The Great War and Modern Memory

Fussell Cover copyYesterday was the 100th anniversary of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia—the official beginning of hostilities of what became World War I.  There’s a ton of new books about the Great War (as it was called before the sequel caused a re-numbering), but in many ways my favorite remains Paul Fussell’s treatment of the literary legacy of the war from the 1970s, The Great War and Modern Memory.

A few excerpts from the early, scene-setting parts of the book:

Irony is the attendant of hope, and the fuel of hope is innocence.  One reason the Great War was more ironic than any other is that its beginning was more innocent.  “Never again such innocence,” observes Philip Larkin, who has found himself curiously drawn to regard with a wondering tenderness not merely the victimized creatures of the nearby Second World War but the innocents of the remote Great War, those sweet, generous people who pressed forward and all but solicited their own destruction. . .

The certainties were intact.  Britain had not known a major war for a century, and on the Continent, as A.J. P. Taylor points out, “there had been no war between the Great Powers since 1871.  No man in the prime of life knew what war was like.  All imagined that it would be an affair of great marches and great battles, quickly decided.”

Furthermore, the Great War was perhaps the last to be conceived as taking place within a seamless, purposeful “history” involving a coherent stream of time running from past through present to future. . .

For the modern imagination that last summer has assumed the status of a permanent symbol for anything innocently but irrecoverably lost. . .

Out of the world of summer, 1914, marched a unique generation.  It believed in Progress and Art and in no way doubted the benignity of technology.  The word machine was not yet invariably coupled with the word gun.

More as we go, perhaps, through the centennials of all the Great War’s milestones.

See my previous post about Churchill’s account of that last summer here.

And see my obituary notice of Paul Fussell from 2012 here.

To Finish Off the Evening, the World’s Best Three-Year-Old Drummer

I have written nothing today, having spent my *free* time lining up guests and otherwise preparing to host the Laura Ingraham radio show tomorrow and Thursday. (To listen online between 9 and 12 Eastern, go here.) So, just to brighten your day, this is something I came across while searching for something more serious: the world’s best three-year-old drummer, Lyonya Shilovsky, a Russian, performing with the Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra. It is quite entertaining:

Next I want to see him play Wipeout.

Pelosi parrots Qatar’s description of Hamas as “humanitarian”

Nancy Pelosi says that the United States must look to Qatar for advice in resolving the war between Hamas and Israel. And the beginning of the wisdom Qatar has imparted to Pelosi “over and over again” is that “Hamas is a humanitarian organization.”

Qatar, of course, is the main ally and financial backer of Hamas. Indeed, Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshaal, operates from Qatar.

For that matter, Qatar is believed to have helped fund ISIS and it certainly supports the Muslim Brotherhood. The Obama State Department has labeled Qatar’s support for terrorism since 9/11 “significant.”

Should we be surprised that Pelosi believes the U.S. must seek guidance from Qatar when it comes to Israel’s conflict with humanitarian Hamas? Not really. Pelosi also thought that the U.S. should develop close relations with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian butcher. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi idiotically declared in 2007.

Pelosi is just a knee-jerk San Francisco leftist who lacks the sense she was born with. The real question is whether Team Obama views Hamas and Qatar (and the rest of the world) through the same “see no evil” prism as Pelosi.

The answer, distressingly, is yes. In fact, John Kerry operated just as Pelosi said he should — meeting with the Qataris and the Turks and reportedly presenting Israel with essentially the ceasefire agreement peddled by these friends of Hamas.

Again, we should not be surprised. Who was Nancy Pelosi’s partner in appeasing Assad? Why, it was John Kerry — and eventually President Obama.

In 2010, Kerry proclaimed himself “absolutely convinced” that, with carefully calibrated American diplomacy, Syria “will play a very important role in achieving a comprehensive peace in the [Middle East].”

Now, he apparently wants to assign this peacemaking role to the emir of Qatar.

What is it about so much of the American left that makes it a sucker for authoritarian anti-American regimes? Is it admiration for the power these governments wield over their people? Is it the anti-Americanism itself? Or is it just a desire to wish away foreign policy problems and get on with the pressing matter of expanding the reach of government here at home?

Whatever the answer, I’ll give leftists this much: their tilt towards authoritarians like Hamas is more coherent on its face than that of libertarians.

