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Travel: The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

“I was born in a house my father built.” So said Richard Nixon (1913-1994) about his birthplace in Orange County, California. A recent visit to the home, pictured at right and located on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and museum (which opened in 1990 with a library run by the United States government), was interesting, informative and, befitting his presidency, rather sad. That’s because the place is obviously strapped for cash. The lobby is large, empty and unwelcoming. One pays for admission in, and enters through, the gift shop, where a lone twentysomething with long sideburns printed tickets which no one took and motioned to an older docent who kindly answered logistical questions and waved our party through. Thus began an outing at the museum and library for the nation’s disgraced 37th president. I’ve previously written about Richard Nixon in my review of Ron Howard’s excellent 2008 motion picture, Frost/Nixon.

Here, we learn that Richard Nixon’s paternal great-grandfather, George Nixon 3rd, was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, that young Richard, known as Nick in high school, wanted to be a railroad engineer, that he attended Duke University Law School on scholarship, married in Riverside, California, and worked as a bureaucrat for the rationing coordinating section of the Office of Price Administration. As a Quaker, Nixon could have obtained a draft deferment during World War 2, but after the Japanese bombed Hawaii, he decided he could not sit back while his country was being attacked. The lieutenant commander in the United States Navy went on to become a congressman, U.S. senator, and vice-president to Dwight Eisenhower. Richard Nixon was elected president against Hubert Humphrey in 1968, when the nation was in turmoil, and he was re-elected by a landslide in 1972. Throughout the self-guided tour, museum exhibits recall the last American president before the rise of the New Left.

Richard Nixon’s maiden speech in the House of Representatives was a presentation of a contempt of Congress citation against Gerhart Eisler, a man identified as the top Communist agitator in the United States who eventually fled the country and became director of propaganda for the Soviets’ East German dictatorship. In the speech, Nixon spoke for only ten minutes and concluded: “It is essential as members of this House that we defend vigilantly the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press but we must bear in mind that the right to free speech and free press do not carry with them the right to advocate the destruction of the very government which protects the freedom of an individual to express his views.” Nixon was against outlawing the Communist Party in the United States because he thought it would drive Communists, who had infiltrated the highest levels of our government and Hollywood, underground, making it harder to find them. As a legislator, Nixon was among the first to suspect State Department diplomat and United Nations Secretary General Alger Hiss as a Communist spy, which was strongly supported by the declassified Venona Project papers. Harvard Law School graduate Hiss, who had been a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, was convicted of perjury. The Hiss affair had vindicated the young California congressman.

The famous Chicago television presidential debate between candidate Sen. Richard Nixon and Sen. John Kennedy on September 26, 1960, is on display here in its entirety. In the black and white appearance, Mr. Nixon talked reassuringly about how the Republicans were not “extreme” on issues related to health, education and welfare (did he have that right!) and in general he was halting and unconvincing. Sen. Kennedy, who sounds like President Obama in advocating redistribution of wealth, appears as if he is listening to his opponent, but it’s clear that he isn’t. Other parts of the exhibition include displays on President Nixon in Communist China and at the Berlin Wall, which President Nixon visited in 1969.

In the most relevant section, there are panels on the nation’s anti-American and anti-war protests, gatherings and violent mob actions. A timeline features the facts of what happened in 1970 at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, where the Hippies, not all of whom were college students, were protesting the bombing of Cambodia and stopping motorists, breaking windows, and setting an Army recruiting office building on fire. When firemen tried to put the flames out, the Hippies cut the fire hoses. Then, there was a bomb threat. For days, the Hippies broke the law and ran wild. Ohio Governor James Rhodes had promised to “employ every force of law under our authority” to end the disturbances led by protesters he described as “worse than the brownshirts and the Communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes. They are the worse type of people we harbor in America.” After Ohio National Guardsmen dispatched to the scene were struck by stones and rocks, there was a burst of gunfire that killed four unarmed students and wounded nine others. The 1970 Kent State shootings, widely regarded as the fault of the National Guardsmen, influenced federal, state and local law enforcement riot response for decades and shaped how, and whether, police respond to (including whether they stop) riots and crimes in progress to this day.

The Nixon Library and Museum is filled with historical material relevant to our times, though its presentation is often lacking. There’s Mr. Nixon’s Silent Majority speech, featured on a TV set on the floor, making it difficult to watch. Some of the printed material is posted too high or too low from adult eye level, or set too far back inside a display case, and some of it’s printed in red ink making it a challenge to read. The gift display for the shop’s “What Would Nixon Do?” merchandise (pictured at right) is in questionable taste in a government-sponsored operation about the life, presidency and administration of the only American president to resign. But there is an abundance of content, from a Watergate scandal section to the house, presidential limousine, returned to the Ford Motor Company in 1978 and on display, and the helicopter which carried Mr. and Mrs. Nixon off the White House lawn after he quit in 1974.

