On Columbus Day, Are We Celebrating the Wrong Italian Explorer?

October 12, 2015

by Avi Davis and Michael Lotus

Every second Monday in October in the United States, the banks close, the post office shuts down, federal services are unavailable and many local public services cease to operate. It is the day in the calendar designated by our government to celebrate Christopher Columbus’  first landing in the New World.

Many American citizens believe that the public holiday marks the discovery of the land mass which would come to be known, three hundred years later, as the United States of America.

résumé of christopher columbus christobal colón

This is not true. Christopher Columbus, in none of  the four Atlantic  voyages of discovery he undertook from the Kingdom of Spain, ever set foot on the continent of North America.  The date October 12, 1492 only marks the day upon which he discovered an island off the coast of Cuba in the Caribbean – which some consider present day San Salvador Island and others consider Samana Cay.

Christopher <b>Columbus</b>' <b>Voyages</b>

What, in fact, we truly celebrate on the second Monday of October each year is not the discovery of the American continent(s) but rather the joining of the Old and New Worlds –  for this essentially marks the modern beginnings of what was to become known as the Western world.

The sudden opening to Europeans of the Western Hemisphere, and the contemporaneous discovery of sea routes to Asia, is one of many links in the chain of causation that led to the modern world. These sea voyages were essential early steps on the near-miraculous steps by which agrarian mankind  escaped from the Malthusian trap of pre-industrial civilization which offered a finite consumption of resources and no exit.  The once-in-history escape from this fate is therefore referred to by Ernest Gellner and Alan Macfarlane as’ The Exit,’ which originated in England and was then adapted to local conditions and replicated around the world.

Another way to describe this unique and world-transforming change is, in Jim Bennett’s words,” the triumph of production over predation.” In a post-Exit world, exploitation of other humans beings, by slavery and other more subtle means,  no longer became the primary path to wealth and power.

Would the Exit have occurred without the linking of the Old World with the New?

We can never be sure. Similarly, we can’t say for certain that the particular combination of history, technology, and geography that led the British Isles to become the driving force for the European Exit was either inevitable or would never be duplicated in another place or time.

What is clear, however , is that the chain of events set in motion by Columbus, Cabot, Verrazzano, Cartier and Jolliet and the other European explorers, resulted in a shift of populations from one hemisphere to another  – populations which would inevitably be linked by common heritage, law and language and creating a network of trade and cultural exchange which has survived to this day.

A further detail worth mentioning on Columbus Day is the observation that we in the Anglosphere may be celebrating the wrong Italian. That is because there were really four European discoveries and settlements in the Western Hemisphere –  a Spanish one -in the Caribbean and Mexico ( as well as points further south); a Portuguese one in Brazil;  a French one in the valleys of the St. Lawrence and  Mississippi Rivers and an English one along the eastern coast of North America.  In this regard, we should not forget that the explorations of John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), on assignment from the King of England in 1497 were the first recorded English commissioned incursions into North America.

John Cabot - Explore the world

So, while giving Columbus his due for uniting the Old and New Worlds, let us also celebrate the achievements of the Venetian sailor John Cabot, commissioned by Henry VII of England, whose discoveries led to the planting of the Anglosphere in the New World — which, in turn, led in turn to America 1.0, America 2.0 and then America 3.0, which is now struggling to be born.

Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance. Michael Lotus is a fellow of the American Freedom Alliance and  a founder and senior researcher of the American 3.0 Institute.

Advertisements

An Officer and a Spy : A Review

October 8, 2015

An Officer and a Spy (Robert Harris)

It is now 80 years since the death of Alfred Dreyfus and 120 years since the end of l’affaire which bore his name. When most people think of this tragic episode in fin-de-siècle France they usually conjure, not images of the defenestrated Jewish officer who became a scapegoat for the French military’s intelligence lapses, but rather of an Austrian journalist covering the trial, who, sickened by the anti-semitic tauntings of the Parisian crowds, soon became the founder of the national political movement known as Zionism.

But Theodor Herzl, as romantic and fascinating a lead character as he might have suggested, does not appear at all in Robert Harris’ latest work An Officer and a Spy, his fictional account of the Dreyfus Affair.  In fact, the tornado of antisemitism, which tore through France and  swirled around Dreyfus and his two trials in the late 1890s, barely plays any role at all.  While there are gratuitous references to mobs screaming “Death to the Jews” and “Kill the Jew Traitor” and deprecatory references by the French High Command to the hated “Jew” Dreyfus, this appears as little more than background noise in the propulsive narrative and not a central focus.

By and large the antisemitism of the age is less a concern for the novelist than is the character of his central protagonist, Colonel Georges Picquart.

