This is a little late, but I think Rich Lowry's column from last week, "Hope Against Hope," is still worth reading.
"Democrats lost the past two presidential elections by nominating candidates who had trouble connecting with down-scale white voters. They are about to do the same, but with their eyes wide open."
"Among traditional Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, Clinton racked up numbers as if she had been running against an obscure alderman instead of the most lavishly financed primary candidate in America history, sporting slavish press coverage."
"Obama’s candidacy depends on a kind of make-believe that can’t be sustained....There nonetheless appears no way out, even if Democrats wanted one....Democrats are left to hope against hope that Obama can again become the miraculously unifying figure he seemed in February: 'Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.'"
Will Algore descend from the rafters at the convention like a deus ex machina and snatch victory from the mouth of defeat?
When you believe in progress and in the inherent trustworthiness of the modern state to solve all human problems, you leave yourself especially vulnerable to the temptations of political messianism, which is inherently deceptive, illusory. It invites self-deception, "a kind of make-believe that can’t be sustained." Especially in the primary season, we're all subject to this. At first, if a candidate has promise, you are inclined to see what you hope he is, not the bag of virtues and vices that he is. I went through this with Fred Thompson. As far as John McCain is concerned, I'm sober, and I explain that sober reserve in "McCain's Classical Republic." The Democrats have been sobering up recently, but in the process they may wake up to discover they they cannot escape the marriage they entered into while on their high.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
This is a little late, but I think Rich Lowry's column from last week, "Hope Against Hope," is still worth reading.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Tony Blankley recently had a fine column on the increasing clarity of the mortal danger we face as a civilization with the influx of Muslim immigrants. ("Rising Euro-Muslim Tensions.") The situation is far advanced in Europe. We should learn lessons from their experiences.
But radicalized Islam places little value on the individual, while holding up for supreme value the interests of the group, particularly their view of the group called Islam. And it is this aggressive, assertive insistence by radicalized Muslims in the West to subordinate our inherent rights to their collective demands that slowly and more or less quietly is forcing Westerners to take sides in the radicals' demands. The resolution of this developing conflict -- if not managed by the elites in Western countries on behalf of indigenous Western rights -- inevitably will result in unnecessary violence.Muneer Fareed, head of the Islamic Society of North America, has given us a stateside example of this illiberal bullying. He is "demanding" that John McCain refer to radical Islamist terrorists as "criminals" rather than as "Islamic." Says Blankley, "McCain, being as tough as nails, has said he has no intention of submitting to Fareed's demand and will continue to use "Islamic" to describe Islamic terrorists. But it will be interesting to see what the two Democratic candidates for president choose to do about this demand."
In a comment over on my Townhall version of this blog (Hugh Hewitt tells me that this practice is called "double breasting"), "Buck" writes:
Having lived in Muslim countries for many years, I will tell you that anything anyone says about Mohammed, Islam, or anything pertaining to that religion is a no no. When a Muslim immigrates to a western country, he brings his stupidity with him. Anyone in a western country who dares to impune anything about Islam will be targeted for death or mayhem. Western countries be warned. If they allow Muslims to immigrate to their country, they had better make sure that they do not admit any crazies.
A word to the wise.
Monday, April 28, 2008
"Anonymous" responded to my link to Mark Steyn's column on Guns, God and American Wellbeing with this comment: "An armed society is a polite society."
We appreciate our readers and any thoughtful, civil comments they offer. Actually when I first read the comment, I thought Anonymous (who I think is a Dutchman from the sixteenth century) wrote "unarmed." I was going to respond with these two references.
1. John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, sections 4, 6 (pay especially close attention to the word "ought"), 13 and 127.
2. Dilbert cartoon, where Dogbert dreams of a world where everyone renounces violence forever. When Dilbert commends the beauty of this sentiment, Dogbert says (punchline!): "If nobody else was violent, I could conquer the whole stupid planet with just a butter knife."
