Monday, May 30, 2011

For Memorial Day: on the soul of the American soldier

"I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give." - Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur

For more than a dozen generations, from even before the day broke fatefully over Lexington Green those many Aprils ago, America has been defended by men-at-arms who have learned from Mother's nurturing bosom those disciplines, those perfections and that excellence of character, which have made them both capable and deserving of victory; fighting men - and women, too - who have been at once the terror and the envy of tyrants and kings, the pride of their fellows, and - this side of Jerusalem - the last defenders of the hope of mankind.

God bless and keep you all: GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

General Westmoreland, General Grove, distinguished guests, and gentlemen of the Corps!

As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, "Where are you bound for, General?" And when I replied, "West Point," he remarked, "Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?"

No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this [Thayer Award]. Coming from a profession I have served so long, and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -- the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the animation of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always

Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.

And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.

He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.

As I listened to those songs [of the glee club], in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep through the mire of shell-shocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.

And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts; those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms; the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails; the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished; the deadly pestilence of tropical disease; the horror of stricken areas of war; their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory -- always victory. Always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password of: Duty, Honor, Country.

The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.

The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.

In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.

However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.

You now face a new world -- a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.

We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.

And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.

Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, Honor, Country.

Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men's minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's war-guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.

Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.

You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

This does not mean that you are war mongers.

On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.

But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.

Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.

Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.

I bid you farewell.

Audio available at American Rhetoric

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Faith and marriage

In Italian the wedding ring is simply called faith.

I'm not quite sure yet why this phrase came to my mind as a kind of synthetic comment to the LD's remarks in the last posts on the state of today marriage legislation.

Sharp remarks, that left little room for current arguing in defense of "traditional marriage": given the way that legislation is made, there is no reason why marriage should be denied to same sex people.

No piecemeal argument.

Rightly then he ended his second intervention with a criticism of Justice Marshall's marauding sentence: it makes shreds of the law, in a way worthy of a tyrannical state.

A free state doesn't make the law, it just promulgate it. To remind that simple fact John Adams, if I am not going wrong, wrote the constitution of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Back to the wedding ring. There is a law immanent to things – meaning human relations – and what its Italian name suggests to me is what that law is all about, which the state should just promulgate: articulating faith – fides, i.e. trust – among people.

Does this allow some argument in defense of "traditional marriage". Well, I'd say yes.

To put it rather bluntly: who gives a shit about the sentiment two persons feel toward each other so that the state should give to it an official ratification? Or, to put it better, of course we do care, because, as I just suggested, all laws should promote faith among people. But the word marriage evokes a feeling among people leading to some kind of sexual intercourse among them. And then again I repeat my question: why should the state ratify it?

The only reason is the one hinted to by the LD: because by way of sexual intercourse between people of different gender a society perpetuates itself. Now, society is articulated into a certain status rei publicae, and the institutions – like the presidency, the legislative body and the judiciary – that make that state of things should promote the perpetuation of its life.

This leads to still larger questions. I summarize them by this statement: if the state sanctions the separation of sex and reproduction, and assures the perpetuation of society by any other way than the establishment of family relations, it means that it is sucking in itself all of social life – in short, that it is becoming not simply tyrannical, but totalitarian.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Is Really (not) All About PART II

My initial post in this series contained an assertion to the effect that marriage is no more than official state recognition of a public declaration of personal sentiment.

Almost immediately, I subtly but importantly modified the expression "no more than" to read "little more than" in another formulation.

"What real difference is there between no more and little more?" you ask: less, I confess, than an iota's worth, though still significant.

We might avoid the discussion altogether if we simply say that certain benefits are part and parcel of the official recognition. To name a few of the chief ones: rights of entail, inheritance and visitation; spousal privilege; powers of attorney and proxy; participation in a spouse's health plan.

These are not indifferent benefits.

If marriage is merely a temporary mutual ratification of sentiment, and yet one to which the state has attached and conditioned certain benefits, then the state's refusal to ratify the sentiments of a whole class of people is real discrimination - and real discrimination of a kind for which it is hard for this author to see a justification.

Yes, some discrimination is necessary and proper: we do not issue driver's licenses to blind people - and while sexual complementarity is a perfectly rational ground for discrimination when society holds that marriage is for the stability of society from generation to generation through the regulation and rearing of children within established and legitimate households, it simply will not do when marriage is a ratification of sentiment; then, it were tantamount to saying, "You shouldn't feel that way about each other."

Indeed, this was the ground the Massachusetts SJC discovered in Goodridge.

