Sunday Book Review: The Founders’ Second Amendment


**Posted by Phineas


The right to carry a weapon and the efforts to restrict that right, the latter euphemistically called “gun control,” have been much in the news lately. In the wake of horrific mass-killings at an elementary school and a movie theater, the liberal left in America (and other people genuinely appalled at what happened) have called for new restrictions on the kinds of firearms people are allowed to have. Strenuous efforts were made in the federal Senate to reinstate a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” while the states of Colorado and New York have recently passed highly restrictive new firearms laws.

Central to this debate (more of a screaming argument, really) has been the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Since the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are documents meant to limit the power of government, a central question has been “What does the amendment mean, and what does it allow the government to do?”

One would think the question would be an easy one, the phrase “shall not be infringed” being quite clear, but things are no longer so simple. Advocates of strict gun control have variously argued that the Second Amendment refers to a group right, not one held by individuals; that it refers to the right to bear arms solely while serving in a militia, not to have them in one’s home; that the right is limited only to hunting and other sporting uses, thus allowing the government to regulate firearms “not necessary” to that; that the frontier no longer exists, so there’s no need for militia-style defense; and that the progress of technology has made weapons too dangerous for individual use, thus rendering the amendment obsolete and non-operative.

Defenders of the right to bear arms, on the other hand, not only point to the plain text of the amendment, but argue that one must look to the experiences of the founding generation at the time of the amendment’s writing and how they understood the precise words they used in it and other areas of our core documents. In other words, one must consider their original intent.

Stephen A. Halbrook’s “The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms” (hereafter “TFSA”) provides an invaluable contribution to the “originalist” argument in defense of the right to keep and bear arms. Halbrook explains his intention thus:

This work seeks to present the views of the Founders who actually created the Second Amendment. It is based on their own words as found in newspapers, correspondence, debates, and resolutions. Generous quotations from the Founders are used to allow them to speak for themselves, thereby avoiding the appearance of re-characterization of their views.

The “Founders” were the generation of Americans in the eighteenth century who suffered in the final stages of British colonialism, fought the Revolution and won independence, debated and adopted the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and established the republic. The members of that generation passed away by the early nineteenth century, but their constitutional legacy is, if not immortal, a singular triumph in the history of human freedom. (Kindle edition, beginning at location 175)

Halbrook covers the roughly 60 years from 1768 (the British military occupation of Boston) to 1826 (when Adams and Jefferson died) and the Founders thinking on the right to keep and bear arms in great detail, from the colonists’ original assertion of their rights as Englishmen through the writing of the first post-independence state constitutions, the writing and ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and the debate over the Bill of Rights. He cites not only the opinions and arguments of the first-tier, well-remembered Founders (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, &c.), but also of nearly forgotten but influential men such as Tench Coxe and St. George Tucker. Quotations come from both those who supported the ratification of the Constitution (“Federalists”) and those who opposed it (“Anti-Federalists”), as well as those who would support it only with a Bill of Rights, with the right to bear arms being primary among their concerns. To make sure we understand the meanings of the amendment’s words as the Founders’ did, he frequently cites from Noah Webster’s “Compendious Dictionary of the English Language” (1806).

On reading TFSA, several things become clear:

  • That, as the Founders understood it, “rights” vest in individual people and cannot be taken from them, only suppressed through tyranny.
  • That governments have no rights, only powers, and these powers can be restricted by the People.
  • That the keeping (as in “possession of property”) and bearing (“carrying”) of arms covered everything from hunting to self-defense to defense against oppressive government, and that this was a private right of the citizen, not something granted by the State or to be used only when the government permitted it. Indeed, the bearing of arms was considered the hallmark of a free citizen and necessary to the defense of his other rights, while the banning or restriction of arms in Europe was seen as prima facie evidence of oppression.

In no case, Halbrook avers, did anyone among the Founders acknowledge a government “right” to restrict, ban, or confiscate the arms of law-abiding citizens.

TFSA also spends a great deal of time on the question of a “militia” versus a “standing army,” which was a topic of overriding importance at the time, given the Americans’ experience of tyranny and violence at the hands of British regulars. Halbrook argues, to my mind convincingly, that the militia clause of the Second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,…” is a statement of purpose, not proscription limiting the right to bear arms to militia service. It is an assertion that the People’s right to keep and bear arms cannot be denied because a militia, composed of the body of the People, is essential to enforce the laws, suppress rebellion, defend against invasion, and as a last resort against tyrannical government, that last being something the Founders had very personal experience of in their own lives.

Regarding style, Halbrook’s writing is straightforward and easy to follow. If the book sometimes seems tedious, it is because the author is making a strong effort to be thorough and to bring home the point that early American opinions on the right to bear arms were remarkably consistent. In this case, this thoroughness is a virtue, not a flaw. However, the Kindle version, on which this review is based, is plagued with frequent typographical errors that look to be the result of scanning from the original without a subsequent editing. While very annoying, this does not detract from the book’s immense value in the current debate.

“The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms,” by Stephen Halbrook, is available in both paperback and Kindle format. (Fair disclosure: Buying a copy nets me a few pennies.)

Highly recommended.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Book Review: “The Communist,” a biography of Barack Obama’s mentor


**Posted by Phineas


Mentors matter. For better or worse, there are people who, in our formative years, influence the way we see the world and how we act to shape it in our adult life. And if the mentored individual becomes a powerful person –President of the United States, for example– then the mentor’s influence affects our lives, too, making it worth our while to know something about this person.

