Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Lone-Wolf Canard

The violence in “violent extremism” is terrorism even if it’s performed alone. 

Zale Thompson struck one New York City police officer in the arm and another in the head with the 18.5-inch weapon before he was shot dead at the scene.

In Modern Times, his sweeping history of the 20th century, Paul Johnson recounts how Einstein’s theory of relativity, a strictly scientific principle, was contorted into relativism, a loopy social phenomenon, through a permanent campaign of serpentine rhetoric. It is, as Roger Kimball explains in The Fortunes of Permanence, a classic example of how a sensible concept or term of art that helps us grasp some narrow aspect of reality can end up distorting reality when ripped from its moorings and broadly applied.

Another good example is “lone wolf.”

Since Thursday afternoon, newscasters have incessantly told us that the late and unlamented Zale Thompson was a “lone wolf.” Thompson was the 32-year-old Muslim from Queens who attacked four New York City police officers with a hatchet on Thursday, breaking one’s arm and critically wounding another with a gash to the head.

Reading off the familiar script, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that “nothing we know at this time would indicate” a connection to terrorism. This, despite Thompson’s Facebook page on which he portrayed himself as a mujahed warrior superimposed on Koranic verses and called for “guerilla warfare” against the United States. Evidently, it is just one of those “violent extremism” coincidences that this “lone wolf” strike — translation: non-terrorist strike — occurred soon after the Islamic State urged Muslims in the West to “attack the soldiers of the tyrants and their police force.”

In addition to Americans, Europeans, and Australians, the Islamic State lists the “infidels” of Canada among its enemy “tyrants.” Thompson’s “lone wolf” jihad followed hard upon two separate “lone wolf” attacks in Canada this week. First, Martin Couture-Rouleau plowed a car into two soldiers, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Then, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo to death at the National War Memorial in Ottawa before spraying bullets inside Parliament (but fortunately killing no one else). Each “lone wolf” was killed in the aftermath, and each was reportedly a “recent convert to Islam.”

These latest atrocities follow last month’s decapitation of a woman at an Oklahoma food-distribution center by Alton Nolen, another “recent convert to Islam” whose Facebook page was a shrine to Osama bin Laden and the Islamic State. At the time, Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro noted that the Oklahoma attack was the latest of seven in the last few years by Muslim men acting alone. The count rises to eight if one accepts the Obama administration’s “workplace violence” rendition of the Fort Hood massacre, to wit: jihadist Nidal Hassan was a “lone wolf” — and therefore somehow not a terrorist — despite both his motive to prevent the U.S. soldiers he killed from fighting Taliban terrorists and his string of pre-massacre consultations with al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki (the imam who had ministered to the wolf-pack known as the 9/11 suicide-hijackers). At any rate, there are now so many “lone” jihadists we should probably start saying “clone wolf” instead.

So rote have the airbrushed news accounts of these incidents become that we could recite them in our sleep — which is exactly the condition those who write them hope to leave us in. We are to believe it is beside the point that the assailants happen to be Muslims. Sure, some may have been “inspired” by the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, but journalists, taking their cues from government officials, stress that the murderers lack “operational” ties to any recognized terrorist organization. So, presto, each is sloughed off as a “lone wolf.”  

That once useful term of art is now used to convey two carefully crafted, politically correct narratives. For government officials and investigators, the “lone wolf” label has come to mean the atrocity in question cannot be categorized as “terrorism,” no matter how many “Allahu Akbars!” are shouted as bullets fly, bombs blast, or heads roll. For the commentariat, “lone wolf” signifies that the Muslim in question — whether a lifer or a “recent convert” — has “self-radicalized,” spontaneously becoming a wanton, irrational killer.

These two story lines transparently suggest that the government has quelled al-Qaeda and that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Though President Obama frequently makes both claims, they are delusional.

“Lone wolf” is actually a surveillance-law concept that signifies the antithesis of the government’s newfangled “no terrorism here” usage. Moreover, the term is utterly useless to our understanding of how, and by what, Muslims are “radicalized.”

The “lone wolf” concept goes back to the alarm that gripped the nation right after nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. That alarm was heightened by the discovery that incompetent surveillance practices prevented the government from interrupting the plot. So after 9/11, national-security surveillance law was overhauled.

Unlike ordinary criminal investigations, which focus on penal law offenses, national-security investigations target agents of “foreign powers.” Legally, an international terrorist organization qualifies as a foreign power. So if investigators can show a person is tied to an outfit like al-Qaeda, they can get court permission to eavesdrop on him.

