Wednesday, June 4, 2014

George Weigel on Courage

The Denver Catholic Register does not permit comments to George Weigel's recent column on its own site, so I make my comment here.

First of all, I have no excuse for following the link that led me to his column.  I had never heard of George Weigel until he wrote his biography of then Pope, now Saint John Paul II, but my impression is that I can only agree with about one third of what he has written since then.  He was actually invoked by some hawkish Catholics -- or perhaps more accurately, Catholic hawks -- as an authority whose promotion of the US military adventure in Iraq somehow balanced the opposition of John Paul II (and Benedict XVI) to that war.  Unfortunately, this has been all too typical of Weigel. 

The column in question is thus not unexpected.

As a rule, of course, comparisons to Hitler or to Nazi Germany are not the mark of a well-reasoned argument, since the Nazis are apparently the only current universal representation of real evil.  Remember the hubbub when Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi for a costume party?  There would have been no such outcry if he had dressed as a pirate, or as Nero, or even as Satan himself.  A comparison to Hitler, such as that insinuated by Weigel, is not intended to further an argument, but to shut the argument down. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, when applied to a world leader, a comparison to Hitler can mean only two things.

  1. Do not attempt to reason or negotiate.  Reason is futile, because you are dealing with absolute evil.  Negotiation shows that you are weak -- you don't really want to be another Neville Chamberlain, do you?
  2. The war must continue until "Hitler" surrenders unconditionally -- no matter how many lives it costs.
But Russia is still a superpower.  In the not-so-veiled language the US likes to trot out so often, they won't rule anything in or anything out when it comes to defending themselves.  Weigel is no spring chicken; he is old enough to remember the Cold War, even if he is not wise enough to be grateful for having survived it.

There are certain more specific reasons that Weigel should "not go there" with the Nazi comparisons. 
  • Many Nazis thought that the Western Powers -- mostly the British Empire and USA -- would "see the light" and join Germany in a united struggle against Russia.  Well into the war, von Ribbentrop felt sure they would; Rudolf Hess took it upon himself to try to negotiate such a deal; and even at the very end, Himmler flirted with the idea.  It didn't happen then.   What does Weigel want?  The UK, US, and Germany to unite in a struggle against Russia.  Don't think no one has noticed the parallel.
  • I'm sure it's not polite to mention it these days, but there are some uncomfortable parts of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that Weigel supports that make the comparison ... ironic.
  • Among the many groups that the Nazis persecuted was the Catholic Church.  However, when we carefully explain that 
    • although Hitler and Himmler were baptized Catholics, they radically broke from the Church and were in no way living out Catholic ideals;
    • although Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was briefly in the Hitler Youth, this was under compulsion, and he and his family were firmly anti-Nazi;
    • the concordat with Nazi Germany was a practical matter and in no way whatsoever an endorsement of Nazi ideas or actions;
    • although some bishops sympathized with the Nazis (such as Archbishop Šarić) and some helped Nazis escape after the war (such as Bishop Hudal), they acted according to their own delusions and without the blessing of the Church -- when we as Catholics have to explain these things, and we hope that people will look calmly and without prejudice at the evidence, it is very unseemly to make rash and superficial accusations that someone we may not like is somehow "just like Hitler".

And now to Weigel's take on courage, which is after all what the title of this post promises.  Weigel actually starts his column by mentioning the incredible carnage that servicemen faced on D-Day, both in reality and as portrayed in the movies.  Unbelievably, he then transitions to, "... the courage displayed on D-Day was preceded by the courage displayed before D-Day: the courage of decision-makers charged with defeating Nazi barbarism, who did not shirk their duty but shouldered the burden of leadership."  Ah, yes.  Because it really takes as much courage to risk a frown from FDR or a raised eyebrow from Churchill as it does to charge a beach covered by enemy machine guns in pillboxes that have already withstood the naval bombardment.  To risk being reassigned to a less prestigious staff position, that is real courage!  Please.  George Marshall, to whom he applied the statement, would be shocked at and embarrassed by such a suggestion.  Patton would simply have slapped Weigel, and this slap would no doubt be remembered alongside the punch of St. Nicholas as a fully justified blow.

No comments:

Post a Comment