpeople.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/taps-for-the-last-doughboy/

  • Another Catholic fact about 11 November. It seems it’s Martinmas, the Feast of St. Martin, which is commemorated by traditions in various European countries.

    Famously, St. Martin, as a Roman soldier, cut his soldier’s cloak in two to save a beggar from freezing. Again, appropriate to the “Widow’s Mite.”

    The WWI Armistice echoed Eurpoean Martinmas traditions.

    From Wikipedia (for what that’s worth): “In many countries, including Germany, Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month. Bonfires are built, and children carry lanterns in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.”

  • “I’m old enough to remember when November 11 was “Armistice Day.”

    Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day and was observed to recall the ending of that conflict on November 11, 1918 and to honor the American veterans who served in it. After World War II, veterans of World War I, many of whom had sons who served in World War II, spearheaded a move to change the name to Veterans Day to honor all Veterans. Legislation changing the name of the holiday was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower on May 26, 1954.

  • “Sadly correct. The last Doughboy, Frank Woodruff Buckles died last year at 110:”

    He will be voting next year in several blue states.

  • I believe 11 November is also Gen. Patton’s birthday.

  • “He will be voting next year in several blue states.”

    Here in Blue Illinois where the graveyards always vote Democrat, I imagine he is already registered to vote in ten Chicago precincts! 🙂

  • “I believe 11 November is also Gen. Patton’s birthday.”

  • Well, well, well. a Thomas C. Joyce from Buffalo, who I assume is the Thomas C. Joyce who teaches English Lit at Canisius, the Jesuit college located there, dropped by to unleash what I assume he thought was a clever stink bomb:

    “It is good to remember that war is good. There are many many wars in the Old Testament. When Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek, he meant as an individual in limited circumstances.

    God favored many wars up until the Gospels, and Revelation is the most honored book of all and it foretells furious war.

    We need namby pamby tree huggers to stop giving sermons and get back to the kind of slap in the face esthetics that General Patton preached.

    The left favors peace as part of their misunderstanding of Jesus Ministry. Jesus came to sow dissension, not to create a generation of sissies.

    Thanks for the old fashioned salute to War! Whether these are the “End Times” or not, a war on those who defile the Temple would be a very good fight to start.”

    Ah professor, I truly hope that you are not brain dead enough to be unable to distinguish celebrating war from honoring those men who risked their lives in service of our country. I know that you are an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama. How do you balance your Peace Now! sentiments with his foreign policy? Do feel free to drop by whenever you are not too busy with your teaching duties and spreading the True Faith of liberalism among your hapless charges.

Kipling on Benghazi

Sunday, November 4, AD 2012

The fifteenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here and here.

 

At National Review Online they had the superb idea of taking Kipling’s poem Mesopotamia and applying it to the Benghazi debacle.  The Mesopotamian, modern day Iraq, Campaign had been a disaster for the British in 1916 with a British army surrendering to the Turks at Kut.  British public opinion was outraged at the incompetence that led to the defeat.  When a report by the government on Kut was published in 1917, Kipling responded with his devastating poem.  (Ironically the British in 1917, under the able General Frederick Maude, had succeeded in capturing Baghdad by the time the poem appeared.)  The lines of the Kipling poem do seem to apply word for word to the Benghazi shame:

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4 Responses to Kipling on Benghazi

  • …but the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died…shall they thrust for high employments as of old? Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour….

    Donald. All of it fits unfortunately. Angry for an hour? So absurd that O uses ( revenge ) in his rousing the libs, yet washes his hands with video rubbish. I pray a tsunami of votes sweeps away the destructor.
    Thanks for this Kipling poem which parallels the disgrace in Benghazi.

  • Wow! Powerful then and still today.

  • From ‘Epitaphs of the War 1914 – 1918’
    R. Kipling

    “COMMON FORM

    “If any question why we died,
    Tell them, because our fathers lied.

    “A DEAD STATESMAN

    “I could not dig: I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?”

    My main “issue” with the latter is the good statesman is not where the heroes’ souls repose.

  • T Shaw….that’s powerful!
    Life for all, born & unborn.

Angel of the Trenches

Wednesday, September 26, AD 2012

Joao Baptista DeValles was born in 1879 in Saint Miquel in the Azores.  At the age of 2 his family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts.  His first name anglicized to John, he quickly proved himself a brilliant student, eventually being fluent in six languages.  Ordained a priest in 1906 he served at Falls River at Espirito Santo Church, founding the first Portuguese language parochial school in the United States while he was there.  He later served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New Bedford and was pastor at Saint John the Baptist Church, also in New Bedford.

After the entry of the US into World War I, he joined the Army as a chaplain, serving with the 104th regiment, a Massachusetts National Guard outfit, part of the Yankee (26th) Division, made up of National Guard units from New England.  The Yankee Division arrived in France in September 1917, the second American division to arrive “Over There”.

The 104th was a hard fighting outfit, serving in all of the major campaigns of the American Expeditionary Force.  For heroic fighting at Bois Brule in April, 1918 the French government awarded the regiment a collective Croix de Guerre, an unprecedented honor for an American military unit.  There were quite a few very brave men in the 104th, and among the bravest of the brave was Chaplain DeValles.  For his heroism in rescuing wounded, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor in the United States Army.  Here is the text of the citation:

104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, A.E.F. Date of Action: April 10 – 13, 1918 Citation: The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to John B. De Valles, Chaplain, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Apremont, Toul sector, France, April 10 to 13, 1918. Chaplain De Valles repeatedly exposed himself to heavy artillery and machine-gun fire in order to assist in the removal of the wounded from exposed points in advance of the lines. He worked for long periods of time with stretcher bearers in carrying wounded men to safety. Chaplain De Valles previously rendered gallant service in the Chemin des Dames sector, March 11, 1918, by remaining with a group of wounded during a heavy enemy bombardment. General Orders No. No. 35, W.D., 1920

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5 Responses to Angel of the Trenches

  • Thank you for this, Donald. I probably would never had read about Chaplain De Valles otherwise.

  • He is unjustly obscure Spambot. A good recent look at him is in Joseph Persico’s 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour:

    http://www.amazon.com/Eleventh-Month-Day-Hour-Armistice/dp/0375508252

  • “John B. de Valles had been born in the Azores to Portuguese parents who had taken him to Massachusetts as a child. He had been ordained in 1906 and became a popular parish priest, first in Fall River and then in New Bedford. When America went to war, Father de Valles immediately joined the Chaplains’ Corps. His popularity transferred easily to the 104th. When a soldier found himself short before payday, the priest could be touched for a loan of a few francs—on one condition: he must promise not to use the money for what de Valles called “cohabitation.” His orderly kept a ledger in which the loans were recorded. But when payday came around, Father de Valles would tell him to tear out the page. The orderly was Connell Albertine, who looked upon the day the chaplain had chosen him as the luckiest of his young life.

    Albertine felt secure in the priest’s presence. The previous April, near Saint-Agnant, when Private Burns had been hung up on the wire in no-man’s-land, screaming in agony, Chaplain de Valles heaved himself out of the trench and began crawling toward the wounded man. The priest disentangled Burns from the wire, lifted him onto his back, and staggered to the trench as enemy machine-gun bullets tore into the ground around them.

    After bloody fighting at Commercy, de Valles had stood mutely watching a procession of carts haul the 104th’s dead from the field. Albertine heard Father de Valles curse through clenched teeth, “Kill them! Kill the bastards!” The priest later apologized to his orderly, but the words, he said, had tumbled out and felt right. The incident had bound Albertine more closely to the chaplain, making de Valles as humanly imperfect as his flock.

    Now, on this last day, the nightmare of raglike bodies, gas-seared lungs, and unholy shrieks from the wire, he believed, had to end.

    Colonel Cassius M. Dowell commanded another regiment of the 26th Division, the 103rd. That November 11, Dowell was in his dugout bent over a map, marking the point where his regiment could expect to end the war. At 9:45 a.m., his field phone rang. Colonel Duncan K. Major, the division’s chief of staff, was on the line informing him that the attack had been reinstated. Dowell was to send his men against German machine guns in a war that would end in a little over an hour. “Why?” Dowell asked. “The French compelled us to do it,” Major answered. The 26th was in fact under command of the French II Colonial Corps. Major had experienced his own disbelief when told that the canceled assault was now to go forward. He had checked with the operations chief of the French corps for confirmation. Major, his French imperfect, feared he had misunderstood. An American liaison officer serving with the French came on the line and informed Major that he had heard correctly. The assault was back on. This was the news that Major was now relaying to disbelieving regimental commanders of the 26th.

    Cassius Dowell, now in his sixteenth year in the army, was gruff, plainspoken, an officer who had risen from private to his present rank. He was not without compassion for his men, but was a soldier first. He too had learned unofficially from a friend on division staff that the armistice had been signed just after 5 a.m. He had not shared this information with his men “lest it might interfere with their advance during the attack that had been ordered for that day.” He had then received word that the assault, except for the artillery bombardment, had been called off. He could not, however, resist one last blow at the Hun. He warned that if any shells were left unfired at 11 a.m., he would court-martial the responsible battery commander.

