Tag Archives: U.S. History

Finally, I found Ernie Pyle

February 2, 2013

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here is your war coverYou’d think that as both a WWII junkie and a newspaper guy I’d have read Ernie Pyle before. I’ve read a few of the war correspondent’s columns in anthologies, but never the bulk of his work until I came across two of the three collections of his famed syndicated columns in book form at an antique store.

So, 70 years after Pyle sent his stories from North Africa back to the 300 newspapers who ran his stuff, I ate up “Here Is Your War.”

Pyle’s brisk newspaper prose, the short, tight sentences, the reader-friendly language, the storytelling format combined with the folksy, guy-next-door tone helped me understand why he became a legend both to soldiers, sailors and airmen and to mom and pop back home.

His great technique of identifying sources not just with their name and rank but with their street address back home — “The navigator was Lieutenant Davey Williams, 3505 Miller Street, Fort Worth, Texas.” — was not simply a feel-good for the man in uniform and a way to sell newspapers around the country but a tool that brought reality and truthfulness to the reporting Pyle did. These weren’t fictional characters fighting this war but real people, sons and daughters, neighbors, someone to care about.

Although flatly unable to write about strategy due to war-time censorship, Pyle doesn’t let that stop him from giving the folks at home an understanding of what life was like for those at war. A foxhole is a foxhole, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the drudgery, the terror of shells exploding nearby and especially the destruction and death war causes.

Yet, as good as all these columns are about the early portion of the U.S. involvement in World War II, it’s at the back of “Here Is Your War” that Pyle may have made his best contribution, and that’s not to slight all those earlier columns.

Because as the Allies pushed the Germans out of North Africa, Pyle is able to add analysis to the stories he shares, to give people back home a perspective on the war that might have been perfectly timed. Take this excerpt:
“In the final phase of the Tunisian campaign I never heard a word of criticism of our men. They fought like veterans. They were well handled. They had enough of what they needed. Everything meshed perfectly, and the end was inevitable. . . . Even though they didn’t do too well in the beginning, there was never at any time any question about the Americans’ bravey. It was a matter of being hardened and practiced by going through the flames. Tunisia was a good warm-up field for our armies. . . . The greatest disservice the folks at home did our men over here was to believe we were at last over the hump. For actually — and over here we all knew it — the worst was yet to come.”

Pyle’s columns from the war in Europe went into another book, “Brave Men,” that I’ll be searching for soon. He went to the Pacific Theater afterward, and his columns from there are collected in “Last Chapter.” That book, published posthumously, is just as good as the collection from North Africa, but much shorter. His stories of how an aircraft carrier got flights off — and on — are exactly the kind of reporting we see in the Twin Cities with the “Good Question” segments on the CBS affiliate, WCCO-TV.

This war the United States had been in for four years came to an end for Ernie Pyle just four months before the war itself was to end. A Japanese bullet found him in April, 1945.

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Religious freedom, it’s in American bones

June 7, 2012

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Roger Williams is my newest hero.

Yes, that Roger Williams, the one you remember from elementary school history class, the Puritan preacher banished from Massachusetts who went on to found a colony of his own, Rhode Island.

A book published this year – “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty” – goes way past those few paragraphs that your American history course spared.

As politics of our day have breathed life into the topic of religious freedom and the role of the church in civic life, learning more about Williams’ struggles against the all-powerful leaders of his day is timely.

Knowing more about the religious oppression that the Puritans sought to escape, knowing more about how the Puritans themselves oppressed people in the name of religion, knowing more about the deep-seated religiosity of the United States, and knowing more about the hatred of Catholics that lingers still in the United States, all that is even more valuable.

 Prejudice came across the sea

Author John M. Barry takes readers back to 16th century Europe to add perspective to Roger Williams’ life and works. In England and France back then, Catholics were slaughtering Protestants, and Protestants were slaughtering Catholics. They would do so for centuries, even up to the 20th.

The Reformation brought rule of the church together with the rule of kings and queens, linking the two in what was widely accepted as “the divine right of kings,” another flashback to grade school history.

Barry does a thorough job – maybe more than necessary – documenting the historical background so readers know who the Puritans are and why they fled England for the colonies. The history of the colonists once on North American soil seems more pertinent, and Barry covers the waterfront on that era.

