Timothy S. Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to “Helping Families Thrive.” Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
The Centennial of a Cataclysm: One Life, One Family
Tim Goeglein is Vice President, External Relations, of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com
To you from failing hands we throw
The Torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. -John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields," 1915
One hundred summers ago, one of the greatest calamities in all of history commenced in Europe.
On June 28, 1914, in the Balkan city of Sarajevo, now located in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, were assassinated. Their murders, in the back of an open touring car which had made a wrong turn, lit a torch that set off an inglorious chain of events which would come to include almost every country on that continent and well beyond.
The ineffable cataclysm that became World War I would lead to what one poet and literary critic would aptly call "the suicide of Europe."
The worldwide conflagration set off by those two killings would set Europe aflame for the next four years.
The writer Theodore Dalrymple evocatively wrote of World War I:
The war smashed up European civilization and sapped Europe's belief in itself: For if the wages of its civilization was such a war, bloody and muddy carnage on so unimaginable a scale, what price its civilization?
The brutality of the war, replete with the first use of tanks, poison gas, and guns that could kill on an unprecedented scale, is almost beyond our imagination now.
In all of the centennial reflections of World War I, I wonder how many will actually focus on the most personal impact of that brutal implosion: The impact it had on the families who had to endure the deaths and maiming of their loved ones on a nearly matchless trajectory? In all the reams and tomes ever written about what became known as "The Great War," why is there comparatively such little attention paid to the average mother and father, brother and sister, grandparent, aunt and uncle, niece and nephew, and how they reacted, responded, and indeed coped with the deeply acute sense of loss and despair that is always war's aide-de-camp?
This all came to mind when I read an important review in The Wall Street Journal of a biography on one of the most important young poets to emerge during the war, Wilfred Owen. Born in 1893 in Wales to a lower-middle class family - his father was a train stationmaster - he spent his boyhood in three towns: Liverpool, Shrewsbury, and little Oswestry surrounded by low mountains. Like so many great poets, he was preternaturally shy despite impressive literary gifts which emerged early in his young life. He attended not one of the great British universities, like Oxford or Cambridge, but rather Reading, which was mostly undistinguished and without an international reputation.
Like many children of middle class backgrounds, Owen's parents had great aspirations for their talented son, and his parents nourished these abilities tirelessly and from the start. His father was an amateur but lustrous operatic tenor, and his mother had an artistic bent, taking her young son with her to art galleries and museums to deepen his love of beautiful things. Their attentive parenting had an impact. Those who knew Owen best said he had an obvious love of life, what the French call a joie de vivre. He once wrote of himself "you would not know me for the poet of sorrows."
Embedded deeply with this artistic ability was an equally powerful sense of duty. His parents taught their son that attainment without responsibility was hollow and lacking depth; that character trumped intellectual achievement. It was a set of principles he would take with him to the battlefields of France and ultimately to his grave.
This constant parental nourishing of this natural joy of life paid off. In 1915, just before he joined the army, Owen wrote: "I know I have lived more than my twenty-one years, many more; and so have a start of most lives." What a remarkably self-reflective comment for a young man. This was not a statement of bravado but rather one of appreciation and confidence - precisely the traits he was trained to embody in his Welsh upbringing. His life was not unlike that of another famous British poet whom Owen revered and read with alacrity, devotion, and verve, John Keats.
Yet unlike Keats, Owen willingly enlisted for what would become his death knell, proving to be a widely admired and talented Army officer, but with a literary lan. His lyrical flair and probity, all these years later, helps convey to us, in our own era, the sheer horror and catastrophe of war and its impact on one life and one family.
While stationed near what became known as "No Man's Land" - those barren, desolate pieces of bombed-out ground between the trenches of the British and the French on one side and their enemies the Germans on the other - Owen's poems and letters resonate across the years a brokenness, desperation, and an otherworldly almost phantasmagoric futility of war.
He wrote from France:
I suppose I can endure cold, and fatigue, and the face-to-face death, as well as another; but extra for me there is the universal pervasion of Ugliness. Hideous landscapes, vile noises, foul language, and nothing but foul, even from one's own mouth (for all are devil ridden), everything unnatural, broken, blasted; the distortion of the dead, whose unburiable bodies sit outside the dug-outs all day, all night, the most execrable sights on earth. In poetry we call them the most glorious.
He served for two long years, a period of time alternately defined by selflessness, service, sorrow, achievement, disaster, and then death. Those 24 months witnessed Owen being mercilessly bombarded near the French town of Saint Quentin in early 1917 and sent home with shellshock. Then, almost inexplicably, he returned to France where he was engaged in yet another brutal hand-to-hand battle near the town of Joncourt, for which he was awarded the Military Cross. Finally, on November 4, 1918, he met his denouement - he was killed while leading his company through the Ors Canal despite the ceaseless shelling and gunfire that accompanied his and his men's heroic struggle forward to shelter.
It is nearly impossible now to read Owen's prose without weeping and feeling a kind of leaden sorrow for the promise of life cut short.
In the midst of battle, he wrote to his mother:
All one day we could not move from a small trench, though hour-by-hour the wounded were groaning just outside. Three stretcher-bearers who got up were hit, one by one. I had to order no one to show himself after that, but remembering my own duty, and remembering also my forefathers the agile Welshmen of the mountains I scrambled out myself and felt an exhilaration in baffling the Machine Guns by quick bounds from cover to cover. After the shells we had been through, and the gas, bullets were like the gentle rain from heaven.
What, then, to think of the conflagration of emotions that must have stirred the soul of his parents when, on the very day that the war's armistice was declared, and as the bells in their small Welsh village were tolling, they learned by telegram that their 25-year-old son, their eldest child, had lost his life? Owen was the same age as Keats.
