Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review: Fred's War. Discovering a Grandfather's Lost War

Andrew Davidson.  Fred’s War.  London: Short Books, 2013.  ISBN: 978-1-78072-181-1

Andrew Davidson and I have a few things in common.   We both have a grandfather (two in my case) who served in the First World War, and, we never got to meet our grandfathers.

Davidson however was more fortunate, in that he has three albums of photographs, taken by his grandfather and by a colleague, from 1914-1915.   Fred’s War is Davidson’s brilliant and highly readable reconstruction of his grandfather’s life and war.

Fred Davidson grew up in a manse near Montrose, Scotland.  His father Robert was a minister in the Church of Scotland, but the son went to Edinburgh to study medicine.   His uncle, a professor of medicine at Edinburgh, had been involved in reforming British Army medicine after its shortcomings were exposed in the Boer War.   The uncle persuaded the nephew to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, and months before the war broke out Fred found himself in Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow, as the Medical Officer for the 2nd Cameronians, an infantry unit recruiting from the tough streets of Glasgow.   One of Fred’s passions was photography, a pastime that was just taking off as portable, folding cameras arrived from the US, and Fred’s CO encouraged him to take photos (“The new vocabulary of photography - “shooting” photos, taking “snapshots” - fits the military mien”).   

The 2nd Cameronians went over to Belgium with the BEF, and were involved in the Retreat from Mons.  Davidson’s narration of this period uses Fred’s pictures, as well as much better known ones (including a famous photo of BEF troops under shell fire) that were taken by Fred’s friend, a Cameronian Lieutenant named Robert Cotton Money, whose collection ended up in the Cameronian regimental museum.   Using Cameronians’ diaries and a novelist’s imagination, Davidson tells a gripping story.

"Finally the battalions form up to fight, kneeling in bunches, fixing bayonets up, preparing, faring, knowing this is it, as word passes: the Germans are making a stand.  Shells start to fall more regularly.  The company commanders walk upright, no ducking, offering encouragement to their men.  Fred is soon treating torn flesh, bloodied scakps, the result of the first shrapnel shells bursting above ground, spraying the open fields with fragments.  His friend Ferry is hit badly in the shoulder and is sent back.  Fred runs between the wounded like a whippet, head up for a look, head down for a sniff, bolt, stop, lie flat.  He could be on the wing again for Edinburg.  Davidson is playing a good game, though he should try not to give so much advice … " (104).

Davidson remained with the 2nd Cameronians until 1915.  During that period he saw the lines stabilize and become the first rudimentary trenches.  He treated soldiers for wounds and for the sicknesses that came from exposure to cold and water, as well as from their encounters with prostitutes behind the lines, something the Army prudishly did not acknowledge.  Fred got his CO’s permission to set up a rest house behind the lines, where sick and shaken men could recuperate for a few days (“He is already seeing too many frayed nerves, too may men emerging from a night under shellfire with wide, staring eyes.  Then the chills, temperatures and racking coughs” 226).   In these pages Fred reminds me of the best MOs I’ve met in the army, medically skilled, tough with shirkers when they needed to be, but always amazingly pastoral and kind.  

Fred Davidson as a newly minted Lieutenant and MO, Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow, in 1914, just before the war.

In March 1915, Fred was shot while evacuating wounded under fire.   At first word came to the manse that he was killed, but he survived and was sent to a military hospital in England where he met his future wife, the nurse who looked after him.  He was awarded the MC and spent the rest of the war as a hospital administrator, ending up as a Lieutenant Colonel.   World War Two interrupted his private practice in England, and he held several senior positions in the RAMC.   He died in 1959.

Andrew Davidson’s book is a well-written tribute to a grandfather he never met, but it is much more.  Any student of the BEF, the professional British Army that fought and largely died in the first years of the Great War, will find this of great interest, and will see photos that will be refreshingly new. It is also a valuable account of the transition to trench warfare.  Davidson has also written a fascinating piece of social history describing how affordable and portable cameras changed daily life.  As Davidson puts it, “For some back then, Ansco and Kodak’s wonderful folding cameras were akin to the smartphone for today’s young people - unthinkable to be without” (302).  By 1905 around 10% of the British population could take pictures with cameras that were affordable on a middle class budget.  Many of the pictures in this book are what we would call “selfies”, only taken by a friend of the camera’s owner.  While the British Army officially banned soldiers from taking cameras into the lines, for fear that the pictures would be captured and give information to the enemy, Fred’s CO seems to have approved of photography and encouraged the practice (“No other battalion took as many personal photographs at this early stage of the war” 302).

