Author archives: Robert Morrison

Though Devils all the World Should Fill

by Robert Morrison

October 31, 2014

For the world, which is to say, for Google, today is a day about witches and ghosts, and not much more. Witchy Wanda is stirring her kettle on today’s webpage. That’s the way the world sees things.

With the headlines this fall, though, the world does seem to be full of devils. ISIS, Ebola, Russian submarines lurking menacingly under Swedish home waters. Obamacare forcing us all to pay for the slaughter of innocents. It’s all enough to give one a real scare.

I recall the story of a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther in the early Sixteenth Century. He was being urged not to go to that high-level conference chaired by the Emperor. All the leading Electors, princes, and nobility of Germany and the higher clergy would be in attendance. It was called the Diet of Worms.

(When they used to teach world history, we kids in ninth grade got quite a chuckle out of that “Diet of Worms.” I recall one of my classmates saying it would at least be better than what we get in the school cafeteria!)

Young Luther was being summoned before the Holy Roman Emperor to recant his writings. They had been found heretical by church authorities. Luther was warned by his friends not to go to the City of Worms.

They won’t keep their word. They won’t give you protection. Now that they’ve branded your writings heretical, they’ll excommunicate you. Then they’ll hand you over to the temporal rulers and you will be burned at the stake—just as Jan Hus was burned at the stake in Bohemia. That was in 1415.

But Martin Luther would not be deterred. He told his friends he was going to appear before the Emperor Charles V and all the assembled movers and shakers in Germany.

I would go if there were a devil on every roof tile,” the young scholar said.

We don’t often associate scholars with such courage. To be sure, today there are all too many scholars unwilling to take risks. But that bold stand of a Bible teacher inspired me thirty years ago. And it inspires me now. Luther had a Doctorate in Theology when such academic degrees were rarer than Nobel Peace Prizes are today (and more justly awarded, too.)

We continue to debate and wrestle over the doctrines of the Reformation that began this day in 1517. Dr. Timothy George has summarized some of the best thinking on this day in his First Things column here.

Today, I especially want to pay tribute to young Dr. Luther’s courage. And in the spirit of ecumenism, let me also salute my good friend, Hadley Arkes. Hadley is a great academic who has never hesitated to speak out on the most controversial topics of the day, on human life, on same-sex rituals, on the real meaning of our Constitution.

But when he was asked by a Catholic priest why he had not converted to Catholicism yet, Hadley did not respond with a learned citation from the early Church Fathers, or from Wise Rabbis of old. Instead, Hadley quoted the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz.

 

C-c-c-courage!

It’s what puts the Ape in Apricot

It’s what I haven’t got.

Obviously, Hadley did summon the courage to follow his conscience and enter into communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

It may seem odd to describe the conversion of a Jew to Catholicism in the same column with today’s observance of the Reformation. But in both instances, what was required was the courage of conviction.

Another friend has been bidding me to join him in his Catholic faith. I am happy to attend Mass with this friend when we meet. But the last time we went to his church together, the hymn we sang on this day was Luther’s own most famous song: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

And this powerful verse from that five hundred year-old Reformation hymn is a fitting one for today:

Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us.

We tremble not, we fear no ill,

They shall not overpower us.

This world’s prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none,

He’s judged; the deed is done;

One little word can fell him.

Fifty Years After

by Robert Morrison

October 27, 2014

Every poll confirmed that the Republican nominee for President in 1964 was headed for a major defeat. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had pulled off an amazing victory to gain the GOP nomination in San Francisco. He had soundly defeated such Eastern Establishment figures as Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R-N.Y.) and Gov. William Scranton (R-Penn.) Goldwater’s campaign for the nomination is seen today as the beginning of the modern conservative movement in politics.

The liberal media was determined to destroy Sen. Goldwater. They depicted him as the “mad bomber.” Their editorial pages ran hostile cartoons. One typical one showed him as a crazed trainman on a San Francisco cable car. “Streetcar Named Disaster” was the caption for that political cartoon, a reference to the play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Despite all this, and fully aware that he was about to make his national political debut backing a losing cause, actor and TV personality, and former union president Ronald Reagan went on national television to deliver a 29-minute speech titled: “A Time for Choosing.”

It’s worth watching this speech in its entirety. We see her a younger, edgier Ronald Reagan than we may be used to. He is angry but his righteous indignation is kept under tight control. He clearly believes that his friend, Barry Goldwater, has been savaged by the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign and by their willing accomplices in the press.

Reagan hammers home point after point, but he takes care to use stories to convey his message. My favorite line is about the Cuban exile who tells of his brutal mistreatment under Communist dictator Fidel Castro. When his American businessmen listeners remark how lucky they are to live under freedom, the Cuban says how lucky he is. “I had some place to escape to!” Reagan makes the point: If we lose freedom in America, there will be no place to escape to.”

