Saturday, May 10, 2014

Author David Baldacci reveals his links to the FBI and his dinner date with George W Bush

SINCE the success of his first novel author David Baldacci has sold more than 100 million books. Here, he reveals his close links with the FBI and why dinner with former president George W Bush didn’t go to plan.

6 May 2014

At his hotel off Trafalgar Square during a two-day visit to London to promote his latest book, David Baldacci is telling me about the formal Washington dinner where he sat two seats along from George W Bush. 
The elderly lady sitting between them started talking loudly about her ideas for assassinating the President. She was no fan of thrillers and hadn’t read any of Baldacci’s 28 bestsellers about government operatives and enemies of the state but she took being placed next to the author as an invitation to help him devise his next plot. 
“Suddenly she grabbed my arm,” he says. “I thought she’d been taken ill but she said, ‘I’ve got it! I’ve just thought of a way to assassinate the President!’ 
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me? He’s sitting right next to you. Why are you thinking about that?’ I really didn’t want to hear about it because it’s actually a felony to discuss this. Finally I said, ‘Make it fast and talk quietly’. 
“So she told me the idea and it was stupid and ridiculous and I told her that. And she goes, ‘Well, I’m going to see what he thinks’. 
“So she turns to him and I hear her telling the President. I wanted no part of this and turned my chair completely the other way. I finally look around and she’s finished her story and George Bush isn’t looking at her, he’s staring at me. And he says, ‘Ma’am, you ever read any of David Baldacci’s books?’ 
“She says she hasn’t and he says, ‘Well if I were you I’d try ’em out because that boy obviously has a very vivid imagination’.” 
If this had happened to a British author at a Chequers dinner it would probably be retold as a funny story. But Baldacci didn’t find it amusing. Assassinating presidents is no laughing matter in the US, especially when a dozen or so armed-to-the-teeth Secret Service men are standing nearby listening. 
And even though Bush always presented himself as an amiable clown with self-deprecating humour, he doesn’t seem to have taken it lightly on this occasion. He left the dinner soon afterwards and Baldacci, who is a Democrat but is on close terms with Bush’s parents (President George Bush Snr and his wife Barbara ), has never had the chance to explain himself. 
“It was unbelievable to me,” he complains. “I never got invited back to anything.”
The story also shows how connected the 53-year-old Baldacci is. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a man who has sold 110 million books since making his name with Absolute Power nearly 20 years ago should sit on the same table as the US president. After all, our own JK Rowling was pretty chummy with Gordon Brown. But the point about father-of-two Baldacci, who practised as a lawyer in Washington and now lives just outside the city with his wife Michelle, is that he is the insider’s insider. 
He concocts his own thrillers almost as documentary, spending hours with FBI and Secret Service agents to make sure his situations are as plausible as possible. They actually seek him out to convey their own experiences, knowing he won’t blow their identities, and he gets special access to FBI training rooms to do his research. 
One secret intelligence agency even invited him in because they were miffed the National Security Agency had been identified as the villain of the piece in a recent movie when they were actually the ones who did that sort of work. They wanted Baldacci to write about them in one of his novels because it would help with recruitment. 
“I’ve yet to write about them because that’s not what I do,” he says. “But I do like to see conditions on the ground as much as possible. A lot of them like the fact that I’m out there like a journalist researching what they do rather than just going on Wikipedia.”
Because he takes this aspect of his work so seriously it’s sometimes not obvious where documentary ends and fiction begins. For example in his new book The Target, CIA agents Jessica Reel and Will Robie are sent to a terrifyingly tough training camp called the Burner Box from which they fear they won’t escape alive and where they even suffer waterboarding the controversial torture now outlawed. Are we to take it that this kind of stuff really goes on?
“The CIA has gotten more and more paramilitary over the years so they have to train people,” he says. “It has a lot of training facilities around the US and there’s one in Williamsburg, Virginia called Camp Perry. The Burner Box I made up but it’s certainly patterned after the facilities they would use and techniques that they would employ and teach to their people. Will they waterboard their own people? “In this book it’s because the CIA director doesn’t like the agents and has a vendetta against them. But we waterboarded our enemies so it’s not too much of a stretch to think that we might deploy those techniques against our agents in the field to make sure they could withstand them.” 
The one bit of on-the-spot research he couldn’t do for this novel was in the labour camps of North Korea, where much of it is set. But he read a lot of books, including accounts by people who escaped. He paints a chilling picture of a perfect totalitarian regime where people know they will be punished unless they spy on each other so they all act as surrogate guards. The paranoid rogue state is a place we could well hear more from, he predicts. 
“They have a nuclear capability and maybe they have potential to get that nuclear capability farther than we think. Certainly they are unstable. Let’s say they launch an attack on South Korea. By treaty obligation and our presence there the US would be bound to defend South Korea and all of a sudden you’re into an Armageddon. You also have Russia and China in the area, with competing goals. It’s really kind of a powder keg.” 
In the meantime he’s already at work on his next two books: one for young adults, the other a thriller called The Escape featuring his military investigator character John Puller. He earns enough from the interest on his investments alone to run two large houses – the other is on a lake four hours away, at the other end of Virginia – but still produces two books a year, writing every day until he’s run out of things to say. He never takes breaks because he reckons his whole life, doing what he loves best for a living, is a holiday. 
He resists the lure of the internet and thinks social media are “like 21st century cigarettes”. 
“In the 1950s and 1960s you’d see young people pull their packs out and smack them against the table,” he says. “Now you go out to a restaurant or bar and people pull their phones out and you almost see them smack them against the bar. It’s totally ridiculous to check for messages ever six seconds but they can’t help themselves. It’s like electronic crack.” 
And what about that idea for assassinating the President. Is it really not going to feature in a future novel? He insists he has a personal rule never to use other people’s suggestions. They may offer them with the best of intentions but if he uses the material they may later decide they want their own slice of the profits. 
“I have friends who have been sued – they use the idea and 10 years later they’re in court,” he says. “So I try to stay away from that. And believe me, it was a lousy idea anyway.”
  • To buy The Target by David Baldacci, published by Macmillan £16.99, with free P&P call 0871 988 8451;
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Why Lois Lerner Should Be Granted Immunity