    On learning that the attack had been fully reinstated, “I stood there a few seconds debating as to whether I should send my men forward, having told them that they would not have to go,” Dowell later recalled. “I expected my casualties to be very heavy.”

    Lieutenant Harry G. Rennagel, released from the hospital just the day before, rejoined his unit of the 26th Division to find his men laughing, joking, talking more loudly than they ever dared in the trenches. They were “waiting for the bell to ring,” they told him, signaling the end of the war. “When the orders came to go over the top,” he remembered, “we thought it was a joke.”

    Albertine watched Chaplain de Valles move through the trench, deathly pale, comforting the men. An Italian private from Boston’s North End asked the chaplain to bless him and kissed the cross hanging from t… ”

    http://www.amazon.com/Eleventh-Month-Day-Hour-Armistice/dp/product-description/073931517X

  • His bravery is exemplary! I can’t even imagine the fortitude it would take to continuously expose oneself to the horrors of battle on the behalf of others as he did. Thank you for sharing his story.

  • Thank you Bekah. I write about chaplains like Father DeValles so that we may never forget these Heroes of Christ.

Father Francis P. Duffy: War and Humor

Wednesday, October 19, AD 2011

“If you want an example of how you ought to worship God, go over to the 69th.  You’ll see hundreds of sturdy men kneeling on the ground hearing mass.”

Father Francis P. Duffy in a letter to Cardinal Farley

A recent National Guard video on Father Francis P. Duffy.  I have written about Father Duffy here.  His courage as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th made him a legend in his own time.  However, courage was only one of his virtues.  Just as appreciated by the young soldiers he helped shepherd through the hell of trench warfare in World War I France was his sense of humor.  Here are a few samples:

Amongst the sturdiest and brightest of our recruits were two young men who had recently been Jesuit Novices. I amused one Jesuit friend and, I am afraid, shocked another by saying that they were exercising a traditional religious privilege of seeking a higher state of perfection by quitting the Jesuits and joining the 69th.

The newcomers are not yet accustomed to the special church regulations relieving soldiers of the obligation of Friday abstinence. Last Friday the men came back from a hard morning’s drill to find on the table a generous meal of ham and cabbage. The old-timers from the Border pitched into this, to the scandal of many of the newer men who refused to eat it, thus leaving all the more for the graceless veterans. After dinner a number of them came to me to ask if it were true that it was all right. I said it was, because there was a dispensation for soldiers. “Dispensation,” said a Jewish boy, “what good is a dispensation for Friday to me. I can’t eat ham any day of the week. Say, Father, that waiter guy, with one turn of his wrist, bust two religions.”

I asked one of the men how he liked the idea of going to confession to a priest who cannot speak English. “Fine, Father,” he said with a grin,  “All he could do was give me a penance, but you’d have given me hell.”

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Over There

Friday, August 19, AD 2011

When I was 12 or so, my father picked up a newly released album of World War One music entitled, after the most famous American song of the war, Over There. It is now long out of print (though still occasionally available used). As is sometimes the case with highly singable songs one heard as a youth, several of these songs had been on my mind lately, and so when the breakdown of the dishwasher the other night set everyone to washing and drying dishes, I put it on and we sang along to the oddly cheerful songs inspired by one of the world’s darker interludes.

“Over There”, written in 1917 by George M. Cohan (I didn’t like the historical versions I found on YouTube as much, so I made my own with the Feinstein rendition of the song.)


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Taps For The Last Doughboy

Thursday, March 10, AD 2011

It is hard to believe they all gone now, the millions of Americans who fought against the Kaiser in the American Expeditionary Force.  Frank Woodruff Buckles, 110, America’s last Doughboy, went to join his fellow soldiers on Sunday, February 17, 2011.  He lied about his age to enlist in the Army at age 16.  He served as an ambulance driver in England and France.  He left the Army in 1920, but that was not the end of his wartime adventures.  In World War 2 he endured three years as a guest of the Emperor, as a civilian POW in the Philippines.  God rest his soul.

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2 Responses to Taps For The Last Doughboy

  • RIP

    If you can find (my village Library doesn’t have one any more) a copy, I suggest reading The Doughboys by Lawrence Stallings. I see it on “Amazon” for about $50.

    And, Tears in the Dark is a personal account of the the Bataan Death March and POW camp/stravation/slave labor conditions in the Philippines in WWII. Then, they shipped to Japan some for worse.

    Greet them ever with grateful hearts.

    Even our younger WWII heroes are in their mid 80’s, now. All my WWII veteran relatives now have gone on to glory.

  • Both my grandfathers served in the military during WWI. They have both, of course, passed on to their rewards. My paternal grandfather (2-28-1899/1-10?-1998) was stationed in England. He served in the Canadian Army. And my maternal grandfather (1890-1954) served in the U.S. Army and saw combat.

    They were both immigrants. The former emigrated from England as a boy in 1910 or 1911. And the latter emigrated from Scotland just before the war I think. He was naturalized at Camp Lee in Virginia in 1918.

Sergeant York and Gary Cooper-Part II

Thursday, June 10, AD 2010

Continuing on from the first part of this post on Sergeant York and Gary Cooper.

Frank James Cooper, a\k\a Gary Cooper, was a child of the last century, being born into it on May 7, 1901, the son of Charles and Alice Cooper.  Unlike Alvin C. York, Cooper was born into a prosperous family, his father being a farmer turned attorney who would eventually serve on the Montana Supreme Court.  His parents were English immigrants from Bedfordshire, and from 1910-1913, Gary and his brother were educated in England.

After high school, Cooper went on to study at Grinnell College for a few years, although he did not receive a degree.  After an unsuccessful attempt to earn a living as an editorial cartoonist in Helena, he followed his parents out to Los Angeles where they had retired.  Cooper later said that if he was going to starve, he might as well do it where it was warm rather than where it was freezing.

Out in the land of fruits and nuts, Cooper tried his hand at many things in order to earn a living:  promoter for a  photographer, a seller of electrical signs and even applied for work as an ink-stained wretch at a newspaper.  Out of desperation for employment rather than any burning desire to be an actor, Cooper began to work as an extra in movies.  A friend, Nan Collins, advised him to change his name to Gary after her hometown of Gary, Indiana, and Cooper took her advice.  After several years as an extra, Cooper achieved early stardom in the western, The Virginian.   Although he would appear in every type of film imaginable in his career, Cooper always appeared most comfortable in Westerns, a genre which fit his understated, laid back acting style, and his laconic speech.  Cooper specialized in playing ordinary decent men, trying to do their best in extraordinary situations.  He also had a flair for comedy where his dead pan delivery, combined with a dry wit, ensured laughter whatever “funny” lines he was attempting to deliver.

The archetypal film during this period of his career for Cooper was The Westerner where he played a cowboy who tangled with “Judge” Roy Bean, “Law West of the Pecos”, magnificently portrayed by Walter Brennan who appeared with Cooper in several films, including Sergeant York as York’s pastor.  The film is a skillful mixture of comedy and drama, with Cooper giving a bravura performance.

Alvin C. York had been approached by Hollywood producer Jesse Lasky several times, beginning in 1919, to make a movie of his life.  Each time he refused, summing up his position simply with the phrase, “This uniform ain’t for sale.”

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Sergeant York and Gary Cooper-Part I

Friday, June 4, AD 2010

In 1941 the film Sergeant York was released.  A biopic on the life of America’s greatest hero of WWI, it brought together two American originals:  Alvin C. York and the actor Gary Cooper.

York arrived in this world on December 3, 1887, the third of the eleven children of William and Mary York.  He was born into rural poverty.  Although both of his parents were quite hard-working, the Yorks lived in a two-room log cabin at a subsistence level.  None of the York children received more than nine-months education, as their labor was desperately needed to farm the few hard scrabble acres that the Yorks owned and to hunt for food to feed the large family.

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13 Responses to Sergeant York and Gary Cooper-Part I

  • Great story… I have always loved this guy. I aspire to his humilty..

  • What few know is that on a per-day casualty basis, World War I was America’s bloodiest war. While I’ve always found Jehovah’s Witness theology risible-to-far worse, the argument Satan was thrown down to the earth in 1914 is one of their more effective ones.

  • It didn’t help that Pershing was a mediocre field commander at best. He had his gifts as an organizer and a trainer of troops, but when it came to operational command in combat he was a poor chooser of divisional and corp commanders over-all, and often made things worse by sacking men in the midst of operations and bringing in replacement commanders who had to sink or swim and all too many sank. The Meuse-Argonne was won by the troops and not by Pershing’s lack-lustre supervision of the offensive. Pershing gave a negative example that provided useful tips on what to avoid by many of the US army commanders in World War II.

  • The thing is, I’m hard pressed to think of a single great field commander in the First World War. The stalemate-ending breakthroughs were invariably a function of exhaustion, undermanning or flat-out stupidity by the other side.