I was too young to vote in 1964 and I missed this famous speech. In those days, you couldn’t DVR or TiVo TV broadcasts. But I certainly heard about Reagan’s amazing speech. It raised millions of dollars for the doomed Republican campaign. It was perhaps the only bright spot that fall for the outgunned GOP.

President Johnson carried forty-four states that fall and swept thousands of liberal Democrats into office on his coattails. Towns in Vermont and Kansas that had never elected a Democrat to any office at any level went with the Democrats that Election Day.

But within two years, the wheels were coming off the LBJ bandwagon. Within his own party, opponents to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam began to be heard. Inflation took off, leaving millions of Americans—especially retirees on fixed incomes and service members still enduring the military draft—falling further and further behind. By the time of the 1966 mid-term elections, scores of those Johnson had swept into Congress were swept out by voters.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California. He defeated liberal Democrat Pat Brown (father of the current Gov. Jerry Brown) by more than one million votes. Reagan served two highly successful terms as California’s governor.

His election as President in 1980 was still considered something of a long shot, largely because the liberal media continued to view him as “extreme” and “dangerous.” Reagan, however, never reacted angrily. He learned to keep his temper in check and use his well-developed sense of humor to puncture liberal shibboleths.

Still, it’s well worth remembering that it all began for Ronald Reagan this day in 1964, half a century ago. Reagan was what they call a conviction politician. Or, in more recent computer jargon, WYSIWYG—What you see is what you get.

Here’s an example: I attended a staff conference in the federal education department in 1985. Mrs. Patricia Hines had convened the meeting of Reagan appointees to decide on a policy to pursue about education. Of five options offered us by the career civil service employees, Mrs. Hines opened the meeting by saying: “Options number three and number five are off the table, but let’s look at one, two and four.”

Innocently, I asked why she had ruled out those two choices. As if she was gently chiding a slow student, Mrs. Hines said: “Numbers three and five are specifically condemned in the Republican Platform on which President Reagan was elected. This president may not be able to do all the things the Republican Platform recommends, but he will never do something the platform condemns. That’s basic to government by consent of the governed.”

I was embarrassed that I had not studied the Platform, but I was thrilled to be so corrected. Ronald Reagan believed that the people who nominated him and elected him had done so because they believed in him and trusted him to do what he said he would do. He would not break faith with them.

For thirty years—from this day in 1964 until that day in 1994 when  he wrote his dignified and moving letter telling us he had Alzheimer’s Disease, Ronald Reagan was the acknowledged leader of American conservatism.

I especially like the fact that he quoted Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in his 1964 speech:

The nation that prefers disgrace to danger is ready for a master—and deserves one.”

This quote reminds us that Reagan quoted the timeless wisdom of the Founding Fathers more than any of the four presidents who preceded him (and more, too, than any of the four presidents who have succeeded him.)

America’s leaders have disgraced us all too often in the tumultuous years since President Reagan left us. Strong majorities today tell public opinion pollsters our country is on “the wrong track.” There is deep cynicism about political leadership.

Studying Reagan’s career is not an exercise in nostalgia. It is a necessary task if we would seek to place our beloved country on a better course.

Attacking Canada’s Parliament: “This Changes Everything”

by Robert Morrison

October 23, 2014

John McKay is a Member of Parliament in Canada. Of yesterday’s attack by a recent Muslim convert on the House of Commons, Mr. McKay said “This changes everything.” Just before he entered the Parliament building, the killer had murdered a Canadian Forces soldier at the Ottawa war memorial.

Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, is being hailed as a hero. On a normal day, Vickers’ largely ceremonial role would pass outside the view of Canada and the world. On special occasions, Vickers, a 28-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), could be seen bearing the great mace, a symbol of the authority of the people’s elected representatives in North America’s second oldest democracy.

That war memorial is a tribute to Canada’s outstanding contribution to the Allies’strength in the First World War. Just one hundred years ago—while President Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to remain “neutral in thought as well as deed— Canadian soldiers rushed into action Over There. They helped to stave off the brutal German invasion of France. Canada had rallied to the Allied cause within just days of Britain’s declaration of war against Kaiser Germany in August 1914.

When at last President Wilson led America into World War I, he said our effort was “to make the world safe for democracy.” One hundred years later, Sergeant-at-Arms Vickers risked his life to make Canada safe for democracy—Canada and the United States.

What these Islamist killers are seeking is nothing less than an end to freedom in the world. They must be resisted—wherever and whenever necessary. The symbolism of a Sergeant-at-Arms actually using his weapon to take down a determined murderer should not be lost in the media buzz. Freedom must be defended not with words alone, but with deadly force.