It’s the only way for the House to get to the bottom of the IRS abuses. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Today's Tune: Lone Justice - Wheels (Live)

Hillary Clinton’s State Dept. Blocked Terrorist Designation for Boko Haram

May 8, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton talks with Nigerian Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala at the Presidential Villa in Abuja
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) talks with Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the Presidential Villa in Abuja August 9, 2012. Clinton arrived in Africa’s most populous nation offering to help Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan fight Boko Haram, a Taliban-like group that wants to establish a strict Islamic state in the north of the vast country. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool (NIGERIA – Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)

“We must stand up to terrorism,” bleated Hillary Clinton a few days ago in a tweet expressing outrage against Boko Haram, the jihadist organization that has abducted hundreds of young girls in Nigeria. Yet, when she was actually in a position to stand up to Boko Haram’s terrorism as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton instead protected the group.
At the Daily Beast, Josh Rogin reports:
The State Department under Hillary Clinton fought hard against placing the al Qaeda-linked militant group Boko Haram on its official list of foreign terrorist organizations for two years. And now, lawmakers and former U.S. officials are saying that the decision may have hampered the American government’s ability to confront the Nigerian group that shocked the world by abducting hundreds of innocent girls.
While Mrs. Clinton now issues indignant tweets, Mr. Rogin elaborates on her failure to mention
that her own State Department refused to place Boko Haram on the list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2011, after the group bombed the UN headquarters in Abuja. The refusal came despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and over a dozen Senators and Congressmen. 
“The one thing she could have done, the one tool she had at her disposal, she didn’t use. And nobody can say she wasn’t urged to do it. It’s gross hypocrisy,” said a former senior U.S. official who was involved in the debate. “The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials.” 
In May 2012, then-Justice Department official Lisa Monaco (now at the White House) wrote to the State Department to urge Clinton to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. The following month, Gen. Carter Ham, the chief of U.S. Africa Command, said that Boko Haram provided a “safe haven” for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and was likely sharing explosives and funds with the group. And yet, Hillary Clinton’s State Department still declined to place Boko Haram on its official terrorist roster.
As Mr. Rogin further details, placing an organization on the terrorist list enables the government to use various investigative tools for law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering purposes. It also squeezes the organization by criminalizing the provision of material support to it and the conduct of business with it.

