Monday, January 16, 2017

The Pope and Mussolini

David I. Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (New York: Random House, 2014), 549 pages including index, detailed source notes, references and photos. 

                The Catholic Church was fearful of what was happening in Europe after the first Great War.  It had lost its protective status in Italy and an anticlerical movement was rising.  Priest were regularly beaten, killed, or forced to drink Castrol Oil by anticlerics (which could be either fascists or communists).  There was a great fear of what had happened in Russia and of Bolshevism spreading to other countries in Europe.  In Italy, there were fears of Protestants strengthening their position as well as a deep-rooted anti-Semitic feelings toward the Jews.  This was the church Cardinal Achille Ratti, a mountain climbing priest from Northern Italy, inherited when he was elected pope in 1922. 
 A few years later, the fascists under their strong man, Benito Mussolini achieved power in Italy.  Mussolini set out to suppress all political parties including the “Popular Party” which had close ties to the Catholic Church.  In an attempt to protect the church, the pope through diplomatic channels began negotiations with Mussolini.  The Fascist party would call off the attacks on the church and make the church the only official religion in Italy.  The church, which was afraid of Communism as well as Democratic movements, would inherit a world ordered in a way it felt would best suit its purposes.  In 1929, the Fascist state and the Church signed the Lateran Accords, which would become known as a deal with the devil. 
This is a fascinating but highly complex book.  At the beginning of the book, before the Prologue, are ten pages listing key players and organizations in the story (I recommend skipping over this and moving to the Prologue and referring back to the list when you get confused).  The Prologue takes us to Pius XI death bed, early in 1939, where the dying pope is working on a paper to be delivered to the church leaders.  Kertzer lets the reader believe that the Pope, seeing what had happened due to his support of Mussolini, was going to renounce the Lateran Accords and fascism in both the Italian and German forms.  But Pius XI dies a week before the conclave and the papers are quickly collected and destroyed by the man who will become Pius XII, whose critics named “Hitler’s Pope.”
This book should be a warning to all religious leaders who look to the government to buffer their position in society.   Such agreements might offer short-term benefits but as we see, can also be a “deal with the devil.”  By early 1939, even before the beginning of the World War II, Pius XI was feeling that Hitler was going too far with his dealings with the Jews and was concerned that Mussolini (who’d had a Jewish mistress) was following Hitler’s lead.  By this point, the church had compromised its position so that it no longer had any moral ground upon which to stand.  What would have happened if Pius XI had denounced fascism is left to speculation. 
There was a lot of interesting tidbits provided in this massive work.  There was some brief discussion of excommunicating Hitler, but the only real possibility came when he served as a witness at a Protestant wedding.  Also, the church seemed to be concerned about the Jewish leaders in Communist movements even after Stalin began purging such leaders within the Soviet Union.  There was also rumors of pedophile priests in Italy (even in the Vatican) and Germany.  In Italy, Kertzer makes the case that it there were such priests and such knowledge was able to be used by those outside the church to control the Vatican.  Kertzer doesn’t comment on how valid the German accusations were, but there were a number of priests and nuns brought to trial by the Third Reich. 

This is an interesting book and I would recommend it for anyone interested in the events leading up to the Second World War.  It is also a book that raises the dangers of when the church enters the political fray in order to secure its position in society.  I’m thinking of sending my copy to Franklin Graham or another such church leaders who seem to look at our president-elect as a second savior.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fog and Water

I took ten days off after Christmas.  The 27th and 29th were warm and foggy days and I spent them both on the water.  A friend and I went out sailing on the 27th, in very light wind.  We set at the marina porch for thirty minutes debating whether or not to go.  A little after noon, the visibility wasn't much over a mile (it had been much less in the morning).  The flags were barely fluttering. Had the winds picked up, the fog would have been blown away.  As we watched, there appeared some ripples on the water.  We then saw another boat host its sails and make their way up the river, so we decided we'd give it a try. The tide had just turned and was rising, so we sailed out on the Wilmington River, into Wassaw Sound, toward the north end of Wassaw Island.  The wind picked to maybe a sustained 5 knots with a few puffs of maybe 8 knots, nothing exciting but enough to allow us to make decent headway against the tide.  We talked and watched dolphins feed.  After an hour or so, we turned around.  Shortly thereafter enough of the fog was burned off or blown away that we saw the sun for a few minutes.  Running with a spinnaker and being pushed by the tides, we quickly ran back toward the marina  But about a 1/4 mile from the marina, the wind died.  We let the tide pull is in and then used paddles to navigate through the break wall.  We'd come back just in time!

