Category archives: History

Revolution Then and Now

by Robert Morrison

July 14, 2014

The French Revolution began this day two hundred twenty-five years ago, July 14, 1789. Then, a mob in Paris stormed the grim royal fortress of the Bastille. When one of King Louis XVI’s counselors came to him at Versailles with the news of the bloody attack on this prison, the king asked: “Is it a revolt?” His aide answered: “No, Sire, it is a revolution.”

I had occasion to reflect on the French Revolution and on our own during a walking tour with three French students in my hometown of Annapolis this past weekend. We had started at the Alumni House of the Naval Academy Alumni Association. It turned out that this particular building had hosted a reception in 1824 for General Lafayette. The aged Marquis was on an extensive tour of the U.S. then, one where he was met with wild enthusiasm in all the 26 states he visited. This French nobleman was a hero of our American Revolution. In 1824, he was the last surviving general of our Continental Army (it helps when you get your commission at age 21!) We then proceeded to the grounds of St. John’s College, there we visited the Monument to the French Soldiers and Sailors buried there. They died fighting for our freedom.

There are many French connections to Annapolis. When Congress met in Annapolis in 1783-84, the Treaty of Paris was presented to our elected representatives for ratification. This treaty officially recognized American Independence and concluded our own Revolution. It was from the Old State House that Congress in 1784 dispatched Thomas Jefferson as our second minister to France. Upon arrival there, young Jefferson was asked if he had come to replace Benjamin Franklin. “I am Dr. Franklin’s successor,” Mr. Jefferson replied with becoming modesty, “no one can replace him.” Jefferson remained in Paris until 1789, leaving shortly after the Storming of the Bastille. He would long defend the French Revolution and his pro-French tilt would affect the destiny of our own republic. It would be Jefferson who, as president in 1803, would double the size of the U.S by his Louisiana Purchase—from France.

Taking my friends around the Naval Academy, they instantly recognized the French architecture. Ernest Flagg had been educated at France’s Beaux Arts school, and the USNA Chapel is a replica of France’s famous Hotel des Invalides. Below the Chapel is the Crypt of John Paul Jones. My guests also saw the obvious link to the Tomb of Napoleon, beneath the Invalides.

The Continental Navy’s Captain Jones, our first naval hero, sailed the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard into battle against Britain’s HMS Serapis. As his ship’s name (“Poor Richard”) indicates, Jones’s warship was a gift of the French. John Paul Jones died in France in 1792 and his body lay in a Paris cemetery for a century before being exhumed and returned to the U.S. for burial here. As a tribute, the entire French navy escorted John Paul Jones’s remains across the Atlantic in 1904.

Don’t forget the bone ships! [You can see a video here at minute 2:14.] The bone ships are an amazing collection at the USNA Museum. There, in subdued lighting, you can see highly detailed models of British and American fighting ships, all fashioned from beef bones, mutton bones, and even an occasional human bone. These precious works of art are two hundred years old and were crafted by French prisoners of war. They had been captured by the British during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, taken prisoner over a period between 1793 and 1815. These ship models almost seem to have been crafted of ivory they are so beautiful. And they speak volumes to us today about the souls of these tough French sailors who wanted to leave a legacy. We don’t know their names but we see the work of their hands and it tells us about their hearts.

As I guided my French friends around my town, pointing out the French connections to them, they were teaching me about the latest developments in France. They spoke of their immigration issues, their clashes on church and state matters, and, of course, of their fight to defend true marriage.

The French have been turning out hundreds of thousands of protesters in the Manif pour Tous (The Manifestation—we would say demonstration—for all.) The Manif grassroots supporters have come to Paris repeatedly, but they have even greater strength in the provinces. That great part of France, that enduring part of France, outside of Paris, is sometimes called la France profonde, the deeper France. Here, the resistance to the Socialist schemes of President Francois Hollande is rising.

One of my student visitors tells of the Vendee, his home region. During the French Revolution, that portion of Northwestern France rebelled against the bloody excesses of the Jacobins and their supporters in the Paris mobs. From 1793-1799 the revolutionary republican government put down their peasants’ revolt with extreme violence, with an estimated 200,000 victims. Documented stories of mass guillotining and drownings—even of children—shock us to this day.

The French are teaching us that abolishing marriage is only a part of the Left’s agenda. They speak of Le theorie du genre (Gender Theory) that will be incorporated into all school curricula.

We Americans should especially heed this danger. If we think counterfeit marriages can be limited to adults, limited to the few who would claim those privileges, we should think again.

Radicals are demanding the end of marriage. They say so on their website [www.beyondmarriage.org.] We know from past experience they will soon be demanding the right to teach all children they can marry persons of the same sex. After this will come, inevitably, the indoctrination of children into the false idea they can change their sex.

One reason the radicals want Common Core and are so intent on nationalizing all school curricula is so they can conscript all pre-school children into what President Obama calls “universal pre-K.” This is so he can bring about that “fundamental transformation of this country” that he promised in his 2008 campaign.

The French Revolution began this day in 1789 with great hopes:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven.” So wrote the English

poet William Wordsworth. Soon, however, as the radicals leading the French Revolution began to crush religious freedom, to stamp out local governments, and sever the connections between generations, many Frenchmen, Englishmen, and even Americans had second thoughts. It was then that people said the Revolution was consuming its young. It’s time for us to remember the famous words of John Paul Jones: “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Common Core: “A Little Rebellion Now and Then”

by Robert Morrison

June 18, 2014

One of the factors that led to Congressman Eric Cantor’s recent defeat was his failure to recognize the threat posed by Common Core State Standards. His victorious opponent, David Brat, trumpeted his opposition to Common Core. And Brat struck a responsive chord among the voters of Virginia’s Seventh District. We could certainly call the first defeat in over a century of either party’s House Majority Leader “a little rebellion.”

It’s fitting that this little rebellion would get traction in the Old Dominion. It was Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson who took a fairly relaxed view of Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786. Jefferson was then serving as our minister to France, but almost alone among the Founding Fathers, Mr. Jefferson did not take alarm at the uprising. “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

The entire episode of the grassroots rebellion against Common Core is an example of that spark that Thomas Jefferson never wanted to see quenched in us. “It is in the manners and spirit of the people,” he would write, “that a republic is preserved in vigor.” We don’t have to agree with Jefferson’s dismissive attitude toward Shays’s Rebellion. I don’t. And neither did George Washington or James Madison. Madison would become Jefferson’s most faithful ally and advocate.

