Monday, November 12, 2018

R.I.P. Stan Lee

Stan Lee made countless cameos in comic books, as well as in animated cartoons and live-action motion pictures based on his characters. He can be seen on the cover of this book wearing a white shirt. (Jack Kirby also appears, in a yellow shirt).
If you're like me, the death of someone special — whether it's a close friend or family member or a famous person you admire — always comes as somewhat of a shock, no matter how old they are when that inevitable day finally arrives.

That's how I felt today, when I learned from Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen that Stan Lee has passed away at the age of 95.

Stan Lee is a giant in the world of comics. He is known for being the creator co-creator of such iconic Marvel superheroes as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Black Panther, and many others.

I confess I'm not intimately familiar with his works, having become a bona fide comics fan only about three years ago. But I can't help but have tremendous respect for such a prolific creator.

I do have fond memories of reading an anthology of his Silver Surfer books, which I would highly recommend for their emphasis on the importance of, on the individual level, living a virtuous life and, on a collective level, a strong national defense. Plus, John Buscema's artwork in this book is clearly something to behold... truly out of this world. (Sorry for the lame joke. I couldn't help myself).


For a while, I followed Lee's newspaper comic strip, The Amazing Spider-Man. I tried hard to like it, but, to be brutally honest, I just couldn't. To be sure, the artwork is great, reminiscent of the great Marvel Silver Age comics. But I found the stories to be, well, another story. I thought their pace was maddeningly slow, even by newspaper comic strip standards.

I think I'll give the strip another try, in honor of Stan Lee.

I don't have much else to say about Lee, but I eagerly await comic book writer Mark Evanier's full obituary of the man. Being very familiar with Evanier as a blogger, I can confidently predict that it will blow all other Stan Lee obituaries out of the water, in terms of the sheer amount of information provided and of an honest, fair-minded appraisal of Lee's life, work, and legacy. When he posts it, I'll link to it.

Until then, I invite you to read this obituary from The Hollywood Reporter, and to watch this amazing 2007 BBC documentary on the other co-creator of Spider-Man, Steve Ditko, who curiously also passed away this year. Naturally, the documentary focuses on Ditko, but it also contains a lot of information on Lee. In fact, Lee arguably has a greater presence in the documentary than Ditko, owing to Ditko's reclusive nature. If you watch no other part of the documentary, at least watch the last five minutes for two invaluable life lessons: one from Ditko on how to gracefully stand your ground, and the other from the documentary host on how, sometimes, perseverance and sheer chutzpah pay off.    

Rest in peace, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, and...

Excelsior!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Solzhenitsyn on Franco, Part 1

Promotional photo for Casa Pepe, a restaurant in Despeñaperros, Spain, internationally known for its unapologetically pro-Franco décor. Unfortunately, it looks like the current Spanish government wants to shut it down
"My heart had been with Spain since my university years when we were eager to take part in its Civil War — on the Republican side, of course — and we easily made Huesca, Teruel and Guadalajara our own — these places were closer to our hearts than our own Russian towns, forgetting in our youthful folly all the blood that was shed so close to home, in Rostov, in Novocherkassk. Over the years — by then I was in prison — I had come to a different understanding of the strife in Spain; I saw that Franco had made a heroic and colossal attempt to save his country from disintegration. With this understanding there also came amazement: there had been destruction all around, but with firm tactics Franco had managed to have Spain sidestep the Second World War without involving itself, and for twenty, thirty, thirty-five years, had kept Spain Christian against all history's laws of decline! But then in the thirty-seventh year of his rule he died, dying to a chorus of nasty jeers from the European socialists, radicals, and liberals."