The Nixon presidency, which lasted just over five years, had better moments, and those, too, are featured. The President’s May 24, 1973, dinner for U.S. prisoners of war back home from North Vietnam was at that point the largest sit-down dinner at the White House. There were hundreds of liberated POWs and their families. According to this exhibit, one guest, actor John Wayne, simply said, “Thank you, Mr. President. Not for any one thing. Just for everything.” Composer Irving Berlin led the guests in singing his song, “God Bless America.” And the Vietnam War soldiers are well-remembered; one section shows that Commander Eugene G. “Red” McDaniel took 900 lashes with a fanbelt over 15 days and was forced by the Communists to hold his broken arm over his head for five days. Asked, during these torture sessions, for military information, he replied again and again: “Shove it.” Another prisoner was hung by his broken arm until he agreed to a staged propaganda meeting with the anti-war activist Ramsey Clark. Upon returning from his “fact-finding” visit, Clark assured Congress that American prisoners were being well treated. Yet another soldier had an arm and a leg broken for refusing to meet with Hippie activist Jane Fonda during her propaganda visit to enemy territory in Hanoi, North Vietnam. She later branded those who claimed they were being tortured as “liars.” During the visit to this section, I met two Army soldiers visiting the museum in uniform (the museum offers a discount for those in active military service). One soldier told me that he’d worn a POW bracelet for a friend who never came back from North Vietnam.

Areas include Pat Nixon, Ambassador of Goodwill, a tribute to Mr. Nixon’s wife. A domestic policy section shows that President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, signed the enviromentalist Clean Air Act of 1970 and proposed new programs in socialized medicine in 1971. I didn’t see references to his other, numerous acts of anti-capitalism, whether wage and price controls, which were devastating to the economy, his racial quotas and special government programs based on race, or his abandoning the gold standard. There is a brief reference without name to his infamous compromise with Sen. Edward Kennedy, the HMO Act of 1973, described here as “promoting development [by force] of health maintenance organizations, arrangements that stressed keeping people well at lower overall costs than simply treating them once they are sick.” What a nice, if misleading, definition of the government intervention that distorted an already half-socialized medical profession and arguably drove the nail into the coffin of free choice in medicine. Other items on display include a letter to President Nixon from baseball player Jackie Robinson in favor of government-controlled public school transportation based on race. On the other side of the glass case: a handwritten note signed by Elvis, sent via Sen. George Murphy, to Mr. Nixon offering help with the Nixon administration’s so-called war on drugs (the penmanship is shaky at best). Around a few corners is an obsequiously inscribed edition of Profiles in Courage, given to then-Vice-President Nixon in 1956. It reads: “To Dick Nixon with the highest regards of his friend Jack Kennedy.”

The helicopter is located far from the museum, behind the house, and there are few if any signs on the property to help visitors navigate the grounds. A tour guide instructed us that the Sikorsky flying machine was manned by a crew of three: the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer. The all-original interior features shag carpeting, with olive green and gold seat fabrics, and it was known as Army One when the President was on board, including the day he and Pat Nixon left the White House to President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

But long before he left the White House in disgrace, having imposed major new government controls, lowered the voting age and ended the military draft, Richard Nixon had been a promising young lawyer, anti-Communist legislator and statesman and a visit to his birthplace traces his entire lifetime. The Nixon family had moved from Yorba Linda, California, where the home, library and museum are located, to Whittier, California, in 1922. Mr. Nixon wrote: “Three words describe my life in Whittier: family, church and school.” He grew up talking about politics around the dinner table and he survived two brothers (four Nixon boys shared one small bedroom in the 900-square foot house) who prematurely died. He was on the basketball and football teams at Whittier College, too.

In college, Richard Nixon, a pragmatist with a Puritanical streak, wrote an essay titled “The Philosophy of Christian Reconstruction” that offers a preview of his political philosophy in practice: “The most useful discovery I have made has been that the religion of Jesus is not an entirely personal and selfish religion but that it is a great pattern for social reconstruction. I feel that through the applications of Christian democracy to society the problems which seem insurmountable today can be solved…I have as my ideal the life of Jesus. I know that the social system which He suggested would be a great boon to the world. I believe that His system of values is unsurpassed. It shall be my purpose in life therefore to follow the religion of Jesus as well as I can. I feel that I must apply His principles to whatever profession I find myself attached.” In many ways, Mr. Nixon practiced what he preached.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm and on 
Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm and is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Book Review: Alexander the Great

A new biography by Philip Freeman (Julius Caesar, St. Patrick of Ireland), titled simply Alexander the Great, is now available in trade paperback. This version of Alexander’s story, written for the general reader, is complete and it is often compelling. With a timeline, bibliography, glossary, source notes, maps, illustrations and photographs and an index, the narrative moves briskly along, rarely repeating names, facts and events unless necessary, and it is mostly, if not always, a breathtaking journey. Dr. Freeman, a former classics professor at Washington University in St. Louis who lives and teaches classics in Iowa, presents Alexander’s historic life in essentials, from his birth to the exotic Olympias and his choosing to tame the horse Bucephalas and his studies under Aristotle to taking the Macedonian kingdom at the age of 19, conquering the world for years from Troy to Egypt, Iran, India and Afghanistan and his death at the age of 33.

