Friday, May 31, 2013

The Hour Is Come!

For my Bible study, my church is going through John's Gospel: Wisdom from Ephesus, with Michael Card.  What I want to talk about in this blog post is an event in John 12.  Greeks are in Jerusalem to worship at the festival, and some of them want to see Jesus.  When Jesus is told about this, he says:

"The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.   Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.   He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.  If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.  Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.  Father, glorify thy name."  (John 12:23-28 KJV)

I have two questions, as well as questions accompanying the two questions: 

1.  Why did hearing that Greeks wanted to see Jesus make Jesus realize that his death was imminent?  What is the relationship between Greeks wanting to see Jesus and Jesus' death being near?  Was it because the Greeks wanting to see him reminded him that he would draw all people to himself when he was lifted up from the earth?  Was Jesus recalling that his crucifixion and resurrection would lead to the inclusion of Gentiles into God's people, and the fact that Greeks wanted to see him was an indication that the harvest was ripe----that his role in including the Gentiles was about to be realized?  Was it because the Greeks' acceptance of him highlighted in his mind that there were prominent people within his own nation who were seeking to kill him, even as outsiders were accepting him? 

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown say about v 23: "[The Greeks] would see Jesus, would they? Yet a little moment, and they shall see Him so as now they dream not of. The middle wall of partition that keeps them out from the commonwealth of Israel is on the eve of breaking down, 'and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, shall draw all men unto Me'..."
2.  Jesus' statement that "The hour is come" intrigues me, on account of John 2:4, in which Jesus is reluctant to change the water into wine because his hour has not yet come.  If Jesus' "hour" is the time of his crucifixion and resurrection (see also John 7:30 and 8:20), what would his crucifixion and resurrection have to do with his reluctance to change water into wine?  "I don't want to change water into wine right now, for my time to be crucified and resurrected has not come yet."  That doesn't make much sense, does it?

There are a number of interpreters who just say that Jesus in John 2:4 means that his hour to do miracles has not yet come.  That sounds logical, but Jesus' "hour" in John so often refers to his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, that I have a hard time saying that it means something different in John 2:4.

Of the commentaries that I read, John Gill and John MacArthur try to factor Jesus' passion and resurrection into John 2:4.  John Gill speculates that "it was not proper for him to work miracles as yet, lest it should provoke his enemies to seek his life before his time..."  Maybe.  Perhaps Jesus in John's Gospel realized that the performance of his work was a delicate task: that he had to do things just right to get his message out.  Jumping the gun by publicly turning the water into wine might puzzle or anger people prematurely, and thus he wouldn't be able to say what he needed to say, when he needed to say it.  Why, then, did Jesus turn the water into wine?  Because he did so in a private, low-key manner, which would not attract premature attention. 

John MacArthur states: "My hour has not yet come. The phrase constantly refers to Jesus’ death and exaltation (7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). He was on a divine schedule decreed by God before the foundation of the world. Since the prophets characterized the messianic age as a time when wine would flow liberally (Jer. 31:12; Hos. 14:7; Amos 9:13, 14), Jesus was likely referring to the fact that the necessity of the cross must come before the blessings of the millennial age."
I'm not overly convinced by this explanation, to tell you the truth.  I don't think that Jesus had to die and rise again before Israel could enjoy the blessings of the messianic age, for such blessings were evident in Jesus' ministry, before he died and rose again.  In Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22, Jesus says that John the Baptist should have known that Jesus was the Messiah on account of the healings that Jesus was performing.  Jesus in these passages may have had in mind such scriptures as Isaiah 35:6: "Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert."  But, if you only want to consider what's in John's Gospel in interpreting John's Gospel, even John's Gospel implies that the blessings of the messianic age are occurring during Jesus' ministry.  In John 6:45, for example, Jesus applies the prophecy that "they shall be all taught of God" to the people who were believing in him. 

And yet, there is a sense in John's Gospel that certain prophecies in the Hebrew Bible could not be fulfilled until after Jesus died and rose again.  In John 7:38-39, we read (in the KJV): "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)"

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 15

For my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972, I'll highlight something that Ambrose says on page 440.  The subject is President Richard Nixon's pursuit of detente, which was "a relaxation of tension" with the Soviet Union and Red China (page 439).

"In promoting d[e]tente, Nixon had strengths of his own, many of them equally obvious.  First, as he often pointed out, he was the one, the only one, who could pull it off.  It was not just that his anti-Communist credentials were impeccable; it was that he did not have to deal with Nixon.  That is, had anyone but Nixon tried to promote d[e]tente, Nixon would have been the leading, and devastating, critic who would have rallied the right wing to kill the initiative."

Nixon may not have had to deal with himself, but he still had his share of right-wing critics.  Why couldn't they rally the right-wing to oppose Nixon's detente policy?  The reason was probably that many on the right felt that they had no other place to go, which is what Ambrose says on pages 440-441.  It was either Nixon, or someone the right-wing would like a lot less.

Couldn't Ronald Reagan have emerged as a formidable leader against detente?  Reagan spoke against detente in the 1976 Presidential election, when Reagan ran for the Republican nomination against Gerald Ford.  I'm not sure if he spoke against detente when Nixon was President, but Reagan in a 1989 interview told Jim Lehrer that Nixon sent him (meaning Reagan) on trips abroad.  It seems to me that, in a sense, Reagan was a participant in Nixon's foreign policy as opposed to being a vocal adversary against it.

Ambrose does tell some interesting stories about opponents of detente.  First, there were Teddy Gleason and Jesse Calhoun, who led the maritime unions movement.  They did not care for Nixon's plan to expedite and increase Soviet access to U.S. grain markets, a plan in which the Soviets would buy more U.S. grain.  Ambrose says on page 479 that "They thought all Communists were swine to be avoided when they were not being attacked".  Consequently, Gleason and Calhoon "refused to load Soviet ships."  Henry Kissinger tried to persuade Gleason to load the ships, but Gleeson cussed Kissinger out.  Nixon then sent Charles Colson, who said to Calhoon that the SALT agreement depended on the trade agreement with the Soviet Union.  Calhoon yawned, retorting that he didn't care for SALT.  A deal was eventually reached: the maritime workers would load the ships, and Nixon would free money up for the construction of more ships, as well as support the sort of legislation that maritime unions wanted.  According to Ambrose, "Ten months later, Gleason became the first member of the AFL-CIO's executive committee to endorse Nixon's re-election" (page 479).

Second, there was George Meany of the AFL-CIO.  When Nixon's summit with the Soviets was announced, Gleason suggested that Nixon visit Fidel Castro in Cuba.  Meany said, "If he's going to visit the louses of the world, why doesn't he visit them all?"

Third, there was actor John Wayne.  Wayne said that he was shocked by Nixon's trip to China.  Ambrose says on page 480: "Wayne enclosed some reading for the President, including a spurious 'Communist rules for revolution' pamphlet that was employing a right-wing vogue, and a hate piece 'fact sheet' on 'that Jew, Kissinger.'"  I don't know if it was the hate piece that mentioned Kissinger being a Jew, or Wayne himself.

Norman Thomas on the New Deal

In my post today about W.A. Swanberg's Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist, I'll talk about Socialist Norman Thomas' views regarding President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

This will probably not be the last time that I discuss Norman Thomas' views on the New Deal, since I'm still in the 1930's in my reading of this book.  On page 140, Swanberg narrates that Norman Thomas and Socialist Morris Hillquit met with President Franklin Roosevelt in the White House on March 14, 1933.  Swanberg states that they "were greeted by Roosevelt in a White House with a geniality not usually accorded Socialists" (page 140).  Roosevelt had just closed the banks, which Thomas and Hillquit considered to be a bold and surprising move on FDR's part.  They encouraged Roosevelt to support a $12 billion bond for relief and public works and to nationalize the banks that he had just closed.  Roosevelt paid attention to what they were saying, even though he did not entirely agree with them.  Thomas and Hillquit left the meeting quite impressed with Roosevelt, and Thomas commented that Roosevelt's program "far more nearly resembled the Socialist...than his own [Democratic] platform" (Thomas' words, quoted on page 140).  You may recall that, during the 1932 Presidential election, Thomas did not particularly care for Roosevelt's emphasis on the need for a balanced federal budget.

But Thomas felt that, even though the New Deal was coddling capitalism, it would not be able to revive it.  Recovery was slow, unemployment persisted, fascist mobs were in the street, and charismatic leaders like Huey Long (whom Thomas publicly debated at one point about Socialism) were gaining a following.  There was fear that fascism was coming to America, perhaps through "Wall Street brokers plotting a right-wing military coup" (page 153).  Thomas thought that the New Deal would transition to something, but he hoped that it would be Socialism, not Fascism or Communism.  For Thomas, a transition to Socialism would be much more peaceful.  Thomas also did not care for FDR's "big-navy program", or Assistant Secretary of War Harry Woodring's idea of incorporating the Civilian Conservation Corps into the army.