There is an incredible amount of I-never-knew-thats in these 395 pages. For instance, did you know:

  • Virtually every government in England and New England fined people who didn’t attend worship – and that it was a revenue stream for those governments?
  • The colonists who arrived with the Massachusetts Bay Company worried that Catholic powers might attack them?
  • The English saw the need to colonize in North America as a bulwark against the further spread of Catholicism because of the Spanish and French incursions in the hemisphere?
  • If the Puritan church in Massachusetts excommunicated a person, no member of the colony – Puritan or not – could eat with them or even greet them on the street?
  • To avoid “heathenish and idols’ names,” Massachusetts stopped using names for the days of the weeks and months of the year?

 Seeking liberty from church and state

Roger Williams sees so much of these actions and prohibitions as misuse of both power and religion. Barry describes Williams’ thinking along these lines in plain language:

“. . . he had seen enough of power. He clearly had no desire to direct other men’s lives. He had even less desire to be directed by others. To him all that mattered was that he and every other person in his plantation (Rhode Island) could worship or not worship God in whatever manner he or she desired. . . .”

“He was saying that mixing church and state corrupted the church. He was saying that when one mixes religion and politics one gets politics.”

It comes as no surprise that it was Roger Williams who is likely the first to write of the need for a “wall of separation” between church and state. Nor that Williams’ religious beliefs influenced Rhode Island to be perhaps the first government anywhere in the world to outlaw slavery.

While not all of Williams’ thinking is worthy of admiration or acceptance, his story carries a level of historic importance to us today. For me, that’s a story that is the root of a conclusion I’ve come to believe more and more holds this kernel of truth: You can’t tell Americans that HAVE TO do anything. We see it playing out in so many things today in civic life and the church – from the provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act to the new translation of the Roman Missal.

Roger Williams brought the cornerstone with him from England in the 16th century. Now in the 21st century – 350 or so years later – U.S. citizens enjoy the freedom of worship that Williams modeled, yet how much influence religion has on civic affairs and how far government can go to impose on one’s religious beliefs, these are topics of the day just as they were in colonial times.

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Why a parish just for black Catholics?

February 1, 2012

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St. Peter Claver Church has served black Catholics in Minnesota’s state capital for nearly 125 years, but the archbishop who established the parish wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

Archbishop John Ireland

Archbishop John Ireland, the legendary leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, was ahead of the curve when it came to racial equality, preaching that blacks were just as much children of God as were whites.

He acted on what he preached as well.

As St. Paul’s first archbishop (1884 to 1918), he was the first American bishop to allow a black man to study at the diocesan seminary — the St. Paul Seminary — and be ordained a diocesan priest in the United States. Father Stephen Theobald was ordained in 1910 and served at the Cathedral of St. Paul before being named pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul.

Archbishop Ireland’s vision was that there should be no “race problem,” that the United States should be an integrated society. Daniel Rudd, the editor of a widely read black Catholic newspaper of the time, the American Catholic Tribune (circulation 10,000), saw in the archbishop an ally in his own vision that the Catholic Church was the best hope for racial justice and equality for black people in America.

Rudd was a sought-after lecturer, and in 1890, through a series of benefit speeches, he raised funds to build the first permanent church for St. Paul’s St. Peter Claver Parish. Archbishop Ireland had founded St. Peter Claver as a parish for “Colored Catholics” two years earlier and named it after the Spanish Jesuit who ministered to slaves in New Spain. But it wasn’t until 1892 that St. Peter Claver Church was built.

Historian Gary B. Agee, writing in the just-released biography of Rudd, said the black Catholic newspaperman and the archbishop both heard the demand from black Catholics for their own parishes, just as other ethnic groups had theirs, but they had trouble with that line of thinking.

Here’s an excerpt from “A Cry of Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism and Activism, 1854-1933″ (University of Arkansas Press):

“Rudd’s position on the existence of separate black parishes seems to have paralleled that of Archbishop Ireland. For example, when Ireland dedicated a new black parish in the city of St. Paul in 1892, the prelate expressed some ambivalence over the matter. He stated the establishment of a separate church for African American Catholics was only a temporary measure designed to benefit blacks. Further, Ireland desired all races to worship together. He also emphasized the fact that blacks were free to attend any of the city’s parishes.”

In his newspaper, Daniel Rudd echoed much the same sentiment, again excerpting from Agee’s book:

“If every so-called Colored Catholic church in the world was done away with instantly the Colored Catholics would be at home in any other Catholic church beneath the Sun.”

Obviously, given the racial history of our country and our church, both Archbishop Ireland and Daniel Rudd were ahead of their time in their vision.

 

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When Catholics, Irish (or any other immigrant group) were ‘real Americans’ greatest fear

May 18, 2011

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Along with the oppressed immigrant angle, I really liked the history Peter Quinn’s captured of the anti-Catholicism the Irish faced in “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America.”
Here’s a line to remember from this work of non-fiction: “If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”
It’s a quote from the author’s father, who was a member of Congress. A Republican heard Quinn’s Democrat father quote Shakespeare and remarked that he was “unusually cultured for an Irishman.”

