At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

What’s a War “Hero?”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Donald Trump’s remarks concerning John McCain’s status as a “war hero” elicited much hand-wringing from both his fellow Republicans as well as from Democrats.

However, the truth is that the reasoning that proceeds directly from the premise that someone fought in war to the conclusion that he is a war “hero” is illicit. As for those who for nearly 50 years have been denouncing the Vietnam War as both “immoral” and “unjust,” but who now sing praises to McCain and other ‘Nam vets, matters are even more troublesome.

First, at the peak of the war, Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplified the left’s view when he charged his country with being “the greatest purveyor of violence” in the world because of its actions in Vietnam.


It’s difficult to see how the legions of American soldiers without whom there could’ve been no war can be anything other than war criminals given this assessment of the bloody conflict in ‘Nam.

Second, to avoid this conclusion, many of the war’s critics—like the critics of the wars in Iraq and elsewhere—excuse the “immoral” and “unjust” conduct of the troops by chalking it up to their ignorance or helplessness: The soldiers were “lied to” by their government, they say, or they were “just following orders.”

This line, however, gives rise to new challenges:

Soldiers entering combat jeopardize their lives. They leave their families and loved ones behind, potentially forever. They also consent to take as many lives, to shed as much blood, to destroy as much property, as their commanders deem necessary for victory.


When it comes to a decision as momentous as this, a decision that could come at the cost of everything—including, potentially, one’s own soul—it is the height of recklessness for anyone faced with it to accept the word of another, particularly that of the government.

In other words, all soldiers should exhaust themselves scrutinizing “what they’ve been told,” especially when it is the government that is the source. If at all possible, they should make sure that they aren’t being deceived.

As far as following commands is concerned, this is the old Nuremberg defense. No Commander-in-Chief has the authority to command anyone to act criminally. Such commands, then, are, ultimately, nothing of the sort. Thus, the “I was just following orders” defense is no defense at all, for these are not, and cannot be, legitimate orders.


Soldiers can no more exempt themselves from the charge of wrong-doing by way of appealing to obedience than can mafia hitmen do so.

Tellingly, those who seek to excuse American soldiers who fought in “immoral” and “unjust” wars never think to rely upon these same sorts of arguments when it comes to, say, Nazi soldiers. But if the arguments work in the one case, then they must work in the other. And if they don’t persuade in the one case, then they don’t persuade in the other.

Thirdly, Professor Chris Gazarra, an English instructor and colleague of mine, suggested that it’s possible to distinguish the character of those who participate in a cause from the nature of the cause itself. So, though (say) the Vietnam War is “immoral” and “unjust,” those American soldiers who fought in ‘Nam can still be credited with having conducted themselves heroically and honorably.


This may be a possibility, but, on its face, this position gives rise to multiple paradoxes:

For starters, it implies that eminently virtuous human beings—for heroism and honor belong to the best of the best—can nevertheless be “the greatest purveyors of violence in the world,” criminals responsible for the most vicious of actions.

Moreover, consistency demands that if American soldiers who fight in “immoral” and “unjust” wars nevertheless deserve to be commended for their heroism and honor, then Nazis, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other non-American soldiers who fight for “immoral” and “unjust” causes could be equally deserving of commendation.

Yet what this in turn suggests is that if Nazi soldiers and Islamic State militants conduct themselves heroically and honorably, then, since bravery and honor aren’t just virtues, but the greatest of virtues, in aiming to kill them, America’s military aims to kill, not the vicious, but the virtuous!


Fourthly, even if we assume that the Vietnam War was morally righteous and just, why assume that those Americans who fought in it are, ipso facto, war heroes?

A hero is a person with the virtue of courage. As Aristotle noted in his classic analysis of courage, a genuinely courageous person, i.e. one who habitually acts courageously and delights in doing so, is neither a person who simply surmounts fear nor, much less, one without fear. Rather, a courageous person acts in spite of his fear, yes. But he is also distinguished on account of his wisdom, for he knows what he should fear and how he should do so.

In contrast, the reckless person, who is not infrequently confused with the courageous person, is ignorant of the proper object of fear. He knows not what he should fear, when he should fear it, and the extent to which he should fear it. The reckless person may act courageously or heroically on occasion—in this regard, he is no different from the cowardly person who is not beyond doing the same—but he is not a courageous person.


If soldiers are simply following orders, or if they are deceived, then they are in a state, not of knowledge, but of ignorance. But knowledge, as Aristotle notes, is a prerequisite of virtue generally, and courage specifically. No knowledge, no virtue.

This is not the final word, but given the prize virtue that is courage, it is worth thinking about.

And by the way: Aristotle served in the military.




