The Long View: The Last Crusade

This is not a review of the third Indiana Jones movie of the same name, but rather of a recent history of the Spanish Civil War by Warren Carroll of Christendom College. Carroll is a partisan of the Carlists, one of the factions that made up the Nationalist side In that war. Carroll does his best to paint the Carlists in the best possible light, but that war was just too awful to be edifying.

The Carlists are among the great losers of modernity. Not only did they never even come close to restoring their preferred successor to the Spanish throne, but they found themselves a junior partner in the rightist coalition that won the Spanish Civil War, without much influence during or after the conflict. The Carlists still exist as a party in Spanish politics, but without much success.

In his now alternative history, the CoDominium, Jerry Pournelle used interstellar migration as a safety valve that allowed the malcontents and the dispossessed to escape their failures on Earth. The Carlists were among these, and in the short story, His Truth Goes Marching On, Pournelle revisits the Spanish Civil War as future history. Written in 1975, but set in 2077, this story exhibits the curious stasis of the twentieth century. In some ways, nothing of importance really changed in the twentieth century. The same ideological conflicts were fought out again and again, without an enduring resolution. Thus when the Bureau of Relocation starts dumping the Earth's poor and unwanted on the Carlists to buy more time for Earth to avoid revolution, the same right/left traditional/progressive conflict is setup that happened in Spain in the 1930s. It seemed plausible in 1975, and it still seems plausible in 2015. We are still reading from the same script, after all this time.

The Last Crusade
by Warren H. Carroll
Christendom Press, 1996
$7.95, 232 Pages
ISBN: 0-931888-67-0
"There are no neutral books on the history of the Spanish Civil War," Warren Carroll tells us in his Introduction to this brief treatment of the subject. His book is, as he promises, certainly no exception. Carroll is the founder and former president of Christendom College of Front Royal, Virginia, one of the more successful of the small liberal arts institutions founded in the past quarter century to promote Great Books and conservative Catholicism. He is the author of numerous works on twentieth century politics and church history, including the only modern account of the Monophysite controversy in my experience to exhibit real partisan heat. Perhaps predictably, whatever sympathy he has for the Republic is easily restrained.
Nevertheless, it would be too simple to describe this book as pro-Nationalist. The insurgents in the Spanish Civil War, like the supporters of the government they were fighting, comprised several major factions, from genuine fascists to traditionalist monarchists. Carroll is partisan for a division of the latter called the Carlists, who were chiefly based in the province of Navarra in northern Spain. The losers in another, far less devastating civil war sixty years before, the Carlists combined support for an improbable pretender to the Spanish throne (vacant in any case since the founding of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931) with what appears to have been a Catholic integralist approach to social theory.
At a popular level, opposition to the Republic was in large part a reaction to the regime's anti-religious policies. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, outrage over the Republican government's indifference to the freelance church-burning and priest-shooting by radical socialist factions that broke out after the murky election results of 1936). This was the sort of sentiment which the Carlists were well-placed to organize. However, though the movement contributed elements of the Nationalist program both during and after the war, they were never in any position to dictate policy, much to Carroll's chagrin.
The book is most concerned with the first six months, from the raggedly-executed coup by the Nationalist generals in July of 1936 to the successful defense of Madrid in November and December by Republican forces. While the latter was, of course, a notable defeat for the Nationalists, Carroll's book does not read that way. The narrative is built around the siege of the Nationalist garrison in the Alcazar citadel of Toledo and its relief by Franco's forces, apparently just in the nick of time. The diversion of those forces to Toledo is sometimes credited with losing the Nationalists the battle of Madrid. The advantage to telling the story from the garrison's point of view is that few participants in war make such sympathetic subjects as people under siege. In any case, the rescue of the garrison did a great deal for Nationalist morale.
Partisan historical accounts like this are often valuable. Carroll evinces a quite literal take-no-prisoners attitude, which may do more to illustrate the spirit of both sides to the conflict than an extended discussion of its merits would have. Besides, partisans know things you would not otherwise hear about. It was news to me, for instance, that Franco was flown from the Canary Islands to take charge of the insurgent army in Spanish Morocco by an English plane and pilot, arranged through the good offices of English Catholics. I was also surprised to learn that the Vatican did not recognize the Nationalist government until August of 1937, despite the fact the Republicans murdered 12% of the total number of Spanish clergy. The delay was due to the fact the Church had not been suppressed in the Basque provinces of the Republic, and the Vatican was leaving its options open until the Nationalists conquered them.
It is remarkable to read an account of societal collapse in the 1930s that does not mention the economic depression. More specifically, it is remarkable to read an account of the Spanish Civil War that does not mention Guernica. Still, the book is not pure propaganda, since it does cite facts contrary to its thesis. Carroll characterizes the war as, literally, a crusade, and takes every opportunity to recall the 700-year long Spanish Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. Nevertheless, he does not conceal the fact the army that Franco led to the relief of the crusaders at Alcazar was largely a Moorish force. Well, Carroll observes, these were pious Muslims.
Carroll's theological approach to the war actually makes it difficult for him to critique the Republican side coherently. The whole of it appears to him as a uniform blackness of apostasy and malice, every part of which merits condemnation equally. While it is true that the Republic seems, on the whole, to have been a pretty creepy polity, still distinctions should be made. The most ferocious and least defensible elements on the Republican side (to the extent they were on anybody's side) were the anarchists. They were chiefly responsible for the wave of murder and arson that moved the Right to revolt in the first place, and they maintained a reign of terror in the areas they controlled until their suppression by other elements on the Left. The same fate befell the Marxist but non-Stalinist POUM party, whose persecution by the Communist Party in communion with Moscow seems to have simply emulated the purges going on in the Soviet Union at the same time. There were moderate socialists, though their organizations were so infiltrated by the Comintern agents and sympathizers that their independence was in fact nominal. (The Socialist and Communist youth groups, for example, merged three months before the war broke out.) Supporters of parliamentary democracy were present, but futile and anachronistic.
The Republican government itself, if by that you mean the premier and the cabinet, was a nominal affair throughout the war, whose actual conduct was in the hands of individual ministers and political factions. While it is reasonably clear that the Communist Party controlled the conduct of the war after the International Brigades played such a signal role in the defense of Madrid in late 1936, the argument is still made that the regime as a whole was not Communist in character until at least that point. If that is the case, then it was a government not under effective communist control that shipped most of Spain's considerable gold reserves to the Soviet Union in October of that year, never to be seen again. Maybe they were just stupid.
Despite Carroll's best efforts, there is nothing edifying about the Spanish Civil War, either with regard to its conduct or its outcome. Franco's government continued shooting people until 1959 for their support of the Republic. Of course, there would have been nothing edifying about it had the other side won, either. Whatever you can say about the Spanish Left, they were certainly no less relentless and vindictive than their Rightist opponents. Furthermore, a leftist regime in Spain might have given the Germans all the incentive they needed to invade the country when they were through with France. The British would have lost Gibraltar, which might have lost them the Mediterranean, which would probably have lost the Allies the war. The actual Crusades so beloved by Carroll did not lack for atrocity and cruelty, but they still had many positive aspects. Regarding the Spanish catastrophe of 1936 to 1939, however, all you can say is that the less bad side won.
This article originally appeared in the September 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information:
Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: If the Loyalists Had Won the Spanish Civil War

