In this episode the editors discuss Rebeccah Heinrichs’ article about John Kirby’s emotional statement about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mark Tooley’s editorial about Poland and Ukraine as martyr nations, and Christian realist articles from 1947 debating whether the Chinese communists could exist and thrive in a democracy.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley: Hello, this is Marc Tooley Editor of Providence a journal of Christianity and American foreign policy with another episode of Marksism with fellow Marks and fellow editors Mark LiVecche and Mark Melton looking at three pieces in Providence this week, one from our contributor Rebecca Heinrich responding to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby’s emotional reaction to Russian brutalities in Ukraine and tying that to America’s traditional commitment to just war thinking, a piece from Christianity in Crisis magazine seventy five years ago about the Chinese civil war, and finally my own piece about Ukraine as the new martyr nation of the 21st century. But first starting with Rebecca Heinrich’s piece, Marc LiVecche as just war scholar your thoughts in terms of Rebecca’s tying John Kirby’s emotional reaction to our traditional adherence to just war teaching?

Marc LiVecche: As always, it’s a great piece–it’s prescient, it’s insightful. John Kirby has impressed me from the beginning in all of this, he seems to get it–in that sense I think he embodies the best of American foreign political aspirations. I think what Rebecca touches on in responding to Kirby’s emotional response to images that he’s seen of Russian atrocities is the fact that as Augustine says, emotions are embodied reason; they have an epistemological value, they teach us things. We have to be careful with them, of course, but our emotions help us to understand the conditions of the world. I experienced this in my own Christian conversion which I’ve talked a lot about both in writing and in lectures and an encounter with the Holocaust and a recognition that overwhelming evil is something that ought not to be and that Christianity has to have some sort of response to this. We can’t be so simply concerned about heaven that there are no implications for, or responsibilities for, our time on earth. I think Christianity recognizes that Christianity has a response to political evil. You see it in the beginning of Genesis where God demands an accounting for shed blood, we see that all the way up through the motivations and passions of the prophets, we see it in the Sermon on the Mount we’re all called to be peacemakers and we recognize that being a peacemaker sometimes means entering into conflict and so from that tradition the just war tradition takes its own bearings and it recognizes that there are evils in the world and that the human soul is made in the image of a God that demands that injustices be requited.

She touches on the fact that the just war tradition doesn’t suppose itself to be a set of rules for rule followers, following the Niehburian insight. The just war tradition is grounded in the fact that human beings are not in fact rule followers and we need guidance all the time because left to our own devices we may give in to our disordered loves and our passions and so that the just war framework is a mode of both trying to goad us toward our responsibilities as well as restraining us from an excess of passion. She touches on all those things and that’s part of the beautiful insight not just of Christian realism but very specifically of one of his greatest products which is just war realism or moral realism. Then finally I think she’s right you know America doesn’t get things right all the time–of course we don’t because America is made up of a bunch of human beings. But the simple fact that time and time again as a people and as a nation we are motivated by a desire to do good to avoid harm and to help where we can I think that cuts to the heart of American virtue. I think it’s why our power has long been sufferable to those who are beneath it because we’ve demonstrated at least a desire to be a force for good, and as Kirby said, that is emphatically not Putin’s motivation which has made him a pariah.

Mark Tooley: Perhaps a topic for a future conversation: whether or not Eastern Orthodoxy has a poor tradition and to what extent Russia has ever historically heeded it. I don’t know if you have any expertise in that area Marc but perhaps for our next conversation.

Marc LiVecche: Yeah we certainly can I mean anecdotally I remember speaking with some Serbian friends during the American bombing in Servia during the Kosovo operation and they were boasting about thwarting American jets by having rock concerts on bridges and holding signs that said shoot me knowing that we wouldn’t blow up those bridges if there were people on them. I simply asked them if (and they were quite proud of this saying they defeated the American air force with rock concerts) I asked them if they would have done the same thing if it was the Soviets or the Russians flying overhead and they were just aghast at the idea and thought I was a lunatic because don’t I know the Russians would simply bomb the bridges anyways?

Mark Melton: I think on that particular question I remember hearing that Orthodox doesn’t have that same Western (other than self-defense) tradition, I think I’ve heard that from other Eastern Orthodox.

Mark Tooley: It’s not as codified or as articulated as such.  

Marc LiVecche: There is a very good book by our own Darrell Cole and Alexander Webster. Alexander Webster is, if I remember this book correctly, Eastern Orthodox himself and this book has something to say; it’s called the Virtue of War, I recommend it.

Mark Tooley: Well very good, on a related topic I wrote a piece for Providence this week on Ukraine as a new martyr nation Poland having been arguably the supreme martyr nation of the 20th century having suffered almost beyond comprehension recovering its independence in the wake of World War I but only briefly, suffering the highest casualties in World War II a victim of both the Nazis and of Soviet communists and yet inspiring the world with their heroism. Their resistance in my own lifetime, the solidarity trade union movement which almost by itself brought down Soviet control of eastern Europe, combined with the spiritual influence of Poland’s favorite son Pope John Paul II and so terrible, terrible suffering Poland lost perhaps six million people in World War II. Yet this suffering in a way contributed to their strength as a nation but also as an inspiration to the whole world what a courageous and unified people can accomplish and Ukraine seems to be serving in the same way for the 21st century. Again not having a long national history in contemporary times, but yet surely after this trial will be a unified and strong nation and its sufferings and agonies horrible as they are an inspiration and a motivation to others around the world to strive for an improved national life and to take our own national security much more seriously.