After numerous Boko Haram atrocities, Republicans attempted to force Secretary Clinton to designate the group or explain why she refused to do so. The State Department heavily lobbied against the legislation. Only after John Kerry replaced Clinton, and after a series of jihadist bombings against churches and other targets, did the State Department finally relent and add Boko Haram to the terrorist list last November.

The excuses now being offered in explanation of Clinton’s dereliction are specious. As Rogin explains, Clinton’s State Department claimed that Boko Haram was merely a local group with parochial grievances that was not a threat to the United States. Have a look, though, at the State Department’s list, here. Several of the listed groups are waging local terrorist campaigns that do not threaten our country—the Basque ETA, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Real Irish Republican Army, etc. A significant reason for having the list is to promote international cooperation against terrorism and discourage its use against anyone anywhere. The fact that a terrorist organization may have only local grievances and may not directly imperil the U.S. has never been thought a reason to exclude it from the list.

Fox News has further reported another rationale of Clinton apologists: Hillary did not want to raise Boko Haram’s profile and assist its recruiting which, they reason, would be the effect of designation by the Great Satan. That is ridiculous. The main point of having the list, and the sanctions that accompany a terrorist designation, is to weaken the organization by depriving it of assets and material support. The logic of what Clinton supporters are claiming is that U.S. counterterrorism law — much of which was put in place by the administration of President Bill Clinton — does more harm than good. Does anyone think they really believe that?

What happened here is obvious, although the commentariat is loath to connect the dots. Boko Haram is an Islamic-supremacist organization. Mrs. Clinton, like the Obama administration more broadly, believes that appeasing Islamists — avoiding actions that might give them offense, slamming Americans who provoke them — promotes peace and stability. (See Egypt for a good example of how well this approach is working.) 
Furthermore, if you are claiming to have “decimated” al-Qaeda, as the Obama administration was claiming to have done in the run-up to the 2012 election, the last thing you want to do is add jihadists to the terror list (or beef up security at diplomatic posts in jihadist hot spots, or acknowledge that jihadist rioting in Cairo or jihadist attacks in Benghazi are something other than “protests” inspired by “an Internet video” . . .)

It is very simple. Most of us on the national-security right recognize that Islamicsupremacism is an ideology rooted in Muslim scripture — a strict, literal, ancient interpretation of Muslim scripture. Essentially, it advocates the adoption of sharia, Islam’s legal code and societal framework. It is not the only way of construing Muslim scripture — and we certainly hope that more benign constructions become dominant — but Islamic supremacism is far more mainstream than the West likes to admit, particularly in the Middle East and growing swaths of Africa. It is an ideology that endorses violent jihad, the treatment of women as chattel, sex slavery, child marriages, and the other horrible stuff that outfits like Boko Haram are into. Even though these organizations (quite naturally) terrorize locally, their aspirations are global and they are a threat to us because their ideology unites them and regards the West as an enemy.

The Left, by contrast, seems to believe that “Islamists” — adherents of Islamicsupremacism (though the Left would not refer to “Islamic supremacism”) — are motivated not by an ideology derived from scriptural commands but by American policies that promote national defense, pursue other U.S. interests, and regard Israel as a key ally. Indeed, progressives like Mrs. Clinton are anti-anti-terrorists in the sense that they portray the national-security right as a greater threat than Islamicsupremacism.