Thomas came to have problems with elements of the New Deal.  Let's start with the National Recovery Administration (NRA).  For reasons that Swanberg does not specify (at least in my reading up to this point), Thomas regarded the NRA "as a potential back door to Fascism" (Swanberg on page 158).  Thomas also cited examples of "the way in which minimum wages set by the [National Recovery Administration] tend to become maximum" (Thomas' words, quoted on page 158).  Then there was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).  Thomas opposed how the AAA curtailed crops and livestock in a time when people were starving, believing that it was an attempt "to save capitalism at the expense of the poor" (Swanberg on page 158).  According to Swanberg, the AAA mandated that plantation owners share a certain amount of the "plow-under payments" (Swanberg's words) that they received with their sharecroppers, yet the plantation owners were the ones who were administering the program at a local level.  As a result, a number of sharecroppers, who did not know to what the law entitled them, never received their portion of the plow-under payments, and many of them were fired because less cotton was being planted due to the AAA, which meant that there wasn't as much work for the sharecroppers to do. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Do I Write for an Audience of One?

Rachel Held Evans had a good post yesterday, entitled I don’t write for an audience of One.  Rachel was critiquing the popular Christian notion that we should write or perform our worship music for an audience of One, namely, God, without worrying about what other people think.  Rachel went into how we are relational creatures, and how she is happy when others value her work and consider it to be helpful.

The Parson's Patch then had a good post entitled Why do I/You Write or Blog?  I identified with some of these thoughts in the post:

"Maybe we can only truly be free to be who we are when we release ourselves of our own need to be read or heard and think of writing as expression of who we are...I started writing/blogging as a way of discovering who I was within the context of the pastoral-vocation. For me blogging has been extremely beneficial and helpful. I have tried to give voice to my questions, struggles, celebrations and, of course, my love of coffee so that I might work out what it means for me to be a pastor, and secondly because there may be others who feel like I do. Some blog as a way of interacting with scholarship and learning, others write to simply share. All good and faithful responses to 'why I blog'."

Do I blog for an audience of One, namely, God?  To be honest, I don't.  Why?  Because I don't see how my thoughts can impress God.  God already knows everything!  What can God get out of reading my blog?

Do I blog for others, then?  Well, I'm like most people: I would love for my work to be affirmed and to be deemed helpful.  I'd like for my posts to be read and, even more, acclaimed.  Sometimes, this desire is satisfied.  Sometimes, I am disappointed.  And, most of the time, I'm somewhere in between those two extremes.  I will say that, whether my blog is popular or not, I do find it to be useful, at the very least for myself.  For one, I don't remember the contents of every book that I've ever read and blogged about, so it's good for me to have a record so I can remind myself of what I learned.  Moreover, I find it helpful for me to read about my ideals and the type of person I'd like to be, because so often I stray from that path.

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 14

More than a couple of times in my readings for My Year (or More) of Nixon, it has been said that President Richard Nixon's visit to the People's Republic of China came as a shock to many people.  The claim has been made that Richard Nixon talked tough about Red China in his 1968 Presidential election campaign, and so his outreach to Red China as President was quite a surprise.  Nixon himself, in one of his books that I read (perhaps it was Beyond Peace), tried to justify his decision not to inform Japan that he was about to visit Red China.  For Nixon, secrecy was essential to his negotiations.

In my post here, I said that Nixon did not exactly hide his intentions to reach out to Red China, for he wrote an article for Foreign Affairs prior to 1968 in which he said that "There is no place on this small planet for a billion of [the People Republic of China's] potentially most able people to live in angry isolation."  (Nixon in that article stopped short of calling for normalization, however.)  A John Bircher type could perhaps argue that Nixon was just saying that to the Council on Foreign Relations elite (the ones who publish Foreign Affairs), while talking tough about China to the general public.  But Stephen Ambrose in Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician documents that, even as a candidate for President in 1968, Nixon was talking about the importance of negotiating with Communist China.  According to Ambrose, that was largely ignored. 

I talked in my post here about Nixon's narration in Beyond Peace of what led him to reach out to the People's Republic of China.  Essentially, there was a rift between Red China and the Soviet Union, Red China felt isolated and vulnerable, and Red China scaled back its aggression in the international arena.  What interested me in my latest reading of Ambrose (specifically Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972) was that Chou Enlai of Red China was in the process of ending the country's "self-imposed isolation" and was seeking better relationships with different countries: Britain, Japan, and others.  That makes sense: Red China is estranged, isolated, vulnerable, and surrounded by countries that it may not consider its friends, and so Red China reaches out to countries in pursuit of better relations.  You'd think that Japan wouldn't be surprised that Red China and the United States built bridges with one another, after Red China had reached out to Japan.  But many people were surprised.

Norman Thomas on the Soviet Union, Government, and Religion

My latest reading of W.A. Swanberg's Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist covered Thomas' views on the Soviet Union, the 1932 platform of the Socialist Party, and Thomas' changing religious views.

Thomas was critical of the Soviet Union's tyranny, favored "evolutionary and constitutional change" rather than violent revolution (Swanberg on page 105), and was far from being a doctrinaire Marxist.  A number of Communists viewed Thomas as rather bourgeois, and Thomas himself struggled to justify how he, a Socialist, could be well-off financially, saying that he could not help living in a capitalistic society, or that he wanted the best for his kids.  At the same time, on the issue of the Soviet Union, Thomas held out hope that the U.S.S.R.'s tyranny would be merely transitional, and he stated that "Russia is disproving the fallacy of the necessity of the worship of the profit motive to make men work and work hard" (page 130).  Moreover, Thomas disagreed with fellow Socialist Morris Hillquist because Hillquist "served as counsel for the Standard Oil and Vacuum Oil companies in their lawsuits to regain oil lands which had been nationalized by Soviet Russia" (Swanberg on page 129).

On the 1932 platform of the Socialist Party, Swanberg summarizes it as follows: it "favored public works, a shorter work week, agricultural relief, unemployment insurance, the elimination of child labor, old-age pensions, slum clearance, low-cost housing, higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and the nationalization of basic industries" (page 135).  Thomas conveyed a remarkable vision: "There is no conceivable physical reason why every American family should not be well fed, well clothed, well housed, possessing its own radio and automobile, and, above all, free from that dread fear of tomorrow which is the tyrant of our waking and sleeping hours" (Thomas' words, quoted on page 135).

Thomas was critical of President Herbert Hoover for prioritizing a balanced budget over helping those who were suffering on account of the Great Depression, and Thomas stated that Hoover "promised prosperity to us all but has fought off every dole except a dole to bankers [the Reconstruction Finance Corporation]" (Thomas' words, quoted on page 125).  Thomas also criticized Roosevelt's favorable emphasis on the importance of a balanced federal budget.  One might argue that Thomas, as a Socialist, had a statist view on government, but Thomas asserted the contrary, saying: "I have a profound fear of the undue exaltation of the State and a profound faith that the new world we desire must depend upon freedom and fellowship rather than upon any sort of coercion whatsoever."  Thomas indeed defended civil liberties when the government was attacking them in the name of patriotism, and so in that sense he was anti-authoritarian; but I doubt that, were Socialism to be effected, it would proceed without any coercion by the state, for corporations and the wealthy probably would not voluntarily contribute large sums of their money to Socialistic programs.

I'm curious about how the nuts-and-bolts of Socialism would work.  If basic industries are nationalized, what for-profit corporations would exist to serve as a source of revenue for the government to redistribute wealth?  I guess it depends on the definition of "basic industries" (Swanberg's words).

On Thomas' view of religion, Thomas became more skeptical about religion after the death of his son, as he questioned whether a loving God would be omnipotent and allow so many problems in the world.  For Thomas, if change were to be effected, human beings would have to be the ones to do it.  Yet, Socialists still appealed to Thomas, a former clergy-person, in their attempt to refute the charge that they were anti-religion.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 13

My blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 will focus on Cuba.

President Richard Nixon had his own sort of Cuban Missile Crisis, if you will.  On September 16, 1970, a U-2 flight revealed that there was construction going on at a harbor in Cienfuegos, Cuba.  According to Ambrose, it would turn out to be a "base support facility" for the Russians, where a "submarine tender was being installed" (page 381).  Henry Kissinger said that this would mean "a quantum leap in the strategic capability of the Soviet Union against the United States" (Kissinger, quoted on page 381).

How this was concluded, I don't know.  Ambrose narrates that what made Kissinger suspicious was that it appeared that the Cubans "were building soccer fields" (Ambrose's words, page 381), and the Cubans played baseball, whereas the Russians played soccer.  Ambrose says that Kissinger was wrong about soccer in Cuba, since "soccer was as popular in Cuba as in every Spanish-speaking country", but that he was right to be suspicious (page 381).  Nixon, in volume 1 of his memoirs, narrates that U-2 flights revealed construction: "A submarine tender was anchored to four buoys in the deep water basin, and submarine nets were strung across the harbor.  A large complex of barracks, administrative buildings, and recreation facilities was almost completed on Alcatraz Island" (page 602).  Nixon says that "The construction was proceeding at a rapid pace, and unless we acted completely and decisively, we would wake up one morning to find a fully functioning nuclear-equipped Soviet submarine base ninety miles from our shores" (pages 602-603).  What may have happened was that U-2 flights revealed that soccer fields were being built in Cuba, and, because the Russians played soccer, that tipped the U.S. off to the fact that the Russians were doing construction there, construction that turned out to be for military purposes.

