At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

More Thoughts on “the American Sniper’s” Ventura Tall Tale

posted by Jack Kerwick

While listening to a “conservative” talk radio show recently, the host—who, along with other Iraq War devotees and, what amount to one and the same thing, “American Sniper” worshippers—brought up Jesse Ventura’s lawsuit against the estate of Chris Kyle.   I was amazed at the dishonesty of his coverage.

Chris Kyle, “the American Sniper,” claimed in his book to have knocked out a man named “Scruff Face” who supposedly had badmouthed American soldiers fighting in Iraq.   Interestingly, it wasn’t until he began promoting his book that Kyle identified this man as Jesse Ventura.

Ventura has always sworn that Kyle had blatantly lied about the whole incident: Ventura—a former Navy SEAL himself, let’s not forget—insisted that he never made the comments that Kyle imputed to him, and there was never any sort of physical confrontation between them.  In fact, Ventura didn’t even know who Kyle was.

Ventura sued Kyle for defamation.

And he won. 

Among the wild distortions of my radio host was the claim that the jury was “split.”  Literally, that’s true. But if 80 percent—eight of ten—Americans agreed on any issue, no one would claim that they were “split” or “divided.”  Everyone would chalk this up as one issue around which the nation was unified.

Well, 80 percent—eight of ten—jurors in Ventura’s defamation lawsuit sided with Ventura.

The significance of this can’t be overstated. Among those Constitutional scholars interviewed by The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, one remarked that Ventura’s case has proven to be “one of the most important First Amendment cases in recent Minnesota history.”  The reasons for his judgment are not difficult to grasp.

First, because of First Amendment protections, victory in defamation and libel lawsuits are significantly hard to come by.  To prove defamation, a plaintiff must establish that both the content of the defendant’s claims are false and that he knew that what he was saying was false.  In other words, plaintiffs must prove that defendants acted with “actual malice.”

Second, since Ventura is a public figure, his hurdle was even tougher than that of most.

Yet he did it: The jury awarded Ventura a little over $1.8 million in damages.

Former Navy SEALS, including Terry “Mother” Moy, the owner of the bar at which this incident was supposed to have occurred, testified on behalf of Ventura’s account, swearing that it never happened.

As Ventura remarked, if this event had really occurred, then word of it would’ve “spread like wildfire” through the SEALS community. However, Ventura is actually guilty of understatement here: Given his high visibility as a public persona, to say nothing of the fact that he was in the town, Coronado, when this incident never occurred precisely in order to address a graduating class of Navy SEALS at the nearby Naval base, something like this, if it happened, would’ve become big news—and quickly.

As Thomas Sowell put it not too long ago, juries “deal in facts.”  And the facts to which this jury had access were not in Chris Kyle’s favor.

But there’s another angle to all of this that neither the Kyle worshippers nor the Kyle critics are willing to consider.

Let’s suppose that Kyle did not lie, that every syllable he uttered about his alleged confrontation with Ventura was the God’s honest truth.  This hardly reflects any better on him.

Think about it: According to the Kyle worshippers, Kyle was over in Iraq fighting for “our freedoms,” including and especially our sacred “freedom of speech.” This, after all, is the line that his defenders have used against the Michael Moores and Seth Rogens: Kyle fought over there so that they would have the freedom to express themselves here—even when, in doing so, they “trash talk” Kyle and his comrades-in-arms.

Yet Kyle didn’t respect Ventura’s right to freedom of speech.  Rather, once the latter said something that he found offensive, Kyle committed aggravated assault against him.

And then he ran.

Aggravated assault is a crime that carries a prison term of years.  If Ventura wanted to avenge himself against Kyle, he wouldn’t have sued him for defamation; he would’ve and could’ve pressed criminal charges against Kyle and then sued him for injuries.   After all, won’t the Kyle-worshippers admit that this is just the kind of thing that a publicity hound like Ventura would do?

Nor would Ventura have to worry about keeping quiet to save face.  And this brings us to another piece of unflattering commentary on Kyle if things happened as he said: Ventura could’ve taken comfort in knowing, and revealing to the world, that he, a veteran in his 50’s (at the time) was sucker punched by a guy 23 years his junior—and over a disagreement on an issue that conflicted the nation.

In any event, Kyle did lie, and he lied in order to profit.

Only blind Kyle-worship—or, to put it more accurately, blind neoconservative ideology—can prevent people from seeing this.

“Occupying” “the White Male Syllabus” at Berkeley

posted by Jack Kerwick

Upon witnessing the trials of Nazi war criminals in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt remarked that they shared in common one salient feature: “it was not stupidity,” she said, “but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.”  This inability or refusal to think is on full display in a student editorial—“Occupy the Syllabus”—that was recently published by The Daily Californian.

