In this week’s episode, the editors discuss Paulina Song’s article about the US travel ban on North Korea, a 1946 article explaining why the July 20 plotters tried to assassinate Hitler, and Mark Tooley’s book review focused on Henry Adams’ pessimistic view of America.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Fforeign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow Mark(c)s and fellow editors, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’re covering three pieces from Providence this week, starting with an explanation of America’s travel ban on North Korea, another piece on the anniversary of the anti-Hitler assassination plot of July 20, 1944, and finally, and of course, insightfully and brilliantly, my own piece on American social commentator and historian Henry Adams and his complaints about America in the late 19th century and early 20th century. But we’ll start with Paulina Song’s piece on North Korea, pointing out the moral conundrum of the travel ban to North Korea in terms of dividing families, as there are perhaps 100,000 former North Koreans living in the United States, and also the humanitarian concerns, but finally making the case that the travel ban is both the moral and national security imperative. Among other reasons, Americans who have traveled to North Korea have often suffered in many different ways, most infamously the young American college student who was arrested on minor charges and ended up dying shortly after his release. So, Mark Melton, your thoughts on America’s travel ban on North Korea?
Melton: So, it’s an interesting case because it’s based on a talk that a fairly small organization, I’ve never heard of them before, but they are trying to promote the administration to lift the travel ban that started under the Trump Administration so that humanitarian groups can go in and do work in North Korea. And on the face of it sounds like hey, it should be a good thing for these humanitarians to go into North Korea and do some work, but when you actually look into it, these groups are going to likely be controlled by the government. They’re usually bringing cash or they’re bringing in hard currency, and the problem of North Korea is not the fact that these organizations are not allowed into the country, the problem is the regime in the country. And our policy should be directed toward fixing those problems or trying to punish the regime for doing this. And one case is that oh these North Koreans, or people who had grown up in North Korea, who had to flee their families have been separated since the war. Allowing them to kind of rejoin, an easy way for this to be resolved is that North Korea would let those people leave, but of course they’re not going to let them do that because that would threaten their own regime stability. So, that gets to the core problem of what is going on in North Korea, and will lifting the ban actually end up helping the regime? When the ban was first put in place, I can’t remember the exact year, but when it was first put in place, we ran an article by I believe a pastor in DC named Moses Lee, I’d have to look up his actual bio, but he wrote that it’d actually be a blessing for evangelism groups not to be able to travel to North Korea. He talked about an evangelical supported university in Pyongyang that had trained North Koreans to do computer science stuff, and that it appears that those people were then recruited by the government to do cyberterrorism, or cybercrimes and cyberattacks. And evangelicals were actually inadvertently supporting the regime, even though they were trying to just help the people. For these groups, if they are seen as being proxies or pawns being used by the government, then that could actually hurt the evangelical cause in the country. They may end up being considered conspirators, so to speak, with the regime. And it’s actually probably perhaps a blessing that evangelical groups haven’t been able to go into the country. I don’t see a good reason for the ban to be lifted at this point. It’s not like trying to say we had a travel ban on one country that had a very bad humanitarian crisis, but also was very large economically. A travel ban there wouldn’t have that much of an impact. But on places like Cuba and North Korea, the economies are small enough and they’re so reliant on hard currency going into the country that’s being brought in by these people that I think it does have a significant impact. Not even just for Americans traveling there, but for other groups that kind of realized it’s actually kind of dangerous to go to these countries. And I think like in the panel, they said with the death of Otto, they kind of blamed him for his death.
Tooley: This is the American college student who died after his release?
Melton: Yeah. So, they blame him for it. And it’s like no, he’s not to blame for allegedly parting this believe that the photo, the video, wasn’t doctored somehow. That’s actually what happened. So, the problem is that the North Korean regime mistreated him and should have released him immediately when there was a medical crisis. Instead, they held them for years. So, I felt like this panel did a very bad job of actually analyzing who is at fault. They keep trying to blame the United States and Americans instead of the North Korean regime.