We can look at Common Core as the ultimate expression of elite opinion about American education. Americans in this view need to be led, fed, directed, managed, cajoled, cosseted, and coerced—all for their own good. Instead of education reform welling up from the grassroots, it would be better, in the view of Common Core adherents, for the necessary changes to come from the top down. Grasstops will tell the grassroots what they need to know.

The Washington Post recently let the Common Core cat out of the elitist bag by publishing a front-page expose headlined “How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Common Core Revolution.” The story is red meat for the opponents of Common Core. It is replete with insider deals and hurry-up, get on board, this train is leaving the station hustle. The Common Core “revolution” so called has never been field tested, never been submitted to public debate, never fully explained, never honestly presented. It’s been a shell game from Day One.

And Common Core resisters have kicked up a fuss from Day Two. I want here to salute these Sons and Daughters (mostly Daughters, frankly) of Liberty. These are the grassroots activists who know what is going on in their local school districts. They know the Constitution and the laws. And they care about their children and, in many cases, their grandchildren. It was easy for sophisticated liberals to dismiss such folks generations ago as “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Well, now those little old ladies are wearing combat boots.

First to feel the heat (if they didn’t entirely see the light) was the Republican National Committee. Despite the fact that some leading GOP Governors had fallen for the Common Core siren song, the RNC pulled back and passed an anti-Common Core resolution. That helped to legitimize opposition to Common Core.

Here, one is reminded of the French popular leader who sits happily smoking his Gauloise at a Paris sidewalk café. Seeing a massive demonstration headed for the National Assembly, he jumps up. “Those are my people, he says, I have to find out where they are going so I can lead them!”

For whatever reasons, the Republican Party will almost certainly see resolutions offered at its next Platform-writing session to condemn Common Core—and particularly to condemn the stealthy and dishonest way that it has been “pulled off.” States are perfectly free to reject Common Core, we are endlessly told. But if they do, they have no escape from that other terrible idea: No Child Left Behind. The Obama administration has cleverly contrived to let your state get off the rack of NCLB only by signing up for the Iron Maiden of Common Core. Then, the federal bureaucrats will generously let your state spend its own money.

When I served in the Reagan administration, I was given two weeks of “orientation” by Dr. Ed at the federal education department.  Dr. Ed had his Ed.D from Harvard and was a most intelligent, learned, and devoted public servant. He was also thoroughly liberal. Dr. Ed took me to each of the ten assistant secretaryships. Each day for those two weeks, Dr. Ed would assure me that the federal department spends “only 7% of the total education budget.” Just 7%, he repeated like a mantra. Dr. Ed was too diplomatic to say that surely I now understood that what Mrs. Schlafly and all those little old ladies in tennis shoes were saying about our beneficent federal department could not possibly be true.

I reflected on Dr. Ed’s wise counsel. But I recalled my dad’s wartime visits to India. He taught me how the mahouts train elephants there. It takes the mahout about two weeks to break the elephant to the master’s will. Up, down, backward and forward, left and right, the elephant in those two weeks is put through his paces. The mahout only weighs 7% of what the elephant weighs. But the mahout has a stick that he jams behind the elephant’s ear. And the elephant soon learns to do the master’s bidding.

That, Dr. Ed, is how the federal education department works.

And Thomas Jefferson’s great lieutenant, the “magnificent little Madison,” put the dangers in perspective when he wrote:

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

As a veteran of the federal education department and a recovering bureaucrat, I am proud of America’s little rebellion against Common Core. Bill Gates almost pulled it off. But the Washington Post let everyone know how corrupting the influence of this powerful man has been. If you bribe the Governor of Virginia, you can get indicted. And the governor can get indicted. You are considered corrupt. But if you lavish money on all the governors to entice them to do your will, you are counted a philanthropist.

What the little rebellion over Common Core proves is that here, the people still rule. And it is heartening to see America rising.

President Obama’s Revolt Against American Liberalism

by Robert Morrison

June 13, 2014

What is not generally appreciated today is how far President Obama has taken the country from the roots of classic American Liberalism. It is one thing for conservatives and partisan Republicans to decry Mr. Obama’s rule by Executive Order, his governing by mandate. Such opposition, when principled, is what our system is designed to foster. “The business of the opposition is to oppose,” is the phrase that best describes a vibrant two-party democracy. The idea behind that is that it is in the give-and-take of open debate that the best policies for the whole country will be determined.

We know Mr. Obama actively dislikes open debate. He has declared broad areas of American public life off limits to debate. The climate change issue is “settled.” He and most fellow graduates of Ivy League law schools consider Roe v. Wade “settled law.” The late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-D-Penn.) went so far as to call that most unsettling ruling a “super precedent.”

Marriage is another issue the president considers now settled. No matter that the position upon which he was elected in 2008, and the position held by virtually all his Democratic opponents cleaved to in that contest is the position they have now abandoned. They’ve evolved, they tell us, and now that’s “settled.”

To understand how radically President Obama has departed from American Liberalism, we need only to compare his record with that of the U.S.’ most sustained, arguably most successful, example of liberal government.

Just as conservatives regularly invoke Ronald Reagan’s electoral triumphs, liberals look to the four election victories of Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR is their model for a genuinely popular activist government committed to liberal change.

But an important recent article in The New Republic by Robert Kagan brings us a startling quote from Roosevelt in 1941 that shows the stark differences between FDR’s American Liberalism and President Obama’s essentially European leftism.

The “institutions of democracy” would be placed at risk even if America’s security was not, because America would have to become an armed camp to defend itself. Roosevelt urged Americans to look beyond their immediate physical security. “There comes a time in the affairs of men,” he said, “when they must prepare to defend, not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments, and their very civilization are founded. The defense of religion, of democracy, and of good faith among nations is all the same fight. To save one we must now make up our minds to save all.”

President Roosevelt was trying in the speech quoted above to prepare Americans for what he saw as an urgent necessity to defend democracy by fighting against Hitler and the Nazi menace.

The speech, however, stands out almost as a statue in a great museum illuminated by a sudden flash of lightning from a threatening storm outside: Notice what Franklin Roosevelt places on a par with men defending their own homes: “the tenets of faith and humanity.” And these are shown as foundational for “their churches, their governments, and their very civilization.”

Roosevelt was a religious man. His faith had deepened in his early bout with paralyzing polio. He doubtless saw his own rise to the pinnacle of American politics as a result of divine Providence.

In August, 1941, four months before the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt sailed aboard the USS Augusta to a secret rendezvous with Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The liberal Roosevelt braved death to meet with the conservative Churchill. Those chilly waters of the North Atlantic were infested with German U-boats. Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s warships would have been prime targets for sinking.