  • What a horribly bloody and stupid war that was, but a fantastic story in Sgt York. I had never seen the movie from beginning to end until about 10 years ago when the wife and I rented it. Top-land(er) and bottom-land(er) became words we used often for a year or two. We somehow managed to fit it into many conversations. 😉

  • An excellent narrative of Sgt. York’s courage, coolness under fire, and marksmanship can be read in Laurence Stallings’, The Doughboys, an all around excellent book on the US in WWI.

    Here is the MoH Citation.

    YORK, ALVIN C.
    Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company G, 328th Infantry, 82d Division. Place and date: Near Chatel-Chehery, France, 8 October 1918. Entered service at: Pall Mall, Tenn. Born: 13 December 1887, Fentress County, Tenn. G.O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919. Citation: After his platoon had suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machine gun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machinegun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.

    Pithy.

    “Greet them ever with grateful hearts.”

  • Allenby and Plumer for the Brits were pretty good. Von Lettow-Vorbeck for the Germans was excellent. The Hindenburg and Ludendorf team using stosstruppen tactics came close to winning the War for Germany in 1918. Petain, of ever-lasting World War II infamy, with his concept of the elastic-defense at Verdun, probably saved France from defeat.

  • Allenby (Middle East) and Lettow-Vorbeck (Africa) were on peripheral fronts, but there’s no denying their success. The latter’s is something out of an epic, I grant. Plumer recognized the idiocy of British over-planning, to his credit, and was loved by his troops. Good, but not great.

    I’ll give you the stormtrooper tactics, at least in part. But Ludendorff and Hindenburg’s plans were assisted by the fact they had an additional 50 divisions freed up from the Eastern Front.

    I tend to think of Petain as more of a McClellan figure–good at organizing and motivating, which was what the French needed after the mutiny. I tend to think that after Nivelle wrecked the French Army in early ’17, Petain had little choice but an elastic defense. But he did save France, to be sure. A pity he obliterated himself by collaboration.

  • SGT York was a great example of rural America’s greatness.

  • Sometimes I truly think that 1914 marked the end of the West. It was certainly the end of the European Age. I agree with RL that it was a completely stupid mess and I am very sorry the US got involved in it. Nonetheless, I honor the valor and bravery of Sgt. York. (And the service of my maternal grandfather, who stares solemnly at me from a old photo which hangs on the wall next to my computer. Leo is in a WWI Army uniform – he made it to France, but was not in combat – and looks dashing. He is surrounded by his sisters, who look, frankly,dowdy with their long skirts and Victorian buns. I have noticed that in old photos that the men often look more ‘modern’ than the women.)

  • In regard to WWI, I tend to agree with G.K. Chesterton that Prussian militarism needed to be stopped. Kaiser Bill, with all his hysterical outbursts, was certainly no monster like the Austrian Corporal of WWII, but living under the Prussian Eagle in occupied France and, especially, Belgium was quite bad enough.

    “After the Battle of the Marne, the Western Front rapidly became a huge system of fortified posditions and trenches streaching from Switzerland to the Channel. Although the Germans were stopped, they had overrun most of Belgium which remained in German hands for most of the War. German authorities governed with repressive measures. The Germans confiscating houses and other property for the occupying troops. German troops killed civilans who resisted. While the German actions were nothing like those pursued by the NAZIs in World War II, they were bad enough and shocking at the time. They were effectively used by British to sway public opinion in America. The Germans also used civilians for forced labor. These laborers were poorly fed. The Germans also seized food supplies with little or no concern about the impact on the civilian population. The British naval blockade in the North Sea caused shortages in the occupied areas which eventually spread to Germany itself. Belgium like Germany was not self sufficent in food production. German authorities attempted to take advantage of the Flemish-Walloon division. They supported Flemish Activists–a radical nationalist group that agreed to work with the Germans hopeing to gain independence for Flanders. The great majority of the Flemish remained loyal to King Albert and Belgium. There was little support for the German-supported Council of Flanders. Nor was the German decesion to change the University of Ghent from a French-language to a Flemish-language institution well received. (The Belgian government made the State University of Ghent partially Flemish and then in 1930 fully Flemish.)”

    A good and careful report on atrocities committed by German troops during the sacking of Louvain in Belgium in 1914:

    http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/louvain_judicialreport.htm

    There was a large amount of Allied propaganda during WWI that touted fake, or exaggerated, accounts of atrocities by the Germans, which made many people initially cynical as to reports of German atrocities in the Second World War, but there is a hard core of accurate reports that life under the German army was quite bad, especially for public opinion in the much more innocent days of WWI, not yet deadened by the type of savagery to come from fascism and communism in the rest of the 20th century.

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A Chaplain of the Great War

Wednesday, May 5, AD 2010

A truly remarkable interview conducted in 1982 of the experiences as a Catholic Chaplain of Father William Bonniwell, O.P.  during World War I.   At the time of the interview Father Bonniwell was 96 and I think his vigor and clarity of recollection and speech are astounding.    I have done my best on this blog to tell the stories of some of the Catholic Chaplains who served in the military in our nation’s history, and it is heartwarming to be able to present a video of one of these brave men telling his story.

After the War he had an illustrious career.  He was a professor of homiletics at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois.   He was head of the Preacher’s Institute in Washington DC.   For  many years  he was on the staff of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City.  He was the author of  ”Margaret of Castello,” , a biography of the 14th-century Italian Dominican nun, who is a true patron of unwanted children, as she was born a dwarf, hunchbacked, blind and lame and was ultimately rejected by her parents, and throughout her travails radiated the love of God.   He translated from Latin ”The Martyrology of the Sacred Order of Preachers”, and produced the groundbreaking History of the Dominican Liturgy 1215-1945.

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Supremes: Mojave Desert Cross Can Stay

Wednesday, April 28, AD 2010

In a tribute to common sense, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Cross raised in 1934 as a tribute to U.S. soldiers who died in World War I may stay at the Mojave National Preserve.  The depressing part of this news was that the vote was 5-4.  Stevens, who is retiring, voted with the four justices who viewed the Cross as a threat to our constitutional order.

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2 Responses to Supremes: Mojave Desert Cross Can Stay

  • 4 voted that it was a threat to our constitutional order? I don’t feel threatened? I drove past a (huge) Mosque in Ohio (near Maume) and felt uncomfortable but not threatened. I drove past countless synagoges in New York – never felt threatened. There is family in my town in Michigan that has a Budda in their yard with the flags – I think it looks neat and you know what – I am not threatened…

    I pray the people making decisions are God Inspired not fear inspired. I pray the understand the people they represent without hold some kind predeermend intelectual superiority… God bless tham and our GREAT country…

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The Vocation of a Soldier is Next in Dignity to the Priesthood

Sunday, February 28, AD 2010

There are some whom denigrate soldiers and policemen and the plan God has for them in Salvation.  I disagree completely and there are many examples of saints and popes who have honored the soldier and policeman in defense of justice and peace.

I found this quote by Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen‘s Wartime Prayer Book:

“The great French Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.”

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105 Responses to The Vocation of a Soldier is Next in Dignity to the Priesthood

  • I was given this book just before my 1st deployment to Iraq in 2003 (the initial surge). When I came back to the states I decided to finally get confirmed. The great bishop is and will always be an influence in my spirtuality.

  • Thank you for your great service to our country.

  • The Church fathers had a radically different view. I think it was St. Basil who advised soliders to abstain from communion for a fixed period of time.

    And even today, the Church supports the conscience protections in the military – just as no Catholic medical practioner should be forced to engage in immoral acts, no Catholic soldier should be forced to fight an unjust war – and the Iraq war was patently unjust. Where the the Catholic military consciences? Where those people calling loudly for conscience protections in other areas? Silent.

  • Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”
    – Tertullian

    “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver.”
    – St. Clement of Alexandria

    “Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.”
    – St. Cyprian

    “Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.”
    – St. Athanasius

    “I am a soldier of Christ and it is not permissible for me to fight”
    – St. Martin of Tours

    “For certainly it is a greater work and much more marvelous to change the minds of opponents and to bring about a change of soul than to kill them…”
    – St. John Chrysostom

  • “Do not think that it is impossible for any one to please God while engaged in active military service. Among such persons was the holy David, to whom God gave so great a testimony; among them also were many righteous men of that time; among them was also that centurion who said to the Lord: I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed: for I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it; and concerning whom the Lord said: Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. Matthew 8:8-10 Among them was that Cornelius to whom an angel said: Cornelius, your alms are accepted, and your prayers are heard, Acts 10:4 when he directed him to send to the blessed Apostle Peter, and to hear from him what he ought to do, to which apostle he sent a devout soldier, requesting him to come to him. Among them were also the soldiers who, when they had come to be baptized by John,— the sacred forerunner of the Lord, and the friend of the Bridegroom, of whom the Lord says: Among them that are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist, Matthew 11:11 — and had inquired of him what they should do, received the answer, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. Luke 3:14 Certainly he did not prohibit them to serve as soldiers when he commanded them to be content with their pay for the service.