Orwell with POUM

Orwell with POUM

Here the first of three essays by John on the Spanish Civil War, covering both the history, and the alternative history of an in-edifying episode in a terrible century. That war was was the trial run for World War II, and perhaps in a way even the Cold War. In the near term, the two sides aligned clearly with the Fascists and the Communists, but the coalitions on both sides offered enough of an appearance of political breadth that almost everyone felt like they identified with a side. Even now, there are no impartial accounts of the war. There were just too many awful things, done by both sides, and in the full view of the international press, providing endless opportunities for axe-grinding and score-settling.

The Republicans won an early and enduring victory in the propaganda war in the English speaking world. The Republicans cast the Nationalists as reactionary and backward, and the progressive press in the West amplified this theme. Writers and journalists clearly favored the Republican cause, and some of them, such as George Orwell, would lend more than their pens to the cause. For Orwell, firsthand experience with Stalinist purges tempered his enthusiasm for the cause, but others such as Earnest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn would become lifelong partisans of the Republicans, their struggle rendered inexpressibly romantic by defeat.

The impression the Republicans made on the Western intelligentsia probably contributed to the glamour the Soviets enjoyed both during and after WWII. At the time, the Soviet Union really did seem like the wave of the future, and many of the best and brightest in the West were open advocates for the Soviets. This kind of environment facilitated the formation of networks of Soviet spies, especially in the United States and England. Some of these spies, like Ted Hall or Kim Philby, were we placed to steal valuable secrets. Many others, like Hemingway, were just dilettantes.

The preference of the press for the Republican side probably helped give the Soviets an advantage in the Cold War, but what if the propaganda had been even more successful? Despite the support of the Italians and the Germans for Franco's Nationalists, Franco chose to stay neutral in World War II Here, John imagines what might have been if the Republicans had managed to garner a bit more international support, or avoided killing a brilliant general for being the wrong kind of socialist, thereby turning the tide in their favor. How might the Second World War have turned out differently if the Communists had secured an early victory in Spain?