That a determined killer could get into the halls of Parliament should force Canadians to consider how better to secure the seat of government. Congress was attacked in July, 1998, by a crazed gunman who shot and killed two Capitol policemen. That attack and the subsequent 9/11 terrorist attacks led to the building of a vast Capitol Visitors Center complex to restrict access to Congress.

But we need to remember that security barriers and guards alone cannot make us safe. There is probably no more heavily guarded place in America than the White House, and yet an intruder got inside the Executive Mansion several weeks ago when someone failed to lock the front door!

This administration has had an appalling record on national security. President Obama told the world we have 5,113 nuclear weapons. Many of us with military experience were prepared to lay down our lives to keep hostile powers from getting that kind of sensitive information.

As former Sec. of Defense Robert Gates has written, Mr. Obama only seemed interested in the military when he could use it to advance his agenda of radical social experimentation. Sec. Gates cited our Commander-in-Chief’s “absence of passion” about the armed services except when he pressed the Pentagon to recruit gays and persons seeking sex changes.

That “absence of passion” was surely on display yesterday when President Obama coolly and dispassionately spoke of the attack on Canada’s Parliament. He repeated only his time-worn bromides in a world-weary way. His deadpan expression and monotone remarks suggested he didn’t want to do anything that might dampen the ardor of his pacifist base two weeks before a critical mid-term election.

Let us remember: He won the crucial opening chapter in the race for the Democratic nomination for President by appealing to Iowa’s Peace Caucus delegates. Afterward, in state after state, candidate Obama beat Sen. Hillary Clinton by outbidding her in pledges to weaken the U.S. military and to soften the image of the U.S. in the world.

Once elected, he promised to approach the Mullahs of Iran “with an open hand, not a clenched fist.” These Mullahs—whom our own State Department have labeled the Number One state sponsors of terrorism in the world—spurned President Obama’s outstretched hand.

But that hardly seemed to matter. He already had his Nobel Peace Prize.

Let us hope that John McKay, the Canadian Member of Parliament, was correct: This attack in Ottawa should change everything.

Public Confidence in CDC Drops

by Robert Morrison

October 22, 2014

Now public esteem for the long-respected Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has plummeted with the arrival of Ebola on American shores. A new CBS News poll found that only 37 percent of Americans thought the centers were doing a good job, down from 60 percent last year. In fact, of nine agencies tested, seven that were judged highly by a majority of Americans last year have now fallen below 50 percent.

I have had my own concerns for decades about CDC. When I was a young appointee in the federal education department under President Reagan, I was assigned to the mournful task of researching suicide among youth. Among other troubling things I learned was that, following the quiet repeal of laws against suicide by all the states, the suicide rate among young Americans tripled.

In the course of my research, I had a briefing book sent to me by CDC. It had the demographic tables for suicide among every group in America—from Ashkenazi Jews (very low) to Zuni Indians (tragically high).One statistic had me scratching my head. I called CDC in Atlanta to ask if numbers for the suicide rate among Black women could possibly be correct. They were near zero! “Well, yes, we’ve noticed that stat, too,” said the CDC staffer on the other end of the phone line, “We call it the BFPF—Black Female Protection Factor.” What is that, I asked. “They’re very religious,” came the reply.

CDC knows this, but they don’tadvertise this? I remembered the Public Service Announcement from TV from the 1950s—”The family that prays together stays together.”

Family Research Council’s respected MARRI—Marriage and Religion Research Institute—is now the best source to show (with incontrovertible evidence) the importance of marriage and faith in our families’ well-being.

Of course, the scales had already fallen from my eyes about CDC. I knew that they had employed Willard Cates there. In 1980, Cates was doing “abortion surveillance” for this federally-funded agency. He advised abortionists to charge fees based on the size of the foot of the unborn child whom they had killed. Even now, thirty-fouryearslater, that reality still send chills down my spine.

Article from The New York Times

Conservatives Should Resolutely Oppose Common Core — And so Should Liberals

by Robert Morrison

October 15, 2014

Conservatives and liberals should oppose federal usurpation of power that is known as Common Core State Standards.

The entire history of this education “reform” effort has been one of stealth and deception. In this Townhall column, FRC Senior Fellow Bob Morrison, an official of the federal education department under Ronald Reagan, argues for returning education policymaking to state lawmakers, locally elected school boards, and parents. That’s where the Founders and President Reagan thought decisions about education should be made. That’s where the Constitution placed education.

When a liberal Republican Congressman asked to meet President Reagan to discuss the “future of the education department,” the Gipper noted in the margin of his daily schedule: “I hope it doesn’t have one.” President Reagan’s note was written in his own handwriting, in cursive script. Common Core educrats want to dispense with teaching cursive writing — yet another reason to oppose it!