As a practical matter, though, many terrorism investigations do not unfold that way. Sometimes, investigators develop evidence that someone is preparing to conduct terrorist activity (e.g., he buys explosive components, he cases a bridge) before they can figure out whether he is connected to a known terrorist organization. Since involvement by a foreign power was the necessary predicate for national-security surveillance, the government’s inability to establish al-Qaeda’s role in the plot would result in the denial of authority to eavesdrop on the apparent terrorist — even though he might be on the verge of striking.

To prevent such a critical intelligence gap, Congress enacted “lone wolf” surveillance authority as part of the PATRIOT Act (see here, pp. 5–6). Significantly, the statute makes precisely the opposite assumption that government officials now make when they label someone a “lone wolf.” 
The law says that if a person is engaged in what appears to be terrorist activity, the involvement of a foreign terrorist organization should be presumed and need not be established. So as conceived and codified, the lone-wolf designation means the government should regard a suspect as a terrorist, not strain against all evidence and logic to regard him as a non-terrorist.  

Under the federal statutory definition, “international terrorism” happens when a person engages in activity intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.” If a person’s actions fit this definition,that is terrorism. That he may not have sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State is immaterial . . . and the fact that he is a Muslim is not a reason to look the other way.

Even more skewed than its invocation in the terrorism context is the use of “lone wolf” to explain how Muslims become “radicalized” — and, more specifically, its use to peddle the trendy nonsense that because he has acted alone, the Muslim in question must have “self-radicalized.”

No one self-radicalizes. Terrorists are radicalized by a scripturally based doctrine. They terrorize because the doctrine instructs them to do so. In sura 8:12, for example, Allah instructs Muslims that he will use them to “instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers” by having them “smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.” In sura 9:29, Muslims are told to
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians] until they pay the jizya  with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. [ACM: The jizya is the tax charged non-Muslims for the privilege of living in an Islamic state.]
We could go on at great length because there are many such verses, elaborated on with even greater ferocity in collections of the prophet’s words and deeds, which also have scriptural standing. It should by now go without saying that there are ways of interpreting Islam that seek to nullify its palpable bellicosity, and millions of Muslims do just that. But there are also millions who do not. The latter are not a fringe; as recently observed by Ayad Jamal al-Din, the Iraqi intellectual and Shiite cleric, their repressive sharia supremacism represents a mainstream construction of Islam, backed by 14 centuries of tradition and scholarship.

A Muslim does not wake up one day and spontaneously decide to commit mass-murder. No one is radicalized out of thin air. Muslims are radicalized by the doctrine. To be sure, there is often an intermediary between the doctrine and the person who becomes a terrorist — it might be a terrorist organization in the field or an extremist imam in the mosque. But it could also very well be the jihadist literature a person reads while alone in his room. Such literature is liberally available on the Internet and in countless American mosques and Islamic community centers. It is a staple of Muslim Brotherhood indoctrination efforts, and the Saudi regime — to take the most notorious example — has spent billions of dollars propagating it worldwide.

New York, Ottawa, Quebec, Oklahoma, Fort Hood . . . The “lone wolf” canard no longer conceals the harsh reality: The violence in “violent extremism” is terrorism even if performed alone; and what the “wolf” is “extreme” about is Islam.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Barack Obama, bewildered bystander