Students of the First World War should be grateful to Davidson for collecting these photographs and interpreting them so ably.  The recent story of a British garbage collector who saved a collection of WW1 photographs makes me wonder how many images of this period have been discarded by families clearing out a deceased relative’s collection.   

Highly recommended.  MP+



The Media and Muslim Scares: A UK Perspective

Today’s online Guardian from the UK features a piece by Nesrine Malik about how the British media routinely recycles certain stories about Muslims which, she argues, “create a fear of stealthy, incremental Islamicisation”.  
Looking at this story from a Canadian view, it’s hard to put this story into context.   No mainstream voices in Canada have argued that our multicultural policy has failed, whereas British Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2011 that Britain’s multicultural policy has failed.

The  British Office of National Statistics put the Muslim population of England and Wales at 2,706,066 according to the 2011 Census, about 4.8% of the total population.    Statistics Canada put the Muslim population of Canada at about 3.2% as of 2013.  In both cases we are talking about small fractions of the total population.

While Canada has has several prominent court cases involving Islamist terrorism, we haven’t had an incident comparable to the killing of a British soldier, Lee Rigby, in by two Nigerian converts to Islam in May 2013.  There has not been a controversy regarding sharia law in Canada comparable to that which erupted after Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury made a speech about sharia law in Britain in 2008.
Given these different contexts, it is not surprising that the British press would cover issues around Islam differently than their tamer Canadian colleagues.   However, Ms. Malik’s article is a useful reminder that numbers and perspective matter.   The number of Muslim women in Britain who wear the niqab, for example, may be as low as .001% of the total population, or, at the very least, statistically slight.   That seems like a helpful number to keep in mind when trying to decide whether Muslim dress poses a cultural threat to society.
I consider myself moderately informed about Islam.  I’ve served with several Muslims in the Canadian Forces and found them little different than anyone else, other than a few distinctions.  For example, I’ve learned that when yo go to the movies with a Muslim friend during Ramadan, your offer of popcorn may be politely turned town.   That said, if you asked me to explain the difference between Shia and Sunni, it would be embarrassing.     I’m reminded of these things as I began a grad class on Religion and Globalization this term, and have several readings (Noah Feldman, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State; Peter Mandaville, Global Political Islam, and Nafissi Mohammad, Shiism and Politics”) that I hope will amend my ignorance somewhat.  
Given how little most of non-Muslims know about Islam, we should be better served by journalism.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Where's A Good Church? A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter


Image courtesy of Agnusday.org

I was asked to preach this Sunday at Holy Trinity Church in Kitchener, ON, where my friend Ross Gill is the Rector.  A very pleasant morning with a very hospitable and friendly bunch of people.  I confess I didn’t preach on mothers and shepherds today - there are other ways for the church to mark Mother’s Day and Good Shepherd Sunday, I think.  MP+

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Yr A): Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:20-25, John 10:1-10

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

Where can I find a good church?   Most of us, if we are regular churchgoers, have heard or asked that question at one time or another?  Perhaps we’ve met people who have just moved to town and are looking for a new church home.  Perhaps we ourselves have had to relocate or find a new place to worship.    My wife and I, like many Christian military families, find ourselves looking for new churches every few years as the army moves us around.

For those of us who have had to look, or “church shop” as we call it these days, the question of “Where can I find a good church” is a highly subjective one.  A church shopping list probably depends on individual needs.   Are there children who need a Sunday school or a youth group?   What about transport and travel?   Is it possible to drive across town to the right church, or is that not an option?   

What about denomination and style of worship?  If you asked my wife and I to write out our church shopping lists, we’d likely have different needs.   I like a high church style of worship, she finds it stuffy.     She prefers a plain style of architecture, whereas I like stained glass, brass and wood.   We both like bible studies and discussion groups more than church dinners and socials.  So when we look for a new church, we realize that not all our needs will be met perfectly.  We know we’ll have to compromise.