    5. They occupy indeed a higher place before God who, abandoning all these secular employments, serve Him with the strictest chastity; but every one, as the apostle says, has his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 1 Corinthians 7:7 Some, then, in praying for you, fight against your invisible enemies; you, in fighting for them, contend against the barbarians, their visible enemies. Would that one faith existed in all, for then there would be less weary struggling, and the devil with his angels would be more easily conquered; but since it is necessary in this life that the citizens of the kingdom of heaven should be subjected to temptations among erring and impious men, that they may be exercised, and tried as gold in the furnace, Wisdom 3:6 we ought not before the appointed time to desire to live with those alone who are holy and righteous, so that, by patience, we may deserve to receive this blessedness in its proper time.

    6. Think, then, of this first of all, when you are arming for the battle, that even your bodily strength is a gift of God; for, considering this, you will not employ the gift of God against God. For, when faith is pledged, it is to be kept even with the enemy against whom the war is waged, how much more with the friend for whom the battle is fought! Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may by it deliver men from the necessity and preserve them in peace. For peace is not sought in order to the kindling of war, but war is waged in order that peace may be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace; for our Lord says: Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9 If, however, peace among men be so sweet as procuring temporal safety, how much sweeter is that peace with God which procures for men the eternal felicity of the angels! Let necessity, therefore, and not your will, slay the enemy who fights against you. As violence is used towards him who rebels and resists, so mercy is due to the vanquished or the captive, especially in the case in which future troubling of the peace is not to be feared.”

    Saint Augustine to Count Boniface (418AD) Boniface was governor of the diocese of Africa and a Roman general.

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102189.htm

  • The soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood? Well, so much for all the holy monks and nuns.

  • Henry,

    I guess you know better than the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

  • MM

    Notice how they idolize the makers of death, and follow through with the errors they claim is had in liberation theology.

  • Tito

    Well, I guess you think he knew better than St Basil the Great? It is interesting to see how you go about this. What about Servant of God Dorothy Day? Seriously, Fulton Sheen did good work, but I am sure what I say about him being able to make mistakes is how you would respond to St Basil. But the fact remains, the Christian tradition doesn’t raise soldiers to this status — but they have consistently called those who are holy virgins to this level of sanctity. Take that as you will.

  • Henry,

    Leaving all that aside, the point of this post is to show soldiers that God has a place in salvation for them.

    To many times do well-meaning Catholics denigrate solider and police officers for their vocations. Without them we would have anarchy.

    The hate that comes from those that put down soldiers is unwarranted and not Christian.

    “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

    – Holy Gospel of Saint John 15:18

  • Plus, if you want to go further, Sheen is quoting someone else — though it seems in affirmation, it does leave him room for correcting it as well. It is not his statement — and indeed, it seems to be a rhetorical flourish that is being quoted, which also suggests something of the value of this quote. Again, it is interesting to see how you use might for the sake of salvation, when Scripture consistently suggests otherwise. That says much.

  • “Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation”, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.”

    Pope Benedict April 16, 2008

    http://wcbstv.com/papalvisit/pope.benedict.speech.2.701076.html

  • Tito

    If you wanted to say “they too can be saved” and “we can honor the good they have done,” I would have no problem. Indeed, I did a post on that theme several years back: http://vox-nova.com/2007/11/12/for-veterans-monday/

    To suggest “they are like priests” and “they are saving us” is I would say dangerous — very dangerous.

  • Donald’s typically selective, and equivocal, quotes to the contrary, Pope Benedict has been consistent that true freedom is in Christ, not war. Pope Benedict recognizes, of course, the temporal realm, but he would not equivocate this to priesthood and soteriology.

  • Henry,

    Bishop Sheen was quoting the Abbe Lacordaire. Remember Bishop Sheen said “next in dignity”, not the next best thing. Next in dignity in the context of spiritually sacrificing themselves for justice.

    I also agree with your quotes in context, nuns and monks are next in spirituality. There is room for many in God’s Kingdom.

  • Donald wasn’t contradicting Papa Bene. He was showing that soldiers have a place in God’s kingdom through their vocations.

  • for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but thy right hand, and thy arm, and the light of thy countenance; for thou didst delight in them. (Psalms 44:3)

    1 “Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD, “who carry out a plan, but not mine; and who make a league, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin; 2 who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! 3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation. 4 For though his officials are at Zoan and his envoys reach Hanes, 5 every one comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace.” 6 An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb. Through a land of trouble and anguish, from where come the lioness and the lion, the viper and the flying serpent, they carry their riches on the backs of asses, and their treasures on the humps of camels, to a people that cannot profit them. 7 For Egypt’s help is worthless and empty, therefore I have called her “Rahab who sits still.” (Isaiah 30:1 -7)

    1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD! 2 And yet he is wise and brings disaster, he does not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. 3 The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together. (Isaiah 31: 1-3)

  • Karlson, unlike you Pope Benedict understands that peace and freedom in this fallen world can often be had only through the lives of soldiers:

    “On the 6th of June, 1944, when the landing of the allied troops in German-occupied France commenced, a signal of hope was given to people throughout the world, and also to many in Germany itself, of imminent peace and freedom in Europe. What had happened? A criminal and his party faithful had succeeded in usurping the power of the German state. In consequence of such party rule, law and injustice became intertwined, and often indistinguishable. The legal system itself, which continued, in some respects, still to function in an everyday context, had, at the same time, become a force destructive of law and right. This rule of lies served a system of fear, in which no one could trust another, since each person had somehow to shield himself behind a mask of lies, which, on the one hand, functioned as self defense, while, in equal measure, it served to consolidate the power of evil. And so it was that the whole world had to intervene to force open this ring of crime, so that freedom, law and justice might be restored.

    We give thanks at this hour that this deliverance, in fact, took place. And not just those nations that suffered occupation by German troops, and were thus delivered over to Nazi terror, give thanks. We Germans, too, give thanks that by this action, freedom, law and justice would be restored to us. If nowhere else in history, here clearly is a case where, in the form of the Allied invasion, a justum bellum worked, ultimately, for the benefit of the very country against which it was waged.”
    http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_4.2/ratzinger.htm

    I realize this is all very galling for a Leftist ideologue like yourself, but facts are stubborn things.

  • “A few days after the liberation of Rome, Lieutenant General Mark Clark, Commander of the Fifth Allied Army, paid his respects to the Pope: “I am afraid you have been disturbed by the noise of my tanks. I am sorry.” Pius XII smiled and replied: “General, any time you come to liberate Rome, you can make just as much noise as you like.””

    http://www.piusxiipope.info/papacy.htm

  • Henry,

    As much as I disagree with some of your perceptions and interpretations of Catholic teaching and its implementation, I see the fruitfulness of charitable dialogue and engagement on issues pertaining to the Church.

    Thank you for all your comments!

  • I argued in a paper that is currently under review for publication that the u.s. military is seen by many americans to be another type of priesthood. Tito, Donald, et al. make that view explicit when they place u.s. soldiers inside the hierarchy of the church. This combination of u.s. militarism and Catholicism is PRECISELY fascist.

  • At the root of this idolatry is a profound misunderstanding of the reality of Christian sacrifice. Tito, et al. substitute a secular, pagan, nationalistic understanding of sacrifice for the understanding we have of sacrifice as following the non-violent way of the cross.

  • Donald R. McClare-
    Now that is classy. Would that I could come up with a response like that on the fly!

  • I’m always amazed that people who denigrate the military are oblivious to the fact that they only possess that right because someone somewhere gave their life in order to preserve our freedom of speech.

  • Truth be told – I have said in the past and live by it – I would gladly die for a person’s freedom of speech.. Sad to me that they usually do not rescipicate that feeling…

  • Michael,

    I am quoting both Servant of God Fulton Sheen and Lacordaire. Where have I said that soldiers are an institutional vocation?

    As to the second approved comment, review what I typed above.

    Please argue the substance of the posting and stop denigrating the writers of this website and anyone else that doesn’t fit into your bizarre construct of Catholicism.

  • I’d say ‘next in dignity’ is taking it a bit far.

  • John – Good to hear. I like the distancing going on at this blog.

  • Soldiers and priests can be good, bad or mixed, usually mixed, depending upon the soldier or priest. What is clear however, is that Catholicism has recognized a role for both of them. There has been an attempt over the past few decades by some Catholics to contend that the profession of arms is dishonorable and contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. That is simply not true as even a cursory look at the history of the Church reveals.

  • “Donald R. McClarey
    Now that is classy. Would that I could come up with a response like that on the fly!”

    Thank you Foxfier! Coming from such an able combox warrior as yourself that is high praise!

  • John Henry,

    Take it up with the Abbe.

    I know he’s gone, just getting punchy this evening. It’s been a looong week.