This is the thesis behind Paul Kengor’s “The Communist,” a political biography of Frank Marshall Davis, who Kengor contends was a hugely influential mentor to President Barack Obama. That Davis was also, as Kengor shows, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party – USA (CPUSA), a doctrinaire Stalinist and defender of all things Soviet, and a hater of the Western world, should make us curious about what influence, if any, he had on young Barack Obama.

Kengor traces Davis’ life from his birth in Arkansas City, Kansas, in 1905 to his death in Hawaii in 1987. Along the way, we see the incidents that lead Frank to reject “the American Way.” Living under Jim Crow and in fear of White racist violence (at age five he was nearly lynched by White school children), it’s not hard to see what lead Frank to reject what he saw as fake democracy and exploitative capitalism in favor of an ideology that promised, however falsely, fairness, justice, and and racial equality. Indeed, Kengor admits that he, a conservative Catholic historian, can’t help but feel sympathy for his subject, even while rejecting and condemning Davis’ devotion to a murderous ideology.

The lion’s share is devoted to Frank’s work as an columnist for various newspapers in Atlanta, Chicago, and Honolulu. With extensive quotes from Frank’s own writings, many of which had lain forgotten in archives until recent years, he demonstrates Frank’s devotion to the Soviet Union, his adoration of Stalin, and his propaganda spinning in service of Moscow’s ends.

He also chronicles Davis’ hatred for the colonial powers, Britain and Churchill especially, and for the Democratic Party in the United States. This makes sense when one recalls Frank’s devotion to Soviet communism and the firm stance taken against that menace by Truman and other leading Democrats of the day. Kengor shows that charges of “McCarthyism,” made when Frank came under investigation by the Democrat-controlled Congress and repeated by his liberal and progressive defenders until his death, were ludicrous: not only had he spent his professional career defending and praising the Soviet Union (and Mao’s China and communist Viet Nam), but his CPUSA membership number was part of his FBI file, and the Senator who lead his questioning before Congress was the same man who ended Joe McCarthy’s red-baiting. “McCarthyism” was a smoke-screen, a distraction thrown in the faces of critics for one purpose: to deflect from the fact that Davis (and others) really were Communists.

Davis moved to Hawaii from Chicago, where he had known and worked with relatives of both Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, close advisers to Obama. (These relatives were also either Communists or highly sympathetic to Stalin’s USSR.) In Hawaii, he edited and wrote for the Honolulu Record, a paper funded by the Soviet-aligned International Longshore and Warehouse Union. It was after this, in retirement, that Frank was introduced to young Barack Obama, who had been brought to Frank by Obama’s White grandfather, who wanted a Black mentor or father figure for the future president, whose own father had run out on him.

It is here that Kengor reaches the question that most interests the reader: How much influence did CPUSA-member Frank Marshall Davis have over Barack Obama, the teen who would grow up to be President of the United States?

The answer Kengor gives is “quite a bit,” but the exact influence of Davis’ mentorship on President Obama’s career and policies is left for the reader to decide. Through an examination of Obama’s writings –his memoir “Dreams from my Father” and some poetry he wrote in college– Kengor concludes that Davis was very important influence on Obama’s youth, perhaps the most significant. As for his policies as president, Kengor shows parallels between policies Frank demanded, such as universal health care, first proposed by Senator Claude Pepper in the 1940s (Pepper’s top aide was, it turned out, a paid Soviet agent), and those programs Obama has pursued. Even in targets for disdain, Obama shows Frank’s influence. For example, Frank despised Winston Churchill, and one of Obama’s first acts in office was to remove a bust of the Prime Minister, a gift from Britain, from the Oval Office. While Kengor never says outright that Obama is pursuing Frank’s goals, the parallels, at least in domestic affairs, are striking. And given that Obama, as Kengor points out, has never shown a moment of “conversion,” of rejecting the Far Left and moving toward the Center, it’s fair to assume that whatever Frank taught Obama, he still at least finds much of it agreeable.

Stylistically, “The Communist” is written in a casual, almost chatty manner that does not detract from the seriousness of its subject. The book is well-documented (it has to be, given the rabid reaction one could expect from the Left), and Kengor is fair to his subject. There is nothing sensationalistic or scandal-mongering about the book, and it avoids the lurid rumors about Frank’s sex-life to concentrate on his politics.

Paul Kengor’s “The Communist” fills an important gap in our knowledge of the education of Barack Obama, of the early, important influences on his life and thought. Taken in combination with Kurtz’s “Radical in Chief” (reviewed here) which covers Obama’s career and involvement with Socialism and Socialists from college to the presidency, we have a good, two-volume political biography of the man who would come to lead (and take over much of) the largest economy in human history.

Highly recommended.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Reading this book has reminded me yet again of what a miserable job the mainstream media did vetting Obama prior to the 2008 election. None of the material Kengor cites would have been all that difficult to find for a dedicated researcher. Sadly, they chose to devote their time to shielding him from scrutiny, instead, while covering the things that mattered to them the most, such as Sarah Palin’s tanning bed and wardrobe. Their dereliction is inexcusable.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Book Review: “Did Muhammad Exist?”


