This week the editors discuss a book review of Melissa Florer-Bixler’s How to Have an Enemy, a review of James Bond films, an interview with Karen Tumulty about Nancy Reagan, and Marc LiVecche’s article about Gen. Mark Milley.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley: Hello, this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism with fellow editors and fellow Mark’s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton.

We’re reviewing several pieces from Providence this week, including a new book by a Mennonite author. We’re looking at a piece on James Bond and why we need the Cold War, for the new, updated James Bond. And then finally Marc LiVecche will share, about his piece, that was not in Providence specifically but in World Magazine about The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and whether he should have resigned over Afghanistan. 

But first, to the Mennonite book, whose title is How to Have an Enemy: Righteous Anger and the Work of Peace by Melissa Florer-Bixler, a Mennonite pastor in North Carolina, graduate of Duke divinity, school former intern at IRD. But she came from a traditional Anglican background and has shifted I would say theologically and politically in time for publication of her book reviewed by our regular contributor Deborah Erickson in which she unveils a fiery perspective on how Mennonites need to be angry against injustice and against violence. But, somewhat unsurprisingly, it doesn’t really offer solutions, is uncomfortable with power and with government, and most interestingly makes no reference to the patron saint of neo-Anabaptist John Howard Yoder who, of course, is increasingly disgraced by ongoing new revelations of years and years of serial sexual abuse, so the Yoderite perspective is promoted without mentioning the man himself.

Yoder’s most famous book was The Politics of Jesus. Melissa in her book references the “politics of Mary” so perhaps that will be the replacement phrase for those who would like to let Yoder go unmentioned. Marc LiVecche, Melissa’s review or description of, or rather Deborah’s review of Melissa’s book was rather restrained, descriptive, not searingly critical. Presumably if Marc LiVecche had reviewed this book would have been more searingly critical. But please share your thoughts.

Marc LiVecche: Yeah Deborah kept it hidden, kept it in check. Your critique is my critique: she offers apparently a fiery condemnation of, apparently power, maybe with the caveat power that is used to oppress people, but to me it’s just a critique of power, which would be par for the course, without offering any sort of solution so she does the easy lifting leaves the heavy lifting on the table. This concept of the Church of Yoder without Yoder is absolutely fascinating. I suppose he himself would come under her critique as somebody who used power to oppress and therefore, he must be one of those people with whom we must be angrier and to call our enemy.

On that I’m sort of happily sympathetic. Her title could be the title of one of my books, I appreciate the title. As Deborah points out, she doesn’t hold true to it. It’s not a how-to [kind of book], it’s just a jeremiad, just a complaint. So the sentiment is right. This is my ongoing frustration with this brand of Christianity: they recognize deep in their soul that there are things you ought to be angry about. And then it just sort of stops. That’s not to say Hauerwas and Shane Claiborne or any of these guys aren’t doing things to try to actively improve their world, but this particular book seems to take it to an extreme and can almost seemingly be world-denying. I’m not sure that there’s a place for her work in this world, I don’t know what constructive work it does, I don’t know what redemptive work it does. So that’s frustrating. You know she makes the old distinctions between the old order and the new order: the old order is one of retribution, the new order is one of forgiveness and if that’s the case, then, where does Yoder fit into that paradigm, he seems to be the unforgiven.

So I’m just left wondering why her book is getting so much more press than probably anything I will ever write.

Mark Tooley: Well, we lament that her book will sell much more than Marc LiVecche’s brilliant latest book but we’ll just leave that up to Providence to work out for the long term. Also, a brief reflection on my interview with Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. Her new book on Nancy Reagan, which relates to Providence themes in that Nancy Reagan as First Lady was tremendously influential on the presidency of her husband, especially as it relates to the Cold War and his moving towards a collaborative attitude with Mikhail Gorbachev. Up until the very end, there were many hardliners or some hardliners in the administration, who resisted that move, the summits with Gorbachev, the arms control, the treaties, even though those summits and arms control treaties reflected American ascendancy and ultimately American victory in the Cold War. 

But it’s sometimes hard to accept that you’re winning, sometimes just easier from the human perspective to keep grinding the axe and presuming that the war must continue because conflicts don’t end naturally but magnificently conflict did end. The most fascinating endnote made from her book to me, was that Karen Tumulty uniquely had access or gained access or found a letter that Reagan wrote during his Presidency to his dying father-in-law, who was an atheist and very unsettled as he lay in a hospital bed. Reagan ended up giving the dying father-in-law a great peace, and he summoned a hospital chaplain and presumably was at peace with the Lord when he left.

The letter had never been discovered before, although Nancy, I recall from my youth, described it to a Christian youth convention here in DC towards the end of Reagan’s presidency. So, a fascinating book and a great interview that I conducted with Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post that I commend to you. Let’s hear from Mark Melton about a piece just published on James Bond and the need for the Cold War. Mark?