Mrs. Clinton and her cohort do not deny that there are terrorists motivated by Islam. But they see terrorists and Islamists as separate categories, not united by a single ideology.
Mrs. Clinton and President Obama have convinced themselves that they know more about Islam than Muslim terrorists do, and that the peaceful, pliable, progressive Islam they have concocted somehow renders the jihadists’ Islam false. This means, abracadabra, that Muslim terrorist groups can be miniaturized: They’re not really Islamic, not really united by an ideology that seeks global conquest, and therefore should be seen as isolated, standalone, ragtag cabals whose grievances are strictly local. The Left has even done this with al-Qaeda: The organization heretofore regarded as global is now atomized into something they call “core al-Qaeda” — which Obama purports to have “decimiated” by killing Osama bin Laden — and a bunch of regional franchises (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, etc.). We are supposed to see these franchises not as tentacles of an international terror network but as local gangs trying to make themselves look bigger and more threatening than they really are by adopting the “al-Qaeda” brand name.

As noted above, the Left not only marginalizes terrorists but divorces them fromIslamists. Mrs. Clinton and the president accept Islamists as authentic Muslims but see them as evolving beyond Islamic scripture and toward the progressive Islam of the Left’s imagination. The mental gymnastics at work here require (a) studiously ignoring what Islamists actually believe and the fact that it squares with what Islamic terrorists believe; and (b) belittling, suppressing, and framing as an“Islamophobe” anyone who has the audacity to point out what Islamists actually believe.

Having imposed the premise that the Islamists’ version of Islam should not trouble us in the slightest, Mrs. Clinton and the Left posit that what really animates Islamists against the West are aspects of American policy—which, conveniently, just happen to be the same aspects of American policy opposed by the Left. If only we’d change these policies—less emphasis on American security and interests, more distance from Israel — we’d alter the perception that America is “at war with Islam.” This will make Muslims like us better, promoting peace and stability.

So that’s the plan: pretend terrorists and Islamists are unconnected, miniaturize terrorists, and appease Islamists with the Left’s policy preferences. It’s the plan that convinces you not to put Boko Haram on the terrorist list — that way, you can pretend that the jihadists are not really that important while telling the Islamists, “See? We’re going to treat them like a local criminal gang — the fact that they’re Muslims citing scripture in support of their murder, mayhem, kidnapping and misogyny is irrelevant. No ‘war on Islam’ on our watch.”

From Benghazi to the Brotherhood in Egypt to Boko Haram and beyond — Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department was a disaster. But she is an excellent tweeter.

Obama’s Foreign Policy: One Big Coverup

Posted By Daniel Greenfield On May 9, 2014 @ 12:55 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | No Comments

Political Cartoons by Nate Beeler
Obama will eventually adopt the Russian line on Ukraine if for no other reason than to avoid exposing his own impotence. It’s why Obama has adopted the Iranian position on its nuclear weapons program, accepted Russia’s Syrian WMD deal and why Kerry and his cronies are busy blaming Israel for the collapse of peace negotiations that were actually sabotaged by the PLO leader.

If you can’t beat them, join them. And Obama can’t beat them. Joining them is his only option.
The culture wars and media firing squads, the SEIU members who shepherd the elderly and infirm to voting booths, the illegal aliens who vote three times because voter ID is racist, are excellent tools for defeating Republicans; but they don’t impress Vladimir Putin or the Islamic militias of Benghazi.

Whatever else went down there, Benghazi had to be covered up because it was easier to join the Muslim mobs burning American flags by throwing a Coptic Christian into jail and filming an apology.
It was easier than sending in the Marines or even the drones. It was easier to do nothing, prep for a debate with the real enemy, Mitt Romney, before flying off to party in Vegas.

Obama has preemptively surrendered to anyone and everyone. Even countries he opposes on an ideological basis have discovered that if they slap him around long enough, he will come around.
It just takes a little longer.

Egypt held the line, despite the threats from the State Department and the White House, until Obama decided that it was easier to give in to General Al-Sisi. The condemnations still come, but the Apaches are also on their way.

Despite Obama’s commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood, he blinked.

