Category: History

Day Of Infamy, Day Of Hope

(Original was posted on my blog December 7, 2002)
Update: I have added a clarification to the original post, and it appears below.

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese strike against Pearl Harbor. [Remember that I’m on the opposite side of the International Date Line from Sasha – AKH] After 61 years, there is still division over that historical event between Japan and the United States and within each of the two countries. Books claiming that FDR intentionally provoked Japan into starting a war and that he had advance knowledge of the attack, notably Robert W. Stinnett’s Day of Deceit and John Toland’s Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath, have attracted considerable attention. On the other side of the Pacific, Japanese remain divided over their nation’s role in the war. (At the moment I am unable to find examples of this on the Internet.)
When I was in hospice training, I was taught that no one ever recovers fully from grief. There will always be times when memories of a loss, whether over someone’s death or some other tragic event, will trigger feelings of remorse. What one who has suffered a loss must do is to recover to the point that the loss is manageable, when it no longer interferes with everyday normal life. Pearl Harbor, and WWII in general, provoke strong feelings – and strong disagreements – in both the United States and Japan, even among those who have no conscious memory of December 7, 1941. But this day has scarcely any effect whatsoever on relations between our governments or our citizens. The vast majority of us refuse to blame events of the past on those who weren’t there.
Wars do not always end with such peaceful results. In many cases, virulent bitterness is passed from generation to generation. Such lies at the root of the current war we fight against terrorism. Afghanistan and Iraq are only the beginning. Terrorism will never go away completely, but if we fight this war right we will fight every government that willingly aids and abets our enemies and we will be victorious, and if we do our postwar job right as we did in Japan, today’s enemies will be tomorrow’s allies.
Yesterday, Kyodo News reported that the Japanese government will consider amending its law to allow its Security-Defense Force to support US troops in Iraq. If only more of our old WWII allies could be so cooperative.
Clarification: The title should be interpreted as a contrast between two different days: the December 7 of past war and that of current peace.

Home is where the heart is

I told about Louis Sixteenth that got his head cut off in France long time ago; and about his little boy the dolphin, that would a been a king, but they took and shut him up in jail, and some say he died there.
“Po’ little chap.”
“But some says he got out and got away, and come to America.”
“Dat’s good! But he’ll be pooty lonesome — dey ain’ no kings here, is dey, Huck?”
“No.”

–Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
209 years after his death, the heart of the dauphin Louis-Charles, the youngest son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the woulda-been King Louis XVII, will be buried in the French royal crypt of Saint-Denis in Paris.
If you’d like to read a marvelous book about Louis-Charles and his heart, the Revolution, and the mysteries of his imprisonment and death (and the multitude of royal pretenders who came out of the woodwork as a result of those mysteries), then please check out Deborah Cadbury’s The Lost King of France. Gripping and fast-paced popular history, with a storyline not too dissimilar from Robert Massie’s standard-setting The Romanovs: The Final Chapter.
Rest in peace, little “dolphin”.

The Nobel Peace Prize Isn’t Worth A Warm Saucer Of Spit

Back on November 5, 2002 I started a little project called the Henderson Prize for the Advancement of Liberty. (I picked that day because it falls on my birthday, not because of Guy Fawkes Day.) The March 31 winners are announced here.
I’ll post some commentary on the prize later this week. For now I want to reprint the October 14, 2002 post that inspired creation of the prize. I have essentially two criticisms of the prize. First, it awards intentions before results have been achieved. Second, there is no rigid definition of “peace” stated in either the name of the prize (as in a hypothetical “peace and freedom award”) or in the Nobel guidelines. The committee often fails to distinguish between the short-term peace of appeasement and the long-term peace that is a byproduct of liberty, and it sometimes uses “peace” synonymously with something that it is not, like “fighting for liberty” (re: Shirin Ebadi) or “improving the physical human condition” (re: Norman Borlaug). Until long-term peace and liberty can be tied to them, what they really deserve now are a Dissidents Prize and a Screw Paul Ehrlich, I’m Saving People’s Lives Prize, respectively.
For the record, if the Nobel committee were ever possessed to give me the prize, I’d take it. It comes with a nice chunk of prize money, and I would love the opportunity to contribute to the Nobel foundation’s permanent archive of Nobel laureate acceptance speeches.
And now, on with the feature presentation.

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A farewell to empires

I just finished reading the third volume in Will Durant’s History of Civilization. Caesar and Christ covers the rise and fall of the Roman Empire (with far less detail than William Gibbon) and a brief history of the earliest centuries of Christianity.
Durant challenges Gibbon’s hypothesis that the chief cause of Rome’s fall was the rise of Christianity. Having not read Gibbon (hey, I’ve still got eight volumes of Civilization to go), I must satisfy myself with Durant’s summary: “For this religion, [Gibbon] and his followers argued, had destroyed the old faith that had given moral character to toe Roman soul and stability to the state.”
Durant explains his objection: “The breakup of the old religion had begun long before Christ…Moral disintegration had begun with the Roman conquest of Greece, and had culminated under Nero; thereafter Roman morals improved, and the ethical influence of Christianity upon Roman life was largely a wholesome one.”
(Seems to me that the disintegration of Roman character was caused by the people emulating the horny, capricious, and vindictive deities they worshiped, those centerpieces of the religion Gibbon heralded as a civilizing, unifying force.)

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