Picquart, who became the effective head of  French Intelligence in the wake of the first Dreyfus trial is the novel’s first person narrator and central character.  His counter-espionage investigations reveal that Dreyfus was wrongly convicted and that the real spy, who had delivered military secrets to the  German General Staff in 1894, was a French major, desperate for cash and low on loyalty. But the French High Command had pinned its flags to the Dreyfus mast and so they decided to dig in. Picquart was quickly quarantined and then sent on pointless intelligence gathering missions to the south of France and then onward to Tunisia where he wasted away for months in a lonely frontier outpost while the High Command conspired to send him on suicide missions into North Africa’s deserts.

Picquart retaliated by becoming one of the first of modern whistle blowers and through his lawyer would inform both the French intelligentsia as well as the radical  left of the scandal, both of whom would seize upon the cover- up to draw attention to the corruption of the Nationalists in the French parliament.  The roar of outrage grew into a crescendo when novelist Emile Zola published his famous front page essay, J’accuse which  would not only directly name the individual French generals responsible for the miscarriage of justice, but would land Zola himself in a heap of trouble as the libel suits poured in.

Throughout the languidly paced novel, which revolves largely around the sensational trials of the period, we meet some handsomely drawn characters: the florid Major Hubert- Joseph Henry, Picquart’s second- in-command, who plays a central role in the attempt to frame Dreyfus;  The calculating and politically ambitious General Auguste Mercier, French Minister of War, who leads the cover up and never ceases, until the day he dies, to express his belief in Dreyfus’ guilt; Pauline Monnier, Picquart’s long time mistress, who gets caught up in the scandal and almost loses her family as a result and Fernand Labori, attorney to Zola, Picquart and Dreyfus, who just avoids death from an assassin’s bullet.

In the epicenter of this tumult is, of course, the character of Alfred Dreyfus himself , whose ordeals on Devil’s Island, off the coast of Guyana in South America are recounted through the verbatim correspondence ( often sequestered by French Intelligence and not always delivered to their intended address) between the incarcerated prisoner and his wife, over a period of four years.  His words describe a hell hole where the prisoner endures endless privation and restrictions and which might have driven a less stoic and courageous man to suicide.

But Dreyfus’ self-belief and his perfervid conviction that French justice would ultimately prevail, were enough to prevent his collapse into depression or send him into a death spiral.  He survives to be vindicated and restored to his former command.

The story is in many ways a narrative tour de force, and although ponderous at times,  still drives the reader hungrily onward  with the  question of what will become of both Picquart and Dreyfus, whose fates become curiously intertwined.

Still, well acquainted with the history of the time, I come back to the many pages left inexplicably blank in the book, pages that could well have been filled in with descriptions of the rancor and hatred on the street for Jews , investigating the breadth of its hold on the French imagination and how such antagonism could not only survive, but flourish in so-called enlightened 19th Century France.

Alas, you will not find much of this in An Officer and a Spy.

For a real grasp  of that animus we need to look beyond Harris and refer to the words of Emile Zola himself, written in 1896, even before the full impact of the Dreyfus trials would steamroll France,  foreshadowing some of the horrors of the approaching century:

” For several years I have followed, with growing surprise and revulsion, the campaign against Jews in France. I see it as a monstrosity, by which  I mean something outside the pale of common sense, of truth and justice, a blind, fatuous thing that would push us back centuries, a thing that would lead to the worst abominations, religious persecutions with blood shed over all countries.”

It stupefied him that that such fanaticism should have erupted:

” In our age of democracy, of universal tolerance , when the movement everywhere is toward equality, fraternity and justice, we are at the point of effacing boundaries, of dreaming the community of all peoples, of holding religious congresses where priests of every persuasion embrace, of feeling that common hardship unites us in brotherhood. And a bunch of madmen, of imbeciles of knaves, has chosen this moment  to shout at us: ‘Let’s kill the Jews, lets devour them, lets massacre, lets exterminate, lets bring back stakes and dragonnades.’

 

LITERATURA Y MÚSICA: Émile Zola

 

Zola, in these words, was painting a picture of a civilization which beneath its veneer of elegance, élan and openness was sick to its core. This is a characterization only hinted at in Harris’ novel  – and a sorely missed opportunity it is.

Nevertheless, An Officer and a Spy leaves a nerve tingling sense of how even the most sophisticated and accomplished of civilizations can verge on collapse when a maniacal hatred of the other obtains a grip on its consciousness and then tips it off kilter.