Media Alert [Updated][Updated Again: How to Listen Online]

I will be guest hosting the Laura Ingraham radio show both tomorrow and Thursday. The show airs from 9:00 a.m.-noon Eastern time. I am expecting a good lineup of guests for the two shows, including Jeff Sessions, John Thune, Marco Rubio, Steve Hayward, Stephen Hunter and Katie Kieffer. Please tune in if you can!

UPDATE: I have also added Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, to the lineup.

MORE: Laura’s show is not on the radio everywhere–for example, here in the Twin Cities. And listening online is behind a pay wall on her web site. But my enterprising wife came up with this in a comment, below:

I use TuneIn to listen to Laura’s show when I’m on my laptop by going here.

That’s a Fresno station ( where the program is on from 6 to 9 am Pacific time (8 to 11 am Central time). TuneIn also has an app that I use on my phone.

So, unless I am missing something, that is a place where anyone can go to hear the shows tomorrow and Thursday.

American Sniper on trial: The verdict

AmericanSniper I wrote about Jesse Ventura’s defamation claim against the estate of Chris Kyle in the post American Sniper on trial.” I attended closing arguments in the case in federal district court in St. Paul this past Tuesday morning and am disappointed to report that, after declaring itself deadlocked yesterday, the jury returned with a verdict in favor of Jesse Ventura against the estate of Chris Kyle this afternoon.

The 10-person jury was unable to reach unanimity. With the consent of the parties, the jury returned an 8-2 verdict. As it turned out the jury awarded $500,000 on Ventura’s defamation claim and $1.345 million on Ventura’s unjust enrichment claim.

The unjust enrichment claim was predicated on the assertion that Kyle had misappropriated Ventura’s name for the success of the book. I thought the claim was thin at best and in fact had a hard time suppressing a laugh when Ventura’s lawyer asked for $15 million, $10 million, or $5 million (in that order) on the claim in his closing.

Given my closeness to my old friend and colleague John Borger, who represented the Kyle estate, and my antipathy toward Ventura, I will leave this report without further comment except this link to Twitchy.

Hamas and the libertarians

The libertarian movement apparently is divided over Hamas and Israel. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, has made a libertarian case against Hamas. In essence, the case is this: Hamas stands behind an ideology which expressly seeks to deprive individuals of their rights.

As Walter Hudson puts it: “Islamic totalitarianism manifest in the entity of Hamas presents a common enemy to the United States and Israel. Neither nation can suffer a world where the mandates of Islamic totalitarianism are put into practice.”

The case seems self-evident from a libertarian perspective. Yet, says Hudson, many libertarians have responded to his argument by “defend[ing] Islam and Hamas while demonizing Israel.”

What accounts for this? Brook offers the following explanation:

I think that the libertarians who tend to be anti-Israel tend to be in the [Murray Rothbard wing] of the libertarian movement. They tend to be anarchists. They tend to have a deep rooted hatred of government. And it’s interesting [because] they tend to hate free governments more than they hate totalitarian governments. They tend to focus their hatred much more on the American government [and] on the Israeli government than they do on Hamas.

If you’re libertarian, that is if you claim to care about individual liberty, Hamas should be one of the top most hated regimes in the world. You should be celebrating that they are being destroyed and that the Palestinian people might have a chance to be freed from such a totalitarian evil regime like Hamas is.

And yet, libertarians don’t seem to care about the Hamas government, or actually support it, and they focus all their ire [and] all their hatred [and] all their focus on the Israeli government, a government that is in relative terms a rights respecting government, at least as rights respecting as any Western government. Essentially there’s free speech in Israel. There’s freedom of contract. There’s private property, not as much private property as those of us who believe in liberty would like, but much much better than 90% of the countries in the world.

All of what Brook says is true. But as an explanation of libertarian support for Hamas, it begs the question. Why would those who have a deep hatred of government be more supportive of a totalitarian regime than a democratic one?

Hudson offers a plausible, and rather elegant, explanation:

[I]t occurs to me that advocacy of anarchy requires one to minimize the legitimacy of foreign threats while demonizing any action which government takes to protect citizens. After all, if government can be seen acting properly in defense of liberty, that stands as evidence against anarchism. In this way, anarchists masquerading as libertarians have boxed themselves into a philosophical corner which requires them to become apologists for evil.

