Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kateri Tekakwitha, New Patron Saint of Suicide

Saints have not been hard for the Roman Catholic Church to come by even in this modern era of fact checkers and scientific scrutiny. Pope Benedict XVI announced seven new, official saints on Sunday October 21, 2012, all of them with a pedigree of the minimum of three official miracles. None of the miracles seem very miraculous to me, but that is not the point. The point is to keep the Faith alive in communities that had been sadly lacking in recognized saints.

Top of the list, as far as Americans are concerned, is Kateri Tekakwitha, "Lily of the Mohawks." She is the new Patron Saint of Suicide, with a minor in self-flagellation. She is the first American Indian to become a saint (fact checkers: no Mexican or South American Indian saints? Or are we using American in the narrow, Indians almost whipped out by Anglos and French sense?)[Fact checker reply: you are right. 3 Mexican Indians were already saints.]

Benedict XVI said: "Saint Kateri, protectress of Canada and the first American Indian saint, we entrust you to the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America." That is a pretty heavy load to dump on a long-dead 24-year old suicidal virgin.

I would think the story of Kateri would repulse American Indians, or anyone else. Kateri Tekakwitha was born when the Mohawk nation was still substantial, in 1656. Her mother had been converted to Catholicism and then captured by a Mohawk chief. After a smallpox epidemic killed her parents and the French defeated the Dutch, Jesuit missionaries came recruiting. In 1675 Kateri began the conversion process and she was baptized the next year. Spurned by her unconverted village, she moved to Kahnawake, south of Montreal, under Jesuit supervision.

Along with other converted women Saint Kateri decided to practice "mortification of the flesh." She claimed Jesus as a husband. She inflicted so many wounds up herself that she died on April 17, 1680, on the Wednesday before Easter. Allegedly her skin turned white and her smallpox scars disappeared when she died, which was her first official miracle.

That sounds like suicide to me. Sounds like Child Protective Services should have rounded up Kateri and turned over the Jesuits to the police to be hanged.

Her miracles were that friends, shocked by her death, imagined she appeared to them and told them she was going to heaven, and later the usual people recovering from diseases (that people sometimes recover from) after praying to her. You can find better miracles in any psych ward.

Here is the miracle I am looking for: and end to this plague of crazy people. Crazy Catholics and Protestants, crazy Islamics and Buddhists and Jews and what-have-you.

It is not surprising that Pope Benedict XVI would encourage young Catholic women to commit suicide. He has rejected them as potential priests. His anti-female program within the Catholic Church is probably inherited from his volunteering for Hitler Youth when he was a child.

We have enough problems with troubled children in these United States without the Catholic Church glorifying self-mutilation and suicide.

See also: Kateri Tekakwitha at Wikipedia
Pope Canonizes 7 Saints at New York Times

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Exceptional Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism has been a topic of Presidential campaign speeches and debates recently. Candidate Mitt Romney says he believes in Exceptionalism. Candidate Barack Obama seems to prefer the term "indispensable," which is a more diplomatic term.

The United States of America is hardly the first nation to think that it is exceptional: that it is blessed by God above all other nations, and that therefore it can do no wrong. Famously the Jews, in the ancient nations of Israel and Judah, made the same claim. That did not prevent them from being enslaved in Babylon. A few centuries later the Romans kicked them out of Jerusalem. Those remaining in Palestine mostly converted to Islam by 700 A.D.

Americans have done a lot better than the Jews, so far. Our founding fathers preferred to see us as a future Roman empire, only with as a Republic. By 1776 generations of Euro-Americans and African-Americans had died in this "new" continent. The survivors were a healthy, aggressive, rapidly breeding lot that eventually got us to where we are today.

The problem with Exceptionalism is that it glosses over real causes and effects. If America is exceptional, why? Could we lose our exceptional status?

Education, in the most general sense of preferring knowledge to ignorance, was a key generator of the wealth of this nation. Many of the founding fathers were highly educated men, and among other things they saw to the founding or expansion of a number of colleges and lower schools. Federal lands were set aside specifically to finance schools in the new territories to the west. Free public schooling became a foundation of both our democracy and our economy. By the 1850's Americans were among the world's best educated people. Between 1850 and 1910 American inventors, educators, and scientists joined with workers and businessmen to create the first economy that was not powered mainly by human sweat.

In the 1990's however, the U.S. education system began slipping into a steep decline. Can America remain exceptional if it has a sub-par education system?

Look at other nations that thought they were exceptional if you want to learn a thing or two. The prior most exceptional nation before the U.S. clawed its way to the top during the aftermath of World War II was Great Britain, aka England or the British Empire.

The Brits were sure they were favored by God. Their soldiers and bullets made the idea hard to argue with. The Sun never set on the British Empire. Until it did.

A promoter of American Exceptionalism might want to ask: how did the Brits loose their exceptional status? Idiots may think a capricious God just decided to punish the Brits for some slight, but policy makers should look for real world causes.

The main obvious difference between the British Empire and the global dominance of the United States was that the Brits ruled over people through colonies, while the U.S. has largely maintained a business empire in which we depend on puppet governments to rule our "allied" nations.

You might argue that God, or macroeconomics, favors the American System over the more old-fashioned British Imperialism. But I think you would be wrong. The baton was not passed from the British to the Americans because we perfected "soft" imperialism.

