Stryker's War Book Review

What use is the valor of brave men in the service of evil goals? Stryker’s War is the most gut-wrenching book in the Order of Centurion series so far because it takes a good hard look at the reality that not everything that can get a soldier killed is worth dying for.



Dear Mom and Dad,

If you are reading this, I’m not coming home.

The opening lines of each chapter of Stryker’s War are the words of a dead man. A man who clearly believed in the view of war in St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, which files war under love of neighbor. The letter writer saw his service in the Legion as a noble pursuit, ordered to the common good, the tranquillitas ordinis, the well-ordered peace. It is not enough that there is an absence of conflict. You must also see that justice be done.

Unfortunately, the Galactic Republic isn’t really in the business of dispensing justice any more.

They are still in the business of delivering a smack down to anyone who dares to defy them, which the Legion is willing and capable of supplying. Curiously, the House of Reason, and its appointed officers, do not take the Roman model of solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. With increasing political control of the Legion, it would be easy to crush their enemies and see them driven before them, but this isn’t what we see.

The Legion is a calling and the day I signed up, I gave my life to that calling.

I would guess the reason is two-fold: a numerous and well-equipped Legion is a more dangerous Legion, including to the House of Reason. Maybe worse, in their eyes, is that a visibly successful Legion would have greater political legitimacy. This is likely a simple matter of not enabling a likely enemy. But also, it seems that the House of Reason feels that war must be a little wicked, because it costs money.

With this two-fold reason to never really give the Legion what it wants, even as the House of Reason needs it to take care of its problems, we come to the world of Gestor. Unwilling to commit more than a platoon to fix a security problem at a valuable mining operation, everything quickly spirals out of control into one of the most epic charlie foxtrots I have ever seen.

Every Legionnaire that died felt like I lost a friend. I wanted to scream at the stupid point who wouldn’t call in close air support even to save himself. Rage boiled up against the fools who sent so many men to die because they didn’t want to show up in force. My heart broke for the insurgents too, who just wanted their fair share of the profits of their own mine, and who were getting cheated not just by the Republic, but by their underworld contacts as well.

Now I can see why so many were willing to join up with Goth Sullus, and how even the loyal remnant was willing to invoke Article 19 and go to war against the Republic. This is intolerable. Yet, this much, and worse, was tolerated nonetheless.

There are some bad people in the galaxy, and sometimes they need to be taught a lesson. The Legion teaches that lesson well.

I might have finally met my match, but don’t want you to be sad. I stood with my brothers against evil and fought for those who couldn’t.

I only hope I made you proud.

Until the day finally came when good men could stand it no longer.

I was provided a copy of this ebook by the publisher for free.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review
Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

Order of the Centurion
Order of the Centurion #1 book review
Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion #2 book review

The Long View 2003-02-27: What Would Jesus Do?

This is one of the posts I turned to often when I was considering converting to Catholicism. My own reading of the Gospels matched up entirely with John's description here: Jesus of Nazareth said some astonishing things, even at the distance of 2,000 years. I'm not sure I know what he meant much of the time, but I do know this man was very much unlike the men who are often compared with him.

It was also clear to me that interpretation of the Bible was an enterprise fraught with difficulty. Necessary, for those who seek to pick up our cross and follow Him, but also very easy to get wrong. Something I thought John had said, but I haven't been able to find in his archived website, is the most important question is not "What Would Jesus Do?" Rather, it is "What Would Jesus Have Us Do?" Since Christ came to expiate our sins, which is precisely what we cannot do ourselves, this is an important point. Jesus did his job, now the rest is up to us.

On the gripping hand, this means that we need to figure out what to do in many situations without expecting a pat answer from Scripture. War and politics are foremost among these things where Christ left us with little concrete guidance. I'm more sympathetic now to the efforts the Catholic Church made in 2002-2003 to prevent war in Iraq. Given the appalling state of the country now, and the persecution the Christian minority suffered in a democratic Iraq, it would appear that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had a valid point. Would that we had heeded their words. Unfortunately, the primary thing the United States seems to have learned about war in the last fifteen years is that the news cycle is easier to manage if the people dying aren't American. We continue to foment war around the world, but we have learned to let other people do the killing and dying for us. Unfortunately, the USCCB has had less to say about this.

Perhaps the more fruitful question is what will the future bring? John expected the formation of a universal state during the twenty-first century. Several of the universal states that we know of have been theocracies, so the key question here seems to be: will the universal state that forms be a theocracy? And if so, which religion will it espouse?

What Would Jesus Do?