Probably so. But maybe some of these “anarchists masquerading as libertarians” aren’t boxed in by ideology. Maybe some of them simply hate Jews.

Who You Calling Extreme? [With Comments By John]

My old pal and occasional sparring partner Norm Ornstein and his trusty sidekick Tom Mann have been arguing for years now that our current political gridlock owes to the asymmetric extremism of Republicans.  And they have a chart to prove it!

Mannstein Chart 2 copy

This chart, based on an analysis of roll call votes in the House, supposedly shows that Republicans have become more conservative while liberals have only nudged a wee little bit.  QED.  Now, are roll call votes the best way of determining the ideological quotient of the two parties?  I expect I could easily construct a metric that would report the opposite results, because social science is wonderful.  (Start with things many Democrats once opposed—like unlimited abortion on demand or gay marriage—that are now articles of absolute faith.)  Or I could accept the Mannstein hypothesis in toto, and say, “it’s about time the GOP began taking an extreme stand about what’s happening in our government.”  Extremism in defense of liberty, baby!*

Or I can direct your attention to Doug Sosnik’s excellent feature that appeared in Politico magazine over the weekend, “Blue Crush: How the Left Took Over the Democratic Party.”  Sosnik was the political director of the Clinton White House, so this is no Tea Party agent provocateur sent from our side.  And he has charts of his own!  Drawn mostly from Pew surveys, they show the Democratic Party sliding sharply to the left.  Like this:

Sosnik 1 copy

Sosnik 2 copy

These charts make clear that the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved away from the relative moderation of the Clinton years.  Have the Republicans essentially changed from their views under Gingrich in the 1990s?  I doubt it.  The main difference is the rise of the Tea Party; partly because of the failures of the Gingrich-Bush II era, conservatives have taken to the streets, and this upsets liberals because only the left is supposed to get parade permits.

Sosnik thinks Democrats have many strengths at the moment, but ends his piece with this observation:

But the left nonetheless faces an important existential question in the years ahead: Yes, the Republican Party’s inability to adapt to America’s cultural shifts and demographic changes is creating an enormous opportunity for Democrats. However, in an age of political alienation where the majority of Americans lack faith in their institutions in general—and their federal government in particular—Democratic activists will need to reconcile the public’s desire for smaller government with their own progressive impulses.

That sounds like he actually thinks there’s trouble ahead for Dems.  I suspect he’s right.

* Or, as I put to Ornstein in one of our public debates a couple years ago:

So, to the question, “is the Republican party extreme”, I can only answer: I certainly hope so.  Let us recall that the Republican Party began its life as an “extremist” party, dedicated to the purpose of abolishing the twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery.  Barely within a year of its birth, the Supreme Court declared the Republican Party platform to be unconstitutional.  The Republican Party Mannstein wishes we had would have said, “Oh well, I guess we should accommodate ourselves to the status quo.”

Likewise today there is little reason or purpose for the Republican Party unless it acts with a new determination to call a decisive halt to the endless ratcheting expansion of centralized government power and reckless spending.

JOHN adds: I don’t think it is any surprise that in recent years, the Democratic Party has gotten more liberal, while the Republican Party has become more conservative. It is easy to forget that not too many years ago, “Republican” didn’t mean conservative, and “Democrat” didn’t mean liberal. Some of the most conservative people in Congress were Southern Democrats, while among the more liberal were a number of northern Republicans. What has happened is that the parties have finally broken free of Civil War-era alignments and have sorted themselves in a more nationally consistent manner. This change has had consequences, and one can argue that it has contributed to political polarization.

But it tells us little or nothing about whether conservative Republicans have gotten more conservative, or liberal Democrats have gotten more liberal. To analyze that, you would have to look at substantive policy positions that are now regarded as normal in each party, compared with 20 or 30 years ago. On that basis, it seems to me that today’s conservatives believe pretty much the same things as conservatives 30 years ago did–strong national defense, restraints on government spending and power, the rule of law under the Constitution, and so on. Maybe there are differences in degree on some issues, but they aren’t obvious to me. On the other hand, it seems clear that the left has drifted farther to the left. Positions that are common today–an open disavowal of concern about the national debt or the need for federal budgets, gay marriage, advocacy of American weakness abroad as a positive virtue, executive power to disregard federal statutes–would have been considered radical 30 years ago, to the extent they even existed.