Monday, June 28, 2010
Apologists for Pius XII (should you have to apologize for the behavior of a saint) portray him as a brave, good man who just happened to become Pope in Fascist Europe just before the outbreak of World War II. The Jewish Holocaust has been the center of controversy: did Pius do all he could to save the Jews from burning in Hitler's ovens?
Before forming a conclusion, you might want to consider how others fared, because the Holocaust was not just the work of Hitler, and Jews were not its only victims. There was the largest holocaust of all, the atheist holocaust, which Pius XII lobbied for, and which Catholics simply will not discuss. Perhaps crucial to the saint debate was the holocaust in Croatia.
Croatia has had an on-again, off-again history as a state. After World War I it was made part of the new superstate of Yugoslavia. During World War II it enjoyed a brief period (1941 to 1945) of independence, then was absorbed back into (newly socialist) Yugoslavia.
Without excusing bad human behavior, let's just admit that the Balkans is a rough neighborhood and has been since pre-Roman times. In particular, Orthodox Christian Serbs, Moslems, and Roman Catholic Croats had been living and fighting with each other long before Pius XII was born. It is possible the tragic mass murders in Croatia during World War II would have happened even if he did not encourage them. But he did encourage them.
First as a child of Vatican lawyers, then as an up and coming lawyer, bureaucrat and diplomat for the Vatican, Eugenio Pacelli had always favored the ideas that the Pope should have absolute power within the Roman Catholic Church, and that all governments should acknowledge the Pope as a sort of global emperor and direct representative of God. Yes, he was crazy, but then he never got out much; he was feeding on the ever-present alternative reality kept up inside the Vatican.
Pius XII hated communism and atheism and even liberalism and democracy (until his side lost World War II, then he changed his tune a bit). He wanted all governments to be monarchies or dictatorships, run just as the Church was run, with absolute obedience and no room for deviation or individualism. He hated Jews (lots of evidence of that is available; ignore it at your soul's peril), thought Protestants should be forced back into his church, and believed atheists should be shot if they refused to convert. You would think he might go easy on Eastern Orthodox Christians, who are usually lumped in as being very close to the Roman Catholic Church. You would be wrong. They refused to accept the authority of the Pope, and several of their diocese had set up by Saint Paul himself.
In 1941, with the war going full tilt, people in Yugoslavia, as elsewhere, had some difficulty picking sides. The Croats (not all of them, of course ...) sided with the Fascists; there was a large, pre-existing fascist organization, the Ustashe. Like almost all the fascists [see Fascism], the Ustashe was mainly Catholic. Led by Franciscan priests, the Ustashe started slaughtering Eastern Orthodox church members, who were mainly ethnic Serbs. The Ustashe killed Jews too, but, strange to us, did not attack the substantial Moslem minority.
You can read some details in Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell (pages 248-267), including what is known about the extensive reports sent to Pius XII about the slaughters, and his encouragement of the Catholic leaders of fascist Croatia.
When you put it all in context, you begin to wonder what a Catholic saint is. I attended Catholic School in the U.S. (where I was taught to hate Jews, Protestants, and atheists), and I got a different view of the saints. They were either victims (martyrs) who gave up their lives to spread the glorious gospel of Jesus, or they very kindly people who helped others who were in need.
I am sure that Pius XII did some good things in his life. But look at his associates. He loved Petain and General Franco. He was in bed with Hitler: his struggles with him were over who would be top dog. He did not speak out clearly against the Nazi attacks on, well, anyone, not even German Catholics. He viciously attacked Catholics who did not agree with him, using his power as Pope to silence anyone who deviated from his insane approach to theology and Church governance.
If that makes the man a saint, I'm glad to be numbered with the sinners.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Growing up in the 1960s I eventually heard the good guys, Americans, and in particular President Richard Nixon, called Nazi by leftist agitators. Although I was far better at math and science than at languages and human relations, in college I majored in Political Science because I did not like science being used to do evil, like dropping bombs on Vietnamese peasants. A considerable amount of my course work covered the Adolf Hitler's German National Socialist (Nazi) regime. Since that time I have read and even written a fair amount about the Nazis, trying to understand their particular brand of evil, and how it relates to evil in general. Most notably I have focused on how the National Socialist Party came to power. And I have related that to another major area of interest, the Catholic Church. I am the only modern writer I know of who emphasizes the fact that Adolf Hitler was born a Catholic, was a member of the Catholic Church in good standing throughout his lifetime, and died a Catholic [See Hitler's Catholicism]. Although factually true, this is considered heresy in the United States where the Catholic Church remains powerful enough within the Democratic Party and where that Party has dominated American society since 1932.