A Reply to Jeff Jacoby’s “Analysis” of the Confederate Flag

posted by Jack Kerwick

The “conservative” Boston Globe columnist, Jeff Jacoby, thinks that the Confederate flag is “anti-American,” “an ugly symbol of oppression,” “the most poisonous ideologies in our national history,” “racial bigotry and victimization,” “racial hatred,” and “the right of white Americans to buy and sell black Americans.”

The flag is also “the banner of slaughter” that “represents armed rebellion against the United States.”

In the interest of intellectual and moral cogency, I offer the following points for Mr. Jacoby’s consideration.

First, Jacoby has succeeded in resolving the single most complex, controversial issue in our nation’s history into a verdict that can fit into a hashtag or bumper sticker: The Confederates fought for “racial hatred.”


On its face alone, it is painfully clear already that Jacoby prefers the ad hominem attack for thoughtful argument.

Second, despite the “poisonous” cause that he assigns to the Confederates, Jacoby doesn’t doubt that legions of “men and boys” were “noble” in having “fought with courage and died with honor.”

This is a perhaps impossible position to defend. If the Confederates’ cause was the unmitigated evil that Jacoby says it was, then the Confederates were evil. However, if the latter is true, then they were ridden with vices, not the virtues that Jacoby attributes to them, for virtue is the stuff of good character, and those with good character can’t defend “oppression,” “racial hatred,” and the like.


Third, in light of the facts that well over 90 percent of Confederates didn’t own any slaves; of the six percent that did own slaves, half owned no more than five slaves per person; and free blacks fought alongside their white counterparts so that the Southern states could secede from the Union, Jacoby’s assertion that Southerners sacrificed all for nothing more or less than “the right of white Americans to buy and sell black Americans” is patently absurd.

Fourth, even assuming (counterfactually) that slavery is the only reason that Southerners wanted to secede, either they had a right to secede from the Union or they did not. The South’s critics, like Jacoby, invariably make two claims that, at least implicitly, contradict one another: (1) The Southern states—and by implication, any and all states that contracted to be party to these United States of America—had no right to secede; (2) The Southern states had no right to secede for the reason of slavery.


Now, if (1) is true, then it matters not whether the South’s reasons for wanting to secede were odious or noble. All that matters is that it had no right to secession. But if (2) is true, then the implication is that there is a right to secession, but this right can be exercised only for morally sound reasons, i.e. reasons that others find acceptable.

Both (1) and (2) can’t be correct.

If Jacoby and company maintain (1), then there are no states. A state, being a sovereign agent, must have the right to secession, for the latter is nothing other than the fundamental right to freedom of association. To deny this right is to deny a state’s sovereignty over itself—or to deny that it is a state.


If Jacoby and his ilk maintain (2), then, again, they deny the very existence of states. To repeat, there can be no genuine right to freedom of association—a right to secession—if a state must seek permission from others before it is allowed to charter its own destiny.

Finally, only if Jacoby assumes that morality is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing can he pass judgment upon those Southern whites who fought for the Confederacy. But if morality consists of timeless universal principles, then by those standards we must condemn just as forcefully those Southern whites who founded America.

Washington, Jefferson, Madison and many others—massive slave holders—Jacoby must affirm, are at least as guilty as their Southern descendants for promoting “racial hatred, “oppression,” and all of the other hideous charges that Jacoby levels against the men and women of the Confederacy.


By his own reasoning, Jacoby implicitly demands that we cleanse our nation of all reminders of our Founders.

To avoid this conclusion, Jacoby could say that it is unfair to judge Washington and company by the moral standards of today. There are, though, three problems with this move.

First of all, if this claim is correct, then, contra Jacoby’s starting point, there are no universal timeless moral principles: Moral standards are historically and culturally-specific.

Furthermore, if it is unfair to judge the Founders by the moral standards of today because there are no timeless universal principles (like “natural rights”), then the Founders were wrong when they enshrined such principles into the Declaration.

Thirdly, if it is unfair to judge the Founders by the moral standards of today, then it is unfair to judge the Confederates by the moral standards of today.


Jacoby has some thinking to do. And while he’s at it, he should pray to God that millions of white Southern men and women (and some black Southerners too) don’t read this breathtakingly offensive piece of his.

If they do, they may think that his thoughts on them and their ancestors represent those of the GOP.







Pope Francis’ Encyclical: “Progressivism” Theologized

posted by Jack Kerwick

Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, is quite provocative.

Unfortunately, though, it provokes us to consider the possibility that its author has more in common with contemporary leftism than traditional Christianity.

The Pope’s encyclical read as essentially nothing more or less than a protracted, theologized, reiteration of the same “progressive” drivel that’s been drooled upon us for decades.

For example, Francis writes: “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system” (emphasis added).

Notice, the Pope manages to pack into this one sentence talking points that are part and parcel of the rhetorical arsenal from which his secular counterparts routinely draw: Not only do all, or at least most, scientists agree (“consensus”) that global warming is a reality; they agree that this phenomenon is something ominous, something that is “disturbing.”