If the Loyalists Had Won the Spanish Civil War.....
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 was one of the great dramas of the 1930s. I use the word "drama" advisedly, since the debate and propaganda campaigns about the war became the substance of much of the political and intellectual life of the West during the years the war was fought. In the progressive literature of the period, the war was a morality tale of good defending itself against evil, of fascism against democracy, of the Enlightenment against Catholic obscurantism. The war became a counter in the political struggle between the international communist movement and the more loosely organized cause of fascism. In the publishing industry and the better magazines, the Loyalists won the propaganda argument, but on the ground the Nationalists won. In this note, I would like to suggest some ways that history, and particularly the course of the Second World War, might have been different if the Loyalists had won.
A full description of the origins and course of the war is unnecessary here. The questions involved are also still controversial. Suffice it to say that, after a decade of seesaw election results, a Popular Front government finally came to power in Spain, but with a very narrow majority. The Front sought to be inclusive of the Left, from Anarchists to Social Democrats. The Front, however, was more and more controlled by the Communists. In any event, having achieved a narrow victory, the government undertook a radical land redistribution. Elements of the Front, particularly the Anarchists, began some spontaneous redistribution of their own, and the government did not attempt to protect life and property. Clerics and Church property were particularly subject to assault. These events caused the Spanish African Army under General Francisco Franco to stage a revolt. The rebels became the Nationalists. The legitimate government refused to yield, however, and the conflict became an elaborate civil war. The Nationalists received aid from the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, including some troops and airmen. The Loyalists received material aid from Soviet Russia, but on ruinous financial terms. They were also assisted by volunteer legions from many countries. The resources of the two sides were not terribly unequal. However, the Nationalists had most of the experienced officers. Also, the Communists in the Popular Front carried on a small-scale version of the purges then occurring in the Soviet Union, directed against the other Leftist parties. This degraded the fighting capacities of the Loyalist armies, which were organized along political lines. The Loyalists were overwhelmed a few months before the Second World War started. Generalissimo Franco surprised everybody by remaining neutral in that conflict.
A Loyalist victory is not hard to imagine. Franco was a competent rather than a brilliant general. The accident of a military genius on the other side might have altered the outcome of the war. So might have more generous support from the Soviet Union. The Communists might have deferred their own political agenda until after the war was over. Neither side had any difficulty obtaining arms they could pay for; France, which had a Popular Front government too in the 1930s, might have offered arms on credit. Alternatively, an effective League of Nations embargo would have redounded to the Loyalists' benefit, since they controlled most of the country's manufacturing capacity. So, let us assume that by the end of spring, 1939, the Nationalists are forced to finally surrender, and Franco goes into exile in Argentina.
One thing that I think would have been inevitable is that the Soviet Union would, in effect, have a colony in the Western Mediterranean. The front-and-purge policy the Communists used against their rivals in the Loyalist camp was not very different from the one they used in Czechoslovakia just after the Second World War (except, perhaps, that it was much bloodier). Stalin was at all times of two minds about what he wanted to happen in Spain. While he wanted to humiliate the Italians and the Germans, he also had doubts about whether another Communist state so far from his borders was a good idea. He knew that such a state would be difficult for him to control, and that it would offer an alternative focus of loyalty for Communist parties around the world. The Soviet Union's subsequent problems with Yugoslavia and China show that these fears were well founded. However, it would have taken years for a rift to develop. The Spanish Communist Party was devotedly pro-Soviet. The new state would have needed Soviet material support. With the growing threat of a Fascist war, a near-term split with Moscow would not have been in the cards. Spain would become for the USSR something like what Cuba became in the 1960s and Nicaragua in the 1980s.
The French would not have been pleased by this turn of events. French governments have traditionally alined themselves with whatever regime ruled Russia in order to counterbalance the powers of Middle Europe. They would have found this harder to do, however, if the Russians acquired a base adjoining French territory. The advantage to a Russian alliance, after all, is that Russians are too far away to be a menace themselves. There was no way the French could have thrown their support to Germany. It would have been politically impossible, and it would have been strategic suicide. However, the proximity of Soviet Spain would have made France much more reluctant to engage in any major war, anywhere. It is not just that Spain could eventually become a military threat. The Communist Party in France would have been so emboldened by their southern colleagues' success that would have started looking for revolutionary opportunities. A lost war, or even a stalemated war, would do just nicely. Knowing this, the French government would have been much less likely to declare war on Germany in 1939 after the invasion of Poland. Indeed, it might not have been possible to do so, since the Hitler-Stalin Pact was in effect, and the French Left would have made quite a fuss about entering the war, even if they hoped to benefit from the outcome.
Thus, one result of a Loyalist victory could have been that Hitler would not, at the outset, have had to fight a war on two fronts. If the French did not declare war, the British could not have, either. Where would they have put their army? In his pre-war alliance negotiations with Mussolini, Hitler seemed to be contemplating a general war for 1942 or 1943. He would have been able to pick a fight in the West at his leisure, probably much better prepared than he was in 1939. In this war, the desperate French might have accepted an alliance with Soviet Spain, provided Stalin relented. Certainly Spain would have been a reasonable base for the French to retreat to, after losing Paris. Even if Soviet Spain had chosen Franco's policy and attempted neutrality, it is unlikely that Hitler would have accepted it. He could not have. His goal in World War II was the conquest of Russia, something he could not have accomplished with a Soviet ally in his rear. The conquest of Spain could have been part of his initial western campaign, or it might have waited a year or two, but it would have been inevitable.
A Nazi campaign would have had several things working against it. For one thing, the supply lines were long enough to create formidable logistical problems, never the strong suit of the Nazi military. Assuming the English were still in the war, Hitler, like Napoleon, would have found just how accessible Spain is from the sea. On the other hand, the Spanish Soviet government would have been unlikely to be very popular by this time, assuming it had continued with the process of Stalinization. If the Germans concluded their campaign by taking Gibraltar, whose British base was (and is) a long-standing affront to Spanish pride, the Germans could have been accepted as liberators. The loss of Gibraltar could have cost the British effective control of the Mediterranean. The resupplying, not just of Egypt, but of India and Australia, would have become immensely more difficult.
In sum, then, a Loyalist victory in the Spanish Civil War could have lost the Allies the Second World War. I, for one, find this conclusion paradoxical.
Any other ideas?
 
[If you liked this piece, you might also be interested in taking a look at a revew of The Last Crusade, a history of the Spanish Civil War from a Carlist perspective.]
Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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John J. Reilly's The Long View reposting project, 1 year in

I have now posted a year's worth of John's blog, The Long View, in a little over a year of my own time. It really is like being re-acquainted with an old friend. Reading John's blog gave me a lot of pleasure over the years, and it is almost as much fun the second time around. He got some things right, and some things wrong, but it is fun and informative to look back on someone who shaped how I think so much.

I have also heard from two of John's three sisters, thanking me for remembering him.  I am always touched when I hear from someone who knew John better than I. That is what makes this all worth it.

I managed to get a year's worth of blog posts in 14 months, plus some of John's essays from 1996-2002. There are a few lingering essays from that time frame that still need to be re-posted, so I will get on that forthwith.