Alexander’s father, King Philip, gets his due as an overlooked influence; Dr. Freeman writes about Philip’s “revolutionary innovations in warfare” including his creation of coordinated, integrated cavalry and foot soldiers and pioneering use of a corps of engineers. Relying on ancients, and careful throughout the book not to draw conclusions where there are conflicting accounts, he describes young Alexander as a fair-complexioned boy with a ruddy face and piercing eyes who greatly valued self-control and “had about him an air of seriousness well beyond his years.” After his father was assassinated, Alexander set out to begin his legendary military conquests and the author tracks every move, capturing Alexander’s brilliant and bold ideas and actions. Alexander’s “intimate companion,” Hephaestion, described here as Alexander’s “dearest love,” plays a minor role amid the great battles, politics and assassination plots, as Alexander the Great marches across Asia to conquer the Persian empire and beyond.

Breaking chapters into distant lands—Macedonia, Greece, Asia, Issus, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persepolis, Bactria, India, Babylon—Freeman infuses Greek mythology, superstition and historical figures, letting the facts largely speak for themselves, though occasionally he interprets. The best writing comes in the second half, and anywhere the author shares facts about Alexander’s military genius. About Alexander’s treatment of the Uxians, who had the nerve to demand from Alexander a toll to pass through the mountains on the way to Persepolis, Freeman writes that Alexander the Great crushed them in a surprise attack and then took their idea and inverted it: “He left their remaining villages intact with the provision that they would now pay to him as tribute one hundred horses each year along with five times that many transport animals and thirty thousand sheep. In mere days, Alexander and his men had done what the Persian Empire was unable to accomplish in two hundred years.” With such magnificent tales of the great Western warrior he calls “the king of the world,” Philip Freeman’s Alexander the Great contains abundant evidence of Alexander’s extraordinary military ability, concisely assembled and well told.

Books: Berlin 1961

Buy the Book

It comes as no surprise that the son of a Nazi appeaser was himself a Communist appeaser when he became president of the United States. Journalist Frederick Kempe offers what amounts to a scathing assessment of the Kennedy administration in his new book, Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth (Putnam, $29.95). On the 50th year marking its construction, Kempe shows that President John F. Kennedy was always a step behind the Soviets as they put up a wall between East and West Berlin. Moreover, he indicts Kennedy, who outrageously told aides that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” Kempe suggests with facts and evidence that Kennedy may have knowingly collaborated with the Soviets in building the Berlin Wall.

Showing rare photographic evidence of Kennedy meeting with a Soviet spy at Hyannis Port, Kempe points to declassified transcripts of JFK’s meeting with Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev at the Vienna, Austria, summit of 1961 for evidence that JFK demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to sacrifice Europe to Communist dictatorship in exchange for some degree of stability. JFK’s delusion would be smashed the following year when the Soviets brought the West to the brink of nuclear war by putting nuclear missiles in Cuba, aiming them at American cities. Records of the meeting with the Soviet spy curiously were not kept, and Kremlin and Soviet intelligence archives remain closed, but Kempe argues that Soviet aims and Kennedy’s appeasement are so close as to be “more than coincidental.” He also observes that JFK knew that Poland and all of eastern Europe would fall under Soviet control if East Germany fell, and that this was acceptable to JFK, who had abandoned Cuban freedom fighters in his botched Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.

Khrushchev, pictured in Berlin 1961 with Josef Stalin, knew from the failed invasion of Cuba and the Vienna summit that Kennedy was weak and indecisive, so he struck what amounts to an unspoken (or unrecorded or expunged) compromise with the Kennedy administration and built the Berlin Wall, enslaving millions of people behind what Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain. The wall collapsed in 1989. From the Soviet perspective, it had been deemed necessary to imprison East Germans because between 1949 (the year East Germany was established) and 1961, one of every six individuals fled the East German state and that doesn’t include the millions who fled the Soviet-occupied zone between 1945 and 1949. Kempe writes that the exodus “was emptying the country of its most talented and motivated people.”