But actually, Anonymous has a sober view of human nature.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Does the US Constitution mean anything anymore? The Founders' wisdom displayed in its construction appears an increasingly thin barrier between us and the sort of soft despotism of which DeTocqueville warned us. Encouragingly, no new breaches have yet occurred under Chief Justice Roberts, and several existing ones have been repaired. Yet there is abroad in this land of ours an impulse to throw it off, as if it actually were, in the immortal words of William Jefferson Clinton to his Euro interlocutors, "that damned constitution", an 18th century institutional relic still impeding the bright future the left has in mind for us all. One such inconvenience for liberals-in-hurry is the First Amendment's prohibition of government restrictions on free political speech.
It is a measure of the pathology of the times that this bedrock principle, once enshrined as sacrosanct, has been dealt a significant blow by the tag-teaming effort of all three branches of government in passing into law the McCain-Feingold atrocity, somehow sidestepping the actual words, meaning, and intent of the constitution, which to many startled and alarmed observers thought impossible to misinterpret--does "no" mean "no" only in the context of sexual harrassment? John McCain, George Bush, and the five Supremes whose pretzel logic delivered that serious blow to our first amendment privileges, especially deserve the opprobrium, even the hot anger, of all liberty-loving citizens.
George Will points to the kind of brush fires springing up across the land, typified by the outrage in my home state of Colorado. Residents of Parker North, a conclave of some 200 houses, were surprised to find that their public objections to being annexed by the larger town of Parker ran afoul of McCain Feingold. Under the umbrella and instruction of the federal government in its expressed intent to regulate political speech despite the constitution's clear language denying that authority, many state and local officials, mimicking their constitutional elders, are driving their various regulatory trucks through the hole blasted in the constitution's walls by his eminence John McCain. Thanks, Senator.
The residents of Parker North are being assisted in a federal lawsuit against their local commissars by the Institute for Justice. Perhaps this important suit will make it to the attention of the Supremes, and with their new majority will remedy this egregious, and dangerous, deprivation of liberty. Read the Will piece here,
and consider donating to the Institute for Justice here: http://www.ij.org/.--they are doing the Lord's work here and in many areas of constitutional incursion by governments intent on taking from YOU the liberties the fundamental law of the land guarantees to US citizens.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
After her Pennsylvania victory, HRC said, "The tide is turning!" Indeed, it did turn. Through her effective campaigning, she managed to whittle a 20 point lead down to 10. Imagine what she could do with what is left of the economy, especially if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi add their efforts.
As we head out of PA toward IN and NC, consider this:
If you include FL and MI (perhaps they can't vote at the convention but they can vote in November!), Clinton leads in the popular vote, though she is down in delegates. (Actually, Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia explains how this claim is highly dubious. For example, it includes Michigan where Obama's name was not on the ballot and it excludes caucus states most of which were Obama victories.) This brings back memories of 2000 when Gore won the popular vote for the Democrats but lost in the Electoral College. If this trend continues, it could provide a conscientious loophole for superdelegates to back her if Obama continues to raise electability concerns. Of course, Hillary has her own electability concerns.
Obama outspent her 3:1, and yet could not close the gap. Hmmm.
Obama has won in states that Republicans will win, but Clinton has won the large swing states with lots of Electoral College votes.
Gail Collins in today's NYT ("Hillary's Smackdown") writes:
The clamor for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the presidential race has reached new levels of intensity since the Pennsylvania primary. Of all the things Hillary has done, Obama supporters find her tendency to win large elections in swing states as by far the most irritating. If she beats him in Indiana, they’ll be surrounding her house with torches.
As of April 1, the Obama campaign had $42.5 million in the bank. The Clinton campaign had only $9.3 million but they also had more debt than cash on hand.
They are both such a mess.
But why read me when you can read Karl Rove?
His inspiring rhetoric is a potent tool for energizing college students and previously uninvolved African-American voters. But his appeals are based on two aspirational pledges he is increasingly less credible in making.