I recall some decades ago then Cardinal O’Connor of New York I believe was visiting Auschwitz, but he cited the Holocaust as having been the Jewish people’s quote-unquote great gift to the world. Of course, this relates to the Christian understanding of suffering as being a gift obviously we worship a Savior whose greatest gift to us was his own suffering. His comments were greatly controversial at the time, understandably, and somewhat misunderstood–so I’m reluctant to repeat that same talking point with Ukraine. And yet their suffering is in many ways a great gift to at least the decent and rational parts of the world. But Marc LiVecche, your thoughts?

Mark LiVecche: I think that’s right, I think there’s there is a lot to be said there if you wanted to put the nuance to it–it’s not their suffering per se but it’s how they’re enduring their suffering. For sure my own Christian conversion hearkening back to a conversation a moment ago involved watching how or observing how Jews at places like Auschwitz remained Jewish. They recognized that they might not have any say in whether or not they died at the hands of Hitler, but they had a lot of say whether or not they died as Jews observing, fasting on Yom Kippur even when starving to death and committed to dying as Jews. How one suffers can be an inspiration and a light to the nations and I think both are true.

Mark Tooley: Speaking of suffering, Mark Melton you have posted this piece from Reinhold Niehbur’s magazine 75 years ago [during] the Chinese civil war but the communists had not yet taken control, Chiang Kai-shek was still chief of nationalist in mainland China and American general Marshal had tried to negotiate a concord between the two factions not very successfully. The author was sympathetic to the communist side which seems rather remarkable to us now but which was not entirely uncommon 75 and 80 years ago. Obviously, the Chinese communist under Mao had been aligned with America against the Japanese. This author would later change his perspective on the Chinese communists after some years of tyranny and horror. Your thoughts?

Mark Melton: Yeah, like you said in this historical context the communists and the U.S. were aligned together in World War II same thing with the Soviet Union, they were our ally and so it was not unheard of and very common for Americans to be siding with the communists. In fact, even after the war, if I remember correctly, there were Americans, I don’t know if they were O.S.S., but agents in China working with the communists basically arguing that we need to side with them and not the nationalists which became the republic of China that’s in Taiwan. So there’s this argument that Michael Lindsey the author here makes that the communists could exist in a democracy. He thought that there was [such] a division between the Soviets in Moscow and the communists in Yan’an, China so that they could exist in a democracy and they could work together, and of course that’s not how it turned out. Even in Christianity in Crisis there were writers who wanted to make a difference between the Russian Marxist and Marxists in other parts of the world.

So in this Michael Lindsey is a very interesting character. I think he might be Australian I, was confused in the documents whether his son was an Australian citizen or if he was an Australian citizen but either way his father, he was born in London, went to Oxford, taught in what is now Beijing and met his wife there. They had to flee into the mountainous controlled area of the communists and he set up radio towers or he helped them with radio equipment and helped them broadcast and so my rating of it is he’s basically a communist propagandist during the war trying to get their message out to the West. He’s very sympathetic to their views in this article that he writes in 47. He is very sympathetic to them, it sounds like the communists can do no wrong according to him. If they do something wrong it’s because the nationalists did it first. And to be fair the nationalists were very corrupt, I can’t remember if it was Chiang’s brother or his brother-in-law that was called one of the most corrupt people in the world and so there were a lot of problems there. But at the same time it was a very difficult situation and what followed after the communist takeover was significantly worse with millions of deaths and so later on. This Lindsey guy teaches at Harvard, he teaches in Australia, he then becomes more anti-communist, he’s forbidden from returning to China until the seventies, he comes to America he teaches at American University lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, he inherited an estate in England and became a member of the House of Lords so very interesting character. I believe he died in Chevy Chase, Maryland in 1994.

This article, to get back to that, makes a lot of claims that are just bizarre to me. He says that 400,000 nationalist troops served in the Japanese forces against the communists which is odd because they were fighting each other. But I do think that is something that if you are in knee-deep in Chinese communist propaganda you might believe that I’m a little curious as to why Christianity in Crisis didn’t fact-check that or question it. You know a couple months later there was a response and so in this article there’s two pieces here, the longer one by Michael Lindsey and then another one by AJ Brace who spent 25 years in western China and sets the record straight to say that, no, these Chinese communists are not friendly, they do a lot of nasty things. And I post this piece not as an example of saying, “hey we should imitate we should understand how Michael Lindsay viewed global affairs he’s an example of how we should look at the world.” I’ve posted it as a cautionary tale of how people can become captured by or they can be heavily influenced by the people they are close to and are studying so much so that it warps the way they view the world. We need to be cautious of that when you’re studying different conflicts in different groups and we need to have good and healthy debate. I think the fact that Christianity and Crisis posts multiple views on China is an example of how that can be done.

Mark Tooley: On that Christian realist note, thank you for this latest episode of Marksism fellow editors Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton until next week.