Monday, August 31, 2015

Map on Monday: IRAN

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Iran

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography 

Iran is the second largest in land area of the Mideast countries (Saudi Arabia is first). If Iran were compared to a U.S. state, it would be nearly four times the size of California. The Iranian plateau at the heart of the nation is dominated by mountains, particularly the Zagros Mountains running along its borders with Turkey and Iraq. Although Iran's climate is mostly semi-arid, Iran is situated near major water areas in the region, particularly the oil-rich Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf. Iran is ranked third in the world in oil reserves. Almost all of them are along its western border with Iraq and the Persian Gulf. In addition to petroleum, Iran is also rich in natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Iran is the most powerful of the Shia-majority states (the others of which are Iraq, Azerbaijan, and tiny oil-rich Bahrain which is ruled by a Sunni king). It is an inspiration and at times supplier of Shia minorities (Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia.) The Iranians speak Persian (60%), Kurdish (10%) and Azeri (15% - a Turkish dialect spoken in northern provinces adjacent to Azerbaijan.) Iran had a significant religious and military history before its conversion to Islam (A.D. 633-655). It was the center of Zoroastrianism; and Cyrus of Persia freed the Jews from their "Babylonian [modern day Iraq] Captivity" in 539 B.C. Iran has 80 million people - comparable to Egypt (88 million, comprised of 85% Sunni and 10% Christian) and Turkey (78 million, another non-Arabic country with 70% Sunni and 15% Shia).

Many present-day Shiite populations in Sunni countries correspond to the boundaries of the last Persian empire of A.D. 200-650

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Iran borders Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan to the east and north east; the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, and Armenia to the north; Turkey and Iraq to the west; and the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman to the south.

Modern Iran formed the geographic core of the old Persian Empire. Persia, weakened by war with the Byzantine Empire, was rapidly overrun and converted to Islam in the seventh century. For centuries the non-Arab Muslims of Persia stood apart from their religious brethren. The rise of Shia Islam in Persia, however, made this non-Arab, non-Sunni area of the Mideast anathema to the majority of Muslims in the region.

In 1953 Iran was one of the first Mideast countries to nationalize its oilfields. The US-inspired overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953, and return of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, is a history event better remembered in Iran today than the USA. The secular Shah ruled in the name of modernity like Ataturk of Turkey. He introduced female suffrage and compared his national goals with the post-war economic resurgence of Japan. During his rule, Iran and Israel had a multi-layered alliance against their majority Arab and Sunni neighbors. Most Arab nationalists were secularists but still hostile to the Jewish and Persian states. Israel in the early 1950’s under Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion struck an “Alliance of the Periphery” with Muslim non-Arab states.

The Shah ruled until his overthrow by the popular Ayatollah Khomeini in the Shiite Spring which preceded the Arab Spring by twenty years. The "Holy Defense War" of 1980-88 against the secular Saddam Hussein leading his majority Shiite nation further shaped the Iranian understanding of their national identity and destiny. They correctly accused the U.S. of supporting Saddam’s invasion.

As religious identity has trumped Arab nationalism as the organizing principle in the Mideast, the Shiite nation-state of Iran is at the top of the ISIS enemy list. The Wahhabi-driven Saudis have long seen Iran across the narrow Strait of Hormuz as a religious and geo-strategic enemy. The Likkud party in nuclear-armed Israel also defines Iran as its greatest existential threat. In the US Congress there has not yet been a serious argument that Shiite Iran might be a proper ally in the war against the jihadist Salafist purification movement of Wahhabi Islam and their supporters in the house of Saud.

Stratfor on Iran's Geographic Challenge

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 Iran.

For more information on Iran, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.