Against this, it can only be urged: that courts should show great deference to legislatures when dealing with questions of social policy; that the legislature's modification of much traditional marriage law was not meant and in any case cannot be construed - in the absence of explicit declarations in statute or as part of the legislative history of an act or body of acts - to have constituted abandonment or destruction of the rationale behind the legislation, i.e. the understanding of the basic structure and purpose of the institution for and about which they were legislating; that (in the Massachusetts case), the court mistakenly conflates marriage with the benefits accorded by the state to married couples.

More to this:

When Chief Justice Catherine Marshall writes, "Simply put, the state creates civil marriage," she makes a crucial error. Marriage, even on a positivistic, radical empiricist reading, pre-exists what passes for “civil society” in those schools. Native Americans, for example, who were considered not to live in civil or political society by the 17th and 18th and early 19th Century devotees of those schools (not to mention most Europeans in North America), entered into marital unions. Consider the following hypothesis: a Native American woman appealed to the spousal privilege in refusing to offer testimony against her husband, who was on trial for murder in a Massachusetts court, and the court ruled that the solicitor could not compel her testimony, on the grounds that she was married to the accused. I believe, though I am not sure, that the hypothesis is confirmed by case-law precedent. More to this, the Commonwealth does not require married couples to contract their marriage anew, when no record of their marriage exists, because the country in which they contracted the marriage does not keep such records. It is sufficient in such a case to swear an affidavit.

Still, Justice Marshall argues, the state creates the benefits of civil marriage, and places as condition of acceding to those benefits, the necessity of obtaining a marriage license. Justice Marshall cites Commonwealth v. Manson to the effect that, "'[T]he requisites of a valid marriage have been regulated by statutes of the Colony, Province and Commonwealth,' and surveying marriage statutes from 1639 through 1834." In 1639, however, there were no such benefits as those which Justice Marshall conflates with the institution of marriage, itself. Her conclusion of law is based in an erroneous finding of fact.

Her conclusion of law to the effect that, "In Massachusetts, civil marriage is, and since pre-colonial days has been just what its name implies: a wholly secular institution," is based in an erroneous finding of fact. Justice Marshall fails to consider that Massachusetts does not, nor has it ever required a separate civil marriage ceremony, but has always recognized that the religious minister of a marriage, in receiving the vows of the spouses, acts as an agent of the state. More to this, the fact that a religious minister legitimately acts as an agent of the state in receiving spouses’ vows implies that the religious ceremony does not contain anything explicitly contrary to the civil requirements. Further, For a good deal of the period mentioned by Justice Marshall, Catholics were not permitted to live in Massachusetts; it is reasonable to assume that Catholics were not permitted to contract marriages during that time; even after some relaxation of the anti-Catholic laws, for many years a citizen of Massachusetts who was not a Catholic was not permitted under Massachusetts law to enter into marriage with a Catholic person. In Massachusetts, then, marriage has not always been a wholly secular institution, except in the tautological sense that, granted the court’s premise according to which the state creates civil marriage by creating the benefits that constitute marriage and granting the license that allows couples to accede thereto, the benefits the state has seen fit to grant to married couples are granted to married couples by the secular power, or the irrelevant sense that a citizen who is a religious minister can and does also sometimes act as an agent of the state.

Such a response could continue at great length, though it is quite specific, and its usefulness will be mostly confined to cases of judicial impostion, i.e., when courts impose or try to impose same-sex marriage.

It says little about how a body politic ought to behave, when it has the question of same-sex marriage before it in the present day.

What the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Is Really (not) All About

Though it were to risk making a fault of frankness, I must say: the more I hear from people on the "no" side of the same-sex marriage debate, the more sympathetic I become to people on the "yes" side of it.

This is not to say that I think same-sex marriage advocates are in the right.

I do not.

Nevertheless, I cannot say that I am "for" something we might call "traditional marriage" sic et simpliciter - without qualification.

You see, I simply cannot get my head around what it might mean to be "for" something called "traditional" marriage. It sounds to me like being "for" gravity, which is what it is, regardless of my disposition toward it (for the record: I am generally well-disposed to gravity).

Let me put it this way: marriage is what it is, quite apart from how I or anyone else might feel about it - and marriage, prior to the state and before all constituted political or civil authority, is between one man and one woman (yes, even where polygamy and polyandry are practiced, each marriage is an iteration of the one man, one woman model: King Solomon's wives were not married to each other); it is for the stability of society in time from generation to generation, through the regulation and rearing of children within established and legitimate households.

