Saturday, August 1, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, August 1

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


The debate on the Nuclear Deal with Iran pits all sixteen Republican candidates against the deal, as well as almost all of the conservative press with the exception of 'The American Conservative.'  Christian public intellectuals could help by fostering a real debate. That hasn't happened yet. At all too many Catholic forums, philosophical and theological reflections are strangely disconnected from the historical life of the nations. The antiwar political left has proven a mute ally for the President and Secretary Kerry.

AOA advocates a Christian Realism which examines the religious dimensions of a realignment in the Mideast (see: Religion and American Foreign Policy and Christian nations and the Persecution of Christians). Understanding our duty to protect Christians would put America in a de facto alliance with the Shiite states capable of facing the Salafist purification movement now splitting Sunni Islam and targeting Shiites (see: The Shiite-Sunni war - are we on the wrong side?). Understanding the religious debate within Sunni Islam will clarify our need to form alliances with true "moderates" of the Sunni world - starting with the Hashemites of Jordan and including the many non-Arab Sunni nation states which have developed over the centuries within the Islamic civilization. We would treat Israel as an essential ally but not our State Department. Christian realism would  treat Russia as a Christian nation fighting a common enemy. We would reverse the militarized rejuvenation of NATO as an anti-Russian alliance. (see: Religious Nations or the Atheist West). Most vigorously we have tried to challenge the reigning silence about Saudi Arabia as the spiritual center of Islamic terrorism in the religious and civic public media.


One response to the 2008 financial collapse was the Dodd-Frank Law. The jobs that followed for lawmakers as regulators were one benefit of the law for a small group. Not so fortunate were the many small banks and institutions that were driven out of business by the regulatory overhead. They were too small to succeed. Barney Frank keeps showing up in all these stories.


The State of Kosovo was formed after the high-altitude punishing of Orthodox Serbia by the "West" in a President Clinton/Secretary Albright attempt to "punish genoicide" in the Christian-Muslim war fought in the heart of Serbia in the 1990's. Kosovo became an independent Muslim-dominated state. Here is a look at an apparently criminal regime by a 'NY Times' reporter who has covered them since the Kosovo war. One of the major arguments of the NATO commander in explaining why Russia should be considered Europe's most dangerous enemy is that it broke the post-WWII agreement that no states would be formed by force (Crimea annexation). However, the NATO bombing of Serbia (certainly a use of force) produced a state of its own: Kosovo.


When we asked which soldiers of the greatest generation won WWII we are told that the Russians lost the most men. Now we are reminded that the British Army was very Indian. An excellent review of a book on the military of the British Empire. And as always after men fight for a country they come back thinking they should participate in its rule. The partition of Pakistan and the rise of its first leader, Muhammed Ali, spring directly from a military role in WWII.


Patriarchy and Fraternity are the public forms of Christian love in the Church and nation. Covert kinship deals like the power couple Nuland-Kagan are our nemesis. To overcome them we must first understand them. We don't usually reference Lew Rockwell who runs a website we tend to deplore. This entry though is a very good synthesis of a story well known to Washington insiders but off the radar of the American public and most journalists. Visit for the entree, don't stay for the meal.


Bishop-elect Robert Barron grounds the "dignity of the human person" in the existence of God. The "dignity of the human person" is a phrase which could allow 7 billion tyrants to live out their lives as their passions find best. Or "the dignity of the human person" is a God-centered reality which bespeaks a world of gratitude, solidarity, and obligation. Pope Francis calls the new individualists "atheistic libertines." He situates the real dignity of the human being in a God-centered ecology -- most notably in his encyclical "Laudato Si."

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday BookReview -- The Great Reformer: Pope Francis

[This was first published on February 27, 2015. We offer it again in the spirit of today's saint, Ignatius of Loyola. Below the review is a reflection on the life and spirituality of Ignatius by Fr John Hardon.]

by David Pence


Ignatius, Peter, and Peron: Untying the Knot of Pope Francis

In every papacy, a man and an office meet in the cultural environments shaped by the interplay of Church and nations in that era of human history. Great papal narratives set man and office in their moment of history. George Weigel’s Witness to Hope situated the philosophically personalist Pope John Paul II on the bi-polar historical world stage where the Polish world actor took the side of Church, nation, and man against the depersonalized tyranny of Communist atheism. Vittorio Messori’s Ratzinger Report pitted an intellectually and liturgically formed scholar cardinal, in the conversational tone of biblical personalism, against the turbulent confusion following the holy ferment of Vatican II. 