This post originally appeared on Anthropology of Accord on February 16, 2015.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturdays, August 15, 22, and 29

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch 


The three American boyhood pals who saved countless lives by stopping the jihadist on a French super train teach a great lesson. They are living examples of the best homeland security program we could devise. Let us revive a trained patriotic masculine presence and identity everywhere American men gather. We are brother protectors all the time in every situation. The civic culture should train all men to be efficient fighters (this means obligatory masculine military training not universal national service).  The Church should cultivate the virtue of courage as a response to danger and teach men that loving our neighbors means protecting those around us. The men on the train were prepared to act courageously and the military training of some of them helped them act effectively. French President Hollande in awarding the heroes France's highest honor saw them as a symbol of "humanity". In an earlier statement he said that "brave women and men" like them would be the antidote to terrorism. We Americans must remind the modern Frenchman that Napoleon swept Europe by calling  "every male a citizen soldier". That other French warrior Joan of Arc knew the same truth.  Her cry was always "Men of France, do your duty."  Both the Maid of Orleans and the Little Corporal knew that the essence of  citizenship in a Christian culture was based on a male fraternity of sacrificial love. This is the essence of male citizenship: men do for our countries what Christ did for humanity. A dying culture will not make such men. A culture of life will.


CHRISTIAN REALISM: A review of the work of Reinhold Neihbur. Neihbur disagreed that progress would always come from education so he was against Dewey. He thought nations in the real world would do actions that would harm the innocent. He had a low view of the morality of nations thinking they were always agents of self interest.

HENRY KISSINGER INTERVIEW ON REALISM AND STRATEGY - DON'T MAKE RUSSIA AN ENEMY: Thirty-year anniversary of National Interest magazine interviews Mr. Kissinger. In a understated way he attacks the momentum of US policy toward Russia and our utterly ahistorical approach to the relationship of Russia and Ukraine. He doesn't explain Kiev Rus, but he knows it exists.


CATHOLICS IN NATIONS ON THE RISE (PINS): John Allen of Crux (Boston Globe project to report on the Catholic Church as a worldwide institution) looks at the Philippines, India, Nigeria, and South Korea.

CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE BIG BANKS: Letting criminals go while extorting big money from the institution is not just a legal strategy against the Catholic Church. Fines after The Great Wall Street Robbery have a similar feel - pick the deep institutional pockets and let the individual crooks take their profits.

POPE FRANCIS, SPIRITUAL WARRIOR FOR MARRIAGE: Paul Kengor on the Pope Francis strategy to defend marriage. Is he giving away the store or is he a wily spiritual warrior?


THE MYTH OF INCLUSIVE GOVERNMENTS IN THE WAR AGAINST ISIS: The war in the Mideast will be fought as shifting coalitions of communal groups. The criticism against Iraq's first Prime Minister Maliki (2006-2014) that he wasn't inclusive was never fair. He might have been a bad ruler - I don't know, but his sin was not that he tried first to consolidate Shiite control and then find Sunnis who would deal with him. The new prime minister is going to do the same as the agreement with Iran affects strategy in Iraq.

SAUDI ARABIA AND 9-11: One part of the national debate on foreign policy during the presidential campaign should insist on the release of the 28 pages of the 9-11 Commission report that deal with the role of the Saudis in the attack. House of Saud and House of Bush tells one tale while Wikipedia is as far as your research has to go to find not just the Clinton Foundation but the Carter Center deeply beholden to the Saudis. People talk about the Jewish lobby and Israel but the Saudi lobby is much more nefarious for it seems both ubiquitous and hidden.

MUSLIMS IN THE US-MATURATION US: Muslims can be a strong force for bringing America back under God. Will religious Americans see them as fellow citizens and believers? It took Protestants a long time to admit Catholics into the American Covenant. There is a parallel for men who understand that political bonds emerge from religious loyalties.

TURKS FIGHT KURDS AND SAUDIS KILL THE HOUTHIS--WHO WILL FIGHT THE SALAFIST SUNNIS? Stratfor has a lot of reporting on the Saudi invasion of Yemen in the Mideast which seems to have garnered the news coverage of black men shooting black men in American cities. Stratfor (which we learn from daily) however maintains its almost pathological insistence on reporting conflicts as if religion doesn't exist. Meanwhile Turkey's new commitment to fight is much more aimed at the Kurds not ISIS.

IS THERE DISSENT IN ISRAEL ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL? Is there a security bloc that doesn't agree with the Netanyahu depiction of the Iran nuclear deal as a catastrophe?