  • What is clear however, is that Catholicism has recognized a role for both of them. There has been an attempt over the past few decades by some Catholics to contend that the profession of arms is dishonorable and contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. That is simply not true

    I agree, Donald. I think we can over-praise the military, and that doing so can have very real harms. At the same time, the denigration of soldiers that takes place in some quarters contradicts a great deal of the Christian Tradition.

    To be sure, I think there is an honorable place for pacificism also within that Christian tradition, but I don’t think either pacifists or soldiers have the right to excommunicate the other.

  • I don’t think Donald was excommunicating pacifists (at least not in this thread).

  • I don’t think Donald was excommunicating pacifists (at least not in this thread).

    Agreed.

  • Michael,

    It’s called constructive dialogue.

    Something of which you are incapable of.

  • After chaplains John Henry, my highest esteem goes to pacifists who have served as medics. This gentleman especially:

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/desmond_doss_pacifist_medal_of_honor_recipient_dies_at_87/

  • Soldiers, firefighters and policemen put their lives at risk every day for other people. This is part of their job description. Putting your life at risk for another person only a daily basis is a noble thing. I think this is probably what Sheen meant. At the root of his comment is a simple understanding of self-sacrifice; there is no deep evil; there is no understanding of the soldier as priest; there is no militarism; there is no paganism. And I hope every person’s life’s work is placed in the hierarchy of the Church. Everything ought to be for God.

  • Henry,

    As I recall, a week or two ago, you wrote a post arguing against moral rigorism in regards to “cooperation with evil” by pointing to the example of St. George, who was a Roman soldier in close service to Emperor Diocletian. Now you’re arguing, from the example of St. Basil that the Church Fathers held soldiering to be immoral. Which is it?

    Is it, perhaps, that St. Basil was adhering to ideas regarding the purity required for receiving the Eucharist which would seem beyond Jansenist to us today? After all, he also held, if memory serves, that married couples should not receive the Eucharist after performing the marital act, for a similar period. If you want to hold the one as normative, would you similarly hold the other?

  • “I was given this book just before my 1st deployment to Iraq in 2003 (the initial surge). When I came back to the states I decided to finally get confirmed. The great bishop is and will always be an influence in my spirtuality.”

    Robert thank you for your service. Most Americans greatly appreciate it and honor you for it.

  • I’d say ‘next in dignity’ is taking it a bit far.

    I would assume that the logic behind the quote is that just as the consecrated life required the denial of self for the world of the Church, so the vocation of soldiering involves the risk of one’s life on behalf of the lives of others.

    In this sense, I can see how the vocation taken in its essentials would be seen as next in dignity to the consecrated life — and at the same time I don’t think that would necessarily be a claim that soldiers as individuals possess superior moral virtue. Indeed, clearly, soldiering is a vocation with rather extreme moral risks built into it. That said, however, it is singular in the sense in which soldiering involves potential sacrifice on behalf of others — which is why being a soldier is so frequently used as a metaphor both in the Scriptures and in the writings of the saints.

    It is, I must admit, a bit confusing to me how pacifists (if they are really serious about pacifism and believe soldiering to be thoroughly evil, as Michael seems to claim to do) fill this rhetorical and literary gap. Looking at the canon of literature, mythology and history, it seems a rather sparse shelf once one has rejected everything that involves violence.

  • Listening to a German woman speak about her experience as a ten-year old at the end of WWII, she told me that her family could hear the American guns and hoped they would reach their house before the Russian soldiers. She, as well as others, are grateful to the American soldiers for defeating Nazi Germany.

    We all owe our service people gratitude for their protection.

  • Darwin-
    Might one say that Priests offer their lives, and Soldiers offer their deaths?

  • Henry is right. Economic justice is prohibited because we live in a fallen world, but military action is not. Why?

    Is there such a thing as a just war? I think so, but the bar is set really really high. There must always be a presumption against war. As John Paul called for in Centesimus Annus, we must all say “never again war” and move on to different ways of solving conflicts, and by treating underlying issues of justice that often cause war.

    Or, as Benedict put it, nothing good ever comes from war. War is the ultimate last resort, the ultimate sign of failure. It is a time for mourning, not rejoicing. The kind of military glorifiction on display here should be offensive to all followers of Jesus the Christ. It embodies a pagan ethic. Consider again the quotes from the Church fathers from my earlier comment – these men knew what it was like to stand up against the pagan mindset.

  • Actually Tony Pope Benedict in his D-Day quotation I cited above said that a very good thing, liberation, came for the people of Europe from the victories of the Western Allies in World War ii, including his native Germany.

  • The kind of military glorifiction on display here should be offensive to all followers of Jesus the Christ. It embodies a pagan ethic.

    What military glorification? The quote from Fulton Sheen? For real?

    Come now, you can’t let the fact that a blog you don’t like prints something make you respond irrationally.

  • Just curious about what this would mean for Christian soldiers in Iraq during the most recent war. Would it have been their Christian duty to country to fight against the armies that invaded in a pre-emptive war?

    Cathy – I have a simliar story. A good friend of mine told me recently of the liberation of his village from the Soviets by Germans in World War 2. He was just a child at the time, but he remembers the German soldiers re-opening their churches (shut down by the communists). The men were more than happy to join the German army and fight for their liberators against the Russians and Allies, as was their Christian duty.

  • DC

    Re-read my comments. Take care to read them and the context. And take care to do what they told you to do. Then you will see your comment (and Donald’s) are completely offbase.

  • The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of freedom and a force for liberation. In recent years, this essential truth has become the object of reflection for theologians, with a new kind of attention which is itself full of promise.

    Liberation is first and foremost liberation from the radical slavery of sin. Its end and its goal is the freedom of the children of God, which is the gift of grace. As a logical consequence, it calls for freedom from many different kinds of slavery in the cultural, economic, social, and political spheres, all of which derive ultimately from sin, and so often prevent people from living in a manner befitting their dignity. To discern clearly what is fundamental to this issue and what is a by-product of it, is an indispensable condition for any theological reflection on liberation.

    Faced with the urgency of certain problems, some are tempted to emphasize, unilaterally, the liberation from servitude of an earthly and temporal kind. They do so in such a way that they seem to put liberation from sin in second place, and so fail to give it the primary importance it is due. Thus, their very presentation of the problems is confused and ambiguous. Others, in an effort to learn more precisely what are the causes of the slavery which they want to end, make use of different concepts without sufficient critical caution. It is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to purify these borrowed concepts of an ideological inspiration which is compatible with Christian faith and the ethical requirements which flow from it.

  • You want a quote. How about this quote from a Roman Centurion found in the third edition of the Missale Romanum:

    “Lord, I am not worthy
    that you should enter under my roof,
    but only say the word
    and my soul (my servant) shall be healed.”

    And unlike the woman taken in adultery, no follows on orders to soldier no more.

  • “Poison.”

    What does a hair band from the 80’s have to do with anything here?

  • “Just curious about what this would mean for Christian soldiers in Iraq during the most recent war. Would it have been their Christian duty to country to fight against the armies that invaded in a pre-emptive war?”

    Yes. Because American’s invasion of Iraq did not fall under the criteria of a just war, the only Christian soldiers deserving praise (from Christians) for fighting in that war are any Iraqi Christians who were defending their homeland against the unjust invader. This is not to say that American Christian soldiers can be held subjectively culpable for participating in the war; only that their participation in what was in fact an unjust action should not be described as something it was not–i.e. virtuous, etc.

  • WJ-
    you do realize that there’s a case for Iraq being a just war, and that such a determination is for the nation’s leaders, not folks who want to drag comboxes off topic?

  • “I’d say ‘next in dignity is taking it a bit far.”

    Anyone intimately familiar with the sacrifices the men and women of a nation’s military make – not for glory, but for love of country and countrymen – should not find fault with the sentiment expressed in Archbishop Sheen’s book.

    “Greater love than this no man hath than to lay down his life for his friends.”

    My family has a close relative who just returned from Iraq and suffers terribly from PTSD. He left 4 years ago a vigorous young man, full of life. He returned a broken man … physically, mentally, and emotionally. No one intimately familiar with the physical, psychological, and emotional toll that war often (if not always) takes on those who fight it could EVER “glorify” war. There’s nothing glorious about it.

    But the soldiers themselves who fight those wars are due our honor and esteem, and I will place them very high among those worthy of such. It is no stretch to me, at all, to find the dignity of the vocation of those who sacrifice so much for so many … something for which there is no true recompense beyond recognizing and honoring said sacrifice … to be ranked among the highest of vocations.

  • At the risk of being despised by both sides of this lively debate, might I offer a philosophical point that appears overlooked? I hope the length of this comment does not deter all the fine minds on this stream.

    The question is this: What is the nature of a soldier?
    This seemingly simple question might appear simple to answer as well. But how this is answered reveals part of what appears to be, what MacIntyre once termed, a “conceptual incompensurability” between the two sides of the debate here.

    If we look to Archbishop Sheen, we could define soldier as one who is “commissioned by the spirit and intention of sacrifice to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace.”

