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Hezbollah Flexes its Missiles

By Callimachus:

NYT reports:

The power and sophistication of the missile and rocket arsenal that Hezbollah has used in recent days has caught the United States and Israel off guard, and officials in both countries are just now learning the extent to which the militant group has succeeded in getting weapons from Iran and Syria.

While the Bush administration has stated that cracking down on weapons proliferation is one of its top priorities, the arming of Hezbollah shows the blind spots of American and other Western intelligence services in assessing the threat, officials from across those governments said.

American and Israeli officials said the successful attack last Friday on an Israeli naval vessel was the strongest evidence to date of direct support by Iran to Hezbollah. The attack was carried out with a sophisticated antiship cruise missile, the C-802, an Iranian-made variant of the Chinese Silkworm, an American intelligence official said.

At the same time, American and Israeli officials cautioned that they had found no evidence that Iranian operatives working in Lebanon launched the antiship missile themselves.

But neither Jerusalem nor Washington had any idea that Hezbollah had such a missile in its arsenal, the officials said, adding that the Israeli ship had not even activated its missile defense system because intelligence assessments had not identified a threat from such a radar-guided cruise missile.

But it was Friday’s successful launching of a C-802 cruise missile that most alarmed officials in Washington and Jerusalem.

Iran began buying dozens of those sophisticated antiship missiles from the Chinese during the 1990’s, until the United States pressured Beijing to cease the sales.

Until Friday, however, Western intelligence services did not know that Iran had managed to ship C-802 missiles to Hezbollah.

Officials said it was likely that Iran trained Hezbollah fighters on how to successfully fire and guide the missiles, and that members of Iran’s Al Quds force — the faction of the Revolutionary Guards that trains foreign forces — would not necessarily have to be on the scene to launch the C-802.

At the same time, some experts said Iran was not likely to deploy such a sophisticated weapon without also sending Revolutionary Guard crews with the expertise to fire the missile.

One wonders what else they have we don’t know about.

No Easy Answers

The National Council of Churches wonders, why can’t everyone just get along?

Is there ever to be an end to violence in the land we call holy? What has violence solved these last 60 years? What has violence solved these past weeks?

Maybe I’ve been in the cynical newspaper business too long, but isn’t that rather simple-minded? “Give peace a chance” feels good when you chant it, but shouldn’t we expect more hard thinking from theologists? What has chanting matras of peace from a safe distance solved these past 60 years other than making the chanters feel good?

What’s odd is that after describing the all around mess and chaos of the present Middle East, the NCC calls upon “our own government and all governments, recognizing the success of former peace initiatives ….”

Well, it’s a bit hard to recognize them amid the smoke and flying shards and collapsing apartment blocks, isn’t it? If it doesn’t stick for more than a few months, is it really success?

The NCC statement is absolutist pacifist. That’s probably (but not certainly) what Jesus Would Have typed up in a press-release, right?

But maybe a better step, for serious thinkers about religion, would have been to take notice of the fact that not all the faiths involves have the same scriptural foundation. Or to consider the doctrine of just and appropriate use of force as it has been shaped by men and women of faith over the centuries since Augustine.

Resistance?

By Callimachus

syria.jpg

The caption currently accompanying this Associated Press photo, both online and on the AP media wire, is:

Syrian men touring Damascus streets on Sunday, July 16, 2006, in their cars, waving the flags of the Lebanese Hezbollah Party, in a show of solidarity with the Lebanese resistance. A picture of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, is seen in the rear window of the front car.

Emphasis added. That strikes me as a politically loaded description of Hezbollah, and a word choice that’s … unfortunate, to say the best for AP.

War Stories

By Callimachus:

Some quick looks around the Web:

Stratfor says the next likely scenario is an Insraeli invasion of Lebanon. And the likely collateral casualty will be Beirut.

1. Israel cannot tolerate an insurgency on its northern frontier; if there is one, it wants it farther north.

2. It cannot tolerate attacks on Haifa.

3. It cannot endure a crisis of confidence in its military

4. Hezbollah cannot back off of its engagement with Israel.

5. Syria can stop this, but the cost to it stopping it is higher than the cost of letting it go on.

It would appear Israel will invade Lebanon. The global response will be noisy. There will be no substantial international action against Israel. Beirut’s tourism and transportation industry, as well as its financial sectors, are very much at risk.

* * *

The Independent tells the story of a survivor of one of the Haifa rocket attacks:

Yossi Amergi, a 46-year-old mechanic lay in the emergency ward of Haifa’s Rambam hospital, tubes sticking out of his arm, raw skin showing through a bandage on his right leg.

A few hours earlier eight of his workmates were killed by a rocket that burst through the corrugated iron roof of their railway maintenance depot, sending arc lights crashing, splintering carriage windows and covering the concrete platforms with gore.

… “I heard a boom,” he recalled. “My ears were bursting; blood was spurting from my leg. I lost friends, Jews and Arabs who worked together.”

* * *

Some blogs are pointing to a news release by Lebanese Foundation for Peace, an organization of Lebanese Christian exiles, praising the Israeli attacks.

“We urge you to hit [Hezbollah] hard and destroy their terror infrastructure. It is not [only] Israel who is fed up with this situation, but the majority of the silent Lebanese in Lebanon who are fed up with Hezbollah and are powerless to do anything out of fear of terror retaliation.”

Be that as it may, the press release begins with a very unfortunate preposition:

For the millions of Christian Lebanese, driven out of our homeland, “Thank you Israel,” is the sentiment echoing from around the world.

I suspect they meant “from,” or “on behalf of.”

* * *

An L.A. Times piece (subscription required) paints the picture in other Arab capitals:

In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, governments with ties to the United States have guardedly denounced Hezbollah for the attack on Israel that triggered the fighting — even as the people began tacking up posters of Hassan Nasrallah, the bearded, turbaned cleric who heads the Shiite militia group and has vowed to bring “war on every level” to Israel’s door.

The disconnect between the broad range of public support for Hezbollah and the unease felt by many Arab leaders is one of many reasons that Arab governments have been largely unable to mount an effective diplomatic response to Israel’s 5-day-old bombing campaign.

Over the weekend, for example, the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, was able to agree on little more than a statement that urged all parties to avoid actions that may “undermine peace and security,” appealed to the United Nations for intervention and unsurprisingly declared the Middle East peace process “dead.”

On one level, the divide pits Syria and Iran, long-time backers of Hezbollah, against Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose Sunni-led governments fear the rise of Islamic militancy and the influence of Iran.

“The resistance will win, and the Israeli aggression will fail,” said Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal in a statement Sunday, pledging a “firm and direct response” if Syria is hit. “The resistance has hit deep inside Israel, and the enemy did not expect this.”

Iran, meanwhile, threatened that Israel would suffer “unimaginable losses” if it widened the conflict with an attack on Syria.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Sunday rallied behind Hezbollah, describing Israel as “an evil, cancerous tumor” in the midst of the Islamic world.

Turkey and the Kurds

By Callimachus

The Middle East this morning faces many possible next steps to Hell. Certainly one of them is a flare-up of fighting between Turks and Kurds, which would take place in a region Michael has criss-crossed several times and written about eloquently.

Now it looks like that possible next step is a step closer. Here’s the AP version:

Turkey said Sunday that it was weighing an escalation of its fight against Kurdish rebels after the guerillas killed seven Turkish soldiers and a village guard.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, wants autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast. Its Saturday ambush, which Turkish officials said was launched from neighboring northern Iraq, drove the number of Turks it has killed since Thursday to 13.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed outrage, signaling that Turkey could step up its battle against the rebel group. And high-ranking military, civilian, police and intelligence officials held an emergency meeting of Turkey’s High Anti-Terrorism Council to discuss possible new measures against the guerrillas.