In one of his most solemn, powerful poems, Owen wrote of the World War I generation:
What passing-bells for those who
Die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
As the centennial of "The Great War" approaches - the conflict President Woodrow Wilson said was a "war to end all wars" - it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer impersonal, empirical data of it all: 65 million men worldwide served in that war; 8 million lost their lives; 21 million were wounded. Five million Americans served and 100,000 died in the trenches, hospitals, and shell holes of Europe. It was an implosive war that would be only a prologue to a much longer, deadlier one on the same continent just a few years later.
We have a moral obligation, it seems to me, not to lose sight of the fact that, giant numbers though those are, each was a unique person made in the very image of God - someone's son, husband, grandson, nephew, friend.
A famous Quaker once presciently observed: "You do not have a soul; you are a soul. You have a body."
A century hence, through the mists of time, we must never forget who they were or what they did. Each of them; every soul. *
"The Conservative Mind" Turns Sixty
Tim Goeglein is Vice President, External Relations, of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
One of the foundational texts of the conservative movement, Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, has just hit a milestone: It was published 60 years ago.
His magnus opus remains widely regarded as one of the seminal tomes of mid-century American conservatism, in the same iconic pantheon as Frederich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, William F. Buckley Jr.'s God and Man at Yale, published in 1951, and Whittaker Chambers' Witness, published in 1952.
The Conservative Mind, published in 1953 by the Henry Regnery Publishing Company of Chicago, instantly became one of the most unlikely overnight publishing sensations of the latter half of the 20th century, not unlike Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind nearly 35 years later.
Kirk's original title, The Conservative Rout, was slightly altered by Regnery himself, giving the book a new if less dour name. Kirk had written the book as his doctorate of humane letters thesis at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 1952. It had been accepted by a major New York publishing house, but when one of the chief editors demanded that the young author cut significant portions from the manuscript, Kirk demurred, looked elsewhere, and inked a deal with Regnery, commencing a lifelong friendship.
Kirk's first book mirrored the author himself: high principles, a probing intelligence, and an integrity of ideas that was unimpeachable and unassailable. There would be no wistful sentiments or misty nostalgia conveyed about the central figures and ideas of conservatism.
The Conservative Mind achieved a kind of minor-classic status almost from the beginning, and it launched the young Kirk into a spotlight that shone for the rest of his long life. Time magazine devoted its entire book review section to Kirk's tome, Henry Luce having been personally smitten by its erudition, scholarship, and popular appeal.
The book was widely reviewed and roundly praised even by most of the major liberal publications in mid-century America. The president of Kenyan College, Gordon Keith Chalmers, reviewed the book in The New York Times, calling it "very readable, brilliant, even eloquent."
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Lionel Trilling, and Daniel Boorstin acknowledged the significance of Kirk's central thesis even if they did not give full ascent to its rightness or youthful confidence. Great writers themselves, they knew Kirk abhorred formulaic rhetoric, spectacle, and above all, ideology. He was canny and talented, personifying permanence and excellence in a century that had known chaos and alienation after two world wars.
The center of the book was Kirk's path-breaking assertion that there existed an Anglo-American conservative intellectual tradition that was distinct from its better-known liberal counterpart. This bold thesis contradicted the regnant left-wing narrative that had come to dominate most of American scholarship, and much of college and university campus life by the early 1950s.
The Conservative Mind was a tour-de-force - lyrical in its lucidity, alluring in its assertions, and rooted in a kind of soulful intensity and ethical depth. Kirk was eager about evoking and reintroducing for a new era a host of political and intellectual worthies, many of whom had been forgotten in the mists of time. Kirk saw them as vital, timely, and relevant for a new era.
With precision and finesse, Kirk poignantly illustrated that, beginning with the Irish parliamentarian Edmund Burke in the 18th century, there was an identifiable, unique, and manifestly conservative tradition in the arts, letters, morals, manners, and politics that was, if not ideologically consistent, singular in its own excellence of shared first principles.
He showed how this tradition was separate from what was roundly viewed as the Whig view of history - the natural, inevitable progress toward centralization and consolidation in a variety of spheres, not the least of which was government. He said this conservative tradition had its own intellectual and imaginative architecture, borne of ardor and brilliant writing and thought. Its seedbed was natural law, a combination of variety and mystery, hierarchy and order, the close association between property and liberty, custom, and prudent change that favored reform to rebellion or revolution.
Kirk's compelling narrative echoed one of his conservative icons, the British poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge: That every country, culture, and civilization had a kind of philosophical personality. The liberal worldview was comfortable with theory and speculation and tended toward secularity while the conservative counterpart found greater comfort in experience, practice, and a religious and spiritual sensibility. The former was litigious and legislative in its natural development while the latter was inclined more toward morals, manners, and habituated virtue.
The Conservative Mind, which has never been out of print, has gone through seven editions. In the same way a great painter might add a finishing brush stroke from his palette or a poet might craft an extra stanza, Kirk continued to revise his original manuscript throughout his lifetime of wide reading and thinking. In some instances, there were significant changes. He extended the conservative sensibility well into the mid-20th century, culminating with the poetry and literary/social observations of his friend T. S. Eliot, with whom Kirk had developed an important epistolary friendship across the Atlantic.
Kirk was particular in choosing his canon, selecting as the greatest conservative minds not only Burke, Coleridge, and Eliot but also a veritable cavalcade of worthies: John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Walter Scott, Alexis de Tocqueville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Henry Newman, James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Johnson, and two now-obscure Harvard professors, Paul Elmer More and Irving Babbitt, whose influence on students in the next two generations would read like a Who's Who of American political and literary leadership, not the least of whom was Eliot himself, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Kirk etches finely wrought mini-biographies of all these great men with a special emphasis on their ideas.