You have, no doubt, noticed that I have now talked foe several minutes and over two hundred words, and not said anything about Jesus or about God.  Isn’t that often how it goes when we churchgoers talk about church?    How easy it is for us to talk about church as a human construction, designed to meet human needs, when really, we need to talk about church as something that is of God’s creation, God’s gift so that we might find ourselves in better relation with him and his son through his Holy Spirit?

Our first reading, from Acts, is a helpful reminder of what makes a good church.   As with every church season of Easter, we replace our Old Testament readings with passages from the Book of Acts.   In this practice, as it often does, the church turns to Acts as a kind of a memory bank, the Christian church seen in its very first days, and therefore a kind of ideal of what the church should be, before all the traditions and extra stuff began to creep in.

Today’s passage comes just at the end of a long speech (Acts 2:14-40) given by Peter just after the miracle of Pentecost.   The disciples are gathered in the Jerusalem after Jesus has been taken back up to heaven.   The Holy Spirit comes into the house where they are gathered, they are given the gift of languages, and a huge crowd gathered to see what is going on.   Peter explains to them that Jesus is the Messiah promised by God and by the prophets, that he has been raised from the dead, and through him all who repent can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.   When Peter concludes his sermon by saying “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation”, some three thousand people agree to be baptized and join the apostles.  These three thousand are among the “They” mentioned in the first word of today’s reading from Acts.  

This new congregation of three thousand plus is not exactly your  ordinary church on King and Main Streets.  It is filled with “awe”.  The apostles are able to do “wonders and signs”, which rather sound like miracles.   People sacrifice their possessions and live in a sort of commune, giving to those in need.  This church worships daily for prayers and for common meals that may have some sort of eucharistic meaning.    New members arrive daily.    It sounds … well, it sounds awesome.   

For those of us who worship in ordinary churches, churches with budget problems and leaky roofs and squeaky floors, with worship that may inspire something slightly less than awe, and where new members arrive infrequently, this reading from Acts may be depressing rather than inspiring.   How can our decidedly ordinary churches live up to this ideal?   Are we really expected to give up our possessions, live together, worship daily, and expect new members to pour in?   If this is God’s expectation, how can we live up to it?  If it’s not God’s expectation, and instead merely a story of some golden age of the church when everything was new and fresh, how can that story do anything but depress us who worship and work in churches which can inspire fatigue, conflict, and doubt rather than awe?

 The first thing I would say about this reading is that the church in Acts is not something that the Apostles made happen by themselves.   Like all of the miracles and the miraculous signs in the gospels … all of the healings, the exorcisms, and the feedings … this story of the church in Acts is about what God wants to offer us.   All of the readings for this Sunday have this quality, in that they all speak of God’s lavish and generous nature.  Psalm 23 talks about a cup that isn’t just full, but which “runs over”.   1 Peter talks about the perfection of Jesus, of how his nature was true without any deceit, and how he never repaid cruelty with cruelty.   In our gospel reading from John 10, Jesus’ words and figures of speech have a kind of abundance about them.  He is not just the shepherd, he’s also the gate.  He is both the guard and the pasture of the sheep.   He not only wants his followers to have life, but he wants them to have abundant life.   So, if our reading from Acts seems like an excessively optimistic vision of the church, then it’s no more excessive than the rest of our readings, because our God is like that.  God is excessively generous, excessively patient, excessively there for us.  The church is a gift from that excessive God to us, those he loves.  We forget that when we start to think of church as something we make and give to ourselves.

The second thing I would say about this reading is that it gives us a kind of owner’s manual to explain how this gift from God is supposed to work.   That owner’s manual is right there in verse 42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”.   I could imagine a whole sermon series on this verse, and no doubt you’ve heard other preachers dwell on these ideas, so I’ll just briefly sketch it out. 