Rodrigo Kazuo and Meg Perret are Berkeley students who are none too pleased by—surprise, surprise!—the lack of gender and racial diversity among the canon of assigned authors in most humanities and social sciences courses.  In short, there are just too many white guys that students are expected to know about.

The students’ “call” for an “occupation of syllabi” was “instigated” by their experience in “an upper-division course in classical social theory.”  The syllabus for this course is scandalous, for it “employed a standardized canon of theory that began with Plato and Aristotle, then jumped to modern philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault, all of whom are white men.”  Not “a single woman or person of color” was included.

Kazuo and Perret insist that it is “absurd” for these courses to “pretend that a miniscule fraction of humanity—economically privileged white males from…imperial countries…—are the only people to produce valid knowledge of the world.”  The authors convict the “white male syllabus” for “silencing the perspectives of the other 99 percent of humanity.”

These white theorists can’t relate to “the lives of marginalized peoples,” or “gender or racial oppression.”  In fact, they didn’t “even engage with the enduring legacies of European colonial expansion, the enslavement of black people and the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas.”  When “race and gender” are mentioned in “the white male canon,” they “are at best incomplete and at worst racist and sexist.”

“The standardized canon,” Kazuo and Perret conclude, “is obsolete.” While their course in “social theory” purported to be “relevant” to the day’s issues, its failure to “address gender and racial oppression” belie that claim.

Yet the failures of the white male canon aren’t merely theoretical: they affect non-white, non-male students adversely.  The student writers allege that “the classroom environment [in their classical social theory course] felt so hostile to women, people of color, queer folks and other marginalized subjects that it was difficult for us to focus on course material.” Even worse, there were times “when we felt so uncomfortable that we had to leave the classroom in the middle of a lecture.”  Kazuo and Perret offer as an example of such moments the time that their instructor, while lecturing on Marx, noted the plausibility of the latter’s theory of “the natural division of labor” between the sexes given that women tend to get pregnant.  When a student objected that this does not apply to transgendered people, the instructor replied that there will always be “’exceptions.’”  Then, presumably to lighten the mood, he joked: “’We may all be transgendered one day’.”  Kazuo and Perret warn that “mocking” and referring to transgendered persons as “’exceptions’ is unacceptable.”

In conclusion, the authors encourage other students to help them to “restructure the way social theory is taught.”  The white male canon is a “tyranny” that students must “dismantle [.]”  In its place, students must “demand the inclusion of women, people of color and LGBTQ* [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer] authors on our curricula.”

Only in so doing can students hope to “break, systematically and explicitly, the epistemological assumptions on which this exclusionary education rests.”

Kazuo and Perret end their essay with a question: “Is it really worth it to accumulate debt for such an epistemically poor education?”

Given both the content and logic of their op-ed, our only reply to this question is a resounding no!  These poor students, like the vast majority of their peers in liberal arts departments around the country, have indeed been getting the shaft.  But this is because they are not receiving an education at all; rather, it is training, or maybe indoctrination, in an ideology, a doctrine or creed, of which they are the unfortunate recipients.

It is obvious, so painfully obvious, that these Berkeley students are paralyzed by “the inability to think” to which Arendt alludes. Their essay amounts to a caricature of the Politically Correct orthodoxy, i.e. the militant leftist ideology, for which academia has become known—and for which it is routinely ridiculed.  In an essay that can’t be more than a 1,000 words, there is scarcely a leftist stock phrase, cliché, or sacred cow that isn’t exploited.

The problem, though, is not that the students are incapable of thinking beyond leftist stock phrases and clichés; the problem is that they are incapable of thinking beyond stock phrases and clichés.  As Arendt writes: “Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention which all events and facts arouse by virtue of their existence.”

Arendt admits that if “we were responsive to this claim [on our thinking attention] all of the time, we would soon be exhausted [.]”  In other words, we must trade, at least much of the time, in “standardized codes of expression and conduct [.]”  However, “the difference” between some of us and the average Nazi defendant that she observed is that the latter “clearly knew of no such claim” on his “thinking attention.”

And what was true in Eichmann seems equally true of these Berkeley students.

The latter can also be likened to some of Socrates’ pupils to whom Arendt refers, men who were not “content being taught how to think without being taught a doctrine,” a creed on which to hang their hats (italics added).  Yet the activity of thinking “is equally dangerous to all creeds and, by itself, does not bring forth any new creed” (italics added).

Substantively, of course, Kazuo’s and Perret’s comments are outrageous.  The point here, though, is that even if there was truth to them, that they are framed in terms of all of the buzzwords of any orthodoxy—in this case, the prevailing orthodoxy at Berkeley and in academia generally—reveals the shallowness of their intellects.