Peter Fechter, whose corpse is pictured at left, is the name of an 18-year-old man who, while trying to escape with a friend (who made it over the wall), was shot in the back by Communist guards. Kempe writes that, “for most of an hour, his failing voice cried out for help as his life bled out through multiple wounds.” West Berliners, who had witnessed the horror of Communism in practice, gathered to protest. They screamed that the East Germans were murderers and the Americans guarding West Berlin, who had listened to Fechter’s cries and did nothing while the young man died, were cowards. When a U.S. military police lieutenant told one of them, “It’s not my problem,” he was merely voicing the Kennedy administration’s short-sighted foreign policy toward Soviet Russia’s aggression. The threat of Communism was real to those in West Germany, and, contrary to JFK’s distorted reputation as a hero of West Berlin, Fechter’s blood was on President Kennedy‘s hands. As a New York Times reporter wrote at the time, according to Kempe: “More than any single event since the wall was built, Peter Fechter’s lonely and brutal death has made the West Berliners feel a sense of helplessness in the face of the creeping encroachment being worked so subtly by the Communists.” Many sought to escape Communism at the Berlin Wall and many, like the young refugee, were caught, trapped, and murdered.

I don’t claim to know if Berlin 1961 is, as Publishers Weekly says, a definitive history of the Berlin Wall, but Kempe offers new material on a crucial appeasement of the most evil dictatorship of the 20th century. He concludes that Kennedy passively stood by while the Soviets built a prison wall which became “the iconic image of what unfree systems can impose when free leaders fail to resist.” To his credit, John F. Kennedy, whose presidency Communist refugee Ayn Rand rightly denounced as “the fascist new frontier,” sensed that he was a rotten president. Kempe reports that when a Detroit News journalist asked Kennedy about writing a book on JFK’s first term, the President replied: “Why would anyone want to write a book about an administration that has nothing to show for itself but a string of disasters?”

That’s true, especially for Peter Fechter.

Interview with John David Lewis

The goal of a war is to defeat an enemy’s will to fight. So argues the author of Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History (Princeton University Press, 2010), who makes the case that a strong military offense can win a war and establish lasting peace while playing defense often leads to destruction. This study of six major wars, from the Second Punic War to World War 2, by historian John David Lewis, contrasts the use of overwhelming force, such as the Greek victory over Xerxes’ army and navy, with a lack of reason, purpose, and commitment to fight. On the eve of the 10th year since the worst attack in American history, I turned to my friend John Lewis, a visiting associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics at Duke University and teacher at Objectivist Conferences (OCON), to discuss today’s war from a historical perspective. Dr. Lewis is the author of Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens and Early Greek Lawgivers.

Scott Holleran: What is the theme of Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History?

John David Lewis: That wars are driven and caused by people’s decisions to fight and that those decisions are based on the ideas they hold. This has enormous implications for what victory means, because it means discrediting the ideas we’re trying to defeat. For example, one could never explain Germany’s massive attacks [against other countries] or Japan’s massive attack on America, in which they launched into intercontinental warfare, without understanding the ideals that they held. The theme of Nothing Less Than Victory is that one must defeat the enemy by discrediting his ideas.

Scott Holleran: How was Nothing Less Than Victory suggested by your students?

John David Lewis: I was teaching a class on ancient and modern warfare and it became clear that a comparative history would be useful. My students posed good questions.

Scott Holleran: While writing about the rise of the Nazis, did The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America by Leonard Peikoff help your understanding?

John David Lewis: Yes, because it’s the only book I know of that places philosophical ideas as the lesson of history. It’s not only an explanation of Nazi Germany in terms of ideas but, much more deeply and widely, it demonstrates how ideas move history.

Scott Holleran: The current administration supports military involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as other underreported incursions in nations such as Yemen and Pakistan, with something other than, or less than, a purpose let alone a victory. The Oxford English Dictionary defines warmonger as “a person who seeks to bring about or promote war.” As a commander-in-chief who supports and initiates militarism with no purpose or end, is President Obama a warmonger?

John David Lewis: I think he’s incompetent but I don’t think Obama is a warmonger. He inherited those wars but he’s simply unable to bring those wars to a decisive end. His main goal is to bring about a fundamental restructuring of the relationship of every American to the government, which is why ObamaCare was among his top three initiatives, because there’s no better way to define that relationship than through health care. So, his major initiative is to change us from the inside out and I think foreign policy is a distraction to him. It’s a symptom of his incompetence, not warmongering. One other aspect of this is that, unlike Bush, with regard to rules of engagement, he generally lets the generals do as they want but this slight improvement [over Bush] is not because Obama is driven to victory.

Scott Holleran: Are the U.S. military interventions in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan properly described as wars?

John David Lewis: When you have combatants you have a war. As Ayn Rand said about the Vietnam War, and I’m paraphrasing, when foreign soldiers are killing Americans, it’s a war and nothing but a war. Certainly, these are wars, but they’re wars in which one side knows it’s fighting a war and the other side is desperately avoiding using that term.

