Why Politics Matter

I sat in the theater Wednesday weeping and hoping no one would notice.

The Victory Theater is a part of the National World War II Museum just off St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, and I had taken my grandson who was out of school the week after New Year’s. The “movie,” I suppose we can call it that, was called “Beyond All Boundaries,” and showed how this war was conducted, how it affected everyone, how it changed everything.

I forget how many millions of lives were ended as a result of that war. The number is astronomical but gets into the stratosphere when we add the millions exterminated in Hitler’s concentration camps.

What hit me–and this was never an actual part of the story on the huge curved screens–was that much of the cause for the war was a failure in the politics of past years.

In saying that, I do not discount the sheer-genius and near-insanity of Adolf Hitler. No amount of diplomacy could have prevented him from doing what he did. He seemed to have understood only the language of brute force.

That said, it’s still true however that the greater war was a failure of the politics of the previous generation. And that’s what needs to be gotten across to our younger generation today.

Young people are bored with politics. Heads of states meet and deliberate and issue dull news releases. Embassies close down, secretaries of state exchange documents, summits are held, the television covers it all and newspapers blare it in their headlines. The football game is more interesting, so we turn to another channel.

Politics is (are?) mind-deadening to the vast majority of our people. Especially the young. And therein lies the problem.

To find the causes of the Civil War, not only would you study the beginnings of and the attempts to maintain and extend slavery in this country, you would want to drop back into the early 1830s and study the nullification crisis. At that time, Congress was debating back and forth whether individual states have the right, the power, the authority, to disobey the laws of the national government when they conflict with the state laws.

South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun–the namesake of all those Calhoun Cities and Calhoun Counties across the Southland–was adamant and eloquent (not to mention ‘fiery’) in declaring that states joined this union as separate entities and that they still retain that identity. A state can nullify any federal law it disagrees with, and if necessary, can secede from the union. Calhoun was the quarterback, coach, and running back on the nullification team.

Calhoun’s rhetoric took no prisoners. He served as vice-president under both John Quincy Adams and then Andrew Jackson. But–and here’s the thing–he died in 1850, over 11 years before the Civil War began. (BTW, you can visit his home near Clemson, SC, today. The state champions him as a hero; to me, he has a lot to answer for.)

The Civil War was John C. Calhoun’s baby. Well, his and several other politicians.

One wonders if the citizens of this country read their papers in the 1830s and wondered what the fuss was all about and if they were bored silly by the political wrangling. They should have paid more attention.

Millions paid for their inattention with their lives.

As a lifelong history student (and history major in college and seminary), I’ve often wondered about the distant origins of the Second World War. Our freshman class at Berry College (1958-59) was shown the old films about that war in which the blame was assigned to Hitler and Mussolini’s madnesses, Neville Chamberlain’s weakness, and Hirohito’s ego.

That was too simple, even for a college freshman. There had to be more to it than that.

“The Imperial Cruise” by James Bradley, a new book by this author of the best-sellers “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Flyboys,” says the seeds of the Second World War were sown in the early years of the 20th century.

And the sower who went forth to sow those seeds was–ready for this?–Theodore Roosevelt, the great man himself.

The Bradley book tells the story of a 1905 voyage from this country to Asia involving then Secretary of War William Howard Taft, many senators and representatives, and Roosevelt’s daughter Alice. The cruise traveled to Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines, creating world headlines at every stop. Alice Roosevelt was the media darling of the time, sort of a Paris Hilton type if you will (and just about as deep), and the public could not get enough of her.

What was not known and was not revealed for many years, Bradley says, is that wherever the cruise landed, Taft and a small entourage held secret meetings with government officials. Through these, President Roosevelt entered into various kinds of treaties and agreements with foreign countries. All of this was patently illegal, of course, since the U.S. Constitution reserves the right to make treaties to Congress. Roosevelt would insist that the public not learn of these doings. (If you ask, “Where was his Secretary of State?” the answer is he was dying, then dead, and during all this time and after, TR took over the role himself.)

That’s the main storyline of the book, but not the most fascinating part. Gossip lovers will devour the juicy stories about Alice and her lover (and future husband) Congressman Nicholas Longworth, who was along on the trip.

