A Day Late, and a (Canadian) Dollar Short

IMG_5851_2lowresHappy Canada Day

Geography has made us neighbors.

History has made us friends.

Economics has made us partners.

And necessity has made us allies.

Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.

What unites us is far greater than what divides us.

President John F. Kennedy to the Canadian Parliament

Happy Birthday, Canada

 

Saint John Paul II

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So, today we get that rare thing – two canonizations – John XXIII and John Paul II. A lot of hot air will be generated about Vatican II, child abuse and the whole business of having saints, but if we were looking here simply at the idea of a ‘great man’, then I don’t see how there would be any controversy over John Paul II. Great men don’t have to be perfect, indeed, no less an authority than Lord Acton once said that most great men were bad men; but John Paul II was one of a trio of great figures who helped end the Cold War – President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher being the other two.

We have had quite a bit here about the President and the Prime Minister, but less about the Pope. He was already Pope when I was born, and until is death, I knew no other, and I guess that he will always be the measure against which I will judge his successors.

Now we are on our third non-Italian Pope in succession, it is hard to remember the frisson of surprise when John Paul became Pope – the first non-Italian since the Middle Ages. He became Pope when the Cold War seemed an entrenched part of the world order; not one of those well-paid Kremlinologists or Sovietologists foresaw what was to come. Stalin had famously asked how many divisions the Pope had, meaning it as a symbol of worldly power and domination as against the Church which, in his view, had none. But the world was to see a lesson in the reality of power.

Not even the Kremlin could stop John Paul going to Poland, and once he did, the power that would end Soviet rule was unleashed – the power of people wanting to be free and believing that it could yet be possible. It was a long and a hard road for the Poles, but they did not let their hand drop from the plough or turn aside. Even the attempt to kill the Pope failed, and provided John Paul with a chance to show the true spirit of Christ in forgiving the would-be assassin.

The Soviet regime had no weapons which could prevail against this spirit. President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher matched them with the weapons of this world, and made it clear to the Soviets that they had the determination to resist them; but John Paul II brought something beyond that. Unbowed, himself, by the sufferings he had been through, knowing, from the experience, the nature of the Godless regime which faced Him, John Paul posited against it the Spirit of Hope that comes from Christ.

The spirit of freedom, once kindled, proved unextinguishable.

John Paul II is, like every great man, a figure about whom strong opinions are held. The secular media never quite understood him. They loved his charisma and his openness, but they could not understand how such a man could also abide faithfully by Catholic teaching on the things which this world wants. They almost seemed surprised that he would not approve of contraception, abortion and easy divorce; goodness, the Pope was a Catholic; we see it again now with Pope Francis.

But this was an essential part of John Paul II. He knew what the eternal verities were. Truth was the Risen Christ. There was no compromise with the kingdom of this world. Those who approved of his stand against communism could not, sometimes, understand his opposition to those elements of liberal capitalism which stood against the values of the Church He stood not for the age, but for all ages, and his values were not just those of his time, but for all time. He belongs to the ages now. All of us, Catholic or not, can stand back at this special moment and say: ‘There was a man!”

Hang in There

I’ve got quite a lot coming up but, none of it is going to make it today. So enjoy a film, that will make you think a bit as well.

The Rules of the Great Game

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Since the end of the Cold War Western nations have proceeded as though the rules of international politics have been suspended; Mr Putin has reminded them that it is not so. International politics, like Hobbes’ state of nature, is the ‘war of all against all’, and we have, in this generation, rediscovered the truth he enunciated that ‘covenants without swords are but mere words’. Like the British at the time of the Boer War we have had ‘no end of a lesson'; but can we divine its meaning?

At the very simplest level it is that power matters. We hear much about ‘soft power’, but in fact it is hard power, as the Ukrainians will tell you, which matters. Foolishly, back in the 1990s, they believed us when we and the Russians guaranteed their territorial integrity when they gave up their nuclear weapons; does any one suppose the Russians would be behaving as they are now if the Ukrainians had kept those weapons? In fact, here is a clear case where preparing for the worst might have avoided trouble. As things stand, Putin may well, like Hitler, miscalculate how far he is allowed to go. I am not saying he is like Hitler, just that the two men both presumed on the weakness and vacillation of their opponents; Hitler got it wrong. let us hope Putin does not.