**Posted by Phineas

On the surface, this seems a bit of a silly question. According to the accepted story, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in 570 AD and set in motion events of global significance in, as one writer puts it, “the full light of History.” We know when he lived and when he died. His words and deeds have come down to this day and are held up to billions of Muslims as an example to be emulated in every aspect. Shortly after his death, Arabs inspired by this new faith conquered over half the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, destroyed the Persian Sassanid Empire, and built an Islamic Empire stretching from Spain to India. Surely, he existed.

Eh… Not so fast.

In his new book, “Did Muhammad Exist: an inquiry into Islam’s obscure origins,” Robert Spencer goes back to sources from Islam’s early days, the 7th-9th centuries, and finds that the evidence for a religion called Islam and a prophet named Muhammad is quite a bit more dodgy than one would think.

Over the course of the book’s ten chapters, Spencer examines the literary, numismatic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence from the time, both from the conquerors and the conquered, to argue that there is very little that shows the reality of Muhammad or Islam — at least in the form that we know it. For example, there is no mention of Muhammad or his religion for 70-100 years after the conquests. The conquests themselves are mentioned, of course, but the words “Muhammad,” “Islam,” and “Muslim” are strangely absent. One would think, for instance, that Patriarch St. Sophronius, who surrendered Jerusalem to the Arabs in 637 AD, would mention their religion and the figure who so inspired them and who supposedly had died just five years before. Instead, St. Sophronius calls them Saracens and does not speak of Muhammad at all. Other Christian sources call the Arab conquerors “Hagarians,” a reference  to Hagar, the concubine of Abraham who gave birth to Ishmael, the putative progenitor of the Arabs. (Indeed, another early name for the Arab conquerors is “Ishmaelite.”)

Other items jump out at the reader, too. As one example, coins from the early Caliphate (the ruler of the Arab Empire was called “Caliph.”) depict a man holding a symbol of rulership topped by… a cross. Given Islam’s hostility toward the symbol (Christians are derogatorily called “cross-worshipers”) and their firm belief that Christ was not on the cross, was not resurrected, and was not the Son of God, this is odd.

(Jesus, “Isa” in Arabic, is held to be one of the greatest prophets leading up to Muhammad. But, in Islam, He is held to be just a man, for Allah has no partners or children. To assign such to Allah is a great sin called “shirk.” According to Islam, the Christians just have got it all wrong.)

But what about Islamic sources — the Qur’an, the hadiths (sayings and deeds of Muhammad), and the earliest biographies of Muhammad? Don’t they prove his existence?

Not really. Spencer looks at problems with each and concludes they cannot be trusted as historical sources. The Qur’an, for example, was not gathered into one book until decades, perhaps a century, after Muhammad supposedly lived. Prior to that, even at the time of the conquests, there is no mention of it. The hadiths, even those considered most reliable, rely on long chains oral transmission from one person to another, back to someone who was supposedly there when Muhammad did or said whatever was being attributed to him. And even then, there is strong evidence that many were concocted to serve the purposes of factions within the Arab Empire, or simply to gull the pious out of a few coins, much like what was done with “relics” of Christian saints in the Middle Ages. And the oldest known biography of Muhammad, that written by Ibn Ishaq, was compiled from oral traditions roughly 150 years after Muhammad’s death. All of these present problems of temporal distance and the inherent problems of oral transmission and have to be considered questionable as sources.

Perhaps most telling to me was the linguistic evidence indicating that the Qur’an was not written in Arabia, nor was it a document in “purest Arabic,” as it itself asserts.

Spencer points out that, as a work of Arabic, perhaps one-fifth of the book simply makes no sense. Later scholars may come to an agreement on what a passage means (one often sees clarifying words inserted between parentheses in the Qur’an), but that does not mean the Arabic itself is intelligible.

This is so for several reasons. The first is that there are some strange words used, the meaning of which are unknown and have to be guessed at. The other comes from the style of writing early Arabic. Short vowels and some consonants were not indicated, so words with very different meanings (for example, “white raisins” versus “virgins”) could look confusingly alike. Later, diacritical marks or dots were added to aid in clarity, But the earliest Qur’ans lacked these marks. Instead of being perfectly clear, much of it was obscure.

Spencer reports that modern philologists have hit upon an interesting theory: that the original texts of the Qur’an were not written in Arabic, but were copied or adapted from Christian texts written in Syriac, a related Semitic language. According to scholars such as Christoph Luxenberg, if one strips out the diacritical marks and reads the text as Syriac, the Qur’an suddenly becomes clear and appears to be taken from several Christian works of the area, such as the hymns of St. Ephraem the Syrian. This makes some sense, as the early capital of the Arab Empire was not Mecca, but Damascus.

What then to make of all this? While the ultimate answer to whether Muhammad existed may be unanswerable (thus begging the question in the title…), Spencer posits that the early religion of the Arab conquerors may have been an extreme monotheism that traced its roots back to Abraham and was closely related to Judaism and especially the Christianity of the region. It then developed into the Islam we know out of the necessity to differentiate itself from these faiths and provide a focus for the unity of the new empire, as opposed to the religion of their great rivals, the Byzantines, and a justification for conquest. In this telling, Muhammad was created (or adapted from a minor figure) to give the evolving religion a heroic founder, and at least large portions of the Qur’an adapted from earlier Christian works to give the religion its own book, all this taking place in a process lasting one to two centuries.

It’s an argument I find plausible, albeit not proven.