Austen Ivereigh’s The Great Reformer is the story of a man called from a nation at “the ends of the earth” to put on the shoes of the fisherman and lead the Church out into the periphery where she might be mother as well as teacher in showing the mercy of God to the sobrantes (the left-over people) at the margins. Mr. Ivereigh wrote his Oxford thesis on the "Church and Politics in Argentina" and his account is rich in history—of Argentina, of the Latin American Church after Vatican II, and of the Jesuits after the Council. But he discovers an even more radical historical formulation presented by the distinctively Latin American Church. The Church is being drawn from a decaying monarchical form to bypass the modernism of libertine atheism (the decayed form of the Enlightenment) and return to the collegial fraternity of apostles. Only this true fruit of the worldwide Second Vatican Council can counter the delusion of self-reliance afflicting modern man and the spiritual worldiness weighing down the self-referential Curia and careerist clergy.

Moving the encounter of the Church and the world to the margins seemed for many faithful Catholics an abandonment of the intellectual battle lines they had so carefully constructed and suffered for in conscious allegiance to the popes before Francis. And just when many Catholic businessmen and economists rejoiced that free markets as creators of wealth were finally being recognized by chastened Communists and modern pontiffs, the new pope predicted only ruin if we trust the organization of society to “the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation.” They condescended, “What could one expect from a son of Latin America and a grandson of old Europe? What could he know of the Oikos nomos -- the economy -- the ordering of the household? A Jesuit from Latin America stuck in the quasi-Marxism of liberation theology -- didn’t this movie come and go two decades ago?”

But as they looked across the old ideological lines expecting to find a pope against them instead of their ally, he was nowhere to be found. This, too, was not his hill for battle. Communism and Capitalism tug at one another and the rope is knotted. Abortion and Homosexuality are obsessions of their advocates; and those who speak too often in opposition find themselves talking about evils which most of humanity shuns by not mentioning the taboo. The sacrament of humanity -- the Church -- cannot define herself by obsessions or opposition to obsessions.
In rhetoric the locus of an argument is called the line of stasis. The contested issues of the European Church and the international demarcations of the bipolar Cold War are being left behind for a new line of stasis pitting the Spirit of Mercy against the Evil One. The pope is wildly popular, said a bishop, because he seems new by reminding people of someone they heard about long ago. He, too, was cheered and greeted with psalms and hosannas. 

The first pope from the New World is returning to be bishop of the capital of his grandfather’s country and his father’s birthplace. Rome cannot consider him a stranger. His papacy, as well, is not so confusing nor is he “running from the issues.” He seeks, with both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a return to a deeper encounter between man and God. He arranges that encounter not with the huge crowd or in intellectual disputations. His strategies are different from the popes before him, but he is a loyal son of the Church as surely as he is a grandson of Rome. 

G.K. Chesterton said that what St. Benedict had stored in barns like grain, St. Francis spread in the world like seed. Mr. Ivereigh contends that the same relationship holds today, though the critics most hampering the pope within the Church today are  Benedict XVI devotees who mask their opposition to him in their pained confusions and half-hearted loyalty pledges. The fifth chapter of the book, "The Leader Expelled (1980-82)," is about the rejection of Bergoglio by the progressive Jesuit intellectuals who then ruled the Order. Today it is not progressives but the “orthodox” who are disappointed in his ways. He has always been opposed by intellectuals.  