SUNNI EGYPT: The Muslim Brotherhood won an election and now there is a military government. Is that a problem?


JAPAN AND WWII: A moving apology and perspective from President Abe.

CHINA AND A US MARITIME STRATEGY: The Defense Department Strategy document on Maritime policy with special emphasis on the expanding shores of China.

POLAND'S NEW PRESIDENT: President Duda's worldview.

THE ARCTIC NATIONS: Understanding Finland.


SECULARIZATION AND CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH: Aidan Nichols, O.P. is a great scholar of history, theology and philosophy. At the Imaginative Conservative, he writes about secularization.


NATURE IS NOT YOUR MAMMA: The antidote to pantheism and nature worship is to understand a few salient facts about the physical universe. Most of the universe is utterly hostile to life. Even on earth which is a set aside environment improbably but unmistakably conducive for life - nature herself is utterly unforgiving. The Universe begins with a casting out and still manifests that in the expanding dissipating universe. It is a place of conflict and has been long before man was created and sinned.

God called back matter with the attractive forces (strong nuclear and gravity) and the elements were formed in the stars. Eventually by an act of the Holy Spirit, a handful of matter on earth was incorporated into a cell. It was an enclosure of life - a sort of tiny Eden. 3.5 billion years after the first life. Man was created in another enclosure - the Garden of Eden. He was cast out into the battlefield where now he is being integrated into the Body of Christ who appeared also by an act of the Spirit in a sacred enclosure. Only selected matter associated with human beings and our dominance are being integrated onto Christ. Most of matter is still being cast out with the spiritual beings who started the battle long ago. Matter itself is law abiding but it has no preference for man. Bishop Robert Baron who usually does not comment on this aspect of the Universe sees clearly here the radical indifference of Nature.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday BookReview: Robert Moses -- the outsized power of an unelected official

"The pivotal day in my life as a young reporter,” [historian Robert] Caro recalls, was when he was covering the state capitol in Albany. There was a proposal to build a bridge across Long Island Sound, a project which virtually no one favored, because it would increase pollution and congestion. But, Caro remembers, the news was whispered through the capitol that Robert Moses was there, and “the next thing I knew everybody from the governor on down was for the bridge. I saw I didn’t know how anything works."


From a review by the president of Harper's magazine of Robert Caro's study of urban planner Robert Moses (1888-1981):

It is something of a mystery why the Bodley Head has decided to publish Robert Caro’s The Power Broker in Britain more than 40 years after the initial appearance in the US of this classic work — but better late than never. Caro’s remarkable portrait of New York City’s master planner Robert Moses merits publication in any language, at any moment in time. For its scope extends beyond Moses, fascinating though he was as a person, builder, wrecker, and manipulator of men and money.

Caro’s ambition — in a journalistic sense equal to Moses’s ambition in architecture, park creation, and road and bridge construction — is greater than conventional biography. Over 1,200-odd pages, with immense precision and considerable verve, Caro aims to describe the essence and pathology of Moses’s political power, not just the uses to which he put it or how he got away with the worst of his bulldozing, both physical and political. So we learn as much about the intoxication and addiction of power as we do about the bureaucratic titan whose imprint on New York bears comparison with his only modern equivalent, the smasher and rebuilder of Paris, Baron Haussmann.

Unfortunately, New York today remains ugly, congested, and harsh compared with Paris, and the tactics Moses employed to transform the city, adjacent Long Island, and upstate New York to suit his tastes were uglier still. Thus any assessment of Moses’s legacy, or potential revision of Caro’s devastating critique, must include the question: did Robert Moses make New York a better or a worse place to live?

Caro demonstrates that he made the city and the surrounding state much worse... though he can’t help acknowledging successes like Jones Beach State Park, Moses’s first big public-works project, which was constructed in the late 1920s on the South Shore of Long Island.

This vast refuge for the sweltering masses exists, in part, because the Yale and Oxford-educated Moses began his career as an earnest, idealistic reformer, very much in the mainstream of Progressive Era thinking. Principally interested in the reform of government administration, he wrote his Oxford PhD thesis on the British civil service, and upon his return to New York he campaigned for the elimination of patronage appointments by political bosses.