When FDR’s son Elliott went to see Churchill in his plush stateroom, aboard HMS Prince of Wales, anchored in the cold, black waters of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, he told the wartime Prime Minister “father thinks you are the greatest man in the world.” Elliott added “my father is a very religious man.”

Churchill already knew that. That’s why he chose the hymns that would be sung by thousands of British and American sailors in a joint worship service on board the Royal Navy battleship. Prince of Wales still bore scars from the recent pursuit and sinking of the great German warship, Bismarck.

The Prime Minister sang lustily if off key, joining his new American friend in “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Eternal Father Strong to Save,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Roosevelt was deeply moved and it shows in the old newsreels. He knew that Nazism was anti-Christian even as it was murderously anti-Semitic.

President Obama’s leftism derives none of its strength from these Christian sources. During the entire twelve years of FDR’s popular administration, there was never anything remotely like the ObamaCare Mandates that so menace religious freedom in America.

When he greeted the first Soviet ambassador to the U.S., Maxim Litvinov, FDR sternly lectured that atheist Communist about the need for greater religious freedom in the USSR. He thought, doubtless naively, that the grandson of a rabbi would understand how essential religion is to a healthy state.

Today, as we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case, we are concerned that the four liberal justices — Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan — will line up against the ideals of religious freedom that FDR and liberals of his era would have instinctively understood and respected.

Nor is it Christians alone whose freedoms are threatened under the Obama administration. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America shares our concerns with the HHS Mandate.

The [Obama] Administration’s ruling makes the price of…an outward approach [to our fellow Americans] the violations of an organization’s religious principles. This is deeply disappointing.

To our Jewish fellow citizens, whose religious freedom is also threatened by the Obama administration, we can only say: Amen!

Let us pray for a liberty-affirming result from the Supreme Court.

Leslie Morrison: World traveler. Life saver. Hero.

by Robert Morrison

June 12, 2014

I can still remember when Pop woke me up before dawn. Big news in the world: Stalin had died. I was just seven years old, but my dad interpreted the world for me. He had spent 17 years in the Merchant Marine; he sailed to every continent, visiting 47 countries in all. Whenever there was a story about a rare rhino in Africa or an unusual Boa in Brazil, or a shakeup in Russia, Pop could explain it all. He had been there.

Like most World War II vets, he never bragged about what he had done in the war. Only much later did I learn that he had made several dangerous crossings of the U-boat infested North Atlantic. There, if your ship went down, the other ships in the convoy had strict orders not to stop. Pop told us about the time his ship was sunk by a U-boat sixty miles due east of Durban, South Africa. With the ship sinking, Pop ran back to get his camera and took the only pictures of the lifeboats. Only a decade after he was gone did I learn from a surviving shipmate that Pop had run around the deck of the stricken freighter unlatching the pelican hooks that griped down the rubber boats. Had he not done that, his shipmate told me, most of the crew would have died. They could not have survived 18 hours in those frigid waters. Instead of talking about his role as a lifesaver, Pop always told us how nice it was to be put up in a five-star hotel for six weeks and to be able to play tennis daily with the South African women’s champion!

From the day Pop returned from the sea in 1952 until the day he died in 1998, we knew where he was every night of his life. He was the one we turned to when neighborhood bullies threatened. He taught me to defend myself and only call on him if my tormentor brought a gang or a knife to the fight. But if I had to call on Pop, the whole neighborhood knew to watch out.

My father taught me what it meant to be a man. Today, 48% of first-borns in America are born out-of-wedlock. Who will teach those dear children what it means to be a man?

And if the D-Day Landings had Failed?

by Robert Morrison

June 6, 2014

General Eisenhower had borne the burden of command for years. He smoked then. Some four packs a day. He had to deal with military prima donnas like Gen. George Patton and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. Critics in the press reminded readers that Ike had never commanded troops in battle before. He had to stroke the forever suspicious Soviets. And then, there were the Germans. Fully 85% of all the U.S. war effort was going into fighting the most formidable military force in history.

Ike prepared a short statement for use in case the D-Day landings had failed. It’s instructive in our time to look back at how this Supreme Commander planned to meet defeat. This statement was never used:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Where might Eisenhower have learned such a lesson in leadership? He was a serious student of history, especially military history. He had been stationed near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as a young training officer during World War I. (He was considered so talented at training others that he could not be spared to go to the trenches himself.)

Clearly, Ike knew the record of the great Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. He knew how Gen. Robert E. Lee reacted to the disaster of Pickett’s Charge. Lee met the shattered remnants of Pickett’s division as they straggled back from their failed assault on entrenched Union troops at the Copse of Trees. Forever after, that bloody battlefield would be known as “The High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” His hat off, General Lee sadly met his beaten troops.

It’s all my fault,” their Marse Robert told his men on that sweltering July afternoon in 1863. He repeated the sentiment to a British observer, Col. Arthur Fremantle, and offered his resignation to the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis.

Ike knew that history. Happily, Gen. Eisenhower never had to issue a statement claiming responsibility for a military disaster. Once ashore on that bloody June 6, 1944, the Allied forces moved haltingly inland. The hedgerow country of Normandy proved to be a far greater obstacle than pre-invasion planners had reckoned. And the Germans stubbornly resisted.

The bocages were a series of barriers to tank and truck movements. These barriers were the result of a thousand years of farming and tillage by Norman peasants. In that decisive summer, they enabled the retreating Germans to make every kilometer count.

In the end, however, the gritty courage of American and Allied troops wore down German resistance. And the Americans brought to bear their almost limitless resources.

President Roosevelt had called America “the Arsenal of Democracy.” The results of wartime production show why that phrase so aptly captured America’s economic muscle.

British-born author Alistair Cooke in The American Home Front: 1941-42 related these stunning facts:

Britain trebled its wartime output between 1940 and 1945, a ratio surpassing both Germany and Russia, who doubled theirs, though Japan excelled with a fourfold increase.

And America? America stepped up its war output a staggering twenty-five times.

D-Day contains innumerable lessons in leadership and responsibility, in devotion to duty and in sacrificing for freedom. We certainly know that all of those men who left those landing craft under heavy fire that day did their duty.

In 1975, as Saigon fell to the Communists and Americans watched as their ambassador to South Vietnam was lifted by helicopter from the roof of our embassy, the U.S. flag tucked under his arm, President Ford said “this is not a day for recriminations.” Ronald Reagan countered, asking: “What better day?”