All true reform, says Ivereigh quoting Congar and channeling Chesterton, is the return to some original form. Pope Francis is a Jesuit—his spiritual life is shaped by the exercises of Saint Ignatius. Each of his days is marked by the Office, the Rosary, the Mass, and Eucharistic Adoration. He is a big heart open to God but also a discerning soul allowing situations to mature before acting. Is this action an act of compassion and good, or is the Evil One posing as a spirit of light? The Ignatian Pope asks these kinds of questions. Discerning spirits -- a continual awareness of the reality and machinations of Satan, while resting in the mercy of God is the best description of his approach to governance. He has certainly known the definitive call of the Holy Spirit. He was called to the priesthood as definitively “as being knocked from a horse” after confession when he was sixteen. And like Peter at the home of Cornelius, he has recognized the Holy Spirit in those not of the fold in his remarkable ecumenism of prayer with Evangelicals in Argentina.  

Francis is much more a man of prayer than a theologian (but let us not dimiss the theology of the knees). Like the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius he starts from the mercy of God, but then discerns the spirits. Before he will organize us around the “issues” he will ask us to reflect by “keeping silence, praying and humbling ourselves” as he wrote in Silencio y Palabra (Silence and Word). He especially understands the scourge of our day in which evil presents itself as good or “the bad spirit comes in the guise of an angel.” This kind of deceit and temptation appears sub angelo lucis. The way to deal with such Spirit is not to fight it head on, because only God can defeat such a Power. He tells us, "Be gentle! The evil ones will take that for weakness... The devil emboldened will show himself and his true intentions, no longer disguised as an angel of light but boldly and shamelessly.” Did this not happen at the extraordinary synod in October 2014 when the pope was much criticized by conservatives for not “speaking up” against falsehoods? He only spoke at the end reminding the free-speaking bishops they were both with Peter and under him. His disciplined silence allowed over the next few months that several prominent episcopal “angels of compassion and light “ were exposed by their own deeds and words to be thieves, liars, and racists. Francis brings the church back to the original underlying conflict with our original foe -- the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning, and he does it as a Jesuit conforming to the original spirituality of that warrior mystic Saint Ignatius.
The young Bergoglio

When the bishops of Latin America returned from the Vatican Council they were struck by its message about bishops and collegiality and the people of God. They were also struck by how the bishops of the continent with the most Catholics played such a small role in the give-and-take of that great spiritual event. Over the years, the Latin American bishops would form not a national conference but a continental conference: CELAM. Its first conference was in Rio de Janeiro in 1955, but after Vatican II it progressively developed a theology of "Church and the people" from Medellin (Columbia 1968) to Puebla (Mexico 1979) to Aparecida (Brazil 2007). This experience of collegially developing a theology of liberation and communio rooted in a matured understanding of God’s holy faithful people is a central experience in the life of Bergoglio. He understands himself as a brother priest and a brother bishop. Fraternity and collegiality, governing and learning through synods in which there is real dialogue and disagreement is central to this new Peter whose favorite papal title is Bishop of Rome. It is this trait, above all, which will allow him to do what his predecessors did poorly -- to govern, to rule. (A fascinating section of the book outlines meetings of bishops at St. Gallen in Switzerland, concerned that the local church/central church dynamic had gone too far central. While the theological concerns of prelates Martini, Kasper, Lehman, and Danneels were very different than those of the Latin American bishops, this was the common ground where they met the Argentine bishop who carried the concerns of the southern Church.)

The bishop of the poor will not leave the organization of governance to inertia. He knows how old he is and he knows the rot he has been called to expunge. Like Moses on the advice of his father-in-law, Pope Francis immediately appointed men to help him govern. Some of those men are not as pure as the pope. He, too, will have his Judas priests. Let us see who is washed out and who stays to govern. Mr. Ivereigh has said that if Pope John Paul II was a prophet and Pope Benedict a priest, then Francis will be king; he will rule. His ability to govern was well known among many, if not all, of his elector cardinals. Pope Francis has lived in patriarchal fraternity with the Jesuits. He experienced and shaped the most dynamic international bishops’ conference in the universal Church. He will govern as Peter, not Louis XIV. 

He will also talk more like Peter than a professor. That is not to disparage the professor popes which the Church needs at different times, especially in eras marked by confusion of doctrine. Peter was a net fisherman. The men of Galilee did not fish singly with a pole and a hook and a worm. They worked together on a large net in a rough sea, and when push came to shove they knew they were a body; and they had a leader who would assess the situation and make the decision needed in times of crisis. Francis returns the Church to its original communio of governance that Christ ordained: the patriarchal fraternity of the Apostles under Peter. 