Moreover, Kazuo’s and Perret’s op-ed serves as an indictment of the faculty and administrators of their institution.  Not only has Berkeley (like colleges and universities throughout the land) failed miserably to supply their students (in the liberal arts) with an education, the ability and willingness to interrogate their own most cherished doctrines.  Berkeley has actually supplied them with the doctrine that resulted in this essay: After all, can anyone really doubt that Kazuo and Perret are, from tip to tail, the children of Berkeley?

What’s ironic—richly ironic—is that it is largely their white male instructors that filled their heads with this conceptual claptrap in the first place.

Rather than occupying their instructors’ syllabi, the Kazuos and Perrets of the world would be much better served trying, for once, to occupy their own minds instead of allowing them to be fed with the dogmas and vapid slogans of their professors.



Questions For the Hero Worshippers of “the American Sniper”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Chris Kyle, the “American Sniper” who Clint Eastwood has immortalized in his latest blockbuster film, is widely being heralded by die-hard Iraq War supporters—i.e. neoconservative Republicans—as an unqualified “war hero.”  Some thoughts:

(1)Given that we ordinarily reserve the distinction of war hero only for those whose cause we value or share, Kyle is a war hero only if his cause was just.  Were German and Japanese soldiers in World War II war heroes?  After all, they too were fighting and dying for the sake of their respective countries?  But if, in spite of putting their lives on the line for a cause greater than themselves, these soldiers are not to be regarded as war heroes because that cause was unjust, then neither is Kyle to be regarded as a war hero—if the American cause in Iraq was unjust. 

And yet this is precisely what’s in question: Was the Iraq War just?

(2)That Kyle killed some evil people is beyond dispute.  But even if every single person of his 160 or so confirmed kills was evil to the core—they may very well have been—and even if, as I have no doubt, Kyle saved the lives of many of his comrades-in-arms, this still wouldn’t warrant celebrating him as a war hero.

Those media pundits on Fox News and on “conservative” talk radio who champion Kyle as a “war hero” don’t mean simply that he wasted bad guys and had other soldiers’ backs.  And they admit as much: Kyle was a war hero because he did all of this to protect our freedoms.

In other words, those singing hosannas to Kyle are to a man and woman the Iraq War’s staunchest defenders. By praising Kyle as a “war hero,” a soldier who did as much as anyone to “defend our freedoms,” their implication is clear: the Iraq War wasn’t just a just war; it was necessary in order to, well, protect American freedoms.

(3)We need heroes, but hero-worship—and that’s exactly what we witness in this case with the Iraq War’s staunch defenders and their obsession with Kyle—can be dangerous.  That this is hero worship can be gotten easily enough by the refusal of the worshippers (idolaters?) to engage in civil discourse with anyone who doesn’t share their own estimation of Kyle.  Anyone who doesn’t extol Kyle’s virtues as a great American patriot and war hero is dismissed, usually angrily, as an ingrate, a coward, or even anti-American.

This is bad.

(4)And this is bad because Kyle cast his own character, and his own motives for promoting himself as “the most lethal sniper in American military history,” into question.

Kyle, you see, told some brazen lies.

Upon his return to the states, Kyle said that he killed two would-be carjackers at a gas station in Texas.  However, attempts to verify this with the local police have proven as fruitless as attempts to verify Kyle’s claim that he was hired to shoot—and, in fact, did shoot—(some 30 or so) armed rioters in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Both stories have been discredited by sheriffs and military personnel.

Yet it was Kyle’s claim regarding his confrontation with Jesse Ventura that was verified—or should we say, falsified. 

Contrary to what some Kyle worshippers would have us think, one needn’t be a fan of Jesse Ventura—and I certainly am not—to face the fact and embrace the truth that Chris Kyle lied about knocking out Ventura in a bar, and he lied  about Ventura loudly expressing his desire for the deaths of more American soldiers in Iraq.

Those in the “conservative” media who deny this are guilty of intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy.  Mike Gallagher is one host who really ought to know better.  When the Eric Garner jury decided against indicting the officer in question, Gallagher rightly took to task those who pretended to know more than the grand jurors who spent months canvassing exponentially more evidence than anything to which the rest of us were privy.

But a jury of ten people spent considerable time evaluating Ventura’s claim that he was defamed by Kyle.  In spite of the enormous bar that Ventura—a public figure—had to hurdle in convincing the jurors that Kyle had “actual malice,” i.e. that he knew that what he alleged was false and/or that he acted in “reckless disregard” for the falsity of his allegations, Ventura ducked the odds and did it.

The jury awarded him 1.8 million dollars in damages: $500,000 dollars for “defamation” and the remainder for “unjust enrichment” (Kyle, it was determined, monetarily benefitted from defaming Ventura).