The problem with trying to formulate the political theory of the Gospels is that there isn't one. As far as I can recall, every time a political issue came up, Jesus made a wisecrack. Consider a partial list: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone"; "He who lives by the sword will die by the sword"; "The poor you will always have with you." Jesus actually indicated a specific course of action in each of the situations that occasioned these remarks. However, it is pretty clear that, in each case, Jesus deliberately declined the invitation to formulate an ideology. He was not even much interested in history, in any conventional sense. "There will be wars and rumors of wars." Thanks.
In The Cunning Man, Robertson Davies remarks that, while there may be real power in prayer, it is hard to get God interested in the stock market or examination results. In fact, the really disconcerting thing about God, as He appears in the New Testament, is His almost complete indifference to things that human beings think are so all-fired important. There is just a little on sexual ethics, for instance. Slavery is no more than mildly discountenanced, by a few oblique phrases from St. Paul. Notoriously, the New Testament lacks a coherent account of the afterlife. And then there's diet. Apparently, one of the things that most people in the world want from religion is some rules about what they can eat and when they can eat it. Christians don't fully appreciate how odd their religion is in not having dietary laws in its basic text. (There is just a little in Acts 15, of course, but few versions of Christianity have ever elaborated on the matter.)
In none of these areas of divine reticence should we infer that the activities in question are forbidden to Christians, or even that no theological principles apply. These areas are often matters of life and death, so we have to deal with them. What we do decide will not be a mere construct: these freedoms touch on the deadly serious issues to which the power of "binding and loosing" applies. Among them is the whole question of statecraft, including the question of war and peace.
* * *
There are three ways that Christians have tried to apply Christianity to the question of government:
First ,there is the pietistic response, which limits the political duties of Christians to submission; or, in extreme circumstances, to passive resistance. In this interpretation, the Gospels forbid Christians to employ even that minimum of violence that is needed to maintain public order.
Second, there is theocracy, by which the state is seen as incarnating the divine order in the world.
Third, there is the Augustinian approach, which holds that no political order is wholly coincident with the City of God, but that governments can be more or less good, and that Christians owe them their support as a matter of charity.
These three options are not a historical sequence, and they are not a dialectical sequence in which the porridge is first too hot, then too cold, then just right. The first option does incorporate the Gospels' unshielded ethics, which enjoin nonresistance to evil without qualification, as well as complete indifference to economics and self-support. Some Christians have always tried to live just that way. Still, it is probably a category mistake. I don't mean the obvious point that the "Counsels of Perfection" are directed to the behavior of Christians as individuals, not to the behavior of Christian public officials. Arguably, all Christians should be anarchists. Rather, the Gospel ethic defines a trajectory of the individual will. Some behaviors are absolutely forbidden by scripture. (Killing people, by the way, isn't one of them: the Decalogue prohibits "murder.") The New Testament, characteristically, restates what had been prohibition of acts as prohibitions of intent. Anger looms larger than violence, for instance, or lust than adultery. In place of specific prohibitions and injunctions, the Gospels give motives. These motives can lend support to a theory of pacifism. However, they cannot be said to require pacifism.
Theocracy has not been in favor for some centuries now, for good reason. It dumbs down the state, for one thing, by making constructive criticism more difficult. Even if your primary concern is the advancement of religion, it has notoriously been the case in modern times that the more the state supports the church, the more the church declines. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that sometimes theocracy was the best that a society could do, and it was not always such a bad best. Theocracies from the Byzantine Empire to Puritan New England have often provided reasonably good government, as well as genuine support to the spiritual well-being of their citizens. There is also the embarrassing fact that government in the Gospels is a divine institution. Pilate's authority "comes from above," and so presumably does Caesar's. Whatever else early Christians thought about the Roman Empire, they did not think that it was illegitimate.
This is not to say that any given government is the only possible government. Christianity requires no particular form of government, much less the existence of any particular state. Even at the height of cooperation between the Church and the Holy Roman Empire, the Empire never quite became a point of doctrine. Theocracies, however, generally respond badly to the observation that the world can live without them. The real problem with theocracies is, oddly enough, the same as the problem with pietism: both try to make necessary what is in fact contingent.
* * *
This brings us to the prudent, responsible, grown-up statecraft of the Augustinian tradition. Despite being named after a Catholic saint, the Church does not quite hold the patent on this tradition. This is just as well, considering the often incompetent use that the Church has made of this tradition in connection with the Iraq crisis.
Catholic social doctrine, as it evolved by the end of the 20th century, tended to conflate the domestic and international spheres. It is standard social theory to say that the police can use force, even lethal force, to protect public order. As properly constituted officials, they are morally permitted to do things that private persons generally would not be. Just War Theory uses much the same logic, but extends it between states. It also applies between a state and pirates, or to other irregular menaces to peace. One of the goals of Just War doctrine was to make clear the illicitness of "private war": that is, war conducted by persons or groups who do not have the authority to do so. This is the kind of thinking that got rid of feudalism. More recently, the Church has brought the same logic to bear in connection with the sovereignty of states.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very keen on international organizations, so much so that it might be taken as a brief for world government, but that may be saying too much. Say rather that the Church assumes that the purpose of the international system is to create and maintain "the tranquility of order." Organizations and institutions that promote this order are to be defended and extended. The Church promotes a multilateral approach to war and peace. Like feudal barons, states should lose the legal competence to employ violence outside their borders. Increasingly, the Vatican diplomatic corps has come around to the position that the United Nations Security Council is the only body in the world with the legal competence to authorize the use of force, except in cases of immediate self-defense.
This development will prove to be another blow to the Church's credibility. The Vatican's use of this reasoning to oppose US and British action in Iraq has not reached the levels of fatuity evidenced by some Catholic and Protestant peace groups. Nonetheless, it repeats the error of the pietists and the theocrats in mistaking an optional for a necessary means. The principle that statesman should seek to spread the tranquility of order universally is well founded. So is the proposition that this requires global institutions. The problem is that the Vatican has placed its hopes in the UN, an organization whose very headquarters is falling apart.
* * *
The Iraq matter has undermined every international institution, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the most venerable. It's all the result of the innocent good-will of Colin Powell. If the US had simply gone ahead with the invasion of Iraq last Fall, which seemed to be the plan, the integrity of the UN would have been maintained, for better or worse. There was already enough legal authorization from the Security Council to cover the operation. Had the matter not been brought to the Council again, the world would have been spared the "Dr. Blix and His Elves" show, and Americans now would not be calling the French cheese-eating surrender-monkeys. The European Union would still be a union. Since Secretary Powell persuaded President Bush to "build a coalition" and "get the international community on board," the situation has just become worse and worse.
The UN and the EU may be scrap when all this is over. As for the Church, people will chiefly remember how hard it tried to prevent the overthrow of the Baathist dictatorship in Iraq. The Iraqis most of all will remember this.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: World Government and the Roman Catholic Church