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The Long View 2002-12-26: Blind Eyes

John has a funny aside here about that portion of the Catholic Right in America that is perpetually embittered. Mark Shea nicknamed them the Lidless Eye, perhaps on the analogy of the way they are always anxiously searching for heresy in the way Sauron was anxiously looking for the One Ring.

It was a good name, and it stuck, but the thing the Lidless Eye crowd never really had was power of any sort. Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies demonstrated the awesome power of the Eye of Sauron, the utter terror of finding its gaze fixed upon you. Nobody really cared what the Lidless Eye crowd said unless it was to make light of them. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was a frequent target, and he didn't even know it until someone else told him.

Steve Sailer has started using the term to describe the way that the social media and old school media collaborate on events that have been selected to drive the Narrative. In a country of 300 million people, bad things happen every day. Some of those bad things get selected to be the target disproportionate media attention in order to advance the cause of the day, and the Eye of Sauron is brought to bear. Recent examples were the Trayvon Martin case, Ferguson, MO, and that pizza place in Indiana.

The full attention of both wings of the media is a fearsome thing to behold, and it probably is just as terrifying as the baleful attention of Sauron. And probably as mindlessly destructive too. For example, the property values in Ferguson have dropped by half in the last year. That hurts everyone who lives there, black, white, or otherwise.

The other thing the Eye of Sauron cannot do is look in more than one place at once. At lot of attention was focused recently on the disparity in arrest rates between blacks and whites in Ferguson, but Ferguson isn't unusual in this respect.

It is simply that Eye is now fixed on Ferguson, and cannot pay attention to places that are far worse in racial disparities in arrest rates. Also, since some of the places with the worst racial disparities in arrest rates are wealthy liberal places like Malibu, CA and Madison, WI, paying attention would just complicate the Narrative.

The Eye of Sauron is a far better metaphor for the media-driven politics we see now than it ever was for dis-satisfied Traditionalists. The destructiveness, the terror, the single-minded focus to the point of ignoring larger threats, the fit is perfect.

Blind Eyes
 
Now that the North Koreans have provoked a nuclear crisis, one of the wonders of the season is the sudden realization among the media commentariat that the United States might have to fight two wars simultaneously, on the east and west side of Asia. The mention of the possibility by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a recent press conference seems to have been the first that many of them had heard of the idea, even though it has been the central strategic issue since the end of the Cold War. The Progressive position was that a military prepared for major wars in two theaters was an expensive anachronism after the Soviet Union ended. Some strategists said that more than one war at once was "unlikely," as if wars were purely statistical phenomena, not political acts.
Today's perfectly predictable state of affairs has caused mass cluelessness among Asia experts, even Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, who has otherwise been sensible on subjects like missile defense. In a recent interview with National Public Radio , he has said that the United States cannot "close its eyes" to events on the Korean Peninsula by refusing to talk to North Korea. Rather, the US must continue to ship oil and food to North Korea. In other words, the US should continue to honor its half of the agreement on which the North Koreans reneged regarding the development of nuclear weapons. The US must further engage in "continuous dialogue" with North Korea, with an eye to reaching a "really tough" diplomatic agreement, under which they would promise again not to make nuclear weapons, or at least not to make any more.
"Closing your eyes" to a situation means that you take no account of what happens in the real world. That is precisely what too many Asia experts are insisting on; they say the US should proceed as if North Korea had not broken its treaty obligations on a life-or-death issue. It is also hard to see what a "tough" diplomatic solution might entail. Might we threaten to cut off the oil if North Korea starts up its breeder reactor again, like we are doing already?
They did not restart the reactor because the lack of oil left them no alternative. The energy issue is a red herring. The national grid is not even set up to use any power the plant might produce. The reactor is an extortion engine. That's all it's for.
As for the humanitarian issue, there would be some point in maintaining food shipments to North Korea if that would actually alleviate the famine. However, the fact is we know, from experience, that the North Korean government is less interested in ending famine than in managing it. Any measure that keeps the current government in power simply prolongs the misery.
The US should allow the North Koreans to follow unimpeded the road to perdition they have chosen for themselves. North Korea has beggared itself to gain the measure of deterrence that comes from possessing a few nuclear weapons. May they have joy of it. Short of a serious hostile act by North Korea against the US or a US ally (which must include an attempt to export a nuke), the US can refrain from all military action against North Korea. If the North Koreans want oil or food, they have to pay for it, with concessions or money in advance. If they want to talk, then by all means let us talk to them. Just don't give them anything in exchange for mere dialogue.
If the new, accommodationist government in South Korea thinks otherwise, then let them offer what aid they will. The inveterate mendacity of the North will soon appall them to a better opinion.
The goal of our policy must be to shorten the time before the North Korean regime implodes. It is entirely possible that some of the fragments from that event will be nuclear. Frankly, it is better for the implosion to occur sooner, when the fragments are few, rather than later, when they will be many.
 
* * *
Something that O'Hanlon does realize is the necessity to settle the Iraq matter before the US can focus on Korea. What he, and others, do not grasp is that "progress on arms inspections" would not be enough. If the situation is defused, and the regime in Iraq survives, the US will not be able to make a credible military threat anywhere in the world. It most particularly will not be able to make a credible threat in Korea, perhaps even for the minimal purpose of deterring exploratory conventional attacks from the North. So, does this mean that an invasion of Iraq is inevitable, no matter what happens?
An occupation of Iraq is inevitable, but I am starting to wonder whether a proper invasion will be necessary. Stories continue to come from that unhappy country about the despair of the government at all levels, and about the visible deterioration of Saddam Hussein personally. As pressure builds on the regime in January because of the concentration of invasion forces, it might just crack. The move into Iraq may be less like an invasion than an elaborate raid. It could be more like Bush Senior's invasion of Panama in 1989 than like Desert Storm in 1991.
Even in this rosiest of scenarios, however, there would still be considerable problems in establishing law and order. There will also be terrorist attacks in the West by Baathist sympathizers.
 