And then there was the description of a Quinn’s grandfather by an aunt: “He’ll be the last man out of Purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

The connection I made is that the immigrant experience of the Irish translates pretty well for other ethnic groups who came to this country. It’s American history at gut level.

I was impressed with the quality of research Quinn did. His connecting historical fact with fictional writing on those facts is an interesting tool. It reinforced for me the concept that in some ways fiction can tell history better than non-fiction.

As an active Catholic — one who works for a Catholic diocesan newspaper — and as a “hypenated-American” although non-Irish — I connected with Quinn’s understanding of the cultural value of Catholicism.

I’ll need to think a bit more about this, but my first thought is that he crossed the line when he included his opinions about a celibate clergy, for example. Not that that opinion shouldn’t have been expressed — I’m not saying that at all — but it seemed as though that subject matter belonged in a whole other book, not one about the Irish-American immigrant experience.

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Can’t get enough of WWII history?

April 12, 2010

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pacific cover

“The Pacific: Hell Was an Ocean Away,”

by Hugh Ambrose

Whether you love reading about the Second World War because you lived through it — or like me — you feel you were born too late and missed it, you’ll sate your appetite for a good long while reading “The Pacific.”

It’s the companion book to the HBO miniseries, sharing some content with the video version. It’s also the untold half of the war from “Band of Brothers,” which covered the European Theater of Operations in a similar way.

“The Pacific,” too, tells its story through the lives of a handful of men who served in several branches of the U.S. armed forces, and most of those pretty much the full length of the war.

From Pearl Harbor to the acceptance of the surrender of the Japanese and beyond, this is an exactly researched collection of not just battle stories but human stories gathered often from first-person material: diaries kept by the combatants themselves and letters they wrote back home that were saved and cherished.

War’s brutality never hidden

Reading what happened to marines abandoned by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines, how other marines survived suicide attacks as they fought from Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, among other island invasions, you can’t help but admire and be grateful for the sacrifices made by thousands and thousands.

“The Pacific” takes readers inside the minds of frightened naval aviators who had never landed on an aircraft carrier but had to not only do that but attack Japanese navy ships and airfields while flying through flak and fighting off enemy planes. These people were truly amazing.

Their stories are told straight. “The Pacific” doesn’t leave out facts like the number of men who left the battlefields frightened into shell shock by the non-stop bombing and the horror of the bodies of their fellow marines blown apart. The number of instances of Japanese brutality to those they captured winds up turning U.S. forces into revenge and brutality in kind.

No sugar-coating here

While the strategies of war that are successful are noted, so are the errors that needlessly cost lives. The flyers tell of poorly designed aircraft and poorly planned assignments. Marines point to ill-advised attacks, weak officers and lines of communication so bad officers are writing notes to their troops on scraps of papers that runners have to deliver.

The U.S. Marines’ disregard for soldiers in the U.S. Army comes out clearly, especially their thoughts about the grandstanding of the Army’s MacArthur. The supreme commander’s flamboyant “return” to the Philippines — wading through the water to the peaceful beach — didn’t play well with either the marines he sacrificed as his forces fled to the safety of Australia in early 1942 or with the marines who hit beach after beach and left thousands of their buddies’ bodies in the sands and jungles of the islands they won back from the Japanese.

Author-historian Ambrose does a brilliant job of piecing the stories of his primarily five men into a readable flow that moves readers day-by-day, month-by-month and year-by-year through the war in the Pacific. You’ll feel you’ve come to know “Shifty” Shofner, “Manila John” Basilone, Gene “Sledgehammer” Sledge, Sid Phillips and Mike Micheel.

What some of these men did as warriors falls into the superhero category. Ambrose, thankfully, include a chapter titled “Legacies” in which he writes about the aftermath of the war, how it impacted his subjects and their lives after the war. While the bombing of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki isn’t given the treatment that one might expect, it would not be a stretch to wonder how many lives — both Japanese and American — would have been lost had the U.S. been forced to invade and conquer mainland Japan as it did the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where the Japanese fought until the last soldier even when there was no hope of victory. This book will not end the debate about whether or not the dropping of the atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities was ethical.

More maps needed

What is missing from this book — and I hesitate to fault such a wonderful read and terrific history — are more maps. I would think few of his readers who aren’t WWII vets could find the Solomons or identify the islands that make up the Phillippines, and as the battles island hopped up toward mainland Japan I kept losing track of what was where.