This is obvious to me, though it is so only because I have read too much of world history and literature not to be so convicted. Had I looked merely at the state of society today - or had I taken the measure of things as they have developed over the past generation or so (by the biblical reckoning, for which a generation is a 40-year interval), I believe things would indeed appear very differently.

Over the past four decades or so, we have seen a series of social changes regarding marriage: fewer couples entering into marriage and at ever greater age; exponential increase in the number of children born out of wedlock (and in many jurisdictions, tendentially erosive change in laws governing legitimacy); the introduction of "no fault" divorce, with the subsequent increase in numbers and rates of divorce, re-marriage and the increasing prevalence of "blended" families. It is for sociologists to debate and perhaps to decide whether, how and to what extent these phenomena are related to one another. What is certain, and pertinent to present purposes, is that society has come to understand marriage not as a commitment to a way of life, but rather as a sort of official seal of approval on a statement two people make about how they feel toward one another in a given moment.

In several important senses, chief among them the legal, marriage today is no more than this.

Quae cum ita sint, it is more than merely reasonable to ask why society should withhold its official recognition from any two persons who wish to make such a declaration.

In other words: political communities in the United States have decided to understand marriage as little more than a temporary mutual ratification of sentiment, and this does as a matter of fact make it difficult to understand why persons of the same sex cannot have such ratification - why the state ought to withhold its seal of approval.

The debate over "gay marriage" is only symptomatic of a broader sickness in the body politic.

Until we recognize this state of affairs for what it is, and for so long as we continue in our obstinate refusal to recognize that the position of our interlocutors on the other side of this issue is reasonable and (in enough cases to admit of a generality) held in good faith, we will make no headway in a contest for which the prize is neither more nor less than a chance to restore and recover the basic integrity of our entire civilizational project.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A killing and a beatification, with electoral considerations

I often mentioned the fact of there being a creeping civil war going on in the West. But the USA are in a somewhat better shape than Europe. It is that A that follows the US: an idea of America, that still makes for a civil religion of Christian matrix. So, it doesn't matter whether the POTUS is liberal or conservative, in certain junctures he can deliver a speech that is simply presidential, as Obama did when he announced Osama bin Laden's execution.

Too bad that it is the only time since Obama won the elections, on the promise to be a post partisan president, that he really spoke post partisan.

I'd like to enclose a little e-mail exchange I had with an American friend of mine. I change the name with our pseudonyms. I wrote:

"They killed the bastard", was the comment of my young friend the LD. And I must recognize that for once Obama gave a presidential speech. But I hope this will not take away the dissatisfaction with his leadership. Obama is and remains a fraud. He hasn't been able to stimulate American economy, that means Americans, in the least. But I couldn't understand, from the conservative sites I follow, whether there is a strong republican candidate emerging, and who he, or she, is.

Here is the answer:

Dear HP--yes, justice has been served--and although the Book of Proverbs tells not to rejoice in the fall of our enemies--we may be forgiven for a sense of satisfaction seeing justice served--and although Obama deserves some credit--more and more people are talking about the fact that it wasBush's policies (like waterboarding, Guantanamo etc.) which Obama opposed, ultimately proved successful in bringing the bastard to justice--now of course Obama and his minions in the press are waxing overmuch about how the "great one'' led us to this victory--this euphoria will be short lived-since Americans have such short attention spans--and the economy is in such disrepair--as one analyst put it: "Americans have not been disappointed in Obama's handling of the Bin Laden situation"--it's the economy that will bring him down along with his foolish so-called foreign policy of letting others lead--if gas prices and food prices continue to rise--along with high unemployment Obama will be defeated in 2012--as for Republican candidates--there are two midwestern governors (Pawlenty of Minnesota and Daniels of Indiana) who are popular successful Republican politicians and while they might not be so charismatic as Obama is supposed to be--I think Americans are longing for competence and substance instead of superficial glitz which is what Obama is all about--there are also two very interesting potential black Republicans who may run--Herman Cain is a very successful businessman (millionaire) who is very articulate and dedicated to conservative principles (check him out on the internet)--the other is a recently elected member of the House from Florida--a retired colonel--Alan West--who is also very articulate and very conservative--kind of the anti-Obama (except he is black)--these two are very interesting and appealing--if the economy continues in the desperate straits as now--Obama can be defeated by a competent alternative--it should be interesting--besides, it will be interesting to see how Obama's media toadies react to these two black men--it will be difficult to accuse them of racism--the usual response to any criticism of Obama--I am delighted with the beatification of John Paul II--a truly saintly person--my love to your lovely.

Just as a curiosity, meaningful for what is America: my friend is a Jew.