"Everything I saw only strengthened my keen sympathy for this country. During these days of our trip it became clear that I had to explain to the people of Spain in the most concise possible terms, drawing from history of course, what it meant to have been subjugated by an ideology as we in the Soviet Union had been, and give the Spanish to understand what a terrible fate they escaped in 1939. The heartless earthly faith of socialism disdains first and foremost its own country. No matter how much Spanish blood was spilled in the Civil War, Spain would have had to sacrifice twenty times more if the Reds had won. What they had had  for the last thirty-seven years years was not a dictatorship: I, with my experiences from the Soviet Union, could tell them the true meaning of dictatorship, the true meaning of Communism and the persecution of religion."  


— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in Between Two Millstones, Book I: Sketches of Exile, 1974-1978 (2018)

Monday, November 5, 2018

What Confederate Monuments Can Teach Us

The Biggest Confederate Monument of Them All 


Spanning a length of 190 feet (57.9 meters) and a height of 90 feet (27.4 meters), the Confederate Memorial Carving at Stone Mountain in the U.S. State of Georgia is the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world. 

The carving, which depicts Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was begun in 1923 and completed in 1972. 

In recent years, the gargantuan monument has become a subject of controversy, as have all Confederate monuments. 

Stacey Abrams vs. Reality 

In fact, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic Party candidate for Governor of Georgia, has gone so far as to call for the Confederate carving to be removed via sandblasting. According to Abrams, the carving is a “monument to domestic terrorism, […] a blight on our state” that was “paid for by the founders of the second Ku Klux Klan” and “had no purpose other than the celebration of racism, terror, and division when carved in 1915.” She added, “The removal of the bas-relief of Confederates from Stone Mountain has been a constant debate since the state bought the property in 1958.” 

Abrams has the facts wrong. The monument was not “carved in 1915.” It was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy circa 1915, but the work of carving the monument did not actually begin until 1923. Famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum quickly completed the head of Lee, but, in 1925, he had a dispute with the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association and withdrew from the project. Later, a newly-hired sculptor destroyed Borglum’s work and began the project from scratch. Three years later, only the head of Lee was completed, and the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association was out of money. No further work would be done on the monument until 1964. 

As a result, far from being a source of “constant debate since the state bought the property in 1958,” the Confederate carving (except for Lee’s head) did not exist when the state acquired Stone Mountain that year. Indeed, the state bought Stone Mountain specifically for the purpose of finally finishing the construction of the monument… as a response, it must be said, to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racially segregated schools unconstitutional. 

Work recommenced in 1964 and was, at long last, completed in 1972. 

As for Abrams’s description of the carving as “a monument to domestic terrorism,” it is, quite simply, bizarre. The monument does not feature Klansmen but rather three Confederate officials. One can say that the Confederate cause was fundamentally treasonous, unjust, and unjustifiable, and that it caused the nation tremendous misery and suffering. I would agree with that assessment. Nonetheless, the Confederate Army was not a terrorist organization, and to label it as such is to distort the definition of terrorism beyond recognition. 

The Ku Klux Klan, on the other hand, is indeed a domestic terrorist group, and Abrams is not incorrect in highlighting Stone Mountain’s connections with the Klan. The Daughters of the Confederacy sympathized with the Klan, and many members of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association were also members of the Klan. Indeed, the second iteration of the Klan was founded at Stone Mountain in 1915 (the original Klan having been suppressed in 1871). For half a century thereafter, the Klan held a cross-burning ceremony at Stone Mountain each Labor Day. It’s worth noting, however, that the State of Georgia barred the Klan from the property after it purchased it in 1958.

So, is the carving historically connected with racism? Yes, in that it was completed as a reaction against Brown v. Board of Education. Is the carving historically connected with the Klan? In part, in that many of its early financial backers were Klansmen.    It was not for nothing that, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” But, as I explain above, the mountain itself is far more closely connected with the Klan than is the monument on the mountain.    