* * *
There has been some progress on the terminology front. I am still partial to the term "Tranzie" (transnational progressive) for the sort of person who thinks that the world should be run by the World Court and the UN, provided the latter is controlled by an assembly of NGOs. However, in an article in the current issue of The National Interest, Normative Shift , Coral Bell suggests that a better term might be "cosmopolitan civil society." The use of the term "cosmopolitan" instead of "international" or "transnational" is an important distinction.
Traditional internationalists, like those who established the great international institutions after World War II, have no intention of eliminating nations as such, or even of diminishing national sovereignty in any essential respect. Every internationalist identifies with some nation. He supports international institutions for the same reason private entrepreneurs support reasonable government economic regulation; rules are necessary to make the system work. Cosmopolitans, in contrast, have only loose sentimental ties to a particular nation. Quite often, they make their living through cosmopolitan businesses, or, perhaps more often, through cosmopolitan social work.
The term "cosmopolitan" was coined in Hellenistic times for a world not unlike our own. It would make sense if it made a comeback.
 
* * *
Special thanks to the industrious Mark Shea of the blog, Catholic & Enjoying It!, for applying Tolkien's term, "The Lidless Eye," to that portion of the Catholic Right that is never satisfied under any circumstances. I like a good horror story about liturgical abuse or seminary scandal as much as the next guy. Still, when I look at The Wanderer and The Remnant, and even The New Oxford Review these days, I can't help thinking that these people should like more stuff.
The Lidless Eye picks fights with Catholic writers on points of doctrine that the Lidless Eye critics imagine to be part of the deposit of the faith, but which are often of their own devising, based on a selective reading of obscure sources. The Catechism is rarely good enough for them. Even when they have the theology right, they have a wonderful capacity to misread the texts they are criticizing. These are the sort of people who condemn The Lord of the Rings as New Age pantheism.
I usually go to a Latin Mass on Sunday, so I suppose that makes me conservative enough for most purposes. If the Lidless Eye annoys me, there must really be a problem.
 
* * *
Readers will be alarmed to know that there have been more Fortean phenomena since last week. Now it's giant webs falling on Texas. Can the spiders be far behind?

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The Long View 2002-12-21: The Two Towers

I find it refreshing to look back to 2002 and remember Peter Jackson's accomplishment in the Two Towers. That movie was just about right, long, but the source material was long and beloved. The temptation of Boromir is masterfully done, and Helm's Deep was even better than I imagined it. Unfortunately, this massive success at turning at 1,000 page book into three long movies has meant that Jackson has moved on to turning a 300 page book into three long movies. Like George Lucas, Tom Clancy, and George R. R. Martin, Jackson has gotten big enough to have it exactly the way he wants it, which isn't necessarily good for his art.

If you want to see how it can be done differently, look at the career of Jerry Pournelle. Pournelle has had multiple New York Times best-sellers, but he still takes seriously the advice he got from Robert Heinlein on his first best-seller: be your own harshest editor. This usually means cutting and cutting and cutting. To be fair, Clancy [100 million] and Martin [60 million] have sold approximately an order of magnitude more books than Pournelle [10 million]. On the other hand, Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down, sold 50 million copies, and his books aren't doorstops.

The Two Towers
 
I saw the second Tolkien movie this afternoon. Feeling is just beginning to return to the lower part of my body. Here are a few impressions:
The movie begins very abruptly, so much so that it took a while before I came out of the stupor induced by the half hour of coming attractions. The Two Towers makes just one concession to recapping the story, by having Frodo dream about Gandalf's fall into the crevasse in Moria. Unfortunately, one of the coming attractions was for a film that is apparently yet another remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth. I was briefly bewildered. I expected Frodo to say: “It was terrible, Sam. I saw Gandalf fall into a summer movie.”
The scriptwriters for all three Lord of the Rings films had an impossible task. Their principal audience consists of people who have already thought about the plot too much. Like me, they can recite dialogue from the books from memory. The screenplay therefore dare not depart arbitrarily from the books. On the other hand, the writers really do have to nip and tuck the story to make the films short enough to watch. And let's face it: key parts of the books are as chatty and actionless as a play by George Bernard Shaw.
Some of their compromises are better than others. For instance, Gandalf says, “The courtesy of your hall has lessened of late, Theoden King,” as soon as he enters the Golden Hall. That's a good line, but no one has yet had an opportunity to be rude to him. It no longer fits into the scene, which has become an exorcism. On the other hand, the writers spared us the trial of Smeagol before Faramir. Instead, they created an entirely new episode involving Faramir and Frodo, one that provides real suspense. It also gives the film a far edgier conclusion than the book has, despite the lack of a cliffhanger ending. (There is a total lack of giant spiders in this movie.) The film version of The Two Towers persuades us that Frodo is desperate, not just because of the external dangers he faces, but because he knows that he himself is unreliable. To the extent The Lord of the Rings is the memoir of a very junior officer of the First World War, that is what the story is all about.
The special effects are so good that you don't notice them. This film's battle sequences are wonders on two counts: they are visually interesting for reasons in addition to gore, and they make it possible to tell what is going on. As for other animations, there are super elephants that are as persuasive as any of the behemoths from Jurassic Park. I found the ents particularly interesting, because they are the only Tolkien creatures I could never visualize. Even the makers of The Two Towers could not make them biologically plausible. Nonetheless, they function excellently as characters, which is all you can expect.
And then there is Smeagol. As other reviews have noted, it's hard to call him “Gollum” after seeing this film. He is more animated in every sense of the word than any of the human actors. The film makers hit on precisely the right way to show which side of his dual personality is on top at any given time.
There are elements of the films which will no doubt endear them to Tolkien buffs for all time to come, but which may grate on the unconverted. Gimli the Dwarf is the designated comic relief, for instance, and it's a heavy burden to bear. Despite all the work that went into the sets for Edoras and Helms Deep, the computer-generated architecture remains the most believable. Also, although that New Zealand landscape remains spectacular even after six hours of film, it's starting to look, well, generic. Except for one green patch in the Shire, all Middle Earth seems to be covered with scrub grass and surrounded by alps.
None of this is a criticism, however. We can have every confidence that the War of the Ring will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion in 2003.
 