America took over the British Empire, and it was a well-planned maneuver, executed over decades. We did it with what can only be called exquisite timing. We encouraged the European great nations to fight each other, and we even encouraged the Japanese and Chinese to fight each other. [As my dad, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, liked to say: "Let's you and him fight."]

In both World War I and World War II the U.S. lent money to the belligerent nations so they could buy U.S. goods (including weapons). Then when they were weakened and indebted to us we chose a side (the Brits in both wars), went in, and with the loss of relatively few men became leaders of the victory camp. More importantly, our economy was strengthened by each war, while those of the other nations were weakened.

In particular, in World War II the Germans destroyed British and Russian factories. The British destroyed German factories. The Japanese destroyed Chinese factories, and the U.S. destroyed Japanese factories (and helped destroy German factories).

At the end of World War II, we had the factories. We had mines, and we had a vast agricultural system. We also had the atomic bomb. We did not need God on our side. We just needed the British Empire to close up shop. After India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, we really just had to use our economic power to mop up. We also mopped up most of the colonies that had belonged to the Netherlands and France, and we sent Douglas MacArthur to play God in Japan.

The Communists tried to ruin it for us, and ran some nice nationalist revolutions here and there, and even defeated America's military might in Vietnam. But America's empire gave us so much economic muscle that the Soviets just ran themselves into the ground. They sought world dominion, but could not even conquer Afghanistan. Their economy choked on their vast military machine.

The dark reality is that you have to work hard to be exceptional. It isn't a gift from the gods. If you have years of drought, your agricultural output will not be exceptional. If you teach Genesis instead of Evolution in the schools, your engineers and scientists will not be exceptional. If you don't have air superiority, your armies will not be exceptional.

And if China or Germany has more and better factories than the United States, then like the British Empire and the Dutch Empire (and Ottoman Empire and French Empire, and Spanish Empire) before us, the larger our military is, the less exceptional we will become.

Personally, I am looking forward to a Return to Normalcy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1882 and 2012, Egypt and America

Famous events of American history will likely be invoked in tonight's debates between President Barack Obama and would be President Mitt Romney. I will take any odds that neither of them will invoke the U.S. Marine Corps excursion into Egypt of 1882. They should, it is a good topic for comparing and contrasting past United States foreign policy to present day practice and rhetoric.

In 1882 Egypt was not yet exactly a colony of Great Britain, which is a bit surprising. The British Empire of the time was the largest and most brutal the world had ever seen, and was still expanding. Being crushed under British boots was a way of life for about one-quarter of the world's population. Egypt was a great prize in the global competition between European powers, and the result had been a strange system called Dual Control. On paper Egypt was an autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire ruled by a local dictator, Ismail the Magnificent. But the real bosses were British and French: Major Baring and Monsieur de Blignieres.

The Egyptian government owed a lot of money, especially to French and British investors. It was as if, in return for its current holdings of U.S. bonds, China demanded the right to appoint one of its citizens to be Secretary of the Treasury or Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Egyptian nationalists rebelled against foreign rule starting in September of 1881, and by June 1882 the nationalists had seized control of most of the nation. The British did what they did best back then: they attacked, starting at Alexandria and the Suez Canal, which had been opened in 1869 by the French, who constructed it with Egyptian slave labor.

The U.S. Navy was ordered to Alexandria in June 1882 to protect American citizens and their Consulate. Where the Navy goes, so go the Marines. On July 11 the British fleet started pouring 16,000 artillery shells into the city (bombing cities where civilians had not been evacuated would later by declared a war crime). Three days later 124 Marines and armed sailors from the Nipsic, led by Tony Waller, walked over the corpses to the American Consulate.

The Marines were congratulated for their help by the British army and press. They returned in September "in time for Waller to witness the victorious conclusion of the British offensive ... When Arab forces decapitated captured British Bengali cavalrymen and displayed their heads on lances, the British began summarily executing enemy captives. Years later, Waller would cite the British actions at Alexandria as justification for his own harsh treatment of enemy prisoners." [Honor in the Dust by Greg Jones, pages 34-35]

No wonder the typical Egyptian nationalist does not trust the British, French, Turks, or Americans. They probably know their own history a bit better than we do. For all the American propaganda about democracy and national self-determination, the United States did nothing while Egypt remained part of the British Empire from 1882 until 1953.

A lot of water has flown down the Nile since 1882. The U.S. government now arms the Egyptians and until recently supported the dictator Hosni Mubarak and his pro-Israel policies. The U.S. did not openly oppose (or support) the democracy movement that led to Mubarak's overthrow and the establishment of a (so-far) democratic government.

The Marines have not stormed in Egypt recently, but they did storm into nearby Yemen [See Obama Grabs Yemen].

Embassies and consulates are supposed to be inviolate under international law. The U.S. Marine Corps has traditionally guarded U.S. embassies abroad; there is nothing wrong with that. But the Marine Corps has a long history of being the brutal enforcers of American policy.

The best way to protect American embassies is to establish a foreign policy that is peaceful and non-interfering. People get mad at U.S. officials for because they are mistaken, but more often they get mad because they, or their country, has been mistreated.

Treat all people right and there is little need for battalions of Marines to protect American embassies. Getting all U.S. troops back to the United States and closing all our extraterritorial military basis would be a good start.