Nixon handled this situation in a very low-key fashion, when, according to Ambrose, it was tempting for him to "exploit the crisis for votes" (page 383).  Kissinger mentioned to reporters (since C.L. Sulzberger of the New York Times had already broken the story that there might be a Soviet base for submarines in Cuba) the 1962 Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement that the U.S. wouldn't intervene in Communist Cuba against Fidel Castro, and the Soviets wouldn't put missiles there.  Nixon proceeded with his trip to Europe, which was designed "to publicize Nixon the world statesman inaugurating the new era of negotiations (one month before Election Day)" (Ambrose on page 382), and this conveyed the message that there really was no crisis.  And Kissinger told Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin that the Nixon Administration was concerned about what was going on in Cienfuegos.  On October 6, Dobrynin gave Kissinger a note denying that the Soviets were violating the Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement.  According to Nixon in volume 1 of his memoirs, the Soviet government's news agency, TASS, later went on record denying the existence of a submarine base.

Nixon says on page 605 that "After some face-saving delays, the Soviets abandoned Cienfuegos."  Ambrose disagrees with that assessment, saying that the "base remained, and Soviet submarines used it frequently in subsequent years" (page 383).  But Ambrose acknowledges that a crisis was averted, for "no Soviet Y-class submarines, carrying ballistic missiles", used the base. 

Nixon had a variety of reasons for handling this situation in a low-key manner.  Ambrose says that Nixon told Kissinger that he didn't want a "'clown Senator' demanding a Cuban blockade in the middle of the campaign" (page 382).  According to Ambrose, Nixon also did not want for a new Cuban missile crisis to disrupt his trip to Europe.  Nixon himself, in volume 1 of his memoirs, seems to take issue with the public manner in which John F. Kennedy had handled the Cuban missile crisis.  Nixon said that Kennedy and UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson went public about their knowledge concerning Soviet missiles in Cuba, and that allowed Khrushchev to exploit worldwide fears of war to pressure Kennedy into an agreement: the U.S. wouldn't try to overthrow Castro in Cuba, and Khrushchev would remove the missiles.  Nixon appears to regard this as a raw deal, and he seems to lament that Kennedy did not get to deal "with Khrushchev from the position of immense nuclear superiority that we still held in 1962" (page 602).  In short, Nixon apparently thought that Kennedy's public manner of dealing with the crisis made the situation worse.

I'd like to make three points.

First of all, when I first read Nixon's discussion of the Cienfuegos situation in his memoirs, I wondered if he was trying to show that he was better than Kennedy.  In Oliver Stone's movie Nixon, Nixon is continually comparing himself to Kennedy, lamenting that people love and admire Kennedy but don't care that much for him.  Could Nixon have been talking about the Cienfuegos situation to show that he (Nixon) himself had his own sort of Cuban missile crisis, and that he handled it much better than Kennedy handled the 1962 one?  I don't know.  Either way, the Soviets' Cienfuegos activity may have been quite a serious problem.

Second, I was intrigued by the discussion that Ambrose mentions between Kissinger and Nixon about the authority of the 1962 Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement.  There wasn't actually a treaty.  Kennedy simply promised that he wouldn't intervene in Cuba.  Technically-speaking, Kennedy's successors were not bound by that agreement.  But Kissinger went on to say that the U.S. and the Soviets "acted as if it were a formal treaty" (Ambrose's words on page 380).

Third, as I said above, Ambrose says that the submarine base continued to exist in Cienfuegos, and the Soviets still used it.  Was the submarine base truly a problem, then?  It continued to exist, and there was no Soviet invasion of the United States!  I think of John Stormer's right-wing classic, None Dare Call It Treason, in which Stormer refers to people who contended that the Soviets still had underground missiles in Cuba even after the Cuban Missile Crisis was supposedly resolved.  Even if that were the case (and I can't say one way or the other), the Soviets didn't invade the U.S.  Perhaps one could argue that the Soviets were biding their time, waiting for the right moment----waiting to get more territory, resources, and power so that they could be sure that they would win were they to attack the U.S.  I don't know. 

Starting a Biography on Norman Thomas

I started Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist, by W.A. Swanberg.  Norman Thomas was the Socialist Party's candidate for President of the United States between 1928-1948.

Why am I reading this book?  For a variety of reasons.  I became somewhat interested in leftist politics as I did some reading about Richard Nixon for my Year (or More) of Nixon.  As I read some books for that, I tended to admire leftist figures who had concern for the poor----not just in word, but also in deed----and who stood up to the special interests for what they believed was the good of the country.  I thought about the Red Scares, which sometimes conflated Communists with Socialists, when there were actually plenty of Socialists who opposed Communism and the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union.  I wanted to learn more about this.  I also was curious about the critiques that Socialists made of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, since I usually read right-wing critiques of Roosevelt's policies.  Moreover, because Norman Thomas at one time was a Presbyterian minister, I wondered what role religion played in his commitment to socialism.

I'd like to use as my starting-point something that Swanberg says on pages 45-46:

"Among those who knew Thomas and were aware of his many talents, there was no doubt as to the gift that drove him to exertions beyond most men's stamina.  It was capacity for indignation over injustice.  The injustices done the ignorant and defenseless masses could be traced to the compact minority of the rich, the educated, the well-connected, the shrewd, the aggressive and expedient.  They were often admirable people----consider the Stewarts [who were Norman Thomas' in-laws]----but they lived in a world apart from the masses, did not understand them and were either the believers or the exploiters of that easy rationalization.  'The poor are always with us.'  For years Thomas's indignation had made him a crusader for measures against poverty.  Now he had a new and allied cause in the threat of American entry into [World War I]----a threat which came from that same influential and affluent minority.  An enormous advantage, possessed by no other proletarian leader to the extent that he possessed it, was his connection with that affluent minority.  Being almost as much at home on Fifth Avenue as he was in Harlem, feeling in his heart that Fifth Avenue was basically good even if at fault, he was saved from the rancor and animosity that spoiled the efforts of many friends of the masses.  He saw himself as an educator of both classes, and his lectures were animated with an understanding and a humor that made his barbs tolerable."

Here are some points:

----As the above passage states, Thomas had connections with the elites.  Thomas himself was born to a fairly well-off minister, and Thomas married into a family of privilege.  Thomas went to Princeton University, when Woodrow Wilson was the President of Princeton.  Both were acquainted with one another, and Wilson as President of the United States even went to bat (somewhat) for Thomas when Thomas was getting into trouble for his vocal opposition to American intervention in World War I.

----Around 1905-1906, Thomas stayed with a minister friend whose parish was close to slums.  There, Thomas saw things that impacted the rest of his life.  Thomas would return to slums after that, and he witnessed poverty, drunkenness, businesses taking advantage of ethnic divisions between immigrant workers to prevent them from joining together to form a union, low wages, unemployment, and crime.

----The above passage talks about Thomas' optimism about people.  Thomas long had positive feelings about people.  As a child, Thomas was non-athletic, skinny, and bookish, the sort of person you'd expect for others to pick on.  But Thomas enjoyed being around people, and they gravitated towards him, so he wasn't bullied.  (This is not to suggest, however, that people who are bullied are somehow at fault, for there are plenty of people who get bullied even after they try to be friendly.)  And Thomas was a leader, as when he organized students to challenge an authoritarian head of his school to bring in an outside speaker for their graduation ceremonies.

----The above passage says that Thomas felt that the well-off Fifth Avenue people were basically good at heart, yet he did not care for how some of them used the Bible passage about the poor always being with us as an excuse to turn a blind eye to the status quo.  As a minister, Thomas was an advocate of the Social Gospel, which stressed the importance of creating a just society.  He tended to think that such issues as the historicity of Jesus' miracles and the virgin birth were unimportant in light of the harsh realities that the poor experienced.  Thomas also was critical of how Christian leaders appealed to the good afterlife as a way to encourage the oppressed to endure their conditions rather than organizing to improve them, and Thomas had issues with the Christian doctrine of hell.  At one point, Thomas gave a sermon in which he said that God rewards people in this life if they help the poor.  Moreover, Thomas attributed much of the crime in the slums to poverty.

----Thomas opposed U.S. intervention in World War I.  My impression is that he joined the Socialist Party because that was one of the few organizations, even on the Left, that was against the U.S. entering the war.  Thomas' brother Evan got in trouble as a conscientious objector and had to spend time in a harsh work-camp, and a friend wrote: "I feel ashamed of myself to be having a good time in Paris and classed as a young tin hero because through no fault of mine a Boche shell dropped beside me.  Much as I may disagree with him, I must say that Evan has what in college we call guts" (page 69).

In my opinion, what's ironic is that Thomas recognized the depravity that human beings did----that the better-off exploited those not as well-off economically, that there may be not-so-pure motives behind the idealistic platitudes that politicians use in support of war, etc.----and yet Thomas pushed for a political program that critics could label as utopian and idealistic, in that it had an overly optimistic view of human nature.  The dilemma in which I find myself is that I know that there are problems in the country that need to be fixed.  Yet, when the government seeks to fix them, that creates another set of problems.  Many would say that the government should therefore do nothing.  But that approach doesn't fix anything, either, for it just leaves the problems as they are.

Another consideration: While I agree with Thomas that a belief in an afterlife can be used to perpetuate oppression, I also believe that the opposite can be true, since, in Matthew 25, entrance into the good afterlife is based on helping the least of these.  Moreover, it's not always the case that helping people will bring one rewards in the here-and-now, and so some people may need to believe in an afterlife to be motivated to do the right thing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lars and the Real Girl, and a Community's Acceptance

I watched the 2007 movie Lars and the Real Girl a couple of nights ago.  You can read about it here.  Also check out Roger Ebert's excellent review of the movie. 