Mr. Obama's call for postpartisanship looks unconvincing, when he is unable to point to a single important instance in his Senate career when he demonstrated bipartisanship. And his repeated calls to remember Dr. Martin Luther King's "fierce urgency of now" in tackling big issues falls flat as voters discover that he has not provided leadership on any major legislative battle.
Mr. Obama has not been a leader on big causes in Congress. He has been manifestly unwilling to expend his political capital on urgent issues. He has been only an observer, watching the action from a distance, thinking wry and sardonic and cynical thoughts to himself about his colleagues, mildly amused at their to-ing and fro-ing. He has held his energy and talent in reserve for the more important task of advancing his own political career, which means running for president.
Read the whole thing: "Is Obama Ready for Prime Time?" Karl Rove is speaking to you! Why are you not listening? And go to Robert Novak for better fuller details than I can give here.
Recently, at the invitation of Dr Innes, I lectured at The King's College on John Locke's understanding of the individual human person as the central idea of modern, Western liberalism. The idea of designing government around the nature and rights of the individuals to be governed is one we in the West, particularly Americans, now take for granted, largely because of the brilliant institutional articulation of this idea put forward by our Founding Fathers. Focusing on individuals and their rights, while still inculcating the other bedrock liberal principle of tolerance among these rights-bearing individuals, is one of the amazing tight-rope walks between concepts in tension by which free government is characterized. Though the importance of the individual is not an idea original to modernity, the compromise that tolerance for religious beliefs in civil society represents made a way for true belief to coincide with broad political freedom.
Tony Blankley has a piece today, "Rising Euro-Muslim Tensions," pointing out the attack on both of these liberal principles by aggressive Islamism. All across Europe, craven and weak-willed leaders are bowing and scraping before non-Western immigrants who demand, in the very name of individual rights and tolerance, accession to their doctrines which deny those very principles.
He warns that while the official government response may be to give away the farm, large segments of Western populations will not stand idly by and watch as a thousand years of prescriptive rights and liberty are subsumed under Mohammed's turban. Governments across Europe will have only themselves to blame for the violence to come, if they continue to disregard their principle responsibility to protect individual rights.
As Locke taught, the state of nature lies just under the thin veneer of civil government. Stable, Western societies are about to be reminded, by those who would take it from them, of what a delicate balance and what a hard-won achievement, is their way of life.
Blankley's important column is here:
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Recommended reading while Innes is grading papers, reading senior thesis drafts and winding down his courses:
Monday, April 21, 2008
I am up to my eyebrows in grading, but I do not want to leave the blog "dead." So I will be selecting some interesting posts from the archives for any who wasn't among the dozen or two readers of Principalities and Powers had when they first appeared. "Wartime Means a Republican President" first appeared on July 19, 2007. I was favoring Fred Thompson at the time, so just substitute the name "John McCain." Of course, McCain was nowhere in sight at the time, completely written off by just about everyone.
Note that in last Wednesday's debate, Hillary Clinton reaffirmed that she would withdraw our troops from Iraq within sixty days of taking office regardless of conditions on the ground and regardless of advice from the military leadership. Barack Obama would give it sixteen months.
Yogi Berra once said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future” (or something like that; I can't find the original source). Political science purports to be a predictive science, but because the variables are innumerable the future is not ascertainable and fortune is ultimately unconquerable. "Black swans" will often confound our political expectations (See The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb or the review in The Economist).
Nonetheless (ah, the fool's word), it is such irresistible sport to predict elections.
People are saying that the unpopularity of the war in Iraq guarantees a Democratic victory in 2008. Rasmussen reports that 53% favor troop withdrawal within 120 days. The Democratic candidates favor early withdrawal, the Republicans do not. Next question please. But this is irrelevant.
