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The Unbearable Reality of Love: The Passion of The Christ, by John Zmirak
In this film we see with unbearable clarity how Jesus descended into the personal Hell each of us carries around - and purged it clean.

Top Ten Things for Mediocre Catholics to Give Up for Lent, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
Did your Lenten penances get lost in the desert? On April 1st, here are one bad Catholic�s ideas for making Holy Week suitably grim.

The Transfiguration: Trinkets on Mt Tabor, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
The Transfiguration reminds us that God left the apostles with no excuse for doubt. The Father spelled things out, as if to ask, �What part of �THIS IS MY SON� don't you understand?�

Pentecost: Because Fire is Cool, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
We like to celebrate the birthday of the Church with fire, fancy, and foreigners�Try these flambé recipes and risky (if not quite risqué) games.

The American Conservative
The voice of traditional, anti-war conservatism

"Growing Up With Ronald Reagan" by Frederick Turner
"When I was a young professor at the University of California in the late sixties I despised Governor Reagan, the more fool I." [TCS]

"How Reagan Beat the Neocons" by John Patrick Diggins
"The difference between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush's militant brain staff is that he believed in negotiation and they in escalation. They wanted to win the cold war; he sought to end it. To do so, it was necessary not to strike fear in the Soviet Union but to win the confidence of its leaders." [NY Times]

"In Solidarity" by Lech Walesa
"When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty." [Opinion Journal]

"The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living", by John Zmirak, Denise Matychowiak

"The Bad Catholic�s Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song", by John Zmirak, Denise Matychowiak

A Year After Iraq: Catholic Just War Doctrine, by Fr. Alfonso Aquilar, LC
The recent anniversary of the US-led Iraq invasion reminds us that, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has said, the just war doctrine needs to be updated to take account of new realities.

Abu Ghraib, Flannery O'Connor and the Problem of American Innocence, by David Griffith
Most of the debate over the grotesque photos from Abu Ghraib has been about politics. But for the real meaning of these images, maybe we should look to the grotesque stories of Catholic writer Flannery O�Connor.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher�s Eulogy
"When his enemies tested American resolve, they soon discovered that his resolve was firm and unyielding" [BBC News]

Dark Young Thoughts: A Review of the film, �Bright Young Things,� by John Zmirak
For all his cultural libertinism, director Stephen Fry imbues his new film, 'Bright Young Things'� an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh�s 'Vile Bodies'� with more of a Christian spirit than Waugh�s pre-Catholic novel ever had.

Emily Rose�s Exorcism, and Mine, by John Zmirak
Movies about the supernatural sometimes have devastating effects on people�especially Catholic boys with neurotic dispositions, prodigious reading habits, and powerful imaginations.  Just ask John Zmirak about �The Omen.�

Fathers, Sons, Feuds and Myths: An interview with Alexander Waugh
"Alexander believes that the banana story was true: 'He was a very greedy little boy, and he definitely would have remembered the bananas and he definitely would have resented them. But my point in the book is that you cannot trust the testimony of a very greedy jam tart thief, who would rather have a jam tart than meet his father.'"  [Telegraph]

Interview with Stephen Fry
"'I would, in a sense, not hold my hand up to being a full artist. I think there are artists with a capital 'A.' There are people who are utterly uncompromising. I'm much more of an entertainer. I like to engage and to provoke. I certainly don't want to be formulaic.'" [Onion]

John Zmirak's Blog

Killing Women and Children First � Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by John Zmirak
The 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should remind us that so long as the world�s most powerful nations continue to target cities�innocent civilians�with nuclear weapons, our condemnations of �terror� will ring hollow.

My Lunch with an Old Friend of Dan Brown Proves Revealing About The DaVinci Code, by John Zmirak
Is Dan Brown a convinced heretic hell-bent on bringing down Christianity, or a hack writer who stumbled on a crackpot conspiracy theory on par with alien abductions, Holocaust denial, and lizard men?

November 5th: Guy Fawkes Day - Go Out with a Bang by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
Every Nov. 5th the English celebrate the day in 1605 that Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes and friends�a group we might call Al-Chiesa�tried and failed to blow up Parliament. This year marks the 400th anniversary. There's no reason Catholics can't enjoy it too�albeit giving it a bit of a twist.