But, also, what is the purpose of “Did Muhammad Exist?” One is that it is simply an interesting exercise in historical criticism, subjecting the historical claims of Islam to the same kind of scrutiny that has been applied to Christianity and Judaism over the last couple of centuries. In this work, Spencer collects and sifts through scholarly work and presents an interesting possibility to the general reader.

In other words, the investigation is its own reward.

But there’s another purpose, too: to introduce (or reintroduce) critical thinking about Islam and its origins to the Islamic world, where such investigations are condemned and often lead to violence against the questioner. To that end, Spencer and his publishers have arranged for translations of the book into Arabic and other languages of the Islamic world, which will be made available for free download via the Internet. It’s an intriguing exercise in planting the seeds of intellectual subversion in the cause of free thought, one that I hope bears fruit.

Summary: Robert Spencer has written a fascinating, thoughtful, and, yes, respectful book on the origins of Islam. “Did Muhammad Exist” is written in his usual easy style, is thoroughly footnoted, and comes with an extensive reading list for further research. Highly recommended, it is available in hardback and Kindle editions.

RELATED: Another review at PJMedia, by the inestimable “Zombie.” At The American Interest, Peter Berger looks at “The Koran and Historical Scholarship.”

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents from Wilson to Obama


**Posted by Phineas

How do we evaluate our presidents? What criteria do we use to say which are great and which are bad? If you’ve grown up in the postwar American school system, that question has been answered for you. The great presidents (1) are those who were “leaders,” who saw the Constitution as a living document that could be reinterpreted to meet “the needs of the times, and who chafed at the built-in constitutional limitations on government’s power, which kept the president from enacting “needed” reforms. Bad or weak presidents were those who respected the constitutional limits and didn’t follow an interventionist domestic policy. Thus, FDR was “great,” while Calvin Coolidge was “bad.”

But to stop there is to stay within the paradigm of the liberal-progressive historiography that’s dominated in our classrooms for the last half-century or so. Historian Steven Hayward, in his “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents from Wilson to Obama,” uses another standard: how well the president in question met the requirements of his oath of office:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

With that as his starting point, Hayward looks at the conception of the presidency held by the Founders and the 19th-century presidents through McKinley (2): that the president is the Chief magistrate of the nation, there to execute the laws, defend the Constitution, and lead the military in time of war. He was not intended to be a leader or interpreter of the national will; that job was given to Congress as the elected center of our national life. Largely, they met that goal, though I would argue that Andrew Jackson, a charismatic man who often claimed to speak for the nation as a whole, previewed his 20th-century successors.

The key chapter is the next, wherein Hayward examines how Woodrow Wilson, who thought the Constitution was obsolete and held separation of powers in contempt, changed the role of the presidency to that of a “Leader” who interpreted the national will and took the nation where the currents of History were leading it — the “progress” in “progressivism.” Wilson was heavily influenced by the German philosopher Hegel, who was also heavily influential in European authoritarian movements, such as Socialism and Fascism. (This is one of the themes discussed more fully in Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism,” which I highly recommend.) In order to get where he wanted America to go, Wilson had to somehow circumvent the limitations placed on the presidency and government overall by the Constitution, hence, as Hayward notes, Wilson’s development of the doctrine of the “living Constitution,’ something near and dear to liberals today.

With that base –the original role of the presidency and how Wilson changed it– Hayward then briefly examines the administrations of each man from Wilson to Obama. He reviews each for how they saw their role, how they dealt with challenges that arose, how they thought (if they thought) about the Constitution and the meaning of the Founding, and the significance of their Supreme Court appointments (for the “living Constitution” doctrine has turned the Supreme Court into an unending constitutional convention). At the end of each chapter, he assigns the president in question a letter grade reflecting how well he met his oath. I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to summarize the list here:

Wilson F
Harding B+
Coolidge A+
Hoover C-
Truman C+
Eisenhower C+
Kennedy C-
Nixon C+
Ford C+
Carter F
Reagan A-
G. H. W. Bush B
Clinton F
G. W. Bush B+
Obama F (in progress)

I’m sure readers can spot the pattern there: presidents who exceeded their constitutional authority, who failed to meet their duties, and/or who disgrace their office fare poorly. Those who show a high regard for our founding principles score well. Most fall in-between.

Like other books in the “Politically Incorrect Guide” (PIG) series, Hayward’s book is a brief overview, not a deep, detailed work. Its intent is to introduce to the reader to another way of looking at a question, a way that sharply and often controversially (3) varies from current orthodoxy — indeed, “politically incorrect.” While reading, sidebars inform the reader of interesting facts about each president, such as Harding being the coiner of the phrase “Founding Fathers,” and point one to “Books you shouldn’t read,” because they too are politically incorrect. So, even though the PIGs give just a brief survey of a topic, the reader comes away with a good reading list for further exploration.

Hayward’s style is very easy to read: straightforward, flowing, witty, but never superficial. While I don’t agree with him wholly in some cases, or at least have some reservations (4), he makes his case well and provides ammunition to conservatives looking for intellectual and constitutional grounds on which to challenge the left-liberal paradigm.

Summary: An entertaining survey of the presidency over the last 100 years that is at the same time thought-provoking and informative. Highly recommended.

(1) Some grudgingly include Reagan, even though they hate his politics, because his accomplishments just can’t be ignored.
(2) TR, one of my favorite presidents, is a transitional figure. And, I have to admit, he did go off a bit of a cliff at the end of his life with his “New Nationalism.”
(3) Don’t believe me? Try telling a committed liberal that the New Deal was an objective failure.
(4) His argument about what really caused Nixon’s fall is new to me, and I’m not wholly sold.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Book Review: “The Candy Bombers”


**Posted by Phineas

Call it the first battle of the Cold War.