The second lesson, which means I think Putin will not get it wrong, is to know what your opponents will concede without a fight. Putin has gone for the Crimea because he knows he can get it. It is Russian in character, always was Russian since the 1770s, and wants to be part of a revived Russian Empire. For this, the West will not fight. Real power lies in a correct assessment of where your enemies will yield most easily and then going for that; Putin passes that test – so far; but sometimes appetite grows in the eating.

The third lesson is that it is foolish to assume that sanctions can work when you, yourself, would be more damaged by their implementation. Angela Merkel and the Europeans depend upon Russian gas to such an extent that they dare not impose real sanctions on Putin; the lights would go out all over Europe. It is true that Russia would suffer economic damage, but Russian public opinion has far less influence on Putin than British and American public opinion do on Cameron and Obama. Democracies find it difficult to act as swiftly as non-democracies.

The fourth lesson is that if you do not have guns you will not long be in possession of large supplies of butter. War-weariness has prompted the democracies to begin to reduce the size of their armed forces and decrease what they spend on them. This is fine, provided they realise this means that they will have far less influence in a multi-polar world where Russia and China have ambitions.

Finally, we must realise that our ways are not their ways. There is no inevitable triumph of the idea of democracy as preached by the West. It is a form of government like any other. It may be, as Churchill said, the least worst form of government, but it is dangerously dependent on being able to deliver bread and circuses to its own people, which exposes it to the risk of being defeated by those who promise even more bread and better circuses as the price for people giving up their freedom.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and striving. We have not been vigilant and we have settled into a comfort zone. It is up to us whether we wake up and take notice. If not, we bequeath to our children and grandchildren a very different world from the one we have known. That would be the ultimate failure.

Running around in circles

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You could not make it up. In the middle of a major international crisis, Obama and Biden are running round the White House like Batman and aged Robin because Mishy wants them to; I watched that on the British news and heard the sound of Mrs Thatcher whirring in her grave. It has come to this. Obama’s speech was the wettest, most pathetic, least convincing warning since ever; ‘red lines’? Don’t make me laugh. America and the ‘West’ have zero credibility in Moscow. Putin knows what he wants and is getting it; Obama can, literally, jog on.

The one person in all of this who can feel happy is Jimmy Carter. Hithertofore the most useless American President of modern times in the international sphere, he rises to second to bottom, with the great Chicago social organiser now firmly anchored in the bottom position; not even Clinton would have been this bad.

You might, rightly, ask what could the US and the West do? But that misses the point of deterrence. Whilst the Russians respected us, they feared us, and even if there was a limit to what we could do, the Russians weren’t eager to see what that was; now they laugh at the USA and really don’t care. Obama will make another speech – like the one he did about ‘red lines’ and Syria – and Putin will need help to stop laughing.

Once you lose respect, you don’t get it back. As long as Obama is in the white House, Putin knows he can do what he likes. Unlike the great Chicago social organiser, Putin is a man of power, not rhetoric. He knows what he wants, he knows how to get it, and he knows that America poses zero danger to that. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power(less) can say to Putin that ‘actions speak louder than words’, but that one cuts both ways – the US does not act, and that says everything.

Throughout the Cold War one could have said that it was unlikely that the USA and NATO would have been able to wage a real war against the Soviets; would they really have nuked the Russians? That, in a way, is the point – no one, including the Soviets, knew. What they did know was that Harry Truman had nuked the Japanese, and that was all they needed to know; who is going to run the risk that the other side is not bluffing?

Obama has made the classic liberal mistake; he has assumed that words without swords mean something; Hobbes was right – covenants without swords are mere words. Putin is afraid of power, not words. If words were actions, Obama would be the best President ever; as they aren’t, he’s just the best President the liberals have – a legend in his own lunch-hour. But does he then have to put on a stunt running round the White House?

Can anyone imagine Thatcher and Reagan being filmed running round the White House at the behest of their spouses in this sort of situation? If there ever was an image which summed up the sheer useless, media-focussed, let’s everyone feel pink, warm and fuzzy ‘cos that’s cool, tone of the Obama White House, this is it.