There are questions we can apply to our leadership today. For example, where was the Commander-in-Chief on the night of September 11, 2012, when our people were killed in Benghazi? We still do not know.

On a more prosaic level, we do not know who has been held accountable for the failure of the ObamaCare rollout. Or for that matter, who has claimed responsibility for the Election Day crash of Mitt Romney’s vaunted computer program, ORCA. That system had been touted as the answer to the Obama voter turnout machine.

As avoidance of responsibility and blame shifting become characteristics of our nation’s political and corporate life, more defeats and disasters become unavoidable. That’s why there is merit in studying the past.

Rare D-Day “Colour” Footage

by Robert Morrison

June 6, 2014

London’s Daily Telegraph provides us a link to this rare “colour” footage of D-Day. The Allied attack on the heavily-fortified coast of Nazi-occupied France was the largest seaborne invasion in history. With this clip, we can see what the uniforms looked like, what color is meant by the German word feldgrau (field gray).

In the White House, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast to the nation over all radio networks. The Commander-in-Chief was unembarrassed about his faith. He asked his fellow Americans to join him in this prayer. He told the people the D-Day invasion was a struggle to preserve “our republic, our religion, and our civilization.”

For thousands of those young warriors in the invasion force, June 6, 1944 would be their last day on earth. Many of them would carry among their battle gear small New Testaments. These good books, including the Psalms, had been issued to our troops. They bore an inscription by President Roosevelt encouraging the soldiers, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen to read and attend to the message they contained.

D-Day has always had a special significance in our family. My father and my wife’s father were both veterans of World War II, and though neither man took part in the Normandy invasion, all Americans of their day felt that those troops who stormed ashore that cold June morning carried our hearts with them.

My wife and I went to Normandy for our twenty-fifth anniversary. We wanted to see the place where so many American, British, Canadian, Polish, and Free French forces had fought. It is an unforgettable sight.

The French have preserved the landing beaches largely as they were then. They are still designated with their D-Day code names — Utah and Omaha (American), Gold (U.K.) Juno (Can.), and Sword (U.K.).

Standing on those forbidding cliffs, high above the beach, we looked down on the approaches from the perspective of the German soldiers who were part of Festung Europa (Fortress Europe). Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had spent a year and millions of man-hours pressing Norman farmers as slave laborers. He made them build up the ugly concrete bunkers and steel obstacles that were supposed to stop the Allied invaders on the beaches. Rommel knew if the Allies gained a foothold in France, he would not be able to stop them pushing all the way to Germany.

We especially wanted to stand at Pointe du Hoc. That’s the spot where President Ronald Reagan stood in 1984 to commemorate the Fortieth Anniversary of D-Day. President Reagan saluted “the boys of Point[e] du Hoc.” He lauded those U.S. Army Rangers as “men who left the vivid air signed with their honor.”

Historian Douglas Brinkley wrote a book on The Boys of Pointe du Hoc. Brinkley believes that Ronald Reagan understood that we cannot focus on the massive number of troops; we cannot appreciate the enterprise of the largest invasion force by a listing of all those tens of thousands of many nations and many units that took part. So, Reagan chose to honor those Rangers who scaled those cliffs and placed their daggers in the land they would soon liberate. In so doing, Brinkley writes, Ronald Reagan sparked a resurgence of patriotism in America.

We stood at Pointe du Hoc, just a few months before President Reagan died in 2004. He had summoned up the best of our nation’s past in the service of his great quest to free that half of Europe still held captive. It was Ronald Reagan’s great achievement. Best of all, he helped to free hundreds of millions from Communism without war.

We wanted to have some remembrance of this signal moment in our lives. My wife, a thirty-year veteran of the Navy, was made even prouder of her service by standing at that spot. As a veteran of the Coast Guard, I was thrilled to see the place recorded for history in this photo taken by Coastie manning a landing craft. He had delivered those dauntless warriors “into the jaws of death.”

The French allow no commercialization of those beaches. They are pristine. No souvenir stands are allowed. The closest museum is in Caen. There’s no place there to buy even a post card.

So she spied a discarded ice cream container neatly deposited in a receptacle. “Let’s take sand,” she said. So I scooped up a gallon of that sand for which our fathers’ great generation bled and died.

Returning home, Capt. Kathleen Morrison filled small plastic containers with those sands of Normandy. For years, she gave these vials to Navy and Marine Corps friends upon their retirement from honorable service to our country. Often, these retirees would tear up when they received these gifts. Today is a time to remember the gift those Invaders of June 6, 1944 gave us: freedom itself. 

Riding with “W”

by Robert Morrison

May 15, 2014

I’ve just completed three weeks of commuting with George W. Bush. I’ve been listening to his memoirs, Decision Points, on audio disc. It’s been an amazing journey. Ron McLarty reads the former president’s book. And he’s so good at capturing “W’s” accent and intonation that you soon think the Texan is riding shotgun through Washington, D.C. traffic with you.

I had not expected such a frank and funny book. Most presidential memoirs, to be candid, are rather like marble doorstops. They’re intended to be the author’s dignified and not-too-defensive statement of his case for history. And some of them are deadly dull.

Not so these memoirs. George W. Bush is amazingly honest about his drinking problem. He never says he was an alcoholic, for he may not have been. But he drank too much, too often. And it affected his relationships. It got him into some ugly scenes. His loving, faithful wife stood by him all the while and gently nudged him onto the right path. His parents showed him the meaning of unconditional love. For those of us who have loved someone with a drinking problem, this part of the book is worth the whole volume.

George on his fortieth birthday doesn’t go in for a twelve-step program. It’s more of a one-step program. He takes seriously what Billy Graham has been saying about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He invites Jesus into his heart. And Jesus comes in.

Of great interest to us who deal with policy analysis in Washington are the parts of the book — the greater part — in which the former president deals with various issues. He teases them out and handles them thematically. Stem cell research. Iran. North Korea. Education (No Child Left Behind). Tax cuts. Hurricane Katrina. The Harriet Miers Surpeme Court nomination. And above all, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

By handling each topic separately, we get a sense of the complexity and considerations that go into presidential decision-making. But it also occasions some confusion as we jump around from the economic meltdown of late 2008 back to “A Day of Fire” on 9/11, early in the first term. The reality of the presidency, of course, is that issues come rushing at you from Day One. That’s why Harry Truman put a sign on his White House desk: The Buck Stops Here.

George W. Bush is most like Truman in his crisp, decisive manner. He once said: “I’m the decider.” It was seen as Texas bragging. And it didn’t play well in the too often hostile press. But that is what Harry’s sign meant. That’s why we elect presidents — to decide.