Our Sunday Visitor
Weekly national Catholic newspaper

The Lion in Winter: Why �The Chronicles of Narnia� is Winning Over America, by John Zmirak
How did a movie about crusaders, a sacrificial lion and talking beavers gross $67 million in its opening weekend? The not-so-unlikely marriage of Hollywood and C.S. Lewis.

The Pope and the Politics of Forgiveness, by William Bole
Suicide bombings, assassinations, and unilateral wars haven�t brought us any closer to peace in the Middle East. Maybe it�s time to listen to the Pope.

The Sudan Iraq and the Morality of Intervention by Ian Williams
The people of Sudan are paying a high price for the Iraq War, which blurred the line between humanitarian intervention and moral crusade.

W for Wanker: A Review of V for Vendetta, by John Zmirak
Movies inspired by the Catholic rebel Guy Fawkes don�t come around often. But �V for Vendetta� is a disappointing tract in support of terrorism�a wish fulfillment fantasy worthy of Christopher Hitchens.

Where the Right Went Wrong: An Interview with Pat Buchanan, by Angelo Matera and John Zmirak
Along with the Pope, Pat Buchanan opposed the Iraqi War from the start. We spoke to him about the election, the war, the Catholic vote�and Ali G.

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The President and the Pope: Reading the Signs of the Times

Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II shared more than a distaste for communism. They shared an ability to read the signs of the times and act accordingly.

John Zmirak

So much has changed since 1981, when Ronald Reagan entered the White House, it actually strains the mind and imagination to recall what a different world it was. I wonder if my nephews and nieces have any conception of it. In 23 years, the map of the planet and the constellation of powers that sprawl across it have changed as radically as they did between 1917 and 1940, or between 1940 and 1963.

We've moved from a tense standoff between two superpowers with nuclear missiles on hair triggers pointed�absurdly, obscenely�at hundreds of millions of each other's civilians, to a globe dominated by a single, unchallenged nation, whose cultural, commercial, and military dominance seem incontestable, except by occasional acts of sabotage. As ugly as is the specter of terrorismand as a native New Yorker who lived through 9/11, I know�it pales to triviality compared to Mutual Assured Destruction.

It�s hard to imagine the peaceful collapse of the Soviet empire without the election of a pontiff from the Eastern bloc, who profoundly understood the old appeal of Communism, its hopeless internal flaws, its manifold mutilations of man�s spirit.
From my early childhood until some time in 1989 I always assumed, in the back of my mind, that I knew how I would someday die: In a lightning flash, with perhaps 10 minutes warning, along with everyone I'd ever known, in the radioactive rubble of an extinguished civilization. I remember hoping not for a chance at escapethere'd be no escape�but for enough time to dash to the rectory for confession. (More likely, of course, for a general absolution pronounced over a weeping, desperate crowd.) Nowadays I worry that terrorists might�just mightget hold of a small atomic device, and I check the wind patterns to see if my neighborhood would be contaminated. It's an ugly thought, but compared to Armageddon... I'll take it.

The leadership of the late President Reagan is now being given much of the credit for ushering out the specter of thermonuclear war. And rightly so. It's only fitting that when a great man dies his contribution be magnified and memorialized. When Ronald Reagan entered office, respectable opinion, the foreign policy experts, the American military and our own intelligence services assumed that Communism would be with us indefinitelyif not forever. Ex-Marxist intellectuals, who'd only just begun to call themselves "neoconservatives," opined in books such as 1984 Revisited that totalitarianism was "irreversible," that the power of the leviathan state, underpinned by systematic ideology, could never be dislodged from a country, except by overwhelming military force�which would bring on a nuclear holocaust. Orwell's glum vision of the future: "a boot, crushing a human face, forever" appeared to be accurate for roughly half the human population. Meanwhile, the Communist tyrants kept on amassing military power, even as the West seemed less and less inclined to contest them. Europeans with Lilliputian armies gazed across the Iron Curtain, pondering whether they could accept "Finlandization," or come up with some form of "Eurocommunism" which might buy them safety and a measure of freedom-like the citizens of Hong Kong.

