Fox Byte 5775 #52: Vayelekh (And He Went)

וַיֵּלֶךְ

Concept art for an upcoming Czech film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: The Fish People Attack! Amazing Concept Art For Czech Creature Feature WAR WITH THE NEWTS (VALKA S MLOKY) on twitch, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)
Concept art for an upcoming film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: “The Fish People Attack!” on twitchfilm.com, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)

Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing.  Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration.  For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality.  Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.

Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.  Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it.  Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920.  The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot.  The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.

Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later.  It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia.  The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors.  In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs.  The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army.  It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.

It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved.  Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will.  The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands.  As usual, art imitates life.  YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will.  Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough.  What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction.  About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:

It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them.  Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 31:3 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #40: Balak

בָּלָק

General George S. Patton, Jr., one of America's greatest - and most flawed - military leaders.  (Photo:  US National Archives, via Wikimedia Commons)
General George S. Patton, Jr., one of America’s greatest – and most flawed – military leaders. (Photo: US National Archives, via Wikimedia Commons)

The great military leaders of World War II include nine who attained the highest rank awarded by the United States of America.  Those five-star leaders are Generals of the Army George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley; Fleet Admirals William D. Leahy, Ernest King, Chester W. Nimitz, and William Halsey, Jr.; and General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold.  Each man accomplished great things for his nation, and all deserved the honors bestowed on them, yet some students of history would say there is a name missing from the list.  Where is George S. Patton, Jr.?

Patton died too soon, losing his life as the result of an automobile accident in December 1945.  Had he lived he might eventually have become a five-star general.  Might, that is, had he been able to refrain from the controversy that followed him throughout his very public military career.  By the time World War II erupted he had proven his worth at home and abroad, including combat operations in Mexico and France.  Less than a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Patton commanded the only all-American force in Operation Torch, the Allied landings on North Africa in November 1942.  His Western Task Force conducted the longest amphibious operation in history, sailing from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to the shores of French Morocco.  From there he went on to a stunning series of battlefield successes in Tunisia, Sicily, France, and Germany.

Along with Patton’s skilled leadership came his shortcomings:  a volatile temper, and a tendency to speak indiscreetly.  Twice in Sicily he encountered soldiers suffering from battle fatigue; both times he slapped them and accused them of cowardice.  For that he was reprimanded and kept from a field command for nearly a year.  When he returned to combat in command of the Third Army, he engineered the breakout from the Normandy beachhead and raced across France at astonishing speed.  December 1944 witnessed his greatest battlefield accomplishment:  the relief of Bastogne at the height of the Battle of the Bulge.  Patton’s troops remained on the offensive thereafter, advancing across Germany and into Czechoslovakia.  After the war, as an occupation commander, he continued to generate controversy by retaining former Nazi Party members in positions of authority in the belief that they were best qualified to restore and run Germany’s shattered infrastructure.  While he had good reason, Patton chose to defend his decision by saying that membership in the Nazi Party in Germany was no different than membership in the Democratic or Republican parties in the United States.  His remarks came at the time when the heinous crimes of the Third Reich were becoming public knowledge.  As a result, he was relieved of command of Third Army and assigned to the less prestigious post he occupied at the time of his death.

As with all people it is impossible to separate Patton’s strengths from his weaknesses.  Patton could “read” an enemy, understanding not only his opponent’s capabilities, but also his state of mind.  That ability made him one of the greatest battlefield commanders of modern warfare.  What kept him from true greatness was his inability to control himself – or, more accurately, what came out of his mouth.  In that sense George Patton was very much like Balaam, a man who aspired to greatness, but whose inability to match his words with his deeds ensured that he would never attain it.

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What I Saw in Auschwitz

The 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is the cause of much reflection and remembrance.  A list of events and much more information is available at http://70.auschwitz.org/.
The world will pause on January 27, 2015, to remember the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

One generation ago, on January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated the Polish town of Oświęcim.  The world has come to know that town not by its Polish name, but by the name its Nazi German occupiers called it:  Auschwitz.  This account of my visit to Auschwitz is offered again in memory of the 1.1 million human beings whose voices were stilled there.


 

On January 18, 1997, I had opportunity to visit the death camp at Auschwitz.  This is the story of that visit.  I publish it now as a necessary reminder of what has happened before, for without such reminders we would be only too quick to let it happen again.

Admiral Miklós Horthy Regent of Hungary
Admiral Miklós Horthy
Regent of Hungary

Admiral Miklós Horthy was not high on the list of Adolf Hitler’s favorite people.  He had proven a lukewarm ally throughout the war.  Even though Horthy’s Hungarian legions had fought bravely alongside the Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union since 1941, Horthy’s government had never given its unqualified support to the Nazi regime.  A particularly sore point was that the Hungarians refused to surrender their Jewish citizens for deportation.  True, the leaders in Budapest had enacted repressive laws against Jews, but they never permitted the Germans to gain any measure of control over Hungary’s Jewish population.  Consequently, Hungary became a place of refuge for Jews from Romania and other nations whose governments were far less willing to defy Hitler.