Like Harry Truman, George W. Bush was derided by many in the Eastern Establishment.

(“To err is Truman,” they jibed.) Truman was the last president not to go to college. But he had a keen mind and reportedly had read every history book in the Independence, Missouri Public Library. Harry was well prepared. And Harry identified with the American people. If Franklin Roosevelt was for the people, commentators said in those days, Harry Truman is the people.

George Walker Bush was not only the son of a president, and the distant relation of another (his mother traces her lineage to Franklin Pierce), he was also the first MBA to sit in the White House. His Yale and Harvard degrees made him one of the best-educated presidents in our lifetime.

Even so, “W” never lacked the common touch. And these memoirs prove it. Once asked what made him different from his much-loved Dad, W. answered without hesitation: Midland.

Those differences become clear in reading this self-deprecating and honest memoir. I had not expected to be moved to tears. But no one can read his heart-rending story of the death of little sister Robin from leukemia and not want to embrace this sensitive and decent man.

Despite my deeper admiration for this good and honorable man, I find myself flinching when he describes his thoughts on bringing democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. Our own State Department insisted, I have learned, on putting so-called Repugnancy Clauses in the constitutions of both of these “liberated” countries. Those Repugnancy Clauses say, in effect, notwithstanding anything else in this constitution, nothing shall be done by this government that is repugnant to Islam.

Who decides what is repugnant to Islam? The mullahs do! What if the mullahs disagree? Then the mullahs with more firepower win the argument. The mullahs agree with Napoleons’ dictum: God favors the side with the heavier artillery.

Because of these fatal flaws, democracy never had a chance in Iraq or Afghanistan. George W. Bush sincerely believes that everyone desires freedom. That may be true. But unless you desire that your neighbor who worships differently will also have freedom, you are unlikely ever to know freedom yourself.

It is good for Afghan women to join Afghan men in voting for a new government. But if they elect politicians who want to murder Abdul Rahman for converting to Christianity, you have no democracy. And virtually every elected official in Afghanistan did call for Abdul Rahman’s blood in 2006.

Enduring Freedom? Abdul Rahman had to be spirited out of that homicidal country under cover of darkness to save his neck. And even that might not have happened had not Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, and many other Evangelical leaders raised a loud cry to spare his life.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven out of Iraq since the U.S. commenced “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The regime of Nouri al-Maliki is in league with the mullahs of Tehran, whom we have designated as the leading terrorists in the world.

When Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai met with Iran’s mullahs for a “future of the region” summit, President Obama’s late envoy Richard Holbrooke thought that was entirely appropriate. Really? Then what are we fighting the Taliban for?

Karzai is on record admitting to taking bags of gold from Tehran. And from us. Afghanistan has cost American taxpayers one trillion dollars.

President Bush acknowledges that he campaigned against U.S. attempts at “nation-building” in the 2000 campaign. He argues, though, that 9/11 changed all that. His Bush Doctrine said: 1. We will carry the fight to the terrorists. 2. We will regard those who harbor terrorists as equally guilty and go after them, too. 3. We will establish governments that respect the rights of their own people and do not threaten their neighbors.

It’s Point Three that is most vexing. You cannot plant democracy with bayonets. Facile comparisons to our post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan obviously fail. We took the unconditional surrender of both countries. We forced Germany to de-Nazify and Japan to give up Emperor Worship.

Even Point Two of the Bush Doctrine is problematic. If Pakistan was not harboring Osama bin Laden for a decade, how was he allowed to build a top-secret ziggurat under the very noses of Pakistan’s military brass? If Saudi Arabia is really our ally in the War on Terror, why did that desert despot Abdullah refuse us access to Madani al Tayyib, the al Qaeda finance chief (see p. 122. of the official 9/11 Commission Report)?

Americans increasingly believe we are being played for suckers by treacherous allies. When I traveled by bus around America in 2012, I would make a point of saluting veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and asking them their level of trust for the national forces in both countries. The answer from our own brave warriors was always the same: Zero.

This substantial portion of the Bush memoirs must be read as tragedy. A good Christian man with a fine mind and a great heart pursues a flawed policy, with grave consequences. It costs thousands of brave young Americans their lives. He built his freedom house on sand. Too bad.

His discussion of stem cell research shows him honorably struggling to find a middle path. He is a nuanced thinker, a man with a heightened ethical sense. In the end, he crafts a policy that unfortunately provides federal funding to the killers of embryonic humans even as it denies funding for killing these nascent humans.

In these pages, the president never answers the obvious question: By funding experimentation on only a limited number of stem cell lines — on those embryonic humans whose lives have already been condemned — what if some treatment or cure should be found? How then would he or any future president resist the deafening cries in the media for experimentation-on-demand?

It’s worth noting here that no such treatment or cure has been found in the thirteen years since President Bush announced his restricted funding policy. (Nor, even more significantly, in the five years since President Obama cast aside all ethical restraints.

President Bush was hailed by pro-lifers, including this one, for signing such important legislation as the Infant Born-Alive Protection Act (which state Sen. Barack Obama managed to kill in the Illinois legislature), the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA — that President Obama’s administration declined to apply against Fort Hood killer Nidal Hasan), and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Bill Clinton had vetoed that legislation twice in the 1990s. One of the leading pro-abortion lobbyists later admitted “I lied through my teeth about [the numbers and instances of partial-birth abortions] and felt sick to my stomach about it.” Bill Clinton was never so distressed about lying on this or other topics.

President Bush appointed many strong constitutionalists to the courts and many pro-lifers to mid-level administration positions. This is something for which we should always be grateful. Nonetheless, in these memoirs, it becomes clear that George W. Bush is the only pro-life person in his White House circle of advisors. The only one. And this matters.

Thus it was that billions of federal dollars continued to flow uninterrupted for eight years into the coffers of Planned Barrenhood (Parenthood). They are the world’s largest trafficker in abortion. This outfit last year admitted killing 374,000 unborn children. As with his stem cell policy, President Bush never funded the killing of the unborn, only those who do the killing.

One of the least convincing portions in this book is his discussion of the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Columnist George Will spoke for all of us when he said that you could poll the one hundred top conservative constitutional thinkers in America (are there that many?) and ask each one to provide a list of one hundred names, with no duplicates. On the resultant list of ten thousand names you would not find Harriet Miers.