Analyzing Tony Kennedy: My only Power Lunch

by Robert Morrison

October 8, 2014

Tony Kennedy had just been confirmed to a life appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court in late 1987 when I got an invitation to lunch from a lawyer in a well-respected Washington firm. John Connolly was a man I had never met. Mr. Connolly, I was informed, was Pat Buchanan’s brother-in-law. The message my assistant gave me was that this estimable gentleman just wanted to thank me for my efforts on behalf of Judge Robert Bork.

Earlier that year, we had been through a brutal confirmation battle. The good and decent Bob Bork, an eminent constitutional scholar, had been savagely attacked in the mass media.

Liberal activists had left no stone unturned or uncast in their hunt for anything to stop Judge Bork from being confirmed as President Reagan’s third Supreme Court nominee. They had failed to derail Chief Justice Rehnquist, though they slimed him. They never laid a glove on the beloved Justice Antonin Scalia. Everyone loves “Nino,” it seems.

But they were primed for Bob Bork. No sooner had President Reagan announced his choice on July 1, 1987 then Ted Kennedy burst onto the Senate floor with a scurrilous and scandalous attack. Thus was born “Borking.”His video rental records were ransacked by liberal activists — those famous advocates of privacy rights. Civil liberties proponents looked the other way as a Democratic senator demanded Judge Bork describe his religious beliefs while he was under oath.

I had prayed for Judge Bork. He was one of America’s most distinguished (Yale) professors of law and a most highly regarded judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Because he had criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling in the infamous Roe v. Wade case of 1973, Kennedy charged the judge with being anti-woman.

This was the first appearance of the “war on women” theme that liberals have been pushing. Ted Kennedy was a famous respecter of women, as all those whom he had pawed and preyed upon surely knew. In those years when he was posing as a champion of women, Kennedy and one of his Senate boys had even pursued women under the tables at one of Washington’s more fashionable eateries. I think it was a place called Mon Oncle, or some such.

Judge Bork had had to endure Ted Kennedy’s calculated rudeness as the Massachusetts lawmaker refused to call him anything but “Mr. Bork.” Bullying and berating, Ted grilled the judge about his ruling in an interstate trucking case.

I was in the Senate hearing room as Ted Kennedy, of all people in America, bored in on the fine points of interstate highway driving. Jimmy Carter’s campaigners had made sure in 1980 that all Americans knew that it was Kennedy who had abandoned a young woman to die of asphyxiation after he drove his car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick back in 1969.

I had hoped the Judge would stand up at the witness table and ask his Grand Inquisitor if it could be true: “Are you really questioning my judgment in a traffic safety case, Mr. Kennedy?” But the Judge was ever the gentleman and, like Aslan the Lion, he let himself be led to slaughter by these scampering tormentors.

The reward for my work was to be this “Power Lunch” with an honest Washington lawyer. I seem to recall it was the Occidental, at the Willard Hotel. I do not remember what I ordered for what was to be my only Power Lunch in thirty years, but I remember what Mr. Connolly taught me then.

Since deceased, this practiced Washington power attorney expanded on the choice of Supreme Court justices and what we as pro-life conservatives should seek in a nominee.

He had the highest praise for the recently-cast down Judge Bork. But he had this warning:

Bob Bork is so intelligent and so honest that he might have found a better constitutional basis for abortion. Remember, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee — under oath — that he had no opinion on abortion as such, he had merely done what many liberal constitutional scholars had done: He critiqued the Supreme Court’s reasoning in this case.

I knew John Connolly was right about those liberals who had criticized the opinion that Harry Blackmun had managed to cobble together with smelly gluepot and used string, rather like Mr. Dick’s Kite in Dickens’ David Copperfield.

Blackmun’s opinion was dismissed by a number of serious students of the Constitution, starting with Yale Law School’s John Hart Ely.

Ely was a famous constitutional law professor (and personally pro-abortion). Ely had said [Roe is] “bad constitutional law, or rather … it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

Then, there was this liberal’s analysis of Blackmun’s opinion in Roe that showed why even the liberal clerks at the Supreme Court were calling the ruling “Harry’s abortion.”

Archibald Cox’s liberal credentials could hardly have been better. He was virtually a legal advisor to the Kennedys. He had earned martyrdom among liberals when, as Independent Prosecutor in the Watergate Affair, he had been fired by then-Solicitor General Robert H. Bork. But even this distinguished Harvard Law professor dismantled Blackmun’s shoddy legal reasoning and even worse history:

Blackmun’s opinion, Cox wrote;

“fails even to consider what I would suppose to be the most important compelling interest of the State in prohibiting abortion: the interest in maintaining that respect for the paramount sanctity of human life which has always been at the center of Western civilization, not merely by guarding life itself, however defined, but by safeguarding the penumbra, whether at the beginning, through some overwhelming disability of mind or body, or at death.”