The Conservative Mind made deep impressions, conveying a conservatism imbued with moral purpose and alive to modernity. Kirk's flinty intensity and heart animated a prodigious life, and he worked with an almost monkish energy. He wrote a regular column for National Review for the next 25 years called "From the Academy"; he was a widely sought speaker on every major campus in the United States and abroad, speaking at nearly 500 universities and colleges; Barry Goldwater actively cultivated his support and counsel in his run for the presidency in 1964; and Kirk's weekly newspaper column for The Los Angeles Times syndicate was among the most popular in the country.
Thirty more books and hundreds of reviews, essays, and short stories would flow from Kirk's typewriter in the little Michigan village of Mecosta across the next 40 years. His oeuvre is animated by a tone and style of humility and gratitude, confidence and joy. He was a commanding prose stylist in an antiquarian sort of way - his commitment to design and craft is everywhere present on the page.
His exquisite writing after The Conservative Mind developed with more depth and probity Burke's central assertion that healthy civilizations are defined by the strength and courage of what Eliot called "the permanent things" - religious faith, the natural family, the centrality of mystery and transcendence, duties and obligations, and the ability of each succeeding generation to cohere confidently in defense of liberty, the free society, and the foundations of private property and free enterprise.
Kirk received the Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan, and at a dinner honoring the distinguished thinker and writer, the president said:
Dr. Kirk helped renew a generation's interest and knowledge of "permanent things," which are the underpinnings and the intellectual infrastructure of the conservative revival of our country.
In a famous 1966 essay written for The New York Times, Kirk had deftly predicted that Reagan's election as governor of California would usher in a conservative era in American politics which indeed came to fruition when Reagan was elected President of the United States in 1980. The Reagan years were conservatism's political and intellectual apotheosis, and Kirk's gentility, humility, and well-bred manner played no small role in that traditional resurgence.
He was a man of culture and deep piety, subtle and serene by temperament, yet astonishingly prolific. Kirk's big book was viewed as both a catechesis and a colossus of the American conservative movement, evoking the intersection of past and present. A veritable gem, The Conservative Mind proved that conservatism and intellectual elegance were not incompatible and could be of a piece. Its author was a cultivated and formidable writer, and the book's power and appeal confirmed philosopher Richard Weaver's view that "Ideas have consequences."
The book was so central to the burgeoning conservative movement, and its coming clash with the Left, that it further defined for the rest of the century the idea of what it meant to be an American conservative. Kirk's esthetic, religious, and moral principles were elemental to his Burkean worldview, and with great suppleness and dexterity, he defended them with a hopeful conviction that negated despair at almost every important turn of history. His was a sublime, elevating view, and his great book was a kind of bravura celebration of what conservatism was and could be for a new epoch of post-war Western culture.
The conservative . . . is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character - with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.
The Conservative Mind is evergreen, animated by stylistic grace and eloquent poignancy. Sixty years on, Kirk's sparkling masterwork abides, its cadences of rich prose and deep learning as refreshing as ever.
The following are cogent quotes from The Conservative Mind:
Nothing is but thinking makes it so. If men of affairs can rise to the summons of the poets, the norms of culture and politics may endure despite the follies of the time. The individual is foolish; but the species is wise; and so the thinking conservative appeals to what Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead." Against the hubris of the ruthless innovator, the conservative of imagination pronounces Cupid's curse: "They that do change old love for new, Pray gods they change for worse."
The conservative is concerned with the recovery of true community, local energies and co-operation; with what Orestes Brownson called "territorial democracy," voluntary endeavor, a social order distinguished by multiplicity and diversity. Free community is the alternative to compulsive collectivism. It is from the decay of community, particularly at the level of the "little platoon," that crime and violence shoot up. In this realm, misguided "liberal" measures have worked mischief that may not be undone for decades or generations, especially in the United States. *
What the Case of Kermit Gosnell Says about Us
We can tell a lot about a culture by what it chooses to overlook. Along a spectrum abortion practice in America has reached the extreme end, revealing American callousness to the point of inhumanity.
Kermit Gosnell, M.D., spent nearly four decades running his clinic, "The Women's Medical Society," in Philadelphia. The grand jury case against him states:
This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy - and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels - and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it. . . .
The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment - such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff - was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn't used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains. It was a baby charnel house. [Prosecutors have cited dozens of jars of severed baby feet-Philadelphia Inquirer.]
James Johnson is the common-law husband of Gosnell's wife's sister. He worked as a janitor, maintenance man, and plumber at the clinic. He testified at trial how he threatened to quit work, because when the staff flushed remains down the toilets (into Philadelphia's sewage system) the toilets would back up once or twice a week. He would open the outside clean out pipe to see babies' arms and other parts come spilling out. With a shovel he scooped up the baby parts, put them in bags, and took them to the basement.
The people who ran this sham medical practice included no doctors other than Gosnell himself, and not even a single nurse. Two of his employees had been to medical school, but neither of them were licensed physicians. They just pretended to be. Everyone called them "Doctor," even though they, and Gosnell, knew they weren't. Among the rest of the staff, there was no one with any medical licensing or relevant certification at all. But that didn't stop them from making diagnoses, performing procedures, administering drugs.
. . . the real business of the "Women's Medical Society" was not health; it was profit. There were two primary parts to the operation. By day it was a prescription mill; by night an abortion mill. A constant stream of "patients" came through during business hours and, for the proper payment, left with scripts. . . . The fake prescriptions brought in hundreds of thousand of dollars a year.
. . . As with abortion, as with prescriptions, Gosnell's approach was simple: keep volume high, expenses low - and break the law. That was his competitive edge.
. . . Gosnell catered to the women who couldn't get abortions elsewhere - because they were too pregnant. Most doctors won't perform late second-trimester abortions, from approximately the 20th week of pregnancy, because of the risks involved. And late-term abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy are flatly illegal. But for Dr. Gosnell, they were an opportunity. The bigger the baby, the more he charged.
