Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

Historical Ignorance & Hiroshima

At HiroshimaPresident Obama was in Japan a few days ago, where he laid a wreath at Hiroshima, the site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Many were concerned he would turn this event into another apology for America. That was a valid fear since he seems to consider his own country to be responsible for most of the evils of the modern era.

I’ve read through his speech at Hiroshima. There is no apology per se, but the language does suggest an unwillingness to differentiate between aggressor and victim in how American involvement in WWII began. He mentioned how wars are caused by a “base instinct for domination or conquest,” yet pointedly never identified who was seeking domination and conquest at the time. His words leave it open to the possibility that America was just as guilty.

Let’s be clear: there is no moral equivalence historically with respect to the combatants in WWII. Too many Americans in our current generation suffer from severe historical ignorance.

Japan, in the years leading up to the war, was ruled by a military with a fascist worldview, which included a sense of ethnic superiority—all other peoples were inferior to the Japanese. Lacking certain natural resources, that ideology led them to invade and conquer the peoples around them and take over the resources they wanted.

Pearl Harbor AttackIt also led to 7 December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor that sought to take America out of the equation, thereby clearing Japan’s path of domination and conquest.

That attack killed nearly 3,000 Americans and is what drew our nation into this world war. What followed was an unbroken series of atrocities at the hands of the Japanese military: Bataan Death March and prison camps that rivaled anything Hitler concocted.

That’s another key point: Japan was in alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As soon as America declared war on Japan (although Pearl Harbor made it clear who declared war first), Hitler declared war on America in solidarity with his Asian ally.

Once America and her allies began to push the Japanese out of their occupied areas, the Japanese government pledged to fight to the last man against any invasion force. Allied military analysts predicted extremely high casualties not only for their own troops, but for the Japanese as well.

The Manhattan Project was the secret development of the atomic bomb. It was begun only because Hitler was working on getting the weapon also. A world in which Hitler had an atomic bomb and no one else did, would have been a world living in constant fear of what a madman would do with it.

Truman & Atomic BombPresident Truman, after the surrender of Germany, received word at the Postdam Conference in July 1945 that the bomb had been tested successfully. Was he now going to use it?

Here’s where our historical ignorance enters in again. It has become fashionable to blame America for using this terrible weapon. Yet if you had been the president at that time, here is what you would have considered, and it’s what Truman considered: dropping one bomb might end the entire war without any further casualties for American troops.

Given the choice between an invasion that would have resulted in more American deaths and an even higher number of Japanese deaths, or the dropping of one bomb that would be devastating enough to bring the Japanese to stop fighting, Truman made the choice that was actually more humane.

In an attempt to minimize the deaths of Japanese civilians, leaflets were dropped over Hiroshima telling the people that devastation was coming; they were urged to leave.

After the bomb decimated Hiroshima, did the Japanese military realize they needed to end the war? Hardly. They pressed their scientists to come up with the same weapon. That led to the dropping of a second bomb, this time on Nagasaki.

The saddest part of this episode to me is that Nagasaki wasn’t the first choice of a target and became the target only because of the weather. Nagasaki was the most Christian city in Japan and was most resistant to the government’s policies. Such are the cruel ironies of war.

Even after the Nagasaki bombing, the military refused to surrender. The only authority in Japan that could overrule the military, the emperor, finally decided to do so. He addressed the Japanese people on the radio, informing them that the war was over. The military tried to stop the broadcast, but was unsuccessful. Many of the top military leaders then committed suicide.

These facts are either ignored or glossed over today. There is this great desire to paint America as the heartless combatant. Yet that is far from the truth.

Here is an excellent video—only 5 minutes and with interesting graphics, so you ought to invest those 5 minutes in watching it—that provides a fine overview of the Hiroshima decision. The speaker is Father Wilson Miscamble, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. After viewing it, in conjunction with what I’ve written here, I hope you will have a clearer understanding of what took place and why.

Ignorance of history can be corrected. What’s harder to correct is an ideology that seeks to remain ignorant.

Book Cover 1My book, The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom, has been out now since early November. I’ve had the opportunity to speak about it before a number of groups locally.

It documents the impact Chambers had on Reagan as the latter read Chambers’s masterful autobiography, Witness. Chambers helped Reagan understand why people would be attracted to communism, and spurred him on to take on communism, which ultimately led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The “future of freedom” part of the title refers to an analysis of which of these two key individuals in American history was more accurate in his prediction about how freedom will fare as we move forward in Western civilization.