And yet today I learned something new and revealing. I will start with what I knew yesterday, that Adolf Hitler came to have dictatorial powers even though the National Socialists were not elected to hold a majority in the Reichstag (German equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives). The Reichstag voted to give away its powers to the Chancellor, who happened to be Hitler. This happened on March 23, 1933.[Coincidently, President Franklin Roosevelt became President of the United States (later President for Life) on March 4, 1933.] You can find this in the most standard of works on Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer on page 199:
"Monsignor Kaas, the [Catholic Center Party] leader, had demanded a written promise from Hitler that he would respect the President's power of veto. But though promised before the voting, it was never given. Nevertheless the Center leader rose to announce that his party would vote for the bill. Bruening remained silent. The vote was soon taken: 441 for, and 84 (all Social Democrats) against. The Nazi deputies sprang to their feet shouting and stamping deliriously ..."
So the Enabling Act passed, and Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany. Recall that this was in the midst of the Great Depression.
Given that you now know that Hitler was Catholic, and that the crucial votes that made him dictator came from the Catholic Center Party, you might think that you now understand what happened. But the Catholic Center Party was not actually fond of Hitler. There were more conservative, smaller Catholic parties in Germany that did like Hitler, but the Center Party actually believed in the democratic process. They were in their own struggle with the Vatican during this period. They were influenced by modern ideas. And a series of popes, up to then pope Pius XI, hated modern ideas, hated democracy, and in particular hated any grass roots control, or even bishop level control, of the Catholic Church.
Pius XI's man on the spot was Eugenio Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII. He had been the Vatican's ambassador to Germany, or papal nuncio, from shortly after World War I until 1930, when he became Pius XI's Secretary of State. He had always been in charge of negotiating a treaty, or concordat, between the Roman Catholic Church and the German State. For the Popes the concordat was about imposing the relatively novel idea that the Pope had dictatorial powers within the Church, including appointing all bishops, but reaching down even to the parish level. Because Germany had been the center of the Holy Roman Empire, the Church in Germany was used to a great deal of autonomy, and still remembered when it had the right to appoint Popes.
Pacelli made a deal with Hitler on behalf of the Pope. Hitler would be allowed to become the political dictator of Germany, if Hitler would allow the Pope to become the spiritual dictator of Germany, or at least of Catholics in Germany (Hitler and the Pope planned to merge the Lutheran Church into the Catholic Church).
So the Pope, through Pacelli, ordered the Center Party to vote for the Nazi dictatorship. This would in effect dissolve the Center Party, which was something the Vatican had been seeking since at least 1920. The Center Party itself probably would not have signed the concordat without revisions, because it thought the church should have a more democratic internal structure than was being advocated by Pacelli and Pius XI.
The negotiation of the Nazi concordat is a major theme of John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. The Enabling Act specifically is covered on pages 92 and 133-137.
Books cited (used copies of these are usually cheap):
Thursday, June 17, 2010
There were a lot of surprises in the book. It mainly covers the Japanese side of the story, but there is a lot of detail about the Roosevelt administration's internal decision making process. At times it seems Franklin Roosevelt (FDR), aided by Cordell Hull and Stanley Hornbeck, was purposefully trying to get into a war with Japan. His uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, had grabbed the Philippines for the American Empire. Ruling Japan and China, either directly or by proxy, had long been a goal of American imperialists. But Roosevelt had another side; he wanted to get what he wanted without a war, and wanted to be seen as peaceful. So he vacillated.
In Japan men vacilated as well. There were militarists who were looking for an excuse for war. There were powerful men who wanted to avoid war at all cost. And there were those who did not want war, but did not want Japan to become a third rate nation like China.
Japan felt encircled by enemies. Russia was a traditional antagonist, and communist to boot. Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States all had colonies in East Asia; all had looked ravenously at Japan for decades.
To the extent I have heard history debated in the U.S., the most common question is whether FDR knew about Pearl Harbor in advance. Certainly U.S. intelligence services had broken the Japanese diplomatic and military codes, and knew a lot. FDR and George Marshall knew the Japanese were breaking off relations in plenty of time to warn Hawaii, and in fact Marshall sent a message that was delayed, then ignored. But they were sure the Japanese attack would be on Singapore and Malaya; the U.S.-occupied Philippines might also be hit in the first wave. The Japanese really did a good job at hiding their preparations for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even the Emperor was not informed until just before it happened. American military men were largely contemptuous of Japanese military skills. Douglas MacArthur, commanding in the Philippines, was sure he would have no problems repelling the Japanese. General Homma proved otherwise.