For those who have seen or are watching the HBO version, Ambrose notes that the book differs from the video. Two of the characters the book features are absent from the miniseries, and one of the video’s central characters appears just briefly in the book. As the author explains, “While the book and the miniseries share a core story, they are different mediums. Each must do what it does best.”

As satisfying reading, “The Pacific” does its best very, very well. — bz

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Waging war with Wheatless Wednesdays

March 8, 2010

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EighmeyCoverFINAL“Food Will Win the War: Minnesota Crops, Cooks and Conservation during World War I,”

by Rae Katherine Eighmey

Baby boomers, get ready to be amazed at what our ancestors did that I’ll bet you never heard about.

Food historian Rae Katherine Eighmey has pulled together bushels of facts that I’ll be surprised if the post-World War II crowd has read or been told about. Page after page of this Minnesota Historical Society Press paperback brought behavior changes and sacrifices that were news to me.

I’d heard generic references to rationing from relatives, but much of that was from their WWII experience. The first World War was a whole different, untold story. Believing “food will win the war,” U.S. leaders asked that food be conserved at every American table.

Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays were all part of a national program to conserve protein for the fighting men and to enable more food to be shipped to the starving people of Europe.

Eighmey called food conservation during World War I “the first large-scale, social-networking enterprise of the twentieth century,” and it was accomplished before radio, television and telephones in much of the country.

“This was ‘everyone’s war,’” Eighmey noted, “and accomplishing this task depended upon the good will of informed and enlightened American citizens. It succeeded, thanks to the organized and voluntary efforts of ordinary people meeting in kitchens and classrooms, libraries, theaters, and churches, on street corners and over backyard fences all across the country — sharing information, inspiring cooperation, and creating solutions.”

Peer-influenced results

The recipe for success included two main ingredients, Eighmey wrote: Persuasive information and the actions put into motion by social-networking and peer-influence efforts.  Harvesting letters home, newspapers from the era, little circulated newsletters and national archives, the author shows how during those war years of 1917-18 Minnesotans in cities, towns and rural areas demonstrated how to be unselfish, how to be responsible citizens, and how to willing people can be on behalf of the common good.

Men, women and children in every household reduced their intake of wheat, meat, fats and sugar. In February 1918, only three of the week’s 21 meals were without restriction: seven were meatless, seven were wheatless and five were both meatless and wheatless.

Slogans became part of the social influences. Every woman, for example, was allegedly “drafted” into the ranks of the “Army of American Housewives”  — kitchen warriors saving calories that would feed the troops instead. Farmers were referred to as “soldiers of the soil.”

Growing food in victory gardens and canning extra food became important for even city dwellers, and the University of Minnesota’s home economists  got to work inventing new recipes to use substitute ingredients for wheat flour and beef, putting corn meal, rice and barley flour into recipes for bread,   and encouraging consumption of more pork, chicken and fish. Among the recipes devised by one Minnesotan: a wheatless, sugar-saving potato chocolate cake.

Minnesotans were urged to eat more cottage cheese, grow more potatoes, and to “Can Vegetables, Fruit and the Kaiser, too.”

Needed instruction done

Milk as a protein substitute went over well in a dairy state like Minnesota, and the university’s extension serve, the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Food Administration all took educational efforts wherever they could find a group willing to listen to instructions about cold-pack canning, making cottage cheese, even storing eggs for up to six months.

Thanks to Eighmey and the Minnesota Historical Society, those of us who’ve never been forced to ration anything have a better idea of how some remarkable numbers were achieved. America shipped 23 million metric tons of food to Europe during the years of the first World War.

As a poster at the time noted, Americans could “Save a loaf a week, help win the war.”

And they did. — bz

Order by clicking on http://shop.mnhs.org/moreinfomhspress.cfm?Product_ID=2548

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Nothing border-line about history behind border lines of U.S. states

October 23, 2009

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“How the States Got Their Shapes,”
by Mark Stein
Intrigued by the title every time I saw this book in the offerings of http://www.historybookclub.com, I finally had my resistance broken down when it went on sale.
Who knew how interesting the stories would be about how the borders of our states were drawn. There’s a lesson in U.S. history on every page, and the tight yet thorough, informative yet not academic writing style even makes it a fun read. Superb maps make all the difference, too.

Author Mark Stein uses a similar tease to introduce each of the states — for example, “Why is there a semicircle at the top of Delaware?” — and most pique the curiosity just enough to get you to the 6-7-8 pages on most of the states.

A story — and a good one — lies behind nearly every state in this 304-page Smithsonian Books publication.