Scott Holleran: You have publicly discussed your cancer diagnosis with regard to domestic health policy and compared your battle against cancer with the themes in Nothing Less Than Victory. Has your condition affected your thoughts on war?

John David Lewis: It has sharpened something—that my battle against cancer is a metaphor, not a war. There’s intelligence gathering in the first stage, nuclear warfare—chemicals and radiation—in the second stage and then we send in the Marines—with doctors and nurses. In a war, you’re dealing with other human beings, who have free will. With cancer, the disease does not have a mind of its own; beating it is a matter of biological causality.

Scott Holleran: Are you primarily a teacher, a writer or an historian?

John David Lewis: It depends on what day it is. Tomorrow, I start teaching two courses at Duke, so tomorrow I’m a teacher. I don’t see any kind of exclusivity—I think they’re mutually supportive. I would not want to be only a historian or writer, because I need the stimulation of teaching.

Scott Holleran: If the U.S. continues to deteriorate, with, for example, an economic collapse or major Islamic terrorist attack, historically speaking, which is more likely: anarchy, civil war, or religious dictatorship?

John David Lewis: Probably some form of religious dictatorship. The two events you name, economic collapse from inside and an attack from outside, are very different. In the case of an attack, I think the American people would look for a leader to unite them and the chances are much greater that they’ll look to a religious leader and we’ll end up with a fascist dictatorship. It depends on the attack, too; obviously, if there are 20 nuclear bombs detonated at once, we may lose our infrastructure and descend into some form of anarchy, but I think we’re more likely to have a single nuclear attack. With an economic collapse, the public would [be more likely to] look for a leader who would seek centralization of power. The infrastructure—the command structure—the equipment—for a police state is already in place at our airports with the TSA. The American people are already habituated to accept it.

Scott Holleran: What is your most controversial point in Nothing Less Than Victory?

John David Lewis: That ideas drive history. Two things are necessary in war; the capacity to fight and the will to fight. During the so-called Cold War, the two great powers were the Soviet Union and the United States, but a third power with capacity was England—and no one went after them because they posed no threat. So, in fact, the most controversial idea is the most obvious; that ideas are the drivers of history. Among readers, the most controversial idea is my point that it was moral to drop the atom bomb on Japan.

Scott Holleran: We now know that the Soviets had infiltrated the United States government and U.S. industries, including motion pictures, and society. Is jihadist Moslem infiltration—including takeover—of the U.S. government possible?

John David Lewis: I don’t think takeover was the kind of thing the Communists were after. What they were going to do is [try to] elect people who would be sympathetic to the Soviet cause. I think that, in a certain sense, there’s a strong parallel, because those who want a radical Islamic war culminating in a one-world government are just as overt in pursuing their goals as were the Communists. But the Soviets were less interested in a one-world government [than jihadists]. The Iranians may be less focused on one-world government than the Saudis. The Iranians act more like the Soviets—they want to have nukes to play like the big boys, whereas the Saudis are more like the Trotskyites. They want this worldwide evolution [toward Islamic statism] and are more patient about infiltrating [Western civilization]. The Saudis have built thousands of mosques and [radical Islamic group] CAIR has directly said that Sharia law imposed over the United States will come. To actually take over the U.S. government in the sense that they impose Sharia law? We’re a long way from that. But if you mean creating sympathies and bringing about a radical Islamic-influenced government…

Scott Holleran: Certain presidential candidates have recently been linked to campaign donors who may be connected, directly or indirectly, to groups that support Islamic jihadist aims. Are you concerned that the enemy could shape and influence American government through a Manchurian candidate?

John David Lewis: Yes. It’s part of the insidiousness of these groups. Today, any candidate knows that accepting money from jihadist groups for influence would kill the campaign—you can’t keep that kind of thing a secret. So that would be less likely than the threat of covert multiculturalist ideas being spread and accepted throughout the culture.

Scott Holleran: What is the central lesson of each war discussed in Nothing Less Than Victory as it relates to today’s war?

John David Lewis: The need to name the enemy, identify him as an enemy and develop a strategy that defeats him at his center—an elusive concept—or close to a center of gravity of economic, social, political support for the [jihadist] war [against the West]. [Carl von] Clausewitz writes about this—that Americans have a strong moral center, so that, by attacking our moral center, the enemy imposes guilt. We saw this in the Vietnam War when we were criticized for distinguishing between [Communist] North and [non-Communist] South Vietnam. After the war ended, one of our generals went to a former North Vietnamese military general and said, “you never defeated us in the battlefield.” And his North Vietnamese counterpart said that was irrelevant. You need to be right in what you’re doing and you need to know that you’re right in what you’re doing.