By Charles Krauthammer
October 23,2014

The president is upset. Very upset. Frustrated and angry. Seething about the government’s handling of Ebola, said the front-page headline in theNew York Times last Saturday.
There’s only one problem with this pose, so obligingly transcribed for him by the Times. It’s his government. He’s president. Has been for six years. Yet Barack Obama reflexively insists on playing the shocked outsider when something goes wrong within his own administration.
The IRS? “It’s inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it,” he thundered in May 2013 when the story broke of the agency targeting conservative groups. “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS.”
Except that within nine months, Obama had grown far more tolerant, retroactively declaring this to be a phony scandal without “a smidgen of corruption.”
Obamacare rollout? “Nobody is more frustrated by that than I am,” said an aggrieved Obama about the botching of the central element of his signature legislative achievement. “Nobody is madder than me.”
Veterans Affairs scandal? Presidential chief of staff Denis McDonough explained: “Secretary [Eric] Shinseki said yesterday . . . that he’s mad as hell and the president is madder than hell.” A nice touch — taking anger to the next level.
The president himself declared: “I will not stand for it.” But since the administration itself said the problem was long-standing, indeed predating Obama, this means he had stood for it for 5½ years.
The one scandal where you could credit the president with genuine anger and obliviousness involves the recent breaches of White House Secret Service protection. The Washington Post described the first lady and president as “angry and upset,” and no doubt they were. But the first Secret Service scandal — the hookers of Cartagena — evinced this from the president: “If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then of course I’ll be angry.” An innovation in ostentatious distancing: future conditional indignation.
These shows of calculated outrage — and thus distance — are becoming not just unconvincing but unamusing. In our system, the president is both head of state and head of government. Obama seems to enjoy the monarchial parts, but when it comes to the actual business of running government, he shows little interest and even less aptitude.
His principal job, after all, is to administer the government and to get the right people to do it. (That’s why we typically send governors rather than senators to the White House.) That’s called management. Obama had never managed anything before running for the biggest management job on earth. It shows.
What makes the problem even more acute is that Obama represents not just the party of government but a grandiose conception of government as the prime mover of social and economic life. The very theme of his presidency is that government can and should be trusted to do great things. And therefore society should be prepared to hand over large chunks of its operations — from health care (one-sixth of the economy) to carbon regulation down to free contraception — to the central administrative state.
But this presupposes a Leviathan not just benign but competent. When it then turns out that vast, faceless bureaucracies tend to be incapable, inadequate, hopelessly inefficient and often corrupt, Obama resorts to expressions of angry surprise.
He must. He’s not simply protecting his own political fortunes. He’s trying to protect faith in the entitlement state by portraying its repeated failures as shocking anomalies.
Unfortunately, the pretense has the opposite effect. It produces not reassurance but anxiety. Obama’s determined detachment conveys the feeling that nobody’s home. No one leading. Not even from behind.
A poll conducted two weeks ago showed that 64 percent of likely voters (in competitive races) think that “things in the U.S. feel like they are out of control.” This is one degree of anxiety beyond thinking the country is on the wrong track. That’s been negative for years, and it’s a reflection of failed policies that in principle can be changed. Regaining control, on the other hand, is a far dicier proposition.
With events in the saddle and a sense of disorder growing — the summer border crisis, Ferguson, the rise of the Islamic State, Ebola — the nation expects from the White House not miracles but competence. At a minimum, mere presence. An observer presidency with its bewildered-bystander pose only adds to the unease.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Need to Call It 'Terrorism'

By Andrew C. McCarthy
October 22, 2014

Omar Abdel Rahman: "The Koran mentions the words “to strike terror,” therefore we don’t fear to be described with 'terrorism' "

Within three days there have been two jihadist attacks in Canada, carried out by Canadian citizens who recently converted to Islam. No terrorist organization has claimed responsibility, at least as yet. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed no reluctance in calling the terrorists … terrorists.
Whether the attackers were incited by the summons to jihad from groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, or were actual members of such groups, there should be no question that these were terrorist attacks. The Obama administration’s practice of denying that terrorist attacks are terrorist attacks has been profoundly foolish – and it was good to hear the president seem to inch away from it today.
The point of this cockamamie denial approach is part political correctness and part plain politics.
President Obama has repeatedly claimed to have “decimated” al Qaeda and put it “on the path to defeat.” Actually, the terror network is on the rise. Furthermore, it is now rivaled by ISIS, a jihadist organization that may be even stronger. Denying obvious instances of terrorism, such as the jihadist mass-murder at Fort Hood, is a transparent effort to conceal the obvious falsity of the president’s claims. If these attacks are not really terrorism, the reasoning goes, then there must be less terrorism; therefore, the pretense of defeating terror networks can be spun as validated. As I’ve said before, it is a way of miniaturizing the threat.
It is more than that, though. Terrorism is fueled by an ideology. It is rooted, quite literally, in Islamic scripture. To cite one of many examples, in the Koran’s sura 8:12, Allah instructs Muslims: “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.” Thus, Omar Abdel Rahman, the infamous “Blind Sheikh” I prosecuted for terrorism in the nineties, used to exhort followers:
Why do we fear the word “terrorist”? If the terrorist is the person who defends his right, so we are terrorists. . . . The Koran mentions the words “to strike terror,” therefore we don’t fear to be described with “terrorism.” . . . We are ordered to prepare whatever we can of power to terrorize the enemies of Islam.
The United States government tried to portray Abdel Rahman as deranged and representative of no mainstream current of Islamic thought. In point of fact, he was a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence graduated from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the seat of Sunni learning for over a millennium. His capacity to command terrorists, although he was physically incapable of committing terrorist acts, stemmed from his indisputable mastery of sharia and Islamic doctrine – subjects I daresay he knew a good deal more about than President Obama. He was spokesman for a well-known interpretation of Islam that, as the Iraqi Shiite cleric Ayad Jamal al-Din recently acknowledged, has existed for 1,400 years.
A Muslim who commits an atrocious act with the purpose of becoming Allah’s instrument for “instilling terror into the hearts of the unbelievers” has committed terrorism. A Muslim who employs violence with the intention of “intimidating or coercing a civilian population; influencing the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or affecting the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping,” to borrow from the federal statutory definition of international terrorism, has engaged in terrorism. He need neither be wearing an al Qaeda team jersey nor be formally sworn in as a member of ISIS for us to state this palpable fact with confidence.
Shouldn’t we be able to agree on at least that much?