Amidst this creeping gloom, the combative anti-Communism of candidate Ronald Reagan seemed irresponsibleat worst a jingoism that would goad us into total war, at best a futile whistling in the dark. But today it is indisputable that the actions Reagan took early in his presidency helped push the Soviet system to the brink of its collapse: His military build-up, his covert and overt actions to aid anti-Communist movements around the world (including, it should be noted, the brutal Nicaraguan contras and the Islamic movements that gave birth to Osama bin Laden), and his willingness to pour America's wealth into a risky, unimaginably expensive "Strategic Defense Initiative"... the list is long, and could be multiplied. Reagan's multi-front guerilla war against the Soviets convinced their elites to give Mikhail Gorbachev his chance�to reform their system, they thought, to refit it for competition with a newly resurgent America. Though they knew far better than we (or even Reagan) how shaky their situation was, they little imagined how quickly events would shatter their empire, and leave the pieces littered across the face of Eastern Europe.

Of course, the bellicosity and bravura of early Reagan are only part of the explanation for why the continents shifted. Another force which moved the earth was provided by another man now in the twilight of his life�Pope John Paul II. Some of us remember the cover of Time magazine that celebrated the end of Communism, depicting Ronald Reagan together with the pope. It's hard to imagine the peaceful collapse of the Soviet empire without the election of a pontiff from the Eastern bloc, who profoundly understood the old appeal of Communism, its hopeless internal flaws, its manifold mutilations of man's spirit.

This pope had helped form the Catholic workers' movement that finally discredited Communism in Poland; that nation's long, non-violent resistance to its oppressive government created the template for other countries, and the failure of its government to crush Solidarity emboldened reformers across Eastern Europe. Where other countries' reform movementsdriven by a passion for Western liberties or old-style nationalism�had foundered and failed, Solidarity, empowered by supernatural hope and faith, and restrained by miraculous charity, would triumph. And the rest of the tyrannical regimes would falllike so many dominoes.

Reagan and Pope John Paul II shared a clear-eyed apprehension of reality, a vision of human dignity, and an intellectual openness which allowed them to read the signs of the times, and act accordingly.
When we reflect on the profound gift to peace and liberty that was the end of the Cold War, it's important to remember that magazine cover, to hold on to both the forces that impelled the destruction of Communism�the twin powers of Church and State. Of course, there was concrete cooperation between the U.S. government and the Vatican; Reagan poured money through the A.F.L.-C.I.O. into the coffers of Solidarity, even as Pope John Paul restrained the excesses of Marxist clerics throughout Latin America. The two men worked together on social issues as well; it was Reagan who reversed almost 30 years of official U.S. support for coercive population control, and legal abortion around the world. But there was a deeper convergence between these two great men; they shared a clear-eyed apprehension of reality, a vision of human dignity, and an intellectual openness which allowed them to read the signs of the times, and act accordingly.

Here I would like to warn against those men who'd lightly claim Reagan's mantle today on behalf of an aggressive foreign policy. Today men such as William Kristol and his compatriots, who call themselves "neo-Reaganites," urge us on to conquer and subjugate the nations of the Islamic world, to "drain the swamp" of terrorism. They point to Israel as the proper example of how to deal with violent attacks upon civilians, and urge upon us the short-sighted ruthlessness which now prevails in Gaza and the West Bank�and which once "kept order" in Johannesburg. When Pope John Paul, along with virtually all his bishops and most serious Catholic thinkers, disagree, they're accused by American hawks of "softness," idealism, or crypto-pacifism, of sharing in the European "loss of nerve"the same "squeamishness" which leads Europeans to abstain from capital punishment.

I remember the disgust some loudly Catholic columnists expressed when a prominent cardinal, speaking on the pope's behalf, said that even the captured Saddam Hussein should be treated "with dignity." The same disdain which greeted that suggestion informed the policies towards lesser Iraqi prisoners: Such contempt for "liberal" niceties of Christian ethics created the abuses at Abu Ghraib. That disgrace to the American military has helped sow seeds of terrorism whose fruits we will reap for years to come, and will goad any future Iraqi government into reflexive anti-Americanism. Nice work, boys.

On the surface, today's neoconservatives seem to be acting in the tradition of early Reagan, the man who resoundingly rejected the temporizing policies of Jimmy Carter, who willingly contracted a vast deficit in order to fund a military build-up, who crammed Pershing missiles down the throat of European public opinion, while shipping guns to "freedom fighters" whose tactics included terrorism, who joked that "we start bombing in 15 minutes."