There were plenty of times when I was bored with the movie, to tell you the truth, but I will venture to say that it touched me emotionally more than any other movie that I have ever watched (which is quite a statement, I know!).  The reason is that we have a man named Lars who (like me) is a shy, socially awkward, rather eccentric loner.  And we have his community, which accepts him.  Is the real world like this?  Not everywhere, or even most places, I will say that!  But there are some places that accept people who are rather socially-awkward and different.  In my post here, I quoted blogger David Nilsen, who talked about a church that he visited:

“My favorite image from this journey has been from a Church of the Brethren we’re considering. It’s a boring, uncool church, but comfortable being what it is. They sing hymns accompanied by a piano, and no one leads the singing, and they sound shrill and awkward and I kind of love them for it. One week a partially blind old woman was sitting near the middle of the sanctuary. She was wearing a hideous pink dress she was clearly proud of. In the middle of a hymn she pulled out a flute and began playing along as loudly as she could. No one was phased. They kept right on singing around her. I get the feeling this happens somewhat regularly, and the fact that no one has suggested she leave her flute at home tells me a great deal about the hearts of these people.”

I've encountered churches that are quite accepting of people with various quirks, treating them as part of the family.  Lars' church in the movie was like that.

The thing about this movie is, it doesn't just make me wish that others could be more accepting of people with quirks.  It actually made me want to be more accepting and loving towards others, myself.  Watching that movie was like attending a church service where I felt particularly inspired, and I walked out the door happy and loving.  That feeling is not easy to sustain, but thinking about the community's acceptance of Lars in that movie is, for me, a foretaste of what heaven will be like. 

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 12

President Richard Nixon criticized the Baby Boomers who were protesting against the Vietnam War, calling the ones who were "blowing up the campuses" "bums" (Nixon's words).  Meanwhile, Nixon praised the soldiers fighting in Vietnam, portraying them as heroes.  Stephen Ambrose seems to find this ironic.  On page 349 of Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972, Ambrose says:

"By dividing the young males of the Baby Boom generation into bums and heroes, Nixon was entering territory as alien as the jungles of Southeast Asia.  To a large extent, the bums were the offspring of the rich and affluent, natural Republicans, while the heroes were the offspring of the working class, natural Democrats."

This reminds me of something that Michael Moore said near the end of his 2004 documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11:  "I've always been amazed that the very people forced to live in the worst parts of town, go to the worst schools and who have it the hardest are always the first to step up to defend that very system.  They serve so that we don't have to.  They offer to give up their lives so that we can be free."  See here.

Who Wrote Joshua 22?

I was thinking about the authorship of Joshua 22.  I don't know anything about the scholarly discussion on this issue, but I was just looking at elements of the chapter and I was asking myself who could have written it.

In Joshua 22, Israel, led by the priest Phinehas, confronts the tribes that live in the Transjordan, namely, Reuben, Simeon, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.  The reason is that these two-and-a-half tribes have constructed a replica of the altar that's at the central sanctuary, and Phinehas and the rest of Israel believe that this Transjordanian construction is a competing altar, on which sacrifices will be offered.  But the two-and-a-half tribes assure Phinehas and company that the Transjordanian altar is not for sacrifice, but rather is a memorial to the rest of Israel that the Transjordanian tribes are a part of Israel (even though the Jordan River separates them) and thus have a right to worship God at the central sanctuary.

At first, I asked if the Deuteronomist could have written Joshua 22.  The reason is that this chapter strongly supports limiting worship to one central sanctuary, which is part of the Deuteronomist ideology.  After all, Israel is criticizing the Transjordanian tribes because it believes that they are constructing an alternative altar for sacrifices, and the Transjordanian tribes retort that they are not doing that at all.  This controversy makes sense if there is an assumption at the outset that sacrificial worship must only be conducted at the central sanctuary, the place God chose to put God's name.

But there appear to be considerations that militate against this chapter being Deuteronomistic.  For one, the two-and-a-half tribes in Joshua 22:21 call the LORD the God of gods.  That presumes that other gods exist, but the LORD is superior to them in rank and power.  But, as Moshe Weinfeld documents, the Deuteronomistic school did not just believe that the LORD was superior to other gods; rather, it denied that the other gods even existed!  Second, in Joshua 22:25, the two-and-a-half tribes express their fear that Israelites in times to come would not allow the Israelites from the Transjordan to worship the LORD.  But I don't think that such a restrictive policy on who can worship God at the central sanctuary would have been on the radar of the Deuteronomist, for the Deuteronomist envisioned even people from other nations coming to the temple to worship the LORD (I Kings 8:41-43).  I have a hard time believing that the Deuteronomist would write a story in which the Transjordanian tribes would have to build a replica of an altar to convince other Israelites of their right as fellow Israelites to worship God at the central sanctuary, for my impression is that, as far as the Deuteronomist is concerned, even Gentiles can worship at God's house. Joshua 22, by contrast, seems to presume that only Israelites can worship at the central sanctuary, and so the two-and-a-half tribes have to build a replicated altar to convince the rest of Israel that they (the two-and-a-half tribes) are indeed Israelites and thus have a right to worship at the central sanctuary.

I wondered then if P could be the author of Joshua 22.  For one, the phrase "God of gods" could fit P, since the Books of Chronicles, which supposedly reflect a priestly sort of ideology, use that sort of language at times.  Second, as Julius Wellhausen held, P assumed that sacrificial worship could only take place in the central sanctuary.  Third, Phinehas is a prominent player in Joshua 22, and Phinehas was the ancestor of the Zadokite priesthood.  The chapters in the Pentateuch that exalt Phinehas are (if I'm not mistaken) usually attributed to P.  But there is a problem.  According to Jo Ann Hackett (see my post here), P does not recognize the Transjordan as part of Israel.  Joshua 22, by contrast, does regard the Transjordanian tribes as full members of Israel.  Then I thought something: Phinehas is not exactly portrayed positively in Joshua 22, but rather as one who impulsively rushes to condemn the Transjordanian tribes, without full knowledge of the facts.  So I have my doubts that P wrote Joshua 22.

Who could have written Joshua 22?  It was probably written in a time when the sole legitimacy of the central sanctuary was largely accepted, or at least it was written by someone who may not have been a Deuteronomist himself, but who still agreed with the Deuteronomist idea that only one sanctuary was legitimate.  The one who wrote Joshua 22 probably disagreed with the priests who held that the Transjordan was not a part of Israel.  The writer of the chapter seems to be aware only of an exclusivist viewpoint that holds that God can only be sacrificially worshiped at the central sanctuary by actual Israelites.  The writer uses terminology for God that acknowledges the existence of other gods, which may reflect an early stage of Israelite thought, or it could be a remnant----as the Chronicler, a late (post-exilic) writer, uses that sort of language for God.  On how to put all this together and identify the author, well, that will require more thought!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 11

My blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 will focus on Vietnamization.  Vietnamization was a strategy that President Richard Nixon pursued in the Vietnam War.  Its goal was for the South Vietnamese to take on more of the responsibility for fighting the Vietnam War, as American troops would take on less responsibility and would withdraw over time.

I first read about Vietnamization in an Opposing Viewpoints book about the Vietnam War.  The way that Opposing Viewpoints books are set up, you have an article that defends a particular point, and that's followed by an article that argues the opposite.  For the article that defended Vietnamization, the book presented a speech by President Nixon explaining the strategy.  For the article that criticized it, the book had a speech (I think that's what it was) by Senator George McGovern, who would run against Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election.

I was just a kid when I read this book, so there was much that I did not know about the Vietnam War.  Consequently, when I read Nixon's speech explaining Vietnamization, it made a lot of sense to me.  Sure, let's get South Vietnam to the place where it can defend itself, and then we won't have to have American troops defending it!  Makes sense!  Then I read the article by Senator McGovern, and McGovern essentially argued that General Thieu of South Vietnam did not want us to leave, and so it would be futile for us to expect for South Vietnam to take up the slack in fighting the war.  I didn't entirely understand McGovern's argument at the time.  Now, years later, I understand it a little better, especially after reading Ambrose.  Of course, General Thieu would want the powerful Americans to protect his country, and his government!

Nixon talks about Vietnamization in volume 1 of his memoirs, on pages 617-618.  Nixon narrates that war supplies were coming to the Communists in Vietnam through the country of Laos.  Nixon, therefore, planned to attack the enemy in Laos.  But the Americans would not be the main ones attacking, under this plan.  Rather, the South Vietnameze ARVN would do the attacking, while the U.S. role would include such things as providing air cover and support for artillery, using helicopters to transport troops and supplies, giving "gunship support", and raiding with B-52s.

5,000 ARVN troops entered into Laos, and the Communists resisted fiercely.  Meanwhile, caught off guard by the intensity of the combat, the U.S. military failed to augment its air cover for the ARVN.  There were thus many casualties for the ARVN, but Nixon narrates that "they continued to fight courageously."  Nixon goes on to say that the ARVN proceeded to make significant gains:

"The South Vietnamese forces quickly recovered from these initial setbacks, and most of the military purposes of Lam Son [(the name of the operation)] were achieved within the first few weeks as the Communists were deprived of the capacity to launch an offensive against our forces in South Vietnam in 1971."