Cox further argued, as National Review publisher Jack Fowler tells us: “The failure to confront the issue in principled terms leaves the opinion to read like a set of hospital rules and regulations, whose validity is good enough this week but will be destroyed with new statistics upon the medical risks of child-birth and abortion or new advances in providing for the separate existence of a fetus… . Neither historian, nor layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all the prescriptions of Justice Blackmun are part of the Constitution.”

All of this was part of my post-confirmation luncheon and tutorial with John Connolly.

But then he went on to reassure me that it might all be for the best. “Bob Bork is a racehorse. We don’t need a justice on the Supreme Court who is a thoroughbred. We need a mule. We need someone like Tony Kennedy who will patiently pace along for twenty, thirty years. Just a mule who will pull the barge along the canal day in and day out. The U.S. Supreme Court is a dangerous place for someone like Bob Bork who views it as ‘an intellectual feast.’  Better an unimaginative plodder like Tony Kennedy. Better a mule than a racehorse.”

I learned a great deal in my Power Lunch with that good man, John Connolly. I wish he were still here. I would have pointed out to him the record of nearly thirty years of our “mule” on the Supreme Court.

The problem is this: When the mules get to the U.S. Supreme Court, they start thinking they are all racehorses. 

PBS’s “The Roosevelts”: Some Myths, Yes, But Some Welcome Surprises

by Robert Morrison

September 25, 2014

Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation punctures some of Ken Burns’s myth-making in the latest PBS series, “The Roosevelts.” As this distinguished economist points out, unemployment throughout the decade of the 1930s averaged an eye-popping 15%. Even as late as 1941, as the country ramped up its defense spending and millions went to work in war industries, the unemployment rate was still 12%. On top of all this, the federal government vastly expanded its reach with a dizzying array of “alphabet soup” agencies — FCC, FDIC, FTC, WPA, PWA, PDQ (oops, that last one is a joke, folks).

Still, this 14-hour infomercial for Big Government Liberalism that bores Steve Moore to tears, I found fascinating. The folks at the government-funded PBS and the National Endowment for the Humanities were hardly going to do a documentary that trashed three of liberalism’s greatest heroes — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

When we look at this series, however, we note that what the Ken Burns team does not celebrate is “lifestyle liberalism.”

Theodore Roosevelt bids fair to be considered the first “pro-family” president. He fretted about birth rates and divorce rates. He pored over the Census reports. He was sincerely concerned about family life. One of my favorite TR stories has him traveling by train to the West Coast. He stops at every whistle stop. He addresses the farmers who have brought their wives and children to see this “steam locomotive in britches.” He praises their bumper crops of wheat, corn, and soybeans, but most of all, he tells them, it is good to see a bumper crop of bright and healthy children.

Theodore and Edith’s large and bumptious family made the White House a never-ending source of amusement for Americans. When TR’s daughter by his first marriage, Alice, dropped out of school, took up smoking, and began to run with a fast crowd at Newport, the president threw up his hands. “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

The country chuckled over that typical example of Rooseveltian humor. But behind that jibe was this troubling question: “Mr. President — Whoever said you got to run the country?”

Theodore and his second wife, Edith, were a powerful example of marital fidelity, love, and mutual support. When Theodore, as an ex-president, was shot by a deranged would-be assassin, in the midst of his 1912 “Bull Moose” campaign, it was Edith’s prompt arrival at his Milwaukee hospital room that put everything in order. She fended off overeager well-wishers and importunate politicos. TR survived another decade.

Ken Burns is candid about the pain cause by Franklin Roosevelt’s infidelity to Eleanor.

He might have delved more deeply into this topic had he noted that Eleanor’s closing her bedroom door to her husband, after giving birth to six children, might have had something to do with Franklin’s straying. It’s not an excuse, but it is explanatory.

Closer to the truth may be the fact that Franklin needed, we might even say, craved gentle feminine companionship. Breakfast with Eleanor too often became a Morning Briefing as she gave him his “to do” lists for social uplift projects she found compelling.

Perhaps the best part of this series is the part I least expected: FDR’s religion is front-and-center. When President Roosevelt in August 1941 escaped the prying eyes of the White House correspondents, he was spirited away to a shipboard summit conference with Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The voyage aboard USS Augusta plowed through the stormy North Atlantic, a seaway infested with menacing German U-Boats.

Roosevelt’s son Elliot goes to meet Churchill in his stateroom on board the battle-scarred warship, HMS Prince of Wales. The son is eager to meet the man who had thrilled the world with his defiant speeches as London braved the “Nozzie” Blitz. “My father says you are the greatest man in the world,” Elliott tells the half-American Churchill. And he adds: “My father is a very religious man.”

