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The Real Story

I read with interest and agreement Edward S. Shapiro’s “Blacks and Jews Entangled” (August/September). While there exist shared experiences of oppression, Shapiro notes quite correctly that a black-Jewish relationship should not be based on fanciful notions derived from distorted history. Made-up history will, in the long run, do more harm than good.

Mr. Shapiro uses the example of the PBS documentary film Liberators , which falsely claimed that black combat units had liberated the concentration camps of Buchenwald and Dachau. I have followed the Liberators story closely. Mr. Shapiro says that the lie of the Liberators was exposed in a February 1993 New Republic article. This is not the case.

Christopher Ruddy, in the December 1992 issue of the New York Guardian , wrote the first comprehensive piece on the Liberators lie, quoting, among others, the black soldiers who were depicted in the film. This was followed with an op-ed piece in Newsday on December 15, 1992. Shortly after these pieces appeared, a cover story based on Ruddy’s work appeared in the Jewish Voice of Englewood, New Jersey. The New Republic story followed the next month.

I raise this seemingly minor point on the breaking of the story because it further buttresses Mr. Shapiro’s description of some people in the Jewish community who were in complete denial of this revision of Holocaust facts. Published reports clearly explaining the lie, which PBS itself later confirmed, were known to many of those who put on the gala event at the Apollo Theatre in December. The film’s showing, as well as the appearance of Mayor Dinkins and Jesse Jackson at the Apollo, were heralded as a turning point in black-Jewish relations. None of the organizers of that event wanted to be confused by the facts.

Jews have little to prove to the black community, as Mr. Shapiro so well points out. Blacks, too, who have similarly suffered, need not have liberated a concentration camp to have shown their good will toward Jews. The irony of the Liberators is that the true story of the heroic black units and soldiers that helped to liberate all of occupied Europe had already earned the appreciation of Jews: the true story is more powerful than the best fiction.

(Rabbi) Morton H. Pomerantz
Douglaston, NY

The Therapeutic State

Many thanks for David Wagner’s article about the family and the therapeutic state (“The Family and the Constitution,” August/September). As a volunteer guardian ad litem in the court system my husband deals with family vs. state problems every day. We have friends who are actually doing without benefits in order to keep their children out of the clutches of our therapeutic state. 

But so far, most of these school programs (breakfast, lunch, and dinner at school, pre-school and/or after-school care) are not compulsory. If parents take their duties seriously the state cannot interfere—yet. However, once a compulsory health care plan run by the government is in place, the therapeutic state will be able to control all children and, through the children, control the parents.

When children are enrolled in their own “health care plan” at birth, regardless of the wishes of the parents, the primary health care provider will probably be a “school health clinic” run by Planned Parenthood. Children will be treated as the therapeutic state wishes them treated and mom and dad will not only have no say in it, they won’t even know it—unless the powers that be decide that your child is “at risk” because of you. In that case you will receive a visit from a social worker who, unless you cooperate, will be able to remove your children from your care since you are a threat to their health as defined by the therapeutic state.

“Universal access” may be a two-way street: you have access to whatever health care the government says you have, but the therapeutic state has both access and control over you and your children. . . . 

Marie Dietz
Center for Pro-Life Studies
North Troy, VT  

A Net Liability

In the Public Square section of the August/September issue, Richard John Neuhaus responded to some objections from Father Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Society of Jesus. The proposition that the society, as differentiated from many of its members, has become a “net liability” to the Church is not hard to substantiate. As Father Neuhaus pointed out, it is not his charge, but one made directly and indirectly by Jesuits themselves. . . . 

Over ten years ago Professor James Hitchcock documented, from Jesuit publications, the damage that dissenting Jesuits were doing. His little book, The Pope and the Jesuits, never made a splash similar to something from Malachi Martin, but the presentation of the actual words and actions of the dissenting Jesuits was devastating. If Father Kolvenbach thinks that the reputation of the Jesuits has been damaged by anything in First Things, I suggest he go over the back issues of Jesuit publications. . . .