For much of 1948, the world worried that another global conflict, “World War III,” was about to break out. Over the preceding years since the end of World War II, the Soviets under Stalin had clenched an iron fist around the throats of the nations of East and Central Europe, quashing democratic movements and establishing Communist governments in Poland, Rumania, Hungary and finally Czechoslovakia, where Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was murdered, an event that shocked and frightened the West. Stalinist Communist parties and unions threatened the weak democratic governments of Italy and France, while Communists were in open revolt in Greece, leaving people to wonder if these nations would be next.

And then Stalin blockaded Berlin.

That’s the situation in Andrei Cherny’s “The Candy Bombers: the untold story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour,” which tells the story of this increasingly and undeservedly forgotten struggle. He takes the tale from just before Germany’s surrender — the meeting of the Soviet and American armies at the Elbe and the surreal, horrific Battle for Berlin– to the moment in 1949 when Stalin lifted the blockade and the West realized it had won. The cast of characters is large, ranging from American presidents and Soviet generals to children surviving in the rubble of Berlin, and sometimes their treatment borders on cursory (often necessary in a single volume on a huge topic), but, taken as a whole, they come together in a fascinating story. That cast includes people such as:

  • Harry Truman, a hack machine politician who suddenly became president, faced with having to thread a course between appeasement and all-out atomic war (and win an election he was expected to lose);
  • Lucius Clay, an American general who had never fired a shot in battle, but who became Military Governor of Germany and found himself surrounded in Berlin;
  • James Forrestal, the brilliant, eccentric Secretary of Defense who clearly saw the Soviet threat and was desperate to get American ready for war — and who went mad in the process;
  • Ernst Reuter, a Social Democrat who rallied the people of Berlin to resist the Soviets and take a stand for democracy;
  • William Tunner, an Air Force general and logistics genius who made the Airlift work;
  • …and Gail Halvorsen, the original “candy bomber” and an “average Joe” from Utah who became a hero to the Germans and a celebrity back home.

As Cherny tells it, the story of the Berlin Airlift is one of transformations and evolutions: of individual Americans, who came to occupied Germany hating Germans and wanting to punish them hard for starting two devastating wars, but who then came to sympathize with and even like Germans, risking war to save those they could from Stalin; of the Germans, nearly stripped of civilization itself by the conquest and its aftermath (in the first years after the war, Berlin women would great each other not with “Hello,” but with “How many?”, as in “how many times have you been raped by Russians?”), who went from a shell-shocked passive hatred of Americans to shock at our generosity to eventual love and admiration, as well as passionate defenders of democracy; and of the United States as a whole, from a desperate desire after Depression and war to just enjoy life and tell the world to go away, to recognizing that a new, different war had begun and only America could lead it.

Cherny writes with a fluid, easy style that never drags. While engaging his audience and painting dramatic portraits of people and events, he never over-simplifies or resorts to cliche. One particularly effective device, one that humanizes for the reader an otherwise vast story, is the interspersing of letters from children and adults to Lt. Halvorsen, thanking him for what he was doing and often asking if he could drop candy over their houses. (One girl gave him very specific instructions about how to find her house, but Halvorsen never could. He finally mailed her the candy.) Those letters, and Halvorsen’s own back home to his girlfriend, Alta, remind the reader that the great events of history are always inhabited by individual people with names, families, hopes, and fears.

If I have but one criticism, it’s that very little is told from the Soviet view. While one meets and even comes to like individual Soviets (and even sympathize with some clearly uncomfortable with what Moscow had ordered them to do), the motives behind Stalin’s actions can only be theorized from outside, observing events as they happened. What the decision process of the USSR leadership was, what options they considered and what risks they were willing to take, are as obscure as anything hidden behind the Kremlin’s walls. Of course, the nearly non-existent access to Soviet archives (except for a brief period in the 1990s), makes this lack almost inevitable and no real fault of the author’s. Still, one wishes there was a way to “see their side of it,” even if that side is one of utter evil.

Summary: If you like narrative history that relates great events through the people who lived it, and if you yearn to read a true story of American heroics in which the good guys face huge odds and win big, you’ll enjoy The Candy Bombers.

Afterward: While Cherny’s book focuses rightfully on the American effort to supply Berlin, the British and French also played important roles, which the author notes. But it is also fair to say that, without American leadership and will behind the Airlift, it would never even have taken place, let alone succeeded. Berlin would have fallen, to the incalculable detriment of Western Europe. The Berlin Airlift truly was one of our finest hours.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

A video guide to those evil Republicans


**Posted by Phineas

In this latest installment of Firewall, Bill Whittle shows how it is that Republicans, whose party favors limited government and free markets, and was founded in opposition to slavery, can yet be the party of greed, fascism, and racism.

The answer is simple: because the Democrats say so.

Bill’s longer answer, however, is much more entertaining:

To go into more depth about the issues Bill raises, let me recommend two great books:

On the Democrats’ real history regarding race, there’s Bruce Bartlett’s meticulously documented “Wrong on Race: the Democratic Party’s buried past.”

On Fascism being a form of Socialism and both coming from the leftist, statist end of the political spectrum, Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change” is essential reading.