Since 1964, Americans in times of war, including the Cold War, have elected Republicans in general and convincing commanders-in-chief in particular, to the executive office. In the 1964 election, Barry Goldwater, the Republican, came across as unstable and unfit to have his finger "on the button." In 1968, Lyndon Johnson had us deep into an unpopular war in Vietnam, and Nixon, the Republican, was a more convincing commander-in-chief than Humphrey. 1972, Nixon. No contest. In 1976, it took Watergate, Ford's pardon of Nixon and Ford's inexplicable assertion that "there is no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe" to put the Democrat, Jimmy Carter, into the White House. It helped that Carter was a naval officer. Carter proved to be utterly incompetent. The "debacle in the desert" sealed his single term presidency. Reagan was the unflinching hawk: two terms followed by Bush. In 1988, Michael Dukakis broadcast his unfamiliarity and discomfort with military affairs by riding in a tank with his clownishly helmeted head peeping out of the top, accomplishing just the opposite of what he has hoped. In the 1992 and 1996, we were at peace, so the Democrat, Bill Clinton, was given charge. In 2000, we were still at peace, but George W. Bush won only on account of the electoral college system. Most voting Americans chose Al Gore, the Democrat (or thought they did). By 2004, we were back in a wartime situation and we chose the incumbent Republican candidate.
That brings us to 2008. In a Thompson-Obama race, Thompson wins because Obama has no foreign policy experience or even executive experience at the state level. He barely had time to find the bathrooms in the Senate building before he went off on the campaign trail. In a Giuliani-anyone race, Rudy wins. I wouldn't mess with him. Neither should Osama. In an anyone-Hillary race, anyone else will win. She is too widely perceived as being disingenuous, instinctively disinclined to support the measures necessary to prosecute the terror war (wire taps, firm handed interrogation techniques, etc.) and too willing to sacrifice national security for personal political gain. I don't know where they get these ideas.
Regardless of what people think of the Iraq situation, the terror threat still confronts us and Americans will not elect someone who is less than convincing as a defender of our national security. The one who takes the oath of office in 2009 will be the one whom Americans will have recognized as being a true or at least plausible commander-in-chief. That will be a Republican because the Democrats, with one eye on their far left base and another on the polls, are all playing the pacifist in one form or another. This outcome will be all the more certain if al Qaeda to blows up something or cut off a head at an appropriate moment.
But then there are always Black Swans.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Several things were striking about Wednesday night's debate in Pennsylvania. The two candidates drove home the point that we have either known for a long time (Hillary) or are coming increasingly to see (Obama) that they are both liars, i.e. ordinary politicians. At one point Obama was saying something disingenuous, and the viewers could hear Hillary burst out with a laugh off screen. That was all she needed to say.
Read David Brooks, "How Obama Fell to Earth" (New York Times, April 18, 2008). "Obama has emerged as a more conventional politician and a more orthodox liberal. He sprinkled his debate performance Wednesday night with the sorts of fibs, evasions and hypocrisies that are the stuff of conventional politics."
Also Kimberley Strassel, "A 'Bitter' Misstep" (Wall Street Journal, Apr. 18/08). "Yes We Can has devolved into Who the Heck Is This Guy?" Obama was stiff, academic, imperious...Kerry-like. He was visibly impatient, even angry, over the attention Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos (and Hillary) were giving to his questionable friendships and what he has said. One might even say he was "bitter."
Obama's view of tax policy was also on naked display that evening. The Wall Street Journal editorial today, "Obama's Tax Evasion," draws attention to Obama's exchange with Charlie Gibson over capital gains tax and government revenue. Obama said he would raise the rate to 28%, it's highest point during the Clinton administration. Gibson pointed out that Clinton lowered it in 1997 to 20% then Bush lowered it to 15%, and in each case revenues went up as a result.
Obama did not to dispute this, but instead pointed out that the goal is "to make sure that our tax system is fair." In other words, taxation is not about raising revenue to pay for government services in an equitable manner. It is first first and foremost about equity. Revenue is secondary. Obama tipped his hand as "a true income redistributionist who prefers high taxes as a matter of ideological dogma regardless of the revenue consequences."