Indeed, the link between the Confederate carving and the Klan is, in the final analysis, remarkably tenuous. As the chronology outlined above should make clear, during the period in which the Klan held meetings at Stone Mountain, the carving did not exist. And while the monument’s early financial backers were Klansmen, the vast majority of the monument was not built by them, but by the state government, which, though racist, deserves credit for immediately booting the Klan from the property. In other words, all Klan rallies at Stone Mountain took place at a pre-carving Stone Mountain. Since the completion of the carving, no Klan rallies have taken place at Stone Mountain. 

The Confederate carving at Stone Mountain is many things, but it is not a “monument to domestic terrorism.” Notwithstanding the pro-Klan sympathies of its creators, they were not able to build the monument. And even if they had managed to get it built, it still wouldn’t be a “monument to domestic terrorism,” for it does not depict terrorists.

The Case Against Removing the Carving and Other Confederate Monuments 

The Confederate carving’s connection to racism in general is much stronger than its connection to the Klan specifically. After all, it was completed as a reaction against the Civil Rights Movement, and it depicts leaders of the Confederacy, the cornerstone principle of which was “that the negro is not equal to the white man.” 

Even so, however, I believe that sandblasting the carving would be an extremely misguided move, for Confederate monuments like Stone Mountain can teach us many extremely important lessons, both positive and negative. 

First, Confederate monuments like Stone Mountain remind us of parts of our national story that we are not proud of… parts that cannot be neatly separated from our many points of national pride. In a similar way, Confederate monuments remind us of an alternative vision for the United States, knowledge of which is crucial to understanding the way our country developed. Third, the existence of Confederate monuments is a reminder of the virtues of magnanimity in victory and self-restraint in defeat, which were displayed by Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the conclusion of the Civil War, and which are essential for peaceful coexistence in a democracy. Finally, it is important to keep these reminders of unsavory aspects of our past out in public view, rather than hidden away in museums. 

America: The Other Side of the Coin 

The obverse and reverse of the Stone Mountain Memorial Half Dollar, a fifty-cent coin minted by the U.S. Mint in 1925. The coin was part of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association's unsuccessful efforts to raise money for the construction of the monument. 
We Americans have many reasons to be legitimately proud of our country, among them its founding promise that all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and its track record of providing opportunity for many generations of huddled masses of immigrants looking to improve their lot in life and to give their descendants a better future. 

As important as it is for us to be grateful for these positive aspects of our country, it is equally important to remember that the “good parts” of our history cannot be neatly separated from the “bad parts.” In fact, the “good parts” are interwoven with the “bad parts.” They are threads of the same fabric; they are facets of the same diamond; they are parts of the same story. 

Let me give you some examples. America has long stood out as beacon of hope and opportunity for immigrants looking to flee persecution or to better their economic position. Many immigrants have become farmers on our nation’s vast, empty, undeveloped landmass. Yet how did we acquire so much “empty land” to able to take in all the immigrants that we have taken in? What happened to the original inhabitants of all that land? What did we do to them? Well, we killed almost all of them. By the way, do you know who played a key role in this genocide? Northern heroes of the Civil War, such as Philip Sheridan and George Custer. 

Similarly, we pride ourselves in our embrace of capitalism, with all the opportunities and unprecedented material prosperity that economic system has generated. Yet, guess what was for many years a key driving force in the engine of American capitalism? Slave labor. Yes, that’s right. The domestic slave trade, the planting, harvesting, and trade of cotton, the use of cotton in the textile factories of the North… all of these things drove the American economy for decades and played their part in making the American economy one of the largest and eventually the largest in the world. 

To this day, we are reaping the benefits from the large-scale torture and murder of millions of human beings. 

I’m not suggesting that America is a bad country. It’s a great country. But it’s important to remember that the things that make America great cannot be strictly segregated from the things we as a country are not proud of. They are interconnected and have shaped one another, whether we like it or not. Keeping Confederate monuments in place can serve to remind us of this inconvenient truth.  

The Confederacy as a Vision of an Another America 

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “But how exactly is the fact that there are many dark chapters in U.S. history an argument for keeping Confederate monuments? Why not just erect monuments to Native Americans and victims of slavery?” 