. . . Babies that big are hard to get out. Gosnell's approach . . . was to force full labor and delivery of premature infants on ill-informed women. The women would check in during the day, make payments, and take labor-inducing drugs. The doctor wouldn't appear until evening. . . . Many of them gave birth before he even got there. By maximizing the pain and danger for his patients, he minimized the work, and cost, for himself and his staff. The policy, in effect, was labor without labor.
There remained, however, a final difficulty. When you perform late-term "abortions" by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. Most babies born prematurely will survive if they receive appropriate medical care. . . . Gosnell had a simple solution . . . he killed them . . . He called it "ensuring fetal demise." . . . by sticking scissors into the back of the baby's neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that "snipping."
On May 13 Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder of infants born alive, and one count of involuntary manslaughter of a woman, Karnamaya Mongar, who died of an overdose of anesthesia given by an unqualified assistant. He was also found guilty of conspiracy, of performing abortions beyond the legal limit in Pennsylvania, and over two hundred violations of the state's informed consent law. On May 14 Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison.
Also four former clinic employees have pleaded guilty to murder, and four more to other charges. They include Gosnell's wife, Pearl, who helped perform abortions.
As bad as Gosnell's conduct was, the evil goes beyond him. The grand jury reported several agencies responsible for oversight should have stopped Gosnell years ago. Gosnell was caught when police raided the clinic to stop the selling of illegal prescriptions. Police saw the revolting conditions, dazed patients, and baby parts.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) examined the "Women's Medical Society" when it opened in 1979. It didn't conduct a review again until 1989, ten years later. Violations were apparent but Gosnell promised to fix them. The PDH did reviews in 1992 and 1993 and again recorded violations, but failed again to enforce the law. After 1993 the clinic wasn't examined for 20 years. The grand jury found that:
. . . the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The Politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey [a pro-life Democrat] to Governor Ridge, [a pro-choice Republican], officials concluded that inspections would be "putting a barrier up to women" seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased, even though, as Gosnell proved, that meant both women and babies would pay.
It is worth emphasizing that the PDH decided to institute a hands-off, "live-and-let-die" policy towards abortion clinics because a pro-choice Republican, Tom Ridge, who went on to serve in George W. Bush's cabinet, found it politically convenient.
Complaints about Gonsell were repeatedly overlooked.
* Several attorneys representing women injured by Gosnell alerted the PDH.
* A doctor from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia hand delivered a complaint about the numerous women he had referred to Gosnell who came back with the same venereal disease.
* The medical examiner of Delaware County told the department that Gosnell illegally aborted a 30-week-old baby from 14-year-old girl.
* The PDH received official notice of the death of Karnamaya Mongar, the woman about whom Gosnell was convicted of manslaughter.
Only after Gosnell was raided, charged, tried, and covered in the local media did the PDH close the clinic. In response to the grand jury investigation department officials "lawyered up," hiring an expensive law firm at taxpayer expense.
A second agency, the Pennsylvania Department of State (PDS), had the authority to stop Gosnell but did nothing in the face of repeated evidence of wrongdoing.
* Ten years ago a former employee of Gosnell's told the Board of Medicine about the clinic's entire operation: the filthy conditions, unqualified workers, unsupervised sedation, underage girls getting abortions, the illicit sale of drugs with high resale value on the street. An investigator was assigned and interviewed Gosnell - he didn't enter the clinic, didn't question employees, or review records. Department attorneys dismissed the complaint as "unconfirmed."
* The PDS heard about a 22-year-old woman who died of sepsis after Gosnell perforated her uterus; a civil suit against Gosnell was settled for nearly a million dollars, and the insurance company alerted the PDS: the department dismissed the complaint.
* Two more complaints about lawsuits were dismissed.
* Gosnell paid out damages to five different women whose internal organs he had punctured, but a department attorney saw no "pattern of conduct."
As with the PDH, so with the Pennsylvania Department of State: once Gosnell's clinic became big news (at least in Philadelphia) the department suspended Gosnell's license.
A third agency, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH), was complicit. PDPH employees regularly visited the clinic to retrieve blood samples for testing purposes. The grand jury praised one PDPH employee who discovered Gosnell was "scamming the program." She saw the terrible conditions, she asked questions, she filed detailed reports - she was the only regulator, city or state, who tried to stop Gosnell. Her report went "into a black hole."
Two hospitals in Gosnell's neighborhood, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, saw a succession of severely injured women (one "turned up virtually dead") in need of emergency surgery. It's the legal duty of these hospitals to report dangerous clinics. They didn't.
Why did these authorities fail in their duty? The grand jury found:
Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.
The grand jury calls out by name division directors and attorneys at the above agencies. Kenneth Brody, senior legal counsel of the Pennsylvania Department of Health insisted: "The department had no legal obligation to monitor abortion clinics"! The same agency's head lawyer, chief counsel, Christine Dutton, explained: "People die." Having no legal basis to charge these "public servants" the grand jury hopes they will be held accountable -but by whom?
In the wake of the national media coverage of Gosnell's case many similar horrors have come to light. Kirsten Powers reports in Delaware two Planned Parenthood nurses resigned in protest; said one: "It was just unsafe. I couldn't tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was." Maryland authorities closed three abortion clinics, two for failings in equipment and training. Officials in Ohio shut a clinic because of the misuse of pharmaceuticals. In Illinois some abortion clinics hadn't been inspected for ten to fifteen years.
Michigan lawmakers allege a conflict of interest between the state board of medicine and a Muskegon doctor, who is a convicted felon. Dr. Robert Alexander's abortion clinic was closed because of filthy conditions, and "blood on the floor and walls." The Michigan Board of Medicine received complaints of botched abortions, including a woman whose uterus was ruptured. The chairman of the board, Dr. George H. Shade, thought no investigation was necessary - Dr. Shade helped Dr. Alexander get his license back after Dr. Alexander went to prison for selling illegal prescriptions.