Terror in Canada

Posted By Nichole Austin On October 23, 2014 @ 12:58 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 1 Comment

View image on Twitter
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

The nation of Canada is reeling today from a brutal terrorist attack in the capital city of Ottawa that claimed the life of Canadian reservist Nathan Cirillo. The attacker has been identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 23-year-old convert to Islam, who was killed by authorities as he opened fire inside the Canadian Parliament. The incident comes just two days after two Canadian soldiers were deliberately struck by a speeding vehicle driven by another Islamic convert, leaving one soldier dead. The twin attacks have demonstrated that even the unassuming nation of Canada is not immune to the threat of Islamic terrorism, which once again has been allowed to flourish under a lax regime of global leadership.

Shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, Zehaf-Bibeau, using a keffiyeh to cover his face and brandishing a long-barreled rifle, approached the Canadian National War Memorial, dedicated to the memory of Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives in defense of the country. Corporal Cirillo was standing watch at the Tomb of the Unknown solider when he was shot in the abdomen by Zehaf-Bibeau at point-blank range. Zehaf-Bibeau then ran to the Canadian Parliament, where he was killed following a shoot-out with authorities.

Cpl. Cirillo, a 24-year-old father, was rushed to the hospital, but tragically succumbed to his injuries. A parliamentary guard sustained a gunshot wound to the leg during the attack and is said to be recovering.

Warning signs for Canadians have abounded in recent weeks. In early October, reports broke that an ISIS-connected terrorist plot had been thwarted by authorities. Two separate intelligence agencies warned Canadian law-makers that the threat of Islamic radicalism inside the country was growing. However, officials ultimately downplayed the idea that an any attack was imminent. Nonetheless, less than a week ago the government quietly raised the domestic terrorism threat level to medium for the first time in four years.

“This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world,” a visibly shaken Prime Minster Stephen Harper said in a statement to the nation. Harper vowed that the attack would lead Canada to “strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts, and those of our national security agencies, to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home.”

Worried Canadians should not be heartened by Harper’s pronouncements given what we have learned about authorities’ dealing with Zehaf-Bibeau and other like-minded terrorists in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Zehaf-Bibeau, born Michael Joseph Hall, had a long criminal history of drug trafficking, credit-card forgery and robbery. Most disturbingly, however, Zehaf-Bibeau also had been known to Canadian authorities for his jihadist proclivities and potential for violence. He had recently been designated by the government as a “high-risk traveler” and had his passport seized out of fear that he was liable to commit acts of terrorism abroad.

These disconcerting facts surrounding Zehaf-Bibeau are eerily similar to those surrounding Martin Rouleau, a.k.a. “Ahmad LeConverti (Ahmad the Convert), a the Canadian Muslim convert who drove a car into two Canadian soldiers on Monday in the Quebec city of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, claiming the life of one. Rouleau was arrested in July when he attempted to fly to Turkey. Rouleau’s passport had also been seized in an attempt to prevent him from traveling abroad and taking up arms with fellow Islamic terrorists.

Ninety other individuals like Zehaf-Bibeau and Rouleau are reportedly on a Royal Canadian Mounted Police watch list due to suspicion that they have or are planning to participate in militant activities abroad. At least 80 individuals present in the country are believed by Canadian intelligence to have gone overseas to participate in terrorist activities.