But, as Caro recounts, Moses at Oxford shortly before the first world war was already exhibiting the arrogant elitism that would mark the rest of his life, no matter how public-spirited his projects purported to be: ‘What Moses admired’ in the British administrative system was its rigidity and segregation — ‘that it had two separate and distinct classes’ of chiefs and drones. ‘The competition Moses wanted [in civil service exams] was a competition open only to a highly educated upper class.’

Good intentions, such as they were, didn’t get Moses anywhere back home, and he despaired of beating the political professionals at their own game. That is, until he attracted the attention of Belle Moskowitz, a pragmatic reformer who had allied herself with New York governor Al Smith, a brilliant machine politician with an eighth-grade education. Smith was just the sort of talented poor boy that the well-born Moses wanted to exclude from meaningful government service. But when Moses realised that Smith, a pure product of Tammany Hall, could guarantee him a pathway to power through park-building, he threw all his enormous energy, intelligence and charm into befriending him.

Al Smith with Babe Ruth

The Irish-Catholic Smith protected and promoted the secular-Jewish Moses because huge, contentious park projects made good politics, especially when the press presented these projects as clashes between an oppressed working class, desperate for greenery and fresh air, and land-hogging robber barons devoted to preserving their privacy and privileges. Moses had no formal legal training, nor had he studied engineering or architecture. But he was the quickest of studies in the laws of appropriation and eminent domain, trial tactics, bill drafting, public bond issues, and the short and long-term political effects of pouring concrete.

And he was a ruthlessly adept political infighter, propagandist, and dispenser of patronage himself. Until 1962, when his command of the two main state parks administrations finally ended, he ruled almost unchallenged in the realm of public construction and urban renewal in the commercial and cultural capital of the United States. Having expanded his influence far beyond the preservation of open space — by controlling the boards of public, bond-issuing ‘authorities’ like the one governing the Triborough Bridge — Moses intimidated and outlasted a succession of governors and mayors, who came to fear him as much as they needed him to get the big jobs done.

But the big jobs, especially road-building, were a brutal business that defaced and constricted New York forever. As ‘America’s…most vocal, effective and prestigious apologist for the automobile’, Moses also influenced other cities, as he had New York, to chop themselves up with expressways and starve desperately needed public transport for generations to come.

Ironically, it was a patrician adversary, W. Kingsland Macy, who first seems to have recognised the danger Moses posed to the ordinary people he pretended to champion. Responding to the Long Island State Park Commission’s blatantly illegal seizure of a millionaire’s hunting preserve, Macy warned that if Moses prevailed, ‘No one’s home is safe.’ Little did Macy know that in future decades Moses’s expressway construction and ‘slum clearance’ would uproot, displace, and demoralise at least half a million low-income New Yorkers, predominantly black and Puerto Rican, who had none of the influence and money of the wealthy Long Islanders.

Moses’s Cross-Bronx Expressway also destroyed the working-class and largely Jewish East Tremont neighbourhood, and it’s in these chapters that Caro most vividly exposes the gratuitousness, the sheer cruelty of Moses at his darkest. The one mile of roadway that did the most damage, that stabbed the heart of East Tremont, could easily and inexpensively have been shifted to a less intrusive route than the one selected by Moses. As Caro writes, ‘Democracy had not solved the problem of building large-scale urban public works, so Moses solved it by ignoring democracy.’ But with his ‘dictator’s powers’, Moses wasn’t, like some other dictators, merely concerned with constructing enormous edifices. He was a sadist who enjoyed his powers —

"for using them gave him what was his greatest pleasure: the imposition of his will on other people…. He didn’t just feel that he had to swing the meat axe. He loved to swing it."

Caro has moved on to writing the definitive biography of Lyndon Johnson, for which he is justly lauded. But sadly, his detailed reporting and rhythmic prose, his great acuity for understanding and describing the nuances of politics and power, seems to be going out of fashion. He has no contemporary rivals, and perhaps only a few imitators. It’s worth noting that he learned the reporter’s craft on 'Newsday,' the once-excellent Long Island daily, and not on the 'New York Times,' so often the handmaiden to Moses’s most grandiose projects — projects that aggravated traffic jams while they enhanced Moses’s political sway through toll-collection on bridges and tunnels and by the judicious awarding of insurance business.