If you’ve ever wondered why the Four Corners area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet is the only place in the country where that happens, the answers include lost or inebriated surveyors, wily members of Congress, royal decrees from English kings, and of course religious prejudice, among others.

Watch our for those Catholics!

You probably recall from your grade school history classes that Britain’s King Charles I, a Catholic, created Maryland to provide a place in the New World for England’s Catholics.

The Dutch (“which is to say, Protestants,” Stein noted) had already begun settlements in the area and they “feared what life for them might be under the rule of Maryland’s Catholics.”

Ruling that the area mapped out as Maryland was “only intended to include land uncultivated by Christians,” a hunk of territory was then lopped off to create Delaware. Stein explains:
“This may sound like a loophole to get the king off the hook, but, in fact, the second paragraph of Maryland’s charter states that this land was being granted to start a colony ‘in a country hitherto uncultivated, in the parts of America, and partly occupied by Savages, having no knowledge of the Divine Being.’ Nasty words by today’s standards, but it did the trick.”

Somewhat the same thing happened down on Maryland’s southern border. The piece of land that extends between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay now called the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, get it?) was originally Virginia’s, but when King Charles created Maryland, the Virginia colonists already there took issue.

Stein pointed out the anti-Catholic attitude of the day: “If these Virginians (which is to say, Protestants) were now to be within the jurisdiction of Maryland (which is to say, Catholics), what sort of treatment could they expect?”

The king went with a compromise to keep the peace, and now three states share a finger of land.

Similar state and even national borders were impacted by religious differences and fears, and not only involving Catholics. They are relatively few, though, compared with the way state borders were draw for political and commercial reasons.

Method in the madness

Rivers form natural boundaries, and access to water and waterways come into play of course. It’s the little niches of states — like Minnesota’s Northwest Angle that juts through the 49th parallel that makes up most of the U.S. border with Canada — that make for informative, interesting reading.

Slavery has a role, too, as does “acquiring” land from Native peoples — or pushing them off it.

For some reason I hadn’t been aware of one factor about how the states got their shapes: equality. Congress, as it drew borders, was highly conscious of forming states that were relatively the same in area so that each would be likely to have an equal say in the federal government.

That said, Congress in the past isn’t all that different from Congress today, and the pieces of state lines that skirt around a town or angle off a north-south or east-west axis or don’t line up with a neighboring state might have a very practical rationale behind them. Or a very political one. Or a very profitable one, profitable for someone.

Finding out what happened in each state is like taking the best kind of history class. — bz
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How Protestants — and Nixon — tried to keep JFK out of the White House

April 29, 2009

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“The Making of a Catholic President:
Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960″
by Shaun A. Casey

Protestants and Republicans failed, but they did their damnedest to try to keep a Catholic from becoming president of the United States.

This incredibly detailed account proves — with the hard evidence of preserved letters and memoirs — that under the guise of fighting to preserve the principle of separation of church and state, large Protestant denominations and influential Protestant leaders teamed with the Republican Party and its nominee in the 1960 election — Richard M. Nixon — to feed anti-Catholic prejudice among the large Protestant voting majority.

Famous names like the Rev. Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale are uncovered as joining in, nay, leading the charge, in order to keep the Catholic Kennedy from the White House.

Casey’s research shows how Protestant ministers and church leaders used their pulpits and their printing presses to blatantly state that no Catholic could ever be trusted to uphold the U.S. Constitution as president.

The anti-Catholic bias came out via the preaching sermons that attacked JFK, airing radio and television programs that did the same, running lengthy articles against Kennedy in Protestant magazines like Christian Century and Christianity and Crisis, and printing and distributing hundreds of thousands of pamphlets in an attempt to sway the election Nixon’s way. Leading the chorus of anti-Catholicism was the Republican National Committee.

Nixon involvement uncovered
If only the American public had known about the duplicitous ways of Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign, the country may never have heard of a bungled burglary at the Watergate complex because Nixon’s credibility would never have allowed him to even run for the presidency later, no less be elected or approve of criminal activity to try to win re-election.

While publicly vowing not to raise the issue of a candidate’s faith, Nixon surreptitiously had former Missouri congressman O.K. Armstrong working the anti-Catholic bias angle across the country with Protestant church leaders and especially the anti-Catholic group Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Armstrong recruited organizations like Citizens for Religious Freedom, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God and the National Council of Churches to use speeches and printed material to show how a Catholic president would undermine the country.

