benevolence only makes things worse — 10/27/15

Today’s selection — from Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by Edward J. Renehan Jr.  The miraculous gains of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s brought untold new wealth to western societies, but simultaneously brought a new type of poverty and disruption among workers — equally unprecedented in its scale.

“The first few decades of the nineteenth century were a largely cynical and callous time in American history — a period of institutionalized harshness. It was in 1817 that a group of prominent New York merchants and professionals (many once having been the principal supports of such institutions as the New York Hospital and other worthy causes) officially and publicly began to rethink their charitable habits. Such previously generous philanthropists as DeWitt Clinton (now governor of the state), Thomas Eddy, and John Griscom took their cue in this from British reformers. In so doing, they succumbed to the rhetoric of several hard-nosed British social thinkers, most notably Thomas Robert Malthus, Jeremy Bentham, and the Scottish conservative Patrick Colquhoun.

“Twenty years earlier, all three of those gentleman had been instrumental in the founding of the London Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. Despite the burden of its long-winded name, the London Society did not distribute charity but specialized in cutting off funds for social welfare. Malthus, Bentham, and Colquhoun believed that a distinct line must be drawn between the ‘deserving poor’ (those facing hard times as a result of unfortunate histories) and ‘undeserving paupers,’ namely, the drunk, the lazy, and the whorish members of society for whom aid was considered a reprehensible act of facilitation. Another key underpinning the London Society’s logic was the presumption (for lack of a more accurate term) that paupers outnumbered the deserving poor by a factor of about nine to one. In reform meetings and from church pulpits, politicians and clerics repeatedly cited this astonishing though unverifiable statistic, which soon became accepted as fact. In time, the public mind became convinced that a mere 10 percent of London’s poor were the crippled and the orphaned, while 90 percent were degenerates. For every one person in London’s slums who genuinely needed aid, popular wisdom said there were nine who required something else entirely: intolerance, punishment, and correction. As a corollary to this line of thinking, logic dictated that 90 percent of the charitable aid previously offered was superfluous. In turn, wallets closed.

A group of children at Crumpsall Workhouse_ 1895_97

“For decades the London Society remained influential in the development and spread of such institutions as workhouses and debtors prisons. It was also influential, through its example, in New York and other American cities. By the end of 1817, Clinton, Eddy, and Griscom, joined by hundreds of other New Yorkers, had formed a clone organization on the banks of the Hudson: the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism (SPP).

“Several months before the founding of the SPP, New York’s Humane Society forlornly announced the startling result of recent research: no less than 15,000 men, women, and children — the equivalent of one-seventh of the city’s population — had been ‘supported by public or private bounty and munificence’ the previous winter. Historians Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace have eloquently described the SPP’s point of view, expressed in response to the above data. In the London Society’s grand tradition, the SPP said it believed that ‘willy-nilly benevolence’ only made things worse. ‘Giving alms to the undeserving poor not only undermined their independence but also drove up taxes and sapped the prosperity of the entire community.’ Thus, ‘for their good as well as everyone else’s … the SPP recommended that all paupers in the city be cut off from all public assistance forthwith.’ Soon the Humane Society itself announced its intention to disband in the wake of its realization that the very act of giving charity had ‘a direct tendency to beget, among [the citizenry] habits of imprudence, indolence, dissipation and consequent pauperism.’

” ‘Tough love’ was in. Cruelty equaled kindness. Frugality equaled generosity. And all three were not only cheap, but easy.”

Author: Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2007 by Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Pages 48-49
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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.


Why we need Israel

Why we need Israel

The coming US veto of a UN Security Council measure on Palestinian statehood this week raises the question, once again, of why the United States needs to stick its neck out to help Israel. Many forget that America’s pro-Israel policy advances vital practical and strategic goals.

The United States has always looked to Israel as a monument of democracy and stability in a region where’s there’s been little of either; uncertainties in the wake of the Arab Spring only add to that value.

Even the fiercest critics of our pro-Israel policy concede that we get invaluable intelligence from its matchless espionage service, the Mossad. Israelis know more about fighting terrorism than anyone else and have top human-intelligence sources in every country in the Middle East — something our CIA only dreams about. Since 9/11, the Israelis have not only helped us detect and run down networks like al Qaeda but also kept us intimately informed of the spreading nuclear-arms race in the Muslim world.

But what many Americans don’t appreciate is how the 150,000 active-duty and half-million reservists of the Israeli military have been our frontline of defense in conflicts in the past — and will be the tripwire for threats in the future.

Israel pioneered the hostage-rescue mission with its daring raid at Entebbe Airport in 1976. It pioneered the use of unmanned drones to knock out Soviet-built anti-aircraft systems in the ’80s and showed how to use our TOW guided munitions to smash massed Soviet tank attacks. When Israeli jets took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear-weapons program in 1981 and did the same to Syria’s budding nuclear facilities in 2007, they not only bought Israel time against gathering threats but also the rest of the world.

When Iran reaches its nuclear tipping point, the Israeli air force may have to do a repeat performance, at considerable cost in pilots’ lives and international outrage — and again saving Washington from having to confront a dangerous strategic challenge.