Here’s the Al Jazeera version.

[I'm going to leave comments open here, but please don't use them to continue grudge matches begun elsewhere.]

My Friend is a Refugee

by Michael J. Totten

My friend Lebanon.Profile at the Lebanese Political Journal once guest blogged for me while I was in Egypt. He is one of the most open-minded people in Lebanon when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and I have linked to some of his posts in the past on this very subject. Israel has lost him. And he has lost his country.

You’ve made this country unliveable for the people fighting to disarm Hezbollah.

Guess what? I’m leaving. Yep. Me.

Where am I going? Syria. Didn’t want to, but I have to. The people we marched against are the ones you sent us begging to. The people who assassinated our leaders, kept us from having an operating democracy, and who armed Hezbollah are laughing it up because they’ve won the game because of you.

Bashar Assad said Lebanon would be destroyed if he left. I didn’t know the Israelis would play into his game. It’s not surprising that Syrian-allied Hezbollah started the mess, but you guys are just vicious.

All my Hezbollah supporting friends are sticking around. They call the rest of us cowards. I guess we are. We want to do scientific research. We want our children to learn how to play the piano. We want to watch our stock porfolios burgeon. We can’t do that here any more.

I tried to sympathize with you. I didn’t support Hezbollah, and if you look at the posts before this conflict began, I was maligning the political parties that oppose Hezbollah for not doing enough.

I even gave you guys the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of this, as did most Lebanese. Even the Shia, Christians, and Druze in South Lebanon understood your position. Not any more.

Oh, well. I’m a refugee.

Comments are Closed, and Some Clarifications – UPDATED BELOW

by Michael J. Totten

Insulting my personal friends while they are driven out of their homes as war refugees is not acceptable. My old neighborhood is under attack. My friends are terrified and in danger. How on earth do you expect me to feel about this right now? If you can’t factor these things into account before bloviating in the comments, then you do not get to comment. Comments are closed until further notice.

In the meantime, allow me to clarify a few things so (some of you) can stop thinking I’ve decided Israel is the enemy or that Hassan Nasrallah deserves anything but a headstone or a war crimes tribunal.

Obviously Hezbollah started this and Hezbollah is the main problem. Not only did they drag my second home into a war, the bastards also threatened me personally. So I hardly see the point in telling you what I think about them right about now. I’ll get to them later.

I sympathize one hundred percent with what Israel is trying to do here. But they aren’t going about it the right way, and they’re punishing far too many of the wrong people. Lord knows I could be wrong, and the situation is rapidly changing, but at this particular moment it looks bad for Israel, bad for Lebanon, bad for the United States, good for Syria, and good for Iran.

There is no alternate universe where the Lebanese government could have disarmed an Iranian-trained terrorist/guerilla militia that even the Israelis could not defeat in years of grinding war. There is no alternate universe where it was in Lebanon’s interest to restart the civil war on Israel’s behalf, to burn down their country all over again right at the moment where they finally had hope after 30 years of convulsive conflict and Baath Party overlordship.

The Lebanese government should have asked for more help from the international community. The Lebanese government should have been far less reactionary in its attitude toward the Israelis. They made more mistakes than just two, but I’d say these are the principal ones.

What should the Israelis have done instead? They should have treated Hezbollahland as a country, which it basically is, and attacked it. They should have treated Lebanon as a separate country, which it basically is, and left it alone. Mainstream Lebanese have no problem when Israel hammers Hezbollah in its little enclave. Somebody has to do it, and it cannot be them. If you want to embolden Lebanese to work with Israelis against Hezbollah, or at least move in to Hezbollah’s bombed out positions, don’t attack all of Lebanon.

Israel should not have bombed Central Beirut, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed my old neighborhood, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed the Maronite city of Jounieh, which was not merely anti-Hezbollah but also somewhat pro-Israel.

Israelis thinks everyone hates them. It isn’t true, especially not in Lebanon. But they will make it so if they do not pay more attention to the internal characteristics of neighboring countries. “The Arabs” do not exist as a bloc except in the feverish dreams of the Nasserists and the Baath.

UPDATE: I hate closing the comments, and I’m sorry for having to do that. I just simply will not stand seeing some of my dear friends insulted — some of whom are Americans as well as Lebanese — while their neighborhoods are on fire and they’re being driven to Syria — Syria! — as war refugees.

The following comment, sent by email from Shalom Deen, is what I would like to see if I could stand to keep comments open.

Guys- This is one of the greatest blogs for honest analysis of what goes on in the Middle East, so let’s try to maintain civility and understanding here as heated emotions are sorted out (which, admittedly, might take a while). Obviously, both Israel and Lebanon are very close to the hearts of many of this blogs’ readers and

writers. The current situation is going to introduce some strong feelings, and since most participants here are reasonable, intelligent, and informed people, let’s just be careful about things getting too heated.

LP certainly has the right at this point to rant, as does Michael. Lebanon is obviously getting the short end of the stick at the moment, and it remains to be seen whether Israel’s actions are responsibly calculated for the desired result–and most of all, whether they succeed–or if they’re just looking to inflict damage. None of us really know the answer at this point. So at the very least, no matter what our opinion is regarding Israel’s operations, we should be understanding of the fear and frustrations of those who are affected–especially when they’re *the good guys*.

For Lebanon it’s not just scores killed and hundreds wounded; it’s sweat, blood, tears, and money invested in an infrastructure and a fledgling economy that will now take months or even years to rebuild. Whatever the fault of the Lebanese government (and reasonable people can argue the extent of it), it is not the time to berate those who have been passionately committed to peace and dialogue for being very angry at the moment.

I pray (my agnosticism notwithstanding) for the safety of all, and for the successful elimination of those vile Hizbullah murderers. Hopefully, some good will come of this in the end.

War!

by Michael J. Totten

I’m sorry to be gone and (mostly) unable to blog at a horrible time like this, when a city I love and used to live in is under attack by an ally of my country. I’m scrambling to keep up with what’s going on while trying to do my temporary full-time and all-consuming job, which ends in a week. Meanwhile I try, as much as is possible, to console some of my friends while their country burns, while fighter jets scream over head, while columns of filthy black smoke blot out the sun.

Israel has a right – nay, a moral obligation – to defend itself and rescue the kidnapped. But what kind of down-the-rabbit-hole war is this, where the guilty parties – the Baath regime in Syria and the Jihad regime in Iran – sleep warm in their beds while Beirut, a libertine city they hate, takes the punishment for them?

The dictators in the region have always been happy to fight the Israelis to the last Palestinian. Now it looks like they’re happy to fight the Israelis to the last Lebanese, too. And why not? Lebanon is a relatively liberal and almost half Christian sort-of democracy. Can’t have any of that in the region if you’re a totalitarian mullah. It suits Tehran just fine if the Jews slug it out with such people.

Bashar al-Assad promised to make Lebanon burn if his Syrian occupation soldiers were forced out of the country. No doubt he is ecstatic at this latest turn of events. His principal enemies are killing each other instead of teaming up against him like they would in a better and more intelligent world.

Israel and Lebanon are the two freest countries in the Middle East. They are the only countries, aside from tortured Iraq, that hold unrigged elections for parliaments and heads of state. The tyrants to their east have pulled quite a coup, haven’t they? The two countries friendliest to America and to liberal Western values are now shooting each other. (The Lebanese army, which has cooperated with Israel in the past behind the scenes, is now firing anti-aircraft guns at Israeli planes.)