All appearances are that war could have been avoided if Roosevelt had just excepted Prime Minister Konoye's offer to meet for face-to-face negotiations. The Japanese offered to withdraw from Indonesia and all of China except the independent state of Manchukuo (Manchuria). But because Cordell Hull prevented Roosevelt from seriously considering that offer, by the time Roosevelt finally sent a nice, personal note to the Emperor of Japan, the bombers were heading towards Pearl Harbor.
Monday, June 14, 2010
The United States occupied Afghanistan in 2002, overthrowing the Taliban-led government. Someone had to be punished for the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001. The attack was carried out by Saudi Arabian citizens, financed by Saudi money. But American (and British) companies already had a highly profitable business buying Saudi oil. The dictatorial, woman-oppressing, fanatically religious Islamic government of Saudi Arabia claimed it was loyal to America and the oil kept flowing. Ideally the Pentagon needed a weak country to beat up on. The Afghani government refused to expedite Osama Bin Laden. Not extraditing criminals (or spiritual leaders of rebels) has never been an act of war in the past, but the Pentagon, backed by President Bush, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party, invaded Afghanistan anyway.
Who knew there was a trillion dollars worth of minerals to be extracted. International mining corporations just got lucky. Including lithium for iPhones and iPads. Even a great prophet like Steve Jobs couldn't have foreseen something like that. [Oh no. Now I'll get thousands of e-mails claiming Steve Jobs can foresee anything he he wants to see, and how dare I write my prose on anything but an iPad.]
It is a hard call without further research. They want us to believe that geologists never visited Afghanistan before 2002. Prospectors either; it never occurred to that hardy lot that there might be gold in the hills or deserts. I believe a lot of private information was known about Afghanistan mineral potential going back decades. It is just that no one put it into a public report until now.
Think of all that money! It cuts down on our (Western) reliance on China for rare earth elements too. It justifies the deaths of not just American gunmen, but of Taliban soldiers and uncounted civilians.
And what is super, super groovy for the Pentagon and allied industrialists is that there are no environmental regulations in Afghanistan. No safety regulations either. As far as they are concerned, it would be like mining the moon. No harm done. Bring in the dynamite and humongous mining machines. A regular boy-child utopia.
If the past is any guide to the future, if wealth is extracted in the form of minerals, only a few Afghans will benefit. The miners will come and go, they and a few officials will get rich, and in a century or so there will be just a scared land and a bunch of poor sheep herders and opium croppers.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I mentioned in America: Republic or Democracy? that "The main Amendment that tipped the scales from the national government of the United States being a mere republic to being a true representative democracy was the often-overlooked Seventeenth Amendment, which took effect in 1913. Since 1913 the U.S. Senate has been elected directly by the voters, rather than being appointed by the state legislatures. That makes the national government democratic in form, as well as being a republic."
Just last year the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment, to help return America, formally, to a minority-ruled republic, was considered quaint fringe material. But recently repealing the 17th made news because a few Republican Party candidates for major offices included this idea in their speeches. Response from the public was negative, so they have backed off the idea, for now. [See, for instance, Repeal the 17th Amendment by Gene Healy or Should We Repeal the 17th Amendment by John A. Tures.]
While I follow mainstream wisdom here, that electing U.S. Senators is better than having them selected by state legislatures, the Tea Party people have at least one interesting point mixed in with other arguments. The Federal Government was intended to be federal, that is, only a limited degree of sovereignty was given up by the states to the national aspect of the system. The idea that the states had any real sovereignty was decided not by a vote or by the Supreme Court's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, but by the Civil War. Post civil war, states had little or no real power. The nation has been ruled from Washington D.C. ever since. Which most Americans believe is a good thing, most of the time. I have my doubts.
Suppose we allow that the more centralized a government is, the more autocratic it becomes. Then we (those of us who prefer democracy) would want to keep decision making not only democratic in form, but decentralized. We would want local governments - counties, cities, and states - to have more authority.
You might even want the Federal government limited to doing its task list in Article I, Section 8, and tasks scattered about in a few other places in the Constitution. The states, the counties, or the people themselves would take care of everything else.
You also might want the national aspect of the Federal government to be kept under control by the states (too late for that!).
In which case, you might want to repeal the 17th Amendment. If it would allow the federal Senate to be controlled by the people of individual states.