Chambers was pessimistic, convinced that modern man would shut his ears to the message of civilization’s decline and the need to turn back to God. Reagan, however, saw freedom as the wave of the future, pushed by the desire God placed in everyone to shake off tyranny’s shackles.

I’m pleased to announce that the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, California, has decided to make my book one of its offerings to visitors. The Center is a division of Young America’s Foundation (YAF), which is an organization devoted to teaching high school and college students the principles of American liberty (on a basis of Christian beliefs).

The Center informs me that the book definitely will be useful in its programs. I’m also hopeful that I will be invited at some point to be included as a speaker in those programs.

Reagan Ranch Center

YAF also owns Reagan’s ranch, situated close to Santa Barbara, high up in the nearby mountains. During my sabbatical, I was honored to have been given a personal tour of the ranch. Cross one off my bucket list.

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What a blessing to have the book that was a labor of love for me for so many years now being sold by the organization that has such a close connection to the Reagan legacy.

If you haven’t yet obtained your copy of The Witness and the President, simply click here and be enlightened on the link between Chambers and Reagan.

The book is also being considered for sale in the bookstore of the Reagan Presidential Library. Your prayers for that are solicited as well.

Remembering Nancy Reagan

Nancy ReaganNancy Reagan passed away Sunday at the age of 94. It’s like the end of an era. The students I teach now were born after Ronald Reagan left office; they have no personal knowledge of him or how he impacted our country. Lacking knowledge of perhaps the greatest president of the twentieth century, they obviously know nothing about his wife either.

Nancy Davis Publicity Photo 1949-1950Nancy Davis was a Hollywood actress in the late 1940s who was falsely accused of being a communist, her name being the same as another Nancy Davis who was the suspicious one. Out of concern for her future, she called on the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan, to explain the situation. He got it straightened out and, in the process, their relationship began.

Reagan had just gone through a wrenching divorce from another actress, Jane Wyman, a divorce he didn’t want and for which he was not at fault. When Nancy Davis entered his life, he said later, she gave his life back to him. They were married in 1952, a marriage that lasted fifty-two years until his death in 2004.

Nancy Reagan’s film career pretty much came to an end after her marriage, and she spent those next fifty-two years as an anchor of stability for her husband. When he embarked on his political career in 1966, she was solidly in his corner. She also was his prime encourager to seek the presidency in 1980.

Ronald Reagan Assassination Attempt 2After the assassination attempt in 1981, she began to turn to an astrologer for some guidance, something that her husband did not engage in. When I had the opportunity during my sabbatical to interview the Reagans’ former pastor, Donn Moomaw, he indicated that he was never sure just where she stood spiritually but that he had stayed in touch with her and had recently (2014) spoken with her again about faith in Christ. He believed she was very open to his words.

Of course we have to leave it in God’s hands as to her eternal destination, but based on Rev. Moomaw’s testimony, I am hopeful that she is now not only reunited with her husband but also basking in the presence of her Savior.

Nancy Reagan was a woman of class and good taste, someone admired by many. May that be the memory we have of her this day. Her body will be laid to rest next to Ronald Reagan’s at his presidential library. The next time I visit there—and I do hope there will be a next time—my visit to the gravesite will be to commemorate both of them and the public demonstration they offered of a marriage—if not exactly made in heaven—that showcased how genuine love for one another can be achieved on this earth.

Reagans on Boat 1964

The Coercive Acts & the Spark of Resistance

The Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773 is what sparked the American Revolution. Yes, many other incidents preceded it, but the reaction to it by the British government led to the armed conflict and, ultimately, independence.

George III’s government was so incensed by the Tea Party that it decided to teach Massachusetts a lesson, one that would crush the “rebellion” and warn all the other colonies that they had better not try anything similar. The government’s action, though, had exactly the opposite effect, as now all the other colonies knew they would suffer the same fate unless they banded together. Rather than crush a perceived rebellion, the acts passed by Parliament drove all the colonies into outright resistance.

Coercive ActsThe reaction went by the name of the Coercive Acts (that was Parliament’s title, not the colonies’—they called them the Intolerable Acts). The first one was the Boston Port Bill, which effectively shut down the Boston harbor. Intent? To starve the Bostonians into submission.

The second provision—the Massachusetts Government Act—changed the upper branch of the Massachusetts legislature into one appointed by the royal governor rather than the elected Massachusetts lower house. The governor also was empowered to appoint and remove judges at his whim and town meetings were restricted to one per year, and the only action to be taken at these meetings was to elect town officials—no debates on policy allowed.