This brings me to my second reason for keeping Confederate monuments: that they are reminders of an alternative way of looking at the United States. The Civil War happened because of slavery. Not solely because of slavery, but slavery was the spark that set off the fuse. Whenever somebody tells you that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, don’t believe them. They’re lying. The Civil War had everything to do with slavery. But slavery had everything to do with other issues, which therefore must also be regarded as causes of the war. The debate over slavery was closely interconnected with debates over such issues as free trade vs. tariffs, agrarianism vs. industrialism, states’ rights vs. a strong federal government, or a voluntary Union of independent states vs. one indivisible nation. Yes, Confederate soldiers were fighting to preserve slavery, but they were also fighting for other values that were near and dear to their hearts. Many of them didn’t even own slaves. Who are we to tear down monuments to people who fought bravely and gave their lives for what they believed in?

The Virtues of Appomattox 


Furthermore, although it is clear that the Confederate cause was wrong due to its defense of slavery, I believe that the fact that Confederate monuments exist serves as a reminder of two important principles: magnanimity in victory and self-restraint in defeat. In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln had said that he wanted a peace “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” 

When Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army, surrendered, Ulysses S. Grant, the commander of the Union Army, acted in accordance with Lincoln’s wishes. 

In his memoirs, Grant reflected that when he saw Lee and other defeated Confederates at the surrender ceremony, he “felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much.” He felt empathy for his defeated foes even though he rightly regarded the Confederate cause as “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” 

Accordingly, Grant allowed the defeated Confederate soldiers to keep their horses, because he realized that they needed the horses to help them plant enough crops to feed their families through the winter. Knowing that Lee’s soldiers were starving, Grant gave them food he had captured from their own trains. When his men began to cheer over Lee’s surrender, Grant ordered them to quiet down, saying, “The war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again.” 

For his part, Lee showed respect to Grant by wearing his best uniform to the surrender ceremony. Moreover, he urged his soldiers to “go home and be good Americans.” 

It must have been hard for Grant and Lee to be so respectful of one another, after their respective armies had spent four years fighting each other to the death. Surely Grant resented the pain the Confederates had caused the nation with their attempt to secede. Surely Lee resented the destruction the Union wrought throughout much of the South in its campaign of total warfare. 

Yet both men were able to put their feelings aside for the sake of the greater good of their country. 

That kind of selfless patriotism is essential for the survival of democracy. We could all stand to learn from the example of Grant and Lee. Like those two great generals, we should courageously fight for what we believe in, but also respect our opponents. Like Grant, we should treat our opponents generously when we win. Like Lee, we should accept defeat with grace and dignity. For without these noble attitudes, government of, by, and for the people cannot long endure.  

President William Howard Taft was absolutely correct when he praised “the magnanimity and farsightedness of Grant” and “the self-restraint and courage and farsighted patriotism — for that it was — on the the part of Lee in bringing the struggle to a close.” 

No only do monuments like Stone Mountain serve as reminders of the good qualities of Lee, they also remind us of the generous spirit of Lincoln and Grant. 

Many proponents of removing Confederate monuments ask, “Since when does the losing side of a war get to put up monuments?” I agree that the existence of monuments to the losing side of a war is remarkable. Rather than tear them down in an orgy of triumphalism, however, it think it is more productive to appreciate Confederate monuments as a testament to the power of Lincoln’s and Grant’s generous spirit, and of Lee’s gentlemanly, stoic acceptance of his defeat. 

Instead of self-righteously preening about how morally superior we are to earlier generations of Americans, let’s instead reinterpret Confederate monuments as reflections of the strength of our democracy… strength which is directly proportional to the degree to which we emulate the example of Lincoln, Grant, and Lee. 

Why Not Just Put Them in Museums? 