It’s a catastrophe for Lebanon, which is now under siege because Iran took it hostage. It’s a catastrophe for Israel, which could have, and should have, worked toward a peace process with the Lebanese. Lebanese are (were?) far and away the most likely of all Arabs to sign a genuine treaty at some point down the road. And it’s a catastrophe for the United States. We have few friends in the region already, none of whom get along well with each other as it is.

The Middle East was in a holding pattern until two days ago. No one knew what would happen next, what the next big thing would be. Now we know. The democracies suffer and bleed and turn on each other while their enemies, our enemies, sit back and watch. The Baath regime and the Jihad regime rest easy knowing that Israel is too cautious or gutless to take the fight to the source and chooses to hit the country of the Cedar Revolution instead.

Closer to War

… or already there?

By Callimachus

Grist for the conversation mill. I don’t necessarily agree with all or any of what’s said in all or any of these, but they advance arguments worth considering, or refuting:

Ammar Abdulhamid:

All wishful thinking aside, I just don’t think Israel is going to lose this round, and I think the going-ons in Lebanon are only a prelude for the eventual and now inevitable confrontation with Syria, with all sort of disastrous implications and consequences for our people.

Some people see this differently I know, they see the Assads and Mullahs emerging as serious contenders in the arena once again, and that they have embarrassed the US and Israel. I kindly disagree. But, be that as it may, the winner of this round notwithstanding, we, the people, are the ones who will get screwed.

Doha:

Sayyid Nasrallah is still alive and declaring an open war. Where is our President? Where are our Ministers? Prime Minister? Members of Parliament?

All these institutions and the guardians of these institutions are obsolete at this point. Nasrallah is leading the show. He’s defying everything and everyone. He is assuming the position of the guardian of the Prophet’s Family, against all odds. This is not about Lebanon anymore; this is about Nasrallah’s pride.

Michael Ledeen:

No one should have any lingering doubts about what’s going on in the Middle East. It’s war, and it now runs from Gaza into Israel, through Lebanon and thence to Iraq via Syria. There are different instruments, ranging from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon and on to the multifaceted “insurgency” in Iraq. But there is a common prime mover, and that is the Iranian mullahcracy, the revolutionary Islamic fascist state that declared war on us 27 years ago and has yet to be held accountable.

Mark Perry:

Hezbollah and Israel stand along this border every day observing each other through binoculars and waiting for an opportunity to kill each other. They are at war. They have been for 25 years, no one ever declared a cease-fire between them. … They stand on the border every day and just wait for an opportunity. And on Tuesday morning there were two Humvees full of Israeli soldiers, not under observation from the Israeli side, not under covering fire, sitting out there all alone. The Hezbollah militia commander just couldn’t believe it — so he went and got them.

The Israeli captain in charge of that unit knew he had really screwed up, so he sent an armored personnel carrier to go get them in hot pursuit, and Hezbollah led them right through a minefield.

Now if you’re sitting in Tehran or Damascus or Beirut, and you are part of the terrorist Politburo so to speak, you have a choice. With your head sunk in your hands, thinking “Oh my God,” you can either give [the kidnapped soldiers] back and say “Oops, sorry, wrong time” or you can say, “Hey, this is war.”

It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that the Hezbollah commander on the ground said Tuesday morning, “Go get two Israeli soldiers, would you please?”

Israel vs. Lebanon

By Callimachus

So they say:

The violence pitting Arabs and Jews in the Middle East has spilled from the physical into the virtual world, as combatants on both sides lay siege to the Internet sites of one another.

And why should we be left out?

Honestly, though, I’m on a learning curve trying to figure out what’s happening. It’s times like this I used to go to Michael’s site to see what insights he had from his ringside seat. Instead, I’m here with more questions than answers.

Make this an open thread on the current Mideast crisis. What sites or publications do you look to for unbiased information? Or is it more a matter of taking a bite from both sides and trying to find the center of gravity between them?

Also, I’ve had a nagging feeling that the current Israeli government, being headed by men who, I think, lack the military leadership experience and hawkish track record of many of their predecessors, might feel it has to hit back especially hard in its first test. Is that possibly the case here?

UPDATE: Just after writing this I see my blog-partner Reader_I_Am also is in “read and learn” mode, and she’s got a list started of some of the sites that are putting up good information, including the indispensible Lebanese Political Journal.

Bloggers try to emulate journalists in being the first to report. But sometimes it’s difficult to write an intelligent opinion until the smoke clears a bit and you can see what’s happening.

And Now for Something Completely Different

By Callimachus

Here’s one I used to do at my home place, based on one of my odd-ball hobbies. I don’t know if it will entertain you folks or not; consider it a summer diversion. Are these pairs of modern English words related to each other or not?

Click to see the answers.

1. cult/occult

2. climate/climax

3. priest/preacher

4. defense/offense

5. wine/vine

6. book/beech

7. grave (n.)/gravel

8. proper/property

1. NOT RELATED

Cult comes from Latin cultus, which meant “care, cultivation, worship,” but originally “tended, cultivated.” It is the past particple of colere “to till” (the source of colony, among other modern English words, and ultimately related to the root of cycle and circle).

Occult, on the other hand , is from Latin occultus “hidden, concealed, secret,” which is the past participle of the verb occulere “cover over, conceal.” This is a compound of ob “over” and a verb related to celare “to hide.” The ultimate roots of this are in a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European base *kel- “conceal,” which also has yielded, via Latin, cell and cellar, and, via its Germanic branch, holster, hole, and helm.

2. RELATED

They come from a pair of Greek nouns, klima “region, zone,” and klimax “ladder,” both derived from the base of the noun klinein “to slope.”

The notion behind klima is “the slope of the Earth from equator to pole.” The Greek geographers used the angle of the sun to define the Earth’s zones.

From Greek, the words took off down diverging paths. The Romans picked up clima (genitive climatis) in its sense of “region, slope of the Earth,” and by Chaucer’s time it had made its way into English. But by c.1600 the meaning had shifted from “region” to “weather associated with that region.”

Greek klimax “ladder,” meanwhile, acquired a metaphoric meaning “propositions rising in effectiveness.” The rhetorical meaning evolved in English through “series of steps by which a goal is achieved,” to “escalating steps,” to (1789) “high point,” a usage credited by the Oxford English Dictionary “to popular ignorance.” The meaning “orgasm” is first recorded in 1918, apparently coined by birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes as a more accessible word than orgasm.

3. NOT RELATED

Priest is Old English preost, shortened from the older Germanic form represented by Old High German prestar and Old Frisian prestere. All are very early Germanic borrowings from Late Latin presbyter “presbyter, elder.” Presumably the words came to the Germanic tribes along with the Christian missionaries who converted them.

The Latin word in turn was a borrowing of Greek presbyteros “an elder,” which also was an adjective meaning “older.” It is the comparative form of presbys “old.”

This word is something of a mystery, but one suggested origin is that it meant “one who leads the cattle,” and is a compound of *pres- “before” and the root of bous “cow.”

Preach also was an Old English word borrowed from Church Latin. The Anglo-Saxon form was predician, but the word was re-borrowed in Middle English in the Frenchified form preachen.

The source of both forms is Late Latin predicare “to proclaim publicly, announce” (in Medieval Latin “to preach”), a compound of præ- “forth” and dicare “to proclaim, to say.”