One of the complaints about Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si is that he calls for a world government. This isn't really something new in Catholic social teaching. John frequently argued that Catholic social teaching and just war doctrine assume that something like a competent international authority already exists.

However, John also makes the point that Catholic teaching has a lot to say about what a government should do, but nothing at all about how it should be structured. This is one of those little points that makes Catholic thought so fascinating to me. In principle, any form of government, or any particular government, can be in accord with the universal principles articulated in the Catechism, but no particular government is singled out as best. While many Catholics over the years, even popes, have expressed preferences about what form of government is best, when it came time to write a universal catechism the long institutional memory of the Church ignored all of those particulars in favor of something more universal.

World Government and the Roman Catholic Church
by John J. Reilly
There are lots of things which can be said for and against the "GATT" (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs), "NAFTA" (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and the other acronym organizations that have been created since the end of World War II to orchestrate a general reduction of tariffs, either regionally or around the world. The logical sides to this issue would be people who support free trade as a stimulus to economic growth (projecting domestic laissez faire onto the international level) versus those who believe tariffs and preferences are needed to protect domestic jobs and industries (projecting domestic regulation onto the international level). Little about the politics of these debates in the 1990s has followed logical expectations, however. Although it is Republicans who traditionally supported letting the free market operate with a minimum of government interference, the Democratic Clinton Administration considered the 1994 GATT agreement to be the crown jewel of its foreign policy in its first term. The opponents to the agreement ranged from consumerist semi-socialists like Ralph Nader to the conservative nationalist admirers of Patrick Buchanan. (The sentiments of the latter became even better represented in Congress when the Republicans took control.) There were reactions to the GATT more surprising than these, however. There are people who think that the GATT was quite literally the work of the devil.
We live in an age of eschatological expectation, and for most of this century a feature of popular American eschatology has been the expectation of the rise of a wicked world government, controlled by Antichrist. It was, perhaps, the "World" in the name of the World Trade Organization, the arbitration association created by the latest GATT agreement, which set off the reaction. In any case, the GATT was denounced by hostile congressmen as a move toward world government, while the chatter on computer bulletin boards described it as yet another sign of the near approach of the endtimes. Throughout the discussion, the explicit premise was that world government is inherently diabolical, and that any international organization is a sort of "government" until proven otherwise.
Although the hostility to world organizations is at least as widespread among conservative Catholics as among conservative Protestants, it really does not fit very well with Catholic tradition or the current understanding of doctrine. Since the Holy Roman Empire proved to be something of a disappointment, the Church has been slow to support particular schemes for universal government. However, the notion of some sort of secular international authority, one that would not detract from the sovereignty of independent states but serve to facilitate their interaction, does fit rather neatly into Catholic social teaching.
Reference to the new Catechism of the Catholic Church can quickly illustrate this point. The general rationale for government is given by section 1927. As we can easily see, this rationale in principle invites universal application:
"It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society. The common good of the whole human family calls for an organization of society on an international level."
The Catechism is careful, however, to point out that even an authority which is universal in jurisdiction is not therefore necessarily universal in power. Indeed, as Section 1884 explains, the situation is quite the opposite:
"God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard to human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence."
What we are talking about here, of course, is the principle of subsidiarity. In political theory, it takes the form of the axiom that the most local level of an organization which is capable of handling a certain issue should have the authority to handle that issue. Subsidiarity is the guiding constitutional principle of the Church. It is the reason why bishops have such wide discretion over matters of discipline and liturgy in their own dioceses. Indeed, it is part of the secret of the Church's longevity: if the Church really were the centralized autocracy of Protestant mythology, it would have strangled in red tape many centuries ago.
Subsidiarity has applications far beyond ecclesiology. It is closely akin to the principle of federalism in American constitutional theory, under which the states are supposed to retain primary jurisdiction over government functions that are local by their nature. The European Community explicitly defines the relationship of its member states to the union government as one of subsidiarity. What we should note here is that the principle does not just protect the rights of local jurisdictions. It also strongly implies that hierarchy, properly understood, is a positive good. Section 1885 suggests, in fact, that good government naturally seeks to make the tranquility of order universal:
"The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order."
In discussing the hypothesis of world government, we should recall that not all governments are twentieth century bureaucracies. Henry Kissinger, in his book "Diplomacy," notes that the rather informal association of great powers known as the "Concert of Europe" was for all intents and purposes the government of that continent in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. The United Nations, in contrast, has all the trappings of a government, except the ability to actually govern anything. The Catechism has nothing to say about what form the institutions of world order should take. Rather, it seeks to outline what their functions should be. Quoting the Vatican II document, "Gaudium et spes," Section 1911 gives us some notion of what a world government would be expected to do:
"Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the whole world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy natural dignity, implies a UNIVERSAL COMMON GOOD [phrase italicized in original]. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to 'provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education....and certain situations arising here and there, as for example...alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families."
Governments normally provide disaster relief and social services, but then so do private agencies. The defining power of government has usually been a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, particularly of military force. The sections dealing with war, 2306-2316, rather grudgingly allow to states a right of self-defense, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power" to maintain world peace. Presumably, then, a universal government would have as one of its functions the duty to police the world, though the principle of subsidiarity would suggest that local disorders should normally be dealt with by local forces.
The verb "police" here is precisely the right one to describe the Catechism's view of the role of the military. Sections 2306-2316 (which together comprise a division entitled "Safeguarding Peace") simply restate traditional Catholic doctrine on war. Peace is defined as not just the absence of conflict, but as the tranquility which naturally arises from a just social order. The familiar criteria for a "just war" are set out. Anyone who reads this material out of context is likely to be struck by its legalism. For statesmen in most places at most times, questions of war and peace are questions of policy, of contingency. While not quite lawless, perhaps no decision about going to war has ever been governed entirely by a legal formula. If the principles enunciated in "Safeguarding the Peace" are supposed to be normative, they are not descriptive norms.
What Catholic military doctrine does resemble is the criteria that well-run civilian police forces articulate regarding the use of deadly force. As the nightly television news will tell you, rules of this sort often work imperfectly. However, they do make sense for any law-governed society in which the authorities, too, can be held responsible for their actions.
In other words, Catholic doctrine best fits a world in which subsidiarity has already reached its logical conclusion. It assumes that a universal "law" and "government" are somehow normative. The present society of nations, in which states must resort to self-help to protect themselves, is provisional. Catholic doctrine looks toward a future situation in which there is some supernational entity with the acknowledged right to settle disputes among states, and the physical ability to make its decisions effective. In that world, the rigid legalism which the Catechism prescribes for questions of war and peace would be not only workable, but morally unavoidable.
There are some denominations that lay great stress on international cooperation and occasionally give explicit support to the idea of world government. They dismiss the anxieties of millenarian evangelicals because, for liberal Christianity, the "endtimes" have become purely metaphorical. The Second Coming means only the eventual victory of goodness and niceness, and the only Final Judgment will be the judgment of history. There are, of course, Catholic theologians who think much the same way these Protestants think, but the actual deposit of the faith is quite otherwise. The Antichrist is alive and well in Catholic eschatology, as section 675 of the Catechism indicates. So is the notion of a final tribulation, when many will be tempted to apostasy by a false messianism. In those days, the Church will "follow her Lord in death and Resurrection" (section 677). The liberal belief that "the kingdom will be a historic triumph of the Church by a progressive ascendancy" is specifically rejected. Only the direct intervention of God in history will defeat the final unleashing of evil. For the Catholic Church, the apocalypse is not a metaphor.
The Catholic Church's lack of anxiety about international organizations has another foundation: historical memory. The Church has lived before under governments with pretensions to universal sovereignty. There is no reason in principle why it could not do so again. As the neo-Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper once noted, although it is likely that the reign of Antichrist would involve some sort of world state, a universal government might still be a goal which men of goodwill could pursue if it seemed advisable at the time. The Roman Empire, for instance, was sometimes hostile to Christianity, sometimes indifferent, and sometimes friendly (too friendly, according to many observers). A government that could actually claim jurisdiction over the whole human race for any length of time would be likely to make a similar record, but even a hostile world government would not necessarily be the mark of the endtimes. The final tribulation is a unique event, a miracle of evil. Religious persecution, in contrast, typically needs no explanation beyond politics.
Considering the dismal record of the United Nations in recent years, this is not one of those eras in which stronger international bureaucracies are a self-evidently good idea. The contemplation of a world government which accurately reflected the political culture of the world today is enough to give any reasonable person the heebie-jeebies. Fine. Nevertheless, it does seem to be a law of history that any international system, such as that which existed in the Mediterranean world in the centuries before Christ, will eventually fall under the control of some overarching sovereignty. I suspect, like Toynbee and Spengler, that our own civilization will also someday find itself governed by a universal state. If you don't live to see it, maybe your grandchildren will. Be this as it may, there is no cause for undue anxiety. It does not have to be the end of the world.
Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: T. R.: The Last Romantic Book Review

Now for the other half of the beginning of the twentieth century, here is Teddy.

Theodore Roosevelt redefined the American presidency through sheer force of will. The office of President was at a nadir in the decades following the Civil War, and the Congress was pre-eminent. Roosevelt was placed on the ticket as vice-President in order to get him out of the way. He never really saw eye-to-eye with the Republican party bosses, but his massive popularity was difficult to ignore. Vice-President was a convenient dead-end in which to place him, until an assassin's bullet propelled him into the Oval Office.