Armstrong worked under the guidance of Albert Hermann of the Republican National Committee, who was the organizer of anti-Catholic forces for Nixon.
Bias clouded issues
Casey points out that the issues of the day in 1960 were public funding for Catholic schools, the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, a supposed threat to separation of church and state, and especially the fear that the Vatican would direct a Catholic president in how to govern the country. What comes through the historical evidence is first the fear by Protestant elites that the United States would no longer be a “Protestant nation,” and second that both Protestants and Republican leaders feared Catholic voting power.

Interestingly, President Dwight Eisenhower had won the majority of Catholics in both the 1952 and 1956 elections.

In going after the anti-Catholic vote, Nixon took up a suggestion from Rev. Billy Graham, who wrote in a letter to the then vice president, “when the chips are down I think the religious issue would be very strong and might conceivable work in your behalf.” Graham in fact shared his mailing list with the anti-Kennedy efforts.

Nixon, however, had a problem of his own: Civil rights. In order to gain Protestant votes, he had to win a large percentage of conservative white southern voters, so he could not be seen as progressive on race and have any chance at the southern vote. In hindsight, that foretold the Republicans’ “Southern Strategy” that took electoral voters from the formerly Democratic “Solid South” camp for election after election in the later part of the 20th Century.
Kennedy and his faith
“The Making of a Catholic President” shows how the Kennedy camp came to realize the serious threat that JFK faced from anti-Catholic bigotry and how he and his strategists determined to confront the issue directly.

Kennedy sought out and listened to Protestant leaders and then addressed their fears.

Over and over during the primaries and the general election campaign JFK voiced his opposition to tax dollars for Catholic education, his opposition to an ambassador to the Vatican, and his commitment to the constitution of the country over the dogma of his faith.

He entered the West Virgina primary, winning the votes of that overwhelmingly Protestant populace, then into the lions’ den of the Houston Ministerial Association, where he gave a speech and answered questions from that hostile Protestant audience.

That event may be the most often recalled remarks by Kennedy about the impact of his religion on his actions in office.

“Whenever an issue may come before me as President . . . I will make my decision . . . in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

Kennedy’s statement echoed a quote that appeared in a Look magazine feature on him Feb. 16, 1959: “Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution in all parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.”

At the time, Kennedy was chided by writers in Catholic magazines like the Jesuit’s America and lay-run Commonweal “for yielding too much ground to the Protestant worriers,” as
author Casey put it.

What is more interesting, and which deserves similar book-length treatment, are thoughts Casey brings up in his epilogue.

For further reflection
JFK carried 83% of the Catholic vote in 1960, 34% of the white Protestant vote, and 50% of the regular-attending black churchgoers, but won the electoral votes of hugely Protestant Texas, perhaps in part thanks to running mate Lyndon Johnson.

But Casey asks: “What was the nature of Kennedy’s Catholicism?”

The answer according to one priest who knew him well was that he was a conventional Catholic of his day who understood the structures and traditions that were the church of 1950s Boston.(That priest was a certain Father John Wright, a confidant of then-Senator Kennedy who offered extremely valuable advice about how to handle the issue of his faith. The priest later became the Bishop of Pittsburgh and a John Cardinal Wright.)

Even is one disavows some of the alleged moral failings that have come to light about JFK in the years since his assassination, considering the current climate of pressure on Catholic candidates from some of the American hierarchy and other corners of the church, one has to wonder if today JFK would be able to pull 83% of the Catholic vote, or if the fact that we now have had a Catholic president would take the cachet off electing a Catholic for Catholic voters.

Still more to think about
Casey’s epilogue offers cause for reflection for other, more important issues for today’s Catholic.

In pointing out how JFK sought understanding from Protestants, not endorsement, Casey says:

“As religion has increasingly become connected to the political divide in this country, it has reinforced a gulf among faith communities such that members of the religious Right and the religious Left routinely demonize one another and, in doing so, ape the worst aspects of American political culture.”

He adds two more thoughts:

First, the political independence of faith communities is good for both the faith communities and the nation. Second, endorsements of politicians by faith communities are usually misguided.

“The Making of a Catholic President” should be read by every Catholic — and every Protestant — eligible to vote. — bz
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What was it like to be pioneering man in the West?

March 7, 2009

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“As Big as the West:
The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart,”

by Clyde A. Milner II & Carol A. O’Connor

Granville Stuart, like thousands of others in the mid-1800s, dreamed of making it big in that great expanse of the western territory of the United States.

Stuart had yet a bigger dream than most; he wanted to be important, not just rich.

When mining for precious metals didn’t earn as much of a fortune as he thought it should, he sought wealth and esteem in cattle ranching. Hobnobbing with the likes of Teddy Roosevelt as a founding member of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Stuart did well for himself — but just for a while.