The Administration of Justice Act—the third of the Coercive Acts—required any British official in Massachusetts who was indicted for a capital offense to be tried in Britain rather than in the colony; the other half of the act sent any colonist who opposed the governor over to Britain for trial.

The last of these measures was the Quartering Act, permitting soldiers to be housed in private homes without consent of the owners.

Quebec ActWhile not considered part of the Coercive Acts by the British, another measure that passed at the same time, the Quebec Act, was also roundly criticized in the colonies. That act pushed the boundary of Quebec down to the Ohio River, thereby mandating that anyone who moved into that area would be in a colony that had no representative government. It also gave religious toleration to Catholics, something that the distinctly Protestant colonies still feared due to a long history of warfare between Catholic and Protestant.

Massachusetts had been the target but all the colonies now felt directly threatened. What were they to do in response? In effect, it forced them to unite, convening the First Continental Congress. That Congress made some very important decisions. More on that in a future post.

Introduction to Chambers-Reagan

Book Cover 1For those of you who have been thinking about buying my new book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers, yet haven’t quite made the commitment, let me provide you with an excerpt from my introduction:

Any author should ask himself certain questions before attempting to write a book. Some immediately come to mind when considering the topic of this book:
• Are there not enough books on Ronald Reagan? Why add another one to the ever-increasing supply?
• Why focus on Whittaker Chambers, a man virtually unknown to the majority of potential readers? How can anyone so marginal to most people’s knowledge be a subject of interest for them?
• A literary agent added another: because Reagan and Chambers never met or wrote to one another, how can there be enough here for a full book? Would it not be better to write an article and be done with it?
There are answers for all these questions.

First, the market will determine if there are enough books on Reagan. At the moment, that market exists. It also may be a market that extends into the future indefinitely. Have historians stopped writing about the American Revolution or the Civil War? Has the final word been spoken about either topic?

20141025_095359Historians have only begun examining the voluminous information concerning Reagan’s life, his beliefs, and the results of his presidency. Most of the material at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, still has not been opened to researchers. The supply of new Reagan books will not be ending anytime soon.

Second, just because someone is virtually unknown is not an excuse for not making him better known. Are books not supposed to increase one’s knowledge? Further, if that relatively unknown individual can be linked to a subject of more general interest, the public is benefited by understanding that linkage.

Chambers with Newspaper of Hiss VerdictChambers deserves more exposure. For many social and political conservatives in America, he is not unknown; he is considered to be a near-legendary figure who helped birth modern American conservatism. George H. Nash, arguably the foremost authority on the history of modern American conservatism, states with respect to Chambers and his accusations against Alger Hiss, “As much as any other event, the Hiss case forged the anti-communist element in resurgent conservatism.”

That leaves the third issue—Reagan and Chambers never met or corresponded, so how can a book be justified? Chambers provided major inspiration for many conservatives in his flight from the Communist Party and in his attempt to reveal its inner workings in America. His autobiography, Witness, seemed to resonate with a broad swath of conservatives, even budding ones such as Reagan.

Reagan’s appearance before the House Committee on Unamerican Activities in 1947 to testify to the communist influence in Hollywood preceded by one year Chambers’s confrontation with Alger Hiss before the same committee. Witness gave Reagan the insight into communism that molded his thinking on the subject as he embarked upon his political career.

Reagan had portions of Witness committed to memory, so impressed was he by the power of Chambers’s writing. Portions of Witness kept showing up in Reagan’s speeches as president, and he posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 for his contribution to American liberty.

Chambers and Reagan are bookends: Chambers inaugurated the battle against communism and Reagan, with help from allies such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, helped bring the Soviet chapter of that movement to a close. Chambers, though despising the word “conservative,” nevertheless helped initiate that movement; Reagan, it can be argued, was the fulfillment of that burgeoning movement, even though the movement continues beyond his administration.

That’s my rationale for the book. I’ll be providing more excerpts in future posts. Hope you find it intriguing enough to get a copy for yourself. Here’s the Amazon link.

Boston’s Tea Party: Standing on Principle?

My last American history post pointed to the integrity displayed by John Adams as he defended the soldiers indicted for the Boston Massacre in 1770. After that event, an uneasy peace prevailed for three years as the British Parliament ceased its efforts to antagonize its American colonies.

