Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Barbarians and Footballs and North Koreans (Oh My!)

Air Force officer with nuclear “football”.
(Image source:

Football On My Mind

Yesterday, a Catholic Stand colleague posted on her Facebook status a cri de coeur over the general state of affairs. Early on, she wondered why so much activity was being devoted to arguments over the morality of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings when North Korea had just tested-fired a ballistic missile.

I must confess the answer should have been obvious to me right away. However, I’d had no sleep the night before. So it didn’t occur to me until I was on my way home from running an errand, half an hour later.

Think about who’s defending the bombings. Then think about the person to whom they want to give access to the “football” — the briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes that an Air Force officer always carries near the Commander in Chief — come next January. That’s why the argument is relevant today. That’s why you should be scared.

Those of us who came to our majority in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s ought to remember that we grew up in the shadow of “brinksmanship” and “mutual assured destruction” (the acronym, “MAD”, perfectly described the situation). We were fortunate to have civilian leaders who feared the possibility of having to give the “go” for launch, and who kept a communications line open between us and Moscow so that our President and the Soviet General Secretary could talk each other down from the ledge. We were fortunate that most of our leaders realized a victory in such a war could only be Pyrrhic; whatever would be left would not likely survive the following “nuclear winter”.

In the twenty-five years since the Berlin Wall came down and the CPSU collapsed, many people have forgotten that shadow. Some talk as if we’d never been on the brink, as if the dread of global thermonuclear war had never been part of our lives or conversation. They talk as if it couldn’t happen today.

It can. The “football” still follows the President wherever he goes. And a paranoid nation with whom we’re still technically at war is testing the weapon that could set it off.

“Barbarians Within Our Own Empire”

My friend and Catholic Stand colleague Scott Eric Alt published a scathing essay on the topic on May 31, pointing out that “some of the earliest and most vociferous critics of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were conservatives writing for National Review. No less a person than Russell Kirk wrote in 1945: ‘We are the barbarians within our own Empire.’” Alt also documents the resistance from contemporary military and political leaders, such as Generals of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, who denied the military necessity of the bomb.

National Review has apparently switched sides on the issue; Breitbart, a National Review wannabe, has called for a Congressional censure of Pres. Obama for his non-apology. “This is not conservatism they are peddling at Breitbart and National Review, but what … Mark Shea has rightly called ‘The Thing That Used to Be Conservatism.’”

If you want proof of Mr. Shea’s correctness on this point, look no further. Conservatism, or that “thing” that goes around masquerading as conservatism, is no longer a set of coherent principles but rather a series of incoherent shibboleths. Like America surrendering to barbarism in August 1945, conservatism has surrendered to barbarism in defending an act, not of just war, but of total war.

In fact, the yowling, screeching ball of mindless hate that now comprises the core of the Republican Party can’t and shouldn’t be called “conservative”. Principled conservatives like Alt are now as politically homeless as are Catholic moderates like myself, who can abide neither the narcissistic subjectivism of the illiberal left nor the incoherent reactionism of the right.

The PLINO Party

But what about the pro-life movement? Let me quote something I wrote a couple months ago:

Theologian John Médaille has argued that, in return for the pro-life movement’s increasingly loyal vote, the GOP has gotten the movement very little in the way of victories. This is certainly a debatable contention; however, what is unquestionably true is that, on the national level, when in power the GOP has usually had “bigger fish to fry” than getting Roe v. Wade reversed, or doing anything positive to create a culture that supports life as a choice. As Médaille puts it, “we now have one-and-a-half pro-abortion parties and one-half an anti-abortion party.”

The intellectual devolution of the Republican Party from principled conservativism to knee-jerk “whatever the Democrats are for, I’m against” reactionism has left it hostile to the consistent “seamless garment” ethic preached by the late Cdl. Joseph Bernardin, the only ethic that can make the “pro-life” label more honest and meaningful than the opposition’s euphemistic, misleading tag “pro-choice”. Alt suggests that the pseudo-conservatives support the bombings because “they wish to retain a defense of our behavior in the War on Terror, including waterboarding[.]” But it also extends to continued support for capital punishment, the xenophobic resistance to aid to Syrian refugees, perpetual efforts to sabotage the social safety net, and the insane efforts to wall off — both figuratively and literally — the lower forty-eight from Mexican and Latin American immigrants. No; as Médaille suggests, the core of the Republican Party, like its presumptive candidate, is PLINO: Pro-Life In Name Only.

Not that the principled conservativism of Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Medford Evans was open to Cdl. Bernardin’s “seamless garment”. However, to the extent that they supported fiscal restraint, capital punishment, and immigration restrictions, they did so through arguments that appealed to historical and cultural precedents, as well as to the classic understanding of liberalism. To be conservative, in their minds, wasn’t simply to resist change, but rather to preserve and foster what they believed were the values and ideals America had stood for from its founding, even though the ideals had not always or consistently been put into practice. Such an attitude need not content itself with defending the status quo; it could also promote certain forms of social and structural change.

Not Conservatives But Barbarians

The current Hiroshima/Nagasaki debate, as I’ve indicated above, creates a more relevant frame for the current election cycle. We simply cannot afford elected representatives who consider nuclear weapons as anything less than doomsday devices, especially not if those same representatives believe national security justifies Pearl Harbor-like preemptive attacks.

This, by the way, is a point I failed to make in my attack against John Bolton’s meretricious defense of Hiroshima: From the Japanese Navy’s point of view, the “infamous” strike on Pearl Harbor was intended to paralyze our Pacific Fleet before we could mobilize it. This makes Bolton’s invocation of the “day of infamy” particularly hypocritical, considering that he and his ilk offered just such a rationalization for the unprovoked and unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003, despite the Iraqi military being years away from mounting a credible attack on US soil.

We don’t want these people anywhere near the “football”. We don’t want these people choosing the three- and four-star generals responsible for planning military strategy. We don’t want leaders who have no respect for the laws and customs of war, who have no fear of nuclear weapons, who have no “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”.

And while I’m referencing the Declaration of Independence: one of Jefferson’s and the Continental Congress’ charges against George III was that he had enlisted the aid of Native American tribes “whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Politicians and statesmen who rationalize the indiscriminate bombing of civilians have no business pontificating on the duty of Presidents to “adhere to our values”, or calling themselves “conservatives”; we don’t want them setting military or foreign policy, because they’ve lost all sight of American values, all concern for America’s moral stature within the international community.

They are not conservatives. They are barbarians. They are as much a part of the Culture of Death and the dictatorship of relativism as are the proponents of abortion and euthanasia. And so long as they retain control of the Party of Lincoln, I want no association with them.