In our present day and age one might  refer to any number of parallel political climates where conformity of views is demanded and dissent systematically persecuted.  Certainly our College campuses, particularly in regard to it raging anti-Zionism ofer a compelling analogy to  intolerant, hypocritical 19th Century France.  The  re-emergence of rampant antisemitism in Europe, driven by Muslim fanaticism and yet unimpeded by enlightened European opinion and activism, is a cause for extreme concern.

But we might also compare the case of”climate skeptics” – those individuals who voice doubts or present scientific data which contradict claims of anthropogenic global warming and are vilified, ridiculed and howled down as “deniers” and “traitors” by academics, the press and even political leaders.

Thus when Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island seriously suggests that climate skeptics should be subject to criminal indictment or when the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan proclaims that the NYT may well begin referring, as her paper’s policy, to climate contrarians as “deniers,” we might all begin to hear the echo of those Parisian streets of 130 years ago and shudder with the possible consequences.

Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


The National Prayer Breakfast Presents a Savior

February 7, 2015

by Avi Davis

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event held in Washington, D.C., hosted by the United States Congress on the first Thursday of February each year.  The event is  held in the Hilton’s International Ballroom with invitees from over 100 countries. It is designed to be a forum for the political, social, and business elite to assemble and build relationships.

Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 has participated in this annual event.

 

President Barack Obama was there on Thursday and addressed the gathered crowd.  Among the many words spoken by him that morning, was this gem:

 ” But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

 Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  

So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”

In case the comparison is lost on anybody, the President, in his expression of a piece of naked politically correct nonsense, was making a direct analogy between the depredations of 21st Century barbarians who decapitate and immolate their victims with 12th and 15th Century Christians who were engaged for their own defensive and political reasons in the protection of their realms.

One would have hoped that the President of the United States would have had a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of history. One would hope that he could express a little more faith in his own civilization, founded incontrovertibly on the principles of the Christian faith and seeded with Judeo- Christian humanistic values and ideals.

 

But before jumping in to address the President’s obtuse and dangerous moral relativism, lets get some important historical facts straight:  The Crusades were largely defensive campaigns, sanctioned by the Pope to turn back the tide of Muslim aggression and imperialism.   The Inquisition was largely political in motivation, an attempt to secure Christian Spain against the resurgence of the Islamic caliphate which had previously governed Spain for 300 years.  And the campaign to destroy the institution of slavery was mostly led by devout Christians such as William Wilberforce in the U.K. and former President John Quincy Adams in the United States  – and without their moral force, slavery would never have been abolished.

This is not to say that there were not attendant evils associated with all of these campaigns and institutions.  But it is important to grasp the reasons they occurred – and not just their outward manifestations.

The President’s high school level appreciation of history might have been bad enough. But in addition he seemed to embrace the notion that there is no absolute truth to which we all can subscribe –  that in fact, there are many varieties of truth which can compete against one another.  This is of course a rephrasing of the same cant which appeared in the President’s Cairo speech in June, 2009  and in his embarrassing statement before the United Nations in September, 2012 in which he declared, among other things that ” the future does not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.”  It is all a piece with the President’s penchant for defending Islam and offering himself up as such an expert on that subject that he can confidently declare ISIS and the assorted other Jihadist factions rampaging across the Middle East and Africa as somehow opposed to the genuine tenets of that faith.

Of course as a Muslim apologist – and defender of their faith, he fails to reveal that the handiwork of Islamic State is vouchsafed by Muslim clerics from London to Sydney.   And that sanction for the decapitation of infidels can be found deeply and consistently embedded throughout Islamic scripture.

The canard that Christians can be just as bad as Muslims however flings a shocking insult at the thousands of Christian communities which have been attacked and viciously put to the torch by jihadists who are conducting their campaigns in the name of Islam.  Let the President be aware that there are no counter offensives from Christian communities against Muslims; there are no midnight burnings by Christian insurgents of mosques with their desperate congregations still trapped inside; no mass beheadings  by Christians of Muslim townsfolk; no Muslim children buried alive by marauding Christian militia and no sudden assaults on innocent villagers who run the risk of evisceration if they fail to convert to the Christian faith.

The Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, was therefore correct in declaring that the Medieval Christian impulses to rampage and pillage are well under control.  Perhaps it would be appropriate to also remind the President that Christianity has evolved somewhat since the Crusades and Inquisition – having passed through a reformation and intense periods of self reflection and contrition.  Since at least the 19th Century, Christianity has overwhelmingly operated a civilizing influence on the societies wherever it has been introduced –  earning its credentials as a true religion of peace.

Can the same be said for Islam?