Of course, if Obama is keen on income redistribution, he could start with his own. Last year the Obamas made over $4 million, largely from the Senator's book sales. But they gave just 1% to charity. Typically, liberals are quite stingy in personal giving compared to conservatives, but quite generous with other people's money through government spending. But I digress.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
John Fund observes that Democrats have a habit of falling love on the first date, as far as presidential nominees are concerned, in "Obama's Flaws Multiply" (Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2008).
It is reasonable to expect that there is more in his past (or yet to come out of his mouth) that will make the November election more difficult than it needs to be for the Democrats. And now this! Apparently Obama has been using Jedi mind tricks to influence primary voters and the press. Watch Obama, Jedi Master. Pictures don't lie!
But judging by Wednesday night's debate in Pennsylvania, those tricks may be failing him now. Read David Brooks' column today.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Fitna is a film that the politically correct do not want you to see. See the 10 minute film here. Read the BBC story on it. The man behind the film, Geert Wilders, claims that Islam is uncivil and the problem stems from...Islam itself. Because he expresses this view, he requires an around the clock guard to protect him from being murdered by upset Muslims.
If you have any experience with children you know that when one hurts or upsets the other, and the offended child kicks up a raging tantrum in response, your primary concern as the supervising adult is to discipline the child who is out of control. "It doesn't matter what he did, you may not respond this way. The game is over. Go to your room." Civilization begins with civility and thus with a just and ordered way of dealing with incivility. Regardless of what one thinks of Salmon Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Jyllands-Posten's Mohammed cartoons or Geert Wilders' Fitna, people who respond to these expressions with murder and mayhem commit far greater, universally directed and unambiguous evil.
I would strongly disagree with a lot of Theo van Gogh's views and methods, but when someone takes it upon himself to silence the maker of Submission (2004) with bullets and with knives in his chest, we are all profoundly threatened because such people strike at the lawful order and civil decency on which most of the goods we enjoy depend.
"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt." — John Philpot Curran: Speech upon the Right of Election of the Lord Mayor of Dublin (July 10, 1790).
Monday, April 14, 2008
Be sure to see it this Friday on opening weekend. The box office response will embolden producers to back a string of films waiting in the wings that deal with moral, religious and philosophical themes that the liberal elite considers beyond the pale of reasonable discussion.
I saw the film at a advanced screening for the King's College community and some others in New York. I must say that my expectations were not high going into it. But it was not long before I was riveted. The connection the film draws between the evolutionary view of the world and the architects of the holocaust is intellectually compelling and deeply moving. If you recognize that the civility of Western civilization is founded upon and fortified by what are for many people assumptions about our shared human nature and about the nature of the world we inhabit, then after viewing this film you will see that the evolutionary view of the world is like battery acid to those foundations and supports.
The film introduces a Berlin Wall theme from the very start. When a regime's theoretical justification becomes widely and publicly questioned, it's leadership begins to panic and becomes repressive. The premise of Expelled is that we are seeing this in academia, the network of colleges and universities that are training tomorrow's leaders. The evolutionary establishment gets in a big panic over the least suggestion that a teacher or scientist might entertain the notion of an intelligent designer behind the universe (which is not conceding much, by the way) because, like the speech stifling communists of the 1980s, their untenable theories are crumbling. Expelled hopes to give wider freedom for honest and able scientists to question those theories, come what may.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Does this suggestion get you angry?
Market research by Mexico City ad firm Teran/TBWA must have shown that the prospect of restoring the 1848 Mexican-U.S. border strikes a chord with consumers in Mexico where Absolut Vodka has been running this ad. (They've pulled it in response to the controversy.)