In early 1943 Stalin is said to have commented, when Churchill and Roosevelt refused to go for a second front in Europe, that he would send some Polish women to invade Italy, as they, at least knew how to fight. But for all his scorn, he didn’t, because he knew he needed the fire-power America packed. How the mighty have fallen.

From now until the next Presidential election, the rulers of the Axis of Evil can relax – Obama is on watch, so whatever they want to do, they can.

What is America for Mummy?

[This is one of Jessica's first posts here, I was looking through our records and it struck me that we often become bogged down in detail, in theory, in the mundane day-to-day stuff that we deal with. We tend to forget what it's all about, and we shouldn't. Almost from the beginning America has been a dream; a dream of freedom above all, but also of material prosperity.

It was such a potent dream that Italian peasants told each other that the streets were paved with gold, although they knew what really awaited them was hard work, and bias against them because of their language and religion but, they came anyway, and if they didn't have much but hard work and cramped tenements, their children did. And that's really what the dream has always been: for our children to have a better life than we did. In the nineteenth century, Russian immigrants who had never had anything but black bread, except maybe on holidays, wrote home ecstatically that "in America, we eat wheaten bread every day." And that too was part of the saga of America.

That's what we have built over the last 400 years, a dream of freedom, of individual liberty, yes, but also of freedom from material want by virtue of hard work. And you know, as Jess is going to tell you again here, that is really pretty damned heroic as well. Neo]

When I was ten, I lived in America for a year – in the mid-West. I remember when we got to O’Hare airport looking at its size and marvelling; it seemed bigger than the town in which we lived in Wales. I recall going to St. Louis and seeing the Arch, and going up it and looking across the vastness of the city and asking my mother: ‘What is America for mummy?’ I can’t remember what she answered – she probably thought it was me trying to be clever; but it was a real question, and one I came to ask a few times whilst I was there.

I think I asked it for the reason many foreigners ask – there is something different about America.  I remember going with my mother to a Kiwanis Club and being struck by the way everyone put their fist on their breast as they swore the oath of allegiance to the flag. Indeed, I was so impressed that I memorised it so that the second time we went, I could do it too. I remember a nice man smiling but saying that I couldn’t do it because I was not an American citizen.  ‘How do you get to be one of those’, I asked? ‘Well, little lady, you could always marry an all-American boy’, was the answer.  I think I said something about ‘smelly boys’ and never wanting to get married because I wanted to be a nun. But a bit later I recall thinking that maybe the kind man had a point.  America, the very idea, seemed Romantic.

My father was fifty when I was born, and his tastes in movies became mine. When other teenage girls were swooning about Kevin Costner (really???), I was dismissive. John Wayne was my hero – and remains so. He summed up America for me. Strong, but never boastful about it. I remember crying when I saw ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’ – it was so unfair – it was Tom Donovan, not Ransom Stoddard who shot Liberty Valance, so why did the latter end up with the girl? Huh, I remember thinking, if I had been ‘the girl’ there was no way I’d have chosen Jimmy Stewart over John Wayne – what was she thinking?  But, as Tom Donovan might have said: “Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim”.

The film’s message, which passed me by in my indignation, was about the passing of the old West, and the place of myth in the making of a nation. America is a nation build around myths and legends. That is not to say they are wrong, it is to say that those movies told a bigger story about the making of a great nation and what made it that. All nations need myths, and the point about the American one seemed to be encapsulated in my second favourite John Wayne film – ‘She wore a Yellow ribbon.’ Captain Nathan Brittles was the quintessential quiet American. A man who, having lost his family, was married to army, and who did his duty, no matter what. My teenage heart went out to him, and I was very sniffy about the heroine going off with those ‘boys’ rather than a ‘real man’.

What John Ford caught in those films – especially the great trilogy which began with ‘Fort Apache’ and ended with ‘Rio Grande’ – was the very idea of America.  Call me a Romantic (no, do) – but that idea of America remains with me to this day. God Bless America – the land of the free.

[I think Jess is very right, America is romantic, and yes, you can call me one too. But if we take the romance, and yes the legend and the saga out of our history, we are left with a strip of dirt, and just another group of people. That's not my America, either. Here's a piece of the legend. Neo]

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