The same is true in many Western countries. Approximately 100 individuals from the U.S. are believed by the National Counterterrorism Center to have attempted to leave the country to fight alongside ISIS jihadists. The FBI estimates that a dozen Americans are believed to be currently fighting in Iraq and Syria, while Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) reports that he was informed that some 40 U.S. citizens have been allowed re-entry into the country. According to the Obama administration, this is their right.

“Ultimately, an American citizen, unless their passport is revoked, is entitled to come back,” FBI Director James Comey declared earlier this month. “So, someone who’s fought with ISIL, with American passport wants to come back, we will track them very carefully.”

The events in Canada of the last several days have cast doubt on the reliability of the “careful tracking” strategy.

“If you want to go to Syria and Iraq, please go, but never come back,” Geert Wilders tells FrontPage’s Jamie Glazov on this week’s episode of The Glazov Gang. In this prophetic warning against the policy currently in effect in many Western countries of keeping known ISIS jihadists in their midst, Wilders pinpointed why Canadian soldiers like Cpl. Cirillo have to needlessly, and tragically, lose their lives at the hand of Jihad. By refusing to allow highly “motivated” jihadists to leave, Western governments have made, in Wilders’ words, “our own streets, our own airports, our own train stations, our own malls, very dangerous places to be.”

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fury, review: 'astonishing'

At times, David Ayer's gripping tank drama brings us as close to an understanding of war as cinema can, says Robbie Collin

10 October 2014

A man on horseback emerges from a bank of blue-grey fog. The animal picks its way unhurriedly across the ground, which has been churned to muck by boots, tyres and bombs, while the man calmly surveys the scene.
It’s April 1945, in the heart of Nazi Germany, and only when the figure is almost upon us do we realise he’s wearing the stiff field tunic and peaked cap, emblazoned with an eagle badge, of a German SS officer. Then, suddenly, from behind the wreckage of a vehicle, something pounces – another man, quick and wiry, who knocks the officer from his mount, pins him to the ground, and sinks a knife into his eye socket. We see the attacker’s face. It’s Brad Pitt. This is our introduction to the good guy.
Fury is the new film from David Ayer, and the latest entry in the director’s ongoing study into the habits and habitats of the killer male. Previous instalments, such as End of Watch, Street Kings and Training Day (which he wrote for Antoine Fuqua), have mostly centred on the director’s birthplace of South Central Los Angeles, but even in the shift to Second World War-era Europe, Ayer’s theme – the scorched friendships that grow up around terror and death – remains the same.
Pitt plays Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, the commander of an M4 Sherman tank who, along with his four-man crew, is part of the final Allied push towards Berlin. The tank’s nickname, daubed in white along the barrel of its 76mm gun, is Fury, and the word hangs in the background of almost every scene like a never-changing stage direction.
As in Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron (1977) and Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), any Hollywood gloss has been scoured away: the plot is raw, episodic and wholly unsentimental; a gruelling onward rumble from one brush with death to the next.
“We don’t murder, we kill,” says Lee Marvin’s hard-bitten sergeant in Fuller’s film; and it’s a distinction Pitt’s character all but reiterates here.
“I started this war killing Germans in Africa, then I killed Germans in France, and now I’m killing Germans in Germany,” he tells Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), Fury’s driver and the team’s newest, youngest recruit. Ayer is interested in the way these men cope with killing, and plunges them into the kind of war that doesn’t get talked about during peacetime. There is no Private Ryan-like search-and-rescue mandate. It’s not clear that anyone here is worth saving.
Pitt’s performance has more in common with his stern, authoritarian father-figure in The Tree of Life than Inglourious Basterds’ gregarious Lt Aldo Raine: as well as Ellison, he has three more filthy mouthed young men (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal) to keep in line, and the group dynamic is more familial than friendlike.
After an astonishing set-piece battle, gripping in its sheer orderliness – three Shermans against Panzers and machine guns hunkered down in a thicket, with Pitt calmly barking orders into the radio – Wardaddy forces Ellison to shoot a captured SS officer in the back, pressing the pistol into his hands, wrenching the trigger back under his fingers, twisting his head so he sees the man’s body drop to the dirt.
“Do your job,” Wardaddy roars at him. And that’s how the men justify their actions to each other: “best job I ever had,” they tell each other, half-laughing, half-commiserating, after every skirmish and ambush.
In the down-time between battles, Ayer lets the quieter moments run. In an unbearably tense sequence, Wardaddy and Ellison break into a house in a bombed-out village after spotting a young woman at the window, and there is an unspoken understanding between the four that meat, drink and beds will be shared in the search for mutual comfort.
There’s no glory in this moment, but it feels strange enough to be truthful – another encounter those back home could never hope to understand. Ayer’s film, with its fearsome, steam-hammer power, brings us as close to that understanding as cinema can.
Fury is released on October 22 and closes the BFI London Film Festival on October 19. To watch our exclusive live coverage of the red carpet premiere, please click here