Meanwhile, I have to get back to being evil.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Red-Meat Monday: the truth about the Democratic Party and civil rights


**Posted by Phineas

I’ve written before about the dirty history of the Democratic Party when it comes to race and civil rights (1), a history that’s largely been swept under the rug as the Party pretends to have always been a virtuous fighter for civil rights and the welcoming home for African-American voters.

Below is a video from Frantz Kebreau, via Flopping Aces, that juxtaposes great moments in the history of the Democrats and civil rights with images of Democratic supporters.

The irony is so thick, you can cut it with a knife:

Like I said, red meat. One can quibble (2), but the basic facts are right; if we’re to be honest about our history and if American Blacks are ever to free themselves from being played for suckers into giving their votes en bloc to just one party –a party that is not serving their interests– then these facts need to be much more widely known.

PS: I haven’t read Kebreau’s book, Stolen History, so I can’t recommend or comment on it. However I do highly recommend Bruce Bartlett’s “Wrong on Race: the Democratic Party’s Buried Past.” Copiously footnoted and deeply researched in both primary sources and academic journals, it should be the standard one-volume reference on the topic. I reviewed it in 2008.

(1) My apologies to proud average-American Democrats reading this, but it’s the truth and it’s been hidden from you, too.
(2) One can argue that the large blocs in Congress opposing civil rights legislation were “less Democrat” than they were Southern, the legacy of both the region’s history with slavery and the place where Jim Crow originated and was most strongly in force. (Though Jim Crow was not limited to the South, to be sure.) This line of argument also would point out that they were Democratic politicians because of the Civil War, in which a Republican administration first crushed the Confederacy and then imposed the hated Reconstruction. And that would be a fair observation. BUT… it is also fair to note that Northern and Western Democrats continually allied with racist Southern Democrats to win national elections and get legislation passed, each giving the other what it wanted. Which means there is no way around it: the Democratic Party as a whole owns that dirty history.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Book Review: Injustice — exposing the racial agenda of the Obama Justice Department


**Posted by Phineas

Fundamental to the American system of self-government is trust on the part of the public that votes will be counted fairly, elections will be run fairly, and the laws protecting our right to vote will be applied equally to all. Absent that trust, the system cannot stand: a citizen’s vote will be seen as worthless, elections meaningless, and the law as a tool for oppression and tyranny. It’s the risk of the latter that J. Christian Adams, a former career attorney with the Voting Rights section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, wants to warn us about.

In “Injustice: exposing the racial agenda of the Obama Justice Department,” Adams asserts that, for years, leftists and liberals in the Voting Rights Section allied with and coming from what he calls the “racial grievance industry” have resisted enforcing the provisions of the Voting Rights Act when the victims are White and the oppressors are Black. To these attorneys, civil rights laws were meant to protect Blacks and other “national racial minorities,” not White voters. When Black and other groups corrupt an election, that’s merely “payback” for decades or even centuries of oppression by Whites — indeed, some lawyers of the Civil Rights Division feel they should facilitate this.

As Adams tells it, the problem goes back at least into the Clinton administration and becomes more of a problem under Democrats because they are generally allied to and supported by the various groups comprising the racial grievance industry, such as the NAACP and ACLU, among others. Under the Republican administration of George W. Bush, and contrary to the charges of “politicization” screamed by the Left, the political appointees at the DoJ who oversaw the career attorneys would either block ridiculous, unjustified legal action or force reluctant left-liberal lawyers to enforce the law in a race-neutral manner. They also made sure to hire attorneys of all political backgrounds — conservative, liberal, and non-political.

This all changed with the coming of Barack Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder: no conservatives have been hired since 2009, even though the Division has been greatly expanded. Indeed, left-liberal civil rights activism became a prerequisite even to be hired at the Civil Rights Division, and new attorneys were regularly hired from leftist advocacy groups. Leftist career attorneys were promoted to supervisory political appointments that gave them the power to set policy. Instead of political appointees being a brake on the racialist instincts of the career attorneys, they became their facilitators and enablers. As one leftist attorney told Adams when asked why he opposed suing in an obvious case of intimidation by radical Blacks directed toward White voters, “I didn’t come here to sue Blacks.”

Adams illustrates his charges of ethical corruption at the Civil Rights Division with specific examples. Among them:

  • Noxubee County, Mississippi, and its Democratic “boss,” Ike Brown, who with his partisans engaged in blatant electoral corruption to elect Black allies and disenfranchise Whites and those Blacks who wouldn’t play along.
  • The infamous New Black Panther Party intimidation case from Philadelphia in 2008, to which Adams devotes two chapters. Not only does he show the Holder DoJ throwing out a case it had won by default, but he also explores a possible explanation via a political payback to the NBPP for support given to Obama when he was an obscure candidate in 2007.
  • The case of the New Haven fire department, which radicals at the Department tried to force to promote Black firefighters over White and Hispanic candidates who had clearly done better on the promotion exams. This went to the Supreme Court as Ricci v. DeStefano.
  • Suing the city of Dayton to force it to hire Blacks onto its police force, even though those applicants had flat-out failed the entrance exams.

And there are many others, including shocking examples of unprofessional conduct, some of which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against DoJ attorneys.