FRC’s Tony Perkins worked this issue with the greatest of care. Always respectful of the president and his nominee, Tony nonetheless publicized Miss Miers speeches. Lacking a “paper trail” of serious judicial wrestling with weighty constitutional matters, we had to go with what we had.

Her speeches were simply deplorable. How could she possibly think the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Greater Houston would react well to her quoting with approval the radical feminist Gloria Steinem?

Those strong Texas women were achievers, not whiners. Did Miss Miers share Steinem’s man-hating views? (A Steinem sampler: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” “We have become the men we wanted to marry.”) If she did, we certainly didn’t want her to have a lifetime appointment to the High Court.

Or worse, did she simply think she would ingratiate herself with her audience? If so, is there a worse place in the entire U.S. government for such toadying than the U.S. Supreme Court?

For millions of Americans, George Bush’s handling, or mishandling, of the Hurricane Katrina crisis was the occasion of their disenchantment with his leadership, but for the conservative movement, surely the abortive nomination of the manifestly unqualified Harriet Miers broke the bonds of trust.

His chapter on education, and his ill-fated No Child Left Behind program, deserves attention. George W. Bush and his father were always sincere supporters of civil rights. The false, defamatory and contemptible charges of racism lodged against both men wounded them deeply.

But it was just as wrong to craft a policy based on racial disparities in academic achievement. As David Armor, one of our best academic researchers of education has noted, the test score disparities of black, white, Hispanic, and Asian students do not entirely equal out when family structure is accounted for, but they are greatly diminished.

The best thing George W. Bush could have done if he sought to address the lower academic performance of black and Hispanic students, as well as that of lower middle class whites, would have been to address the marriage crisis. As the work of Charles Murray has since shown, it is the collapse of marriage and the loss of church attendance among working class whites that has led to impoverishment. The collapse of marriage has as well harmed minorities. And the classic study of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) titled “Who Escapes?” showed that for the black community, students who regularly attended church had far better outcomes for school and work.

How are church and synagogue attendance related to the marriage crisis, if at all? AEI Scholar Mary Eberstadt’s compelling new book, How the West Really Lost God, argues that family breakdown has led to loss of religious practice. If she is right, the old 1950s Ad Council slogan is true, after all: “The family that prays together, stays together.”

It is painful for me to realize the errors of my much-admired George W. Bush. My wife and I watched his 2001 inauguration in our own family room. She was then a high-ranking naval officer. When those Hundred and One guns of the Presidential Salute Battery rent the air with their booming to signal the peaceful transfer of power, we both wept with joy. We were relieved for we believed our country had been saved.

I would go on to campaign for George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004. I was in Pittsburgh to hear him address a large, enthusiastic rally the day before the election. In front of me sat a big family of supporters. These home schoolers had gotten up before dawn to crowd into the stadium. The metal detectors we passed through reminded us of the changes we had seen in our country under this good man’s leadership. Johnny was a fifteen-year old member of this family.

When President Bush made has rousing speech, the whole crowd roared its approval. Johnny was standing on top of his folding chair, yelling loudest when the W. spoke of the right to life and the defense of marriage. Johnny has Down Syndrome.

The next day, George W. Bush was re-elected President of the United States. He carried the critical state of Ohio on the strength of the marriage referendum that had brought half a million more voters out than in 2000. And his percentage of the black vote in Ohio was his highest anywhere.

I never heard him speak in public about the right to life or the defense of marriage again.

Nor have I heard him speak of either vital question in the five years since he left office. We know where his family is on these questions.

George Bush is avoiding political issues, he says. He hikes and rides with Wounded Warriors, which is nothing less than noble of him.

But he could still do more. He is a young and fit retiree. He could begin giving speeches at fundraisers for Pregnancy Care Centers. Many of these volunteer-staffed, faith-based groups he recognized during his White House years.

He doesn’t have to criticize anyone or do anything other than lend them his presence — and his heart. Those who sincerely say they are pro-choice cannot object if George W. Bush were to help young women and their boyfriends choose life for their unborn children.

In 2006, I had lunch with a conservative talk show host in Bethesda, Maryland. We enjoyed a hearty meal and a good conversation. “What should I thank President Bush for,” my friend asked? It was a time of some deep disillusionment among conservatives with the Bush second term.

I answered: “We are having this lunch on a quiet Saturday. And when we go to our cars, they probably won’t blow up. We can thank George Bush for that. It’s no small achievement.” I still believe that. Thank you, Mr. President, for protecting us. And may God preserve you.

When a Nation Prayed

by Robert Morrison

May 1, 2014

I should be ashamed of myself if I were the First of May,” Winston Churchill said as he swept into Number 10 Downing Street. It was a bitter, cold, London day of sheeting rain in 1940. Churchill had just arrived for a meeting with Prime Minister Chamberlain and the War Cabinet. The military and political situation on the Continent looked as dreary as the weather.

I think Winston should be ashamed of himself anyway,” wrote 25-year old John Colville in his diary that day. The brilliant young “Jock” was private secretary to the Prime Minister. And, ever loyal, he thought Winston was conspiring to oust Neville Chamberlain and take his place. Actually, Winston was the only Churchillian who wasn’t plotting against his chief.

Ten days later came the deluge. German panzer tanks and Stuka dive bombers taught the world what blitzkrieg (lightning war) meant as they swept into neutral Holland, overran Belgium, and drove deep into France.

A political crisis simultaneously unfolded in London on that 10 May 1940. A vote of No Confidence in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s faltering Norwegian expedition was taken in the House of Commons. Chamberlain’s Conservative Party won that vote, but he was personally humiliated by the desertion of scores of Tory Members of Parliament. Chamberlain could not remain as Prime Minister.

The Labour Party Opposition refused to serve in a national coalition government under Chamberlain. That left only Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, and Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, as possible successors.

Chamberlain, after momentarily thinking he might hang on in the face of that morning’s German onslaught, recognized reality and submitted his resignation to King George VI.  The King clearly preferred Halifax as Prime Minister and told him so. So did Chamberlain. So did most of the majority Tories in the House of Commons. But Halifax demurred. He did not think he could effectively lead a national coalition from the House of Lords.

That left Churchill. The King sent for him and asked him to form a new government. All the while, in France, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French Army were reeling under the hammer blows of Hitler’s seemingly invincible Wehrmacht. No one had imagined such a powerful drive. In 1914 in World War I, the German Army had been stopped at the River Marne. It was called “the Miracle of the Marne.” But there would be no miracles for prostrate France in 1940.

At this dark hour, it appeared that the BEF would be cut off and smashed by a combination of German armor (tanks) and air strikes from the Luftwaffe. The BEF withdrew first to Calais, on the coast of France, then to Dunkirk. Their backs were literally to the English Channel.