* * *
Here is my review of The Fellowship of the Ring. Here is my review of The Return of the King.

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10 Christian Movies better than God's Not Dead

John Zmirak asked for a list of ten Christian movies better than God's Not Dead. I haven't seen that movie, but I can probably manage. I think I will include series as well, since I find restricting this to movies less fun. My list isn't a list of overtly Christian films or apologetic ones; it is a list of movies that I think couldn't exist without Christianity, and once you know that they all make more sense. And they are all pretty good.

The Mission
This one is on the Vatican's 1995 film list for a reason. For the real-life history behind this, see the Jesuit Republic of South America.

The Little Match Girl
This is the short you can find on the extras for Disney's 1989 The Little Mermaid. I've never cried for anyone the way I cried for the little match girl when she died alone in the snow.

The Lord of the Rings
The greatest novel of the twentieth century, and perhaps the best Catholic apocalyptic novel of all time, visualized expertly by Peter Jackson.

A Man for All Seasons
Too easy.

Cowboy Bebop
Spike fights a fallen angel while Ave Maria plays in the background.

Neon Genesis Evangelion
The way that Christian symbolism and legends are portrayed in Eva is peculiarly Japanese, but this series probably wouldn't be so wildly popular in either Japan or the US if stuck to a strictly autochthonous apocalypse.

Samurai Champloo
Despite being remixed history, this series is a pretty good depiction of the Kakure Kirishitan.

The Last Airbender
An excellent example of what C. S. Lewis called the Tao in The Abolition of Man.

The Book of Eli
I've never quite gotten around to my movie review of The Book of Eli, which I first watched on a trans-Atlantic flight. This is a movie about justice and providence.

Mad Max
The great theme of Mel Gibson's Mad Max movies is pain, which sometimes turns into redemptive suffering.
 

The Long View: The Fellowship of the Ring

I cannot remember the first time I read the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. I know I was very young, and I remember getting worn paperback copies from the local library's children's section. In that library, I remember a mural on the wall of Frodo and Sam's descent into Mordor from the tower of Cirith Ungol. I also remember my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher, Dale Shewalter, would read to his class from the Lord of the Rings during our after-lunch storytime, although by this time I was already familiar with the story. I was of course immediately engrossed from the very first, and I have been ever since. The impact of these books on me is similar to the effect they had on John Reilly, but at a younger age.

I still maintain that Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings is the best book of the twentieth century. Even accounting for the many who found their way to Wicca instead of Tolkien's beloved Catholicism. These books are gifts that keep on giving, and will repay the reader no matter how many times you return to them.

Peter Jackson's Film of J.R.R. Tolkien's
The Lord of the Rings
Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
 