Adams concludes with a chapter of recommendations to reform the Department of Justice, some as simple as a ban on political activity by DoJ staff (a limited one had been in place, but it was regularly ignored by leftist attorneys from 2008 on), others as radical as breaking up the Civil Rights Division and distributing its duties among other departments that could ensure professional, race-neutral conduct. While not all DoJ/CRD lawyers engage in racialist behavior, Adams makes it clear the problem is widespread and only massive reform will fix things. Naturally, we can’t expect these to be acted on by President Obama and AG Holder; if it is to happen at all, it will have to be under a future Republican administration.

“Injustice” is an important book, one that exposes how far the Civil Rights Division has gone from being a neutral enforcer of the law, to being a partisan of a racial spoils system that misuses the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts to pursue a racialist, radical leftist agenda. And he leaves us with a reminder and a warning: these same people will be supervising the 2012 elections.

As Adams writes, it’s up to us to keep our eyes open and call-out corrupt behavior whenever and wherever we see it, and to make sure real reformers come to power in 2013.

Summary: Highly recommended, appalling yet essential reading, but be prepared to get angry.

RELATED: Adams has also written about the DoJ’s, I kid you not, “secret internal redistricting plans to try to force states, counties and cities to maximize the number of black elected officials resulting from redistricting” — meet “Max Black.” He writes often for PJMedia and also blogs at the Election Law Center. If you have any concern at all for the integrity of our electoral system, you should put him on your reading list.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Book Review: FDR’s Folly


**Posted by Phineas


Many years ago, when I was doing my undergraduate degree in History, I read “The Historian’s Craft,” by the great French historian Marc Bloch. One lesson he taught that’s stuck with me all these years is that “objective” history is a myth; the historian, by declaring what is significant through his choice of what facts to include in his work, inevitably suffuse the work with a subjective viewpoint — his opinion.

Careful historians take this inevitable bias into account and look for facts that contradict their thesis, evaluating them against those that support the historian’s point of view and thus reaching a reasoned synthesis. But, again almost inevitably, certain perspectives gain wide enough acceptance that they go from being opinion and argument to unquestioned “received wisdom.”

The history of the New Deal is an example of this. According to the standard telling, the era of vast government intervention in the economy under Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved the nation from economic collapse after the reckless laissez-faire economics of the 1920s and a series of “do nothing” Republican presidents. People found jobs, the hungry were fed, and labor gained their just rights. This was the orthodoxy pushed by liberal historians such as Arthur Schlesinger and Frank Friedel, whose works influence the teaching of history in high schools and colleges down to today.

In recent years, however, works by conservative and libertarian authors have challenged this orthodoxy to argue that the New Deal was not nearly as effective as proclaimed, perhaps even a total failure. Actually analyzing the application and results of New Deal policies, rather than just concentrating on the politics, a few years ago two UCLA economists published a study arguing that FDR’s policies lengthened the Depression by seven years. Journalist Amity Shlaes authored “The Forgotten Man,” an important revisionist history of the Great Depression that questions many of the standard assumptions.

Into this latter, revisionist literature in 2003 came Jim Powell’s “FDR’s Folly: how Roosevelt and his New Deal prolonged the Great Depression.” Powell is a scholar with the libertarian Cato Institute, and he approaches the New Deal with a very skeptical eye. His thesis is that the New Deal was a failure because its diagnosis of the problem, that the economic collapse was caused by prices (both of goods and labor) being too low and that the way to fix the problem was to regulate the economy to maintain prices at a higher-than-market value. He shows instead that this contributed to the problem by making labor too expensive, thus pricing less-skilled workers out of the market and thus keeping unemployment high. (By some estimates, unemployment never went below 13-15% during the Depression. If a program is to be judged by its results…)

Powell also criticizes the vast expansion of federal power under FDR, an expansion made necessary because of the administration’s belief that free markets had failed, that unrestrained competition had brought about the crisis, and that the only way out was to highly regulate all aspects of the economy. This had the effect, Powell argues (I think correctly), of severely weakening economic liberty, for example the freedom of two or more parties to agree to a contract, and the rights a property owner, such as  a factory owner, has over his own property. What had previously been the inherent rights of the individual guarded under the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments were gutted by a succession of Supreme Court rulings, particularly after FDR was able to appoint several sympathetic Justices, who argued that “economic rights” were less important than political rights, such as free speech.

Powell organizes his book in a series of questions, which are then explored to attack one aspect or another of the New Deal orthodoxy. Here are some samples:

  • “What did FDR borrow from Hoover?” (1)
  • “Why did FDR triple taxes during the Great Depression?”
  • “Why did the New Dealers destroy all that food when people were hungry?”
  • “How did New Deal labor laws throw people out of work?”
  • “How did FDR’s Supreme Court subvert individual liberty?”
  • “How did New Deal policies cause the Depression of 1938?”

It’s become a cliché to describe a book as “eye-opening,” but that’s the effect Powell’s book had for me, clearing the scales of liberal orthodoxy away from my eyes by stepping outside the accepted history and daring to ask questions and hold the New Dealers accountable for the results of their policies. And, with the full-throated resurgence of statism under Obama and the progressives, this eight-year old book has a new relevance. Believe me, just change a few of the names and dates, and you’d swear Jim Powell was writing about Barack Obama.

Maybe Time was right to say Obama is the new FDR.

Summary: FDR’s Folly (2003, Three Rivers Press) — recommended.