A couple of years ago, I ran into Caro on Central Park West, where we both live, and we chatted about the hideous high-rise luxury apartment buildings sprouting up on West 57th Street, now visible from a great distance to the north. I asked him why the then mayor, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, got such easy treatment from the press, despite his terrible laxity on zoning and his excessive tolerance of the super rich. ‘I think everybody gets a pass nowadays,’ Caro said. I think he’s right.

"I was so angry at Robert Moses. He dispossessed five thousand people from one block -- elderly Jewish people -- to build the Cross-Bronx Expressway. When I interviewed these people, I’d ask them, ‘What is your life like now? ” And they’d say, ‘Lonely.’ And in my experience, that’s a word people don’t say unless it comes from deep inside. One evening I went to interview Moses and asked him if he thought these people were upset. He said, ‘No, there’s very little discomfort. It was a political thing that stirred up the animals there.’ I wanted to punch him in the teeth."

Mr. Moses in 1938 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Map on Monday: JAPAN

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Japan

by A. Joseph Lynch 

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

The island nation of Japan is composed of four main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Japan also stretches southward through the Ryukyu Islands. To Japan's north are the Kuril Islands - claimed by both Japan and Russia. Japan's physical geography generally orients it towards the Korean peninsula and Russia to the west and north (which taken together forms a perimeter around the Sea of Japan), and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south. Honshu, where the capital of Tokyo is located, is slightly larger than Great Britain, the second most populated island on the planet after Java, and the seventh largest island in the world. About 60% of Japan's population lives on Honshu. Japan has very few natural resources and with its forested and mountainous terrain, only 12% of Japan is suitable for agriculture. Japan is the world's largest importer of coal and natural gas and the second largest importer of oil.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion  

At 871 people per square mile, Japan is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, ranked fourth behind Bangladesh (2,840), India (999), and the Philippines (873) among nations with populations above 100 million.  At the other end of the spectrum are the United States (84.5), Brazil (62), and Russia (22). In addition to its issues of population density, however, Japan faces another demographic problem: an aging population. Over one quarter of Japan's population is over the age of 65 and sales of adult diapers in Japan are eclipsing those of infants. Language in Japan is split between Japanese language spoken on the main islands and the Ryukyuan languages of the Ryukyu Islands, the latter becoming endangered due to the spread of mainland Japanese throughout the islands. Kanbun - or classical Chinese - also played an important linguistic role in Japan. Akin to Latin in Europe, many classical, intellectual, and official works of Japan were written in Kanbun and the language remains a mandatory subject in Japanese secondary schools. Religion in Japan is dominated by folk Shintoism (52% of the population) and Buddhism (35% of the population). The non-religious population comprises 7% of the population while Christianity stands at less than 3% (compare this to nearby South Korea where the nation is almost 30% Christian and rising).

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Japan's geographic orientation towards the Korean peninsula and Russia brings Japan into potentially confrontational contact with its peninsular and continental neighbors. While much media attention is given to North Korea, the dispute of the Kuril Islands has kept Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty since the end of World War II. A 2012 poll of Japanese revealed that, with a 72% unfavorable view of Russia, Japan was the most Russophobic nation surveyed at the time. Japan's past history with South Korea and China, particularly during the days of Imperial Japan, leave her in poor standing with both today. The rise of China, however, has led South Korea and Japan to move more closely towards military pacts (both have security agreements with the United States). Where the Japanese islands - numbering 6,852 in total - face China are in Kyushu and the Ryukyu islands (of which Okinawa forms the southernmost bastion). These islands play a key defensive role in containing any potential Chinese military aggression while also denying Chinese fleets entry into the Pacific. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to bolster Japan's armed forces, a defensive strategy such as this is one of his options. Japan also play an important role in the geopolitics of the South China Sea.

Stratfor on Japan's Geographic Challenges

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 Japan.

For more information on Japan, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook along with our Friday Book review on Japan - the first great modern Asian nation.  