But it's important to remember what Reagan did nextwhat he did throughout his presidency. As he watched the Soviet response to his firm resolve, as he saw what had seemed to be an invincible Evil Empire begin to shudder at its core, he did something of which contemporary hawks seem incapable: He learned. Not that he had been wrong, but that the situation had changed. He absorbed new information, and acted accordingly. When the Polish government cracked down on Solidarity�but proved incapable of exterminating the movementReagan knew that the other side had lost its nerve. This wasn't Stalin's empire�which would have liquidated Poland without blinkingbut the monster's creeping, failing shadow.

Had Reagan chosen instead to greet his opponent�s admission of weakness with threats of military force, it�s entirely possible that reform would have been choked in the Soviet Union.
When the Soviet Communist party replaced the bellicose Yuri Andropov with the would-be reformer Gorbachev, Reagan learned: He saw that his enemy was sick, sick unto death, and need only be waited out. To the rage and disgust of neoconservatives (read back issues of Commentary to see how they denounced Reagan himself for "going soft" and becoming "another Jimmy Carter") the president engaged Gorbachev in arms control negotiations, all the while quietly supporting the forces of democratic resistance in Poland and elsewhere. His optimism and confidence fueled in him a genuinely conservative patience and prudence, which made possible the peaceful implosion of the world's second superpower, almost without the firing of a shot. Had Reagan chosen instead to greet his opponent's admission of weakness with threats of military force, it's entirely possible that reform would have been choked in the Soviet Union�or even that its elites would have chosen to go down fighting. And none of us would be alive to write or read about it....

So to fans of Ronald Reagan who've become disillusioned by the apparent "softness" of the pope, I'd say: Imitate that heroic president, and like him learn from experience. However philosophically committed Reagan was to halting the Communist threat, he was able to recognize when that threat was proving illusory, where its rattling of a saber signaled only weakness. Supremely confident both in himself and in America's long-term strength, he never mistook mere stubbornness for resolve, or pig-headedness for courage. These are lessons we should apply, starting today, in our struggle against radical Islam and terrorism.

When we see that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no traces of cooperation with Al-Qaeda, and little prospect of creating an American-style democracy there, we should learn and act accordingly. We should clean up the mess we made as best we can, and get out as quickly as possible-returning the country to its inhabitants, with the tacit acknowledgement that however wicked was their old ruler, we never had any right to be there in the first place. (There is reason to believe that this is what President Bush has finally decided to do, thanks to political pressure�thank the Lord that we live with a system where such pressure can be exerted, through free speech and free elections!)

Ronald Reagan showed his willingness to learn when he pulled our forces out of Lebanon, responding sensibly to unacceptable American casualties run up in a pointless, futile mission�just like our war in Iraq. Without a real pretext for war, an imminent threat to our country or our allies, or any mandate from the international community, our invasion was left with only a single justification: overthrowing a tyrant who'd made the mistake of thwarting our will, and who sat atop oil reserves. That doesn't make a just warnot by Christian standards, anyway. Mussolini had as good a case for invading Ethiopia.

However philosophically committed Reagan was to halting the Communist threat, he was able to recognize when that threat was proving illusory, where its rattling of a saber signaled only weakness.
On a deeper level, we should learn from the events of the past three years how weak are the enemies of civilization. We should see in their ruthlessness, their need to target civilians, their crouching in caves and attacks on commuter trains, a profound admission of weakness. Unable to take on our military might, they choose to attack the helpless. Caught up in a bizarrely reactionary world-view which every day loses ground to the evangelical secularism of the West (let's decide how to heal that another day), they do not produce great popular art that will keep the allegiance of their peoples; they send packets of anthrax to The National Enquirer. Powerless to build a society which maintains spiritual values amidst modern technology, they sabotage the oil pipelines of their very own countries, and massacre the engineers who keep their electricity running.

These are not the actions of an organized, enormously threatening conspiracy that threatens our freedom; they are the death-rattle of an extremist cult, like Jim Jones' last broadcasts from Jonestown. They should be countered as Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul countered the withering ideology of Communism: With force where it makes sense-that is, where reason and evidence, not forged documents and wild conjecture, tell us that it's the wisest policy. With flexibility and prudence, with confidence and decency�in other words, with the virtues that the late Ronald Reagan and the great pope John Paul displayed as they exorcised Stalin's ghost.

June 14, 2004

John Zmirak (http://zmirak.blogspot.com) is a contributing editor of The American Conservative (www.amconmag.com) and Godspy.

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06.15.04   Godspy says:
Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II shared more than a distaste for communism. They shared an ability to read the signs of the times and act accordingly.

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