And, of course, while conceding that “there are other factors” that could account for this danger, Francis concurs with his secular ideological counterparts in claiming that “a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades” is “due…mainly” to “human activity.”

Fundamentally, from beginning to end, the agreement between Francis and those at home sounding the clarion call on “climate change” is total. “Climate change,” His Holiness continues, “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Observe: Among the gravest of problems to which this Pope devotes an entire encyclical is not the unspeakable acts of brutality to which scores of Christian men, women, and children are daily subjected by Islamic militants in countries throughout the Third World, or even the oppression of Christians in such affluent lands as America who are now confronted with legal penalties for failing to violate the dictates of their own consciences by funding abortion services for their employees or accommodating gay wedding celebrations.


It is climate change that holds this distinction.

Francis, predictably, exempts the world’s poor of responsibility for climate change. It is on the shoulders of—who else?—Westerners that he lays the lion’s share of blame. “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms [.]”

In short, we in the West are guilty not only of creating most of this “disturbing warming;” we are guilty as well of evading responsibility for our crime.

By “wasting water,” both Westerners and, to a lesser extent, those in “developing countries” deny the poorest of the world’s poor their “right to life” and “their inalienable dignity.” Access to clean drinking water, you see, is “a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other such rights.”


Here is another respect in which Francis reveals his leftist proclivities: Rights, he maintains, are entitlements to substantive satisfactions, to resources. Thus, if I am thirsty but haven’t any money to procure a drink, I am entitled to your services just and only insofar as you are able to satiate my thirst. Relieving my thirst now becomes your duty. In failing to fulfill this “duty,” you are now guilty of violating my “right to life” and my “inalienable dignity.”

We can take this logic further. Shelter, presumably, must be “a basic and universal human right” too, for “it is essential to human survival” as well. What this implies is that if you and your family are without shelter, and I have even the slightest room in my home where I live with my family, then regardless of the costs for me that this may entail, I have a duty to accommodate you and yours.


You are entitled to nothing less.

When speaking of the poor’s “inalienable right” to water, the Pope says as much when he speaks of the “grave social debt” that we owe them. And he follows through on the logic of the “positive rights” to which he speaks when he goes on to claim that we can fulfill this debt, at least partially, by way of “an increase in funding” (emphasis added).

But it gets worse.

Francis insinuates that funding can only go so far as long as there remains “little awareness of the seriousness of such behavior”—wastefulness—“within a context of great inequality.”

Read carefully: Ultimately, it isn’t “climate change” or “global warming” that the encyclical is about. It is inequality, great inequality,” that is the evil that is the center of attention.


And notice how the Pope implies that in perpetuating or even allowing inequality—again, inequality of resources—we are guilty of violating the right to life of those who have less than us.

Now, it has always been understood that to violate a person’s right to life is to unjustly kill that person. Yet if an unequal “distribution” (another word that Francis is fond of using) of resources is such that it impedes the poor’s access to goods that are essential to existence, then, according to the Pope, the poor’s “right to life” is undermined. But if this is so, then it is those of us who have freer access to these goods, those of us who have permitted this inequality to persist, who are guilty of violating the poor’s “right to life.”

We are, then, in effect, murderers.

A lot more can be said about Laudato Si’. But the one thing that we cannot say about it is that it has anything to do with the Gospel of Christ.




Thoughts on Trump and His Critics

posted by Jack Kerwick

At the moment, Donald Trump, deservedly, is all of the rage for remarks he made regarding Mexican immigrants to the United States:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Democrats and Republicans, both politicians and their apologists in the “mainstream” and “conservative” media, wasted no time in pouncing upon Trump.

Some thoughts:

First, it is obvious to those with a modicum of intelligence and honesty that Trump never intended to suggest that all Mexican immigrants are reprobates. For starters, Trump himself qualified his statement by including “good people” among Mexican immigrants. But even if he hadn’t done so, it is either bad faith or intellectual density that could lead anyone to confuse a general remark of the sort that Trump made with a categorical one.


If I say that men are physically stronger than women, do I risk being accused of “sexism” lest I explicitly acknowledge that there are exceptions?

Not coincidentally, I’m sure, the indignant who now judge Trump by this standard have been exempting themselves from it for as long as they have been condemning whites for slavery, Jim Crow, and so forth. Notice: Even though the overwhelming majority of white Americans never owned a slave, and even though there were no fewer than 4,000 black slave owners in the antebellum South, talk of historical injustices suffered by “blacks” at the hands of “whites” is never, ever fine-tuned by modifiers like “not all,” “some,” “most,” etc.


When Jeb Bush says that immigrants who enter America illegally do so out of “love,” no one complains that he “paints with too broad of a brush.”