Paddling out as the fog lifts
The next day, I took off in my kayak at 10 AM from the Delegal Creek marina on the south side of the island.  As I launched, the visibility was maybe a quarter mile.  I paddled out of Delegal Creek on the falling tide and headed out toward Ossabaw Sound.  I hug as closely as possible to the shore as I didn't want to get lost, but I had to be careful to be out far enough that I wouldn't be caught on a mudflat with the falling tide.  In the soupy fog, I thought I heard someone talking and wondered who would be out on the water with such fog, but it turned out to be gulls squawking on a sandbar.   Later I would hear a motor as a boat made its way out of the river and into the sound. I couldn't see him for the longest time, but could hear it through the fog.  Then he stopped for a few minutes, would run for maybe 30 seconds and then stop again.  I thought maybe he was trying to find the channel, but later, as I approached the south end of Wassaw and the fog had lifted to where I could see a mile or two, I realized he was pulling crab traps.   
lunch on Wassaw

The paddle out was one of the smoothest I've had on these waters (as was the paddle back).  Bottle-nose dolphins were all around me, some of which appeared to dance on the the water as they played around, gracefully jumping as they fed on baitfish.  I arrived on the island, ate lunch and took a nap on the sand, before walking around the island for maybe a hour.  This was the first time I've been on the island since Hurricane Matthew.  I was surprised that there were few down trees, but there were a number of pines that had died from salt water, but these were mostly in wash areas that would have been flooded for a long period during and after the storm.  The trees growing on top of dunes appeared to have done well.

Sand Dollar on the beach
At 3:30, I decided I'd better be getting back.  The tide was running in hard (low tide was a little after 1 PM) and it would be getting dark a little after 5.  I made the five mile paddle back and had loaded my boat on the car as the sun set.  It was another good day. 

Below are a few more scenes from my trip.

Bottle Nose Dolphin (taken from Wassaw Island)

Wassaw Island

Wassaw Island

Monday, January 09, 2017

Lee, another death in 2016

Pere Marquette, March 2007
Like many people, I’m glad that 2016 is over.  The Presidential elections were terrible, but so were all the deaths of celebrities I’ve watched or listened to for much of my life.  On a personal note, it was one year today that in an accident on the deck of a sailboat, I ruptured my quad tendon.  I am able to walk, but still can’t run and don’t have the balance I once had.   And then there were the personal losses that came in December.  My grandmother died mid-month and on the 29th, I had two good friends to die.  I met Lee shortly after moving to Michigan in 2004.  His was tragic as he was much younger than me and leaves behind 4 kids, his oldest being the same age as my daughter.  The other friend was in Myron, who was my parent’s age.  I met him and his wife when I first moved to Utah in 1993.  She died about four years ago and Myron had moved to California to be near his daughter.  Both will be missed.  Here are some reflections on Lee: 
Thornapple River, May 2014
I never saw it coming.  We were fishing upstream with spinning rods, floating in a canoe in the rather swift current of the Pere Marquette.  Suddenly we were caught in the branches of a leaning tree.  I quickly laid my rod on the thwarts and grabbed a paddle, but before I could react, the boat was pulled up almost 90 degrees with water pouring in.  The next thing I knew, we were both swimming.  It was late spring and the water was chilly.  The ultralight spinning rod I'd been using slid off into the water as did everything else.  We grabbed the rest of our gear as it bobbed downstream and dumped the water out of the canoe.  I then went diving for my rod, but never saw it again.  We finished our paddle.  We'd caught a few trout and a head cold, but we laughed about our situation as we stopped at a Bob Evans for dinner on our way home.  It was the first of my adventures with Lee.  I will never think of the Pere Marquette River without thinking of him.  Late in the next winter, with four inches of fresh snow on the ground, he and I would be wading into the icy water in search of steelhead.  We didn't catch any, nobody was, but Lee still managed to catch a couple of trout.  He always seemed to catch fish when on no else could. 
Thornapple River, Winter 2013 

Lee died early in the morning of December 29th.  He had been defying death for the past decade as he suffered from an autoimmune diseases that caused brain tumors and brittle bones. He last few months were spent wearing a "turtle shell" as he had so many broken vertebrates in his back.  He was also confined to a wheel chair.  This was hard for a man who had played competitive hockey and loved being outdoors.  I hadn't seen him since I moved from Michigan in the summer of 2014.  That spring and summer we'd paddled together a couple of times, which was enjoyable as I'd seen him more in the hospital than on the river my last few years there. This was in one of his good periods, when he was able to get out regularly.