4. RELATED

The base is a Latin verb (found only in compounds) fendere “to strike, push.” Add the prefix de- “from, away” and you get defendere “ward off, protect.” Add the prefix ob “against” and you get offendere “to strike against, stumble.” The sense of “commit a fault, displease” also was in Latin.

5. RELATED

In fact, pretty much the same word. The Latin root is vinum “wine.” From this came vinea “vine, vineyard,” which passed into Old French as vigne and thence into Middle Enaglish as vine.

Latin vimun had gone directly into Old English (and most other Germanic languages) as win, which became modern English wine.

The Latin word for “wine” also passed into Old Church Slavonic (vino), Lithuanian (vynas), Welsh (gwin), and Old Irish (fin).

The ultimate root of the Latin word appears to be from a lost language that was spoken in the Mediterranean before the Indo-European peoples arrived there more than 6,000 years ago, which makes it an ancient word indeed. Its other descendants include Greek oinos and words for “wine” in Armenian, Hittite, and non-Indo-European Georgian and West Semitic (cf. Arabic wain, Hebrew yayin, Ethiopian wayn).

6. RELATED

At least we think so. The traditional derivation of the common Germanic word for “book” (Old English boc, German Buch) is from Proto-Germanic *bokjon “beech” (Old English bece, German Buche).

The notion is that the original written documents of the northern European peoples were beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed, but the derivation also may be from the tree itself; people still carve their initials into them. This is not so far-fetched, as Latin and Sanskrit also have words for “writing” that are based on tree names (“birch” and “ash,” respectively).

The base of beech and its Germanic relatives is Proto-Indo-European *bhagos a tree name that has come to mean different things in different places (cf. Greek phegos “oak,” Latin fagus “beech,” Russian buzina “elder”). It’s not unusual for tree names to switch around like this.

The ground sense of the Proto-Indo-European word may well be “edible,” if it is related, as some thing, to Greek phagein “to eat.” Beech mast was an ancient food source for agricultural animals across a wide stretch of Europe.

7. NOT RELATED

Grave is Old English græf “grave, ditch,” from a Proto-Germanic *graban that also yielded Old High German grab “grave, tomb;” Old Norse gröf “cave,” and Gothic graba “ditch”). This evolved from a Proto-Indo-European root *ghrebh-/*ghrobh- “to dig, to scratch, to scrape,” which also yielded Old Church Slavonic grobu “grave, tomb”). IT is unrelated to the adjective grave.

Gravel is from Old French gravele, a diminutive of grave “sand, seashore,” which came into French from one of the Celtic peoples who once inhabited Gaul. IT is related, thus, to Welsh gro “coarse gravel,” Breton grouan, and Cornish grow “gravel.”

8. RELATED

The roots of both are in Latin proprius “one’s own, special, particular to itself.”

The Latin word came directly into English (via French) as proper by the early 13th century. In English it originally meant “adapted to some purpose, fit, apt;” the meaning “socially appropriate” is first recorded in 1704. The original sense is preserved in proper name and astronomical proper motion.

Latin proprietas was a noun formed from proprius that literally meant “special character.” The Romans coined this to be an exact translation of Greek idioma once they began to absorb Greek ideas. But the Latin word also took on a specific sense of “ownership, property, propriety,” in which sense it passed through French and into English by 1300.

But the earliest English usages were in the more vague sense of “nature, quality.” The typical modern meaning “possession” was rare before the 17th century. One of the dangers of interpreting old texts is that you may encounter familiar words with meanings that have shifted or narrowed.

Latin proprius is a compound formed from the phrase pro privo, literally “for the individual.”

Eisenhower’s Ghost

By Callimachus

When President Bush visited Hungary, he helped the nation commemorate its failed 1956 uprising against Soviet domination. But Charles Gati wrote that a Clinton-style apology would have been more in order:

The truth is that at a critical juncture in the Cold War, when Hungarians rose against their Soviet oppressors, the United States abandoned them. After 13 days of high drama, hope and despair, the mighty Soviet army prevailed. For its part, Washington offered a sad variation on “NATO”: no action, talk only. The Eisenhower administration’s policy of “liberation” and “rollback” turned out to be a hoax — hypocrisy mitigated only by self-delusion. The more evident, if unstated, goal was to roll back the Democrats from Capitol Hill rather than liberate Central and Eastern Europe from Soviet tyranny.

Gati is an academic and a researcher. It is apparent from his column that he’s formed his opinions about 1956 at least in part from digging he’s done in the CIA’s archives to research a book. They also owe much, it seems, to material from Soviet archives that were available to researchers after the fall of the USSR.

We now know from Russian archives that the Hungarians did have a chance to gain some of what they sought.

I have every sympathy with the Hungarians. I remember reading a white paper account of the events of 1956 when I was a teenager and thinking it was one of the great tragedies of the Cold War. And seeing how the Red Army brought in its Asian units to grind the boot down on genuine factory workers gave the lie to the whole cardboard edifice of Marxist-Leninist rhetoric.

But Gati seems to me to be in violation of one of my cardinal rules: In judging the acts and words of people of the past, judge from what they knew, not what you know now.

The United States, according to the usual version of what happened, could not help the Hungarians because any action would have triggered a military confrontation with Moscow. This explanation misses the point: There were actions short of war that Washington might have taken. It could certainly have urged the Hungarians to temporize and pursue limited, evolutionary goals. It could have taken the issue to the United Nations before, and not after, the Soviet crackdown. In an imaginative move toward post-Stalin detente, it could have proposed immediate talks about withdrawing American forces from a small Western European country in exchange for Soviet withdrawal from Hungary.

Instead, Gati writes, and probably correctly, “[T]he United States had no means available to aid, let alone ‘liberate,’ Hungary. For despite all the talk about ‘liberation’ since 1952, neither the National Security Council nor the State Department had devised plans for diplomatic or any other form of assistance. Nor was the CIA ready.”

Thanks to people like Gati, we know what the American and Soviet leaders of 1956 said among themselves. But they couldn’t hear each other at the time.

Gati says other U.S. approaches to the Hungary crisis would have succeeded. But even after you’ve read all the archives, you don’t know that. Once you take a single step outside the historical flow of events, once you introduce a single “what-if,” the butterfly effect kicks in and the entire course of events becomes utterly unpredictable.

It is possible to see similarities between the 1956 uprisings in Poland and Hungary and the events of 1989: A new leader in the East was denouncing old tyrants, admitting mistakes, and promising more openness and better lives for people. Subject populations reacted by rising up not only against their local overlords but the entire Soviet system.

But the similarities mask deep differences. Khrushchev, for instance, was under intense pressure from Mao not to let the Soviet system run off the rails. The audacity, or genius — or luck — of Reagan was to see that the moment had come to press against the rotten regime. The mass rising from below in Eastern Europe was strong enough in 1989, and the change at the top was real enough, and the hollowness of the regimes was so advanced, that the circumstances were just right.

But the main thing Gati seems to have forgotten is the awful dilemma that chilled every day of the Cold War. Every international crisis brought a risk of nuclear annihilation. After a few of them in the first post-war years, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. learned to avoid them — without making that too obviously the main rule of the game.

Stability always is the ideal for world powers, in any era, but in the Cold War it became the only guarantee of survival. Both sides, though they occasionally tested each other (especially at times of a change in administration in Washington) quickly retreated into the fetish for stability. When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, Kennedy in public used it as an excuse to, correctly, lambaste the Soviet “worker’s paradise” ideal as a sham. But privately he accepted it: “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”

The U.S. invested thousands of lives and millions of dollars in maintaining a status quo that was morally indefensible and that compromised our ideals. We muzzled our commitment to democracy and embraced dictators if they pronounced themselves anti-communists. And what was the inhumane doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” but hostage-taking on a global scale?