An ego as big as the West?

This meticulously researched account of Stuart’s life story could double as an early history of the state of Montana. Stuart felt he had played a huge role in that history — and it might be a recognition he deserved, too — but his reach never quite realized his ambition, either in wealth or fame.

Rather than Stuart’s life being “as big as the West,” as this Oxford University Press title suggests, maybe it was Stuart’s ego that was that size.

Along the way Milner and O’Connor’s history bears important information about the land-grabbing practices and the abuse of native peoples, the assumed racial superiority of Caucasians of the time — and ours? — over Indians, vigilante justice, and the rise and fall of fortunes thanks to the boom and bust of the industries that were supposed to make millions for investors back down the Missouri and points east.

Stuart’s ego surfaced in politics, too. Always feeling he deserved government jobs because of his work for the Democratic Party, Stuart wasn’t shy about asking for positions in government at any level, and he was sometimes rewarded and other times ignored in his quests.

Who can explain how this failed rancher from the middle of Montana is, in the 1890s, appointed the U.S. minister to Uruguay and Paraguay!

Is this a great country, or what? — bz

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History worth knowing about link between capitalism and religion

May 2, 2008

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“GOD AND GOLD,”
by Walter Russell Mead

Capitalism’s ability to raise the standard of living in the English-speaking world – and to spread British and American social and economic culture around the globe – owes no small part of its success to a religious element, perhaps even a religious foundation.
And religion can continue to play a role in humanity’s pursuit of peace and development.
That’s a key take-away from the reading of “God and Gold,” a compelling book that’s worth a slow, reflective read.
Author Walter Russell Mead, a U.S. foreign policy expert, forces readers to view the past 300 years of history from both an inward looking perspective and that of an outsider, forcing us to see how others see us.
Mead’s premise is that the rise of first British then American capitalism is the most important development in the history of the modern world, and that the capitalistic culture that the United States leads today may be an enduring one, unlike fallen empires of old.
He backs up his hypothesis with hundreds of pages of historical evidence, but maybe more important is his work to help us understand the challenges that our country faces today, especially from some of the Muslim faith who also champion a religious fervor but who – tied down by refusals to change and to be open and tolerant – have failed to take advantage of capitalism’s fruits.
Mead moves readers from the importance of domination of the seas – ala England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada and the U.S. efforts to protect the oil markets of the Persian Gulf – to the importance of the willingness to try new methods and technologies, to continually adapt and move on, and to be tolerant and accepting of various expressions of religious faith.
Societies that insist on the domination of one religious sect or persuasion and societies that are unaccepting of ethnic diversity have proven unable to utilize the gifts of immigrants and those of other faiths that have so enriched more tolerant cultures.
That spirituality plays such a large role in economic and societal success is a pivotal slice of American pie, just as important as it had been for the Brits before.
“Since the 17th century,” Mead notes, “the English-speaking world or at least significant chunks of it have believed that embracing and even furthering and accelerating change – economic change, social change, cultural change, political change – fulfills their religious destiny.”
As successful as English speakers have been the past 300 years, the religious fervor that plays such a positive role also lends a dark side. Leaders from Cromwell through Roosevelt, Reagan and Bush II demonize the enemies of their states – and if they do so with lies, so be it. The Soviet Union isn’t merely an aggressive if brutal competitor during the Cold War years, it is labeled an “evil empire.”
Fulfilling the destiny of the British and Americans sometime led to sinful trampling on and even annihilation of native peoples, a concern that rarely troubled people of faith at the time yet something that is embarrassing to think of today.
Today, Mead sees Evangelical Protestantism as the one social movement with the power to sway public opinion, and that is a cause for concern in his mind.
Diplomacy with other cultures is paramount to peace and development around the globe – and continuation of American social and economic dominance – yet “Evangelical America is often considered – as it has often been – the section of the population most committed to uncritical flag waving, to simplistic understanding of foreign peoples and culture, and resistant to complex and nuanced discussions of the international issues facing the United States.”
A saving grace?
Common opposition to abortion and a common desire to defend the place of religion in American society are connecting evangelicals and Catholics, and Mead finds this a positive.
“The encounter with Catholicism, both at a personal and at an intellectual level, has also exposed many evangelicals to a much richer and more complex body of Christian thought and social reflection than they have previously known.”

QUOTES FROM “GOD AND GOLD”

“Since the seventeenth century, the English-speaking world or at least significant chunks of it have believed that embracing and even furthering and accelerating change – economic change, social change, cultural change, political change – fulfills their religious destiny.”