Some would argue that Confederate monuments like Stone Mountain were built in large part to remind African-Americans of what “their place” in society was, and that today they serve as an uncomfortable reminder of slavery and Jim Crow. This is undeniably true. Yet why shouldn’t Confederate monuments stand as reminders of this history? As reminders of where we have been as a nation, of the gargantuan challenge the activists of the Civil Rights Movement faced, of the progress we have made, and, perhaps, of the progress we have yet to make? 

In reply to this point, proponents of removing Confederate monuments will argue that such monuments should be placed in museums. 

To this, my response is, “Really?”

My dear reader, when is the last time you visited a museum? How often do you visit museums? What percentage of the population do you think visits museums?  

In my estimation, putting a monument in a museum is no way to promote a healthy dialogue about our country’s past, present, and future. It is, however, a very effective way to hide something. To keep it out of sight and therefore out of mind. How are you going to get people of all races and social classes to think about the ramifications of our nation’s fascinating and complex history without the presence of controversial monuments where the people are?  

Yes, Let Freedom Ring from Stone Mountain

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a bell-ringing ceremony was held at Stone Mountain, to evoke King’s call for freedom to ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. In light of all I have said, isn’t that a much better way to acknowledge Stone Mountain’s past, celebrate our much better present, and hope for an even brighter future than by sandblasting the Confederate carving off of the mountain, as if it had never existed? 

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Thanks Franco Got


Regardless of whether or not the Second Vatican Council rejected the legitimacy of Catholic states, it is clear that, beginning with Vatican II, the Church increasingly tended to distance itself from the concept of Catholic states in general and from the Franco regime in particular. For instance, Jacques Maritain, a French Catholic intellectual, was a close friend of Pope Paul VI. As a Christian Democrat, Maritain opposed Catholic states. 

Paul VI himself was visibly hostile to the Franco regime. In 1969, for instance, he seemed to make a point of publicly insulting the regime. He said that he was "worried" about Spain, for which he wished "an orderly and peaceful progress with intelligent valor in the promotion of social justice." These words bothered Spanish leaders, for, as historian Pío Moa writes, "If there was anything regime leaders took pride in, it was that they had achieved 'an orderly and peaceful progress' with more social justice than ever before, by following Catholic doctrine to boot." 

Beginning in the 1960s, many sectors in the Church began to publicly diverge from the regime, and even to reach out to the communist and separatist opposition. For example, Barcelona's Democratic Syndicate of Students, a communist union, was founded in a Capuchin convent. 

In 1971, an assembly of clergymen in Madrid declared, "We ask forgiveness, for we failed to be true agents of reconciliation among our people, divided by a fratricidal war." This may seem like an innocuous or even benign statement at first glance, but Moa masterfully deconstructs it. 

“First of all,” he writes, “the declaration placed the persecutors and the saviors of the Church on the same plane. Moreover, the clergy didn’t specify whom they were asking for forgiveness, but it could not logically have been those who had saved the Church from extermination. Therefore, the petition could only have been addressed to the persecutors. The clergy were begging their would-be executioners for forgiveness. Meanwhile, they demeaned and insulted the thousands of clerical victims who had perished. In many cases, despite being brutally tortured, these victims forgave their killers. But to the clergy of the 1970s, these martyrs had “failed to be true agents of reconciliation. […] Also significant is the adoption by these clergymen of the communist slogan of ‘national reconciliation.’ Obviously, they envisioned reconciliation with the communists, and the opposite with the Francoists. It was not for nothing that [Communist leader Santiago] Carrillo had spoken of achieving communism by allying the cross with the hammer and sickle.” 

Churchmen also tried to build bridges with separatists. For instance, in 1974, the Bishop of Bilbao caused quite a stir when he gave a homily in which he adopted separatist rhetoric (such as his use of the term "Spanish state" instead of "Spain") and even, arguably, appeared to publicly call for the independence of the Basque Country. "The Basque people," he said, "have unique characteristics, including their ancient language. These traits give them a specific identity among the various peoples that constitute the Spanish state. The Basque people have the right to preserve their spiritual patrimony, without detriment to a healthy interchange with neighboring peoples within a sociopolitical organization that recognizes their freedom." 