However, the chief occupation with this book seems not to be the cruise but the racial philosophy of Theodore Roosevelt and other policy-setters for this country. If we thought Adolf Hitler had a warped view of racial superiority concerning the Aryans, TR seems to have beat him to the punch.

According to Bradley, TR preached that no racial group with skin other than white could govern themselves and that Heaven had gifted the whites with the right, the authority, the calling, to rule the earth.

In Asia, Roosevelt made the Japanese sort of honorary whites, Bradley says, and approved their ruling that portion of the world. Our country had forced an open door policy onto the Japanese in the 1850s, and thereafter helped them become a democracy of a kind.

Bradley keeps emphasizing that Roosevelt encouraged the Japanese to rule over Korea, which they did, and to adopt its own version of the Monroe Doctrine. This is the policy, you will recall, by which the United States served notice to Europe that we would tolerate no outside meddling in the affairs of this hemisphere. TR approved Japan taking the same ruling position for all of Asia.

Roosevelt felt a strong Japan would serve as a counterbalance to Russia, which even in the pre-Bolshevik days was still a loose cannon in the community of nations. What TR did not anticipate was that soon after he left the White House, Japan and Russia would end their hostility with each other and agree to leave the other alone to meddle with other countries as they pleased.

TR had left behind major, major problems for the future. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Japan, which had come to believe in its destiny to rule Asia, was branching out and conquering. TR would have been proud.

I am not such a student of this period of history that I can refute what Bradley says. He may or may not be correct. But if he is, someone needs to take a jackhammer and erase TR’s image from Rushmore. Douglas Brinkley aside, no amount of national parks can compensate for his blundering in Asia which kindled what would become the raging inferno known as the Second World War.

One more thing about Bradley’s book. The most disturbing thing to me personally was the way he blames Christians for much of the Aryan-drive-to-extend-our-way-of-life to the rest of the world. It wasn’t just westerners or Caucasians or even Americans uglying up the Asian political world, it was Christians.

I was and am offended.

No doubt some missionaries and many politicians who called themselves Christians were misguided and even cruel in their treatment of nationals in other lands. But just because a person says they are doing this to bring Christianity to a nation does not make it so. People who favored slaughtering non-white civilians so the whites could remain in power were not Christians by any stretch of the imagination.

Without any facts to refute Bradley, nevertheless, I feel he has slandered God’s people and the cause of Christ. I’m willing to stand corrected if shown to be wrong.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the people who carried on the Crusades and the Inquisition were not Christians. Church members, maybe. But not disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We’ll save that for another time.

The point here is that the politics of Washington may indeed bore us to tears but what is often at stake in these discussions are the lives of millions of our citizens.

Let us not be so quick to turn away from C-Span or Meet the Press. We may be hearing about the destiny of our grandchildren.

3 thoughts on “Why Politics Matter

  1. Haven’t read one of your blogs in a while. Glad I read this one. Very interesting, but I can’t believe that Japan’s imperialism came solely from Teddy.

    Also interesting is how certain Presidents have “expanded” the power of the executive (and government in general), and we really just accept it as the way things are today. Few people today seem to be principled in their position when it comes to the division of powers. It usually has to do with whether or not you like the guy in the white house.

  2. The often overlooked fact about the ‘Crusades’ and the role of Christians in that era is that very few people who signed up for the ‘Holy Crusade’ had ever read a word of scripture, or for that matter a word of anything written. A corrupt church through it’s Pope told those warriors that they would receive salvation through their deeds in the middle east.

    Do you hear any correlation with that and what some Jihadists are being told today?

  3. Seeds of the Civil War were sown in the Constitution. The same violent disagreement over slavery existed then. Some wanted to abolish it in the Constitution, but the “wiser heads” felt the country would split at once and never adopt the Const. Andrew Jackson went at it hammer and tongs with Calhoun. The verbal wars of that era are very similar to ours today.

    I suspect we all agree with you about Christian invovlement in war. We will fight in a just war, usually of defense, but Jesus did not teach war as Muhammad did.

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