Scott Holleran: You write about the citizens of ancient Carthage and those in South Carolina and Georgia during the Civil War not facing the consequences of war. Are today’s Americans disconnected from war?

John David Lewis: Yes. In a certain sense, they’re very disconnected from the war because they’re not facing an attack on their soil right now, so I don’t think they know what’s going on. When I talk to soldiers, I get a very different sense about what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan than what I see in the media. But, in another sense, we are more connected because we live in the age of technology, and people can get news from the battlefield. What would Americans at home have said had images from Iwo Jima been sent back home?

Scott Holleran: You write about Union General Sherman’s remarkably low casualties during the Civil War. Why is that fact not widely taught or known?

John David Lewis: Because people today are caught up in the myth of Sherman as the Attila from the North. Southerners created that myth.

Scott Holleran: How did the myth become so widely accepted in the North?

John David Lewis: That’s a good question. The intellectuals, historians and the press are all complicit in this—it strikes their morality that Sherman specifically targeted civilians—and once they accept that that’s what Sherman did, they move on rather than examine the facts of what happened. Why are Hiroshima and Nagasaki held up as moral evils while failing to consider what alternatives the United States had? Facts are forgotten and subordinated for moral reasons.

Scott Holleran: You also write about Confederates hiding behind civilians like today’s Moslem jihadists. Are there other examples in history of using civilians as covers for combatants during war?

John David Lewis: That happens all the time in war. Any time an army backs up into a city and defends against its walls, the civilians are being held hostage in some way. So there’s certainly a precedent in history. I don’t think the Confederates were necessarily worse even than the Union. Palestinian snipers look for Israeli troops where they are facing civilians and what they want is to get the Israelis to return gunfire against civilians to get publicity—they want the enemy to kill civilians as a pretext. That’s worse.

Scott Holleran: Is the mass death of freed slaves at Ebeneezer Creek in any way indicative that the Union army was racist, too, and does the tragedy diminish the moral righteousness of the Union cause?

John David Lewis: Racist? Of course. Everyone was a racist back then. Does it diminish the moral status of the Union’s cause? Absolutely not! Many freed slaves wanted to be with Sherman’s army. As Union armies were moving ahead under Union General Jefferson C. Davis’s command, freed slaves followed. Coming to the creek, with Confederates behind them, Davis ordered pontoons brought up, leaving the freed slaves behind, and then they were attacked by Southern armies. Davis may have been racist but who caused the dangers to the freed slaves? It was the Southern army. Davis is given moral criticism for failing to rescue blacks from Southerners. But it’s the Southerners that were to blame. They were the ones attacking. They were ones who’d enslaved them.

Scott Holleran: Coming to the 20th century wars, you write that President Woodrow Wilson sought “peace without victors.” Who is the last president who didn’t?

John David Lewis: Franklin Roosevelt.

Scott Holleran: You trace President Wilson’s ideals to philosopher Thomas Hobbes and, centrally, to philosopher Immanuel Kant. Is Wilson America’s first Kantian president?

John David Lewis: I don’t know enough about the intellectual history of American presidents to say whether he’s the first but he’s heavily influenced by Kant because the basis of his education was German. It’s Kant’s 1795 essay on Perpetual Peace that calls for the establishment of a worldwide state. Kant calls for “a league of nations”. Kant directly influenced the League of Nations. People forget that Kant said that all nations of the world should be republics and he rejected democracy—but he blanked out the fact that all nations in the world are not republics. The influence of Kant in education that was German-based clearly influenced Woodrow Wilson.

Scott Holleran: Why do liberals condemn Nazi Germany but drop the context of the Nazis’ government-controlled economics?

John David Lewis: I don’t know. I think the inference takes them down a road that they don’t want to go. They don’t want to face the fact that being an advocate of a government-controlled economy makes them tyrannical. It’s forgotten that these fascist states were woefully inefficient. I have evidence that Mussolini did not make the trains run on time, yet this notion that fascism is efficient persists. Last night, I saw a Star Trek episode in which Spock tells Kirk that Nazi Germany was the world’s most efficient society. That’s not true.

Scott Holleran: You report that the media aided and abetted the rise of the Nazis. Is today’s press complicit in aiding the rise of fascism, too?

John David Lewis: Oh, sure, though they wouldn’t say it that way. The press itself is almost always solidly on the side of greater and bigger government programs, except for the Wall Street Journal and some conservative outlets. They don’t want to call themselves fascists but in effect that is what they are supporting.

Scott Holleran: Did the West drive Italian dictator Benito Mussolini into an alliance with Nazi Germany?