It was a system that elevated stability over justice. What was the alternative? Bold moves only drove the world closer to the thermonuclear precipice. Before it’s all forgotten, let someone write down the helpless terror felt by average people during the Cuban Missile Crisis; how my parents said good-bye to each other every morning as he went to work, crying and thinking this would be the day the skies blossomed obliteration all over them.

The Cold War need to deter a nuclear war at all costs short of surrender evolved in the minds of leaders from being a temporary and very regrettable condition, to a necessity, to a proper relationship, and finally to a positive good.

In 1956, it had at least reached the level of “necessity.” John Foster Dulles said in a public interview during the crisis that American military intervention to free the Hungarians would “precipitate a full-scale world war and probably the result would be all these people wiped out.”

The lines had congealed on the map when the armies halted in 1945. As Gati writes the rhetoric was launched over the barbed wire, but not the soldiers. Dean Rusk, later and in another context, said what happened in Eastern Europe had “never been an issue of war and peace between us and the Soviet Union — however ignoble this sounds.”

Do you wonder why some of us literally felt born-again in 1989, and why we still prefer the current idealistic follies in the name of freedom and gambles on nation-building? Better that than the grim death match grappling of the Cold War. Yet many people yearn for the “balance” of the past, and want something/anything — Europe, the U.N., even the Islamists — to rise up and force America to back down and return to all talk, no action.

Gati rails against the hypocrisy of an America that talked a good game of liberation and the rights of people everywhere to live free, but was unwilling to put any muscle into the promises:

The president should tell the Hungarians that in the 1950s Congress issued politically inspired “Captive Nations” resolutions and held self-satisfying “prayer breakfasts,” while Eisenhower delivered empty promises about “liberation” during presidential campaigns in 1952 and 1956 to please Hungarian (and other Eastern European) ethnics in Ohio and elsewhere — with no plans to carry them out.

The Hungarians need to hear what happened 50 years ago — and Americans need to hear that in the future we will not say we seek clearly unattainable goals abroad for political ends at home.

That’s an artful conclusion. It can be read two ways: “We should back up our talk with robust action,” or “we should stop talking about freedom being a human right since we’re not sincere about helping make it happen.”

Tolerating the Intolerant

By Callimachus

I’ve been going back to the sources to try to discover whether the religious tolerance of the American Founders would or should extend to Islamist preaching. Even in a tolerant society, not all things are or should be tolerated. You have freedom of speech, but you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

Freedom of religion — or liberty of conscience to give it its broadest name — seems to admit very few exceptions. An astonishing range of religions thrive among us, from Santaria to Southern Baptism. In the name of liberty of conscience we tolerate religions that require their followers to surrender liberty of conscience and follow a preacher or a book.

But what about Islamist religion, which preaches identification with the worldwide Muslim ummah rather than local civic society, which sets religious authority above any secular state power, and which has a long-term goal of plowing under Western freedoms, including liberty of conscience, and replacing them with shari’a law? Such things existed in the world in the 18th century, too, but the American Founders never addressed them.

America is not re-invented every generation, despite the appearance, and it has underpinnings in certain currents of philosophy and the thoughts of specific men. Yet to discuss the Founders as a guide to present policy seems anathema to many otherwise thoughtful people on the liberal side; as if to accept the relevance of Madison and Jefferson is to accept the conservative vision of America. To less thoughtful leftists, I suspect, the past is a dead land, populated by monstrous slave-owning philosophes and Indian-killers and sexually repressed Puritans.

John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration is the philosophical foundation of the American separation of church and state, religious equality and freedom of conscience — key elements of the Western pantheon, and hateful poisons to its Islamist enemies.

When it comes to religion, Locke politely tells the political authorites to butt out. He enjoins the would-be religious meddlers:

If any man err from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to thee; nor therefore art thou to punish him in the things of this life because thou supposest he will be miserable in that which is to come. Nobody, therefore, in fine, neither single persons nor churches, nay, nor even commonwealths, have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other upon pretence of religion.

Locke mainly was concerned with mutual toleration among Christians in England. But he extended this philosophy beyond the Christian churches. Even pagans, who in his day would have been regarded with abhorrence, came in for the hands-off treatment.

But, indeed, if any people congregated upon account of religion should be desirous to sacrifice a calf, I deny that that ought to be prohibited by a law. Meliboeus, whose calf it is, may lawfully kill his calf at home, and burn any part of it that he thinks fit. For no injury is thereby done to any one, no prejudice to another man’s goods. And for the same reason he may kill his calf also in a religious meeting. Whether the doing so be well-pleasing to God or no, it is their part to consider that do it. The part of the magistrate is only to take care that the commonwealth receive no prejudice, and that there be no injury done to any man, either in life or estate.

Locke wrote at the close of a generation rent by a civil war and a revolution, and in a century when the clash of Crown and Parliament and the overlapping conflicts between Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics, bloodied England.

Locke’s “toleration,” however, was not universal. It expressly excluded atheists, because, as is still commonly believed, they had no motive to be moral and therefore could not be trusted to be so. And Locke’s toleration, like John Milton’s, excluded Catholics, who, at that time, acknowledged the authority of a Pope who was prince of a secular realm, and a power-rival and dangerous enemy of the ruler of Britain.

And it certainly would have excluded the type of religion preached in the West by many Islamist imams. Locke excludes the intolerant from his toleration, a needle’s eye that probably excludes a few modern Christian fundamentalists as well.

These, therefore, and the like, who attribute unto the faithful, religious, and orthodox, that is, in plain terms, unto themselves, any peculiar privilege or power above other mortals, in civil concernments; or who upon pretence of religion do challenge any manner of authority over such as are not associated with them in their ecclesiastical communion, I say these have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate; as neither those that will not own and teach the duty of tolerating all men in matters of mere religion. For what do all these and the like doctrines signify, but that they may and are ready upon any occasion to seize the Government and possess themselves of the estates and fortunes of their fellow subjects; and that they only ask leave to be tolerated by the magistrate so long until they find themselves strong enough to effect it?

In America a century later, James Madison took Locke one step further. Madison scholar Robert Alley writes that, “toleration presumed a state perogative that, for Madison, did not exist.” Madison wrote that “the right to tolerate religion presumes the right to persecute it.” Instead Madison argued for “liberty of conscience.” The “natural rights of man,” centering in the concept of “liberty of conscience,” stand, without question for Madison, above and before any other authority.

No religion, or irreligion, can be banned by the state, even religions that make it a central aim to overthrow the state (up until the point where they act on that aim).

When Madison took his place in the Virginia legislature after the Revolutionary War, a bill stood in the General Assessment, sponsored by Patrick Henry, that would funnel tax money to support religious education in all denominations.

Henry justified this as a way to curtail the sin and immorality of young people. But the General Assessment bill would have hatched the monster Madison feared most: a “tyranny of the majority.” If the ministers from all the major Protestant denominations were paid from the state treasury, a coalition of Protestant groups would relegate minority views to a “tolerated” status or worse.

The legislature was on the verge of passing the bill, but Madison convinced his colleagues to postpone a vote until the next session in 1785. Madison used the postponement to take his case to the public, writing a broadside critique, the “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” which has become the classic statement for religious freedom in North America.

I cannot find that Madison, here or anywhere else, made exceptions, as Locke did, to what the state ought to tolerate in the way of religion. His sole concern was protecting the individual conscience from the intrusion of state power.

The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.