Once there, Teddy did all sorts of outrageous things, often not stopping to inquire whether it was actually within the purview of the Executive Branch to do what he did. And he got away with it.  All that is well known. John is a fan of T. R., as am I, and I am more interested in the less well-known aspects of this fascinating man. Despite his famous belligerency, Roosevelt was a gifted negotiator. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for the deal that ended the Russo-Japanese War, but he also ended the guerrilla war in the Phillipines [although not the Moro Rebellion] and convinced the Kaiser to settle his debts with Latin America instead of sending battleships to collect them.

Roosevelt was perhaps one of the best read Presidents. He read two to three books a day. When given a book by a guest in the morning, he could discuss the book in detail at dinner. He attempted to reform English spelling by Executive Order, which is perhaps one of the few things in his Presidency that backfired so badly.

I'm currently working my way through Edmund Morris' magisterial trilogy on T. R., and I also watched a bit of the recent PBS series The Roosevelts, but I skipped the parts about Franklin. I am simply in a Theodore Roosevelt mood, but that is never a bad thing.

T.R.: The Last Romantic
by H. W. Brands
Basic Books, 1997
897 pages, $35.00
ISBN: 0-465-06958-4

Large Policy

You don't need an excuse to read about Theodore Roosevelt. Still the youngest president (he was just shy of 43 years old when William McKinley's assassination catapulted him from vice-presidential obscurity), he was probably the most knowledgeable person ever to hold that office, even counting Thomas Jefferson. He was certainly the most colorful. In fact, his volcanic stint in office from 1901 to 1909 was a comparatively drab interlude in his life. If he had not existed, G. K. Chesterton would have had to make him up. It would take an awfully bad biographer to write a tedious life of this man, but this single-volume work by H. W. Brand (who teaches history at Texas A&M) is both solid history and a delight to read. The only problem is that, at almost 900 pages, the book is too short.

Nevertheless, the study of Theodore Roosevelt's administration has become not just entertaining but topical. Historical parallels are always tricky, but many people (including President Clinton) have taken to comparing the present era to the Progressive Era of the first two decades of the 20th century. When Roosevelt took office, the federal government was just coming out of the coma it entered after the Civil War of 1861-65. In the interim, the country had been covered with huge new industries that the law simply did not address. Neither Europe nor Asia were as far away as they had been a few decades before, and for the first time in its history the United States found that it needed a strategic doctrine. At the same time, international capital flows were becoming large enough to affect even the largest economies, while immigration (in those days from eastern and southern Europe) was threatening to change the character of the country. Meanwhile, business and labor united in the demand that tariff policy keep the growing American domestic market all to themselves. Roosevelt proposed to deal with this new environment through what he called "large policy." In the cramped intellectual universe of the post-Cold War, post-federal deficit era, it is not unreasonable that people have started to look to Roosevelt for a more expansive view of government.

So who was this Roosevelt character? He was born in 1858 to a rich family of stolid Dutchmen that had lived in Manhattan since it was Nieuw Amsterdam. As the whole world knows, he was a scrawny specimen with a life-threatening case of asthma, so he adopted a lifelong program of indoor and outdoor exercise. (He died at 60, battered and half-blind: there is such a thing as overdoing it.) Roosevelt never went to a conventional school until he entered Harvard, but by then he spoke the major modern languages and was already on the way to becoming a serious naturalist. He hunted big game in Africa and the Americas, often at the expense of institutions for which he supplied specimens. His chief regular source of income was a stream of purple-prose popular histories, supplemented by memoirs of his adventures and by ferocious political invective. (He was a distant cousin of Rudyard Kipling; it shows.) He was widowed once and remarried, fathering six children in all.

Just out of college, Theodore Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Assembly as a Republican in 1881. (At the same time he published his first book, on the naval side of the War of 1812.) He was even briefly the minority leader, until the Republicans unexpectedly gained a majority and decided they did not want a kid running the legislature. He divided his time between politics and ranching in the Dakotas during the 1880s. The latter enterprise, into which he had sunk much of his considerable inheritance, lapsed when his herds were wiped out in the severe winter of 1886-87. Still, he continued to mount nearly annual hunting expeditions, and it was in this period that he began his influential multivolume history, "The Winning of the West." In the 1890s he served on (and dominated) the new federal Civil Service Commission, and then on the New York City Police Commission. (It was while serving in the latter post that cartoonists fell in love with his spectacles, mustache and teeth.) President McKinley made him Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the period leading up to the Spanish-American War of 1898. During that war he served in Cuba with operatic distinction as lieutenant colonel of a volunteer regiment (the "Rough Riders") in the chaotic but successful American advance on Santiago. The Battle of San Juan Hill did not for the most part occur on San Juan Hill, which in any case is actually a ridge, but Roosevelt really was stone courageous.

Roosevelt's war record, helped not least by his own quickie book on his exploits, got him elected governor of New York State. There he showed a disconcerting tendency to make appointments for reasons other than patronage and to try to regulate monopolies. It was actually in order to restrain him that the Republican Party leaders made him McKinley's second vice president. McKinley's assassination by the self-described anarchist Leon Czolgosz (pronounced "Tsholgosh") put him in the White House.