Perhaps the Führer would have overlooked Horthy’s insolence in this matter of the Jews had this been the only matter of concern.  Yet events during the spring of 1944 brought this and other issues to a head.  By March of that year, the Red Army had thrown the Nazi invaders almost completely out of Soviet territory.  In the West, the Allies threatened to invade France as soon as the weather proved favorable.  Such disagreeable developments merely underscored Hitler’s compelling need for full cooperation from all his allies.  Since Admiral Horthy would neither listen to reason nor acquiesce to demands, Hitler employed other means to ensure Hungary displayed the appropriate measure of National Socialist ardor.  German soldiers accordingly occupied Hungary late in March.  Although they left Horthy in control of Budapest and its surrounding region, the remainder of the country fell completely under Nazi control.

The fears of Hungary’s Jews soon became reality as the Fascists implemented the Führer’s orders.  Over the summer of 1944, 300,000 Jews found themselves crammed into cattle cars and shipped off to some faraway place.  The Nazis told them they were to be resettled in the conquered lands of the East.  Some believed the lie, either out of naiveté or out of the need for a hope of an end to the nightmare that had fallen upon their world.  Some did not believe it.  Some even whispered of the rumors that the Nazis had built a death factory and were herding all the Jews into it.

Admiral Horthy heard these rumors as well.  He was no lover of Jews, but he was a refined gentleman.  He was also a realist who understood what was happening to his country.  An appeal from Pope John XXIII on behalf of the Jews helped to sway Horthy’s mind, and late in June he reasserted control over all of Hungary.  Thanks to this, and to Allied bombing of Budapest, the deportations stopped for a brief time – but only a brief time.  The Germans soon put Horthy in his place, and removal of the Jews resumed.  Horthy protested and resisted up to the moment the Nazis arrested him in October, but to no avail.  By the time the Red Army smashed into Budapest in late December, almost all of the Jews who had sheltered within Hungary’s borders were gone.  Most of them were dead.

The story is true.  I know.

I saw where they died.

The place is called Auschwitz.

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When Empires Die: Thoughts on the Centennial of World War I

When Empires Die was originally published June 28-July 28, 2014, as a six-part series.  The original six part format is accessible here.

I.  THE ROAD TO SARAJEVO

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie with their three children in 1910
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie with their three children in 1910

The world took a giant step toward death on June 28, 1914.  On that day a young atheist shot and killed a prominent Catholic and his wife in an obscure Southeast European city.  Within five years, four world empires were dismembered and two new ones arose in their place.  Within 40 years, three more global empires breathed their last as the new world system spawned in 1914 grew to maturity.  Today, one hundred years later, that world system wheezes with its own death rattle, soon to expire in the process of giving birth to yet another global system which may be the last – and worst – of its kind.

As a historian, a political scientist, a soldier, and an intelligence professional, I cannot let the centennial of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination pass without pausing to remember what his life and death meant to the world.  The circumstances that brought the Archduke and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, to Sarajevo, Bosnia, are not difficult to explain, but to understand the significance of their deaths, both in their day and in ours, requires a detailed explanation.  If that explanation seems too focused on Europe, the simple reason is that Europe in 1914 ruled the entire world.  No nation outside Europe – neither ancient India, nor populous China, nor even the rising powers of America and Japan – was immune to events that shook the state system of the Continent.  If we are to know why the world went to war in 1914, we must look at the major players of that state system.  Only then can we begin to discern what happened to the world in the summer of 1914, and what is happening to the world now in the summer of 2014.

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When Empires Die: Thoughts on the Centennial of World War I, Part VI

TO SURVIVE THE COMING NIGHT

"Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" Viktor M. Vasnetsov
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Viktor M. Vasnetsov

Is the Apocalypse Nigh?

If this truly is the beginning of the end of this age, then we should expect wars and rumors of war to increase until the entire globe is consumed, just as it was in the Great War of 1914-1918, and again in the Second World War of 1939-1945.  Depending on one’s perspective, the Tribulation either begins with or is immediately preceded by this period of escalating war.  This is the time of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the rider of a White Horse going out to conquer, the rider on the Red Horse who takes peace from the earth, the rider on the Black Horse bringing famine, and the Pale Horse bearing Death and Hades.  In short order these Horsemen bring an end to the lives of one fourth of the population of the planet.  The Horsemen are followed by the revelation of multitudes of martyrs slain for their adherence to the Word of God who ask how long before the Lord will judge the world and avenge their blood.  They are told to wait until the number of martyrs yet to die is complete.  Then comes a great earthquake and many signs in the heavens, followed by the selection of the special servants of God (12,000 from each tribe of Israel, 144,000 total) and the deliverance of multitudes from the Great Tribulation.  After that comes silence in heaven for a short time, and then the judgment of God begins in earnest.

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