John David Lewis: I don’t know—I don’t have a good answer for that. If it’s true that Mussolini was afraid of Nazi Germany, there certainly were times, especially when the Germans moved into the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia, when all offers and opportunities might have stopped the Nazi flood. I think the West was instrumental—and complicit—in driving Mussolini into an alliance with Nazi Germany in the same way we did with [Cuban dictator] Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union, but I would never place primary blame or cause on the West because both probably would have happened anyway. They shared a basic philosophy.

Scott Holleran: Was Imperial Japan as racist as Nazi Germany?

John David Lewis: In its own way, yes. The more I read about Japan, the more I realize what a truly foreign nation it is—in their morals, in their writing, you see now that, when something goes wrong in a company, the executives have to bow down and apologize. Japan was as racist as Germany in the sense that they saw themselves as racially superior and destined to rule Asia.

Scott Holleran: Is General Douglas MacArthur underestimated as leader and thinker in occupied Japan?

John David Lewis: Yes. In terms of the occupation of Japan, which MacArthur was put in charge of, it resulted in zero deaths and there were no insurrections. What he did was a monumental task and it went as benevolently and well as any occupation in history. He is greatly underestimated.

Scott Holleran: Is it possible for the U.S. public to come to worship a leader, such as Texas Governor Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann, or President Obama, as a deity as people did in Japan?

John David Lewis: We’re a long way from that, especially the way it was done in Japan. But the way people treat Barack Obama—as if he’s the divine one, his word is oracle and he can do everything—has parallels.

Scott Holleran: There are a number of war movies in recent years, from 300 and The Alamo remake to recent war-themed pictures such as Stop-Loss, Jarhead and The Lucky Ones—even The King’s Speech hinges upon an understanding of what’s at stake in war. Do you recommend any movies as effective dramatizations of war and/or a proper historical perspective?

John David Lewis: I don’t have a recommendation. I did see one war movie recently—Escape from Sobibor [British made for television, which aired on CBS in 1987] with Alan Arkin. It’s about a German concentration camp—a death camp—in Poland. Like all these camps, there were some prisoners who were not killed; they were out in barracks. Sobibor was where the only full-scale revolt by camp prisoners took place. They ran into the woods and escaped—it’s the one case where everyone, especially the Jews but also the Poles, fought back. They killed the Germans, and then they rushed the main gate and hundreds escaped. That’s worth seeing. I stopped seeing a lot of modern war movies. I have not seen 300. I’ve got the graphic novel and it looks awful. A much better movie about the historic battle is The 300 Spartans [starring Richard Egan, 1962].

Scott Holleran: Any other classic movie recommendations?

John David Lewis: I still like to see Battle of the Bulge [starring Robert Shaw, 1965], which is about reversing the wills to fight. In the beginning, the Americans are demoralized and the Germans are motivated. In the end it’s the opposite. There are some good classic war movies set in World War 2. Even a movie like A Bridge Too Far [1977] has a certain point to it.

Scott Holleran: You write that President Franklin Roosevelt wrote about “the destruction of a philosophy” in achieving victory in World War 2. Does the planned construction of an Islamic mosque near where the Twin Towers once stood—before Islamic jihadists destroyed them on 9/11—represent a victory to the enemy?

John David Lewis: I think it does. It’s not because the people who want to build the mosque are on the side of those who want to destroy the U.S. but they chose to build it near the World Trade Center site for sympathetic reasons and those reasons—for building a $100 million cultural center—are the same reasons that make me want to oppose it. In the plans, there are separate places for men and women, so it’s clearly a place to enforce certain political ideas, which are not consistent with the ideals of the United States. That they choose to build it there is why I oppose building it there.

Scott Holleran: You contrast the Japanese with the Americans in terms of motive, demonstrating that the Japanese, like today’s jihadists, were motivated by death while the Americans fighting in World War 2 were motivated by life. We have been fighting and appeasing jihadists for over 10 years with thousands of U.S. casualties and no progress toward victory. Are Americans losing the will to live?

John David Lewis: That’s a difficult question. If one sees an enemy as out to destroy you and does not act against him, and instead builds bridges to him, then certainly Americans are losing the will to live. Certainly, if we don’t demand a nation that defends itself, that’s true.

Scott Holleran: You write about dropping napalm and atom bombs, not food, on civilians during war. What is the primary reason why we drop food packages not bombs on our enemy?

John David Lewis: On one level, we don’t want to destroy and kill people that way—Americans are very benevolent—and we fail to make the connection between dropping bombs and saving our lives. American intelligence in Japan looked at what was happening inside the country of Japan—inside the houses. When they found out that civilians were being trained to kill Americans, they realized that within those houses were weapons and that civilians were an active part of the war effort and an American intelligence officer made a direct connection; he reported there were no civilians in Japan as far as the war effort was concerned. Recently, we saw a Navy SEAL team come across a group of shepherds that were hostile to the U.S.—and they let them go, knowing the shepherds would turn them over to the enemy if given a chance. It goes back to your question about the will to live, and, in that sense, it’s gone.