Francis will not consider it clericalism to govern, pray, or relax in communio with his brother priests. He does not think masculine fraternity is a dirty word and he considers the art of politics to be the forging of bonds, not the slaking of ambition. He is a man who can lead while he shares a net with other fishermen. Like John Paul II -- and unlike Benedict and most popes of the last century -- he is a nation-man. He shares a communal masculine identity with countrymen tied to a particular soil. Unlike most Europeans and North Americans he has no feminist implant rewiring his brain to apologize for this fraternal aspect of his nature and the nature of political life.  

He may be a porteno—a man of the port city in his upbringing, but he was a 'Gaucho Cardinal' [see chapter seven, covering the years 2001-2007]. He identifies not with the Enlightenment liberals who ruled his county’s trade and commerce from the port cities, but with the great cowboy leaders who led bands of free men in the countryside. The gauchos are what Robin Hood and his band of merry men are to Englishmen, what Armenius and his warrior Bund mean to Germans, and what Wilhelm Tell and his confederates are to the Swiss. Those bands of men under a democratic but forceful leader are immortalized in the Argentine epic poem "El Gaucho Martin Fierro" (1872). In their story, which Bergoglio could recite copiously, is the soul of the nation. It is why the early aspirations of Juan Peron (1895-1974) will always embody the soul of Argentine more than the necessary military junta of 1976 or the understandable armed insurrection of the Montoneros guerrilla movement.

Francis has a spiritual communal sense of Trinity and the Body of Christ and humanity. It overflows in the words of his fellow bishops from Aparecida. He accepts the formulation of Alberto Ferre of Uruguay that Latin America is a continental Christian patria with a concert of nations rising from this God-soaked soil. Francis is man of soul and communio. He will never prefer the European Enlightenment and its superstate enforcing libertine atheism over a Catholic nation protected by men sharing the work and protective duties of fatherhood and fraternal citizenship. Pope Francis is not a pacifist. He thinks that Europe without Christ is a barren grandmother. The Catholic America he sees will be a concert of nations and nations governed by agreement as well as force. He has a high concept of politics and expects that protective personalities are shaped by religion and then act in civic leadership. He knows Latin American nations have passed the era of the Marxist Castro and Chavez. He knows his nation and continent are aping the North while passing though the era of libertine atheists led by feminist Lady Presidents: Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Christine Kirchner of Argentina. He meets the nation-men around the world and awaits his own continent to shape a Republican Christian, if not a Martin Fierro then a nation-man like Juan Peron. 
There are three keys to the papacy of Francis, says Mr. Ivereigh:
1) Evangelize through mercy; this era of human history is the kairos of mercy. If John Paul declared a feast day after Easter for the Divine Mercy, Pope Francis will ground his whole pontificate in that truth. 
2) Learn and hear the infallibility of God’s holy faithful people (santo pueblo fiel de Dios). This is not Marx’s proletariat. It is not a council of laity who wish to pass resolutions and to project their voices. This is the people at prayer and pilgrimage. They are not shouting at the government or the clergy; they are praising God and bringing Him their concerns. Just as often, they are raising their hearts of love and petition to His mother. Ecclesial men and civic men must accompany them in prayer and then ensure that nation and Church act in accordance with the needs expressed in prayer. When the people recite the creed during the Mass, God’s holy and faithful people are speaking without error. When old women in the U.S. kept the fires burning for Eucharistic adoration when seminaries were getting beyond "wafer worship," it was the faithful women who were without error. The beautiful CELAM bishops' document from Aparecida in 2007 was deliberately drafted within touching distance of pilgrims praying near the clay statue of Our Lady of Aparecida. It was not so the pilgrims could see the bishops, but so the bishops could hear the people. If such a practice frees the whole Church to come before God in prayer, we might even call this matured sensibility "liberation theology." 
3) Institutional reform will come by restoring the Church’s mission to the poor and faithful who can carry forth a more universal deepening of holiness in both diocese and parish. To enable that return to the first mission, a reformer must assemble real synods of governance and dismantle structures and depose careerists who are impediments to the reform.
A set of four governing Christian principles provide practical guidance to true reform which is never to be mistaken for the false reform of adopting the regnant ideology of a given era:
Unity comes before conflict; the whole comes before the part; reality comes before the idea; and time comes before space.

