Western Civilization

Teacher's Desk: Tough Kids

First week back in the classroom. Our new math teacher is fresh out of college and trained by Teach America. Our returning students aren't what you'd find at most high schools. I saw two this year that I hadn’t seen for two years. One of the young men spent the last two years incarcerated. In fact, even though he is eighteen years old, he hasn’t been to school since middle school (except for two days here two years ago) because he spent his high school years locked up. I am almost in shock with the pleasantness of the students. The first week often is filled with fights and disagreements. This year: none. My kind aforementioned thug spent a good hour with me explaining his feelings of isolation as a “blood” amongst a lot of students affiliated with “crips.” We shared our experiences, and if not for the criminal involvement of the gang, sometimes they do some solid citizen stuff, believe it or not. He also shared the differences of the two types of gangs, which honestly was news to me.

His feelings of isolation reminded me of another student at our school. He never went to a high school before because he was home-schooled. He, too, had feelings of isolation because we only have a handful of white students and being in a new school, he didn’t know anyone.

“Hmmm…..” I thought.

While speaking to my friendly thug, I asked if he would watch the other young man’s back because he, too, felt isolated and didn’t have street smarts. He agreed, but told me not to let him know.

Another new student came to class this week and I knew he took meds for a bipolar condition (many of my students do). He looked like a fierce fighter of some sort with his hair in a sumo wrestler style on top of his head, some serious weight, and a piercing look emitting from his eyes. He has to be one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met. Again, he is someone too familiar with the juvenile justice system.

That is why I love these students so much. In any other setting, I’d be like everyone else, probably pretty nervous around these guys, but here, I get to see their humanity and value.

Val, from a previous blog, visited my today. She decided to go ahead and go to college, so she was here getting help. She continues to be androgynous and just the smiliest person ever!

This is going to be a fun and successful school year for everyone. I can feel it in my bones!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in educational leadership and a former candidate to the State Board of Education.

The meaning of American independence

The national holiday we celebrate today is more often referred to as the Fourth of July than Independence Day, but at least that makes clear what date we are marking. We should, however, commemorate the historical event and all that it symbolizes, for the common world calendar ensures that the whole world has a July 4th just we like do. American independence has transcendent constitutional significance. No other nation in the world before 1776 had ever established (constituted) itself in the world on the basis of political principles which are true for all times and places. The most famous part of the Declaration of Independence is "all men are created equal," rather than merely all Americans, or all whites or even all males.

Cynics are fond of ridiculing the language of the Declaration because they think they really know that its authors didn’t mean to include everybody. After all, the pre-revolutionary institution of slavery was not immediately abolished, women were not generally regarded as equal in rights to men, and the vote was not even extended to all males. So it was all a pretense, right?

Wrong. Northern states prohibited slavery by the time the Constitution was ratified, women had the right to vote in several states, north and south, and the voting franchise was extended to most white males within a generation or two.

Of course, we had no power to "secure these rights" anywhere else but on our own soil, and that was hard enough, as the Civil War and the long struggle for civil rights attest. But the meaning of independence, in the first place, is that the American people, through their chosen representatives, were free to throw off ancient shackles as soon as possible, however much they might disagree about the timing or even the wisdom of that welcome change.

In other words, no European nation, however powerful or influential, could impede the progress of the American people toward their fullest security for equality and liberty. America would long remain the only country so free, as Europeans underwent a cycle of violent revolutions and even world wars before that greatest of all battles was won. And the rest of the world took even longer, with a decidedly mixed record of success.

For much of our history we have been a beacon to other nations and peoples, drawing millions to our shores and inspiring revolutions abroad. An almost inevitable consequence of the influence was that the growing power of the United States has spared the world some of its greatest evils.

Depending on their agenda or what part of the Constitution they are talking about, both liberals and conservatives like to argue that the American government is severely restricted in its power and authority in order to ensure our freedoms against infringement. But they fail to understand what Alexander Hamilton, for example, understood, which was that "the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; [and] that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated . . . "

The most fundamental obligations of the government of the United States are to "provide for the common defense" and "promote the general welfare." In the midst of revolution without a national government, the Continental Congress had to find a way to fulfill these obligations, and barely succeeded. The object of the Constitution was not to give us a weak government but rather a powerful one.