Fury: the real-life tank veteran

How close is the new film Fury to the true horror of warfare? Guy Walters asks a man who fought in a Sherman tank

22 October 2014

Ken Tout served as a gunner in a Sherman tank during the Second World War Photo: The Tank Museum

Many people are able to watch films set during the Second World War and eat their popcorn with ease. After seven decades, the war is now in that safe box marked “history”, its horrors no more immediate than those of the Battle of Waterloo.
This will be true for most who go to watch Fury, which stars Brad Pitt as the commander of a Sherman tank doing battle in Germany in April 1945. Set over just 24 hours, Fury is a film of many horrors, but they are horrors that happened a long time ago, and a long way away.
For a few, though, the film is an all-too-real reminder of a time they’d rather forget. These are the men who have faced the ultimate fear and unimaginable horror, and survived. Today, they live in ordinary homes in ordinary towns through Britain. One such town is Littlehampton in West Sussex, where, in a smart bungalow near to the sea, lives a sprightly 90-year-old called Ken Tout.
Seventy years ago, Ken was doing what Brad Pitt does on screen – fighting the Nazis from a Sherman tank. As part of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, Ken arrived in France seven days after D-Day in June 1944, and took part in some of the fiercest fighting in Normandy.
Although some veterans can be dismissive of the Hollywoodisation of the war, Ken broadly welcomes it.
“I’m certainly happy that it continues remembrance,” he says. “There’s so much happening in the world that unless someone like Brad Pitt comes up, people forget that this did happen, and that too many people didn’t come back.”
The fate of many members of the five-strong Sherman crews was to be incinerated in a tank that the Germans nicknamed the “Tommy-cooker”. “It probably earned that name the first time a German shot into the rear part of a Sherman and hit the 600 litres of high-octane fuel, which immediately flared up,” says Ken. “It was an immense flare. You could get a tower of flame and ammunition up to 30 feet coming out of the turret. If the Sherman was hit at a certain angle and with a certain deflection, the ammunition would ignite at the same time as the fuel. It was a cocktail of burning fury.”
Escape was all but impossible, especially for those such as Ken, who, as the gunners, were deep inside the tank. Unsurprisingly, the crews regarded the tanks with a mixture of what he calls “horror and glamour”.
“When you first saw a tank – this ugly, trundling, noisy monstrosity – you thought that somehow or other you’ve got to fold yourself up and get inside that,” he says. “And there was also the realisation that the role of the tank was to go out in front and be shot at.”
Being shot at was certainly not the life the young Ken Tout had had in mind. His parents were members of the Salvation Army in Hereford, and Ken had his name down for theological college when the war broke out. His first job was not as a soldier, but working as an administrator in the local VD clinic.
“It was very busy with RAF and soldiers from the many encampments around Hereford,” he recalls. “Civilians as well. VD was rife in the wartime. Even one of my crew members in Normandy contracted it twice in the course of the Normandy campaign. He was popping off to brothels.”
When he turned 18 in January 1942, Ken was conscripted into the Army. An aptitude test revealed a certain mechanical proficiency, and he was posted to the 1st Northants Yeomanry to serve in tanks.
It would not be until June 30 1944 that Lance Corporal Tout would fire his first shot. He remembers it clearly today.
“On the other side of this field, there was a small gate in a hedgerow,” he says. “The Germans were retreating across our front, diving across this gate. They were jumping over irregularly, and we were waiting for them to jump and then try and shoot through the gate with our machine gun. Then it occurred to us that the best way to do it was not to fire at the gate, but to put high explosive shells into the ditch on the other side of the hedge.”
And that’s precisely what Ken did. In the Hollywood version of such an encounter, one would expect to see the gory effect of such a shelling, but Ken claims that the reality was different.
“You don’t see human beings flung up in the air or anything of that sort,” he says. “It was a nice clean way of killing. You sit, you’ve got the buttons, and you know that somewhere the other guys are being shredded, but you have no impression of it. ”
Ken was no cold-hearted killer. As with so many members of the Sherman crews, he knew what the Germans were going through.
“Those guys sitting in that tank were like us, and when we hit them, [we knew] what would happen to them,” he says. “We had seen our tanks when they had been hit by German guns. It was a very mental explosion of horror – and sympathy, almost, for the enemy.”
One of the most powerful moments in Fury involves a young gunner (Logan Lerman) clearing the remains of his predecessor’s body from his seat in the tank. Tout once had to inspect the remnants of burnt-out tanks, and the images would sear into him.
“All that was left of the crew members was a black, waxy substance,” he says. “When you had to clean out a burnt-out tank, you did it with reverence because those had been your pals.”
After battling his way through Normandy, Ken’s war came to an abrupt end in October 1944 in a village in Holland, when his Sherman rolled over.
“The verge collapsed,” he recalls. “We toppled into the canal, which fortunately had very little water in it. Everything seemed all right, except my leg had got bashed up fairly badly. As far as I was concerned it was bruising.”
It wasn’t. As well as being fractured in several places, the medics also found that he had an existing problem with his left thigh bone, and he was “off games” for the rest of the war.
Today, his leg still sports an impressively long scar. Thankfully, however, he appears to have been spared any psychological scars, unlike some of his comrades, who had to sleep in separate beds from their wives because their nightmares caused them to lash out violently.
“One went to a psychiatrist 50 years after the war,” Ken says, “but the psychiatrist said that it was too late to do anything.”
After the war, Ken devoted his life to peace. He was ordained, and worked in Latin America on earthquake and flood relief. In South Africa, he was a member of the archbishop of Cape Town’s Committee on Racial Affairs. He was the press officer for Oxfam and Help the Aged, gained a PhD in gerontology, and was awarded an OBE for services to the elderly.
Ken has written 10 books, some of which are about his wartime experiences. His masterpiece, Tank!, unlike so many matter-of-fact military memoirs, successfully conveys the emotional trauma of being in combat.
“For this is the world’s end,” Ken writes about facing the enemy, “the final precipice of chance. Ahead, along the crest of the unseen hill, Death lies ready to leap on us, on the chosen ones among us. So each of us digs a little dug-out among the rubbish of our adolescent beliefs and ambitions. And burrows for comfort into the most secret places of the soul’s darkness to avoid the outer realities.”
Ken came back from the end the world, and has lived his life well. Today, his only regret is that the makers of Fury decided not to cast him in the film. “I think I’m more handsome than Brad Pitt,” he says.
Fury is on release now