All in all, that’s a pretty fair return on a $2.5 billion annual investment, in contrast to the billions we’ve poured out to such far less helpful countries as Egypt or Pakistan — not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, the value of the Israeli military to American interests goes deeper. Its joint ventures with the US military have been essential in developing such high-tech weaponry as missiles, drones and Tactical High Energy Laser systems. Israel’s defense industry excels in the kind of innovation, creativity and efficient just-in-time delivery that’s too often missing from our own megadefense contractors and keeps both them and us on the leading edge of military technologies.

Just as our Patriot batteries protected Israel during the first Gulf War, so may Israel’s new tested “Iron Dome” anti-missile system be the shield that protects American cities from rogue-nation and terrorist missile threats in the future.

By the way, that innovation and creativity go far beyond the defense industry. Israel’s growth rate consistently outperforms bigger developed nations; its per-capita capital investment is 2.5 times bigger than America’s — and 80 times China’s.

Israel is now the Start-Up Nation, a major crucible of innovative companies and breakthrough industries, from microchip design to medical technology to software and network algorithms. Israeli companies supply Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and others with key technology.

So who needs Israel? We do. Our military and defense industries and even our biggest high-tech companies all depend on a strong and independent Israel.

The forces of darkness are gathering, both in the United Nations and the Middle East. If we abandon Israel now, it would be worse than a crime. To paraphrase the French diplomat Talleyrand, it’d be our worst national blunder since Vietnam.

Arthur Herman is an American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar.

Why Would Anyone Miss War?

A Marine waits to take psychological tests at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. CreditJae C. Hong/Associated Press

SEVERAL years ago I spent time with a platoon of Army infantry at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan, and after the deployment I was surprised that only one of the soldiers chose to leave the military at the end of his contract; many others re-upped and eventually went on to fight for another year in the same area. The soldier who got out, Brendan O’Byrne, remained a good friend of mine as he struggled to fit in to civilian life back home.

About a year later I invited Brendan to a dinner party, and a woman asked him if he missed anything at all about life at the outpost. It was a good question: the platoon had endured a year without Internet, running water or hot food and had been in more combat than almost any platoon in the United States military. By any measure it was hell, but Brendan didn’t hesitate: “Ma’am,” he said, “I miss almost all of it.”

Civilians are often confused, if not appalled, by that answer. The idea that a psychologically healthy person could miss war seems an affront to the idea that war is evil. Combat is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but a fully human reaction is far more complex than that. If we civilians don’t understand that complexity, we won’t do a very good job of bringing these people home and making a place for them in our society.

My understanding of that truth came partly from my own time in Afghanistan and partly from my conversations with a Vietnam veteran named Karl Marlantes, who wrote about his experiences in a devastating novel called “Matterhorn.” Some time after I met Karl, a woman asked me why soldiers “compartmentalize” the experience of war, and I answered as I imagined Karl might have: because society does. We avoid any direct look at the reality of war. And both sides of the political spectrum indulge in this; liberals tend to be scandalized that war can be tremendously alluring to young men, and conservatives rarely acknowledge that war kills far more innocent people than guilty ones. Soldiers understand both of these things but don’t know how to talk about them when met with blank stares from friends and family back home.

“For a while I started thinking that God hated me because I had sinned,” Brendan told me after he got back from Afghanistan. “Everyone tells you that you did what you had to do, and I just hate that comment because I didn’t have to do any of it. I didn’t have to join the Army; I didn’t have to become airborne infantry. But I did. And that comment — ‘You did what you had to do’ — just drives me insane. Because is that what God’s going to say — ‘You did what you had to do? Welcome to heaven?’ I don’t think so.”

If society were willing to acknowledge the very real horrors of war — even a just war, as I believe some are — then men like Brendan would not have to struggle with the gap between their world view and ours. Every year on the anniversary of D-Day, for example, we acknowledge the heroism and sacrifice of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy. But for a full and honest understanding of that war, we must also remember the firebombing of Dresden, Frankfurt and Hamburg that killed as many as 100,000 Germans, as well as both conventional and nuclear strikes against Japan that killed hundreds of thousands more.

Photographs taken after allied air raids in Germany show piles of bodies 10 or 15 feet high being soaked in gasoline for burning. At first you think you’re looking at images from Nazi concentration camps, but you’re not — you’re looking at people we killed.

I am in no way questioning the strategic necessity of those actions; frankly, few of us are qualified to do so after so much time. I am simply pointing out that if we as a nation avoid coming to terms with events like these, the airmen who drop the bombs have a much harder time coming to terms with them as individuals. And they bear almost all the psychic harm.

Change history a bit, however, and imagine those men coming back after World War II to a country that has collectively taken responsibility for the decision to firebomb German cities. (Firebombing inflicted mass civilian casualties and nearly wiped out cities.) This would be no admission of wrongdoing — many wars, like Afghanistan and World War II, were triggered by attacks against us. It would simply be a way to commemorate the loss of life, as one might after a terrible earthquake or a flood. Imagine how much better the bomber crews of World War II might have handled their confusion and grief if the entire country had been struggling with those same feelings. Imagine how much better they might have fared if there had been a monument for them to visit that commemorated all the people they were ordered to kill.