Mark Melton: Right, so in this piece Cutler writes about the recent James Bond movie but he’s also going back and looking at some of the older movies, and the trajectory of those movies, and as well as the original writings of Ian Fleming and we should have another piece coming up next couple weeks or so from Eric Patterson about James Bond that will look at the film in a different way. But in this particular article the author describes why James Bond needs to exist within the Cold War, and specifically in the fight against the Soviet Union, because in the end with the Fleming books, the author grounds the conflict between this moral conflict, between good and evil, whereas in the movies, at that time, the Soviet Union is not mentioned or criticized very much. It is Spectre that is the big enemy, in fact, sometimes later on the Soviet Union is mentioned as, you know, there are bad actors, but apparently the head, I haven’t seen these movies, but the head of the organization was more sympathetic, wanted peace and so there are rogue agents.

At the time, during the Cold War, the movies did not dive into that conflict very much whereas the original books did and the current Daniel Craig movies, I haven’t seen the latest one, but Daniel Craig is much more of a broody, it’s more of almost a Dark Knight Rises, type of character. And to me, I’ve I kind of enjoyed that but also don’t go to the movie to see deep, deep conversation. Mostly I’m there to see the action. But Cutler mentions how Daniel Craig’s presentation falls flat because he isn’t really saying much and he says, in the end, if you had to choose between the broody Daniel Craig character or going back to, I can’t remember which James Bond he says, basically, going back to just flashy locales and fancy, you know explosions and whatnot you’d rather go back to the less serious version if they’re not going to actually engage with some type of moral conundrum.

Mark Tooley: I confess, as a boy, a young man, in the 1980s, I disdained James Bond movies, with Roger Moore because, and you alluded to this, that the enemy was always some absurd villain living underwater and such and the Soviet Union was never referenced, so it all seemed like science fiction and fantasy to me. But, I never actually read the books themselves. 

Mark Melton: I like the Daniel Craig movies, I haven’t seen Roger Moore, I grew up with a Pierce Brosnan back in the 90s, and so I’m used to those but I like the broodier also a little bit more, but also like the Bourne Identity series, and so that is. Jason Bourne, you know, is not a womanizer, he falls in love with one person and yet stays true to that and I like those movies. But I know you like John le Carré.

Mark Tooley: Yes, although he had his own moral ambivalence and gray areas but it was about the Cold War. And of course, as a young Methodist I thoroughly disapproved of Roger Moore’s promiscuity. It was very shocking.

Okay Marc LiVecche, can you tell us about your piece for World Magazine about the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff resignation and Afghanistan.

Marc LiVecche: Yeah I jumped into the conversation about whether or not General Milley ought to have resigned following his Senate testimony which revealed that he gave, seemingly rather explicit advice to President Biden about troop levels and maintaining certain assets in Afghanistan such as Bagram Air Force Base, the drawdown schedules, pulling certain concessions from the Taliban in advance. A whole sort of plethora of things that apparently went almost to an item completely ignored by the Biden Administration and he was challenged by Senator Cotton as to why he didn’t resign. And I actually think Milley’s answer to Senator Cotton was a one part of it that was reasonable, in which he talked about essentially the civil-military relationship, the fact that we have a civilian-led military why that’s important and why that should be maintained and that the President ought to be free not to take the advice of his senior military officials.

And that, where he to resign simply because the President didn’t take his advice, and this is reading into it, but that would suggest an undue kind of influence to try to get the President to change his mind, then that would compromise civilian leadership and that answer I thought was pretty good.

So in the piece I defend General Milley in the beginning to suggest that I think it was right not to resign prior to the withdrawal, but following the withdrawal the decision having been made the catastrophe, now being irreversible, his resignation would not in fact compromise civilian control of the military, but rather like Mattis, when then-Secretary Mattis resigned under the Trump administration and provided a letter that was given to the public explaining his rationale, I thought Milley could do a service to the nation by resigning, by explaining the reasons for his resignation and helping to set that record straight. That’s presuming that General Milley found the Afghan withdrawal as catastrophically incompetent as most of the rest of us did. So that’s essentially what the piece I wrote for World Magazine was trying to do.

I was trying to argue both sides of it to a degree, but coming down in the end, you know it seems incredibly unjust that apparently nobody is going to be held to account for the disgraceful debacle, that was the flight from Afghanistan.

Mark Tooley: Well, and I should point out that Marc and myself are both writing regularly now for World Magazine which we’re honored to do. I’ve read two pieces, so far, one on the moral and strategic imperative of U.S. friendship with Taiwan and also the moral implications of the restoration of full Sharia law in Afghanistan, which sadly and tragically was a choice made by many if not most of the Afghan people when they declined to resist the Taliban takeover of their country. So, look forward to future brilliant commentary from Marc LiVecche and myself in the pages and online with World Magazine. Gentlemen, thank you for this episode of Marksism until next week, bye bye.