Obama declared a red line on Syria. Assad is still in power and the red line is crumpled up in an Oval Office desk along with a dozen candy bar wrappers and a dented Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s easier for Obama to surrender and pretend that was his policy all along than to put up a fight.
It’s easier for him to side with Israel’s enemies than with the Jewish State. It was easier for him to appease Putin before the invasion of Ukraine, now it’s easier for him to throw out a few hashtags and stay well away from the fighting and then at an opportune moment, pressure Ukraine into accepting whatever deal the Russians put forward.

Putin knows it and that’s why his people are humiliating Hagel and Kerry to up the ante for the final concessions. Ukraine, like Israel, like so many other allies, will be forced to pay a high price to cover up the ego and incompetence of Barack Obama.

Obama’s foreign policy is one big cover up. From Europe to Asia to the Middle East, allies are sacrificed, positions are abandoned and credibility is set on fire to convince Americans that their leader knows what he’s doing. To avoid ever losing a fight and being seen as a loser, he preemptively surrenders.

The media’s story is that Obama meant to do these things. He meant to reverse himself on military aid to Egypt. He meant to set a worthless red line on Syria. He meant to protect Ukraine with hashtags. He meant to do nothing about Benghazi.

Some presidents cultivated a policy of strategic ambiguity to keep the country’s enemies off balance. Obama does it to keep Americans off balance about what he really did and what he really meant.

Obama makes sure to take at least two positions on every foreign policy issue. He evolves and then devolves and evolves again. He was for calling Benghazi a terrorist attack after he was against it. He was against dealing with Assad, before he was for it. He was against containing Iran before he was for it, before he jettisoned containment and skipped straight to embracing a nuclear Iran.

He issues statements that sound bold and decisive, but with just enough wriggle room to allow for a sellout. There’s enough equivocation to cover the ass of the naked emperor no matter what happens. Even while his people were pushing the lie that the Benghazi attack happened because of a YouTube protest, not terrorism, a general aside about “Acts of Terror” was inserted into the Rose Garden speech to cover him against the day when the truth could no longer be denied.

Obama’s speeches are full of double meanings and ambiguities. He came out in favor of a united Jerusalem, only to then explain that he didn’t mean it would be united by Israel. His “Red Line” comments on Syria were so ridiculously ambiguous with the outcome being, “That would change my calculus,” that they meant absolutely nothing at all.

It was the media that took the comments seriously and ended up with egg on its fedora.

Benghazi wasn’t an aberration. It was typical of his foreign policy. It was the policy of Hillary Clinton who liked to talk tough, saying of Gaddafi, “We came, we saw, he died”, while her spokesman called Assad a “dead man walking”, but when push came to shove, she abandoned her people to die without asking for military aid.

She polished her resume, they went, they died.

Democrats complain when Republicans talk about Benghazi. But why don’t we talk about Obama’s foreign policy? Why don’t we talk about the botched war in Afghanistan, his failure to stand up for the Green Movement in Iran, his push for the Islamist Arab Spring, his fumbling in Syria and his poor relations with traditional US allies in the Middle East?

Why can’t we talk about his many lies about Al Qaeda, beginning with selling the disastrous Afghan surge as a platform for defeating Al Qaeda in a place that it had mostly abandoned, only to then declare victory over an Al Qaeda that had hardly been there?

Did Obama sacrifice 1,600 Americans in Afghanistan in a phony campaign for an election talking point?

Is there any part of Obama’s universally disastrous foreign policy that we can talk about? Or is it all one big cover up?

Obama’s problem isn’t just that he sympathizes with terrorists and has a distaste for national power and the military, but that everything he does falls apart.

There is no national conversation about foreign policy or even domestic policy the way that there was during the days of Bush and Clinton. Instead we talk about Obama. Media coverage focuses on his celebrity, his political enemies and his plans for the future in purely personal terms.

The past is a foreign country. And the media doesn’t travel there. The results of his policies at home and abroad are a mystery. The media won’t tell us what happened two years ago or three years ago, so it pivots to the latest racial outrage or hashtag.

Benghazi is one of the many disasters left in his wake and his defenders insist that it go unexamined and the process of covering it up, which began while the bodies were still warm, go unnoticed.