Madison insisted government keep its hands absolutely off religion.

Before any man can be considerd as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.

Madison, it seems, took no cognizance of what Karl Popper, in a later, darker century than the 18th, would describe as the “paradox of tolerance.”

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even though those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade as criminal.

Who is more suited to the 21st century, Locke, Madison, or Popper? Popper’s answer seems closer to the European laws regarding liberty of conscience: General tolerance up to a point, but with clear exceptions. Though Locke is in both the American heritage and the European, America alone seems to have Madison’s radical insight that government has no right to “tolerate,” because doing so implies a right to refuse toleration.

Rant Control

By Callimachus

I’m grateful to Mark Kurlansky for busting loose and saying what a lot of people think, but are too intimidated to say. That doesn’t mean he’s not grossly wrong about every sentence he writes in this Fourth of July fireworks assault on the Founders.

Kurlansky is the author of food-themed history books (*Salt,” “Cod”) which may or may not be good history; I’ve never read them. Based on this column, though, I don’t think I’d rely on him to teach me much about America’s past. Put on your Fisking hats and let’s go inside:

SOMEONE HAS TO SAY IT or we are never going to get out of this rut: I am sick and tired of the founding fathers and all their intents.

There’s some sort of pleasure, I suppose, in watching an annoying house mouse start banging its nose on the trigger plate of an unbaited mousetrap. Not that a mouse ever was that stupid. But it’s what I thought of when reading this.

The real American question of our times is how our country in a little over 200 years sank from the great hope to the most backward democracy in the West.

But already he’s tripping over his argument, which is the opposite of what he says here: The point of his piece is to assert that the country’s foundation was the work of an oligarchy of backwards, racist, sexist, militaristic genocide-approving hypocrites. And that the achievements we revere them for deserve no praise.

Rather than being a “great hope,” a beacon to follow, Kurlansky writes, the deeds and words of 1776 ought to be scorned as a mistake we tack away from as rapidly as possible.

The whole piece veers schizophrenically between an attempt to be scathing in denouncing the worthless Founders and an attempt to be scathing in denouncing modern America for not being true to their vision. He wants to hurl rotten tomatoes at that marble statue of Thomas Jefferson and beat you over the head with it at the same time.

The U.S. offers the worst healthcare program, one of the worst public school systems and the worst benefits for workers. The margin between rich and poor has been growing precipitously while it has been decreasing in Europe. Among the great democracies, we use military might less cautiously, show less respect for international law and are the stumbling block in international environmental cooperation. Few informed people look to the United States anymore for progressive ideas.

A predictable litany, and yes, these are real and serious problems for America. But they are societal problems. Kurlansky elides a mass of political experience to connect them to the work of declaring independence from Britain and writing the Constitution. His implication is not only that these are the government’s problems to solve, but that 18th century Americans should have perceived the world through the eyes of a 21st century statist liberal. It’s a common enough error, but its frequency doesn’t make it less hubristic, infantile, and historically foolish.

To treat it in detail: If you could resurrect the Founders and show them modern America, they would not be appalled that we had “one of the worst public school systems” in the world. Most of them would be appalled that a nationwide, government-run, federally controlled and mandated education system existed at all.

That the government had any business regulating the gap between rich and poor also would strike them as outlandish. It’s not that they relished poverty, or thought it was God’s judgment on the wicked, or any such thing. But the idea that the government should stage-manage the national economy with equality of outcome as a goal wouldn’t have occurred even to a Hamilton.

I do agree, however, that they would be appalled by the way the American military is ordered around the world and involved in foreign wars. But before they got to that, they’d be appalled by the very idea of a paid, professional standing American army.

We ought to do something. Instead, we keep worrying about the vision of a bunch of sexist, slave-owning 18th century white men in wigs and breeches. Even in the 18th century, the founding fathers were not the most enlightened thinkers available. They were the ones whose ideas prevailed.

That’s the kind of dismissive jaw-jaw you expect from a smart junior high school student, not a historian. But Kurlansky does us the favor of nominating a contemporary American he evidently considers a more “enlightened thinker” than the Founders in the pantheon:

Those who favored independence but were not in favor of war are not called founding fathers. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania — with whom John Adams bitterly fought in the Constitutional Congress of 1776 because Dickinson did not believe it was necessary to engage in bloody warfare in order to achieve independence — is not a founding father.

Wait a minute. That’s not the history. That’s “1776 The Musical.” For dramatic reason, the musical needed a villain. The lyricists picked on good, honest John Dickinson, who simply was too conservative to support the Revolution. Kurlansky seems to have learned his history from the movies. Perhaps he hummed “He Plays the Violin” to himself as he typed this screed.

Merely provoking the irrascible John Adams hardly was a distinguishing mark for a politician, and “because Dickinson did not believe it was necessary to engage in bloody warfare in order to achieve independence” grossly misstates the man’s position, making him look like a Cindy Sheehan pacifist.

Now, I like John Dickinson; I graduated from the college named in his honor by his friend Benjamin Rush. But let me assure you (and Kurlansky) that he was every inch the “sexist, slave-owning 18th century white man in wigs and breeches” that the rest of them were.

Perhaps moreso. Dickinson, like most of the rest, was proud of the liberal constitutional heritage of England and felt he was upholding it in protesting the Crown and Parliament policies of the 1760s and ’70s. He never gave up hope of reconciliation with the Mother Country, which is why he did not support the Declaration. He was a centrist, true to his principles, and he paid for it by seeing his property attacked by mobs of both loyalists and revolutionaries.

But he was no pacifist, and willingly fought for independence. He was appointed a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia and led 10,000 soldiers into New Jersey to throw back an anticipated British thrust toward Philadelphia from Staten Island. His political unpopularity drove him from a leadership position in the army, but even though he was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies he served as a private with the Kent County, Delaware, militia during the Philadelphia campaign in 1777.

It was Dickinson, after all, who wrote the famous conclusion that Americans were resolved to die freemen rather than live slaves.

As for real, not rhetorical, slaves, Dickinson owned more of them than anyone else in Delaware. And, like Washington and other Founders, he thought the institution inconsistent with liberty and eventually found a way to set his slaves free.

Not so different after all.

You could speak out against slavery and still be a founding father, as long as you did not insist on its abolition, as many did who aren’t in the pantheon.

But Kurlansky names no one in 1776 who “insisted” on this. Because no one did. The very idea of an “abolitionist,” much less an immediatist abolitionist, hadn’t come into existence. Once again, he’s unfairly projecting the present into the past.

The Constitution produced by the founding fathers lacked the enlightenment of some of the colonial charters of several generations earlier, most notably the laws of Pennsylvania that barred slavery, refused to raise militias and insisted on fair-minded treaties with Indians. Benjamin Franklin despised these “Quaker laws” of his colony and even published a pamphlet denouncing the Pennsylvania Assembly for not sending young men to fight the French and Indians.

Which Pennsylvania was that? I’m not aware of another one, but this description sounds nothing like the one I live in and have studied.

True Penn’s Charter of Libertie contained many provisions that would please a modern secular liberal American such as myself. Penn was tolerant of other religions and treated Indians well, all of which were marks of distinction. But these things grew not out of a modern secular liberal conscience, but rather from the purely religious roots of the Quaker colony. So embrace them if you wish, but they come in a package with some of the most restrictive blue laws in American history including a ban on card-playing and all theater.

Pennsylvania colony never “barred slavery.” It tried to halt the import of slaves, several times, as did many other colonies, out of racist fears of the baleful moral influence of Africans and out of economic fears of slavery driving out white labor. But the colony hardly was more fair-minded than the others on this matter.