The President of the United States, leading a Christian nation, something he unashamedly admitted himself in his same 2012 speech before the United Nations, needs to stop talking about extremism among all religions, and focusing on the depredations of one – Islam, which threatens the lives and welfare of peoples all over the world as no Christian Crusade, Spanish Inquisition or  even the institution of slavery itself ever did.

The reality is that he is unlikely to ever consent to do this this since he has staked his presidency on the same moral relativism which equates America’s role in the world over the past sixty years with the Communists of the U.S.S.R. and the mass murderers of China.  His entire foreign policy is actually driven by the notion that the United  States has not entirely been a force for good in the world but has often perpetrated the same kind of evil as the regimes it opposed.

That kind of rhetoric may get him standing ovations at the United Nations and in the lecture halls of many of our America-despising universities, but it is no way to inspire and lead a country which has unquestionably, over the past 225 years, provided a guiding light for humanity, propagating values and ideals which have been uncompromisingly drawn from the well of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of  the Intermediate Zone

 

.

Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus – A Review

January 27, 2015

by Avi Davis

Director: Tim Mahoney
Release Date: January 19, 2015
In April  2001, 42-year-old Rabbi David Wolpe, regarded as one of the leading Jewish prelates and thinkers in America, dropped a bombshell.  Speaking before his congregation, Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles, he admitted that he had little reason to believe that there was much historical basis to the Exodus narrative. As reported in the Los Angeles Times he said:
“The truth is that virtually every modern archaeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.”
The fact that Wolpe was speaking on Passover itself – the Jewish festival which commemorates the Exodus  –  and that the Los Angeles Times was there to cover his sermon, goes a long way to explaining the purpose of Wolpe’s sudden admission: he was engaging in an act of political and theological revisionism (some might even say sabotage) –  attempting to bring Judaism into line with modern scholarship and archaeological research, which, he later averred, had found nothing in 200 years to corroborate the Biblical account of the Israelite departure from Egypt.
The characterization of the Exodus as a fanciful myth has of course some telling consequences.  Among them is that many of the greatest events of the Biblical period may never have actually occurred.  It would mean that there was no historical Moses, no Ten Plagues, no slaughter of the first born, no parting of the Red Sea, no desert wandering, no fall of Jericho and no conquest of the land of Canaan.  It could also just possibly mean that there was no ‘ historical’ Ten Commandments at all.
Without sufficient archaeological evidence to corroborate the Exodus, the entire story can be regarded as no more than a heroic narrative woven out of whole cloth by later chroniclers to lend both legitimacy and purpose to the Israelite claim to the land of Israel.  This of course plays into the hands of an assorted range of secularists, atheists, anti-Semites and Israel bashers who are looking for exactly such a quote from a major Jewish leader to either delegitimize the State of Israel, smear Judaism or else deny the Jewish people’s historical claims to the land.
Wolpe’s admission naturally whipped up a firestorm in the American Jewish community but he was quickly supported by many contemporary Biblical scholars who bewailed the absence of an authoritative archaeological record and who had to sadly admit that the archaeologists may be right.
But what if Biblical archaeology has made some fundamental errors about the historical occurrence of the Exodus?
It is almost universally accepted that the Exodus, if it occurred at all, took place in the 13th Century BCE, during the reign of the greatest of Ancient Egypt’s builders –  Rameses II.  And it is true enough that in this period there is scant archaeological evidence to buttress the Exodus story.
Yet is it possible that Biblical archaeologists for the past 100 years have been looking in the wrong time period?  Could it be that they may have been off the historical mark on the Exodus by up to 300 years? And if so, what would they find if they looked there?
That is the starting point for Tim Mahoney’s elegant documentary Patterns of Evidence, a film which records the personal journey of a film maker seeking to uncover the truth about the Exodus. His journey takes him to several countries – to archaeological sites in Egypt and Israel, to the halls of academia in the United States, England and Germany while attempting to maintain an objective mind  -free, as much as possible, of the pitfalls of bias and prejudice which at one time or another afflicts almost every historical academic discipline.

 At the beginning of the film Mahoney outlines his mission: “I didn’t go with a preconceived conclusion, but I was willing to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt as we searched for the truth. I went to the top people in the world and said: ‘Tell me what you know about this story and what does the archaeology tell you.’ I talked with both sides – people who can’t see any evidence for Exodus and people who see the evidence. It became a balanced approach.”

As the film proceeds the evidence mounts that the period of the Middle Kingdom,(2050 BCE and 1652 BCE) if assessed to be the correct chronological time for the Exodus, rather than the New Kingdom (1570–1070 BCE) provides a trove evidence for the existence of a slave tribe which resided in the Nile Delta, its sudden departure from the historical recor , graves which might belong to the twelve sons of Jacob and one grave of which is missing its sarcophagus and might be the grave of the Biblical Joseph.