Living in a world of monarchical governments, hostile Indian tribes and fierce pirates, the government needed to be, in Hamilton’s words, "energetic," not lethargic. The world is a dangerous place always, the only difference at any time being the nature and scope of the dangers. Had the national government not possessed the requisite power, the authority of the Union would not have been upheld against secession.

A united America is a boon to the world. Consider if our nation had not been united under one energetic government when in 1916 German submarines began to sink our ships and patrol our Atlantic and Gulf coastlines, not to mention block our shipping lines overseas. Only a strong American government could have kept the Gulf of Mexico from becoming a German lake.

More ominously still, consider the horrendous consequences if we had not had the means to keep Great Britain in the war against Nazi Germany until such time as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and brought us into a two-front war. Our military, industrial and financial power was critical.

In both world wars, American power was decisive. In the earlier conflict, Germany defeated Czarist Russia at about the same time as America entered the war on the side of the Allies.  Absent American intervention, how does the thought of a Prussian dictatorship all over Europe strike you?

In the later war, an even more tyrannical German regime left unchecked would have held sway all over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and perhaps farther, doubtless putting an end to liberty for decades, if not centuries.

The superpower status of the United States kept most of the world safe from Soviet domination and ultimately proved too much for that evil empire to survive its own inherent weakness and inferiority. Today our government is the primary check on the world's despots and their blood brothers, the Islamist fanatics plotting against our freedom.

In sum, American independence means that we Americans alone decide how we are to be governed, and our formidable power has blocked or ended the rule of overbearing empires. This great good we celebrate today is a blessing for all mankind.

'Suicide of West' imminent?

National Review listed James Burnham's "Suicide of the West" as one of the top 10 books that nudged America toward political conservatism in recent decades. (See rankings in their 50th anniversary edition.) Burnham was a young Trotskyite who turned against Communism and in his later years wrote for National Review. He wrote this book in 1964.

Burnham's thesis was that liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide.

For a young person unschooled in political thought, such as I was, this thesis was difficult to believe. Both JFK and LBJ were aggressive in their Cold War liberalism, which in those days included a strong pro-American component. Even the true believers on the Left assured us that they were pro-American, despite appearances to the contrary. Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs and I.F. Stone were all leftist idealists, they never actually betrayed their country. Or so we were endlessly and emphatically told in the mass media and in our classrooms.

Well, it turned out that Burnham and his fellow conservatives were correct, and we had been lied to on virtually all fronts. We now know that Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Stone and many others on the American Left spied for the Soviet Union for years.

The leftists were not only for collectivism, they were against America and most of what it stood for. Their virulent assaults against the free market, against a strong military and against traditional American values were all of a piece. They regarded liberal journalists and liberal officials in all three branches of government as "useful idiots" and as loose allies in the steady drip of daily propaganda and assaults against America.

By now we are much further along in this process. Some of the most prominent liberal journalists and liberal Democratic leaders in government are no longer acting as merely useful idiots. Some of them are at last revealing themselves to be more malevolent than that.

This is most clearly seen in their move to prosecute those in the Bush admininistration who authorized the enhanced interrogation techniques (which they falsely call "torture") against a few of our top terrorist enemies.

We should recall at this point that the laws of war and the Geneva Convention clearly distinguish between (1) conventional soldiers and (2) nonuniformed terrorists who hide among civilians and attack from schools, mosques and civilian residences. Conventional soldiers, when captured, must be treated humanely. Nonuniformed terrorists, when captured, may be summarily shot.

Unfortunately, instead of shooting these vicious predators on the spot, our government unwisely treated most of them better than we have ever treated prisoners of war. They get better food in prison than our schoolchildren get in school cafeterias. There have been strict limits even on the interrogation techniques.

In three highly supervised cases waterboarding was employed to get vital information that saved many innocent lives. (Many of our own soldiers and sailors undergo waterboarding as part of their training, hence it is absurd to deem it "torture".)

But now many voices are telling us that this was unacceptable, that America's leaders must be punished, rather than thanked and honored, for this great so-called evil. They quote the Constitution much as Satan quotes Scripture, and they pretend to defend both America and the Constitution. However, this new thrust is clearly intended to demoralize those who are defending the country and to reduce or destroy America's future effectiveness in fighting our enemies.

Here at last the Left is taking a position that is so clearly anti-American that there is very little room at the margin for "useful idiots". Some Democrats on my "lunatic" list claim that foreign terrorists captured on the battlefield should be treated as if they were American citizens with Constitutional protections, but even for them that level of imbecility is not credible. Political maneuvering aside, their position can be seriously maintained for long only by the actual enemies of the United States.