William Penn himself owned slaves and used them to work his estate, Pennsbury. He wrote that he preferred them to white indentured servants, “for then a man has them while they live.” By 1693, Africans were so numerous in the colony’s capital that the Philadelphia Council complained of “the tumultuous gatherings of the Negroes in the town of Philadelphia.” Prominent Philadelphia Quaker families like the Carpenters, Dickinsons, Norrises, and Claypooles brought slaves to the colony. By 1700, one in 10 Philadelphians owned slaves. Slaves were used in the manufacturing sector, notably the iron works, and in shipbuilding.

Not only was colonial Pennsylvania a slave-owning society, but the lives of free blacks in the colony were controlled by law. The restrictions had begun almost with the colony itself. After 1700, when Pennsylvania was not yet 20 years old, blacks, free or slave, were tried in special courts, without the benefit of a jury. For a people who later protested against the fugitive slave laws, Pennsylvanians, when they had slaves themselves as property, used the full power of the law to protect them. “An Act for the better Regulation of Negroes” passed in the 1725-26 session, set especially high penalties for free blacks who harbored runaway slaves or received property stolen from masters. The penalties in such cases were potentially much higher than those applied to whites, and if the considerable fines that might accrue could not be paid, the justices had the power to order a free black person put into servitude.

Under other provisions of the 1725-26 act, free negroes who married whites were to be sold into slavery for life; for mere fornication or adultery involving blacks and whites, the penalty for the black person was to be sold as a servant for seven years. Whites in such cases faced different or lighter punishment. The law effectively blocked marriage between the races in Pennsylvania.

Throughout Pennsylvania colony, the children of free blacks, without exception, were bound out by the local justices of the peace until age 24 (if male) or 21 (if female). All in all, the “free” blacks of colonial Pennsylvania led severely circumscribed lives; they had no control even over their own family arrangements, and they could be put back into servitude for “laziness” or petty crimes, at the mercy of the local authorities.

Quakers felt uneasy about slavery; in part because they had doubts about the propriety of owning another person, but also because they feared it was a luxury that marked them as worldly, and in part because they feared Africans would be a bad influence on their families. Pennsylvania Mennonites had expressed concerns about slavery since the 17th century, but it was only in 1758 that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends made buying or selling a slave a bar to leadership in the Quaker meetings. In 1774 it became cause for disowning. Moral arguments were advanced against slave-owning. But the main motive for the Society’s shift against slavery seems to have been an internal clash of values between the few wealthy Quakers who owned the slaves and the many poor ones who did not.

To be honest, the U.S. was never as good as it was supposed to be. Perhaps no nation is. Henry David Thoreau wrote of nations, “The historian strives in vain to make them memorable.” Even in the first few decades, most Europeans who came to see the great new experiment were disappointed. Writer after writer, from British novelist Charles Dickens to the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, arrived to discover less than they imagined. Tocqueville observed of American character: “They unceasingly harass you to extort praise and if you resist their entreaties, they fall to praising themselves.”

Fanny Trollope, the English writer, made a similar observation in 1832: “A slight word indicative of doubt, that any thing, or every thing, in that country is not the very best in the world, produces an effect which must be seen and felt to be understood.” I have no doubt the response to this article will show an America still unwilling to be criticized. But it is difficult for a society that accepts no criticism to progress.

Enlisting de Tocqueville on the side of the America-bashers is false enough. Worse still is pretending the British literati crossed the Atlantic as open-minded observers, not as calculating writers bent on dredging up the most miserable specimens of American degradation, the better to sell their subsequent horror-story books about the experience.

But the audacity of invoking the shrilly vituperative Fanny Trollope as a reliable observer of American life is beyond absurd. And sillier still is Kurlansky’s claim that, “if you don’t like what I say, that proves I’m right.” It’s the sort of schoolyard excuse for an argument that’s become depressingly common on the left, which not so long ago used to be able to sneer at the conservatives as “the stupid party.” What’s next? “Nyah-nyah; you’re it I quit touch black.”

Slavery was the most celebrated flaw of the founding fathers, but they also set the stage for the genocide of about 10 million American Indians and did not even entirely reject colonialism. They believed that it was wrong to tax colonists who did not have representation in the legislature, but the tax, not the lack of representation, was the grievance. They were affluent men of property, and they hated paying taxes. Ironically, they repeatedly used words like “enslavement” and “slavery” to criticize taxes while at the same time accepting real slavery.

Old Beard-Hacker Marxist interpretations dredged up from the dustbins of history-writing. The “genocide” began again in earnest under Andrew Jackson’s presidency, which made the most radical departure from the system set up by the Founders and was the most “democratic” to date. The guilt for the genocide lies with we the people, not they the Founders.

The founding fathers were all men of the establishment who wanted what Robespierre sneeringly called, when his own French Revolution was accused of excess, “a revolution without a revolution.” John Steinbeck noted that the American Revolution was different from that of France’s or Russia’s because the so-called revolutionaries “did not want a new form of government; they wanted the same kind, only run by themselves.”

More Marxist boilerplate, but the invocation of Robespierre as a more approved type of a revolutionary is terribly illuminating of the mind at work.

Yet it is only with anti-establishment thinkers that a society progresses. The reason that there is always more disillusionment with Democrats than Republicans is that Democrats raise the expectation of being anti-establishment when, in reality, both parties are committed to maintaining the status quo and the “intent of the founding fathers.”

And it is only when following anti-establishment thinkers that a functioning society quickly goes to hell. The passage about disillusionment with Democrats looks sound to me, though.

But the founding fathers, unlike the Americans of today, understood their own shortcomings. Thomas Jefferson warned against a slavish worship of their work, which he referred to as “sanctimonious reverence” for the Constitution. Jefferson believed in the ability of humans to grow wiser, of humankind to make progress, and he believed that the Constitution should be rewritten in every generation.

“Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind,” Jefferson wrote in 1816. “As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstance, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The quote comes from a letter to Samuel Kercheval, supporting efforts to rewrite Virginia’s state constitution to eliminate woefully unfair voting rules that restricted power to a Chesapeake aristocracy that was increasingly the minority in the state.

Somebody please tell Kurlansky that, in spite of what he thinks, Jefferson was not referring to the U.S. Constitution here. Though I don’t doubt Jefferson would approve modifications in the form of government to suit changes in times and the nation. So would they all. It was part of their genius and part of why they are rightly revered down to the present day.

Jefferson’s correspondence with Kercheval touched on other matters, too. Such as justifying national policies that Kurlansky deplores, and criticizing the Quakers, whom Kurlansky reveres. Jefferson wrote:

Our efforts to preserve peace, our measures as to the Indians, as to slavery, as to religious freedom, were all in consonance with [the Quakers'] professions. Yet I never expected we should get a vote from them, and in this I was neither deceived nor disappointed. There is no riddle in this, to those who do not suffer themselves to be duped by the professions of religious sectaries. The theory of American Quakerism is a very obvious one. The mother society is in England. Its members are English by birth and residence, devoted to their own country, as good citizens ought to be. The Quakers of these States are colonies or filiations from the mother society, to whom that society sends its yearly lessons. On these the filiated societies model their opinions, their conduct, their passions and attachments. A Quaker is, essentially, an Englishman, in whatever part of the earth he is born or lives.

Back to Kurlansky:

It is surprising that these words are not more often quoted in Washington because they are literally carved in stone — on a wall of the Jefferson Memorial to be exact.