Roosevelt in office exercised functions no one knew the president had (and indeed didn't, until Roosevelt made them up). He threatened to send in the Army to take over the coal mines during a potentially catastrophic strike, thereby forcing the owners to come to terms with the union. He turned federally-owned land into the nature preserves that became the National Park System, this with only the flimsiest legislative authorization. At a time when the Supreme Court tended to strike down new business regulation, he got Congress to extend federal control over the inspection of food and drugs. He managed to get some real authority for the Interstate Commerce Commission over the railroads, whose monopoly pricing he remembered from his own days in the Dakotas. He acquired the land to build the Panama Canal. (The transaction, as his Attorney General delicately put it, was accomplished "without the slightest taint of legality.") He sent American forces to briefly occupy Havana without Congressional authorization. In fact, he sent the whole fleet on a round-the-world cruise and dared Congress not to appropriate the money to bring it back. The rules for American football were revised under White House auspices. He also tried to reform English spelling by executive order, but here Congress stopped him cold.

It is the measure of Roosevelt that, though he often wrote and spoke of war as if it were a kind of extreme sport, he started no war when pulling the trigger was his own responsibility. In fact, he had a knack for negotiation. He negotiated an end to the appalling guerrilla war that had simmered in the Philippines since the U.S. acquired the archipelago in the Spanish-American War. He famously won the Nobel Peace Prize for hosting the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War. Less famously, he was instrumental in defusing the Algeciras Crisis in 1906, and he persuaded the Kaiser to take his bad-debt claims against Latin American countries to the Hague, instead of trying to settle them by sending German battleships into the western hemisphere. Roosevelt was in fact a great believer in international law and the settlement of disputes by arbitration. He was far from pacifism, of course. In his view, it was not the function of international law to discourage war, but to regulate it.

Roosevelt was an ideological imperialist. He did not just want an American empire, he liked the idea of empires in general. The reason for this was the same as his reason for supporting labor unions: he supported order for its own sake. Much the same motive probably also lay behind his support of a rationalized spelling for English. Put negatively, this means that he feared disorder. He had a particular hatred for anarchists of all descriptions, of course, but much the same sentiment informed his support of business regulation. Laissez faire economics made him nervous, because it appeared to allow chaos.

One way to put it might be to say that Roosevelt liked power, but power employed to build things. On the whole he assumed that bigger was better. Canals, empires, populations: he supported pronatalist policies against the beginnings of the birth control movement. Even his antitrust policy reflected this principle, since he much preferred regulating monopolies to breaking them up. He had mixed feelings about immigration, but for most of his life he saw it as a good, provided there was no multiculty nonsense about keeping the immigrants in ethnic enclaves. In his mind, being a Lincoln Republican also meant being a an anti-racist Republican, because racism required leaving something unassimilated.

Roosevelt may have been the first American statesman with a geostrategic sense. He understood that Eurasia has two ends, and the U.S. is in trouble if anything goes seriously wrong at either one. Whenever possible, the U.S. should support the states of the periphery against those of the interior. He had a genuine flash of prescience regarding the peculiar susceptibility of Russia to socialist revolution. In later years, he even understood that, if it became necessary to go to war with Germany, then thereafter it would become necessary to support a weakened Germany against the Slavic threat. This was the script for the 20th century, and he grasped it 30 years before anyone else.

Roosevelt saw to it that his old friend and right-hand man, William Howard Taft, would get the Republican nomination in 1908. Taft was elected, and Roosevelt, just 50 years of age, left for a triumphal tour of Africa and Europe. This tour made him the most famous man in the world. At the end of it, he represented the U.S. at the funeral of Edward VII, and he was the one the other dignitaries wanted to see. (Roosevelt avoided seeing the young Winston Churchill. He thought Churchill was a shady self-promoter.) Then Roosevelt returned to the United States and spent the rest of Taft's term stabbing his old friend in the back.

The reason he did this is fundamentally mysterious. Roosevelt had some real policy differences with his successor. Taft was much more accommodating to big business than Roosevelt ever was. (J.P. Morgan offered a toast when Roosevelt left for Africa: "America expects every lion to do its duty!") Still, Taft actually had a more vigorous anti-monopoly program than Roosevelt had had. Taft was friendlier with the Republican Party bosses than Roosevelt was, but that was not much of an accomplishment considering how much they distrusted Roosevelt. The answer seems simply to have been that Roosevelt was jealous. He was also incapable of self-knowledge, so he ascribed incompetence and bad motive to the people who excited his envy. Since there was then no constitutional bar to a third term, Roosevelt spent the rest of his life trying to get back into the White House. In the process, he ensured that Woodrow Wilson, a cerebral history professor of whom he would really and truly have cause to be jealous in a few years, would win the election of 1912.

That campaign was one of the odder episodes in the history of electoral politics. Party candidates in those days were chosen only in part through popular primaries, so although Roosevelt got most of the elected delegates to the Republican Party Convention, the party bosses renominated Taft. Then Roosevelt's delegates walked out of the Republican Convention to another hall where the nascent Progressive Party was meeting. That Convention then nominated Roosevelt for president.