In Texas Dr. Douglas Karpen is being tried for killing babies in the third trimester. Four former employees accuse him of killing babies either by "snipping" spinal cords, "stabbing a surgical instrument into their heads," or "twisting their heads off their necks with his own bare hands." Dr. Karpen's ex-assistant, Deborah Edge said:
Sometimes he couldn't get the fetus out . . . he would yank pieces - piece by piece - when they were oversize . . . And I'm talking about the whole floor dirty. I'm talking about me drenched in blood.
A late term abortion cost between $4,000 and $5,000. Deborah Edge said, "We would always think he's so greedy." Deborah Edge didn't know what Dr. Karpen was doing was illegal.
National Review's reporter, Jillian Kay Melchior wrote a long, well-documented article, "Abortion's Underside," about an ever-changing group of people who are still running three clinics in Florida. This is a story of several doctors and their shameful conduct of injuring many women. There were malpractice suits and revoked medical licenses, and continued illegal behavior. There were fines and probation, but continued abuse. One doctor fled to Trinidad to escape prosecution. One fled to New York where he got his license to practice medicine back, after it was revoked in Florida. Despite his history of negligence and deceit the New York Department of Health's committee said he
. . . is a physician who provides excellent medical care to an inner city poor population. These patients should not be deprived of this valuable resource.
The clinics are operated by a mother, her daughter, another woman, and by the men who come in and out of their lives. The women don't have the medical training necessary to perform abortions themselves, but they manage the organization, and stay one step ahead of the law. The similarities to Gosnell's case are stark: the motive is money, the pregnant women are poor, uneducated, and of color. Equipment was (is?) unavailable or broken, the care given was (is?) criminally negligent, conditions were (are?) bloody, many women were (are?) severely injured, and babies were (are?) killed.
The most poignant part of Melchior's article is when she interviews the former Hialeah deputy police chief concerning the death of a baby:
. . . it's the symptom of the bigger issue, and the bigger issue is the state statutes and what [the law] supports. Whether [the doctor] is running it or not, does it matter? The state supports what they did. Even as horrific an event as it was . . . the law supports what they did that day.
The baby in this case was just below Florida's legal limit for gestational age, which is vaguely defined. Prosecutors were reluctant to go to trial.
We should note the complicity of the mass media who are sympathetic to abortion rights, even at the extreme end of the spectrum. Broadcast commentators and print journalist were slow to cover the Gosnell case. One Washington Post reporter called it only a "local story." They were shamed into paying attention by Kirsten Powers, a well-known, well-respected, proud, honest, liberal journalist. She wrote:
You don't have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent, or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." It's about basic human rights. . . . The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.
The American Left has staked out an extreme position on abortion. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has infamously said on the Senate floor that a baby acquires a right to life only "when you bring your baby home" - in other words if a family decides to keep the baby, otherwise it may be killed. A Planned Parenthood lobbyist, Alisa LaPott Snow, recently suggested in testimony before the Florida government that even if a baby survives a botched abortion the child's fate remains a woman's right to choose.
While Barack Obama was Illinois state senator he voted against the "Born Alive Bill," a bill that required doctors to give care to babies who survive abortions. He was speaking about such a baby in the Illinois Senate, he said:
. . . that if that fetus, or child, however you want to describe it, is now outside of the mother's womb . . . (it's a "fetus" outside the womb!)
These attitudes have life and death consequences.
Addressing a Planned Parenthood conference (an essential piece of the abortion industry), in the midst of the national news coverage of Kermit Gosnell's trial, President Barack Obama referred to his political opponents:
. . . those who want to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century. And they've been involved in an orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women's health.
It is apparent that the real "war on women" the Obama administration so often invokes in political rhetoric is not being advanced by Republican or conservative men against women - it's being waged by heartless liberals who are willing to sacrifice the lives of women and babies for the purpose of protecting "a woman's right to choose." The women sacrificed are often poor, uneducated, and of color - the very people liberals profess to protect.
Too many Republican politicians, for example, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, are afraid of being called an "extremist" by vicious people, like President Barack Obama. Too many Republicans, politicians and ordinary citizens, have been cowed into silence, with the result being the nation-wide proliferation of abortion mills where babies are murdered and women are severely injured and sometimes killed by "doctors" who are greedy for money.
If one political party exerts maximum effort (as Democrats have on the abortion issue) while the weak party practices strategic silence, the strong party will have its way. At the same time the weak party not only fails to stand up for itself, it gives potential supporters no reason to give their respect or allegiance. The sad irony is that liberal politicians get away with calling Republicans "extremists."
Roe v. Wade was defended on the basis that restrictive laws on abortion forced women to turn to back-alley hacks. Obviously legal access to abortion in America hasn't saved poor women from back-alley hacks. Some commentators have concluded we need to redouble our efforts, provide easier access to abortion, dedicate more public money to the abortion industry, give earlier, better sex education in our schools. What is lacking on the Left is humility, and an appreciation of the sacredness of life.
Republican politicians have a golden opportunity to advance the cause of crisis pregnancy centers: they already exist nationwide. Why not expand them instead of the abortion industry? They work with pregnant women, providing ultrasound services, parental counseling, life management counseling, help with the needs of mother and child. Unwanted pregnancies cause loneliness, fear, and hopelessness, and for poor women there is a lack of information: crisis pregnancy centers can deal with women's hopelessness.
Republican politicians should prepare for the rhetorical traps of reporters' questions by avoiding rigid standards. Republicans politicians should speak to women with unwanted pregnancies with empathy. They should simply express the sacredness of life, and point out the alternative of adoption.
People who are pro-life should recognize that protecting new life from conception is presently impossible to pass into law or to effectively enforce.