Only it would not do that. The strengthening of federal authority over the states and people took place over a long period of time, with a variety of driving forces. The single most important factor: the Constitution itself. If you want to get the states back in the saddle, you would want to go back to the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was created by a powerful minority of rich white Americans specifically for the purpose of taking power away from the ordinary residents of the states and centralizing it in the Congress, President, Supreme Court, and military. The writers of the Constitution did not get everything they wanted. They just got as much as they could at the time.
Here is a project for the Tea Party, Mad Hatter and all: let take our Way Back machine way back. Forget amending the Constitution, let's write something along the lines of the Articles of Confederation to be our governing document.
Large numbers of Jews lived in Palestine before the terrorists began fighting to create the State of Israel. I consider them natives of Palestine along with the various other religious and ethnic sub-groups that were there before 1945. The best solution would be a peace plan that would accomodate all. But as long as the Israelis act like Nazis, I have to support the natives against the terrorist invaders.
I wrote to the White House demanding that Helen Thomas be kept in the Press Corps. Regardless of whether she has a big-time employer. You can do this (or for that matter, diagree with me and demand that she be shot like a Palestinian child who has thrown a pebble at an Isreali tank) quickly and easily at the White House contact page. Tell Barack Obama what you think.
Or add a comment here.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
The ancient Greek philosopher-scientists knew that light was lazy. They showed that when light is reflected from a surface the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence. Whatever the speed of light was, this reflection rule resulted in the shortest, and therefore the fastest, path between a source of light, an observer, and a reflective surface between them. Light takes the shortest path.
In the era historians refer to as the Enlightenment, this came to be called the principle of least action.
Nature has a number of definitions; when I write Nature, I mean the Universe or totality of things, including the principles that cause it to exist and determine the specifics of existence. Primitive people take the ancient idea of a god (tree, rock, ghost, or human) and try to amplify that up until they have a God that created and rules over, or at least within, Nature. Whether you believe in God or Nature, the physics experiments come out the same.
So the principle of least action implies that God is lazy too. God's laziness makes the universe predictable.
You can make a lot out of this simple principle, which applies to solid physical objects as well a light and energy fields. To understand this, unfortunately, the path of least effort leads through the quicksand of something called the calculus of variations. And of course, most people in the world need to start working or fighting or begging before they even get to regular calculus in school. On the other hand, if you do happen to study calculus and then the calculus of variations, you can get anything you want in the world. You will be able to see deeper and further than other humans, and make of it what you will.
With your math magic, you are now ready to do Lagrangian dynamics, among other things. You can see where Newton's Laws come from: a lazy, symmetrical universe (designed by a lazy God). And using only the principle of laziness, you can work out Schrodinger's equation (for the motion of a non-relativistic particle in a potential field) [Byron & Fuller, Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics, p. 71]. Thus you have the key to quantum physics. In retrospect it is surprising no one came up with it before Erwin Schrodinger.
Which brings up another important point: Chance. Or probability, if you like the more modern formalism. Many Romans worshipped Chance, or Fortuna (Tyche to the Greeks). In addition to the chance events of human lives, the practice of gambling was already well-developed. Dice pre-exist recorded history, as did other methods of casting lots or determining oracles. The minor Christian god Jesus Christ may have been an incarnation of chance, as it was written in the Bible (King James translation), Mark 15:24, "And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take." [Alternate versions found in Matthew 27:25, where this is attributed to fulfilling a Jewish prophecy; Luke 23:34; and John 23:24]
The role of probability in quantum physics, and in particular the Uncertainty Theorem, has led to a lot of guru-driven nonsense spouted in the popular arena of wishful thinking. There is probability in quantum physics, which is to say in Nature, but it is of a type. We say things like "the probability of finding an electron within this space-time region in our experiment is 40%." It sounds like "there is a 40% chance of rain today." But if an experiment where the equations create a 40% expectation is run a few hundred times and the electron is only found 37% of the time, what physicists do is alter their equations. Afterwards it looks like they got the 37% figure from theory, but in fact they got it from practice and molded their theory to their results. See Inward Bound by Abraham Pais for numerous historical examples.
Asking where an electron is in space-time relative to an atomic nucleus is actually simply asking a bad question, although strangely it is fine to ask where the same electron is traversing a vacuum tube. Chance in quantum land is probably best seen in radioactive decay, where it is clearly a result of a probabilistic decay mechanism, not of observational or prediction problems.