“The idea that the world is built (or guided by God) in such a way that unrestricted free play creates an ordered and higher form of society is found in virtually all fields and at virtually all levels of the Anglo-Saxon world.”

“Foreign opinion is often bemused by the way in which the Anglo-Saxon powers are so frequently troubled by the existence of conditions that are almost as old as humanity and likely to be just as long-lived. Bribery, protectionism, cruelty to animals, smoking, sexual harassment in the workplace, the excessive use of saturated fats in cooking, unkind verbal epithets for low-status social groups, ethnic cleansing: in much of the world things like these are deplored, but a vigorous and puritanical attempt to suppress them altogether is viewed, not entirely unreasonably, as a cure that can be worse than the disease.”

“An open, dynamic, and capitalistic society generated innovations in finance, technology, marketing, and communications. These innovations offered the open society enormous advantages in world trade. The wealth gained in this way provided the basis for military power that could withstand the largest and mightiest rival empires of the day.”

“The ability of the overseas English-speaking societies to welcome and assimilate vast numbers of immigrants from all over the world remains a key factor in the continuing strength of the United States (and other countries) to the present day.”

“The power of mass consumption, harnessed by flexible markets to the economic interest of the talented, may be the most revolutionary human discovery since the taming of fire.”

“The rise of new classes to unprecedented affluence, the changed world created by emergent technologies and media, the opportunities for self-expression in a culture largely free of political (though never of cultural or moral) censorship: these helped create the popular culture of the English-speaking world that has horrified and hypnotized foreigners ever since.”

“A St. Francis of Assisi, A St. Catherine of Siena, A Martin Luther, A St. Ignatius Loyola, or a Martin Luther King Jr. is seized by a vision of a new way to live and, under its influence, goes on to live a different kind of human life than any seen before. One woman or one man experiences the vision directly or subjectively, but the power of the ideal is so strong that others, seeing it second- or third-hand or reading about i8t in books, feel the power and are inspired to live this way themselves. They permanently enrich and deepen the world’s perception of what it is to be human, and they give the rest of us new choices and new possibilities.”

“The countries which are in most respects the most thoroughly modernized by any definition that rests on economic and technological progress – Britain of the nineteenth century, the United States today – are significantly more religious than most.”

“Disagreement and controversy are not signs of a decadent society; they are the necessary conditions of spiritual progress.”

“Pluralism, even at the cost of rational consistency, is necessary in a world of change. Countervailing forces and values must content. Reason, scripture, tradition: they all have their uses, but any one of them, unchecked,
will go too far. Moreover, without constant disputes, constant controversy, constant competition between rival ideas about how society should look and what it should do, the pace of innovation and change is likely to slow as forces of conservative inertia grow smug and unchallenged.”

“We are always saying goodbye to something we love, always leaving our fathers’ homes for an unknown future. . . . Yet at the same time, there must be room for nostalgia and a resistance to change. There must be religious voices denouncing godless secularism and calling mankind back to eternal principles.”

“Christianity in the American context is less and less a matter of family or ethnic identity, more and more a matter of personal choice. . . . Religion today is increasingly part of a self-constructed, chosen identity for Americans. It is perceived as a response to a call – an inherently dynamic religious orientation, even if the doctrines embraced are venerable.”

“To engage in the struggle for change and reform is not to oppose the religious instinct, but to give it its fullest expression.”

“To abolish war, we must, surely, vanquish the causes of war. Mass poverty can clearly no longer be accepted if war is to be eliminated. . . . Peace is impossible without justice and economic development.”

“Americans . . . generally believe that their country has a covenanted relationship with the power or person who directs the historical process. America is on a mission from God – and the well-being of the United States depends on how faithful Americans are to their mission.”

“It is when we are most confident that we are acting righteously, most sure of the moral ground beneath our feet that we are in the greatest danger.”

“The quest for more scientific and technical knowledge, and for application of the fruits of that knowledge to ordinary human life, is not simply a quest for faster cars and better television reception. It is a quest to fulfill the human instinct for change, arising out of a deep and apparently built-in human belief that through change we encounter the transcendent and the divine. The material and social progress that is such a basic feature of Anglo-American society and of the broader world community gradually taking shape within the framework the Anglo-Americans have constructed ultimately reflects a quest for meaning, not a quest for comfort and wealth. . . . From the Anglo-Saxon point of view, participating in this adventure is not materialist, even if the quest brings material benefits. Abandoning the quest is materialist; to turn aside from this challenge is to embrace a merely material existence and to abandon the spiritual values that make human life truly human.”–bz

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