The film reveals is that there is a body of scholarship – although substantially in the minority, which has found that there is abundant evidence to validate the Exodus, but only if the chronology is shifted back 250 years.  Included in such evidence is a papyrus dated from that time period which recounts an episode of blood in the River Nile and plagues of insects descending on the Nile Delta. In addition to this hieroglyphics on stelae indicating the existence of the Biblical Joseph and  grave sites offering a glimpse into the slave life of the ancient homeland of Azair – the Biblical Goshen  – all of which offer tantalizing evidence to support the Middle Kingdom hypothesis.

So what is keeping archaeologists from making this leap?   Well, first all, this kind of revisionism messes up history big time since the dating of other civilizations is tied to the Ancient Egyptian chronology and calendar. Second, there are reputations to consider since if the key Biblical archaeologists have been getting their chronology wrong all these years what does it say about their credibility as historians?  As we have seen repeatedly in recent years, money, reputation, career advancement and the quest for academic survival can often trump the search for truth in academia. Archaeologists have a great deal to protect in continuing to debunk the Bible as historical fact.

But as I watched the film I was visited by an uneasy feeling.

Arguing that secular scholars are completely wrong or that their opponents are completely right does not serve historical analysis too faithfully.  Could it be that truth falls somewhere in between the position that Mahoney stakes out and the one traditionally advanced by Egyptologists?   It is impossible to either know or to understand this from viewing a two hour film. Real historical research is pounded out in the dialogue between hundreds of articles and papers, and refined in the back and forth of peer review.

By viewing this documentary most people, for instance, would not know that the revised Egyptian chronology is not a new theory at all –  is in fact decades old –  and that it  has been shown to create as many problems for biblical chronology as it solves.

And one thing other thing Mahoney fails to do is to examine in depth the reason Biblical scholarship focuses so intently on the New Kingdom rather than the Middle Kingdom to locate the story of the Exodus.  After all, there is such a thing as carbon dating, as well as comparative literature from the period and other scientific indicators which might justify the time period almost universally accepted by the Biblical scholars.  This question demanded much greater examination.

And of course there are then the philosophical arguments.

In the midst of narrator’s journey Mahoney comes across the writings of Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner – one of the world’s most famous Egyptologists, who admits that all we really have left of the great civilizations that once existed in the desert sands of the Middle East are mere ‘rags and tatters’ –  the detritus of a civilization and not its essential core.

With so little evidence, not only for the Exodus story but for any civilization or event which once existed, how can archaeologists truly be sure of anything?  Is it not true that the findings of archaeologists lead not to the re-creation of historical  facts, but rather the establishment of theories that are rarely ever so water tight that they can never be challenged?

This kind of discussion also leads to some pretty heavy epistemological arguments, namely, how do we actually ever know anything?  Aren’t those who accept the argument that the Exodus never happened merely transferring their faith from one written version of the past to a faith in another’s scientific methods that they can neither personally nor empirically verify nor corroborate?

I have always marveled at David Wolpe’s reasoning on this level: for surely, as a rabbi who believes in the existence of a G’d, he understands the philosophical contortions through which he must pass in order to state so affirmatively that the Biblical story is almost certainly myth. He is, after all, relying on research that he did not personally conduct and on a historical methodology for establishing a chronology with which he is probably unfamiliar. How can he be so sure that the perspective he has so wholesomely adopted was not itself refracted through bias and prejudice and which might be just as determined not to find any evidence of the Exodus as the film maker’s archaeological subjects are to find it?

People of faith don’t require archaeology to corroborate their beliefs.  If we accept that archaeology is a notoriously inexact method of determining historical truth – given the ‘rags and tatters ‘ theory elucidated above, could it not be that the evidence of the Exodus is still waiting to be discovered beneath the mountains of sand and sediment in the Nile Delta?

Why then the rush to judgement when, in the absence of authoritative proof such as a contemporary manuscript, we have what is essentially a written historical narrative, composed many, many centuries closer to the events than we stand today and which operates as at least a tangential guide to understanding this era?  This amounts to giving the Bible ‘the benefit of the doubt’ as Mahoney states in his introduction and it is what the pre-modern archaeologists certainly did.

The eagerness to debunk the Bible’s historical validity is a default intellectual reflex in today’s secular world- a world riven with satirists, deconstructionists and debunkers who gleefully skewer religion at every available opportunity.