Churchill already knows this. British intelligence has briefed the Prime Minister on FDR’s favorite hymns. It is these hymns that Churchill includes in the worship service he has carefully arranged. It is hard to imagine a summit of leaders that would include a Christian worship service today. But FDR is clearly most moved by the sight and sound of 6,000 American and British sailors singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” under the 15-inch guns of Britain’s greatest battleship.

Justice Felix Frankfurter, an FDR appointee to the Supreme Court, was Jewish and a leader of the American Zionist cause. He would tell President Roosevelt that the worship service on board the British battleship was the most thrilling moment for him.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham adds this vital detail to the Ken Burns documentary: Following that on-deck worship service, the president tells his son: “We are Christian soldiers.” That liberalism’s greatest champion thought and spoke in such terms is amazing.

A few months later, Japan would attack the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor and America would be in the war alongside Churchill’s Britain and that troublesome partner, Josef Stalin’s USSR. Despite enormous pressures to avenge the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt maintained a tight control over U.S. war policy. He correctly directed the bulk of our war effort against Hitler Germany. Fully 85% of all allied war-making went to bringing down this greater menace.

U.S. troops went into battle equipped with the best armament and materièl this powerful nation could provide. Not neglected were their spiritual needs. FDR’s inscription in each pocket New Testament with the Psalms gave his endorsement to Bible-reading and inspiration.

I’m grateful as well for Jon Meacham telling us about FDR’s D-Day Prayer. Not only did the President of the United States lead the nation in prayer, in a White House broadcast that stressed the effort to “preserve our religion” among its liberating goals, Meacham says that the more than one hundred million Americans who heard that broadcast may have constituted the largest prayer meeting in our nation’s history.

Finally, there’s this revealing film clip. FDR’s death at Warm Springs, Georgia, on the eve of victory in World War II brings the untried Harry Truman to the White House on April 12, 1945. Commentators then and since have said: Roosevelt was for the people; Truman was the people. Harry is shown taking the presidential oath. As did George Washington and Abraham Lincoln before him, Harry Truman bends down and kisses the Bible.

Thank you, Ken Burns, for that, too!

Feeling our History

by Robert Morrison

September 12, 2014

Hurry, we’re late,” my wife called back to me. She was headed to the Midshipmen Store at the U.S. Naval Academy. A sale was on for Navy fan gear and we wanted to be well attired for the annual Army-Navy football game. I had the honor of accompanying my wife, then a Navy Captain and a commanding officer of the Academy’s health clinic.

Go on, I’ll catch up,” I called out, relishing the opportunity to stage my own little mutiny. I had seen a large cannon in front of MacDonough Hall just a few yards from the Mid Store. I was fascinated by the ding, the pronounced concavity in the mouth of that cannon. The plaque below told the story. I’m a slow reader of historical plaques.

As I ran my hand over that ding, I read how Lieutenant Thomas MacDonough had fired the cannon ball from his ship that had hit this naval gun and caused that depression in the mouth of this captured British cannon. Even more dramatic, Lt. MacDonough’s well-aimed shot had driven this very gun back on its carriage and had killed Commander George Downie, the British skipper of the HMS Confiance. That was a turning point in the Battle of Lake Champlain.

The Battle of Lake Champlain was fought two hundred years ago, on September 11, 2014. In our time, September 11th will be remembered, as it should be, for the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93, brought down by heroic American passengers over Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

But the War of 1812 had its share of terror tactics, too. A Canadian writer, the late Pierre Berton, related the story of what happened when the American militiamen outside what was to become Chicago surrendered to Indian allies of the British. Six hundred Pottawatomie Indians, led by Black Bird, their chief, had pledged to let the captured soldiers and their families go free for a ransom of $100 each. Black Bird will not keep his promise.

At the wagon train, the soldiers’ wives, armed with their husbands’ swords, fight as fiercely as the men. Two are hacked to pieces, a Mrs. Corbin, wife of a private, had vowed never to be taken prisoner and…Cicely [a black woman, an enslaved person]who is cut down with her infant son. Within the wagons, where the [soldiers’] younger children are huddled, there is greater horror. One young Indian slips in and slaughters twelve single-handed, slicing their heads from their bodies in a fury of bloodlust.

[Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada: 1812-13, Penguin Books Canada, Ltd. Toronto: 1980, p. 254.]

Ransom? Beheadings? Woman and children slaughtered? Sounds like this morning’s headlines on ISIS. This was hardly an isolated incident. Such massacres on both sides were part of our country’s early history.

Knowing about such events in our past helps us cope with terrorism today. It’s not the first time we have faced such determined and bloodthirsty enemies. It won’t be the last.