The Obama illusion falls apart if you look at it from any angle other than the front. If you look behind it, there are flames, burning buildings, screams and political hacks who call each other “dude” making up lies about why it happened before moving on to pushing a news story about his wife’s latest hairstyle, their latest vacation or the latest celebrity they were photographed with.

Benghazi is an important part of the conversation that we need to have. But it doesn’t end there.

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Benghazi: How to do the hearings right

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) 
The Democrats are portraying the not-yet-even-constituted House Select Committee on Benghazi as nothing but a partisan exercise. They are even considering boycotting the hearings to delegitimize them.
Fine. Although this would give the Obama-protective media a further reason to ignore Benghazi, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether the committee produces new, important facts. If it does, it will be impossible to ignore.
We’ve already seen what a single piece of new evidence can do in reviving interest in a story that many (including me) thought the administration had successfully stonewalled. The “PREP CALL with Susan [Rice]” e-mail from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes was withheld eight months until revealed by court order. It advises the U.N. ambassador to focus on an anti-Islam Internet video, thus contradicting the perennial White House claim that Rice’s blame-the-video five-show fable came just from intelligence community talking points and not from a White House in full campaign mode.
The select committee will be headed by Rep. Trey Gowdya skilled 16-year prosecutor. He needs to keep the hearings clean and strictly fact-oriented. Questions only, no speechifying. Every sentence by every GOP committee member must end with a question mark. Should any committee Republican instead make a declarative statement ending in a period, the chairman should immediately, by button, deliver an electric shock through the violator’s seat.
The areas of inquiry are obvious. They are three: before, during and after.
Where and to what extent was there dereliction of duty as memos, urgent pleas and mounting evidence of danger were ignored and the U.S. ambassador was allowed to enter a deathtrap?
What happened during the eight hours of the Benghazi attack, at the end of which the last two Americans (of four) were killed by mortar fire? Where was the commander in chief and where was the responsible Cabinet secretary, Hillary Clinton? What did they do?
The White House acts as if these are, alternatively, either state secrets or of no importance.
For President Obama, we have three data points. At 5 p.m. EDT, he is informed of the attack at a regular briefing with his secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
At around 8 p.m., Obama spends an hour on the phone with Benjamin Netanyahu to tamp down a breaking, politically injurious story that Obama had snubbed the Israeli prime minister. The White House then issues a readout saying the two leaders had agreed there had been no snub.
So the White House is engaged in campaign damage control quite literally in the middle of the Benghazi events — at a time when Ambassador Chris Stevens is still missing and the final firefight that killed two other Americans is still three hours away. We’ve just learned that Obama was not in the Situation Room that night. Then where, doing what?
We know, finally, that at 10 p.m. Obama called Clinton — a call the White House, at first, had not reported — to get an update. What did they discuss, decide, order?
As former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, a half-hour later, State issued a statement deploring the video, setting the premise for the video excuse. Were Obama and Clinton working on a cover story — even before Glen Doherty had joined Tyrone Woods on the roof of the CIA annex where they were to die minutes later?
Yes, that’s speculation. Well, then, give us facts. After all, the White House provided a cascade of hagiographic facts about Obama’s involvement in the Osama bin Laden raid. Yet regarding Benghazi — the most serious operational challenge of his presidency, the 3 a.m. phone call Hillary Clinton had warned about in 2008 — he is nowhere to be seen.
We now know the White House was pushing the “video made them do it” coverup, lest the blame be placed on administration policy. Who was involved in that decision, obviously designed to protect a president campaigning that al-Qaeda was “on the run”?
What difference does it make? The difference between truth and falsehood. The difference between a brazen stonewall that is exposed and one that succeeds.
Nonetheless, these hearings are a big political risk for Republicans. Going into the 2014 election, they stand to benefit from the major issues — Obamacare, the economy, chronic unemployment — from which Benghazi hearings can only distract. Worse, if botched like previous hearings on the matter, these hearings could backfire against the GOP, as did the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings. On purely partisan considerations, the hearings are not worth the political risk.
But the country deserves the truth. They’ll get it if the GOP can keep the proceedings clean, factual and dispassionate. No speeches. No grandstanding. Gowdy has got to be a tough disciplinarian — especially toward his own side of the aisle.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Book Review: 'The Great and Holy War' by Philip Jenkins

By Joseph Loconte
May/June 2014

This is a guest column by Joseph Loconte, associate professor of history at The King's College in New York City. He is the author of God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West (Lexington Press) and of the forthcoming God and the Great War: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of Faith in the Modern Age.