This homily came only two months after the assassination of Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco by the Basque terrorist group ETA. The speech and the timing thereof so irritated the Spanish government that it seriously considered breaking diplomatic relations with the Vatican, but Franco himself blocked any such move. Franco believed the conflict between the state and the church would be resolved in time with patience, and that, in any case, the Church was eternal, whereas all political regimes, including his own, were transitory. In short, even if Vatican II in itself did not undermine the Franco regime, there was a clear tendency toward liberalization in the Church (not to mention in society at large) that did indeed undermine the regime. 
________________________________

Suggested Readings: 

Moa, Pío. Los mitos del franquismo. Madrid: La Esfera de los Libros, 2015. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

"The Temporal Church is One Thing..."


Today, we learned that the Vatican does not oppose the exhumation of Franco from the Valley of the Fallen. Yesterday, Madrid Archbishop Carlos Osoro stated that he does not want Franco to be reburied at the Almudena Cathedral, where the Franco family has requested that he be reburied in the event that his remains are removed from the Valley and where his daughter Carmen Franco y Polo (who passed away last year at the age of 91) is buried.

In light of this troubling news, it's worth reflecting on how Franco viewed the Catholic Church in the last years of his life. Under Pope Paul VI, the Church was remarkably hostile to the regime that had saved it from an attempted Marxist revolution during the 1930s. Nothing new under the sun, evidently.

Fortunately, we do have some insight into what how Franco coped with the Church's ingratitude.

In 1976, a few months after the death of General Franco, his daughter conceded an interview with Alfonso Paso for the pro-Franco newspaper El Alcázar. The relevant excerpt is translated into English and reproduced below: 

"Paso: How did your father react to the attitude of the Pope? 

Franco y Polo: It didn't affect him too much. He had a very broad, spiritual conception of religion, which he always segregated from the politics of the Vatican. Some friends, some people would vent to him about the attitude of the Church. Typically, he would very briefly reply, 'The temporal Church is one thing. God and religion are another.'

Friday, October 26, 2018

Humanism


Image from thesaker.is.
"As modern intellectuals disapprove of patriotism, a strange coldness and unreality hang over their love of men. If you ask them if they love humanity, they will unhesitatingly reply in the affirmative. But if you ask them about the classes that make up humanity, you will find that they hate them all. They hate kings, they hate priests, they hate soldiers, they hate sailors, they distrust men of science, they denounce the middle class, they disdain the working class, but they love humanity. They always speak of humanity as if it were a strange foreign land. They are progressively separating themselves from men in order to praise the exotic race of humanity. In their effort to be humanists, they are ceasing to be human." 

— G. K. Chesterton, in "The Patriotic Idea," 1904. 
(Special thanks to the Portuguese Veritatis blog for sharing this quotation, which I liked so much that I decided to translate it back into English and share it on my own blog.)    

Monday, October 22, 2018

Solzhenitsyn on the Valley of the Fallen


"The following morning we were driven through Madrid's university town (etched so firmly in our memories since 1937, though now there is no trace left of all the trenches), then to the Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen, where many victims of the Civil War are buried beneath a single solemn shrine, without distinction as to which side they had fought on, regular Masses still being held above the dead. (On the day we visited there was a special Mass, it having been five months since the day General Franco had died. The large church was full.) 

This equality of both sides, the equality before God of the fallen, made a profound impression on me. This is the result of the Christian side having won the war! Back home, Satan's side had won, and for sixty years had been trampling and spitting on the other side, nobody uttering so much as a syllable about the equality of the dead." 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in Between Two Millstones, Book I: Sketches of Exile, 1974-1978 (2018)