This post originally appeared on Anthropology of Accord on March 2, 2015.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

August 22 -- QUEENSHIP OF MARY: Ruling from the Inside

(first published August 22, 2014)

by David Pence

Keeping sacred time with the Church means that the central events are always prepared for by a season -- Lent for Easter and Advent for Christmas. It also means that solemn feast days are never allowed to come and go with one rising and setting of the Sun. The great solemnities are celebrated as Octaves. Eight days has an ancient meaning as a unit of time signifying a new creation. So eight days after we celebrated the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven... we are still contemplating her place in her new home as we celebrate her Queenship. A man who desires to love God our Father as a son and build brotherhood in the priesthood, city, and nation can never spend too much time contemplating the perfection of the feminine in Our Lady. These sacral sexual roles depend on each other and are clarified by contrast, complement, and communal context.

Our Lady lived the Trinitarian roles of the woman. She is the daughter of the Father, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and the Mother of Jesus. She humbly obeyed her Father. For all His life, she kept hold of her Son wrapped in swaddling at Bethlehem and draped in burial clothes at Gethsemane. Her perfect virginity established a perpetual barrier to the evil of sin while making her permeable to her Spouse: the Holy Spirit. She was “guarded by the angels, prefigured by the patriarchs, and promised by the prophets.”

Feminism is the reigning atheist ideology of our day set against the person of Our Lady as surely as the Dragon was set against her in Revelation. Wherever the confusing mist of feminism infiltrates the mind, statues of our Lady are put in the closet. Wherever feminist language is spoken, her songs are left unsung. Wherever she is photo-shopped into a picture of the Last Supper, the picture of her suffering heart is pulled from the wall as too gruesome. The "feminist implant" of atheist thinking has replaced the armed atheism of Marxism. This is a more devastating lie. Seven demons have filled the house that was swept clear of one. Wherever feminism reigns, Our Lady is dethroned.
It is hard for gentlemen to oppose even counterfeit femininity. But we must reject this anti-Marian heresy for the sake of women around the world. The white feminists of the West squandered the moral capital of the Christian interracial movement by twisting the just claims to be colorblind with the less virtuous desire to be sexually confused. The face-to-face sisterhood of Mary visiting Elizabeth was always too small a love for them. So they conjure the delusion that the coalition of selfish white female careerists in university, church, and government jobs is a worldwide sisterhood rivaling the masculine protective fraternity of priesthood and nations. Those who kill patriarchy multiply the widows and orphans, and at some point the dark skin of those victims will scream for justice against this racist trickery. Mary did not seek to be an apostle. She is a Queen. As Pope Francis said about women cardinals: “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued, not ‘clericalised.’ Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

It is an ancient tradition that after Christ’s death, the apostles hid Mary. The Roman soldiers and Jewish high priests could never lay a hand on her. Had they tried, the sword of Peter would not have stayed sheathed. Twenty centuries later the Church with her feast days, prayers, and contemplations tells the whole world who our Lady is and where she is. She is safe now, so the Apostolic Church can publicly proclaim what John and the apostles once held in secret, and the Catholic faithful affirmed in the glorious mysteries of the rosary. The Dragon and the violent world held too much ground for the apostles to speak too loudly and too clearly of her too soon. For it is always an imprudent risk to reveal a feminine beauty in an evil world if one cannot protect her from attack. But, now, let us rejoice and be glad.

Look up on this feast day and see the blue sky with white clouds in the daytime Sun. Those are reflections of the Queen’s garments in Heaven. The Virgin Mother is safe up there in the midst of the Trinity, so the Church can now illuminate the world by explaining the nature of her rule. She is queen of the interior life. She rules in the vast expanse of the inner chambers opened by prayer and contemplation. The feminine rules from the inside. There is amidst the Trinity of masculine persons a feminine interior -- a whole, a beauty that is never spoken but is integral to God. That timeless feminine reality precedes Mary who is a creature.  Mary is not the  fourth person of the Trinity nor is she the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. She is queen because she humbled herself before the Father. The whole world is at her feet because she opened a virgin’s heart to the wind of the Holy Spirit. In conforming herself to the will of the Father, she exercised the interior freedom of a soul in love. When men follow our mother in such acts of interior surrender we shall regain our stature as lords of creation. Only then will we fulfill the original mission of our species: to rule the Earth in his Name.