    Now, this definition is, rightly, quite generic enabling its universal application. All of its elements (sacrifice, justice, field of battle, order and peace) are in no way simple and universally accepted elements, i.e., much of how these elements are understood will depend upon the cultural context that ‘thickens’ them. I’m not denying an ‘objectivity’ to them, but asserting that the objectivity is in excess of any one definition (which is why they are defined, thought, examined etc. over and over.)

    This generic and universal definition of ‘soldier’ is necessary to any ecclesial advocacy of its ‘vocational’ component. I think all would agree that were the Church to say “being a US soldier,” or “being a British soldier,” is next in dignity to the priesthood, something would clearly be amiss.

    But if this term soldier is generic and universal, then it is applicable in any number of ways. Didn’t Dorothy Day “defend justice and order” and was hers also not a “field of battle”? Doesn’t the nurse who sees her work as a Christian Calling also not “defend justice and order” on a “field of battle”? Doesn’t a teacher? A mother, father, grandparent?

    So, in this broad, universal sense of soldier, there ought to be nothing overtly offensive – for it describes every lay Christian in the Church Militant.

    If one is unhappy or unconvinced by this analogical use of ‘soldier’ and believes that these ecclesial voices (Sheen, JPII, John XXIII) clearly intends a military application of the term (where ‘military’ means an association with the the armed forces of modern nation states), then, it appears to me, one faces the unhappy consequence of finding a way to defend the post’s interpretation of its three citation without exposing an a priori allegiance to a particular nation state’s military that the citations did not – indeed could not – intend.

    In other words, it seems that when the nature of the term ‘soldier’ and its use in the post’s citations are taken into consideration, one can endorse the idea only when the term ‘soldier’ is taken analogously to include the likes of all Christians whose vocation is intrinsically to “Defend justice and order on the field of battle called by the intention of sacrifice.”

    Sure, this may also include members of the armed forces who do look at their role as somehow serving God. But here we would have to include all members of all military machines, including those we in the West find unjust.

    At the risk of violating the Godwin principle, and because it makes the point quite clearly, this would have to include even the Nazi soldier who, firmly buying into the propaganda, is willing to sacrifice his life for the defense of justice and order. Denying this claim would require one to invoke the particularities of the Nazi context that are not intrinsically included in the universal sense of soldier. But refusing these particulars is precisely what allows one to endorse the term. So one runs into an inconsistency.

    If this last point is not conceded, then any endorsement of the citations in this post betray a form of American Exceptionalism which, clearly, the citations do not intend. One may very well admit to being an American Exceptionalist, but one ought not suggest that Sheen, JPII, or John XXIII were also.
    Consequently, in this case, the interpretations of these citations would be in error, inferring upon the words of these fine upstanding members of the Church (Sheen, JPII, John XXIII) meaning that they did not intend.

    One might argue that John XXIII is clearly speaking about the soldier of a military, since he himself is referring to his own experience as such. But it seems that in this case, his experience, which does indeed invoke his own personal particular experience with a military, is the concrete ground upon which his universal, more generic, endorsement of ‘being a soldier’ is founded. In other words, it is not the particularities of his military experience he is praising, but the way that it enabled him to understand the deeper meaning in all sacrifice for the good, which also shines in the works of lay people in general. Otherwise, John XXIII would have declared his own military a key part the definition of soldiering.

    And here is the conceptual incommensurability I spoke of: the objection to the use of soldier in this post may be directed to a particular thickening of the term within a given context (e.g., the current US military actions) while those defending it seem to be defending the universal idea of self-sacrifice for justice and order. The debate will go on and on if this is the case because there is no conceptual common ground.

    So underneath this debate is still a more concrete debate about the consistency of national interest with Christian teaching, really. Soldiers do not exist in the universal, generic sense; unless Christians are all strict Platonists, universals are not real even though they have, what Aquinas called, a ‘fundamentum in re’, a foundation in reality.

    So to sing the praises of soldiering, one must have in mind a particular soldier, upon a particular field of battle. This, it seems, redirects the whole discussion to these particularities rather than to the universal, generic truisms of the good of self-sacrifice for justice and order.

    For it seems we can all agree that the Christian laity, all of us soldiers for the Church militant, merit just as much dignity as the clergy, though in a different manner.

  • “you do realize that there’s a case for Iraq being a just war, and that such a determination is for the nation’s leaders, not folks who want to drag comboxes off topic?”

    Hitler determined his war was just. In fact, everyone on every side of a war believes there war is just. So we just listen to the leaders? No, that is not what the Church teaches.

  • And lest we forget, not all of those who fight the wars have the opportunity to return with physical, psychological, and emotional scars. Many pay the ultimate sacrifice.

  • “Just curious about what this would mean for Christian soldiers in Iraq during the most recent war. Would it have been their Christian duty to country to fight against the armies that invaded in a pre-emptive war?”

    Yes. Because American’s invasion of Iraq did not fall under the criteria of a just war, the only Christian soldiers deserving praise (from Christians) for fighting in that war are any Iraqi Christians who were defending their homeland against the unjust invader. This is not to say that American Christian soldiers can be held subjectively culpable for participating in the war; only that their participation in what was in fact an unjust action should not be described as something it was not–i.e. virtuous, etc.

    In other words, American soldiers battling on behalf of the Ba’ath Party / Tikriti clan meets the criteria for a just war.

  • Foxfier,

    Sadly, no. There is no plausible interpretation of Just War theory according to which the U.S. invasion of Iraq was just. I wish it wasn’t so. I supported the Iraq War on the basis of the facts as they were presented by “the nation’s leaders” at the outset of that war. Those facts have all been shown to be not facts at all, but distortions, half-truths, and lies. Indeed, *even if* one were to accept George Weigel’s cockamamie interpretation of JWT and how that theory applied to America in early 2003, that would *still* not be enough to warrant our calling the invasion just.

    By the way, our “nation’s leaders” don’t get to “determine” whether a war they begin is just or unjust, anymore than they get to determine whether a piece of legislation they enact is just or unjust.

    I’m sorry for dragging this off-topic. I was responding to Ryan Klassen’s question.

  • “In other words, American soldiers battling on behalf of the Ba’ath Party / Tikriti clan meets the criteria for a just war.”

    I think you must mean “Christian soldiers” in the sentence above.

  • Supposing that you do mean “Christian soldiers” in your response, I’d have to say that your formulation is unclear.

    “Battling on behalf of” is not precise enough of a descriptor, since one can easily imagine a Christian solider battling on behalf of Iraq during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which was of course unjust.

    Also, whether and to what extent any particular solider *identifies* his defense of Iraq with the defense of the Ba’ath Party is an empirical question, one which is elided in your formulation.

  • WJ-
    you make a ‘determination’ when you make a decision. As per Catholic Answers, “The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

    WMDs? Mass-murder? Secret nuke program? Nerve gassing the swamp Arabs? Bah, why would soldier willing to fight against THAT be worthy of any respect.

  • Foxfier:

    The confusion of CA is that the evaluation of whether or not to engage a war is indeed in the hands of the leaders of the nation; but that is not what determines whether or not a war is just.

    Here is a statement from someone who has actual ecclesial authority: http://www.catholicpeacefellowship.org/nextpage.asp?m=2123

  • Brendan,

    I don’t think you will find both sides disagree with you — yes, the word soldier can have many implications and meanings, and that is an issue which I didn’t raise and you are right to do so.

    Nonetheless, I do think many people arguing against my views have only argued against something which I didn’t say (or believe), which is why I recommended my Veteran’s Day post. The context of my reply is with the glorification of military might as for the sake of liberation – something which is very dangerous indeed to hold to, as the Church has pointed out time and time again.

  • If you want to make it all a matter of ecclesiastical authority, Henry, it bears pointing out that while Catholic Answers is not an ecclesiastical authority, the Bishop of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, OH likewise has no ecclesiastical authority over Roman Catholics, much less Roman Catholics at a national level.

  • Foxfier,

    I think you are confusing two distinct issues here. On the one hand, it is true that JWT gives political authorities the final responsibility for determining, in any given instance, whether a war they are about to embark *should* be embarked upon; on the other hand, in we are make any sense of what it means to “evaluate…conditions” and to make a “prudential judgment,” we have to allow for the possibility of *mis*evaluating this conditions and of making the *wrong* judgment. Otherwise whatever the political authorities decided was a just war *would be* a just war, and this is absurd.

  • Brendan,

    Very good point — though I think it’s fairly clear in the quotes that these are all refering to “soldier” in the military sense, it is clearly “soldier” as a universal, not the absolutizing of the cause of a single nation.

  • DC

    And while it is true he has no direct authority except over his flock, it is also clear that as a bishop, and a part of the Magisterium, he has far more authority than CA — CA when it gets beyond the realm of apologetics is sadly quite bad.

  • WJ,

    A question for you: You argue that because you think that just war teaching cannot possibly justify the Iraq War, that the only Christian soldiers fighting for a just cause in the war were any Iraqi Christian soldiers fighting for Hussein.