One British unit at Calais was encircled by the rapid German advance. Facing annihilation or surrender, they sent a three-word cable to London, to Whitehall, Britain’s War Office. “But if not…” was all that their message said. It was all it had to say. Britons knew their King James Bible. Those words were from the Book of Daniel. The three young Israelites defied the pagan king’s order. They prayed to God to deliver them:

But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up”

In the new War Cabinet, Prime Minister Churchill was by no means powerfully seated. Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax remained in the inner circle. Churchill could not safely defy them.

Halifax wanted only two things. He thought Britain should pursue talks with Hitler through the intercession of Italy’s Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. And, the pious Halifax thought there should be a National Day of Prayer in Britain for the rescue of the encircled BEF.

The story of those Five Days in London is told in all its drama by the gifted pen of John Lukacs. Winston wanted no hint of talks with the treacherous Mussolini or, certainly, with the “wicked” Adolf Hitler. But he could not come right out and say so in the War Cabinet.

So, he went along instead with Halifax’s call for a National Day of Prayer. Candidly, Winston viewed such an exercise as something of a waste of time at such a moment. He was spending every waking minute trying to bring the BEF home and guarding against a possible airborne assault by German paratroopers. He worried the Germans might seize London while the British Army was stranded in France. He agreed, not with the best of grace, to go to Westminster Abbey with Lord Halifax for the Prayer Service.

King George VI had a higher view of prayer than Winston did. He took to the air in a broadcast to the people. Afflicted with an almost paralyzing stammer, the King nonetheless submitted to careful coaching from Lionel Logue (in an episode made famous by the Oscar-winning movie, “The King’s Speech.”)

The King delivered these lines flawlessly:

In this fateful hour we turn, as our fathers before us have turned in all times of trial, to God Most High…Let us with heart and soul humbly but confidently commit our cause to God and ask His aid that we may valiantly defend the right as it is given us to see it…

Winston Churchill had stirred the English soul with his powerful rhetoric, to be sure. He called upon the British people “to so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say this was their Finest Hour.”

What happened next? The Germans did not swoop down on undefended London with paratroopers. In France, their tanks were halted by order of the Fürer, Adolf Hitler.

The English Channel in those late May days was not stormy as it usually was, but “calm as a millpond.” And the encircled BEF began to be evacuated. Slowly, at first, the soldiers were brought off the beaches. They had to leave behind their tanks, their artillery, their trucks, and all their supplies.

Still, they were brought off. In the War Diary he dutifully recorded every day — even when Buckingham Palace was hit by German bombs — the King kept a tally of the daily toll of those rescued from Dunkirk.

Operation Dynamo, as the evacuation was called, employed some 222 vessels of the Royal Navy, 91 passenger ships or merchant vessels and a mosquito fleet of small fishing smacks. Even tugboats, ferry boats, and sailboats were mustered into service. All of this amazing rescue operation, and the King’s prayers for its success, are recorded in the work of his official biographer, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett. (Sir John was also coached for his childhood stammer by Lionel Logue.)

In the end, a total of 335,000 troops were brought over to England from France. Of these 111,000 were French soldiers, many of whom had bravely manned the defense perimeter. So, even in the midst of military disasters that would soon bring about the Fall of France, Britain would not be left undefended. A third of a million soldiers would stand ready to repel any German invasion.

Winston Churchill was stunned at the enormity of what had been achieved. Sometimes skeptical, Winston now gratefully called Operation Dynamo “a miracle of deliverance.”

Today, we Americans enter our own National Day of Prayer at a somber and threatening time. Iran is racing unimpeded to develop a nuclear bomb. Russia is bent on carving up Ukraine. The Taliban in Afghanistan awaits only our withdrawal to spring. Will friendly Taiwan next feel the hot breath of an invader?

Around the world, America is on the retreat. And the only people who seem to fear the Government of the United States are our fellow Americans.

Surely, this is a Day when we need the help of God Most High. If a King could humble himself in prayer, surely we can, too. 

George Washington Takes the Oath: “So Help Me God” — April 30, 1789

by Robert Morrison

April 30, 2014

It remains my favorite portrait of President Obama and the one I hope will be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery. Showing our first black president in the attire of our first president is a mark of greatest respect. The New Yorker Magazine cover — which was published in 2009 — even shows our young president wearing the brown American-made suit that George Washington was careful to have made for his Inauguration. He studiously avoided any likeness to a military uniform. On this most auspicious of occasions, our first president took care to emphasize civilian authority over our military.

I took my young family to New York City for the Bicentennial of George Washington’s Inauguration in 1989. There, my wife, our seven-year old son, five-year old daughter, and I witnessed the re-enactment of that first Inaugural ceremony.

We watched as the Washington figure recited the presidential oath, adding the four words “So Help Me God.” Then he bent low to kiss the Bible. No one in 1989 questioned any of this.

President George H.W. Bush came to Lower Manhattan to lend his dignified presence to the observance of two hundred years of constitutional government in America. Ours is now the oldest written constitution in the world.

Only now, twenty-five years later, are there some people confused enough or mendacious enough publicly to express doubt that George Washington actually added those words to the constitutionally prescribed presidential oath. Or, question whether he kissed that Bible.

So great is the acid bath of skepticism today that if I claimed that the sun rose at 6:12 (EDT) this morning over the Washington Monument, there would be doubters yelling “prove it.” (Here’s the U.S. Naval Observatory’s confirmation, adding one hour for Daylight Saving Time.)

It’s also the case that some of our best historians casually inform us that Washington was “not very religious.” So they tend to minimize his life membership in two Episcopal parishes — Christ Church (Alexandria) and Pohick Church (Lorton). And they must not have taken seriously his frequent references to God in his public statements. When he resigned his Commission to Congress in Annapolis in 1783, he gave an important address. In it, he did not thank his soldiers, his officers, or even the French allies who made our victory in the War of Independence possible. Instead, he thanked “the Supreme Power of the Union and the patronage of Heaven.”

Sen. William Maclay was a sometimes waspish observer of events in the First Congress. The Pennsylvania Jeffersonian did not much like the formal manners and practices of New Yorkers and the “Republican Court” that formed around President and Lady Washington. Maclay thought it all seemed too monarchical.

Even so, Maclay was impressed when Washington took the Oath for the first time.

even the great Washington trembled when he faced the assembled representatives and senators. “This great man was agitated and embarrassed,” Maclay added, “more than ever he was by the levelled Cannon or pointed Musket.”