What we need is to have a feel for our history. I have run my hand over that ding in the cannon’s mouth. I felt it. At the Lincoln Cottage in Northeast Washington, D.C., you can run your hand along the railing of the stairs that lead up to the room where President Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. Across the river at nearby Mount Vernon, you can mount the same stairs that George Washington descended when he learned that he had been elected the first President of the United States.

Through such experiences, we place ourselves in communion with all those Americans past and present who have taken the oath to defend the land we love. My wife and I have many times attended the Induction Day ceremonies at the Naval Academy. That’s the day when approximately 1,200 new “Plebes” arrive to begin their four-year period of instruction in military and academic subjects. On I-Day, the Plebes receive their immunizations; get extensive physical examinations, and haircuts. They are dressed in baggy uniforms called “whiteworks.” All their over-the-counter and prescription drugs are dumped in big piles. From now on, the Navy is responsible for their health and safety.

At day’s end, the Plebes and their parents gather in Tecumseh Court. “T-Court” is named for an enemy Indian chieftain we honor today for the fact he saved American prisoners from being tomahawked and scalped during the War of 1812.

Suddenly, over the massive columns of Bancroft Hall, four Navy jets thunder overhead, so low you can read the numbers on their fuselages. You can feel the roar in the pit of your stomach. It’s sound of freedom, they say.

And the Plebes raise their right hands and recite the Oath of Office. Many of their parents and many of us assembled as a cloud of witnesses will be in tears as these vibrant young people pledge their lives to protect and defend our Constitution.

They end their recitation of the Oath with the same words spoken by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and by every other commander-in-chief:

So Help Me God

You can run your hands over these words. They are engraved on a plaque affixed to the bulkhead (wall) in Bancroft Hall. You can feel your country’s history.

Wahoo, Terps!

by Robert Morrison

September 10, 2014

I just got back from an annual trek to Charlottesville to visit my dear old alma mater, University of Virginia, when O Say Can You See? It’s not the U.Va. football team, the “Wahoos,” who are the center of attention this weekend; it’s the University of Maryland’s Terps. Fear the Turtle!

I have to take my Cavalier hat off and cheer for Maryland for this wonderful way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of  “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” (Yes, they still spelled it the British way back then.) Francis Scott Key’s great poem was written to commemorate America’s victory in a “key” battle of the War of 1812. Key’s poem became better known as “The Star Spangled Banner” and in time, it became our national anthem.

Two hundred years ago this Saturday, September 13, 1814, the British had just come north from burning Washington, D.C. Admiral George Cockburn and Gen. Robert Ross had put the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress to the torch. They were acting in reprisal for the American burning of Canada’s provincial capital of York earlier in the war.

British Gen. Robert Ross was especially zealous in his desire to crush the Yankees. Baltimore was then thought to be the real target of the invaders because it was a major port. The nation’s capital was still a small town. After demanding breakfast from an American farmer, the general was asked where he and his army were headed. “I will have supper in Baltimore, or in hell,” he said defiantly.  Shortly afterward, the General was shot and killed by an American militaman. File under: Pride goeth.

I especially like the fact that the Terrapins’ uniforms will feature an outline of Fort McHenry on the helmets and words from The Star-Spangled Banner on their helmets, jerseys, and pants. Wow!

I cannot help pointing out that you would learn more of your country’s history, more of patriotism, and more about the meaning of this Home of the Brave and Land of the Free by going to a Maryland football game than by taking an Advanced Placement U.S. History Course (APUSH). The producers of that mess of pottage seem to think that they are really serious scholars if they are able to tear down this country and the people who pay their salaries.

We are shocked at the idea of several hundred Unamericans said to be fighting for ISIS or other jihadists abroad. One of those, Douglas McAuthur McCain joins other misguided young men serving their country’s enemies.

Who were this young man’s high school teachers? What did they teach him? When and where do young people learn what it means to be an American?

Are they taught to read the U.S. Constitution?

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

Art. III, Sec. 3.

The Framers of our Constitution set a high standard of proof for treason. We have not had to prosecute many Americans in the past two hundred years for treason. But that does not mean it doesn’t occur. Fighting for ISIS is a pretty obvious case of treason.

Douglas McCain won’t have to worry about Eric Holder reading him his Miranda rights or having a pro bono lawyer take up his case. Young McCain was killed on the battlefield.

One of the lines on the uniform pants of the Terps says “Conquer we Must.” Well, I hope they win. The line is solely about football games, we will be assured.

But Francis Scott Key’s words were not about sport:

Then conquer we must

When our cause it is just

And this be our motto

In God is our Trust

With Bibles being banned at Walter Reed Hospital and burned at our military bases in Afghanistan, with Penn State University removing Bibles from housing, is it any wonder that some young people are hopelessly confused?