Infected by Politics

The public-health profession is more committed to social justice than to sound science.

By Heather Mac Donald
October 21, 2014

CDC Director Tom Frieden announces that a patient in a Texas hospital has tested positive for Ebola, on Sept. 30, 2014. (CDC/YouTube)

The public-health establishment has unanimously opposed a travel and visa moratorium from Ebola-plagued West African countries to protect the U.S. population. To evaluate whether this opposition rests on purely scientific grounds, it helps to understand the political character of the public-health field. For the last several decades, the profession has been awash in social-justice ideology. Many of its members view racism, sexism, and economic inequality, rather than individual behavior, as the primary drivers of differential health outcomes in the U.S. 
According to mainstream public-health thinking, publicizing the behavioral choices behind bad health—promiscuous sex, drug use, overeating, or lack of exercise—blames the victim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Communities Program, for example, focuses on “unfair health differences closely linked with social, economic or environmental disadvantages that adversely affect groups of people.” CDC’s Healthy People 2020 project recognizes that “health inequities are tied to economics, exclusion, and discrimination that prevent groups from accessing resources to live healthy lives,” according to Harvard public-health professor Nancy Krieger. Krieger is herself a magnet for federal funding, which she uses to spread the message about America’s unjust treatment of women, minorities, and the poor. To study the genetic components of health is tantamount to “scientific racism,” in Krieger’s view, since doing so overlooks the “impact of discrimination” on health. And of course the idea of any genetic racial differences is anathema to Krieger and her left-wing colleagues.

Local public-health programs are just as committed to “social justice.” The National Association of County and City Health Officials promoted a seven-part PBS documentary, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making us Sick?, to trigger community dialogues about health equity. NACCHO’s Health Equity and Social Justice initiatives seek to “advance the capacity of local health departments to tackle the root causes of health inequities.”

During the height of the AIDS epidemic, the public-health profession abjured any focus on abstinence as a means of stopping the spread of the disease. This silence was contrary to decades of public-health response to venereal disease, which stressed individual responsibility, as well as contact tracing, to prevent further infections.