Thomas Norton
Dillwyn, VA 

Not So Like the Father

In “Like Father, Like Son, Almost” (Public Square, August/September), son Richard Neuhaus informed readers about the public and the “separate” schools of Canada. The “separate” schools were the Roman Catholic schools that were supported by public funds. The church body served by father Clem Neuhaus also had a system of parochial schools in Canada, even as it has in this country, but the Lutheran schools in Canada did not receive any aid from the public treasury. Thus father Clem’s Lutheran Church and son Richard’s Roman Catholic Church were “almost” the same in Canada in that both had parochial schools, but “almost” has to be very generously defined should it be used to describe the way in which their respective schools were supported. Rome’s schools were supported by the provincial treasuries, while Wittenberg’s schools were supported by the treasuries of Lutheran citizens of the provinces, who paid their taxes to support the educational endeavors of the provinces and also gave generously to support the educational endeavors of their own congregations.   

Son Richard observed that father Clem was called “Pope” Neuhaus. He was called “Pope” not only by his classmates, but also by his colleagues of the Ontario District. But that’s as close to Rome as father Clem ever got. “Pope” Neuhaus’ physical appearance may have resembled the popes of the Middle Ages, and when “Pope” Neuhaus spoke at a pastoral conference there would be few to rise up in opposition. But he would have been the last to renounce his ordination vow and confessional faith that subscribes to the 1537 “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” which declares that the doctrines of the papacy are the doctrines of Antichrist. . . .

(The Rev.) Walter Otten
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Brookfield, IL 

Title and Author

 I am responsible for the title of Professor Andrew Greeley’s essays, on which Richard John Neuhaus comments (Public Square, August/September). The Scholars Press book, The Sociology of Andrew M. Greeley, published by South Florida-Rochester-St. Louis Studies on Religion and the Social Order, of which I am editor in chief, reprints most of Father Greeley’s writings on the sociology of religion. We could not present it as “edited by . . . ,” since all our staff did was collect and organize the essays. The title accurately portrays the book’s contents. Had we omitted “by Andrew M. Greeley,” the book would have confused librarians (and others); hence the somewhat anomalous title to which you called attention. Since Father Greeley is widely regarded as the premier sociologist of religion in our day, collecting and reprinting his massive contribution in the form of articles struck our editors as a most worthwhile project, and we appreciate your calling attention to it.        

Jacob Neusner
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL

Abortion or Homosexuality?

In her review essay on James Davison Hunter’s newest book, Before the Shooting Begins (“Culture Wars, Shooting Wars,” June/July), Elizabeth Fox-Genovese states, “[A]bortion is not just one issue among many: it is the issue.” Her sentiment has been repeated elsewhere. However, while abortion remains a strong second, another issue has replaced it as the primary battlefield of the American culture war—homosexuality.   

Three years ago, it probably would have been accurate to speak of abortion as the central issue in American society. A pro-life President stood in opposition to a pro-choice Congress, while the Supreme Court seemed to be inching ever closer to overturning Roe. However, two events occurred in 1992 that changed the face of the abortion debate. The first, and most significant, was the Supreme Court’s decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood. In this decision, a court composed almost entirely of Reagan-Bush appointees declared, as the Roe Court had two decades earlier, that the Constitution guarantees women the right to abort their pregnancies. Second, William Jefferson Clinton was elected President, insuring that the Court’s decision would stand for some time, and aligning the legislative and executive branches in the pro-choice camp.

In addition, by the beginning of the 1990s the American public had grown tired of “the abortion issue,” for two primary reasons. First, it seems that both sides have exhausted their arguments. Witness the most recent conflict, which has occurred regarding proposed health care legislation. The debate over the inclusion of abortion in health care reform has been basically as follows: One group of Congressmen swears not to vote for any bill that includes abortion. Another group of Congressmen swears not to vote for any bill that excludes it. That’s it. No one engages in any type of substantive debate on the issue. Second, Americans have a notoriously short attention span, and abortion simply had been on the front burner too long.

To use Hunter’s terminology, the “orthodox” have lost to the “progressives” in the abortion battle, at least for the foreseeable future. A few of the losers have reacted with violence. Most have moved on to the next battle—the place of homosexuality in American society.