And so the gear-jamming schizophrenic article turns, at last, into a paean to the revolutionary foresight of the Founders, after having dismissed them as silk stockings full of shit. But not before packing all the loopiness of that into one tight sentence:

So let us stop worshiping the founding fathers and allow our minds to progress and try to build a nation of great new ideas. That is, after all, the intent of the founding fathers.

Let us forget what they wanted us to do, and live as though they had never lived and rule as though they had never ruled, because that is what they wanted us to do.

Now, give your head a few minutes to stop spinning. Then realize that the shame of it is, Kurlansky can have much of what he wants in modern America without jettisoning the Founders. They were learned political theorists, but they also were practical men. They dealt with America as they found it, not as a nation of angels or apes. They built a constitution meant to govern that America, but with provisions to grow and change — and they knew it would. It was another of Jefferson’s dictums, as a president, to be progressive but to do no more good than the country can bear all at once.

Kurlansky, if he can get over his need to order the world — past, present, and future — exactly as it suits him, might learn something from reading what Jefferson wrote about the rule of the people. What Kurlansky wants is what we’ve been doing all along: using the fluid qualities of the Constitution to run a continuous, but evolving, nation.

That Kurlansky doesn’t like where we’ve turned out is probably less a testimony to his ambivalent feelings about the Founders. More likely, I think, is that he, like Fanny Trollope, simply detests the majority of Americans.

Kurlansky might even learn to appreciate the discovery of one of his own essay’s inappropriately dragooned anti-Americans, de Tocqueville, who wrote: “I have never been more struck by the good sense and the practical judgment of the Americans than in the manner in which they elude the numberless difficulties resulting from their Federal Constitution.”

Necessary Blasphemy

By Callimachus

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, opens his defense of offensive free speech with a simple absolutist statement that I wholeheartedly share: “Freedom of speech is important, and it must include the freedom to say what everyone else believes to be false, and even what many people take to be offensive.”

His very next sentence is a slam against religion, as a “major obstacle to basic reforms that reduce unnecessary suffering.” His list of religion’s faults is the usual one for a left-side American secularist: it includes contraception, abortion, stem-cell research, and homosexuality. (It closes with “the treatment of animals” which seems an odd outrider in this posse.) “In each case, somewhere in the world, religious beliefs have been a barrier to changes that would make the world more sustainable, freer, and more humane.”

What sustainable means in such a case eludes me; it is a value-neutral word (you can sustain evil as well as good) but when certain people use it it seems to have been pre-packed with a set of meanings (perhaps ecological) like a gag store’s spring-loaded “snakes in a can” toy.

Singer and I start at the same mountaintop of ethics and proceed down different paths. But do we end up at the same place?

In this article, yes. The logical next stop, in such a discussion today, is the Jyllands Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. And while we both find the outcome of the controversy tragic, we both agree that this was a valid expression of free speech, though for slightly different reasons.

“In hindsight,” Singer writes, “it would have been wiser not to publish the cartoons. The benefits were not worth the costs.”

I’m not sure freedom of any sort is the kind of thing you measure on a cost-benefits basis. If there’s to be a measure of it, I’d say the one that matters is the personal courage required: Nobody’s going to cut your head off for mocking American fundamentalist Christians who oppose physician-assisted suicide. That’s hardly a test case for free speech. It’s more important to hold up a candle in the demon-haunted darkness than in broad daylight.

But, Singer adds, “To restrict freedom of expression because we fear such consequences would not be the right response. It would only provide an incentive for those who do not want to see their views criticized to engage in violent protests in future.” And a hearty hear, hear to that.

And I think he’s right in the main thrust of his article, which is not the Muhammad cartoons but the jailed Holocaust-denier David Irving.

I support efforts to prevent any return to Nazism in Austria or anywhere else. But how is the cause of truth served by prohibiting Holocaust denial? If there are still people crazy enough to deny that the Holocaust occurred, will they be persuaded by imprisoning some who express that view? On the contrary, they will be more likely to think that views people are being imprisoned for expressing cannot be refuted by evidence and argument alone.

Exactly. Irving should be freed, not because he’s right, but because being wrong in words ought not to be a crime. Singer, before going further, lays out his credentials as a grandson of three Holocaust victims. This is a poignant, but unnecessary, aside. This is not a Jewish issue; it is a freedom issue, and as such it affects every person in a free society.

Irving, 67, is a formidable amateur historian who has worked from primary sources to build up his picture of a Third Reich in which Jews certainly were mistreated and died in large numbers, but not by a methodical genocide ordered by Hitler.

He already has been financially ruined and professionally disgraced by his persistence in Holocaust denial. But he should not be in jail; he should be out in the public arena trying to prove his case and seeing it shreded by the historical record. Like Jefferson, we are willing to “tolerate error as long as reason is free to combat it.”

In history as in all intellectual activities, questioning and probing makes a strong case stronger. The truth need not fear a Devil’s advocate.

There’s a flaw in Singer’s argument, however: He overlooks the difference between Europe and America in this matter, and he seems inclined to extend American ideas to European realities. Americans have steeled ourselves to an ugly truth: Our commitment to free expression means we must tolerate freedom of expression for people we despise, or else it means nothing. It’s a daily battle to maintain that, as the brouhaha over the “South Park” blasphemies revealed. But generally the principal of free speech comes out on top.

But Europe is different. Public Holocaust denial is a crime in 10 European countries, from France to Lithuania. All of them not only suffered under Nazi occupation but were, in some degree, complicit in the deportation and killing of Jews during the war.

After the war, laws were enacted that banned Nazi insignia and the stiff-arm salute. It was not just a question of muzzling Jew-baiters; the European nations remember that fascists came to power within the mechanism of democratic electoral systems and with a great deal of popular enthusiasm. The laws were meant, in part, to prevent the rebirth of a lethal political movement.

As Hajo Funke, a German historian, put it: “We can’t afford the luxury of the Anglo-Saxon freedom of speech argument in this regard. It’s not that I don’t understand it, it’s just not for us. Not yet. Not for a long time.”

Hence the 1992 Austrian law Irving was convicted under, which applies to “whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media.”

It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Irving’s trial that Islamists around the world have been able to point to it as proof of hypocrisy in the Western commitment to freedom of speech as invoked in the case of the Danish cartoon drawings of Muhammad. That’s the point Singer wishes to make, too:

[E]ven while the protests about the cartoons were still underway, a new problem about convincing Muslims of the genuineness of our respect for freedom of expression has arisen because of Austria’s conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the existence of the Holocaust. We cannot consistently hold that it should be a criminal offense to deny the existence of the Holocaust and that cartoonists have a right to mock religious figures.

Aside from the curious “we” (perhaps Sinbger is uncomfortable with the idea of being an American hectoring Europeans about freedom) that’s a strong argument. Irving’s writings feed the Islamists’ warped ideology, which run a close parallel to Hitler’s. But jailing Irving only adds the martyr’s halo to his sad career. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Irving’s trial that Islamists around the world have been able to point to it as proof of hypocrisy in the Western commitment to freedom of speech as invoked in the case of the Danish cartoon drawings of Muhammad.

I would not go as far as Singer in saying “In the current climate in Western nations, the suspicion of a particular hostility towards Islam, rather than other religions, is well justified.” For one, the Europe-America distinction remains important here. But I understand such suspicion, even if I don’t find it “well-justified.” And Singer and I agree in this:

Only when David Irving has been freed will it be possible for Europeans to turn to the Islamic protesters and say: “We apply the principle of freedom of expression evenhandedly, whether it offends Muslims, Christians, Jews, or anyone else.”

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