 “Apostle’s teaching” is what we come to church to learn.   From Sunday school to sermon, from our scripture readings to bible study, we come to church to learn about God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, about what he’s done for his people, about his promises to us and his hopes for us.   All of us are life-long learners in this continual education of the church.  A congregation which ceases to care for these things will always be in a state of amnesia, wondering who it is, and who God is.   

“Fellowship” is what most everyone in a church gets at some level.  Fellowship is a sense of community or family, and it happens when we share the peace, during coffee hour, or at the church meal.  Fellowship is also fare more than these things.  Fellowship extends outside the church wall.  It is about our sense of being part of the wider community, our sense of mission and outreach.   It is about sharing what we have with those we know and those we don’t know, from the apportionment payment to the food drive to the PWRDF and many other things.   Fellowship is our call by a generous God to be generous to one another.

“Breaking of the bread” seems to be about the eucharist, the shared meal which is the heart of our worship.    Our shared meal involves fellowship, in that we are called to forgive one another before we approach the table, and we are called to eat and drink together.   It is also our moment to remind ourselves that we are Jesus’ disciples.   In his commentary on Acts, Will Willimon writes that in Luke’s gospel, whenever people eat with Jesus, wonderful and controversial things happen.   Jesus eats with all sorts of people, often takes flack for eating with sinners, and always reminds others that in sharing meals with him, they have the promise that they will “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Lk 22:30).  Breaking the bread is thus a reminder and a first instalment of the saving relationship we have with Jesus.

Finally, “the prayers” is and isn’t simple.   They prayers are about traditional worship like we do on Sundays.  Because the first Christians are Jews, they worship in “the Temple” following the Jewish custom of daily prayer and devotion.   The members of this first church also seem to pray at home as part of their shared meals.   Not all churches pray in the same way.  Some have prayer chains or small groups of “prayer warriors” who have a special calling to prayer.  Other churches have home or life groups that pray together, and some churches follow some version of the daily office, where the clergy and a handful of laypeople follow a tradition of prayer like the first church did.    Prayer can easily fall to the wayside given the busy nature of our lives, but churches which focus on busy-ness and neglect to pray are churches that miss the mark.  Who of us, faced with a serious crisis or great need, would turn to a church that had did not value prayer?

Learning abut God, meaningful and generous fellowship inside and outside the church walls, worship and prayer that unites people with Jesus  - these things are what makes the church.   It’s interesting what we don’t hear about in this text.  Music, decorations, vestments, styles of worshiping, the personality of the minister … none of these things are mentioned.   It’s not that these things are unimportant, but for the author of Acts, they are secondary things, even though they are, sadly, things that churches often fight about.  What’s central to the life of the church is simple … teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.

What will happen to a church that focuses on these four things?  Will it be a church where miraculous things happen daily?  Will it be as exciting and awe-inspiring as the church we hear about in Acts?    My answer would be, yes.   When we pray for one another’s illnesses, or when we pray for peace in the world, do we not believe that God hears us and that God cares about these things?  Do we not believe in God’s love for us and for the world he created?  When we give, and give gladly and generously, rather than grudgingly putting a folded five dollar bill on the plate the odd week, do we not see that our generosity makes a difference?   Who hasn’t felt the Spirit move in their hearts when they’ve given gladly and meaningfully?  When we share the Eucharist, do we not believe that Jesus is present among us?   When we look around the church and see one another present, lifelong members and the people who just started coming last month, do we not thank God for adding to the number who are being saved?

This, my brothers and sisters, is the church.  It is the place where we are meant to know Jesus, it is the pasture where we are gathered and made safe, it is the life that we are called to have and to have abundantly.  It is the place where God’s people offer up their needs and the needs of the world to God.   In a world of growing inequalities in wealth and status, it is the one place where we are all made to feel equal in the eyes of God.  Sometimes we who are used to the church can take it for granted and feel jaded and blasé.   That can happen when we think that the church is a gift we make and give to ourselves.  But, when we remember that the church is what God makes and gives to us, then it is indeed a place where awe can come upon us all.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Military Picture of the Week




Today’s milpic of the week is an image of a new monument dedicated to members of the British Royal Army Veterinary Corps, which has a long history of service.   Most recently the RAVC is responsible for the British Army’s working dogs, whose duties include detecting explosive devices and ambushes.  The monument is at the UK’s National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.   A British Army backgrounder article is here.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Worth Repeating: E.B. White on Democracy

E.B. White was one of the great writers, journalists and stylists of mid-20th Century America.   I was delighted when the New Yorker magazine served up this short response that he wrote for the magazine during the middle of World War Two.    I rather wish he were alive today to remind us what democracy is in an age when that idea seems increasingly dispensable. MP+

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: Ian Buruma, Year Zero: A History of 1945


Ian Buruma.  Year Zero: A History of 1945.  New York: The Penguin Press, 2013.