It is impossible to draw a line during gestation when abortion is "ok," that is not arbitrary. Abortion has inescapable moral consequences for the individuals involved - consequences not imposed by other people. Whatever decision is made is a turning point that has to be lived with.
Finally, to believe that abortion is only a women's issue is to diminish the responsibility of men. Do we really want to encourage men to become irrelevant? The Left in America is attempting - through "a women's right to choose" - to restrict men's natural role as fathers. What better way to marginalize men, as fathers, than to give them permission to take little responsibility in their sexual conduct, and then to exclude them from decisions about whether to keep or abort the baby? Overlooking the irresponsibility of men is seductive and effective, but what does it do to their basic humanity? Men need to be tamed and trained to shoulder their fair share of responsibility, or they will never learn to do their duty. *
We would like to thank the following people for their generous support of this journal (from 3/14/2013 to 5/25/2013): Mary Ellen Alt, George E. Andrews, William D. Andrews, A. D. Baggerley, David D. Barbee, James B. Black, Carl W. Borklund, Jason Botka, Robert P. Bringer, Patrick J. Buchanan, Price B. Burgess, Thomas M. Burt, John B. Charlton, Laurence Christenson, Thomas J. Ciotola, Tommy D. Clark, Bruce & Leigh Davey, Dianne C. DeBoest, Peter R. DeMarco, John H. Downs, Richard F. Doyle, Robert M. Ducey, Don Dyslin, Donald R. Eberle, Richard A. Edstrom, John B. Elko, Ronald E. Everett, Joseph C. Firey, Nansie Lou Follen, John Gallo, John B. Gardner, Jane F. Gelderman, Gary D. Gillespie, Tim Goeglein, Katharine A. Golden, Thad A. Goodwyn, Judith E. Haglund, Alene D. Haines, Weston N. Hammel, Elizabeth R. Harrigan, John H. Hearding, Daniel V. Hickey, Thomas Higgs, Gregory A. Hight, Thomas E. Humphreys, William Hutcheson, David Ihle, Arthur H. Ivey, Burleigh Jacobs, Louise Hinrichsen Jones, Fredric R. Joseph, Mary A. Kelley, Martin & Esther Kellogg, William H. Kelly, Lenore Kirkpatrick, Barbara M. Knox, Mary S. Kohler, Karen Kuhn, Bryon J. Kuntz, Leonard F. Leganza, William H. Lupton, Gregor MacDonald, George F. Manley, Howard S. Martin, Will K. McLain, Karen McNeil, Roberta R. McQuade, Eugene F. Meenagh, Woodbridge & Barbara R. Metcalf, Walter M. Moede, Ray D. Nelson, John M. Nickolaus, James P. O'Connell, Lester C. O'Quinn, King Odell, Harold K. Olson, Thomas L. Olson, Frederick D. Pfau, Gary Phillips, Gary J. Pressley, Melvin J. Ptacek, Linda R. Puzzio, Jack Rice, Mark Richter, Patrick L. Risch, David C. Robinson, Katherine Ross, Morris R. Scholz, Irene L. Schultz, Harry Richard Schumache, Richard L. Sega, Alvan I. Shane, William A. Shipley, David L. Smith, Paul Sopko, John R. Stevens, Carl G. Stevenson, Norman Stewart, Norman Swender, Paul B. Thompson, Frank Villani, Alan Rufus Waters, Eugene & Diane Watson, Jane L. Wegener, Joe Wentzky, James J. Whelan, Cedric White, Robert C. Whitten, Robert L. Wichterman, Gaylord T. Willett, Eric B. Wilson, David Winnes, Piers Woodriff, W. Raymond Worman, Chris Yunker.
Fortunate Friendships with Russell Kirk and Bill Buckley
Timothy Goeglein was Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison from 2001 to 2008. This essay is an edited version of the tenth chapter of Timothy Goeglein's recently published book, The Man in the Middle (B&H Publishing Group).
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You, too? I thought I was the only one." -C. S. Lewis
In Washington, D.C., relationships matter. During all my years in Washington, I have been the beneficiary of some fortunate friendships but two towering intellectual friendships of my life were formed long before I came to the White House. These men actually guided me in ways more important than I ever would have thought possible in the days when our friendships were new. I met Russell Kirk, when I was a junior in high school in 1981. I met William F. Buckley Jr. during my early years working in the U.S. Senate, and ours solidified into a warm friendship almost immediately.
With Russell, a fellow Midwesterner, I developed a friendship by letters, all of his typed personally and neatly and with nary an error, flowing as if each one was written for publication, so lucid and eloquent were they, word upon word. We exchanged letters on and off through the rest of his life, well into the 1990s, and we saw each other whenever he came to Washington, which was at least two times a year on average for lectures and speeches.
Russell changed my life by seeding my intellectual curiosity. I came to see that his external life was much smaller than his internal world, which was large, deep, and wide. He taught me to be wary of ideologues because they got in the way of a good life. He famously said "ideology is anathema."
Conservatism, I came to see, because of the influence of Russell, was not an ideology but instead a way of life. There is no official or unofficial handbook for what constitutes conservatism, and in fact the conservative life is various. Through all our letters, through our many conversations, through reading his prodigious oeuvre - both fiction and nonfiction (his ghost stories are remarkable) - I came to see I was not exclusively a social conservative, an economic conservative, or a defense/foreign policy/national security conservative. I was a conservative without prefix or suffix, one who believed, with Russell, that "the 20th-century conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character - with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest."
When I read those words for the first time in The Conservative Mind, I knew I had found a soul mate, even if we did not agree on all things. In fact, I once raised this point with Russell, and he was pleased that in fact we did not agree in all matters. He told me disagreement is a key part of conservatism, that there is no single document or manifesto that guides the conservative but that there are precepts rooted in transcendence, custom, order, and tradition that guide the thinking and faith of those who find wisdom in prescription.