UPDATE: See our post on the Assumption of Mary.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday BookReview: Stalingrad


The Battle of Stalingrad began on the 23rd of August 1942, and lasted roughly five months. It may well be the bloodiest struggle in all of recorded history.


Here are excerpts from a review that appeared in the Cleveland newspaper:

Yorktown and Gettysburg rank highest among American martial epics of valor and victory. Most Brits would probably choose the World War II aerial Battle of Britain as their "finest hour." To the French, Verdun – with its defiant cry, "they shall not pass" – represents a national Calvary of agony and endurance in World War I.

For the Russian people, even more deeply engraved on the national psyche, it's Stalingrad, "the most ferocious and lethal battle in human history." This titanic five-month encounter, with roughly a million casualties – dead, wounded, captured or missing – on each side, culminated in a shattering defeat of the Nazi invaders by the Soviets.

Military historians universally recognize it as the turning point of the Second World War, or, as it's known in Russia, the Great Patriotic War.

In Stalingrad: The City That Defeated the Third Reich, Jochen Hellbeck assembles what amounts to an ... all-encompassing chronicle, of this pivotal contest. The book, previously published to great acclaim in Germany, centers around a remarkable collection of oral histories gathered by Soviet researchers during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the battle in 1942-43.

This documentary trove languished in the basement of a Moscow archive until Hellbeck, a German-born historian who teaches at Rutgers University, came upon it in 2008.

Comprising 215 eyewitness accounts – thousands of typescript pages – from participants ranging from generals to privates, as well as civilians, these interviews paint, writes Hellbeck, a "multifaceted picture" of incredible bravery and fortitude. Due, however, to their "candor and complexity," they were censored during the war.


Afterward, the scholar who compiled them fell into political disfavor, and his project was buried and forgotten for more than six decades.

Hellbeck's signal achievement lies in how he deploys and supplements his sources. He begins with an overview of the battle, placing it in the context of both the war and Soviet society. He reminds us that the U.S.S.R. did more than any country to defeat the Nazis and paid a much higher price.

The Red Army inflicted about 75 percent of all the casualties suffered by the Wehrmacht. Roughly 27 million Soviet citizens died – around 15 percent of Russia's prewar population. In contrast, American World War II deaths number just over 400,000...

[W]e get multiple angles of vision on events such as the capture of the overall German commander at Stalingrad or a costly, failed assault on a Nazi-held position. Hellbeck aptly likens the effect to "a chorus of soldierly and civilian voices."

The book also contains gripping, stand-alone accounts. Nurse Vera Gurova was among the nearly 1 million women who served in the Red Army. She and her sisters elicited this from her commander: "They can't do what a man can do physically, but they outdo men in terms of courage."

Sniper Vasily Zaytsev killed 242 Germans and was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Explaining his remorseless hatred for the enemy, he commented to his interviewer: "You see girls hanging from the trees. Does that get to you?"
Barmaley Fountain in Stalingrad
Rounding out Stalingrad are many photos, transcripts of German prisoner interrogations, excerpts from the diary of a dead German soldier and a brief coda that describes the battle's aftermath and the unhappy fate of the band of researchers who tried to capture the Stalingrad experience in full.

Besides illuminating the human side of this colossal battle, Hellbeck also revises the common Western image of the Red Army as a horde driven forward "by pistol-waving political officers."

To be sure, savage penalties were meted out to perceived shirkers. One general casually remarked that he personally "shot the commander and commissar of one regiment, and a short while later" executed "two brigade commanders" for their failings.

Nevertheless, Hellbeck's findings compellingly suggest that it wasn't just, or even mostly, coercion that motivated Soviet troops. Rather, it was a combination of effective "political conditioning" and genuine patriotism that inspired them.