 
Reviewed by John J. Reilly
 
 
Full Disclosure: Regular visitors to this site will know that I rarely review films, and in fact I rarely go to the cinema. This film, though, had to be an exception. "The Lord of the Rings" is one of the two books that influenced me most profoundly. I first read it thirty years ago in high school, entirely by accident and with no idea what I was letting myself in for. The trilogy dissolved my positivist intolerance for fantasy, but it also had the paradoxical effect of opening history and languages to me. I have memorized the details of the book. I often cite it like scripture. People like me want to see the trilogy set out fair and square, with no contradictions. Nonetheless, I can be reasonable on the subject. Really I can.
Now for the review.
I saw "The Fellowship of the Rings" on the Saturday afternoon after it premiered here in New Jersey. That meant the whole afternoon: three hours worth. It's one of those movies that you walk out of wondering who is president now.
In a way, the film is like David Lynch's adaptation of "Dune." Neither film is so much a freestanding story as an illustration of a book. The difference is that Jackson succeeded where Lynch failed. The "Fellowship" sets are perfect. That is exactly what Hobbiton looked like. Jackson got Isengard down to the last bitter spire. I had always known that elvish civilization favored Bavarian Art Nouveau. Now the Platonic ideal has been put on film.
The casting is fine, too. Elijah Wood perhaps looks a bit too much like an anime figure even without makeup, but his Frodo makes the movie. I don't know how they did it, but they made the hobbits look believably 3'6" in the same frames as the normal-sized characters. Special mention much be made of how they turned that great Welsh windbag, John Rhys-Davies, into a plausible five-foot-nothing Gimli the Dwarf. When Boromir (Sean Bean) offers to help Gimli cross a chasm by tossing him, Gimli fixes him with a ferocious stare and says: "Nobody tosses a dwarf!" Except for the occasional remarks about the effects of the hobbits' pipeweed, that is one of the few deliberately funny lines. This is probably just as well: a lesser director could have turned the film into "Time Bandits."
The morning of the day I saw the film, I heard Ian McKellen on National Public Radio express the earnest hope that he will not become "Gandalf" for the rest of his career. Be that as it may, he did Gandalf as I had always thought of the character, down to the accent. Christopher Lee, who plays the turncoat wizard Saruman, is 79, and might reasonably be expected not to have many more parts remaining to him. However, if he is remembered for his turn as Saruman, he will have little to complain of. He could become a bedtime children's boogey to rival Mad Baggins himself.
The burden the film bears is the vast amount of exposition the story requires. The film starts with a brief history of the Ring. "Brief" here means that it is no longer than an episode of the "Simpsons" without the commercials. Episodes from the book are necessarily excised. I, for one, particularly missed the adventure in the Old Forest. Further exposition is inserted at odd points in the story. To this end, Elrond gets one of Saruman's speeches. (Hugo Weaving's Elrond, incidentally, is almost as scary as Saruman. All elves look like they take cosmetic belladonna.) Some characters are missing, too, even when the incidents in which they appeared remain. Frankly, I do not regret the substitution of Arwen Elvenstar, played by Liv Tyler, for Glorfindel in the incident at the Rivendell Ford.
Still it is not enough. There is a discernible plot once the Hobbits get to Rivendell, but anyone who has not read the books is going to be confused about who these people are and why they are doing these alarming things. There is conversation in Elvish (Sindarin, presumably) interpreted by subtitles, but the film does nothing to excite the interest in history and language that Tolkien is famous for. The film has no way to convey the scale of Middle Earth. For all we can tell, Minas Tirith and Isengard are a few days' ride from Hobbiton. Still, we should remember that the work of establishing the context of the trilogy has been completed. The next two films can be almost pure action and still be perfectly faithful to the trilogy.
There is one essential way in which the movie fails the trilogy. People unfamiliar with the books have been asking, "What does a fantasy written fifty years ago have to say to the 21st century?" To that there are two answers.
The first is that, despite Tolkien's attempts to distance himself from an autobiographical interpretation of the trilogy, the fact is that the books are clearly informed by the experience of the world wars, particularly that of a British junior officer in the First World War. Like Tolkien as a young man, Frodo takes part in a nightmare crisis that he cannot escape and that neither he nor his world seems likely to survive. The first half of the 20th century will not be the last time people face such a crisis. The film captures Frodo's desperation constrained by duty very well.
The second answer is the trilogy's implicit model of history. In every age, evil takes another form. It can be defeated, and history allows some generations a holiday. However, we should not be surprised when the Shadow grows menacing again. It is hard to imagine a message more relevant to 2001. Nevertheless, I do not think that Jackson quite delivers it. The books make plain that the Quest of the Ring is just one chapter in the long struggle against the Shadow. That sense of historical depth may be beyond the ability of any film to communicate.
The flipside to this criticism is that the movie does things the books can't. You may not have given much thought to the ways that orcs can enter a dwarvish hall, but Jackson has. The cinematography of the green New Zealand landscape looks like the Celtic collective unconscious. (There is dreamy Celtic music throughout.) Most of the monsters may be derivative from other films, but if so, the selection is commendable. The balrog seems to be related to the amplified Id in "Forbidden Planet," to take one example. The ordinary orcs look rather like Evil's dimwitted legions in "Time Bandits," for another. The extraordinary orcs, the Uruk Hai, look to me like the deeply intimidating alien hunter in, I believe, "Predator." There are original horrors, of course, not least of which is Sauron's Eye.
"The Fellowship of the Ring" is not "Harry Potter." The fight scenes are not cartoonish. Rather the opposite: they seem to have been set up by someone who had paid close attention to "Saving Private Ryan." Parents with very small children should think twice about taking them to a film with so many realistic decapitations and dismemberments. Everyone else, though, should go to see this film instantly. It will make you a better person.
And what was the other book I mentioned at the beginning of this review that influenced me so profoundly? That book was "The Decline of the West," by Oswald Spengler, which I also read in high school. I have not heard that anyone is thinking about turning it into a movie. If you are, please contact me. I have some ideas about the exposition.
 
 
 
End
Here is a review of The Two Towers.
Here is a review of The Return of the King.
For an explanation of why "The Lord of the Rings" has a lot in common with the "Left Behind" novels, click here.

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The Long View 2002-12-19: Lott, Lower Manhattan, and Vichy

This post of John's is interesting for the way in which you can see current trends in American politics in embryo. Trent Lott resigned as Senate Majority Leader after Andrew Sullivan and other bloggers made an issue of him mildly praising Strom Thurmond. At the time, this was a new thing. Now, the digital lynch mob may be the normal way politics is conducted in America. John didn't think much of this tactic at the time, but he also wasn't that alarmed by it. I wonder what he would make of the SJWs and the Eye of Sauron they turn on those who displease them?

Another trend John correctly predicted was the growing influence of the various strands of the non-Establishment Right after the Great Recession and the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles. Old warhorses like Pat Buchanan have indeed made the best of the situation, but newer voices like Alex Jones are also incredibly popular. Then there are the sovereign citizens, the neo-reactionaries, and various and sundry movements that exist outside the Establishment Right. There is a sense in which complete and utter political and economic disaster would suit these various groups just fine, because the status quo on both Left and Right effectively excludes them from real power. Only chaos would give them any chance of success.