When William F. Buckley Jr. once visited Russell in Kirk's small ancestral Michigan village of Mecosta - Russell liked to refer to that part of Michigan as "the stump country" - and asked him what he did for intellectual companionship there, Russell pointed at the wall of books comprising his library.
That is not an inapt description of how Russell's friendship impacted my own public service in the Senate and the White House but especially the latter. Russell showed me it was important to live your ideas, that faith and action go together and not one without the other. He was a commanding public intellectual, deeply respected by men and women of the Left as well as the Right. I remember having lunch with the librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, in the Senate dining room and asking him who had not only most profoundly shaped his intellectual life but effectively challenged it. He told me it was Russell Kirk; he said Russell was one of the most astute thinkers he had ever known.
I remember spending a winter weekend with the Kirks in Mecosta. When I arrived, I thought it was one of the bleakest days of the year: The skies were grey; the fields and forests were cropless and leafless; and the bitter wind seemed endless. When I came into their village, I did not know precisely where their home was. Annette had said, "Just ask anyone when you arrive," as it was a small village. So I stopped at the first place I found, a kind of combination gas station and gift shop.
"Oh, the Kirks. Yes, they live in that haunted house down there," pointing just down the street. I chuckled, but the woman gave me a lame grin as if to say, "Just wait. You'll see what I mean." The Gothic house was indeed a landmark in Mecosta. The original Kirk homestead burned to the ground many years before on Good Friday, but Russell and Annette built a beautiful Italianate home in its place. It was not grandiose or luxurious; but it had a remarkable personality, perfectly capturing its patriarch.
The highlight of my time with the Kirks was when Russell and I took a short walk down a snowy old lane to the former cigar factory that became his library. Thousands of volumes animated the place, but there were two focal points in the room: the desk where Russell did his writing, usually in the dead of night while his family slept, and a large, roaring, crackling fire in the fireplace that in those winter months was rarely extinguished. When we walked in, I felt a sense of serenity and warmth and peace. So many of the books special in my life were written in that library.
The last time I saw Russell was on his final visit to Washington. We had tea on the rooftop of the old Hotel Washington where he stayed when he was in the city. It was a glorious afternoon, and the terrace where we sat overlooked the White House and the Department of the Treasury. I made a comment about the statue of Alexander Hamilton that stands just behind the Treasury, near to the East Gate of the White House. Russell began to expound on the key chapters of Hamilton's life, the centrality of his role in the Federalist Papers, and was discussing the importance of Hamilton to America's founding as if he, Russell, was literally sitting having tea in the 18th century. He was not lecturing or moralizing but rather discussing and evoking in the most remarkable fashion, from his great mind, one of the central characters of all of American history. Russell's comments had a learnedness and vastness of knowledge that astounded me, and yet there was not a scintilla of pedantry in his approach. When I was with him, I always felt a sense of calm. He was a gentle man.
Russell's friendship, animated by the first postulates of the good life, guided me in practical ways time and again. His was a worldview animated by a realm of noble ideas, mysterious splendor, and the ways God affronted confusion, doubt, and fear. Russell taught me to embrace justice, mystery, and an orderly and stable universe that was God-ordained and true. He showed that literature and civilization matter to the man or woman who chooses public life and that being guided by those central, exciting ideas - truth, beauty, justice, goodness - was a wonderful way to navigate a good and meaningful life.
In all of my letters, lunches, dinners, and time with him, he never once raised a political idea or discussion. With Russell there was never a time of punditry or current events. If I made a comment about something in the news, he might express an opinion, but by and large we discussed history, biography, poetry, philosophy, theology, or shared a bit of humor. Russell Kirk's impact on me was indelible.
So was Bill Buckley's. In the 1990s I attended a noontime lecture at The Heritage Foundation, which was just three blocks from the Russell Senate Office Building, my office for nearly a decade. After the lecture I was particularly intrigued by an idea raised there. I wrote a letter about it to my friend, the Dartmouth professor and senior editor of National Review Jeffrey Hart, to get his perspective. Jeff shared my letter with Bill. I didn't know Jeff shared the letter, and I had never met Buckley.
Shortly thereafter, in my postbox in the Senate, I found a letter from Buckley. He told me Jeff shared my letter with him, that he agreed with me on that particular point and would like to discuss it further. He invited me to have dinner with him and members of the National Review editorial board (the senior staff at NR) at Buckley's pied-e-terre in New York City.
As a young Senate deputy press secretary, who read virtually everything Bill wrote, watched innumerable Firing Line episodes from a young age, and enjoyed his Blackford Oakes fiction series, I was astounded that he was inviting me to dinner at his home based on a letter I sent not to him but to a colleague of his. I accepted the invitation; took the train to New York City two weeks later; and spent one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life with Bill, his wife Pat, and a small coterie of NR editors and other guests at their home at 73rd Street and Park Avenue.
I remember walking into their apartment: King Charles Cavalier dogs barking and nipping at my feet; a tuxedoed young butler offering me a drink from a silver tray; Pat Buckley in a flowing white dress, perfumed aplenty; a harpsichord in the entry hall Bill was plucking; brightly colored paintings on every wall, many of them abstracts; and thence into a reddish-orange library for drinks and conversation before dinner.
This was the first real salon I ever joined, and the conversation ranged from that day's New York Times editorials to many topics far beyond. Bill had just returned from a sailing trip and was discussing the beauty of Newfoundland. Dinner followed, eight of us at a large round table in a small, mirror-filled drawing or ballroom, the dogs omnipresent. The range and scope of that evening flew by as if in a dream. I suppose I have never felt more like an arriviste as I did that night.