Read Michelle Malkin's column, "Absolut Folly" (NRO, April 9, 2008). Apparently there is a significant number of Mexicans, both in Mexico and here in the the United States (legally and illegally), who harbor a notion of "reconquista." There is a group called The National Council of La Raza (“the race”) who deny there is such a goal but act in every way consistent with it. Hillary Clinton campaign co-chair Dolores Huerta is reported to have said in a speech two weeks ago, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” As to the reconquista, she said, “It’s really too late. If 47 million (Latinos) have one baby each . . . it’s already won.”
Labels: illegal immigration
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Rev. James Meeks of the South Side Baptist Church is also an Illinois state senator: "We don't have slave masters, we got mayors! But they are still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able to be educated."
Michael Pfleger is a Catholic priest: "We're going to snuff out legislators that are voting against our gun laws."
Former Clinton White House official Lanny Davis keeps this issue alive in today's Wall Street Journal ("Obama's Minister Problem").
By the way, I found a video of Barack Obama withholding his hand from his heart during the playing of the national anthem at a political event. This footage goes with my previous post, "Obama's Speech and Deeds," that includes the video of this event and other disturbing confirmations of his America hating character.
Notice that all the other candidates are doing what patriotic, or just prudent, political leaders do in these circumstances.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
We live in a time of greater political division than we have seen in generations. Today’s college student has known nothing else. The fact that people have responded so positively to Barack Obama’s call for a new politics that is trans-partisan and post-racial and that will bring the country together shows that people are hungry for the unity that healthy political life requires. His likely opponent in the fall, John McCain, himself places a great deal of emphasis on collective patriotic self-sacrifice over against selfish individualism.
But liberal democracy is not about unity. The ancient republics sought to foster civic unity around a shared understanding of virtue, the best way of life, and perhaps even what we would now call national greatness. The American Founders deliberately rejected this model in favor of the uniquely modern republic. Liberal democracy, that modern innovation, is about recognizing and managing disunity in a civil manner. Anything else, especially in an age of modern technology and the efficient apparatus of the modern state, will tend swiftly in the direction of totalitarianism.
Unity of the sort that people long to experience in politics can be found only in the body of Christ. Paul exhorts the church at Ephesus “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:1-6 ESV).
Unity of the sort that political leaders promise us from time to time requires either a liberty crushing political cult (North Korea is an extreme example, but a fair one) or humility and gentleness on a scale that the limitations of the flesh will simply not allow. Such good and pleasant fraternal peace is rare enough in the congregation of the redeemed.
Beware of political promises that mimic the promises of Christ.
For a prior reflection on our successful management of political disunity, see my previous post, Democrat Anger Management.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The picture is entirely unremarkable and, even with the invitation and letter that Obama made available with the picture, proves nothing regarding the Clintons' relationship with the infamous religious leader. Two comments on the New York Times website summarize the matter well. The first one refers to the following thank you letter that Wright received from the President.
Dear Pastor Wright:
Thank you so much for your kind message.
I am touched by your prayers and by the many expressions of encouragement and support I have received from friends across our country.
You have my best wishes.
Also "Jay" said this:
Who cares? Obama knew Wright intimately as his minister for 22 years and listened to his tapes at Harvard before then. Wright spews racial hatred with utter and complete passion and his church is a cauldron of racial hatred. And Obama is his intimate friend. Obama lied that he didn’t know about such incendiary racist views and isn’t to be trusted. He is very attracted to this man’s views and is a racist. There is no way he’ll win a general election. No way.
Jay is right. Just as Obama did not understand that his grandmother's indiscreet private comments and Geraldine Ferraro's overly candid musings in comparison to Jeremiah Wrights pulpiteering tirades were vastly disproportionate to one another, so here he does not see that his 2o year, pew sitting, CD buying, donation giving, soul forming relationship with Wright bears no resemblance to Bill Clinton inviting Wright, a prominent black church leader, to prayer breakfast.