For benefit of the lawyers and other confused citizens, let us apply the Left's argument in mirror image so that everyone can see just how bonkers it really is.

The FDR administration put more than one hundred thousand Japanese American citizens in concentration camps during World War II. This was clearly a much more heinous crime against humanity than waterboarding three Al-Qaeda terrorists. We should therefore prosecute all those Democrats still alive who had anything to do with perpetrating that great injustice. Correct?

The LBJ administration entered the Viet Nam conflict on the false and exaggerated claim of being attacked near the Gulf of Tonkin. This resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers and sailors and of millions of Asians. We should therefore prosecute all those Democrats who had anything to do with perpetrating and acting on that falsehood. Correct?

The Reagan administration's retributive attack across Libya's "line of death" in 1986 happened to kill Gaddafi's innocent young daughter. We should therefore prosecute all the Republicans who had anything to do with that attack. Correct?

The Obama administration's attacks on Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists using Predator drones and other means also produce collateral damage, killing innocent children and others, without benefit of legal hearing or trial by jury. Also the suspects are not even given their Miranda warnings. We should therefore (as Ted Olson has recommended in a recent thought experiment) prosecute everyone in the Obama administration who has anything to do with these attacks whenever they occur. Correct?

No, of course these assertions are clearly not correct. The concept is intended to be used only against the "evil" Bush administration, which in fact was trying with the best of intentions to protect America in a legally acceptable manner.

However, war is not police work, never has been, and never can be. The concept of prosecuting actions like this, if taken seriously, would degrade or destroy our ability to defend ourselves. But that is the whole idea. Our domestic enemies will now have another powerful new tool to weaken us, if we have become so confused and lacking in will as to allow it.

In summary, James Burnham was both correct and extremely prescient. Liberalism is indeed the ideology of Western suicide. We will see this in spades during the next four years.

Hedgehog beats the fox every time

British political philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously contrasted the hedgehog, who does one big thing, and the fox, who does many things. This was a particularly apt metaphor for Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, as the former sought to win the Cold War and revitalize American commerce and the latter despaired of Americans’ "malaise" just as the long Iranian hostage crisis began to undermine his presidency. Reagan was under considerable pressure from his strongest supporters to solve a host of long-festering problems and certainly Reagan never lacked convictions for confronting them. But he was convinced that national security and world peace demanded his greatest efforts, which culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Empire. He built up our armed forces and thereby negotiated from strength with our less capable communist adversary.

No less demanding was the need to encourage vitality in our stagnant commerce, buffeted by decreasing purchasing power and increasing unemployment, with cuts in income tax rates. Unfortunately, we are currently in the beginnings of a resurgence of big government that we gained some relief from a quarter century ago.

Berlin was mindful of other statesmen of a similar single-minded determination. His countryman, Winston Churchill, set out to save Great Britain from defeat to a Nazi tyranny which had already conquered most of Europe, and ultimately helped save Western Civilization from collapse.

Such is statesmanship. Is George Washington remembered by anyone except historians for the positions he took on tariffs, excises or treaties? He devoted himself to winning independence from Great Britain, providing a national constitution and serving as the first president. A multitude of lesser problems survived him but so did the nation.

Our greatest national challenge came in 1861 when 11 states defied the results of a presidential election and its mandate for stopping the spread of slavery. Abraham Lincoln had hated slavery since childhood and gave it his single-minded attention when the Democratic party resolved to remove all obstacles to its movement into western territories previously closed to it.

Indeed, Lincoln was severely criticized for talking about virtually nothing else after passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed slavery in the old Louisiana Territory. His response was simply, "I’ll stop talking about it when everyone else stops talking about it."

Lincoln was not being perverse. Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, sought to end slavery agitation by removing the controversy from the halls of Congress and throwing it out to the western frontier to be resolved by the first few settlers in territories forming into new states. But his plan backfired as southerners wanted guarantees for slavery and anti-slavery northerners were outraged at a massive equivocation on this fundamental question.

Later, even historians were critical, not only of Lincoln, but also of Douglas, as the two senatorial candidates in 1858 debated slavery in the territories and practically nothing else. Again, tariffs, excises and treaties were ignored as these longtime rivals explored the political, constitutional, legal, social and moral aspects of slavery. How could they be so single-minded?