But as Mahoney himself states in his book on the subject, the absence of evidence should never be regarded as evidence of absence. That is a credo that both sides of the divide of this important historical inquiry would be well advised to adopt.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 

 

 


The Death of the World’s Greatest Statesman

January 24, 2015

by Avi Davis

I was six-years-old and it was time for bed.  It was a hot Australian night and my mother had opened the windows of our room so that my brother and I could sleep with a measure of comfort. Before we went to sleep my father came in and asked us both to come into the TV room.

” Boys, I want you to watch this and to remember it. ”

I looked at the black and white screen and saw a pageant of glum men bearing a casket draped in the British flag.   An orchestra was playing mournful music and many members of the crowd thronging the verges of the street could be seen wiping tears from their eyes.  Little children saluted as the casket passed by; men, ordinary civilians, stood to attention as the procession made its way down the wide boulevard.

” What is it Daddy? What happened? Did somebody die?”

He looked down at the floor and then up at me.

“Its someone whose name you will one day know very well. His name was Winston Churchill and he saved the world. ”

It was hard, from faraway Australia and at such a tender age, to appreciate on that sultry January night, the enormity of the event and of the man who was being carried to his final resting place.

But my father was right. I never forgot that moment for in many way it connected me to the history of the 20th Century and the momentous events that occurred in the decade before my birth.

They were events over which  Sir Winston Spencer Churchill would have the most personal and decisive impact.

Churchill’s extraordinary story has been told many times and in many different ways: descendant of the Duke of Marlborough, son of  the Chancellor of the Exchequer, firebrand journalist, hero of the Boer War, radical liberal parliamentarian, First Lord of the Admiralty, combat officer in the First World War, minister in Conservative governments, political outcast;  and then, miraculously, late in life, wartime Prime Minister for five years and then Prime Minister again for another four.

And this does not even take into account his prolific historical writing for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize; his extraordinary artistic talents which had his paintings valued at millions of pounds after his death; his hobbies as a gardener and a bricklayer which he continued into old age and the hundreds of people around the world who called him their friend.

Many people choose to remember Churchill as the gruff man with the orotund turn of phrase, whose personal example and indomitable spirit saved western civilization, girding England to stand alone against the Nazi Blitzkrieg.  Others would prefer to see him as the proud standard bearer of the English speaking peoples who understood better than almost anyone the special relationship that existed between the United Kingdom and the United States and how they needed one another to stand in defiance of the attack upon the West.

But I prefer to remember Churchill as the sharp tongued ironist, filled with brio and the juices of living –  a brilliant humorist, whose droll wit and lacerating tongue made him the talk of London.

A few anecdotes are sufficient to illustrate:

At a party he attended as a young Parliamentarian when he first adopted the liberal cause, he was approached by a woman who exclaimed:

“Mr. Churchill, I dislike your politics and your moustache even more.”

“Madam,” he responded,” I see no reason for you to come into contact with either.”

In an exchange with Lady Astor in 1920:

Lady Astor: “If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.”
His reply: “Nancy, if I were married to you, I think I’d drink it.”

 

At another party, many years later, after indulging a little too much in the available Scotch, he was approached by female MP Bessie Braddock who said to Churchill: “Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk. He replied: “My dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.”

At one time while visiting with Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the presidential yacht, Churchill emerged from his bath naked and without a robe. At that moment Roosevelt happened to wheel himself into the room. Without missing a beat Churchill said:  “You see Franklin, I have nothing to hide from you.”

In the House of Commons, when he was the Leader of the Opposition following the war, he was visiting the men’s room when the current Prime Minister Clement Atlee, a socialist, came in and stood next to him at a urinal. Churchill quickly moved away from Atlee to the farthest stall.

“Feeling standoffish today are we Winston?,” Atlee said, a little miffed. “No Clement,” Churchill replied. “It is just that when ever you see anything big you always want to nationalize it!”

And, then, of course there are the famous quotes, all of which have particular relevance today:

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”

“In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”

And my personal favorite:

“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

Winston Churchill passed away at the age of 90 on the morning of January 24th, 1965, 50 years ago today.  With a glint in his eye to the very end he was recorded as saying:  “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

No doubt there is a special place in Heaven for Winston Churchill, a short man who cast an enormous shadow.  What would we would not give to have such a leader today.

.

Avi Davis is President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


Remembering the Battle of New Orleans and the Conclusion of the War of 1812

January 19, 2015

By Avi Davis

The first thing you learn about the War of 1812 is that it didn’t take place in only that year.  In fact the war between the British with their Indian allies and the United States lasted right into 1814 and the first month of 1815.