(1) Yes, the orthodox view of a laissez-faire Hoover is all wrong.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Book Review: The Perils of Peace


**Posted by Phineas

As the years go by, I more and more realize just how poorly History is taught in our schools, both at the secondary and the the collegiate level. As a case in point, take the end of the American Revolution. How many of us still believe what we were taught, that the war was won with the US victory over the British at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781 and that the 1783 Treaty of Paris was really just a formality?

Boy, have we got some un-learning to do.

Thomas Fleming’s The Perils of Peace: America’s struggle for survival after Yorktown (hereafter, “Perils”), tells the story of the post-Yorktown years: not only of the travails of the United States to turn de facto independence into internationally recognized reality, but also of the Great Powers that were part of the war, Britain, France, Spain, and the Netherlands, to end it before they all went broke. (We already were. See? History does repeat itself.)

Fleming tells this story as narrative history, relating events through the eyes and personalities of men often in conflict with each other and operating from motives ranging from noble and selfless to petty and base. The author makes it clear in his prose those whom he admires and respects and those for whom he has contempt. At the top of the list of the former are, probably not surprisingly, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, who both not only had to carry on the military and diplomatic struggle with London, but often also had to battle generals and politicians on their own side. At the other end are characters clearly low in Fleming’s esteem, such as Continental Congress Delegate Arthur Lee, who for years waged a vindictive campaign to destroy Franklin and the French alliance. Even John Adams, a future president, was too often (in Fleming’s presentation) petty, vain, and jealous of any perceived slight to his honor, but who also in the end played an important role in the final treaty negotiations.

Fleming presents the European actors in a similar manner, though perhaps with less obvious biases. King George III, while adamant about holding the British Empire together and putting down the rebellious colonies, is treated with some sympathy and even a grudging admiration. Far from being the dolt of popular myth, he was a skilled political operator who was long able to dominate Parliament and came reasonably close to making that arrangement permanent. Indeed, Fleming often refers to George III as the “Patriot King,” and I don’t think he was writing that tongue-in-cheek.

There is also the key French player, not King Louis XVI, but his foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, who was determined to restore France’s position as the preeminent European power, which had been severely tarnished after her defeat at Britain’s hands in the Seven Years (French and Indian) War. Vergennes and Franklin formed a close alliance and even friendship, which lead not only to France’s recognition of American independence and her entry into the war, but loan after loan and gift after gift, which the Continental Congress would always burn through and then come asking for more, even after radicals in Congress would belittle and insult France.

Make no mistake, though; France was not doing this out of admiration for America, though that played its part through figures such as Lafayette, but out of  sense of self-interest in the great contests of European politics. And it was that “Great Game” that provided the catalyst for the final negotiations over the Treaty of Paris, as event as far away as Russia and Turkey and near as the emptying treasuries of France, Britain, and Philadelphia (where the Continental Congress sat)  impelled the Europeans and Americans to finally make peace.

In telling the story of the post-Yorktown years, Fleming weaves certain themes through his book. One is the role of the Atlantic Ocean itself, so vast that potentially critical information would reach the people who needed it only after weeks and months. Sometimes this would work in our favor, sometimes not.

There is also the nauseating fecklessness and factionalism of the Continental Congress, riven by ideology between what might be called the “practical politicians” (Madison, Hamilton, and others) and the “True Whigs,” a faction so caught up with ideology that they nearly wrecked our diplomacy in Europe and showed churlish ingratitude toward the Regulars of the Continental Army, even refusing to make good on back pay that was years overdue.

But don’t think the states were much better. Under the Articles of Confederation, even just one state saying “no” could block revenue-raising measures for the federal government. While that might sound appealing these days, it lead us to the edge of national bankruptcy and actual rebellion in the Army, when soldiers demanding their pay marched on Congress. (Leading that body to bravely run away, skedaddling first to New Jersey and then to Maryland.) Individual states were mean-spirited even to the troops who had saved them from the British, as experienced by General Nathanael Greene’s forces in South Carolina and Georgia when they were refused the money to even buy anything other than rotting food.

Fleming’s goal in showing us the small-mindedness of both Congress and the states is not just to make us shake our heads in wonder that we survived at all, though it does that when one also considers British efforts after Yorktown to divide the states and entice some to rejoin the Empire, but it also sets the stage for one of the most important moments in our history, one that helped define our character and set the tone for civil-military relations to this day: General Washington’s retirement and surrender of his commission to Congress, refusing those who urged him to instead march on Congress and even become King of America. This moment, recalling the story of Cincinattus from the Roman Republic, might well have kept the new nation from falling apart in conflict and even civil war.

There’s much more, of course, from the heart-wrenching stories of the slaves who sought freedom with the British and the slave-owners in the southern states who so feared revolt that they refused to arm and free slaves for service in the Continental Army, even though manpower was desperately needed, to the Tories themselves, whom we often think of as traitors, but who really were loyal Englishmen, many of whom bet and lost all by siding with their King.

There was the savage violence of the guerrilla war between Rebels and Loyalists in both the south and in New Jersey, and the strange story of Vermont, whose founders essentially stole the land of Loyalist New Yorkers, fought hard against the British, yet who negotiated both with the Continental Congress and the British commander in Canada to see who could offer them the best deal. (And one can see why, since Governor Clinton of New York was demanding an army be sent to crush them.)

The Perils of Peace, at just over 300 pages, is a skillful telling of a history far too few of us are familiar with; it is a book that truly makes the reader marvel that we not only grew to be the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth, but that we survived our birth at all.

Highly recommended.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)