I am not entirely sure how to describe Ian Buruma.  He’s a Dutch citizen based in New York, with an academic background in Asian and film studies, a journalist and an educator, and a prolific author with interests in history, foreign policy and theology.  He’d be a fascinating guy to have a beer with.    All of these interests are in play in his 2013 book, Year Zero: A History of 1945.  The title, a homage to the 1948 film Germany Year Zero by Roberto Rossellini, shows Buruma’s interest in film.

My father was a young Canadian officer in Holland when World War Two ended.   For him there was demobilization and a return to Canada and its (in comparison to Europe) unbelievable prosperity to look forward to.   Dad once told me that in the months after the war, the roads of NW Europe were full of uprooted people, known officially as Displaced Persons, trying to make their way back to whatever might remain of home.   Some still wore their striped clothing from the concentration camps.   One of them might have been Ian Buruma’s father, whose story serves as a kind of opening metaphor for the story of the book.

Buruma’s father was in Berlin when the war ended.  A student in Holland before the war, Buruma Sr. got involved in the student resistance, was captured by the Nazis, and sent to Berlin in 1943 for forced labour in a factory, making brake parts for German trains.   His lot wasn’t cushy, but despite “freezing and verminous” barracks he had some pleasures denied to concentration camp inmates.    Buruma’s father was able to attend concerts of the Berlin Philharnonic, and the factory management were probably sheltering Jews, so they were relatively benign compared to some.   He survived two years of Allied bombing and, thanks to a German couple that sheltered him, he lived through the Russian capture of Berlin.  Eventually he made it back to Holland, where there was already a spirit of get over it and an impatience with those who wanted to dwell on their suffering.  Buruma Sr. rejoined his Utrecht student fraternity, where he had to go through the hazing rituals that were interrupted by the war.   The hazing was quite brutal, and known to the students as "playing Dachau”. 

Buruma remembers being “baffled” at how his father and his generation could treat each other this way with the war still a fresh memory to them.   How could they?   To his father “it seemed normal”.   Buruma eventually came to understand that “People were so desperate to return to the world they had known before the Nazi occupation, before the bombs, the camps, and the murders, that hazing … seemed normal.  It was a way back to the way things once were, a way, as it were, of coming home."

The theme of this book is both about how the world changed in 1945 and how, in some ways, the “reset” was really just the old normal in new packaging.   From Greece to Indonesia, Buruma tells a fascinating story of how people tried to put the world back to normal.   Some of these attempts were less successful than others.  The French in Algeria and SE Asia, the Dutch in Indonesia, and the British in the Balkans and the Middle East, tried and generally failed to put their old empires back together.   New empires were constructed, brutally and cynically by the Soviets, and, more naively, by the Americans (who unlike the Soviets had the advantage of fabulous wealth to smooth their way).   

In part this is a story of vengeance and justice, and as Buruma skillfully tells the story, vengeance (as in Greece where the left and the right followed a bloody course straight out of ancient drama) was generally easier than justice.   Some had to be executed as collaborators and war criminals, and those who were put to death sometimes did not deserve their fate.  The Japanese general Yamashita, executed for crimes committed by Japanese troops in the Philippines during the US reconquest, “certainly didn’t face a fair trial” and had no command influence on the troops doing the killing in Manila in 1945.   But, like certain collaborationist leaders such as France’s Laval, his trial and execution was a convenient way to show that justice was being done.  In reality, there were far too many to punish - industrialists, technocrats, bankers and functionaries were needed to rebuild their countries, even if they had blood on their hands.  They couldn’t all be punished, even if many of them should have been.  Some of them in Germany and Japan went on to be captains of industry and heads of state.

I was reading Year Zero just as Rwanda was marking the twentieth anniversary of its own trauma of genocide, and Buruma got me thinking about the dynamics of vengeance vs reconciliation.  There wasn’t a reconciliation process as such in 1945, as there was years later in South Africa or Rwanda.   A friend of mine who has travelled in and studied Rwanda tells me that the demands of reconciliation on everyday life can be heroic, like farmers guilty of massacres working to feed the families of those they killed, and often living with them.   Reconciliation may seem impractical or even abhorrent to some who have suffered greatly, but when guilt is social rather than individual, it may be the only way forward.   For every female collaborator who was shaved and vilified, or for every supposed fascist killed by mob violence, there may well have been far more informal arrangements to try and set aside the past.  A memorable quote from the book comes from a German Resistance member after the war had ended.

“The Fuher is dead.  If you want to live you must eat.  If you want to eat, and eat well, you’d better not be a Nazi.   So they aren’t Nazis.  Therefore they weren’t Nazis and they swear by all that’s holy that they’ve never been …  Denouncing and condemning don’t help in the perfection of men.  Help them get up when they’ve fallen.  Give them a chance to atone for their sins.   And then no more reprisals.  Once and for all.”   (Buruma 235-236)  

For someone to be able to say those words in the rubble of Europe, with so many scores to settle, would it seems to me take equal parts practicality and moral courage.

Year Zero invites other comparisons to recent history.   In some respects the role of the US in Germany, Japan and Korea is comparable to its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan sixty years later.  In both cases, a conquering military had little knowledge of the culture or language, needed malleable local leaders to make the system work, and tried to purge societies of the old order while installing pliant local leadership.  Buruma doesn’t make the comparison, but someone should write a PhD thesis comparing DeNazification or its similar policy in Japan in 1945 with DeBaathification in Iraq in the mid 2000s.  The comparison would be fascinating.

At the end of 1945, most people just wanted to get on with their lives and forget the past.   For those who were trying to build a new world order, Buruma pretty much says that their efforts were doomed, since the rivalries of what would become the Cold War were already gelled.   As new and old empires were contested, high-flown promises and lofty ideals proclaimed in the dark days of the war were now being reinterpreted and qualified.   As a British delegation member said in San Francisco in April 1945, as the Big Powers drafted what would become the UN Charter, “Our policy is to avoid guarantee of human rights, though we might not object to a declaration” (322).   The UN Charter grew out of what was already known as the Atlantic Charter, a document worked out by the Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) in 1941 that had expressed the hopes that all peoples would have the right to choose their own governments and have the right to self-determination.  The Atlantic Charter principles were well known to nationalist leaders like Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Sukarno of Indonesia, and India’s Nehru.  Algerian protesters were carrying banners reading “Long Live the Atlantic Charter” when they were gunned down by their French colonial masters.   In the end, the principles of world peace and self-determination were no match for what old and new empires saw as their right to reorganize the world according to their own interests.   Polish leaders were being tortured by Stalin’s secret police during the San Francisco conference, and their fate was largely ignored, even though Polish self-determination had been the cause that started the war.   None of the big powers were willing to surrender their own prerogatives and powers to allow the constraining ideal of a true international order to emerge.  As E.B. White wrote of the San Francisco conference, under all the rhetoric was “the steady throbbing of the engines: sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty” (326).

Is this story a victory for cynicism?  Buruma would be the first to say that for many, the world after 1945 was better than it had been.  “Those of us who grew up in western Europe, or indeed in Japan, could easily take for granted what our parents had built: the welfare states, economies that just seemed to grow, international law, a “free world” protected by the seemingly unassailable American hegemon.”   Today those achievements now look decidedly shaky.  The welfare states are fiscally bankrupt and ideologically forsaken, the prosperity that my parents’ generation enjoyed is now in full reverse, and the Pax Americana now looks uncertain and unsustainable.  However, as Buruma says we can still "pay tribute to the men and women who were alive in 1945, to their hardships and to their hopes and aspirations, even though many of these would turn to ash, as everything eventually does” (333).






Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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