Tooley: Marc LiVecche, the July 20, 1944 anti-Hitler plot, Reinhold Niebuhr’s magazine Christianity & Crisis ran a piece about that plot in 1946 written by a Jewish German refugee to America who later became, interestingly, a journalist in America writing for the Washington Post on architecture. But paying a sort of homage to those who dared to plot against and attempt to assassinate Hitler at his outpost in East Prussia and came close to accomplishing their goals. At the time, America was dismissive of the plot, and it was often portrayed as just a group of Nazis against other Nazis. In fact, many of these partners had profound moral reasons for overthrowing, or some of them were in fact devout Christians. But your thoughts, Marc?
LiVecche: Yeah, good article, right. On the one hand, it’s tricky. It’s a little bit like the North Korean piece, where on the surface it’s easy to have one sort of instinctive belief about the right thing to do, but then when you add some background data or different arguments to it, it makes the situation more complex. On the surface, all for the assassination of Adolf Hitler. I wish it had worked. Bonhoeffer, a lot of people portray him as really wringing his hands and wondering whether or not he ought to participate in this. Jean Elshtain always said that the hand-wringing was really overstated. Bonhoeffer thought it was pretty clear that he had an obligation to participate in any way he could in the overthrow of Adolf Hitler. Now, he did try to square that with his Christian beliefs, whether or not an assassination is appropriate. He came down in a very Niebuhrian kind of way and said that it was an evil thing to do, but it was the lesser evil thing to do. It allowed the greatest amount of good. So, I think the argument for a Christian is pretty straightforward. When a regime as despotic, totalitarian, and evil as the Hitler regime, then Thomas Aquinas would argue that you can go down a lower tier to a group of people that are generally responsible as a class, or as being in positions of authority, to overthrow that dictator. And I think that an argument could be made that the circle of men and women that came together to overthrow Hitler, or to assassinate him, represented that stratum of society. So, I think a case for legitimate authority could be made. They certainly had a just cause. Interestingly, though, I think that the second-tier complexity, the article quoted Hellmuth von Moltke, who in a letter to his wife had pointed out that there was no evidence against them, but that they were going to die and that he believed his Christian conscience was clean on this. Historically it’s interesting because von Moltke, while he hosted the collaborators, such as Bonhoeffer, in his home, he had decided in the end that he would not sanction or participate in the assassination attempt against the Fuhrer. And his reasons weren’t because he didn’t think it should be done. His reasons weren’t that he didn’t think Christians should do it. But he took a deeper view, and he thought that by killing Hitler, the German people were going to be let off without the full recognition of the consequences of what Hitlerism had done to Nazi Germany and about the general German people’s participation, or at least acquiescence in Hitlerism. And so, he felt that Germany actually needed to be punished more significantly, and to not be able to just scapegoat Hitler and say all of this Nazism and Hitlerism was the Fuhrer. So, he backed out. And he said he’d rather it not be done, because he wanted Germany to have to continue in the war, to lose the war, and to really come to an account of what they had allowed Hitlerism to do. Great article. The history of it with von Moltke is interesting, and I think he presents a very different sort of view. I think, arguably, his view one could look at, and we’ve written on this before about Versailles letting the German people believe that they never really lost the war, there was a stab in the back, he felt Germany should have a decisive defeat to really come into an account of what they had allowed.