The American Journal of Public Health recently published a study coauthored by Columbia University professor and longtime police critic Jeffrey Fagan arguing that young black men who have been stopped and questioned by the New York Police Department suffer from stress and anxiety. The more times an individual gets stopped, Fagan claims, the more stress he may feel. The study did not consider whether individuals who have been stopped numerous times by the police may be anxious because they are gang members operating in a world where retaliatory shootings are common. Nor did it compare the stress of stop subjects with the stress once experienced by law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods before the NYPD brought violent crime down 80 percent.

The public-health profession has a clear political orientation, so it’s quite possible that its opposition to a visa and travel moratorium is influenced as much by belief in America’s responsibility for the postcolonial oppression of Africa, and suspicion of American border enforcement, as it is by a commitment to public-health principles of containment and control. (African countries, unburdened by any such racial guilt, have not hesitated to impose travel bans; Nigeria’s travel restrictions are now being credited for its escape from an Ebola incursion.) To be sure, the logistics of such a moratorium would be challenging, but no more challenging than retrofitting American hospitals for Ebola patients.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parents in ‘Purple Penguin’ School District Say Their Objections Are Getting Quashed

School is not listening to concerns about controversial transgender training, families of schoolchildren say. 

Superintendent Dr. Steve Joel addresses the media at an October 9, 2014 Press Conference regarding Gender Identity and Professional Development

Parents with kids at Lincoln, Neb., public schools say their concerns about the district’s controversial gender-identity training are being blatantly ignored by the district.

Approximately 40 people attended the school-board meeting last Tuesday to comment on the training, and about half of those 40 came to express their disapproval of the materials. But when the district published a release to inform the rest of the community about what had happened at the meeting, it included excerpts only from supportive speeches.

“The school board representatives are elected to represent the parents and community to the school’s administration . . . they’re not doing that,” Rachel Terry, who has three kids in the district’s schools, tells National Review Online.

The release also included a quote from Superintendent Steve Joel gushing about the amount of support for the initiative the district received at the meeting:

“It’s heartening to hear so many of our trusted, loyal LPS supporters . . . hopefully have an understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Joel said. “It’s always going to be about creating relationships with individual students . . . so that those students can be successful.”

Terry says this is especially misleading considering that only a couple of the supportive speakers actually had children at one of the district’s schools.

“The people who showed up to speak supporting the school district, they didn’t even talk about these training handouts or anything and they weren’t parents for the most part,” Terry says.

As reported by National Review Online earlier this month, a training document given to middle-school teachers at Lincoln Public Schools instructs teachers, “Don’t use phrases such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘you guys,’ ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and similarly gendered expressions to get kids’ attention.”

Of the speakers who identified themselves as parents of children currently attending the school, only two said they supported the initiative, according to a video recording of the meeting. Speakers on the supportive side included LGBT activists, a representative from Nebraska’s American Civil Liberties Union, teachers, and ministers.

Many parents who attended the meeting to express concerns about the program said it was an overreach.

“We need to focus on the academic goals and that is what our taxpayer money goes to,” parent Janna Harris said during the meeting, adding that the viewpoint presented in the materials “goes against the conservative majority in this city.”

Other parents said that statements later made by superintendent Joel stating that the items in the work training were just suggestions and not a mandate did not change how they felt about the issue. (As National Review Online’s original story made clear, the instructions appear in a training document and weren’t handed down in an edict, although this has gotten lost in the subsequent coverage.)

“This is good to hear, but is missing the point, which is that the district is actively condoning and supporting the redefinition of gender,” Rachel’s husband, Ben Terry, said during the meeting.
“Indeed, faculty now have 12 easy steps to guide them in this process of redefinition.”

Another parent, Jon Cosby, said this is just another example of the school locking parents out of the way it is educating their children, adding that his wife had to ask three times to be able to review a textbook before finally receiving it a month later. He also said that the school had to consult its legal counsel before allowing him to see the gender-identity training handouts — and that an administrator told him this was because the school’s lawyer was “really good at keeping us out of trouble.”

“What is LPS trying to hide?” he asked during the meeting.

Rachel Terry said that she and other parents with objections are going to continue to fight the issue.

“Parents are on the phone, we’re getting together and talking about what we are going to do and in that way I don’t think it has tampered things down the way that I’m sure they hoped for,” she says. “I think probably the contrary is happening.”

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.