Lott, Lower Manhattan & Vichy
 
If Senator Lott's colleagues are foolish enough to keep him as majority leader, the civil rights establishment would have the same sort of leverage over him that feminist groups have had over Ted Kennedy these many years. Kennedy has danced to the femnists' tune because they have enough on him personally to drive him from office if they ever so choose. Similarly, Lott would be beholden to a self-interested network that everyone who wants better race relations must oppose. Abigail Thernstrom made essentially this argument in yesterday's New York Times (except for the Kennedy analogy) and I have little to add to it.
Would it be altogether fair to Lott to force him from the leadership? Perhaps not. Few people who heard Lott's flattery of crumbly old Senator Thurmond on the occasion of the latter's 587th birthday thought much of it, until they were told to do so. Trent Lott is an ordinary bring-home-the-bacon legislator. He is not the sort of person who has an ideology, which is not necessarily a criticism. On the other hand, he is not one of the ornaments of the Senate; he has never been one of those senators, like the late Senator Wellstone, whose expertise you have to respect even if you disagree on policy.
Lott is being Borked, after a fashion, chiefly by conservative commentators, indeed by bloggers. They realized that the liability he represents for the 2004 elections far outweighs the benefits of party unity between now and then; it even outweighs the value of the Republican majority in the Senate. Borking is a vile practice, subversive of healthy politics, but this may be the least bad use of it. Any majority leader insubstantial enough to be brought down by Andrew Sullivan was a mighty thin reed to begin with.
 
* * *
The long-awaited second batch of proposals for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan has been presented to the public. The architects have taken the hint that people want something superlative to go there. My own opinion is that, to recoup the dignity of the city, the tallest building in the world has to go there, even if it is filled with house plants. Several of the nine proposals do more or less that. The one to beat is probably Forster & Partner's "Kissing Towers." We know this from the characteristically inane and uninformative commentary by The New York Times architectural critic, Herbert Muschamp, who says: "Norman Foster's design is one's favorite new hate."
As everyone acknowledges, the point of this exercise is not to design the new buildings that will actually go on the site, but to block out the land use. Specifically, they have to figure out very soon where the train stations will be. The PATH trains from New Jersey still don't have their terminus in lower Manhattan back, for instance: a serious local bottleneck.
All the proposals, including the titanic ones, will create a much more interesting neighborhood than the old WTC provided. The people who worked in that complex loved it, and I am still willing to defend elements of it architecturally. Still, it was designed at the absolute nadir of urban planning. In those days, architects went out of their way to discourage pedestrian traffic around major buildings. Walking around the old complex was as interesting as walking along the blank walls of a levee. The new plans open up the streets that the World Trade Center had blocked off. Some of the plans would create what would be among the world's great urban prospects.
As for the Hanging Gardens of Manhattan, let's see what the real estate market is like in five years.
 
* * *
While citing Thomas Friedman just encourages him, his column in yesterday's Times, Blair for President, did have some sound advice for all currently out-of-power political factions. Speaking specifically to Democrats, Friedman sets out a number of rules. For instance:
 
"Rule #2 Never put yourself in a position where you succeed only if your country fails. The Democrats can't just wait for Mr. Bush to fail in Iraq or hope the economy collapses, and assume they will benefit."
There are several reasons to take this to heart. The most important for Democrats is this: should Washington ever become Vichy on the Potomac, it is not at all clear the Democrats would be the incumbents. The Americans who are most persuaded they would benefit from disaster in the Middle East and economic collapse at home are the Buchanan Nationalists. Given enough national dismay, they suppose, they would be in a position to pursue a counter offensive in the culture war with some chance of success. They could easily be mistaken, but they are less confused about the issue than the Left is.
Most confused of all is Norman Mailer, whose picture graces the cover of the proto-Vichyite magazine, American Conservative. In the interview I Do Not Favor World Empire, Mailer gives the impression of a man who understands what he should be saying, but whose prejudices just won't let him say the words. Yes, he knows that evading a war in the Middle East now would mean a far more catastrophic war in 20 years. Yes, be believes in evil in history, and even in the Devil. Nonetheless, the fact that President Bush uses terms like "axis of evil" is gall too bitter for him to swallow. He somehow persuaded himself that the neoconservatives who support the Bush Administration, and not the people who were interviewing him, represent the cultural policies he most abhors.
When Mailer says that the occupation of Iraq would be the beginning of a world empire, he is exaggerating. Still, he is right about the trend. His only real problem seems to be that it is happening under a Republican Administration.
 
* * *
Speaking of Iraq, readers will note that I do not follow events in that region with the detailed attention of the War Blogs; the news is still mostly static. Still, an interesting crackle that came over the wires in the last day or two is the report that the Iraqi government plans to employ scorched-earth tactics in the event of an invasion. The country's infrastructure would be destroyed. Chemical and biological weapons will be used without much attention to their effect on Iraq's own civilians.
These are American reports: scrupulously anonymous but phrased with grave plausibility. They may well be true, but one suspects their real audience is inside Iraq. There have been many rather better confirmed reports of late about the collapse of the Iraqi people's faith in the durability their own government, and even that they hope the country will "get back to normal" in six months or so. If people come to believe that the regime poses a greater threat to life and property than the prospective invaders, they could just begin to ignore orders.
If a civil war breaks out, it makes little difference what the UN says: the invasions starts then.

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

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An archive of John's site