But then Nixon narrates that the ARVN chose to leave early.  One reason was that it assumed that the operation had been a success, which (according to Nixon) it was.  Another reason was that it had reason to think that the Communists were planning "a major counteroffensive" (page 618).  The ARVN was withdrawing, but, again, U.S. air cover was not adequate, and so the enemy was really pounding ARVN soldiers, causing a panic.  On page 618, Nixon says: "It took only a few televised films of ARVN soldiers clinging to the skids of our evacuation helicopters to reinforce the widespread misconception of the ARVN forces as incompetent and cowardly."  Nixon's overall point, I think, is that Vietnamization was a good idea and actually was successful, for the South Vietnamese fought bravely and accomplished the goal of the operation.  And yet, Nixon acknowledges that the operation was a public relations disaster for Vietnamization.

Jerry Voorhis, who ran against Nixon for the U.S. Congress in 1946, criticizes Nixon's application of Vietnamization to the invasion of Cambodia in his (meaning Voorhis') book, The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon.  I talk about that in my post here.  Essentially, Voorhis argues that using South Vietnamese forces to attack Cambodia (in this case, alongside American troops) was a bad idea.  For one, there was a history of hostility between Cambodia and Vietnam.  And, second, the South Vietnamese committed atrocities against Cambodian civilians.

But let's turn now to what Ambrose says about Vietnamization!  Ambrose discusses this topic on pages 324-325 (and he may discuss it elsewhere, but here I'll focus on those two pages).  Ambrose says that Nixon had the Korean War in mind when he was pursuing Vietnamization.  During the Korean War, the South Korean army was quite strong and formidable, and that allowed President Dwight Eisenhower to threaten the Chinese and thus bring about an armistice.  Nixon as President hoped that the South Vietnamese ARVN could be an effective force like the South Korean army in the 1950's.  But, according to Ambrose, the ARVN had problems, notwithstanding Nixon's public relations campaign about its alleged progress: "The ARVN officer corps was rife with corruption, the GVN [which was the government of South Vietnam] had no real interest either in reform or in ending the war, and South Vietnam was not remotely ready to defend itself."

Ambrose goes on to narrate that American soldiers coming back from Vietnam did not speak all that highly of the ARVN.  Many of these veterans said that the Vietnamese were not able to fight, but then they would turn right around and express admiration for the Vietnamese Communists' fighting abilities.  Ambrose asks, "How come the NVA fought so well and the ARVN so badly?"  Ambrose's answer was that the problem was the GVN, the government of South Vietnam, and that it needed to be changed.  But, Ambrose appears to lament, Nixon had no plan for that, since the war was being fought to "preserve the GVN" (Ambrose's words).

The Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces were probably superior in terms of their fighting on account of their passion: their commitment to Communism, their desire for Americans to leave, and their discipline.  The same situation has arguably existed over the past decade, with radical Islam: radical Islam is passionate.  But the question many have asked is whether the U.S. can train Iraqis and Afghans to be effective fighters who can keep radical Islam in check, perhaps even defeat it.

Forsake Not the Assembling of Yourselves Together

Hebrews 10:23-25 states (in the King James Version): "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

A while back, someone at a church that I attended asked how often one would have to miss church before he or she technically forsakes "the assembling of ourselves together".  Why would he ask this?  I think it's because there are many who have left Armstrongism who find themselves in a state of exile, as they try to cultivate their relationship with God outside of a church structure.  But I'd also venture to say that even Armstrongism itself can cultivate a "lone-ranger Christian" mentality.  Overall, the Armstrongites believed that they alone had the full truth.  But not everyone who accepted Armstrongite doctrines lived close to an Armstrongite church, and they were not about to attend any nearby Sunday-keeping churches, for they considered those churches to be deceived!  Consequently, there were a number of lone-ranger Armstrongites who stayed home and rested on the Sabbath, as they listened to sermon-tapes from the church's headquarters.

But my impression is that all Armstrongites were expected to attend the Feast of Tabernacles.  There were feast sites in various parts of the country (even the world!), and many people associated with the church felt that God wanted them to take a trip to one of those sites and attend services there.

As I did my daily quiet time in the Book of Joshua recently, I thought about Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who lived in the Transjordan rather than where the rest of the Israelites dwelt, namely, the Promised Land.  Moses and Joshua told these two-and-a-half tribes that they could dwell in the Transjordan, but they still had to cross the Jordan River with the rest of the Israelites to help those Israelites to take possession of the Promised Land from the Canaanites.  Once Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh completed this task, they could return to their homes in the Transjordan.

Would the two-and-a-half tribes be cut off from the rest of Israel after they returned to the Transjordan?   They did set up a controversial altar close to the Transjordan, not for sacrifices, but to communicate that they were still a part of the larger body of Israel.  But they were still expected to offer sacrifices (Joshua 22:27), which would occur wherever the central sanctuary of Israel happened to be.  Presumably, they would still gather with the other Israelites three times a year, during the festivals (at least according to Pentateuchal ideals).

How often does one have to attend church to fulfill Hebrews 10:23-25?  The Israelites only gathered together as one body three times a year.  There, they would celebrate with their families while sharing their food with the vulnerable of society.  And they would remember their national history as God's people: their slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, their experiences in the wilderness, and God bringing them to the Promised Land.

But what about the rest of the year?  They wouldn't be with the entirety of Israel, but they would still be reminding themselves on a weekly basis about their identity as God's people, for they would keep the Sabbath.  They would also observe God's dietary laws and wear items that reminded them of who they were in relationship with God.  Did they gather with others throughout that time, however, albeit on a local basis?  I don't know.  Exodus 16 says that the Israelites on the Sabbath had to stay in their homes, and orthodox Jews still take that command as normative, which is why they have eruvim as a way to circumvent it and allow them to meet together.  At least some Israelites visited the prophet on the Sabbath (II Kings 4:23), and perhaps that was for a worship gathering.  Such passages as Isaiah 66:23 present a scenario of people gathering before God on the Sabbath.  And there were gatherings for worship outside of the central sanctuary, for Deuteronomy 16:7-8 seems to command local gatherings to celebrate the last Day of Unleavened Bread.  Maybe there were local gatherings for worship on the Sabbath.

But, even though not all Israelites may have gathered with others for worship on the Sabbath, three times a year is not exactly insignificant.  These festivals were significant events.  Israelites prepared for them throughout their seasons by sowing and reaping and setting apart their tithes and offerings.  They journeyed to the central sanctuary and rejoiced for a period of time.  It was not a forgettable event, in their minds, for they were salient times each year.

Back to Hebrews 10:23-25.  I'm not sure when one technically gets to the point where he or she is forsaking the assembly of the brethren.  Some act like missing one church meeting counts as that.  Others have a more liberal attitude.  What's important to me, however, is the principle behind assembling: coming together to support each other, encouraging each other to do good, reminding each other of his or her identity before God, helping people to avoid becoming hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, etc. 

The problem is that not everyone sees church as a place that does this.  They find church to be discouraging rather than encouraging.  They see as much vanity and pride and carnality in the church as they see in the world.  They feel more refreshed and in touch with God when they are alone reading a book, or when they are out in nature, than they do in church.  I don't think that it's my place to pressure other people on what they should or should not do.  I attend church, however, because it allows me to remind myself of God, plus it gives me an opportunity to get out of the house and be in a different setting.  I've gone through times when I have been in churches, and when I have been outside of them.  For myself, I prefer the former.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Good Old (Religious?) Days?

The person giving the sermon this morning referred to a statistic that said that 25 percent of people in their 20's and 30's lack a religious affiliation.  She wondered how children would learn about the faith if that is the case.

The number would probably sound really high to people who look back at the good old days when America was supposedly a Christian nation----when the vast majority of people went to church.  I often hear this sort of sentiment in my Bible study group, as people say that things were so good and peaceful in the past, and that things really went downhill after religion was taken out of the public schools.  I usually don't say anything because, even if I disagree with their sociological analysis, who am I to question their experience?  They grew up in a time when many people went to church, and things were a lot more peaceful back then.  Crime was not as high, for example.  That's how they remember their younger years.

Was there ever truly a time, though, when the vast majority of Americans went to church?  I one time interviewed people for a class project on the Great Depression.  An elderly lady was saying that, when she was growing up, people talked about the Lord all the time, and things were so much better.  My great-grandmother, however, said the exact opposite: she related to me that there wasn't a great commitment to religion back then, and that there was actually more commitment to religion now (meaning the 1990's).

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 10

I have two items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.

1.  On page 289, Ambrose says the following about President Richard Nixon's policy on arms control:
"Nixon responded to the conflicting pressures by yielding to all of them.  He pushed hard for ABM, and for MIRV testing, and for SALT.  His idea was to use ABM as a 'bargaining chip' in SALT.  He would build new weapons, the ABM, so that the United States would not have to build new weapons after the SALT agreements were reached.  Simultaneously, he would push ahead with MIRV, which unlike ABM would not be a subject for discussion in SALT.  There was something for everyone: SALT for the liberals, the doves, and the fiscal conservatives; ABM and MIRV for the conservatives, the hawks, and the Pentagon.  This was smart politics.  Whether it was good policy was less clear."

I don't want to get too deeply into the intricacies of arms control, but I'll define a few terms here.  SALT referred to talks about arms control that the United States had with the Soviets in the 1970's.  The ABM is a defensive sort of weapon.  There was talk in the 1980's that the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars", would be in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. You may recall that Star Wars was intended to be a defensive sort of weapon: it would shoot enemy missiles from space.