At first, such a monument might be controversial — but so was the Vietnam memorial on the Mall in Washington. Eventually, however, that memorial proved to be extremely therapeutic for veterans struggling with feelings of guilt and loss after the war.

Every war kills civilians, and thankfully our military now goes to great lengths to keep those deaths to a minimum. Personally, I believe that our involvement in Afghanistan has saved far more civilian lives than it has cost. I was there in the 1990s; I know how horrific that civil war was. But that knowledge is of faint comfort to the American soldiers I know who mistakenly emptied their rifles into a truck full of civilians because they thought they were about to be blown up. A monument to the civilian dead of Iraq and Afghanistan would not only provide comfort to these young men but also signal to the world that our nation understands the costs of war.

It doesn’t matter that most civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were caused by insurgent attacks; if our soldiers died for freedom there — as presidents are fond of saying — then those people did as well. They, too, are among the casualties of 9/11. Nearly a decade after that terrible day, what a powerful message we would send to the world by honoring those deaths with our grief.

churchill and the taliban — 8/18/14 is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. 

Today’s selection — from Chuchill’s First War by Con Coughlin. The irresistible juxtaposition of young Winston Churchill and the Taliban:

“When the young Winston Churchill arrived at the North-West Frontier of the Indian Empire in the early autumn of 1897 he very quickly formed a low opinion of the Taliban. In Churchill’s day, the great-great-grandfathers of those who created the modern Taliban movement were known as the Talib-ul-ilms, a motley collection of indigent holy men who lived off the goodwill and hospitality of the local Afghan tribes and preached insurrection against the British Empire. To Churchill’s mind, these Talibs were, together with other local priestly figures such as the mullahs and fakirs, primarily responsible for the wretched condition of the local Afghan tribesfolk and their violent indisposition to foreign rule. In Churchill’s view they were ‘as degraded a race as any on the fringe of humanity: fierce as a tiger, but less cleanly; as dangerous, not so graceful’. He blamed the Talibs for the Afghans’ lamentable absence of civilized development, keeping them in the ‘grip of miserable superstition’. Churchill was particularly repelled by the Talibs’ loose moral conduct. They lived free at the expense of the people and, ‘more than this, they enjoy a sort of “droit de seigneur“, and no man’s wife or daughter is safe from them. Of some of their manners and morals it is impossible to write.’ 

Winston Churchill, aged 19, as a second lieutenant in the Fourth Queen’s Own Hussars

“Churchill saw the conflict in even more apocalyptic terms when he published his first newspaper article on his experiences as a young British soldier locked in mortal combat with these fearsome Afghan tribesmen. ‘Civilisation is face to face with militant Mohammedism,’ he wrote. He entertained no doubts as to the conflict’s ultimate outcome for, given the ‘moral and material forces arrayed against each other, there need be no fear of the ultimate issue’. Even so, he lamented the warlike nature of the tribes who inhabited the mountainous no-man’s land between Afghanistan to the north and British India to the south. Many tribes, the majority of them Pashtuns, lived in the wild but wealthy valleys that led from Afghanistan to India, but they were all of similar character and condition. Except when they were sowing or harvesting their crops, Churchill observed that a continual state of feud and strife prevailed throughout the land. ‘Tribe wars with tribe. The people of one valley fight with those of the next. To the quarrels of communities are added the combats of individuals. Khan assails khan, each supported by his retainers. Every tribesman has a blood feud against his neighbour. Every man’s hand is against the other, and all are against the stranger.’ More than a hundred years later, when a new generation of Western soldiers deployed to Central Asia, they found that little had changed in the way the tribes of the Afghan frontier conducted themselves.

“In criticizing some of the Talibs’ more depraved practices, Churchill conveniently overlooked the conduct of his own social milieu back in London, which could hardly be described as a cradle of virtuous rectitude. The loose moral values observed in certain upper-class circles of late-Victorian England were most famously embodied by the louche conduct of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. A close family friend of the Churchills, ‘Bertie’ entertained a string of mistresses; one of his conquests was said to be Winston’s mother Jennie, the wife of the Tory peer Lord Randolph Churchill and a notable society beauty. The American-born Jennie is credited with having had more than two hundred lovers of her own and was susceptible to the charms of young Guards officers who were barely older than Winston.”

Churchill’s First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans

Author: Con Coughlin 
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press
Copyright 2013 by Con Coughlin
Pages: 1-2

Declaration of Independance (Extract)

On some level, I believe Thomas Jefferson was writing this for future generations, and not just those of America. The words of this document resonate even today, and I feel the reality of the atrocities described as I read every word. Jefferson and his contemporaries were given the unique opportunity to overthrow an Old World regime and establish something new and lasting. I believe they succeeded, and many nations have adopted similar governments.

Recent world events, including those in Crimea and the Middle East, speak volumes to the necessity and benefits of independent states. Citizens of all nations must consider if we truly appreciate freedom and what we plan to do with it or how to achieve it.

Declaration of Independance (Extract)

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes….

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world…. He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries…. He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power…. For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: For imposing taxes on us without our consent: For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury….

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people…. We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.