    However, is it not questionably whether fighting to protect the Baathist dictatorship is itself just even if one posits that the US did not at that time have a just cause to topple the regime.

    Further, it’s important to recall that not only did many in the US believe that Iraq possessed WMD, but many in Iraq did as well. There were a number of cases where groups of Iraqi soldiers surrended and immediately begged for chemical warfare protective gear, because they believed that their own army was about to launch a chemical attack on the Americans, and many of the units in the regular army hadn’t been given any protective gear to keep them safe from any chemical weapons used by their own side.

    The situation since 2003 is even more complicated, since one of the primary tactics of the insurgency has been to attack Iraqi civilians and the Iraqi government. American soldiers in the last seven years have primarily been asked to fight alongside the Iraqi military against tribal and foreign fighters seeking to destablize the Iraqi government. In such a situation, would fighting with the Americans not be the just course?

    And indeed, statements from the Vatican and USCCB since the initial invasion have essentially supported this — though many “peace advocates” still seem to favor the idea of immediate pull out, apparently because the number of Iraqis who suffer as a result do not matter so long as it is clear the the US “loses”.

  • DarwinCatholic,

    You make two good points here, let me address them in turn:

    1: However, is it not questionabl[e] whether fighting to protect the Baathist dictatorship is itself just even if one posits that the US did not at that time have a just cause to topple the regime[?]

    Granted that Iraq was an unjust regime, does this make it unjust for soldiers to defend that regime against an unjust attack? This is a tricky question. My sense of JWT (and I am open to correction here) is that the Justness or Unjustness of each regime, as it handles its own internal affairs, is insufficient by itself for determining, in any particular case, whether a defense action taken on behalf of that regime falls under a Just War properly understood. My sense is that the tradition is *very*, perhaps *too* conservative here, so that one could determine that, even *granted* that Iraq was an unjust regime, still, according to JWT, that regime has a right to protect itself against a foreign unjust action. I wonder whether your own sense of JWT fits with this, and if it does not, I’d like to hear an alternate view.

    Second, even granted that the Iraqi defense was a Just one, I agree with you that it is very likely that many of the soldiers fighting in its cause did so in an unjust way, insofar as their aim was the continued propping up of the “Baathist dictatorship” rather than a defense of their nation, or homeland, or families. But I think that this question is an empirical one: surely many Iraqis fighting against the US were motivated by duty to country, by a sense of wanting to protect their families, etc.; and many others had the “intention” of supporting the “Baathists.”

    I suppose my final, hesitant, answer would be that the U.S. invasion of Iraq at least allowed for the *possibility* of a just resistance to that invasion, without being sufficient for it.

    2: I agree that the years following the unjust invasion complicate things significantly, and that any decision in this area has to take into account what would befall the Iraqis if the U.S. were to leave as precipitously as we arrived. And I am much less sure of what the correct course here would be.

  • I think Darwin’s last paragraph gets to the heart of the pathologies of our political discourse.

  • Something tells me that Just War Theory in the hands of some has degenerated into a sterile intellectual exercise completely removed from the dilemmas that actual policy makers face.

  • Henry,
    You are correct, of course, that the question of whether a war is just cannot be collapsed into the question of who decides. That is, just because those who are responsible for making the decision do so does not render their decision correct. But I don’t think that there was any “confusion” on that point in CA. This is the nature of a prudential calculus. The consequence of this is that the Church normally cannot speak authoritatively as to the calculus’s outcome, which is why a Catholics may often differ as to their assessments and normally cannot be assumed to non-compliant with Church teaching even if they take a view that differs from that of their bishop or even the Holy Father (which does not mean that the views of Church leaders should not be very seriously considered, of course). All that said, the job of individuals to make such prudential calculuses cannot be used as an excuse for rationalization. Just because the Church may not be in a position to authoritatively object to one’s calculus, does not mean that one’s calculus is somehow protected from culpable moral error.

  • Art Deco,

    As I understand it, theorizing about just war is important just because “actual policy makers” are usually motivated by many different things, precious few of which concern justice. Is bioethics a “sterile intellectual exercise” that is completely removed from the “dilemmas” that actual scientists must face?

  • FWIW, I think the justness or unjustness of the current invasion of Iraq hinges on whether the one a decade earlier was just. A logical thought process would go like this: Iraq unjustly invaded Kuwait. Kuwait was just resist and ask for assistance for other nations. The US was just in taking up that cause. The US, Kuwait and a host of other nations succeeded in driving Iraq out of Kuwait and would have been justified in seeing it through until Saddam’s regine was toppled.

    They didn’t do it, they instead agreed to a conditional cease fire and withdrawl. Saddam Hussein violated those terms almost immediately. Everything from flying fighters in the no-fly zone, to locking on and/or firing at coalition aircraft to not allowing UN inspectors do their job. Most instances were dealt with directly and in a very measured manner even though they were cause enough to resume full hostilities. Note that Saddam also used the situation to severely persecute many of his own people.

    Barring any change in Saddam’s attitude and actions or an outright regime change a continuation of the hostilities were imminent. After 9/11 those in charge made the call that Saddam’s belligerence needed to come to end.

    I’m not 100% sure what to think because like the rest here I don’t have *all* the facts, but I reject the notion that no person of good will and informed conscience could come to the conclusion that the war was just.

  • In retrospect, I want to take back my too-strong claim that *only* Christian Iraqi soldiers could be described as behaving “virtuously,” or “with Christian honor,” etc. in the Iraq War. In making this claim I was trying to show that because the U.S. did not fulfill the “jus ad bellum” criteria of Just War, an American solider’s participation *in* that war was different from an Iraqi solider’s–since at least the Iraqi solider *might* be engaging in an activity that fulfills “jus ad bellum” criteria.

    What I oversimplified, and, unfortunately, may have misrepresented, was the principle of the moral equality of combatants, according to which a soldier is responsible only for his “jus in bello” behavior. The reasoning goes that because individual soldiers cannot be expected to have the knowledge or power to inform the political “ad bellum” decision, their moral status *in* war derives from their behavior within the war. This principle is not uncontroversial, but it is unsettled enough that I need to at least affirm the possibility that American soldiers *may* be praised for their conduct in the Iraq War, even granted that that war was unjust.

    I don’t have a settled opinion on the moral equality of combatants principle; good arguments can be found on both sides.

  • WJ,

    I would say no. But those practical dilemmas are what prudential judgments are formed from, not only from the moral principles. And that’s were scientists and physicians may come to different conclusions. Even more so it seems in deciding if a war meets just criteria.

  • This refers to WJ’s 10:54 am comment.

  • Phillip,

    I agree with you that practical dilemmas are where prudential judgments are made. I was only responding to Art Deco’s assertion that, because this is so, *therefore* thinking hard about the structure of moral action is a “sterile intellectual exercise.” Just the opposite, it is a *necessary*, if insufficient, to make clear to political actors and to scientists just what these moral principles are, and why they are important.

    Now I simply *must* get back to my real writing.
    Thanks for the conversation.

  • …lest I give my wife the grounds for a just military action…:)

  • This is not meant to be an insult, but it seems to me that most of you don’t have any idea of what you’re talking about. There’s ideal musings, and then there’s actual experience. God’s gave me an experience that very few will ever have: that of being a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment. The so called ‘tip’ of the spear.

    It is quite possible to have ‘served’ in the military, and never come close to experiencing what I did. It is even possible to have gone to war in Iraq, and never to have come close to experiencing what I did. For what I experienced was the raw spirit of modern violence, and in particular, the culture that such a spirit forms.

    Those who belong to the officer corps, or to non-combat units, or even to combat units of a lesser sort, these soldiers do not tend to experience the essential spirit of modern warfare. They get whiffs, but they do not breathe and eat the stuff.

    I want to tell it to you straight, apart from the doctrines, apart from the philosophies and the ideals: Modern warfare is demonic, and these demons savage the souls of those at the heart of it. It endangers a person’s soul to enter certain parts of the U.S. military – those units with the most responsibility for directly killing in close-quarters.

    Ideally, yes, perhaps saints with swords could kill enemies in a just-war via double-effect. Maybe it has even happened throughout history. But I tell you this – modern war, today, with its machines and dehumanization and propaganda and materialistic-totalitarianism . . . this type of war distorts the souls of those who really engage it. The demonic danger is real, and it is overwhelming. I do not blame the military, I do not blame the soldiers. I blame the fallen world, and I blame Satan.

    If we think the world is fallen enough to require war, we should be able to see that the world is too fallen to wage war without being destroyed by the demons such violence unleashes. God help the young men we place into such hell!

  • Thank you, again, for sharing your experiences Nate. The personal testimony of one person is not always the best basis for formulating public policy, but it certainly is more valuable than most of the abstract theorizing that takes place on these topics (including my own abstract theorizing).