Another interpretation of this photo release is that this issue is bigger than the Philadelphia speech canonizers imagined, and that it is getting bigger all the time. The speech itself raised more questions than it laid to rest. (By the way, that is the mark of a bad "crisis response" speech.) Thus, the Obama campaign is having to deflect attention and spread the blame, but in so doing they are directing further attention to this issue instead of to the candidate's divine glow where it has been up until now.
The New York Sun has come up with information on the closest thing Hillary Clinton has to pastors in "Hillary’s Pastor, in Interview, Sympathizes With Jeremiah Wright" (April 2, 2008). But these men are not radicals. They are just standard, left wing, mainline United Methodists. Furthermore, I see no evidence that HRC has been influenced by religion anywhere near as much as Barack Obama has been.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
In November of 1986 at Boston College, I heard Dith Pran relate his experiences in “the killing fields” of Cambodia under the radical communist Khmer Rouge (as if communist weren’t radical enough). Many are familiar with him as the photojournalist in the 1984 Roland Joffe film, The Killing Fields. He died Sunday in New Jersey of pancreatic cancer at age 65. This is what he told us that day.
The population of Cambodia was 7 million in 1970 when Cambodia entered the Vietnam War. The Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, and by 1978 when the Vietnamese toppled them they had killed 2-3 million Cambodians, one third of the country’s population. They did this for the good of humanity.
Dith became convinced that something was monstrously wrong when the Khmer Rouge began emptying the hospitals. They also emptied the cities, abolished all institutions, even money.
To establish a truly communist society and build a new humanity, everyone whom they did not kill had to become a peasant. Put simply, the people must work the land. To reach this goal they killed off the educated class. Wearing eye glasses was sufficient indication of one's corruption by education. If you were a high official, you and your whole family were killed. Lower officials were also killed, but not their families. People would tell the Khmer Rouges what they used to do as an occupation in the hope of getting their jobs back, but they were put to death unless they were unskilled. Teachers would admit to being so because they could not imagine a country without education. These were not killed right away, but sometimes a few years later. To save his own life, Dith pretended to be an illiterate taxi driver.
Generally, people’s imagination for evil fell far short of the plans the Khmer Rouges executed. Dith said it was as though they were from another planet. But of course they were not. They share the same human nature that we do. What restrains us? What civilizes us? Whatever it is, are we preserving it, or eroding it? This question gets scant attention in our universities. (Obviously, it is a central concern at The King’s College in New York City where I teach.)
The Khmer Rouges came in both male and female form, he said. Both were brutal. People had to pull both plough and wagon. Eighty year olds had to work. Everyone who ate had to work. There was no mercy. They killed children in front of their parents. Husbands and wives were tortured in front of each other. They separated husbands, wives and children. They buried the dead in wells (the only source of water), B-52 craters and trenches.
People played stupid. “The Khmer Rouges has many eyes.” If you said, “I miss coffee” or “I miss noodle soup,” you had an imperialist, capitalist mind. When they gave you your meager food ration and asked you, “Is that enough?,” you were sure to say, “yes.”
Dith said that The Killing Fields is a very accurate account of his experiences although the film is mild compared to what actually happened because American audiences can't stomach anything stronger. I require my Introduction to Politics students to see The Killing Fields (or one of a number of other films of that sort) in order to make them dramatically aware of the stakes that are involved in political life, the dimensions of evil that can proceed from the human heart, and thus how important it is for them to understand tyranny and liberty, wise and unwise political institutions, the importance of political culture and citizen character, the dimensions of God’s amazing common grace, and where we are and in what direction we are moving on the spectrum between the Founding and the killing fields.
Of course, this is just a glimpse at the horror. Sydney Schanberg, the New York Times journalist whose life he saved, wrote The Death and Life of Dith Pran (1980). Dith himself wrote Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields: Memoirs By Survivors (Yale, 1999). Haing Ngor, a Cambodian doctor with no acting experience who played Dith in The Killing Fields, wrote Survival in the Killing Fields (2003). You may also read Dith Pran's obituary in The New York Sun.