Now the Progressive Party did not last long, but it provided the political agenda of the next 40 years. It had a moderate-liberal platform that included such things as unemployment insurance, the direct election of U.S. senators (who at the time were appointed by state legislatures) and an eight-hour workday. They were also the women's party, oddly enough for a body also known as "The Bull Moose Party," since they supported women's suffrage. Their convention, unlike the quadrennial fraternity blow-outs the other two parties would continue to hold until the 1960s, was a serious meeting of serious professional people. They punctuated their deliberations with the singing of serious songs, such as "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." This was the sort of Crusader politics for which Roosevelt had waited all his life, and he made the most of it.

"We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!" Roosevelt told the Convention. Interrupted only by roars of approval from the serious audience, he expanded at length on the peril in which civilization itself would be placed if the Progressive movement failed. In retrospect, it is easy to make fun of this kind of apocalyptic language, but the sense of impending apocalypse was quite common throughout Western civilization at the time. We see today that the intuition was correct, even if it sometimes fastened on unlikely objects.

In the event, Roosevelt came in a distant second to Wilson in the general election. Roosevelt was followed even more distantly by Taft, who had remained in the race only to ensure that Roosevelt would not be reelected. Afterwards, Roosevelt abandoned the Progressives and went on another of his scientific expeditions, this one to the Amazon in the company of his son Kermit. Stricken with various infections, Roosevelt barely survived this trip, though the tributary the expedition mapped is still named after him. (The "Teodoro," people call it locally).

Soon after his return the First World War broke out. Roosevelt gnashed his famous teeth. He wanted the United States to enter the war. He wanted to organize a volunteer regiment like the "Rough Riders." Most of all, he wanted to be president instead of "that creature" (more specifically "that skunk," or "that lily-livered skunk") Woodrow Wilson. That Wilson was as much a Progressive in policy terms as Roosevelt had ever been was irrelevent.

Roosevelt became a genuine fanatic in his latter days, especially after the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917. While previously he had always been able to distinguish doubts about unrestricted immigration from hostility to actual immigrants, in his stump speeches for the war effort he began to speak as if German ancestry were prima-facie evidence of disloyalty. Unable to imagine that some people might hold sincere convictions other than his own, he denounced pacifists and conscientious objects as traitors pure and simple. Neither was treason confined to private persons: his criticism of public officials for the mishandling of American logistics was so heated that the Justice Department actually considered prosecuting him under the era's generously interpreted laws against subversive speech. When the youngest of his four sons, Quentin, died in a dogfight over the Western Front, Roosevelt became if anything even less restrained. Roosevelt corresponded with Georges Clemenceau and Arthur Balfour, explaining as an expert just how weak Wilson's domestic position was after the Democrats did poorly in the congressional elections of 1918. There are lots of reasons why Wilson was unable to extract a moderate peace from the Versailles Conference, but Roosevelt's private diplomacy did not help.

It may be that Roosevelt's unexpected death from a heart attack in early 1919 prevented him from achieving an even more perfect revenge on Wilson. By the time of his death, he was once again the most popular Republican in America. Had he sought the Republican nomination, he would almost certainly have gotten it, and had he been nominated he would almost certainly have won. Theodore Roosevelt's third term: now that is some alternative history to think about.

If Roosevelt were alive today, he would have some intemperate things to say about the "New Nationalist" proposals to unplug his policies from the beginning of the 20th century and install them again at the end. His ideas, good and bad, were always forward-looking. He understood that the 20th century was going to be about socialism and world war, and he took the first steps to prepare the nation accordingly. Now these issues have been resolved, and the next century is going to be about something else; you can take your pick about what these things will be. The odds are, though, that we would be well advised to adopt Roosevelt's guiding instincts: we should fear disorder, and we should once again like building things.




This article originally appeared in the March 1998 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information: Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Thoughts on Batman: Arkham Asylum

What jury wouldn't vote to kill this man?Back to the regularly scheduled program of reviewing things that aren't new. I'm not so much interested in reviewing this game as in reflecting on it.

I've really enjoyed Christopher Nolan's Batman movies so far. For me, this has been the first movie that takes the source material seriously without attempting to simply ape it, or satirize it.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is more of an homage to the comic. This is a good thing. However, what I found myself reflecting on whilst playing the game is the absurdity of it all.

I understand why Batman chooses not to kill the men he hunts. He wouldn't be who he is otherwise. From a comic book perspective, you need the storyline to go on. Reboots can only happen so often in order to be effective. Yet for all that, why would any state maintain a revolving door of the world's most dangerous men? Yet that is precisely what we find in the institution Arkham Asylum. We lock up the Joker, even though we know he's just going to escape again and again.

Much has been made of the update to the Catholic Catechism's teaching on the death penalty in the 2nd edition. It was updated based on Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae, to say:

2267    Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. (2306)

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

It is pretty common to hear that the Catholic Church teaches the death penalty is wrong. This is clearly incorrect. What has been done is to make it's use dependent on contingent social factors, rather than immutable principles. The scope of use has actually been increased, but this is obfuscated because the teaching serves to limit the application of the death penalty in orderly, just, First World nations in the early twenty-first century.

Gotham is not peaceful, orderly, or just. I would guess Arkham Asylum features the corpses of at least 50 dead guards, orderlies, or doctors as part of the game's landscape. Why wouldn't you shoot the Joker dead the first time you caught him? Or if not then, how about the second time? No state could long survive the level of disorder you see in the game. Sheer political desparation would drive any jury to the death penalty in short order.