Although I was almost 20 years older than him, I looked up to Lee as an example of what it means to be a father.  He loved his children and delighted in their achievements.  He enjoyed sharing his knowledge of fishing with them or watching them play tennis.  When his marriage ended, which broke his heart, Lee did everything he could to focus, not on his needs, but on his kids needs.  Lee had a deep faith, which was displayed during and after his divorce.  He exemplified a Christ-like life of grace and sacrifice, as he sought to be civil and to avoid blame while looking out for what was best for the children. 

Since moving South, we occasionally exchanged text messages and emails. I knew he wasn't doing well.  He’d been told in the fall that he’d be confined to a wheel chair and that he had to wear a turtle shell-like brace because his vertebrates were so week.  I told him that I would be back in West Michigan in late January and promised to buy him a beer.  He said he’d look forward to that.  Sadly, I’ll be drinking that beer by myself.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack

Charles Osgood, Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack: A Boyhood Year During World War II (New York: Hyperion, 2004), 139 pages, a few photos.

Charlie Osgood Wood was just shy of nine when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor.  He and his sister were at an afternoon Christmas program at church when a nun came onstage and told them Pearl Harbor had been attacked and they needed to go home and tell their parents (this was before news became ubiquitous ).  Walking home with his sister, the two discussed the events, assuming Pearl Harbor's value was in its pearls and wondering if Japan didn't have enough pearls already.  He soon learned the truth as the horrors of war became known to the people of America.  Yet, it was a good time to be a child and Baltimore was far from the front lines. 

 Osgood (he later dropped "Wood" and used "Charles Osgood" as his professional name) spent a life in media.  He suggests that the manual labor of the liberty garden led him to seek an easier occupation.  At 83, he finally retired from CBS this past year.  In tributes to him, I learned of this book and sought out a copy to read.  In this memoir of a year of his childhood, we learn how the seeds of a lifelong career were nourished in a boy who loved baseball but also played the piano and organ and wrote poetry.

This is a touching memoir set in the first year of America’s involvement in World War II.  Although just a kid, Charlie begins to follow the world action by placing flags on a world map in his bedroom.  He does what he can for the war effort but sees a "victory garden" as questionable as it grows everything he hates.  He also wondered if the Japanese are planting "loser gardens."  When his father tells him about Japanese rock gardens, he is really confused.  There is a wonderful chapter about being mesmerized by the radio, which would later become his profession.  He speaks highly of radio as the place where he learned creativity and developed an imagination that would help him succeed in radio and later in television.  As a boy, he's also caught up with baseball.  He has portraits of his two heroes on his wall, Babe Ruth and Franklin Roosevelt.  Ruth’s portrait is in the prominent position because Roosevelt wasn't from Baltimore.  In a day without television, he writes about the movies and movie stars.  This is a look back at what America was like for a middle class boy who was close to my father's age.

Although we learn a lot about Osgood, this book is also a tribute for his sister, as the two of them shared the experience of being children as the nation when to war.   In his acknowledgments, he credits his sister for helping him remember as he created this delightful book.   I highly recommend this as a quick and enjoyable read. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

 Merry Christmas everyone.  It is now late on Christmas Day and I'm tired.  After Christmas Eve Candlelight services last night, I went over to a party at friends where I stayed way too late drinking some of the smoothest bourbon I've had in a while as I sampled two new bottles, one from Utah and another from Texas.  After two drinks and a lot of talking about world events, I came home and took the photo to the left.  Today started with opening presents, going to church, a quick lunch and heading out for a long walk on the beach, before coming back to eat dinner (pork loin glazed with apricot preserves) and watching the end of the Steelers/Ravens game (and the Steelers' won).

I have maybe an hours worth of work before the New Year, otherwise I'm off.  I'm heading to North Carolina later this week and then will come home and on January 2nd, he into the Okefenokee Swamp for a couple of nights.  Maybe there'll be pictures.  Enjoy the rest of 2016.