The pope's favorite image of Mary is not from Guadalupe. He met her in Germany—Mary, the Untier of Knots. He had seen his Jesuit brotherhood torn asunder and men pulling against each other with a rope of liberation and a rope of order as the knot grew more tight. He saw his beloved country torn apart between an oligarchy of super-rich and an ideology of liberating violence answered by a response of order, turned into an even more brutal violence of hidden torture and murder. Each kept pulling and killing and the knot grew more tight. He sees the tired but rich German Church of Walter Kasper, and the living word made a dying letter by the American Raymond Burke. He sees the envy of Marxism and the greed of Adam Smith. He is too much a man of Trinity, Church, and nation to reduce ecclesial or civic life to such options. He knows for sure that most knots are not undone by pulling. Start with God’s mercy, often be silent, pick where you will contest, act boldly. The Great Reformer is a poetic, historical, spiritual masterpiece about Francis and the "Making of a Radical Pope."                                                    


UPDATE: The continuing insights of Austen Ivereigh into the strategy of Francis -- "mission and mercy" -- are first-rate!
And this is an earlier talk he gave in Ireland.

Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola -- 'Militia est vita hominis in terra' (Man's life on earth is a warfare)

[first published July 31, 2014]

"Everything that Jesus did, from His crying as a Babe in the cradle to His getting tired and falling asleep, to His agony in the Garden, all of that is a pattern for us to imitate."

Father John Hardon, the Jesuit who died in 2000, explains that the Person of Christ is the first attribute of the spirituality of Saint Ignatius: "Man's virtues are God's attributes."


The founder of the Jesuits -- unlike his Protestant contemporaries -- understood the true dignity of human freedom. Take a look at Father Hardon's fine essay.
"Take Lord and receive all my liberty... To Thee, Oh Lord, I return it. All is Thine... Give me Thy Love and Thy Grace for this is sufficient for me."         (Saint Ignatius of Loyola)

Monday, July 27, 2015


The map above (click here for a larger version) depicts the French-speaking nations of the world. While French is the mother tongue of 66 million in France, 11 million more throughout Europe, 6.8 million Canadians, and another 250,000 in South America's French Guiana (an overseas department of France), another 140 million people speak French as a second language. French is an official language in 29 nations. The areas where French has dominated roughly corresponds to French imperial domains across the world: French Indochina (what is today Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam), parts of the Caribbean (e.g. Haiti), and large parts of Africa. Although today more people speak some form of Hindi or Chinese, the historic spread of French makes the language an important worldwide medium of communication.

July 27, 2015 Update: With President Obama visiting the Horn of Africa, consider reading our recent post on the region.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, July 25

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


The Salafist Sunnis of Saudi Arabia link with Al Qaeda in Yemen. More proof, that in Yemen, the Saudis are on the other side -- the rise of the Islamic State in Yemen.


Could the Saudis build a nuclear weapon? A short history of nuclear states with emphasis on Asia. Particularly interesting is the not-so-hidden history of nuclear weapons in Israel.


Why Saudi Arabia, American neocons, and Israel oppose the deal.
Minnesota ex-Senator Norm Coleman embodies the strange intersection of Israeli and Saudi interests to demonize Iran. Mr. Coleman lets the Saudis foot the bill. It is going to be an all-out money blitz trying to convince Democrats, especially, not to support the President.
When the Iranian accord was announced, Michael Oren averred that all political factions in Israel were opposed to it... But, au contraire, a powerful set of men in Jerusalem is voicing support for the agreement.


Our first black President has squandered the moral capital of the civil rights movement by embracing the most gruesome acts of male and female degradation in the name of equality for all. And, yet, in foreign policy he may actually have saved us from the Hillary Clinton-John McCain confusion in a multipolar world. Neither of those warrior candidates could have imagined turning Iran from its pariah status to some new role not yet determined.