Hannibal Lecter put it best. "Any rational society would either kill me, or give me my books."

Falkenberg's Legion (The Prince) Book Review

The Mercenary, by Jerry Pournelle (1977) Pocket Books, New York
West of Honor, by Jerry Pournelle (1978 Pocket Books, New York
Prince of Mercenaries, by Jerry Pournelle (1989) Pocket Books, New York
Go Tell the Spartans, by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling (1991) Pocket Books, New York
Prince of Sparta, by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling (1993) Pocket Books, New York
The Prince [Omnibus Edition] by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling (2002) Baen Books, New York.

This book review refers to the series of books centering upon John Christian Falkenberg in the CoDominium universe. These stories have been printed several times, starting with short stories featured in magazines, and ending with the omnibus edition The Prince. For simplicity, if you want to read the whole thing, just get The Prince. I found the 5 separate volumes listed above in a used bookstore, but other combinations are possible, since The Mercenary and West of Honor are also collected in Falkenberg's Legion (1990). There are some related stories that are found in other collections, such as "He Fell Into a Dark Hole" in Black Holes. However, the tales collected in The Prince form a coherent whole.

I have never wanted to be anyone more than I want to be Colonel John Christian Falkenberg. Falkenberg serves as my archetype of a leader; he exerts a magnetic attraction upon me, despite not being real. For clarity, I entitled this review with his name, but the truth is John Christian does not even appear in the last two volumes, although his presence is felt everywhere. Even when absent, he can influence events and the minds of men. A discourse on leadership could be created from this work. However, that is not the task here. Let us discuss the story.

When Pournelle and Niven created the CoDominium, a post-Cold War alliance between the US and the USSR, it was science fiction. Now, it is alternative history. It is interesting to see what has come true and what has not been realized in history. Technology has fallen far behind the timetable Pournelle set, but social order has proven stronger. There is nothing quite so frightening as the Welfare Islands of the United States, vast Le Corbusier constructions full of the indolent and angry, kept complacent only by the public provision of mind-numbing substances. Other authors have predicted similar urban decay [David Feintuch for example], but Pournelle's dystopia is disturbing for its plausibility. I have actually met the forefathers of the Citizens who inhabit the Welfare Islands, and I do not find them congenial company.

By the mid-twenty first century, American politics on Earth are riven by the conflicts between the prole Citizens and the Taxpayer class who support them, but Earth itself is tettering on the brink of war due to resurgent nationalism. The CoDominium wields great power, but the political will to sustain this unnatural alliance is waning. Adding to the discontent is a general ban on scientific research. The CoDominium had at first simply sought to prevent weapons research to preserve the status quo, but it quickly became apparent that just about any science has potential military applications, so they just ended up banning everything. Physicists are licensed and tracked, as potential enemies of the state.

John Christian Falkenberg III is born into interesting times in 2043, in Rome. The ancient city is outside of the jurisdiction of either of the superpowers, so Falkenberg has no other option than to seek the stars, that that there is much opportunity left on Earth. The US is now a caste society, and the USSR has become much like China today but without the economic growth, theoretically Communist but really a mercantilist military state. At least 40 worlds have been settled by the use of the Alderson drive [invented before 2010!], but the CoDominium uses these worlds as pressure relief valve by shipping out political dissidents and criminals as involuntary colonists.

The CoDominium Navy is tasked with keeping the peace both on Earth and her colonies,  but as the alliance fades away so does its budget. John Christian Falkenberg steps into this gap, not entirely voluntarily himself. Falkenberg is an officer in the CoDo Marines, a service that traces back to the French Foreign Legion. The Navy is an interesting amalgam of American and Russian customs, but the Marines maintain the traditions of the Légion étrangère.

Falkenberg is tasked with preserving public order in the colonies, in the hope that civilization may survive the coming conflagration on Earth. The political landscape of Earth is based in part upon the work of C. Northcote Parkinson [this is detailed in A Step Further Out], who sought to update Aristotle's Politics with the data of twenty-five intervening centuries. The title of the omnibus work is taken from Machiavelli; this is an extended discourse upon politics in novel form. About the same time I was reading these, the Magistra was reading a biography of Henry VIII. Without even being told of the collected work's title, she commented that the plot "sounded Machiavellian." Indeed. 

One could also learn a great deal from this work about small unit tactics and guerrilla warfare. As I noted before, hard scifi is not necessarily about technology. Due to the CoDominium's technology restrictions, and the poor economic development of the colonies, battlefield tactics resemble WWII or Korea, except with much smaller forces. Falkenberg's Legion is on the order of 5,000 men, and it is usually a decisive unit in theater, if not the only one. As the state contracts from its Great Lifetime peak, smaller concentrations of force can effectively disrupt the social order, but it also takes smaller forces to rout the brigands.

Pournelle's great contributions to scifi are his wealth of historical knowledge and his psychological acumen. Both are on display here. There is an especially poignant chapter of Prince of Mercenaries [originally a short story] based upon the Spanish Civil War. However, what interests me the most is Falkenberg's character. Despite the Late Republic setting of The Prince, Falkenberg exhibits the virtues of Cinncinatus. He really wants nothing more than to be able to retire to his farm, which is precisely why he can be entrusted with great power: he doesn't want it.

My other book reviews