As one of the first major policy initiatives of his presidency, Bill Clinton attempted to remove homosexuality as a ground for rejection or dismissal from the U.S. Armed Forces. This launched homosexuality to the front of the public square. The inherent contradictions in the solution that was adopted (“don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue”) energized Americans on both sides of the issue to work even harder to insure that they prevail, and homosexuality remains at the top of the American agenda.

Father Neuhaus has expressed the hope that homosexuality is disappearing as a public issue, citing examples such as the failure of gays in New York City to stop the St. Patrick’s Day parade and to institute the Rainbow Curriculum in the public schools. However, counterexamples, such as the failure of numerous states to adapt so-called “anti-gay” legislation and the recent success of a Virginia lesbian to regain custody of her child, indicate that the issue is by no means settled. Indeed, it is the mixed results of this part of the culture war—the orthodox win a few battles, the progressive win a few battles—that keeps both sides fighting so hard and keeps the issue squarely in public focus. (Your own magazine is a testimony to the relevance of this issue; hardly an issue goes by without an extended treatment of homosexuality in some context.)

In the arena of public opinion, the homosexuality debate falls along remarkably similar lines as the abortion debate. A small group is unequivocally opposed to it. A slightly smaller group is unequivocally in favor of it. The majority of the public maintains an inconsistent stance in which they are personally opposed, but don’t feel that they have the authority to impose their beliefs on others.

However, in the legal arena (the arena that seems to inevitably become central in our cultural battles these days), the battle lines have been reversed. In the abortion debate, it was the orthodox who had to overcome the legal hurdle of Roe v. Wade . In the homosexuality debate, it is the progressives who face the legal hurdle of Bowers v. Hardwick , the 1986 case in which a slightly more liberal Supreme Court than our current one explicitly (albeit by the narrowest of margins) denied the existence of a constitutional right to engage in homosexual sodomy.

Having lost (at least for the moment) the abortion battle, the homosexuality battle could be the last stand for the orthodox in our modern culture war. A loss on this issue could easily relegate the orthodox to a vocal minority, slowly phased out of society, until eventually the culture war is redrawn along other lines. However, this battle is quite winnable for the orthodox. Having won the major legal battle already, their task is to do what they have thus far failed to do with abortion—equip the American populace to translate its private revulsion into public policy.

Clifton L. Brinson
Greensboro, NC

Abortion and Capital Punishment 

I am continually amazed at those who insist on drawing a parallel between abortion and capital punishment. It is morally obtuse and demonstrates a kind of willful blindness to what would seem to be a rather obvious distinction. Surely one may grasp that there is in fact a clear, moral distinction to be made between, say, Herod and the innocents he slaughtered (Matthew 2:16-17). 

Imagine my surprise, then, upon opening the pages of a journal that I have come to count on not to confuse the issues only to find the usually estimable Peter Berger caught in the grips of this particular species of foolishness (“Bipartisan Death Rows,” May). The story of Rickie Rector, who left his dessert because he thought he would return from his trip to the execution chamber, was ever so touching, but a distraction from the issue at hand. Would it not perhaps have been just as germane to envision the policeman Rickie Rector killed sitting down to dinner with his family or dandling a baby on his knee? As to Mr. Rector’s impairment, it is clear that, at the time of his crime, Rickie Rector felt no qualms about capital punishment when it came to the policeman he murdered, nor did he seem to believe that he should exempt himself from execution. Leaving the moral sensibilities about the question of suicide aside, it could be argued that the state of Arkansas was simply completing the job Rickie Rector began.

Berger does not stop there. He then goes on to posit the absurd notion that capital punishment violates the Constitution and should be eliminated because it is “cruel and unusual.” The notion is absurd in that the Fifth Amendment plainly refers twice to capital punishment as a given. To be charitable this error does not originate with Mr. Berger, but it is no less egregious for having been concocted by others. . . .

I expect better from First Things. I believe there is an informed discussion that can and perhaps should be held with respect to the moral and ethical issues surrounding capital punishment and Christian faith. But it does no service to that need to conflate the question with abortion. Nor does an attempt to sentimentalize the issue or obfuscate it with specious constitutional reasoning (does Berger perhaps detect some Blackmunite “penumbras” here?) serve this end.

(The Rev.) David F. Crow
Durham, NC