Hellbeck concludes with a visit to the giant memorial in Volgograd, the name that replaced Stalingrad in 1961 as part of that era's de-Stalinization. Words penned about the battle and its heroes by the renowned Soviet novelist Vasily Grossman are engraved on an exterior wall: "An iron wind struck them in the face, yet they kept moving forward. . . . Are these mortals?"

Inscribed inside the monument is this response: "Yes, we were mortal and few of us survived, but we all discharged our patriotic duty to our sacred Motherland."

A comment that appeared in another review:
"It is important to keep Soviet history in mind when thinking about morale at Stalingrad. During the Russian Civil War, Joseph Stalin led communist forces in defending the city of Tsaritsyn against the White Army. The city was renamed Stalingrad in 1925 to recognize this achievement. Soviet soldiers who fought at Stalingrad did not see Stalin as a ruthless dictator responsible for the deaths of millions; most, according to Hellbeck, were proud to be fighting in the same city that he had defended."

UPDATE: While all this was going on, life in Leningrad was also hell as residents were enduring an almost 900-day siege. It was lifted in late January of 1944.

Some of the experiences of a teenage girl who survived.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Map on Monday: NIGERIA

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Nigeria

by A. Joseph Lynch

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Nigeria is located in western Africa with its Atlantic coast oriented south just four degrees north of the Equator. At roughly 356,000 square miles in size, Nigeria is about twice the size of California. Nigeria's two largest rivers, the Niger and the Benue, converge at the Niger Delta and flow together into the Atlantic Ocean from the north. This southern part of Nigeria is also home to a tropical rainforest climate. In the north, however, Nigeria borers the dry Sahel, a semi-arid region that runs along the Sahara's south. Rugged highlands in Nigeria's east form a geographic border between Nigeria and Cameroon. In the far northeast is Lake Chad (which is also bordered by three other nations: Chad, Cameroon, and Niger). Nigeria is a resource-rich nation with deposits of tin, iron ore, coal, bauxite, gold, tantalite, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc, and natural gas. Almost 80% of Nigeria's land is arable. Despite this, Nigeria's agriculture has been overlooked by government development in favor of another vital natural resource: oil. Nigeria is the world's 12th largest producer of oil and is ranked 10th in overall proven reserves.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. At nearly 174 million people, it accounts for about one-sixth of the continent's population and one-fifth of Africa's sub-Saharan population. Nigeria's focus on oil production over agriculture has lead to food shortages as much of its arable land is either unused or poorly farmed without modern equipment. Although Nigeria is divided among 250 ethnic groups, the largest three comprise some 68% of the population. The largest ethnic group is the Islamic Hausa-Fulani in the north at 29%, followed by the Yoruba (21%) and the Igbo (18%). Despite the fact that over 500 languages are spoken in Nigeria, the British left behind their unifying national language after leaving Nigeria in 1960. Christianity and Islam comprise the two largest religious groups in Nigeria with a religious civilizational fault line dividing the Islamic north and the Christian south. Although Islam has had a long presence in Nigeria, Christianity is now only slightly behind Islam demographically in Nigeria.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Nigeria is bordered by Christian-majority Benin to the west, Islamic Niger to the north, Islamic-majority Chad to the northeast, and Christian Cameroon to the east, with access to the Atlantic in the south. Despite the large size of Lagos (9 million) on the coast, Nigeria made Abuja its capital both due to its central location and also to the area's perceived neutrality between Nigeria's various communal loyalties. Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has placed much emphasis on the African subcontinent, opposing apartheid in South Africa, sending military into the Congo, and promoting self-government among former European colonies. It's military (200,000 men) has been involved in peace-keeping efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. Nigeria remains non-aligned yet formed strong ties to Israel in the 1960s. Radical Islam is perhaps Nigeria's gravest military threat. The terrorist group Boko Haram operates in Nigeria's northeast, but is also found within Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, making its defeat difficult for any one nation. Boko Haram has killed some 17,000 since 2009 and is perhaps known most for its kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014.

Stratfor on Nigeria's Geographic Challenges

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 Nigeria.

For more information on Nigeria, visit its page on the CIA World Fact Book along with our post from 2011. The April 2015 election of Muslim Muhammend Buhari was a set back for Boko Haram - here were our thoughts at the time.