The second thing you learn is that it was an inconclusive war with neither the British nor the U.S. scoring knock out victories.  The resulting peace treaty (The Treaty of Ghent) was brought about not because one party had surrendered to the other but because both sides were exhausted and could not see not much point in continuing hostilities.

What the conflict is mostly remembered for in our present day was the burning of Washington D.C., the writing of the Star Spangled Banner and the faint beginnings of a proud American nationalism.

But perhaps what we should really remember about the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans which concluded it, is that it ended any doubt that the English speaking peoples of the world would ever again become involved in a violent conflict with one another.  From 1815 onward they would forge a partnership which would bring unparalleled prosperity, technological advancement and political stability to their dominions and most of the rest of the world.

We are used to looking back on the history of the late 18th Century and the early 19th as a time when the American colonies fought off British tyranny and began to beat an independent path in history.

But this does not begin to assess what really happened in that forty-five year time span.

For as Daniel Hannan has described it in his seminal work  Inventing Freedom, the American Revolution was in reality a civil war between British citizens, with the rebellious colonies merely attempting to assert their rights, not as Americans but as loyal Englishmen who had become habituated to the liberties available to them as free men.

The very idea of Britain and America forging an unbreakable bond which would later carry the two nations to victory through two world wars, has been central to worldwide progress and to implanting a consciousness of the rights of the individual, the value of representative government and the sanctity of human life in the mind of humanity.

It might not seem much to celebrate, given how far apart the two nations have drifted on any number of issues.  But we should never forget how deeply the bonds of language, values and political tradition still unite the two nations at their very roots.   As Western civilization prepares to confront the most serious challenge in its history, it is good to recall that the leadership of the West – at least since 1815  – has always seesawed between one or the other of these two nations.

In the challenging years ahead those bonds will need to grow tighter than ever before.

Let us hope we elect leaders who understand it.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


Castro Brothers Will Be The Only Winners From U.S.- Cuban Rapproachement

December 28, 2014

by Avi Davis

Christopher Columbus did not discover America.  At least not North America.  On October 12, 1492  –  the day we celebrate as Columbus Day – he instead landed at one of the thousand islands that make up the Bahamas Archipelago.   The closest he got to North America was two weeks later, when he set anchor on the north-east coast of what today we know as  Cuba.  Although Columbus would make landings in his later voyages on the Central American coast and the northern coast of South America, he did not step one foot on the coast of the land mass that would one day constitute the territory of the  United States of America.

While other Spanish explorers would land, 20 years later, on the north-east coast of La Florida and name it for the Spanish crown, neither the Spaniards nor the Portuguese would show much interest in colonizing the continent until at least 170 years passed, when the first Spanish Jesuit mission was established in California.

This is quite significant because since Columbus’ time, it was Cuba and the nearby Hispaniola, respectively only only 90  and 170 miles south of the southern most Florida key, which became the center of the New World administration for Spain.  And since that time Cuba never sought to be claimed as part of the North American continent and has jealousy guarded its Spanish heritage.  While the United States might  have dominated the island economically for the 300 years prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and extended military rule there for several years following the conclusion of the Spanish- American War in the early 20th Century, Cuba did not become an American protectorate like Puerto Rico or Guam and had its independence recognized by the U.S. as long ago as 1902.  Annexation has been expressly forbidden in Congress by the Teller Amendment of 1898.

While relations post independence were rocky, the Cuban government generally showed deference to the U.S. since it was almost wholly dependent on trade with its northern neighbor.  The Castro Revolution in 1959 altered that completely when the communist leader began the nationalization of both American owned businesses and land holdings while developing  a political alignment with the Soviet Union.  The imposition of a U.S. economic embargo was soon followed by the severing of diplomatic relations.  A cold war has existed between Cuba and the United States ever since.

Barack Obama’s decision last week, however, to open diplomatic relations with the Castro regime,is a volte face which will bring with it a host of new problems.

 

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Cuba's President Raul Castro before giving his speech at the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in this December 10, 2013 file photo.

The exchange of ambassadors and the opening of Cuba to American tourism will not change that much in the dynamic between the two countries.  Cuba already has a solid (if illicit)  U.S. tourist industry and tacit diplomatic exchanges have been going on for years.  It has been argued that the opening of full diplomatic relations will allow modern American freedoms to sweep into Havana and that the Internet will have a galvanizing impact on the local hunger for freedom.  In this regard, the President said that “our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.”   Yet we have seen how ruthlessly other authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have sought to control the Internet as well as the exit of their citizens, even for vacations abroad. And it seems to ignore one other salient point:  the Castro brothers control all aspects of Cuban life, and have, until now, effectively blocked the Internet for domestic use and show little interest in relaxing their stand.