  • Thank you, John. I agree – my experience is just one of many, and we should listen to them all. Most soldiers who have seen the real face of war (and I’m not sure I can include myself among them) do not want to talk about it. I’ve been agonizing over this all morning, honestly. I do not mean to offend anyone with a different opinion than mine, and if my words are strong, it’s a reflection of the intensity of what I went through, and my empathy for those who might have to endure the same thing.

    Catholics often scrutinize where they send their kids to school, what books their kids read, what friends their kids make, and so forth. But when it comes to the military – a government run institution – I find that we become blind believers. If a secular college is a dangerous place for a young Catholic, how much more a secular military?

    One small nugget: ‘cursing like a sailor’ isn’t just a phrase. F*ck was the word we used most often, about everything, in literally every other sentence. You might think I’m kidding about every other sentence, but it’s really true. The constant cursing is probably the ‘smallest’ thing I can think of, in terms of demonic influence, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

  • Nate,

    I appreciate your experiences and cannot relate to them. I don’t know if the modern battlefield involves more direct killing than the ancient. Can one begin to imagine the horrors of the Greek phalanx with the direct killing involved there. Siege warfare of the middle ages is also brought to mind. The Church was aware of these and still considered the place for a just war.
    Then there is the continued modern day demands on the police officer and the coarsening that can result from that. Yet police are still needed and their actions, when performed morally, are just.

  • One small nugget: ‘cursing like a sailor’ isn’t just a phrase. F*ck was the word we used most often, about everything, in literally every other sentence. You might think I’m kidding about every other sentence, but it’s really true. The constant cursing is probably the ’smallest’ thing I can think of, in terms of demonic influence, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

    FWIW, that seems to be a fairly common thing among people our age (men in particular, but women as well) in situations where it’s not actively cracked down on. I’ve run into f**k-speak everywhere from archeology digs to forklift operators to sales teams — basically anywhere that “the management” doesn’t make it clear it’s not acceptable on business premises. We live in an uncivilized age. (Like just about all ages…)

    That said, I think you make an important practical point, which people would do very well to keep in mind at the same time they contemplate more abstract points. No matter how much the risk of self for others may bring an opportunity for saintliness and nobility to the calling, being a soldier is also going to mean seeing and being involved in horrible things, being far from home, being in fear, having at your hands the tools for intimidation and violence, and by turns being extremely bored — all things which provide ample opportunity for grave sin.

    While I think Sheens point has an essential validity, it’s clear that soldiering involves a host of temptations which young men far from home are often not good at resisting. While I continue to think that serving in the military is an honorable and necessary thing which Catholics should not universally shrink from (though clearly not everyon is not called to such a thing), one would be pretty foolish to think, “Oh, I better encourage my son to join the army. Clearly, he’ll never to be tempted to sin there.”

    And come to that, this is true (though in different ways) of other professions where personal sacrifice and helping others would seem to be central — as seen in alcoholism and other personal dysfunction rates for doctors, priests, policemen, etc.

  • I am generally quite sick of debates over issues that have absolutely no chance whatsoever of changing a mind or even getting one to bend a little. That’s why I haven’t said anything about this.

    I will say this: I oppose America’s foreign policy of the moment – and if the political sympathies and donations made by many of the actual troops themselves are any indication, so are the people who are being asked to die for it – but I also completely reject any attempt to denigrate American soldiers or patriotism in general as “fascist” or somehow immoral.

    So I am equally disgusted by two opposite viewpoints: 1) the view that to oppose the insane think-tank fantasies that have guided foreign policy is to somehow oppose the troops or be unpatriotic, and 2) the view that to support the troops in any capacity is somehow “fascist.”

  • My view of soldiers and public attitudes towards them was summed up by Mr. Kipling:

    TOMMY

    I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
    The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
    The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
    O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
    But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
    But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
    But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
    The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
    O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
    An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
    But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
    Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
    While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
    But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
    There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
    O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

    You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

  • Rick Lugari – Great comment. That’s exactly the way I look at it.

  • “F*ck was the word we used most often, about everything, in literally every other sentence. You might think I’m kidding about every other sentence, but it’s really true.”

    Well that was certainly also true when I was in the Army back in the Seventies. It was also true of the English Army that fought against Joan of Arc. Their favorite expression was G-dd-mn. Some things remain true across the centuries when it comes to the military experience. I do not swear and I did not when I was in the Army. The swearing bothered me to some extent, although quite a few of my profane colleagues became good friends with me. In spite of their profanity many of them were good-hearted and men of honor. In regard to swearing in civilian life, that has radically increased since the Sixties, certainly when it comes to public swearing.

  • Don would probably know for sure, but I believe that back in the day the English Army was so enamored with “G-dd-mn that their French opponents routinely referred to English soldiers as the “G-dd-mns.”

  • Quite right Mike.

  • WJ & Mike Petrik,

    How about a nifty pic to go with your icon?

  • Mike,

    I remember reading that.

  • On the use of the F-bomb, remember: this about a decade old.
    (F* rap.)

    Men in their twenties also greet each other with “f*ker.”

  • I seem to recall reading that it was the Ausies who made f*ck military standard usage in the Great War. At which time its use are noun, adjective, adverb and verb all rolled into one was still comparatively new.

    Though my grandfather who began his 30-year career in the navy in 1945 (and past whose lips I never heard a single profanity pass) always insisted that when he was in the Navy profanity was not nearly as pervasive as in modern WW2 dramas like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers — the which are in turn far more clean-cut in their language than the Mamet and Tarantino-esque speech patterns of many ordinary civilians my age.

  • I recommend “No Victory, No Peace” by Angelo Codevilla.

  • “Lord, I am not worthy
    that you should enter under my roof,
    but only say the word
    and my soul (my servant) shall be healed.”

    And unlike the woman taken in adultery, no follows on orders to soldier no more.

    Argument from silence.

    Anyone intimately familiar with the sacrifices the men and women of a nation’s military make – not for glory, but for love of country and countrymen – should not find fault with the sentiment expressed in Archbishop Sheen’s book.

    You can’t be serious. You can say this about any person or group of people who is willing to kill and die for what they believe. You could say it about “the terrorists.” Sacrifice does not equal Christianity. Sorry.

    It is telling that all of you agree with Sheen’s comment about soldiers being just below priests. How about sisters? Oh yeah, it fits in with your sexism.

    Many pay the ultimate sacrifice.

    Last I checked, Calvary was the ultimate sacrifice. NOT U.S. SOLDIERS.

    2) the view that to support the troops in any capacity is somehow “fascist.”

    Caricature.

  • While I’ve worked jobs where people cursed – from janitors to cadets to high school students – I’ve never encountered the level of cursing that I found in the Ranger regiment. It’s a small thing, however. More startling is the open display of pornography, the constant boasting and announcements of masturbation (“I gotta go jack off – you got some porn?”), the songs of not only killing children and nuns, but of raping women, and so on and so forth. I should re-iterate that this is the experience of a private in an elite special operations unit, not the experience of a desk clerk in a non-combat unit. I would also add upon Donald’s comment that this didn’t make us bad. I’m only pointing out the cultural current and demonic activity, which I associate with the mission: killing other human beings like ourselves.

  • I think there are probably countless volumes of untold stories of heroism, sacrifice and compassion demonstrated by our American soldiers, stories that stay within the confines of family, only to be briefly revealed at the death of an old soldier. One such story was recently related to me — the story of an 18-year-old sergeant, serving in Italy during World War II, who was machine-gunned by a German soldier. The young American was able to shoot back and, while both were lying wounded on the ground, an American patrol happened upon them. The young American insisted that the German not be killed, so instead of firing a fatal shot into the German, the American troops took both wounded men to a hospital to convalesce. These untold stories demonstrate the character of our soldiers, character that has been instilled in our young men by their families, communities, country, and belief in Christ. So what if that utilitarian Anglo-Saxon word is used in excess — our soldiers are not attending tea parties and picking daisies.

  • It’s so sad how someone like Nate can so passionate share his experiences, here, at Vox Nova, on his own website, on the Catholic Peace Fellowship site, etc., yet what he is saying just does not sink in for some people. Instead, he gets “Oh but Nate, yours is just one person’s experience.” These people will praise a complete stranger on this blog who happens to mention his “service”, praising his heroism, etc., without knowing a damn thing about him. When Nate continually shares from his heart his very personal experience and his judgment about the nightmarish dimensions of the military, he is usually brushed off. Another flag waving post follows on the next day.

    Some of us listen, Nate, and refuse to remain on the level of abstraction that some of the bloggers here do. They have an image of the u.s. military in mind, not reality.

  • “Some of us listen, Nate…”

    Don’t confuse listening and agreement, Michael.

  • Thanks, Michael. And thanks to all who have patiently listened to me. Thanks be to God for those who have gone further, and agreed with me. Cuz’ I know it ain’t easy! 🙂

    Also, I really encourage everyone to read Michael’s paper once it becomes available. It’s an in-depth theological examination of what every new military recruit will be forced to face: an anti-Christ culture. Granted, anti-Christ cultures do abound in America. I think we should just remember that the military is (at the least) no exception.