On page 259, Ambrose discusses Nixon's policy on ABM: that a program called Safeguard would protect launch sites for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), but not American cities.  Jerry Voorhis criticized Nixon for this in The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon, which I blogged through last month.  Ambrose says that Nixon's policy would mean that the U.S. would need fewer ABMs: after all, if we're only protecting ICMB launch sites and not cities, then that means that we're protecting fewer areas, and thus that we don't need as many ABMs.  But why protect launch sites and not American cities?  On page 259, Ambrose quotes Nixon as saying that an ABM system defending the cities "tends to be more provocative in terms of making credible a first-strike credibility against the Soviet Union."  Nixon went on to say, "I want no provocation which might deter arms talks...and escalate an arms race."

What I get out of Nixon's statement is that, if we were to protect our cities, we would be communicating to the Soviets that we could strike them first, and that we wouldn't be affected that much were they to strike us back.  Our concern for the innocent lives in those cities would then not be a deterrent for us to strike at the Soviets first, for our cities would be protected.  The Soviets would not agree to a policy that gave such an advantage to the United States, and so Nixon, realizing this, gave up a policy that would protect American cities through ABMs.   

But the Soviets themselves had ABMs.  I remember watching a documentary on the Cold War that was explaining the Soviet ABM system, and the ABM was presented as a sort of umbrella that would protect the Soviets and allow them to have first-strike capability, without having to worry about the consequences of a retaliatory American attack.  On page 277, Ambrose says that, in the middle of 1969, "the Russians had not got going on MIRV; the Americans had not got going on ABM."  Ambrose says that it would have been sensible had the U.S. and the Soviets swapped: the Soviets would give up on ABM, where it was superior, and the U.S. would give up on MIRVs, where it had the advantage.  Then, the U.S. wouldn't be spending money on ABMs to keep up with the Soviets in that department, and the Soviets wouldn't be pursuing MIRVs.  But that didn't happen, Ambrose narrates.  The hawks on both sides did not want to give up these weapons after so much money had been spent on them.

Ambrose's statement on page 289 that fiscal conservatives, alongside liberals and doves, supported arms control through SALT intrigued me.  That makes a degree of sense, since the government spends a lot of money on the military, and that could result in deficits and an increase in the national debt, maybe even higher taxes and inflation.  From a fiscally conservative standpoint, supporting arms control would arguably be the right thing to do.  I think of a book that I read as a child, David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics: How the Reagan Revolution Failed.  Stockman narrated that, as Reagan's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, he not only went after domestic spending, but military spending as well, to the chagrin of Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger!  Essentially, Stockman thought that all that military spending was not necessary to protect the U.S.----that the same job could be done with fewer resources.  But there were people who disagreed with him.

2.  On page 291, we read the following about Nixon's attitude towards the FSS, which was his welfare reform proposal:

"Nixon felt a strong draw toward FSS.  He liked the idea of helping the working poor, neglected under the current system, and liked even better the idea of making welfare recipients work.  He thought of himself as coming from a working-poor family, and at times identified with that class.  So did his wife.  When a welfare worker suggested, at a White House conference, that Pat put the First Family on a nineteen-cent-a-meal per person welfare budget diet to see what poverty in America was like, Pat snapped back, 'I worked my way through college.  I've known hunger.  When we were growing up we didn't have anything.  I've known what poverty is.'"

Some, such as Roger Morris (whose book on Nixon I will probably blog through at some time), questions whether the Nixon family was all that poor when Richard was growing up.  That said, I do believe that Richard Nixon genuinely saw the family of his upbringing as people who struggled but got whatever they had through hard work.

While I liked that Pat snapped back at that welfare worker, I wonder something: did Pat at the time that she snapped back truly know what poverty was like, even though she had experienced it earlier in her life?  You hear from all sorts of politicians that they grew up with humble upbringings, and so they know what it is like for the average American to struggle.  But do they know?  Their humble upbringing was in their past.  Now, they make lots of money and don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.  Is there a possibility that they might have become out-of-touch with their humble past?  Moreover, just because they made successes of themselves, rising out of poverty in the past, does that mean that it's easy for people today to rise out of poverty?  Not everyone has the same talents and intelligence.  Economic opportunities that were available in the past may not be as available now.  Social connectedness may not be as strong nowadays, in areas.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Psalm 119: Lamed

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will do something a little different.  I'll post Psalm 119: Lamed in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will feature two quotes about Psalm 119: Lamed that I really liked.

89 LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
90 Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.
91 They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants.
92 Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.
93 I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me.
94 I am thine, save me; for I have sought thy precepts.
95 The wicked have waited for me to destroy me: but I will consider thy testimonies.
96 I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.

1.  Leslie Allen says in his Word Commentary: "The lamed strophe contrasts what stands with what perishes.  The stable universe is a visible token of Yahweh's faithfulness.  The results of the divine word in its creative and sustaining role are seen in the ordered world, whose order is homage to its Master.  V 96 sums up the strophe.  On the one hand the scope of God's revelation embraces the universe, for it is the expression of his will; on the other the feebleness of human potential (apart from God) is blatant.  Devotion to God's Torah is the only means of sustenance: it is the divinely intended channel of true life."
I wish that Allen explained more how the Torah would be the channel of true life.  Is the Psalmist saying that God will preserve his life because of his obedience to the Torah?  Or that the Torah encourages him and keeps him alive by allowing him to set his mind on what is wholesome, good, and true, so that he does not give in to depression and despair about life?

Psalm 119: Lamed's appeal to the natural order interests me.  I heard a professor once say that, according to Islam, all of nature is submitted to Allah (God), except for human beings, who have free will.  Psalm 119: Lamed appears to acknowledge that much of creation is subordinate to God.  Perhaps the Psalmist is appealing to the natural order to reassure himself of God's character as one who is faithful: if God has preserved the generations for so long, then God will hopefully preserve him as well.  Or the Psalmist is reassuring himself that God is powerful, since God maintains the cosmos, and thus God will have the ability to preserve him.  Or the Psalmist could be saying that God is orderly, and that the Psalmist is partaking of what is orderly by remembering and obeying God's Torah.

I agree with Allen that there may be a contrast between the creation and the Torah in Psalm 119: Lamed.  The creation is good and orderly, but it has its limits.  The Torah, however, is vast in terms of its meaning and application.  Do I agree with this?  I think that there is so much to learn about nature----and that we haven't scratched the surface.  Regarding the Torah, conversely, it's tempting to say that it has its limits: that its meaning is consigned to the original intention of the author.  And yet, there are so many ideas about what the original author meant.  There have been so many reinterpretations of the Torah within religious communities.  Readers approaching Torah notice something different.  And there are so many ways that people have applied the Torah.  Perhaps the Torah is vast, within the context of interpretation, reintepretation, and application!

2.  On v 96, which says "I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad", Matthew Henry says the following:

"Here we have David's testimony from his own experience, 1. Of the vanity of the world and its insufficiency to make us happy: I have seen an end of all perfection. Poor perfection which one sees an end of! Yet such are all those things in this world which pass for perfections. David, in his time, had seen Goliath, the strongest, overcome, Asahel, the swiftest, overtaken, Ahithophel, the wisest, befooled, Absalom, the fairest, deformed; and, in short, he had seen an end of perfection, of all perfection. He saw it by faith; he saw it by observation; he saw an end of the perfection of the creature both in respect of sufficiency (it was scanty and defective; there is that to be done for us which the creature cannot do) and in respect of continuance; it will not last our time, for it will not last to eternity as we must. The glory of man is but as the flower of the grass. 2. Of the fulness of the word of God, and its sufficiency for our satisfaction: But thy commandment is broad, exceedingly broad. The word of God reaches to all cases, to all times. The divine law lays a restraint upon the whole man, is designed to sanctify us wholly. There is a great deal required and forbidden in every commandment. The divine promise (for that also is commanded) extends itself to all our burdens, wants, and grievances, and has that in it which will make a portion and happiness for us when we have seen an end of all perfection."

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 9

Dean Acheson was President Harry S. Truman's Secretary of State in the years 1949-1953.  He was attacked by elements of the right-wing, which accused him of surrounding himself with Communist spies and of contributing to the fall of China to the Communists.  And, after Alger Hiss (who was accused of being a spy for the Soviets) was convicted of perjury, Dean Acheson's statement that he would not turn his back on Hiss invited further criticisms from the right.  Richard Nixon himself was a critic of Acheson.  In the 1952 Presidential election campaign, Nixon as Dwight Eisenhower's running-mate called Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson a "graduate of Dean Acheson's Cowardly College of Communist Containment" (Nixon's words).

But when Nixon was President and was conducting U.S. policy for the war in Vietnam, Acheson was one of Nixon's most vocal supporters, and Nixon turned to Acheson for advice.  Stephen Ambrose talks about a March 19, 1969 meeting that Nixon had with Acheson on pages 259-260 of Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.  What intrigued me was Ambrose's portrayal of Acheson as one who had a tough-on-Communism attitude.  On page 260, Ambrose characterizes Acheson's advice to Nixon on Vietnam as follows:

"Acheson's advice, as always, was to keep the powder dry, make no concessions, enter into no negotiations, and dig in for the long haul."

After narrating that Acheson, like Nixon, initially supported President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 decision to send a substantial number of troops to Vietnam, only to later confess to Nixon that this decision was wrong, Ambrose discusses Acheson's negative views on negotiating with the Soviets:

"These confessions of converted Cold Warriors were of course completely private.  Neither [Acheson nor Nixon] would have dreamed of admitting in public that he had been wrong, nor did the realization lead Acheson to wonder if perhaps he had been wrong in his consistent refusal to ever negotiate with the Soviets (from the time of Potsdam, July 1945, until he left office in January, 1953, Truman had not had one meeting with the Soviet leader)."