I remember the most humbling part of the evening. During dinner Bill went around the table, raised a point or two, and then asked the guests what they thought, encouraging and prompting excellent conversation and humor. I soon realized he was being fairly systematic and eventually would come to me. I rarely feel intimidated, but I was surrounded by people whose work, both journalism and fiction, I read for years and wasn't quite sure I was actually supposed to be there. When Bill got to me, he put me completely at ease. He shared with the group the narrative of my letter that seeded our friendship, and he made me feel welcome in such a way that I intuited, for the first time, his legendary friendship, warmth, and grace.
The evening was among the most satisfying of my life. After dinner and now in another beautiful room, we had coffee and after-dinner drinks (Bill and two others had cigars). The longtime publisher of NR, Bill Rusher, was there, and at one point cited from memory a gorgeous poem by A. E. Housman. Near 10:00 p.m. we all said our good-byes. As we were doing so, Bill sat at the harpsichord, plucking a few more keys, and then saw me and his group of guests to the door. "See you again, my friend," he said to me and gently latched the large front door after we departed. The group quickly dispersed in a hail of cabs, but I chose to walk back to my hotel to try to understand what had just happened. I simply never had an evening like that before and was certain I never would again.
Two weeks later I found another letter in my Senate postbox, again from Bill. When I was in New York for dinner, he asked me in passing if I had ever been on a sailboat. I told him I was born and raised in Northeastern Indiana; that while we had lots of lakes, I had never stepped foot on a sailboat. I knew, of course, of his fame as a sailor but did not think again of our conversation. Bill asked if I would like to rectify never having been on a sailboat and come to his home in Stamford, Connecticut, for an overnight sail across the Long Island Sound, on a Friday evening in the early fall. Again I was surprised by the invitation and the generosity of it but felt sheepish: I envisioned it would be a party of ten or so people who all sailed, and then there would be me, the landlubber.
I knew it was an invitation I could not turn down, so I steeled myself for awkwardness, happily accepted, and set a date with Bill's indefatigable secretary, Frances Bronson. Frances told me Bill would likely collect me from the Stamford station; and indeed, when I arrived in a light drizzle, Bill was there to meet me in the smallest Ford station wagon I have ever seen.
Though fall, the weather was unseasonably warm. I noticed a Catholic Missal was between the gear shaft and the passenger seat, along with plenty of other reading material: a copy of National Review that was about ten years old, a dog-eared copy of The Human Life Review, a copy of Commentary magazine, and a copy of a Patrick O'Brien novel. Bill was wearing khaki pants, a cashmere sweater with the words National Review stitched into the upper left side, Sperry topsiders, and an old Greek-style light-blue sailing cap. His casual informality made him seem like a prep school senior and not a man in his seventies.
When we arrived, despite the rain, many of the home's windows were open, as was the front door, allowing the sea breezes to pour into the house. The view of Long Island Sound fronting the manse, just down the vast front lawn, was beautiful. The rain slowed, the clouds were dissipating, and the late afternoon sun was slowly emerging. A beautiful evening was breaking forth, a great night for a sail. I kept waiting for the other sailing guests to arrive, but this turned out to be a phantom concern.
Danny Merritt, who sailed with Bill for many years, dating from his own boyhood friendship with Bill's son Christopher, would sail with us that evening, as would Danny's twelve-year-old son. I asked Bill if it was just the four of us. Yes, just four; it was a hard and fast rule with Bill. Four was the perfect number for his twenty-eight-foot sailboat called Patito, he said, and five would be a crowd. The car was quickly loaded with all kinds of gear and provisions (I kept thinking: All this for an overnight sail?), and we then went to the Stamford docks, loaded the boat, and proceeded to have one of the most autumnal glorious sails. The wind was just right, and the sails were beautiful against the emerging sunset.
The clouds folded back; the twinkling stars emerged as if on cue; the Manhattan skyline was clearly visible and shining out of the near darkness. The mast, the sails, the retreating clouds, the dark water: There was an intensity bordering on grandeur.
We sailed across into Oyster Bay ("Fitzgerald and Roosevelt territory," I remember Bill saying), with Bach's music playing during most of our trip across the Sound. The whole evening seemed serendipitous. A sumptuous dinner followed, which was prepared earlier by Bill's chef Julian and reheated by Danny. As dinner commenced, Bach slowly gave way to jazz by the pianist Dick Wellstood, one of Bill's favorite musicians. The evening was now getting chilly, and fresh air was pouring into the boat as we slept that night, with only the sound of waves lapping against the boat during the night. Bliss.
A wonderful breakfast followed, with Bill rising early and the sound of a New York City radio newscaster giving the headlines and the weather. We returned to Stamford by mid-morning and I spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing. We watched a movie that evening in a leopard-rugged music room that doubled as a small theater, and I departed Sunday morning.
As I settled into my Amtrak seat, I realized that over the previous twenty-four hours I had entered a world unto itself and very much unlike my own, a world I had not been part of two days before. It was a unique entree, animated by books, music, ideas, humor, good food, and joie de vivre, undergirded by Bill's unfailing generosity. Our friendship was really born that weekend and during the short sail. It also dawned on me that during my entire time with Bill he never once raised a political issue. Like my time with Russell, unless I referred to politics or some current public policy issue, the political scene never arose. We shared love for music (classical, jazz, the American songbook), ideas in literature, classic and contemporary movies (Bill referred to them as "flicks"), new and old novels, and the big and various personalities he had known in a remarkable lifetime including movie stars, politicians, writers, and journalists. These were the people and ideas stimulating our friendship, and it had the net effect of widening my world far beyond the Beltway and the life of pure politics. We would see each other twice a year or so in the course of the next twelve years, sailing together at least once a summer and often on a long summer sailing cruise as far north as the Bay of Fundy in Canada, the Saint John River, much of Nova Scotia, and most of the East Coast, from Blue Hill, Maine, into Penobscot Bay, to visits on Nantucket, Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, and Newport. During those summer sails, I felt a sense of relaxation and insouciance that I have rarely enjoyed since then, or ever.
My friendships with Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk changed my life. *