The argument made by the President – that Cuba is isolated (read that as  ‘desperate’) and needs American investment – is not true.  Cuba has thousands of investors –  European, Latin American and Asian  – all over the island but the country is still  poor. Why?  Because the profits of local Cubans flow into the Cuban Treasury and are used to enrich the current oligarchy which controls everything from the means of production to the country’s retail infrastructure.

And we shouldn’t be so sanguine about the likely rush of American businesses into Cuba.  In order to do business there companies will almost certainly need to partner with the Cuban government or the Cuban military – if business relations with other Communist and post Communist countries worldwide are to provide any guide.

 

Foreigners also won’t have such an easy time moving around Havana.  As the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady commented  last week:

“The isolation is caused by the police state, which controls and surveils foreigners’ movements, herding most visitors into resort enclaves. Foreign journalists who vocally oppose the Communist Party line are not allowed into the country.  More visitors won’t do anything to reduce Cuban poverty. The regime pockets the hard currency that they leave behind and pays workers in worthless pesos. Foreigners who decide to reward good workers without state approval can face prison.”

The most serious issue of normalization however centers around the 53-year-old  U.S. economic embargo and whether it should be lifted.  When the embargo was first imposed in 1961, the Castro Government looked to its communist allies for trade  and then where it found markets and resources among fellow South American countries with it shared a Spanish legacy. In the past 15 years one of the main economic partners was Venezuela which provided both oil, food stuffs and subsidies to the perennially poor island nation. But now that source of funding is drying up as the Venezuelan economy continues to collapse due to reduced demand  for its oil. It can no longer do much for Cuba.

All of which might provide enough incentive, it is argued, for the Castros to relax their iron grip on the country and permit  both economic and political reforms.

But before any one gets too excited and  thinks of dismantling the embargo, there are a few questions the Castro government should answer.

One is a question about compensation for the $1.8 billion in American assets confiscated in 1960 when Fidel Castro nationalized the economy, which adjusted for 2014 values represents approximately $7 billion today.  Some of these assets were the vacation homes and bank accounts of wealthy individuals. But the lion’s share of the confiscated property was sugar factories, mines, oil refineries, and other business operations belonging to American corporations, among them the Coca-Cola Co., Exxon, and the First National Bank of Boston.

A 2009 article in the Inter-American Law Review described Castro’s nationalization of U.S. assets as the “largest uncompensated taking of American property by a foreign government in history.”

Today, there are nearly 6,000 property claims still active – even though some of the original claimants have died and many of the corporations which had business interests on the island no longer exist.   Federal law, under the 1996 Helms Burton Act , actually mandates that any attempted normalization of relations be preceded by a resolution of these claims.

Which poses just a few problems.   For one thing, Cuba is unlikely to ever have enough cash on hand to fully compensate the claimants, especially while the embargo is still in place; and secondly, sorting out who owns what after 53 years could prove something of an intense legal bottleneck for a Cuban justice system ill-equipped to deal with extensive land ownership issues.

There are also many outstanding personal human rights claims against the Cuban government stemming from its mistreatment of POWs following the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961 which involved both U.S. and  Cuban nationals.

Cuban agents who committed torture of American POWs in Vietnam are also still at large.  At a holding pen in North Vietnam known as ” The Zoo” between August 1967 and August 1968, 19 American servicemen were brutally beaten by interrogators assessed to be Cuban agents working under orders from Hanoi.   The torture and the known identities of some of these Cuban agents were made public in testimony before the Senate Committee on International Relations on November 4, 1999.

This is not to mention the thousands of people who attempted to flee Cuba over the past 50 years by air or boat (among them U.S. citizens) and who were either killed or abandoned by merciless Cuban coastguards.

An accounting should be demanded.

The Cuban embargo has been dismissed as a limp holdover from the Cold War, lacking relevance to our contemporary world.  That is a mistake.  The Castro regime committed significant crimes against American citizens and corporations over a number of years.  Normalization of relations does not make them any less criminal and we would be foolish to simply shrug our shoulders and embrace our new friends in Havana, as if they never happened.   To do otherwise will make the Castro Brothers the only true winners of the detente Obama is proposing  –  resulting in not only a miscarriage of justice, but setting a poor example of how to deal with other rogue regimes who are likely, over the next several years, to suffer Cuba’s ignominious fate.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 

*  For a fascinating review of the reality of modern day Cuba, please see Allan Wall’s travelogue  Cuba’s National Question and Ours 

** For an excellent piece on the outcome of the Obama declaration on Cuba please see this article:  Obama and Cuba in  the American Thinker


%d bloggers like this: