Sunday, November 22, 2009

JFK and America's talking asses

In the 46 years since President John F. Kennedy's murder on this date, revisionist history has taken to besmirching his memory and debunking his accomplishments. They call him an inveterate Cold Warrior, fixated on the evils of Communism. Well, that is precisely what made him great. He wasn't wearing blinders or rose colored glasses. Communism was the primary source of evil in the world during his presidency, and he acted accordingly. He stood up to the Soviets in West Berlin, Cuba and all over the world. Even when he botched badly, as in the Bay of Pigs, he "failed while daring greatly," to borrow a phrase from my other Presidential hero, Teddy Roosevelt. Think of the kind of world we would be living in if he had allowed the Communists to have their way.

I watched a 60 Minutes episode several years ago about a historian whose name I forgot dredging up dirt about the President that had been concealed from the public when he was in office. Behind the facade of a youthful and vigorous leader was a man gravely ill with Addison's Disease (adrenal insuffiency) and in constant pain from a bad back. We knew about the bad back when he was President. We did not know that he constantly took amphetamines to mask the pain that dogged him constantly. When I heard all that I wanted to slug the television and shout, "Bil'am Ha-Rasha!" Bil'am came to curse the Jews and in spite of himself ended up blessing them. This talking ass came to debunk the legend of President Kennedy and instead magnified it. We always thought that the President acquired a bad back as a result of his heroic exploits on the PT109 in World War II, where he towed a badly wounded comrade to safety after their boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Now we know that John F. Kennedy did what he did on the PT109 with a bad back that he had since childhood. If he wanted to, he could have sat out the war with a desk job, or perhaps even dodged service entirely with a 4-F medical exemption, but that is not what Kennedys do. He did full duty, and even returned to active duty after aggravating his back on the PT109. The pills he was addicted to were standard treatment for his condition at the time, and helped conceal the gravity of his illness from potential enemies. True, he would probably not have been able to conceal his illness from the public with today's media coverage, but that says more about the media than about the President. In the early '60s the media for the most part still put country first, before sensationalism and journalistic coups. That the nature of the President's illness was successfully kept from the Soviets was certainly worth its being kept from us.

Then there is the matter of President Kennedy's widely publicized extramarital affairs, also wisely kept from the public during his presidency. If I had a dollar for every man who had extramarital affairs, I would be a very wealthy man. And if sainthood were a requirement for public office, nobody that we should want in office would qualify. We don't want a Mother Teresa in the White House; we need someone willing to get down and dirty with unsavory characters who seek our harm. There is reason to believe that powerful men are genetically programmed to seek multiple sexual partners and thereby spread their genes; see Our Inner Ape, by Frans De Waal. The wonder is that, sick as he was, he was capable of sexual activity altogether. When I think of the courage and steadfastness with which he guided the ship of state, I am more than willing to forgive him his sexual peccadillos.

The talking asses will continue digging up dirt and throwing it at better men than they. That is all they are good for. I thank God every day that we had John F. Kennedy in the White House for the thousand days we had him, and I wish we had a leader like him as we confront another implacable enemy hell-bent on destroying us and our way of life.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Settlements - An Obstacle to Piece

Broaden the space of your tents and stretch the curtains of your dwellings, spare not, lengthen your cords and strengthen your poles. For you shall expand left and right, and your seed will possess nations and inhabit waste places. . .(Isaiah 54:2,3)

This passage is read as the haftara for Parshat Ki-Teze, the fifth of the seven haftarot of consolation between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashanah. It is also the haftara for Parshat Noah. It is alluded to in one of the piyyutim recited on Hoshanna Rabbah before we beat the arava. Since the Six Day War, the message has been unmistakably clear. The Prophet is speaking to us. The ge'ula is unfolding before us, and we are called to possess and inhabit the waste places that had once been ours, and to make them flourish once again. And since the Six Day War, dedicated hatutzim (just about the only ones left!) under the influence of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt"l have done exactly that. Settlements have sprung up all over Yehuda v'Shomron on land that belongs to us even if the rest of the world says otherwise. American Presidents have repeated the same litany since the Six Day War: the settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. Since Oslo, American Presidents have maintained that the land involved shoud become a "Palestinian" state. Never mind that for nineteen years when the Arabs held the land there was never any talk of a "Palestinian" state, nor indeed of a Palestinian people. The land was held by the Palestinian state that already exists, namely Jordan, but Jordan's sovereignty over it was recognized by only two nations on earth: Great Britain and Pakistan. The Arabs' intentions were and are crystal clear, except to the deliberately self-blinded: destroy Israel. If they can't destroy it all at once, they would destroy it piece by piece. Whatever concessions they can wring out of us with the help of a craven American administration they would take, and use it to prepare for the next round. There never was a peace process, only a "piece process" - one piece of Israel to our enemies followed by another and another. The settlements create facts on the ground that are difficult to erase, as a faithless Israeli government learned in 2005 in Gaza. The settlements came down but at a cost to Israeli cohesion and soldiers' morale that future governments should be loath to repeat. And what did we get for it? Daily rocket fire on Sderot and as far north as Ashkelon. A piece process indeed! The settlements are quite legal by God's law, and "an obstacle to piece."

But what about the soldiers who will have to fight to defend them? Do we want more boys coming home in caskets? Of course not, but even worse would be the peace of the grave. Since before the founding of the State we made a value judgment that it is better to go down fighting than to go down not fighting. Actually, this is a value judgment that men have made from time immemorial. We are primates, and primates are territorial animals; sorry folks, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. We defend what is ours. On December 8, 1941 young American men, enraged by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, queued up to join the Army. Imagine if Americans then had regarded peace as the highest priority, and not unleashed our full power on Japan and Germany. Think back to 1861, and imagine if Abraham Lincoln had listened to the "anything for peace" counsels, and there were many, and allowed the South to go its way. America would have been spared a long and bloody war with frightful losses. But it would not have become a superpower, able to stand up to the Nazis and the Communists, and the world would be a different, and much worse, place. Those of us who would walk away from Eretz Yisrael are infected by two millenia of deterritorialization, also known as galut, as well as by decades of secularist claptrap questioning whether the land is really ours. Or perhaps they had their manhood sucked away by two generations of feminist propaganda. We've been told for as long as I can remember to be "sensitive," to "get in touch with our feminine side," that machismo is bad, that we're all suffering from a fictitious malady called "testosterone poisoning," ad nauseam. We're even made to feel guilty for thanking God we're men. So now we're sold on the idea that nothing at all is worth fighting for. We won't stand up to the schoolyard bully, the mugger on the street, or the Arab enemies who will never accept an Israel of any shape or size.

Many good and decent Jews, religious and secular, disagree with the above, including the writer of a blog I regularly read and with whom I generally agree. How should we relate to them? I have heard them characterized in the vilest of terms, quite unbecoming people who should know how to conduct a mahloket l'shem shamayim (argument for the sake of Heaven). Our ba'alei plugta (ideological opponents) must be treated with the utmost respect. Words like "traitor" have no place in the discourse; traitors are motivated by personal gain, while our opponents genuinely believe they are acting in the best interests of Israel and the Jewish people. The boycott by a Knesset member of the special session in memory of the late Yitzhak Rabin is exactly what is not needed. Even when the opposition calls us warmongers and such, we should not respond in kind. The argument must always be ad rem (to the thing), never ad hominem (to the person). As I learned as a child from Rabbi Chaim Yachnes, even when somebody's pshat is totally wrong, always attack the pshat, never the person. I am certain that Rav Kook and his son would not have it any other way.

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