The principle of least action leads to quantum probability equations. So in some sense the rules of probability in quantum phyics are themselves predictable. Just as we cannot be sure what any throw of the dice may bring, but we can predict the outcome of large numbers of throws using the rules of probability.
In classical physics, laziness appears to be exact (assuming you know exactly everything about your system), or too pick an exact shortest path. In quantum physics the mask of exactness is removed, but the laziness of Nature is still the rule.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
My analysis is that the Israeli high command probably gave advance orders to their gunmen raiding the charity fleet to use lethal force because they wanted to disrupt the impending settlement talks with the Palestinians. They think President Barack Obama will be weakened by the November elections in the United States. They think they can get another postponement, or a better deal after November. They are willing to take the short-term hit for the perceived long-term gain.
If indeed some of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara tried to stop the Israeli gunmen from boarding their ship, it was within their rights of self-defense. Pacifists would say it was wrong, and with their weird non-violence logic (see Non-violence and its Violent Consequences) would have blamed the victims on the ship, not the gunmen. If the point was to show the brutality of the State of Israel and bring attention to its illegal blockade of Gaza, however, those who defended themselves, and made the ultimate sacrifice, did the right thing.
Turn it around to see the justice. A bunch of German liberals decide to take supplies to a concentration camp or ghetto to feed Jews during World War II. Nazi gunmen stop them, first with beatings, then with bullets. Who would justify such Nazi actions, except the Nazis themselves?
Many wars have started with embargoes or blockades at sea. Embargoes are not in themselves acts of war, although they certainly can provoke wars. Blockades are acts of war. If a war has not already begun, a blockade is a good start. Remember the American War of 1812? The British blockade of Europe (they were at war with France and its allies) was one of the main factors.
The American Revolutionary War is thought of as a time of sacrifice, and for most of both the terrorists (I mean patriotic ancestors) and those Americans who remained loyal to Great Britain it was. But some Americans made out like bandits: privateers. They were authorized by Congress to seize British ships, and captured a lot of profits in the process. If the loyalists had won the war, in retrospect we would call them pirates.
Self-defense is a right, but it is a tricky right that runs up against the self-defense and private property rights of others. Surely Jews in Europe had a right to defend themselves against Adolf Hitler and his gunmen in the 1930s and 1940s. Surely the Palestinians had a right to defend themselves against the mainly German, Jewish invaders in the 1940s. So where should the Jews in European camps have gone? In retrospect, back to Germany. Anti-semitism was discredited and the Nazi Party was banned. They would have been safe there, but they did not feel they would be safe there, which is understandable.
As I said, choosing to not sell to a nation through an embargo is not an act of war, whereas a blockade usually is an act of war. But there are gray areas. After World War II started in Europe the United States, the Netherlands, and the British Empire joined in an embargo against Japan. The Japanese felt this was an act of war, since it meant they could get no petroleum, which they needed to defend their own empire. Attempts at negotiations failed largely because President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted a war to cement American dominance in East Asia, while Great Britain wanted a war because that would also involve America in the fight against Germany. Sure, if the embargo had caused the Japanese to surrender without a fight, America would not need to declare war. In 1812 Britain had the embargo, but America declared war. When you are a global economic superpower, I think it is fair to say that an embargo is a de facto declaration of war.
I believe the United States bears much responsibility for the situation in Gaza. We demanded free elections as a condition for statehood for Palestine. Then, Hamas won the elections. The United States then reneged on its promises. Americans may have missed that hypocritical song and dance routine, but Palestinians and Moslems in general did not.
I see no ethical distinctions between Hamas and Likud. In American politics the practical distinction is in the number of Jewish voters in swing states like Florida and New York, and the ability for American Zionists to contribute to election campaigns.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Most Americans would not have noticed the gaff. What German politicians say is seldom covered in the United States. But Horst resigned, probably after he got the "resign or be terminated" message from powerful world leaders like Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steve Jobs, and unnamed oil tycoons. Kohler (or Köhler) was a friend of Angela, so she probably felt bad handing him the ultimatum.
Imagine if Barack Obama, or his Vice-president .... um ... Joe Biden, said “A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.”
The problem is the implications. "Of course, we just use the word terrorist to influence the public. Our killers are soldiers. Our opponents have terrorists and gunmen. It really is not about religion. it is all about money. Afghanistan is about controlling raw materials, global trade, and the allocation of investments. Same as it ever was."
Don't worry, Barack and Angela, the average German, much less the average American, has the political memory of a squirrel. Few follow the political news in detail, and most of them have already forgotten ... what was his name?