Kyle, here, acted neither honorably nor honestly.

None of this, of course, is meant to suggest that Kyle didn’t act heroically while defending his fellow soldiers.  Much less is it meant to suggest, as some self-styled deep thinkers in some quarters would have us think, that Kyle was nothing but a liar and, worse, a “psychopath.”

Yet the man, who was doubtless damaged by both his own actions as well as the horrors that he witnessed in war, was flawed.

The Kyle worshippers—the Iraq War’s strident supporters—shouldn’t pretend that this isn’t true, let alone significant, for in doing so, they reveal themselves to be dishonest, self-interested ideologues.






Muslim-on-Christian Persecution Around the World

posted by Jack Kerwick

Since at least the time of the outset of the Iraq War—and quite possibly well before then—there has been much debate among those to the right over why Islamic militants have set their sights upon America and the West.

George W. Bush expressed the consensus among most Republican politicians and commentators when he remarked that they hate us because of our values.

Ron Paul, in contrast, represents most libertarians when he attributes to America’s enemies a hatred of, not American liberties, but American foreign policy. 

Both groups are both right and wrong.  For failing to see this, they argue past one another.

Paul, Pat Buchanan, and others are indeed correct when they note that jihadists in places like Iraq and other Middle Eastern lands despise America because of what has been called an “interventionist” foreign policy.  Yet they are mistaken—sorely mistaken—insofar as they assume that if only America disappeared from the Islamic world, so too would our problems with Islamic violence disappear 

Republicans too are correct in charging jihadists with despising American and Western values.  But they are incorrect inasmuch as they imply that Islamic militants have a problem with liberty, equality, etc. as such.   In other words, they are incorrect insofar as they imply that it is the specific content of these value that elicit the homicidal ire of jihadists.

The latter certainly do hate our values.  But that’s only because they are our values—and not theirs.

In short, they hate our values because they are not Islamic values.

And this gets to the heart of the matter: the “Bush” and “Paul” camps argue past one another because both fail to reckon with the role played by Islam—not “Islamism,” “Islamo-Fascism,” “Islamo-Nazism,” “radical Islam,” “Islamic extremism,” or some other politically acceptable fiction, but Islam—in these violent clashes with Muslims.

Muslims around the world routinely engage in unspeakable acts of cruelty toward their neighbors in contexts that obviously have nothing whatsoever to do with American values, American foreign policy, or, for that matter, America.

The fierce persecution of Christians courtesy of their Muslim neighbors is an epidemic—and yet it is among the least talked about forms of contemporary oppression.  In Nigeria, for instance, the persecution is “extreme,” according to Open Doors, an organization dedicated to combating anti-Christian persecution.  There are 183 million Nigerians, of which 89 million are Christian.  Yet Boko Haram—an Islamic militant outfit—has rendered peaceful co-existence impossible. In northeastern Nigeria, Muslims have declared a caliphate.  Hundreds of children, boys and girls, as well as women have been abducted, and thousands more have been rendered homeless upon the destruction of their homes.  In the twelve northern Sharia states, Christians have been all but squeezed out.

Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, a bishop and the head of a diocese in northeastern Nigeria, gave an interview with Catholic On-Line.  He relays how over the last five years, Muslims have all but reduced his diocese to ashes. Over 50 churches and chapel have been ruined, and hundreds have been abandoned.  Worse of all, more than 1,000 Catholics have been murdered. 

The Bishop reports that Catholics are forced at gun-point or knife-point to convert to Islam.  If they fail to do so, they are slaughtered.

For the sake of saving the lives of Christians, not just in Nigeria, but in the region, he pleads with “Western powers” to intervene.  Only something of a military onslaught against Boko Haram can stop it, he believes.

But it isn’t just the Christians of Nigeria that agonize at the hands of Muslims.  Nigerians have it bad: according to Open Doors, out of 50 countries worldwide, Nigeria is the tenth worse place for Christians.  And it’s true that Muslims aren’t the only persecutors of Christians.  But in 40 of the Earth’s 50 countries where Christians are made to suffer because of their faith, Muslims are the culprits.

Open Doors evaluates global persecution of Christians in terms of degrees.  The worst is “extreme persecution.” Eleven countries are named here.  In 10 of these, the persecutors are Islamic.  The second worst type of Christian persecution is “severe persecution.”  In 11 of 14 countries, the culprits are Islamic.  Next there is “moderate persecution.” In 10 of 14 countries, those responsible for the persecution are largely Islamic.  Finally, there is “sparse persecution.”  In nine of 11 countries, Muslims engage in the persecution of Christians.

In none of these instances of Islamic violence and oppression does “American values” or American foreign policy play a role.

Islam, however, most certainly does.


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