British historian C. V. Wedgwood, writing 20 years after the conclusion of World War I, produced a sweeping survey of a conflict that created a human catastrophe for Europe. She drew her wounding observations to a close with these words: "Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading, confused in its causes, devious in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example in European history of meaningless conflict." Wedgwood's account, however, was not about the deadly conflagration that had engulfed the Continent just a generation earlier. The war she had in mind was fought in the early 17th century. It has been called Europe's last religious war: the Thirty Years War.
In a sense, the conflict of 1618-1648 anticipated the war of 1914-1918. Although it could have remained a regional dispute, the Thirty Years War sucked into its vortex most of the nations of Europe. Like World War I, it was breathtaking in its scope and destructive power. Both wars resulted in startling numbers of casualties, caused massive physical devastation, disrupted local economies, and threatened the social fabric of European civilization.

The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) that ended the Thirty Years War promised to remove religion as a source of political strife. The secular interests of the State would set the course of international affairs. The nations of Europe had finally put an end to wars motivated by religious belief. And then the Great War arrived, and with it the revenge of religion.

From the onset of hostilities, writes Philip Jenkins in The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, this was a conflict infused with religious themes and ambitions. What might have remained a brief skirmish over ethnic self-determination became something like an apocalyptic contest between the forces of Good and Evil. "Whatever the local agendas, Christians in all combatant nations—including the United States—entered wholeheartedly in the spirit of cosmic war," Jenkins writes. "None found any difficulty in using fundamental tenets of the faith as warrants to justify war and mass destruction."

Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, has written extensively about the growth of global Christianity. More controversially, in a recent comparative study of Islam and Christianity, he concluded that the teachings of the Qur'an are "far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible." In The Great and Holy War, Jenkins explores not only the faith-based character of World War I but also its aftermath. Drawing on important primary material, Jenkins lays bare the apocalyptic rhetoric that attended and inflamed the conflict. He provocatively suggests how the war transformed 20th-century religion, and is sober about the staying power of religious faith. Nevertheless, his treatment suffers from a tendency to give too much credit—or blame—to religious motivations at the expense of other, more worldly explanations.

Jenkins is on solid ground when he reminds us that the combatant nations of Europe continued to uphold some version of ancient Christendom: that Church and State were still intertwined and that religious concepts were embedded in the public consciousness. He argues that this heritage contributed to the sanctification of the war effort—and the demonization of the enemy. Later on, he notes, the fiery wartime sermons delivered from pulpits across Europe and the United States invited reproach from the postwar generation.

Read the rest of the article:

Interview: Philip Jenkins on 'The Great and Holy War'