Scott Holleran: Which is the greater threat to the United States—Iran, which openly declares its intent to destroy America—or Saudi Arabia, which sponsors Islamic jihadism while claiming to do otherwise?

John David Lewis: They’re both threats. I can’t elevate one above the other.

Scott Holleran: The Nazis were appeased by the West and swept into power, exterminating millions of Jews. The Soviets were allied with and appeased by the West and subsequently conquered much of the civilized world, exterminating millions of people, enslaving tens of millions and fighting a proxy war with the U.S. that funded the forces that created jihadist Islam. Islamic jihadists, too, were allied with and appeased by the West and are fighting a proxy war with the U.S. through subversive terrorism. What horror awaits civilization should jihadists prevail?

John David Lewis: The first thing we would see is the entire Middle East given to Islamic government and all-out war—we would see Islamic rule in the south of France, Spain, and Indonesia, and the predominantly Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union. I do not think that we would see a single caliphate against the United States. I think we would see Iran and Syria against Saudi Arabia and Egypt and whatever would come out of that would push out against the West. European nations are already failing by internal rot. But how far are we from France becoming an Islamic state? Probably far off. The war would spread like a plague through Africa and South America, where they would come to regret the alliance that [Venezuelan dictator] Hugo Chavez made with Iran. And if Iran gets nuclear weapons—and then the Saudis do, too—that would be very bad for the rest of the world.

Scott Holleran: Is America’s current predicament with regard to the unacknowledged war with jihadist Islam fundamentally comparable to either the 300 Spartans or the Alamo?

John David Lewis: [Pauses] No. I don’t think so. In neither Greece nor the Alamo was it denied that there was a problem. Today, we are evading the fact that there’s a problem—that this politicized Islam [jihad, which means holy war] is what motivates the enemy. In that sense, it’s not comparable. The Greeks made a stand against the Persians and it became a rallying cry—the men at the Alamo made a stand against the Mexicans and it became a rallying cry—but when the passengers of United [Air Lines flight] 93 made a stand against the radical Moslems, there should have been a rallying cry, and there wasn’t. Throughout history, we’ve heard “Remember the 300 [Spartans]!” “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember the Maine!” No one cries “Let’s Roll” to remember United 93.

Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite war memorial?

John David Lewis: It makes me sad to think of that. [Pauses] There is one that comes to mind, though I haven’t been there—the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The [sunken] ship [destroyed with her 1,777 crewmen by the Japanese] was left there and a memorial was built over it. Some of the Confederate war memorials, such as the memorial at Shiloh, are very moving. But the one that seems most moving to me is the Arizona memorial. [Pauses] I do not think it’s time to build a memorial to the victims of 9/11. There’s a line about building a war memorial during a war that may be attributable to, of all people, Eleanor Roosevelt: We’ll win the war—then we’ll have a memorial.

Scott Holleran: What one idea, more than any other idea, must be accepted in our culture for the West to achieve victory over jihadist Islam?

John David Lewis: Knowledge of our own good. Most of all, we must realize that we stand for the values of freedom, the sanctity of the individual, and reason.

Three 9/11 DVDs: PBS, National Geographic, HBO

For the fifth year marking the 9/11 attack, I watched three documentary productions from HBO, PBS (Frontline) and National Geographic. Overall, these are the best I’ve seen. Read the entire article, which contains chilling details and facts about the attack which are not widely known, here.

The Frontline DVD series encompasses seven hours of various programs that aired on PBS (some before the attack) and, though they use sources with heavy liberal biases to discuss events, the package is generally factual and informative. Al Qaeda Files: Frontline fails to explore, let alone explain, the role of faith and religion in the act of mass murder and certain terrorist dictatorships, such as Iran, are conspicuously left unexamined. But the Frontline programs, contained on several discs, offer evidence of the spread of Islamic terrorism and the West’s appeasement.

Both the Clinton administration’s refusal to exterminate a known jihadist with hostile intent and the Bush administration’s ignorance and evasion are evident in National Geographic: Inside 9/11, a briskly paced chronology on two-discs, “War on America” and “Zero Hour.” The discs are packed with crucial—and relatively unknown—facts.

HBO’s In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01 is basically former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s tribute to America’s beloved city, the Twin Towers and those who were brutally murdered. Whatever one’s political philosophy, Giuliani is respectful and so is this 60-minute production by Home Box Office. The program’s chronological approach to the attack returns at certain intervals to the pre-attack World Trade Center, two grand skyscrapers featured here in one lingering shot, with the sunrise-smacked towers looking like two white gold bars reaching into the morning sky—beacons in a city of prime movers. Read the full review of all three DVDs here.