East India Tea CompanyThe tax on tea still existed, but colonists found other ways to get their tea. The East India Tea Company, closely connected to the government, was suffering, so, in 1773, the Parliament passed the Tea Act.

This act permitted the company’s ships to bypass Britain and bring its tea directly to the colonies. Skipping the middle man made the tea cheaper, but the colonists still opposed the landing of the tea because the hated tax remained. They actually saw it as a deceptive way to get around the issue that this tax had been placed on them without any representation.

Britain counted on the cheaper tea being the wedge that would destroy the protest. It read the temper of the colonies incorrectly. The principle of no taxation without representation was more important to the colonists, so they, at a number of port cities, refused to sell the tea.

In Boston, the civic leaders didn’t even want the tea unloaded on the docks. This proved a problem for the captain of those ships, as he needed to unload the tea and move on to his next shipment.

Massachusetts’s royal governor demanded the tea be unloaded. The city authorities said no. The poor captain had to go back and forth between the governor and the people, seeking a solution.

Finally, the governor declared that if he didn’t unload the tea, his ships would be confiscated. The captain returned to the people who were assembled at the Old South Meeting House church to tell them the bad news. Samuel Adams, in charge of that assembly, then announced that this meeting could do no more; everyone went home.

Boston Tea PartyLater, some returned. They were dressed as Indians. They boarded the ships and threw the tea overboard into the harbor. The captain was now free to go on to his next assignment.

Accounts of that Boston Tea Party all note that the episode was carried out with no riot; it was a solemn undertaking, a stand for principle. Dressing up as they did probably had to do with helping to disguise those involved. It also was a not-so-subtle sarcastic commentary on the rationale for the tax—protection from the natives.

This action, once it was known, received mixed reactions. Even George Washington wasn’t sure it was a wise move. Benjamin Franklin, over in Britain as a representative for some of the colonies, sought to address the issue of the destroyed private property by talking about compensation.

The British government, however, was in no mood for talking. Massachusetts was going to have to pay for this affront to the King and Parliament.

Was the Boston Tea Party a wise action? It brought the tension between the colonies and the Mother Country to a head. It was the destruction of private property. Yet it also was a stand on principle. The participants believed that if they gave in on this one point, they would be giving in on everything. Once you allow the camel’s nose into the tent—as an old saying goes—the whole camel will want to come in.

It’s a tough call for the historian who is concerned about propriety. Yet there is no debate that what the British did in response to the Boston Tea Party was the direct instigation of hostilities. I will cover that in my next American history post.

John Adams & Integrity: The Boston Massacre

Boston, on 5 March 1770, was the scene of an ugly incident. Having the King’s troops stationed in the city to ensure Bostonians followed Parliament’s edicts created a constant tension. The presence of those troops made citizens feel as if they were being treated like traitors to the Crown.

Some of those troops, poorly paid, were looking for part-time work, which only increased the tension, as they would take jobs away from the locals. Clashes between soldiers and citizens were becoming more common.

On this night, a single sentry was set upon by an angry crowd. That brought out more soldiers to face the crowd. Snowballs, sticks, and stones were thrown at the soldiers. In the confusion, some of the soldiers thought they heard their captain shouting to shoot; in fact, he was saying just the opposite.

Thinking they had heard the “fire” order, they shot into the crowd, resulting in five deaths.

All of Boston was in an uproar over this incident. Paul Revere quickly published what has become a famous engraving.

Boston Massacre

The problem with this depiction is that it made it seem like an orchestrated action by the soldiers. It only made the situation worse.

Those soldiers had to go on trial, but who among the Boston lawyers would take on their case? Who was willing to face the storm of criticism by defending them?

Two lawyers undertook the task: John Adams and Josiah Quincy. Adams took the lead and, although he was a patriot who objected to the Parliament’s actions, he knew the soldiers deserved a fair trial.

Adams worked hard for his clients. He successfully got the captain acquitted of all wrongdoing; only two of the soldiers were convicted, but not for willful murder. They were punished and sent back to England, but their lives were spared.

John AdamsJohn Adams knew that the truth had to come out, regardless of the position he took on political matters. One of his comments from these trials has come down to us today, used by many people in all kinds of situations, mainly because it is applicable across the board. Adams said,

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

What was exhibited here? Integrity. John Adams had that quality, and he proved that fairness could be achieved even in an emotional and tension-packed situation.

Later in life, Adams pointed to his defense of those soldiers as his most honorable act. I would have to agree. May we learn from his example.