Maclay was not the first one to notice that George Washington, who charged into British cannon at Princeton and who had several horses shot out from under him on the Pennsylvania frontier during the French & Indian War, trembled when he stood in a vast public assembly and performed great civic duties.

Perhaps that’s because George Washington feared God and no one else. He believed that Providence — that eighteenth century expression for God’s Hand among us — was physically present on these august occasions.

How do we know that? He told us so, repeatedly. In his Inaugural Address, he offered:

my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

George Washington felt the presence of God in this first presidential swearing-in ceremony two hundred twenty-five years ago today. In his habitually dignified language, in his eighteenth century locutions, he says so explicitly. And we all know Washington could not tell a lie.

In Patrick’s Footsteps

by Robert Morrison

March 17, 2014

I was just going along for the ride. My good wife had always wanted to go to Ireland. Since I didn’t speak Irish, and since I didn’t have any known Irish ancestors, I wasn’t sure why I should go. Still, since it meant so much to my beloved spouse and since it was our thirtieth wedding anniversary, I thought I should go along with her.

We flew into Shannon. Immediately, we had a wrinkle. Lots of wrinkles, actually, since our airline lost our bags. Happily, my missus had planned an extra day in the little town of Ennis prior to the start of our scheduled tour.

We rushed to the local department store to buy some extra clothing for what we expected would be a 10-day stay. Everywhere, the people were amazingly friendly. So we decided to take a walking tour of Ennis. It was not known as a tourist spot, but tour guide Jane O’Brian could make any stop interesting.

With her freckles and long red hair, she seemed my idea of Irishness. She started by asking each of us for our Irish roots, our connections. Most in our group of ten listed relatives who had come from Ireland to America in the 19th century. My wife named her grandfather, Jim Daugherty, a good Irish name. When Jane got to me, I said I had no Irish roots. “Well, where are your people from,” she pressed. “Denmark,” I said, thinking it might be more diplomatic to avoid all those Germans in the family tree. “Ah, sir,” she smiled, “the Danes founded Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin. You’re home!” Well, from that moment, I felt at home.

Throughout our Irish vacation, we traveled the West and saw the sights. It was the greenest and cleanest place I’d ever been. They actually have “Tidy Village” contests in Ireland, so proud they are of their neat whitewashed cottages with their thatched roofs.

Everywhere we went, we saw large cemeteries from the Nineteenth Century Potato Famine. These there were for those who never survived to immigrate to America. The Celtic crosses speak to the deep Christian roots of this ancient people. Our guides put special emphasis on the term potato of the famine. That was because, they told us, there were plenty of other grains produced by Ireland in those years of the 1840s. But absentee English landlords required that those grains be shipped to England in fulfillment of prior contracts.

Thousands of Irish immigrants booked passage aboard ships to America. Many of these were so unhealthy that they were called “Coffin Ships.” Many an Irish village celebrated their departing sons and daughters in parties that differed little from the famous Irish wake. They doubted they would ever see one another again.

The soil of the West is so thin that it can barely support vegetation. English conqueror Oliver Cromwell complained in the 1650s that these counties contained “not enough soil to feed a man or to grow a tree to hang him on.” Cromwell is not, needless to say, a local hero.

Our guide tells us that Ireland was historically too poor to afford “modern” agricultural techniques. Thus, their beef cattle were grazed only on mineral-rich grass. Now, Irish beef is the most prized in Europe. (I can attest that Ireland had the best beef I have ever tasted. And the best fish, lamb, and pork, too. As well, the best potatoes, bread, and butter. I have the numbers on my scale to prove it!)

The best part of our Irish trip was to stand in a sixth century church in Glendalough.

Ireland gives you this sense of the Church Eternal. They have survived invasions by Danes, by Vikings, by English, and other barbarous raiders bent on destruction. Just to see these ruins, these ancient walls, is to realize what Jesus meant when he said “the gates of hell” will not prevail over His Church.

When we got to Dublin, the only big city on our route, we ran to O’Connell Street, the major thoroughfare. I wanted to see the General Post Office, the scene of the famous, failed Easter Rebellion of 1916. Entering the impressive classic facade, we saw postal clerks dispensing stamps and taking in packages. Could this be the place where the British fired artillery point blank? We asked an aged guard — a squat fellow who looked for all the world like Archie Bunker — if this was the scene of “the Rising.”

Ah, sure,” said Joe, as he pointed to a bullet hole still visible in the high window. We asked Joe what he thought of the idea of a Royal Visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II. It was a question raised by some of our fellow American tourists. Joe answered with a fierce look. “The French had the right idea about monarchs,” he said, drawing his finger across his throat.

Then, Joe pointed outside to the bustling commercial street named for Irish patriot, Daniel O’Connell. “Look up and down the street,” he gestured, “you’ll see German flags and Swiss flags, American flags and Chinese flags, but you’ll never see that Butcher’s Apron anywhere in Dublin,” he said. He meant Britain’s Union Jack. (Shudder)

Actually, the Queen did visit Ireland, in 2011. And in general, the visit came off without any untoward incidents. But Irish national feeling is still strong.

They say the Irish are “drunk on history.” With my love of history, it was like discovering a new planet. I went on a history bender. I gained a much deeper appreciation of my own beloved America by understanding the struggle of millions of Irish who came to join us in the Great Republic.

Visiting Ireland, I finally understood my late friends, Joe Barrett and Mike Schwartz. They had actually led demonstrations against Queen Elizabeth II when she came to the White House in 1992. I was inside the gate, holding my little Union Jack of welcome. Joe and Mike were protesting outside. They were two of the strongest pro-lifers whose ancestors hailed from Eire. They gave me the strength to carry on, even when all looked grimmest.

When my wife and I saw the Book of Kells at Dublin’s Trinity College, our guide was Dervla, She is a highly educated Irishwoman of decidedly liberal views. She made that clear from the start. “We’re not so much interested in what the monks were writing, but in the marvelous artistry of their illuminations,” She was literally praising the letters while ignoring the spirit that lives through those brilliantly illustrated Gospel pages that date from 800 AD.

My wife looked at me as if to say: Don’t make a scene, please. I didn’t. But I did marvel that Dervla could lead tours of this ancient treasure and miss the testimony of Christian faith and fidelity that they represent. I was reminded of a quote from Martin Luther about scholarly unbelievers: “They behold these wonders like a cow staring at a new door.” The Book of Kells is alone worth a trip to the Emerald Isle. Everything else is pure joy.

Archives