When Nixon asked Acheson if it was "a good time to initiate discussions with the Russians" (Nixon's words), Acheson said no.  Ambrose dryly narrates: "Indeed, in Acheson's view, it was never a good time."  Ambrose says that Nixon valued Acheson's support on such issues as missile defense, but that Nixon never again sought Acheson's advice on dealing with the Russians.  Ambrose seems to imply that Acheson was frozen in a stock anti-Soviet ideology.

So Acheson was firmly anti-Communist!  That's not what the right-wing literature that I used to read had to say about him!  Recently, I read the book on Richard Nixon by John Bircher Gary Allen, entitled Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask.  Allen in that book is quite critical of Acheson.  Allen presents the usual right-wing criticisms, such as the accusation that Acheson surrounded himself with Communists in the State Department, and the criticism of Acheson for refusing to turn his back on Alger Hiss.  But Allen makes another accusation on page 162: "...Joseph Stalin had hired Acheson to be the Soviet Union's personal attorney in the United States prior to the official recognition of the Soviets by FDR...During Acheson's tenure as their legal representative, the Communists made tremendous advances throughout the world."

I don't know if Acheson was ever the personal attorney for the Soviet Union.  I checked the wikipedia article about Acheson, and it did not mention that.  It did say, however, that Acheson in 1945-1946 favored detente with the Soviet Union, a plan for "international control of atomic energy", and conciliation towards Stalin.  But the article then goes on to narrate that Acheson became concerned about the "Soviet Union's attempts at regional hegemony in Eastern Europe and in Southwest Asia", and thus Acheson came to be an architect of Truman's Cold War policy against Soviet expansionism.  In short, Acheson changed his mind and became more anti-Soviet, according to the wikipedia article.  The thing is, that did not seem to be enough for many of Acheson's right-wing critics.  You will recall that Nixon associated Acheson with containment.  That was a debate at the time: Should the U.S. only seek to contain Communism by stopping its expansion, or should the U.S. pursue the liberation of countries already under Communist control?

I have one book that I have not yet read, How the Far East Was Lost: American Policy and the Creation of Communist China, 1941-1949, by Anthony Kubek, who was a Professor of History at the University of Dallas.  You can find a brief biography of Kubek on this site, which talks a lot about non-conformist historians, or revisionists.  While Kubek is a non-conformist, his book is praised on the back cover by David Nelson Rowe of Yale University.  Just thumbing through the book, I get the impression that Kubek argues for standard right-wing points about the fall of China to the Communists----that the U.S. contributed to it.  When I looked up Acheson's name in the index, I saw Kubek's reference to his argument in the book that Acheson pressured the Nationalist Chinese to negotiate with the Communists.  Was this an exception to Acheson's usual aversion to negotiating with Communists?

I enjoyed this Amazon review of Dean Acheson's Present at Creation: My Years at the State Department.  The reviewer is Stan Vernooy.  Vernooy says that Acheson has been accused by some of being too tough on Stalin, and by others of being overly "accommodating and naive" about Communism.  But what Vernooy says is that he (meaning Vernooy) learned more humility as he read Acheson's book, for Acheson highlighted the complex considerations that were involved in arriving at decisions.  That makes me wonder if Acheson truly was as knee-jerk anti-Soviet as Ambrose seems to portray.  Perhaps there was complexity in Acheson's approach to foreign policy.  I don't know enough about Acheson to say, but there's plenty out there for me to read about him!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 8

For my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972, I'll use as my starting-point something that Ambrose says on page 221.  Ambrose is commenting on Nixon's statement that "the great objective" of his administration will be "to bring the American people together" (Nixon's words).  Ambrose states:

"No one could deny that the American people very badly needed to be brought back together.  Less clear was whether Nixon was the man to do it.  His campaign had been almost totally bereft of any reaching out to blacks, the counterculture, the doves, or the poor.  Instead, he had run a sophisticated campaign to capitalize on the polarization among the nation's people, its races, and its regions.  He made it into an 'us versus them' contest, the 'us' being the Silent Majority, Middle America, the white, comfortable, patriotic, hawkish 'forgotten Americans'...He had urged the American people to lower their voices, while he and Agnew raised theirs."

My post today will be on where Nixon was a divider, and where he was a uniter.  Here are some items, based on information in Ambrose's book.

----Nixon did not care for the Democratic bureaucrats who remained in the government even after Nixon became President, for Nixon feared that they could sabotage him from within, or that "they'll just sit back on their well-paid asses and wait for the next election to bring back their old bosses" (Nixon, quoted on page 239).  And yet, Nixon appointed as a domestic policy adviser a liberal, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one who had helped to design the Great Society programs under President Lyndon Johnson, only to become a critic of them.  And, on page 236, Ambrose says that Nixon offered a number of posts to Democrats and African-American leaders, but they turned him down.

----Nixon did not care for the press.  Dwight Eisenhower as President, by contrast, was not as hostile to the press as Nixon would be, for Eisenhower did not think that a reporter could do a whole lot of harm to the President of the United States.  Ambrose tends to agree with Eisenhower on this, for Ambrose contends that the President is the one who sets the agenda by deciding what is news and what events to downplay or make into a crisis.  Nixon, by contrast, focused on the media's power to shape public opinion and create mass awareness, and he thought that he had to fight the media to inform the American people about his views and his programs.  So that's an area in which Nixon was a divider.  The thing is, Nixon could have fostered a good relationship with the press by selecting Herb Klein as his press secretary, for Klein "was widely respected by the working press" (Ambrose on page 229).  Instead, Ambrose narrates, Nixon chose the young, inexperienced Ron Ziegler to be his press secretary, which Ambrose says was an insult to the media.  But Nixon made Klein the director of communications, an act that put "Ziegler and Klein in competition with each other" (page 230).

----Nixon often liked to set his aides against each other, according to Ambrose.  There are two reasons that Ambrose mentions, and I will offer a third reason, as well.  The first reason was self-protection.  According to Ambrose, Nixon liked the conflict between his aide H.R. Haldeman and his long-time secretary Rose Mary Woods because they could not join forces against him if they were fighting each other (page 228).  Ambrose mentions "evidence" that this was so, but I'm not sure what exactly that evidence was.  It did surprise me, though, that Nixon would distrust (on some level) his long-time secretary, who was practically a part of his family.  I would need to see the evidence to believe Ambrose on this!

Second, Ambrose says that Nixon pit Klein and Ziegler against each other because Nixon could then be his own press secretary.  My impression from Ambrose is that Nixon wanted more power and leeway to perform certain functions according to his own desires, without having to consult a middle-man.  That's why Nixon appointed William Rogers, who didn't know much about foreign affairs, to be his Secretary of State: Nixon wanted the White House, not the State Department, to be where foreign policy decisions would be made.  But I have read in different places that Nixon often let his cabinet handle domestic policy, while Nixon focused on his own interest, namely, foreign affairs.  In my opinion, all of this is consistent with Nixon's introversion: Nixon did not like to deal with people that much, and so he either delegated responsibilities that did not particularly interest him (allowing others to deal with people), or he cut out the middle-man so he could act unilaterally (or with one other person, such as Kissinger), without having to explain himself.

Third, I think that Nixon had diverse people as advisers because he wanted to hear different points-of-view (at least sometimes).  For example, Nixon had as advisers the liberal Moynihan and the conservative Arthur Burns.  Moynihan and Burns disagreed on an idea Nixon had to add to the welfare rolls the working poor and "low-income fathers who stayed with their families" (Ambrose on page 269), an idea that Nixon hoped would correct the welfare system's discrimination against work and family.  Moynihan agreed with this proposal because he thought it would ameliorate the flawed welfare system.  Burns, by contrast, was against putting more people on welfare.  Nixon got to hear different perspectives.  Nixon told Burns that, while he understood Burns' concern, Burns should offer an alternative if Burns did not like the idea.  On page 237, Ambrose says that "Nixon reasoned that Burns's conservatism would be a useful and creative counter-weight to Moynihan's liberalism."

----Nixon had to be at peace with someone: FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who scared people because he had files about them!  Nixon told Hoover that Hoover would be one of the few who would have "direct access" to Nixon "at all times" (Nixon, quoted on page 235).  Ambrose narrates humorously that "Hoover nodded; he obviously expected no less" (page 235).

----Nixon as President got to eat dinner more often with his wife, Pat.  And yet, Ambrose notes that Nixon did not dance with Pat at their daughter Julie's wedding, and that Nixon did not kiss Pat in public, even though he kissed Mamie Eisenhower.  That somewhat relates to unity and division: Nixon got to be with Pat more, yet he was alienated from her, on some level (unless Ambrose is reading too much into things!).

Servant or Slave?

For its Bible study, my church is going through John's Gospel: Wisdom from Ephesus, with Michael Card.

Last night, the group was talking about whether Jesus was a servant or a slave.  Michael Card, if I recall correctly, was saying on the DVD that Jesus was like a slave when he was washing the disciples' feet.  But some of the people in the group had problems with calling Jesus a slave, preferring instead to call Jesus a servant.  For one, a slave does whatever his master tells him, but Jesus is not bound by our orders.  (Still, someone in the group noted that Jesus obeyed his Father.)  Second, one person was saying that a slave obeys because he has to, whereas a servant helps others because he wants to.