This leads us to our next point.

Second, both those Hispanic “leaders” (read: racialist lobbyists) who are now demanding that GOP presidential contenders distance themselves from Trump as well as those among the latter who are all too eager to comply have hurled themselves onto the horns of a dilemma.

On the one hand, since Trump never implied that all Mexican immigrants are criminals, drug dealers, and rapists, his critics must object to his assertion that there are some criminals, drug dealers, and rapists coming to America from Mexico.

But if this is their grievance, then they have before them the impossible task of defending a position—there is no criminal element among Mexican immigrants—that is demonstrably, patently false.


On the other hand, if this is not their view; if they concede that there are criminals among Mexican immigrants and that some of them are among the worst of the worst, then they acknowledge that Trump spoke truthfully and, hence, have no intellectual or factual basis for being upset with him.

That they remain upset with him proves that their motivations are political or ideological.

Third, that immigrants from Mexico (and other Central and South American countries) are indeed bringing “lots of problems” with them is undeniably true. That some of them are “bringing drugs;” that some of them are bringing other sorts of “crime;” and that some of them are “rapists,” is true.


Fourth, the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche memorably remarked that the truth is “hard.” For our politicians, partisan media pundits, Hispanic special interest/activist groups, the Immigrant Lobby, the Chamber of Commerce, and the agents of the Racism-Industrial-Complex generally, certain truths about the relentless wave of Third World immigration that’s descended upon America for the last 50 years or so aren’t just hard.

They are intolerable.

Thus, it’s not enough that Trump’s position be repudiated. Trump must be demonized.

Fifth, that some of Trump’s staunchest critics are fellow Republicans speaks volumes—about his critics.


Larry Elder once said that between the GOP and the Democrats, there was hardly a dime’s worth of difference. If the issue of immigration is a barometer of anything, it’s painfully clear that Elder was right on the money.

For years, Republicans, including and especially many of those who have entered the presidential field, have ached every bit as much as their Democratic counterparts for “comprehensive immigration reform”—i.e. amnesty. And this aching has endured despite the fact that the last amnesty—presided over by the Republican, Ronald Reagan—failed miserably to resolve any problems.

Republicans, like Democrats, have done nothing to secure the southern border. Even when Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, GOP politicians still did nothing to resist the flow of illegal immigration from the south. This, in turn, encouraged more of the latter.


Republican governors like Rick Perry and Jeb Bush, presidential candidates who have taken to blasting Trump, along with their colleague, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have all arranged for illegal immigrants in their states to avail themselves of in-state tuition rates in the event that they decide to attend college while living illegally in America.

Finally, even assuming, for argument’s sake, that it’s the case that “immigrants” commit fewer crimes than native born Americans, this is utterly irrelevant to anything that Trump has said.

Immigrants, and illegal immigrants specifically, may be in America, but they are not of it. An American immigration policy should be designed to benefit America. No American benefits from the importation of any criminals.


Trump never said that Mexican gutter snipes in America are overrepresented or not among America’s gutter snipes. He simply pointed out that there are gutter snipes coming to our country from Mexico.

Again, if his opponents believe that this empirically verifiable statement is inaccurate, they should say so. And if they don’t object to its truth, then they have no intellectual ground on which to object.

As for their political motivations…Well, that’s a different story.




Previous Posts

What's a War "Hero?"
Donald Trump’s remarks concerning John McCain’s status as a “war hero” elicited much hand-wringing from both his fellow Republicans as well as from Democrats. However, the truth is that the reasoning that proceeds directly from the ...

posted 11:45:59pm Jul. 23, 2015 | read full post »

A Reply to Jeff Jacoby's "Analysis" of the Confederate Flag
The “conservative” Boston Globe columnist, Jeff Jacoby, thinks that the Confederate flag is “anti-American,” “an ugly symbol of oppression,” “the most poisonous ideologies in our national history,” “racial bigotry and ...

posted 11:16:36pm Jul. 12, 2015 | read full post »

Pope Francis' Encyclical: "Progressivism" Theologized
Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, is quite provocative. Unfortunately, though, it provokes us to consider the possibility that its author has more in common with contemporary leftism than traditional Christianity. The ...

posted 11:00:14am Jul. 11, 2015 | read full post »

Thoughts on Trump and His Critics
At the moment, Donald Trump, deservedly, is all of the rage for remarks he made regarding Mexican immigrants to the United States: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of ...

posted 11:43:13am Jul. 10, 2015 | read full post »

Myron Pauli: The Pledge of Allegiance versus The US Constitution
Just in time for Independence Day, guest-blogger Myron Pauli addresses the conflict between the Pledge of Allegiance, on the one hand, and, on the other, The United States Constitution. All patriotic Americans who have the opportunity to do so ...

posted 10:26:12pm Jun. 29, 2015 | read full post »


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