Tooley: The article didn’t provide any bio on the writer, but apparently, he was Jewish. So, it’s interesting Christianity & Crisis was interfaith in that perspective. But it was a fascinating piece, and I understand the writer went on to be an advisor to the new West German government. So, he attempted to help his former country but remained an American. Finally, speaking of America, I wrote a piece on Henry Adams, the grandson and great grandson of presidents from a storied New England family. A great historian and social commentator in the late 19th century and early 20th century, who was also part of the longstanding tradition of complaining about America and assuming America’s best days were behind it, that America had become materialistic and that America had lost its spirituality. And so, Henry Adams became a cynic, even though he lived lavishly and sumptuously and was among the country’s elites, living at Lafayette Square right across from the White House, and dining with the presidents. And he was quite the charming raconteur. He lost, if he ever had, religious faith. His family had been Unitarian. He lamented the decline of religion in America, as he perceived it, and was nostalgic about medieval Christianity and was quite smitten with the East European spirituality, especially Russian Orthodoxy, when he traveled there, the way faith was, still in the early 20th century, so integrated with the contemporary culture. But he never really made peace with his lack of spirituality, but here again he was out a prototype of the ungrateful, bitter American. As Mark Melton points out, there should be a book written about great Americans who complain about America and who assume that America’s best is behind it. That’s always been a part of our history, and yet America has always had this capacity for tremendous self-rejuvenation. So, perhaps rather than complaining about our complainers, we just see them as part of the puzzle that is America. Marc LiVecche, your thoughts?
LiVecche: Yeah, I think there’s a great tradition of sitting on one’s front porch and complaining about the neighborhood, right. I mean, your book review is obviously timely. I think there’s a fair chunk of society that would argue that our best days are already behind us, but as we argued last week, I think all that should do is to bode us into grabbing the arc of history and bending it toward those things that are true, beautiful, and good. So, it’s a cause for action, not a moment for passivity.
Tooley: Mark Melton, are America’s best days behind it?
Melton: I doubt that. And the idea of a book, I think the problem with writing a book on this would be trying to narrow the scope of which people are you going to talk about. I think there’s different eras, and I think there obviously are major problems with America. You look through American history of like Reconstruct, or the end of Reconstruction, the Civil War, I mean, there’s just tons and tons of problems. And I think that one reason why we have so many complaints about America is that we are an incredibly large, diverse country with very disparate ideas of which direction should America be going in. And especially by the regions. If you’re in one part of the country and you’re seeing another part of the country going into a completely different direction of what you want, then both sides will be complaining about each other. And this has been going on since before the, or around the time of the Revolution and onward. I was reading like complaints in the 1820s, 1750s, and so, this is a very common trend. But America, I think in the Federalist Papers, it talks about like the United States needs to be united to prevent foreign governments from forcing us to do things we don’t want to do. And so, I think the strategic and economic logic of keeping America together is very strong, and that that will continue. The biggest threat to America I think would be if that economic rationale collapses.
LiVecche: I like what you said there, Melton. I think the idea that America is so diverse that we can take for granted that if I think America’s best days are behind us, then probably one of my neighbors thinks its best days are ahead, right. So, it’s exactly that. But give us a common enemy, and historically at least, we’ve always pulled together.
Melton: Yeah, war is a uniting force, which is a blessing and curse. I don’t want war to make us want to all be united; I just want us to be able to be good neighbors and to care for each other.
LiVecche: We’re all tribalist, it just depends on the size of the tribe.
Tooley: Mark Melton, as a son of Mississippi, you point out that given Mississippi’s post-Reconstruction past, nostalgia does not appeal to you on any level.
Melton: Yeah. We talked about that last week, where whenever I see people talking about nostalgia, I always think about the Mississippi flag, which was basically a terrorist plot to get the black Republicans out of Mississippi. I mean, they literally, just different examples, they dug graves next to polling stations and told black voters if they went to go vote they would be put in those graves. That to me cannot be described in any other way but terrorism, and it’s horrific that it succeeded. And that’s the reason why Mississippi was able to implement literacy tests. That’s the reason why like the flag that was replaced last year came about because of this plot. They changed the government, white Democrats took control of the state, and I think it was in 1890 that they put the confederate banner on the flag. And actually, if you look at that particular flag, the colors, the bars on the side were blue, white, and red, and according to legend that was because they didn’t want red, white, and blue because that was too patriotic. They wanted blue, white, red to kind of almost thumb their nose at the Americans according to legend. Thankfully, that flag is gone and I can actually put a flag in my front yard that doesn’t have a symbol of traitors and terrorists on it.
Tooley: The good old days, so to speak. Gentlemen, thank you for another scintillating episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.