I thought these were good points.  I doubt that they hold up in the Greek, for, when Jesus is said in Philippians 2:7 to have taken the form of a servant, the Greek word there is doulos, which often means a slave (see here).  One could perhaps say that Jesus is not completely a slave, but that the metaphor still holds some water because Jesus, like a slave, serves.  Or perhaps one could say that Jesus being a servant is voluntary on his part. 

What's important, of course, is what someone in the group said: Many people tend to ask what they can get out of something rather than what they can give.  I know that's true of me.  And that is one reason that I go to church and Bible study: to be reminded of a better way, and to interrupt my selfish thought-patterns.

Joshua 4:9: The Underwater Memorial

In Joshua 4, the Israelites cross the Jordan River while it is parted, as the Levites stand in the midst of the Jordan upholding the Ark of the Covenant.  The Israelites carry twelve stones to the shore to build a memorial in Gilgal.  But another memorial of stones is built as well: in the middle of the Jordan River!  Joshua 4:9 states (in the King James Version): "And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day."  The Jordan River later in the chapter reverts to how it was before it parted.  Does that mean that the memorial in the midst of the Jordan was underwater?  How, then, could it be a memorial, since no one could see it?  Moreover, how would the person who wrote Joshua 4:9 even know that the memorial was in the midst of the Jordan in his own day?

The answer that I got repeatedly as I read commentaries was that there were times when the Jordan River was overflowing, and there were times when its water-level was not as high.  When the water-level was not as high, people could see the memorial.  Yet, as Keil-Delitzsch note, the memorial was probably not standing in the midst of the Jordan for centuries, for the streams would have dismantled it.  According to Keil-Delitzsch, it would be a memorial for that generation and perhaps its children, but not for those who lived centuries later.

I thought that Jimmy Swaggart's interpretation of Joshua 4:9 was interesting.  He commented in his Expositor's Study Bible: "The first memorial [in Gilgal] could, no doubt, be referred to as Jordan stones, but these spoken of in this Ninth Verse must be referred to as Wilderness stones.  These twelve stones buried on the bottom of the Jordan River, where the feet of the priests had stood, signify the death and burial of Israel's forty years of unbelief and sinning in the Wilderness.  The Lord is saying to Israel that that time is over, buried, out of sight, and forgotten, typical of all our sins in the past, that is, if we have properly trusted Christ (I Jn. 1:9)."

According to Swaggart, the stones used for the underwater memorial were from the wilderness.  Their being buried by the waters of the Jordan indicates that God has forgiven and forgotten the sins of the Israelites that they committed when they were in the wilderness.  I found this interpretation to be intriguing, although Swaggart was the only one I found who proposed it.  Is there anything backing it up?  Not really, for Joshua 4:9 does not say that the stones were from the wilderness.  Yet, the theme of Israel having a new beginning does exist in the Book of Joshua.  For example, in Joshua 5:9, the LORD tells Joshua that the LORD has rolled away from Israel the reproach of Egypt.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Charley Reese

I just learned that columnist Charley Reese has passed on.  You can read about him here, here, and hereHere is an archive of some of his columns.

I've had seasons in my life when I read him, and I've had seasons when I have not.  When I was a child, I read him, for his column was in my local paper (and someone who worked at the paper told me that Reese's columns were usually much saltier than they were after the paper edited them!).  Reese leaned more to the right than to the left, but he felt free to criticize hypocrisy wherever he saw it.  He also was not afraid to think outside the box.

I later read him when I lived in New York City and then in Cincinnati.  He was a major critic of the Iraq War.  In one of his columns, Reese contradicted Sean Hannity by saying that the war's destruction of the Iraqi Museum truly was a tragedy.  That comment impacted me, even though I was a supporter of the Iraq War at the time.  Moreover, reading Charley Reese and other conservatives who voted for John Kerry played a significant role in some of my own ideological shifts.

Some of you may read wikipedia's article or some of Reese's columns, find something controversial, and ask me if I agree with those controversial positions.  Let me respond.  For one, I liked Charley Reese's columns, but I did not agree with all of what he said.  But, second, there was much more to the man and his thoughts than a couple of controversial positions that he held.  Yes, maybe he held a controversial position here and there, but he also was quite progressive on a number of issues. 

And I had to appreciate his blunt honesty.  If you're the type of person who gets tired of hearing the same banal soundbites and talking points over and over again, or of seeing people try to justify someone simply because that person is in their own political party, read some of Charley Reese's old columns.  You might find them refreshing, like I did!

Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 7

I have two items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.  The setting is the 1968 Presidential election.  The main candidates in this race were Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey, and American Independent George Wallace.

1.  There were no presidential election debates in 1968.  Why not?  On page 192, Ambrose says that Nixon refused Humphrey's challenge to debate because Nixon had problems with Wallace's participation.  Nixon believed that Humphrey wanted the Southern Governor Wallace to get more exposure through a debate on the assumption that this would take away Southern votes from Nixon (even though, as Ambrose argues, Wallace was probably taking away votes from Humphrey, as well).  For Nixon, a debate that included Wallace would undermine the two-party system.  And, until Congress got rid of a rule requiring that presidential debates include all presidential candidates, a debate between Humphrey and Nixon alone was out of the question.  (Whether Ambrose is conceptualizing that rule accurately, I do not know.  I have a hard time envisioning a rule that a presidential debate would have to include, say, the Socialist Party candidate.)  But Nixon resented Humphrey calling him "Richard the Silent" and "Richard the Chicken-hearted" (which, according to Ambrose, were rare incidents of Humphrey's wit), saying that he was not afraid.

Nixon himself addresses the topic of why he refused to debate Humphrey in volume 1 of his memoirs, on page 395.  Nixon essentially says that he thought that Humphrey would benefit from a debate because Humphrey was way behind Nixon in the polls, and that Nixon also did not want to "elevate Wallace", who was already taking from Nixon "a substantial number of votes."  Nixon says: "It was not fear but self-interest that determined my decision on the debates."  At least Nixon is candid here: he didn't debate because he thought that would hurt him politically!  There's no grand talk here about how great the two-party system is!

And, by the way, I don't see what's so great about the two-party system.  I wish that the U.S. had viable alternative parties so that my choice wouldn't be limited to the Republicans and the Democrats.

2.  Did candidate Richard Nixon in 1968 sabotage the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam by sending Anna Chan Chennault to General Thieu of South Vietnam so she could tell Thieu that he could get a better deal from Nixon than from Johnson, thereby discouraging Thieu from participating in the Paris talks?  Did this result in the prolongment of the Vietnam War, meaning the loss of more American and Indochinese lives?  There have been articles about this topic recently.  See here and here.

Someone I know posted one of these articles, and a commenter said that this is not new information, for progressive Thom Hartmann has been talking about this topic.  But, actually, this topic has been discussed for quite some time.  Ambrose talks about it in this book, whose copyright is 1989.  And, according to Ambrose, a number of reporters in 1968 suspected that Nixon had sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks, but they did not have hard evidence.  Lyndon Johnson apparently had evidence that Nixon adviser John Mitchell, claiming to speak for Nixon, had asked Chennault to try to persuade Thieu to back out of the Paris Peace Talks.  But Johnson did not want to go public with this evidence because it was obtained through wiretapping.

Nixon's story to Johnson was that Chennault was acting of her own accord and did not represent Nixon.  And, according to Ambrose, Theodore White----the author of books on the 1960, the 1964, the 1968, and the 1972 presidential elections----actually defended the Nixon camp on this issue, saying that Nixon's aides were "appalled" (White's word) when they learned of what Chennault had done.  Ambrose quotes White as saying: "The fury and dismay at Nixon's headquarters when his aides discovered the [Chennault] report were so intense that they could not have been feigned simply for the benefit of this reporter" (White, quoted on page 214).  But here's a possibility: Maybe Nixon told Mitchell to call Chennault without informing his aides!

Ambrose's view on this topic is on page 215: "Insofar as the charges imply that Nixon prevented peace in 1968, they are false.  Not that Nixon did not want to, or try to, but he did not have to."  The reason was that Thieu did not need Nixon's encouragement to avoid the Paris Peace Talks, for Thieu liked having the Americans in Vietnam, since they protected South Vietnam and its government and were also significant in terms of contributing to the South Vietnamese economy.  I tend to agree with Ambrose here, for Nixon in his very own memoirs portrays Thieu as rather obstinate when President Nixon himself (through Henry Kissinger) was attempting to forge an agreement to end the Vietnam War.  See my posts here and here.

Nixon in volume 1 of his memoirs, as far as I could see, did not address the question of Chennault talking with General Thieu.  Nixon just says on page 406:

"Thieu's reaction [in choosing not to participate in the peace talks] was totally predictable.  He watched American politics no less carefully than did the leaders in Hanoi.  Given his disapproval of any bombing halt, and the fact that Humphrey was now talking like a dove, it was scarcely in Thieu's interest to acquiesce in a bad bargain.  By holding back his support, Thieu fostered the impression that Johnson's plan had been too quickly conceived and too shakily executed."  Maybe Nixon thought that Thieu would get a better deal under him than Thieu got under Johnson, or would get under a President Humphrey.

Ambrose does not present Nixon as flawless, but he also seems to argue that President Johnson was less-than-candid with the American people about the progress of the talks----that not as much progress had been made as Johnson was implying.

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