The Pope praises the popular movements that seek these goods. Let us seek them too. Hear him speak in Bolivia.


Maybe it takes a good Jewish thinker like Yuval Levin to explain the real relationship of Pope Francis to the environmental movement.


Japan's latest Defense White Paper includes criticism of Chinese maritime expansion of influence, as well as rationale for Prime Minister Abe policy to change laws to allow the use of Japanese military beyond the defense of the homeland. This change in security laws has not made him more popular in Japan.


It seems peculiar as Republican candidates say the top issues facing America are jobs and the economy when our departure from God and love of neighbor has led to increasing convoluted defenses of sodomy and infanticide. Does it get any more gruesome?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday BookReview: Mr. McCullough on the pivotal year for General Washington's soldiers

The Grand Union Flag

"Also known as the Continental flag, it is the first true U.S. Flag

"It combined the British King's Colours and the thirteen stripes signifying Colonial unity. George Washington liked this design so well that he chose it to be flown to celebrate the formation of the Continental Army on New Years Day, 1776. On that day the Grand Union Flag was proudly raised on Prospect Hill, near his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Here is a six-minute radio interview with Mr. McCullough when the book came out a decade ago.

The 'Guardian' newspaper in England published this review:

Might the Americans have lost the War of Independence? They very nearly did. This book is the story of how close George Washington, as commander of the American army, came to defeat in the terrible year of 1776 which also saw the Declaration of Independence. At the end of that year, he assumed that the British, who had chased him all the way from New York, were about to cross the Delaware river and capture Philadelphia, capital of the revolution. He wrote that all the enemy were waiting for was 'ice for a passage, and the dissolution of the poor remains of our debilitated army'.

But Washington was wrong, as he frequently was about military things. David McCullough's account bears out the saying that this war was lost by the British rather than won by the Americans; the book could have been subtitled 'Failures to Pursue'. When Washington wrote those words, he did not know that General Howe, the British commander, had already decided that it was getting too cold to carry on fighting. The war season was over. He would go back to New York and mop up Philadelphia and the Yankee army the following spring.

Howe had thrown away victory before. In August, he had let the defeated American army escape after the battle of Brooklyn (or Long Island). But his failure to take Philadelphia when he could was worse. The British never grasped that it was good publicity which kept Washington's small army in the field, by producing fresh flows of volunteer reinforcements. As soon as Howe's incredible decision was known, Washington snatched the opportunity for a 'brilliant stroke'; he came back across the Delaware and won two small but dazzling victories over Hessian and British forces at Trenton [Dec 26, 1776] and Princeton [about a week later]. They were anything but decisive in military terms. The war dragged on until the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. But after Trenton, the American public realised that they could win and must win. The corner had been turned.

A British reader has to know a bit of history before starting this book. McCullough is not trying to tell the story of the American Revolution or even of the whole War of Independence. The battle of Bunker Hill (1775) is over when the book begins, with the British locked up in Boston by a cheerful, disorderly little army with almost no gunpowder.

Fortunately for 'His Excellency', as George Washington was known, the British had not got round to occupying the Dorchester Heights above the city. The Americans, showing true inventive genius, went 300 miles to the abandoned Fort Ticonderoga, extracted its enormous guns and towed them back over snowy hills and frozen lakes [arriving toward the end of Jan 1776]. When they opened fire from the heights, Howe at once conceded checkmate and abandoned Boston.

Next came Washington's defence of New York. An enormous British force of warships and troop transports assembled offshore meant that Washington had no long-term hope of defending Manhattan. He hesitated and made bad mistakes. In their only stroke of first-class generalship, the British landed on Long Island and pulverised his army. But Howe's 'failure to pursue' allowed Washington to get the survivors back across the East River in small boats: 'America's Dunkirk'.

There followed long and complicated campaigning in what is now New York's outer suburbia, as the Americans evacuated New York and were driven slowly back, losing battle after battle, until they crossed the Hudson into New Jersey. From there, Washington and his dwindling, exhausted army retreated southwards to Newark and then across the Delaware. Congress had already fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore. Washington thought the army game was up; it would have to be guerrilla warfare in the Alleghenies. But then Howe stopped and blew a whistle for half-time.