April 29, 2014
My Baylor colleague and fellow Anxious Bench blogger Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Co-Director of the Program on Historical Studies of Religion at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of many books, including The Lost History of Christianity, Jesus Wars, and The Next Christendom. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. His latest book is The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, which we recently discussed. 
TK: You say that World War I must be understood as a religious conflict, one that many participants saw as a “holy war.” Why is this essential to understanding WWI?
PJ: I think it’s multiply important, not least for why understanding the different alliances went to war. At the highest levels of the respective regimes, both Germany and Russia were deeply motivated by national visions that were messianic and millenarian, and framed in thoroughly Christian terms. Each nation saw itself as playing a predestined role that was divinely inspired, and those self-concepts contributed mightily to the outbreak of war. Religious visions also helped explain why people remained at war through the hellish conditions. We also have to understand the highly supernatural world in which all participants found themselves, and not just at the level of elite propaganda. The language of crusade and holy war must be taken very seriously – on all sides. When they entered the war in 1917, Americans, interestingly, were among the most passionate in presenting the war in crusading terms.
Also, the sense of having failed in a holy war enterprise goes far to explaining the secularized millenarianism that prevailed throughout the 1920s and 1930s, in the totalitarian movements. As in 1914, Germany and Russia were the storm centers.
TK: WWI is often remembered for unprecedented, but often pointless carnage, especially in the notorious experiences of trench warfare. Does the religious cast of the war help to explain the nature and extent of its violence?
PJ: The violence and destruction were in large measure the consequence of recent technological developments, and the state of military tactics at the time. By the way, trench warfare in itself is not necessarily disastrous, and trenches were a major form of protection in plenty of other wars, including the American Civil War. But the particular form that such tactics took in that war made it uniquely deadly.
I would see a religious influence in some of the examples of ethnic cleansing and massacre that accompanied in the war, including the Armenian Genocide and the anti-Jewish massacres on the Eastern Front. Those incidents alone claimed many more lives that Verdun and the Somme combined.
Incidentally, I do challenge the idea of “pointless” carnage. Some battles in the war were far bloodier than they need have been, and military incompetence was widespread. The First Day of the Somme was a perfect example. But I would stress the main Allied goal of the war, of preventing a ruthless German hegemony over the whole of Europe, which in the imperial context of the time meant over most of the world. From 1914, the Germans could only be defeated by wearing down and penetrating their very strong fortifications in France and Belgium, and the Western Allies took some time to find the military means to accomplish that. It was a war of attrition, but so (for instance) was the Battle of Normandy in 1944, which actually cost casualties at a greater rate than did most of the famous battles of the First World War. And ultimately, the Western Allies of 1944 broke through German lines and ended the stalemate, just as they ultimately did in 1918.
But pointless? No more than World War II.
TK: Your book features dozens of striking visual illustrations from the 1910s. Some display evocative and disturbing religious images, some grisly violence, and some have both. Why was it important for you to include this visual dynamic?
PJ: Only by looking at the overwhelming weight of religious and supernatural imagery in the war’s visual heritage do we get a sense of just how prevalent these otherworldly ideas were, and how archaic. It’s an odd juxtaposition, of highly medieval depictions of angels and apocalyptic horsemen, visions of Christ and the Virgin, images of ghosts and prophets – and all in a highly modern world of machine guns, tanks and gas warfare. That disjunction of medieval and modern is shocking, and brings home the central points I am trying to make.
Pictures of various kinds give us the best ways we are ever likely to find of entering into the imagination of people in a bygone historical era.
Particularly valuable, of course, are the motion pictures, which were just entering their golden age in 1914. Many of the major productions of the era dealt with war themes, and in very religious/apocalyptic terms – INTOLERANCE, THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, CIVILIZATION… The fact that people watched these films in their millions means that they recognized in them the beliefs and value systems that had motivated them to fight in the war.
TK: Many writers have seen WWI as the beginning of widespread western skepticism about faith, and an important milestone in the secularization of the West. But you say that the war could just as easily be seen as the beginning of “divine reassertion.” Why?
PJ: I could answer this question at book length, and indeed I have done just that!
First, we have to look at the wider world beyond Europe and North America, where the war marked the beginning of radical new forms of religion – for African Christians, for example, for Muslims in the Middle East or South Asia, for Jews.
But even in the West, there really is little evidence of a great disenchantment with religion, apart from some elite writers of the Lost Generation. Neither Europe nor America secularized to any degree before the 1950s, even such countries as the Netherlands, and church attendance rates boomed through the 1920s. In fact, churches and clergy gained status from the war, from the courage of military chaplains, and from their role in the whole post-war effort to commemorate the dead. For every one contemporary individual who complains about the war destroying faith, we find dozens converting to more stringent or demanding forms of faith in a quest to make sense of the recent carnage.
Some scholars have spoken of a re-enchantment following 1918, not a disenchantment. Old forms of faith perished in the war, but assuredly not faith itself.