The answer is, both Lincoln and Douglas understood that, until fundamental principles are resolved, action on other issues not only would have to wait but no prudent solutions for them were possible. If slaves may be taken to new territories, might Congress revive the international slave trade? What principle can distinguish the one form of "commerce" from the other?

No act of statesmanship, no matter how great, can guarantee results forever. Democrats imposed segregation, something very much like slavery, in the Southern states for a century following its official extinction.

Fortunately, no American president after World War II squandered the ascendancy maintained for the Western world, although Carter seriously underestimated the Soviet threat, militarily and strategically. However, the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union opened the door to the long-dormant ambitions of Islamic extremists.

The quarter century of dynamic commerce generated when Reagan persuaded Congress to enact cuts in income tax rates was undermined by out-of-control credit in the federally subsidized housing market, which has corrupted all of finance, even as union contracts and retirement plans, public and private, have proved unsustainable.

Everything depends, then, as it so often does, on the character of the occupant of the Oval Office, for our Constitution designed the government for leadership in the various crises of human affairs. In this rich and powerful country, many things are going on but all pale in comparison to the requirements of the common defense and the general welfare.

Nature is always the standard for us

When the natural elements wreak their havoc on us, we are reminded that human power can extend only so far. Yet our submission to "the laws of nature and of nature’s God" is more cause for celebration than despair. Many people, educated and uneducated, seem to assume that nature is something outside us, forgetting that mankind is part of creation or the cosmos, and indisputably a powerful force within it. Some deplore and some rejoice that we seem to be the masters of all we see.

But, I believe, the truth is somewhere in between the extremes of minimizing and maximizing our position in "the great chain of being." We are not mere beasts and certainly not gods, for we have a nature no less than all other things in the world. Thus, there is freedom in but also limits to our power. We are the "in-between being" who partakes of both the bestial and the divine.

Some speak of creation or the cosmos rather than nature, for they understand that nature does not name all that exists but is a term of distinction for all things. That is, every thing has a nature, which is constituted by its form and characterized by its purpose.

For example, birds are designed to fly, possessing the wings, shape and feathers that equip them for this purpose. This definition also serves to distinguish them from other two-legged creatures and animals with other appendages. They do more than fly, of course, but we are speaking here of what is distinctive. Some insects fly too, but no one confuses them with birds.

Mankind is a warm-blooded upright animal with the capacity for thinking, visibly manifested in speech but also demonstrated in tool making. Some birds make sounds similar to speech but there is no inward meaning in them. Many animals build but they do not articulate a design or make blueprints.

Man’s rationality is the basis for his capacity to choose, not only among alternatives that present themselves in everyday life but to make plans for the future; to determine what is immediately pleasant or beneficial but also to discern what is good for families and nations. Nothing is more distinctively human than contemplating the purpose for our lives.

What has distinguished mankind in our time is technology. Through an industrial revolution, human beings generated greater power and demonstrated more productivity than ever in our history. As fundamental as this was to our higher living standards, it almost seems quaint compared to what has come about since in electronics, computers, and space and medical technology.

These remarkable advances have not and cannot change our fundamental nature as rational animals. I am far from minimizing the enormity and the value of technological progress, but we are still mortal and subject to the domination of passion as well as reason. In a world of brilliant scientists there are "ethically challenged" ones who need to be governed by the laws and customs of our humane civilization.

Just now our greatest danger is the passion for limitless experimentation and the urge to commandeer the whole world’s resources. Ironically, it comes in the guise of concern for mankind’s well being, whether that is the eradication of disease or the amelioration of our fears.

What could be more desirable, some believe, than utilizing the seemingly limitless possibilities of embryonic stem cells to combat diseases? Why should the loss of allegedly less than truly human blastocysts stand in the way?

And who wants to be incinerated in the zone of green house gases that are said to be threatening to dry up the world? Who wants to see the ice and snow melt and inundate the earth with water while turning the fertile portions of the earth into gigantic deserts?

These horrible scenarios depend for their credibility on the almost divine claims being made for modern science. Its practitioners believe that they can eliminate all human ills even as they accuse their fellows of making the world uninhabitable by past scientific progress! Their hubris (overweening arrogance) consists in overestimating man’s powers and ignoring the limitations of his nature.

We human beings are builders and thinkers but we are not gods. We are not free of nature. We are part of it. We cannot "save" mankind or the world. We can only live in accordance with our natures and the natural elements.