This is a well written, conventional war history, illustrated with quotations from the letters and diaries of men and some women on both sides. The American witnesses are wonderfully observant and articulate; they were mostly well-educated volunteers who already 'enjoyed a higher standard of living than any people in the world', as McCullough reminds us. But narrowing the subject to one year has drawbacks as well as advantages.

The plus is that McCullough is offering one more irresistible narrative of a fabled Long March, from hope through despair to hope again... The minus is the lack of political background, which is perfunctory. So New York and Long Island were full of 'loyalists'? What were their own dreams for America and what happened to them in the end? So Washington was a slave-owner and a friend of liberty? Plenty has been written about that elsewhere, but at least a sample should have entered this book.

McCullough inserts profiles of his leading actors. Some work better than others. George Washington, a man of marble famously hard to penetrate, remains opaque. There's any amount of secondary evidence that his men adored him, that he had the gift of transmitting confidence. But why and how?

What McCullough does show is that Washington had the incredibly rare gift of learning from the criticism of subordinates. After Long Island, he discovered that some of his commanders thought he was hopelessly indecisive. He considered this, apparently agreed, and simply made himself more decisive.

In contrast to 'His Excellency', other leaders emerge in sharp relief. None is more appealing than the fat young Boston bookseller, Henry Knox, an Ulster Scot with a booming voice who already weighed nearly 18 stone [252 pounds] at the age of 25. Only in a revolution, and especially a can-do American revolution, could this [porker] turn into a wonderful general who began by thinking up and carrying through the mad feat of towing the guns from Ticonderoga and ended up as one of the victors at Yorktown.
General Knox

McCullough doesn't ask himself what would have happened if Washington had been crushed in 1776. But Knox gives the answer. America was already independent. What mattered was that Americans should realise it. The British could be dealt with, if not now, then later. Even if they still won battles, they were becoming history.

UPDATE: I have driven the highway route from the Albany area through the entire length of Massachusetts. Even though I was cocooned with plush comforts, it still seemed as if Beantown would never come into view.

What Knox and his men accomplished is simply astounding.

What was their toughest stretch? Traversing the Berkshire Mountains once New York was behind them.


Let's close this out with an appropriate colonial fiddle tune.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Map on Monday: ARGENTINA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Argentina.

With a population of about 43 million people, Argentina is South America's third largest nation behind Columbia (48 million) and Brazil (204.5 million). The vast majority of Argentina's population are of European descent with roughly one half of all Argentinians (including Pope Francis) of Italian ancestry. Argentina derives its name from the Latin word for silver - the natural resource colonizers had (wrongly) expected to find. Argentina is, however, rich in zinc, copper, lead and is the world's third largest Boron supplier.

Argentina's substantial coast is oriented towards the Atlantic, but it also shares land borders with Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile. With its neighbors, Argentina shares a colonial history in the Spanish Empire. Like central America, Spain's South American holdings began to emerge as independent nations following Napoleon's sacking of Spanish King Ferdinand VII and replacing him with a Bonaparte. In 1810, areas of what would become Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay declared independence and formed a republic known as the United Provinces of South America or the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (River Plate) with Buenos Aires as its capital. The republic, however, soon fell into civil war and broke into several nations by 1831.

By the early twentieth century, Argentina had become the seventh wealthiest nation in the world - but a military coup in 1930 was the beginning of economic decline for Argentina. While the rule of Juan Perón brought about a brief return to economic prosperity, an ensuing "Dirty War" left thousands dead (or "disappeared") as the military ruled the nation and cracked down on dissidents. With the reestablishment of democracy, Argentina's leaders have taken the nation in a decidedly liberal direction. In 2010, it became the first nation in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. Néstor and Cristina Kirchner - Argentina's own Bill and Hilary - have run the nation since 2002 with Néstor in power for one term and his wife in her second. In 2014, Argentina defaulted on its international debts and remains today a mid-level world power.

For a very informative video on Argentina, see this video from the series Geography Now!