We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors among us,” wrote C.S. Lewis half a century ago.

I especially like the fact that the University of Maryland uniforms feature cursive writing for some of the lines from The Star-Spangled Banner. With the onset of Common Core, there is a push (APUSH?) to get rid of cursive handwriting. That’s reason enough to oppose this unnecessary and intrusive effort to have government control what is taught and what is thought.

I prefer Ronald Reagan’s idea: Ours is the only Constitution in the world that begins with three powerful words: We the People.

As long as we have the kind of enthusiasm and patriotism represented by the University of Maryland’s new football uniforms, and their fanatical fans, we will continue to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Go Terps!

The View from my Adirondack Chair

by Robert Morrison

August 29, 2014

I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Labor Day Weekend. I’m getting a head start today by having lunch in my back yard with a good friend.

Working from home has its decided benefits. It’s been a good and productive week for me. (I hope my boss agrees). My friend and I will be sitting in my favorite birthday gift — my new Adirondack chairs. This very American invention seems to symbolize peace, order, creativity. Sitting side-by-side with a friend, in animated conversation, is one of life’s joys.

But there is a certain bittersweet quality to these days. We have never had a nicer summer in Maryland. Blue skies, low humidity, picnic suppers at the sea wall in Annapolis, watching red sails in the sunset, enjoying a summer of peace.

Yet the world has seemingly never been in worse shape, but here at home, peace is precious. The Mideast is exploding. War between Israel and Hamas brings condemnation — as usual — of those who are defending themselves from terrorists. From Gaza, Hamas has been tunneling under the Israeli primary schools and staging rocket attacks on their hospitals. The French have an old expression for this: “This animal is very wicked; when you attack it, it defends itself.”

The president this week announced to the world: “We have no strategy yet for dealing with ISIS.” Truth be told, this president has no strategy yet for dealing with ISIS, Iran, the PLO, Russia, or China, or Boko Haram. Not since Jimmy Carter’s uncertain course has the Ship of State been so obviously adrift.

I had the honor of interviewing President Carter’s own choice for Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Malcolm Toon had been a thirty-year diplomat. He told me in 1982 that the only time in his career that he feared for the United States was when Carter was president. “I had never seen the Soviets so contemptuous of American weakness,” Amb. Toon told me then.

President Bush erred, badly, in saying he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and had seen “a good man.” He looked into the Russian strong man’s soul, Mr. Bush announced. Russian dissident writer Vladimir Bukovsky spoke to a Victims of Communism Dinner shortly thereafter. Asked about George W. Bush’s statement, Bukovsky deadpanned, with his lugubrious Slavic intonations: “I have looked into eyes of many KGB agents. I have never found it a particularly soulful experience.”

It took years for George Bush to gain a better understanding of Putin and his conduct. But at least he got it. Not so this administration. Vice President Joe Biden related how he had told Putin “I don’t think you have a soul at all.” This prompts one to ask: Is there a Nobel Prize for Jackassery?

The Obama administration’s UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, is famous for her evoking of “Soft Power,” whatever that is. But in the UN this week, she declaimed that the Russians had to stop “lying” about their activities in Ukraine. Why, Madame Ambassador, must they stop lying? Are you going to invoke Soft Power against them? Liberalizing Czech Communists tried Soft Power in 1968. The Kremlin crushed that Prague Spring under the tank treads of their T-34’s. So much for Soft Power.

We in America can thank God for our safety — and thank the U.S. military, too. There’s a quote — probably misattributed to the great English writer George Orwell — that says “people sleep safely in their beds because rough men are ready to do violence in their behalf.”

What the U.S. military does is not violence. The U.S. military has always been a force for peace. When obliged to use force, even deadly force, it is not engaged in violence. The “authorized use of deadly force” is what distinguishes legitimate and civilized nations from those — like Russia under the Communists, like the Nazis in Germany, like Hamas, Iran, or ISIS today — whose use of force is always violence, never legitimate.

Every Sunday, my wife and I join in prayers at Chapel for the families of young Americans who have died the previous week defending us. We thank God for the sacrifice of these heroes. They are not rough men ready to do violence. But they are brave men, capable men, men and women ready to defend our peace, our freedom, our laws and our Constitution, with their very lives.

To my friends and dear readers enjoying this last breath of summer may I share this poem?

The Last Rose of Summer

Tis the last rose of summer,

Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions

Are faded and gone;

No flower of her kindred,

No rosebud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes,

Or give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!

To pine on the stem;

Since the lovely are sleeping,

Go, sleep thou with them.

Thus kindly I scatter,

Thy leaves o’er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden

Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,

When friendships decay,

And from Love’s shining circle

The gems drop away.

When true hearts lie withered,

And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

This bleak world alone?

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