June 6, 1944: Why We Must Never Forget the Longest Day

Seventy five years ago 150,000 soldiers boarded 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes in England and did something incredible: they invaded France despite heavy German fortifications.

World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. England and France then declared war on Germany (the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941). But the Germans were able to march into France and France surrendered on June 22, 1940.

Allied leaders knew they needed to invade France if they had any chance to win the war; the Germans knew that too. While the allies planned the invasion, Germany fortified all the beaches in France on the English Channel. The narrowest part of the English Channel was from Dover, England to Calais, France and Hitler was convinced the allies would land in Calais. On the night of June 5, 1944, Hitler went to bed with instructions not to wake him the next morning.

Unbeknownst to him, while he slept the allies boarded planes and ships. They were young, scared, and determined. When the German soldiers (who were also young, scared, and determined), overlooking the beaches of Normandy, spotted the allied ships we can only imagine their reaction. They opened fire with their machine guns, and by the end of the day 4,413 allied soldiers died but they also knew that they needed reinforcements.

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Hitler’s generals faced a dilemma. Only Hitler had the authority to send in reinforcements and his generals were too afraid to wake him. When Hitler finally did wake up and was told about the invasion in Normandy, he angrily insisted that this was a diversion and the real invasion was going to be in Calais. By the time Hitler finally accepted that Normandy was the invasion spot, it was too late.

But the invasion wasn’t that easy. The 11,000 planes carried paratroopers whose job it was to land behind enemy lines to block German reinforcements. But they flew at night under less than ideal weather conditions, and many of them landed far from where they intended. It took much longer than expected to form the front line and march toward Germany.

They liberated Paris on August 25, 1944 and Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

Seventy five years out it won’t be long until the last survivor of D-Day dies and our only testimonies will be those written or passed down orally. Those of us who were lucky to hear the stories of these surviving soldiers first hand must never take for granted the gift we were given. Those who only know of these stories from what we read must also never forget.

If you wish, you can read my post from five years ago

And if you haven’t seen these two movies, I highly recommend The Longest Day from 1962 and Saving Private Ryan from 1998.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 33: It’s Time to Change the Discussion on Abortion

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, ruled 7-2 that the government cannot prohibit a woman from having an abortion. In the history of the 20th Century this decision ranked as one of its most important decisions alongside Brown v. Board of Education.

From day one Roe divided out nation into camps: Those who think abortion murders unborn babies v. those who think a woman’s right to her body is absolute.

If asked where I stand, I will say this: I think every abortion is a missed chance for a new life and it’s a tragedy. But I’ll also say that we live in a society that should value life, all lives and lives at every stage.

From the moment of publication the lines were drawn. Those who supported the opinion called themselves “pro-choice” (and were called “pro abortion” by their opponents). Those who opposed the opinion called themselves “pro-life” (and “anti-choice” by their opponents).

I remember that day and was surprised at how it divided the nation like no other issue since slavery. In the past 46 years I have watched the invective grow stronger and more hateful, and I have seen little in the way of bringing the two groups together and find a common solution.

In the mid 1980s I was a youth minister at a church in Virginia and I attended a conference in Washington D.C. where one speaker spoke about abortion in a way that caught my attention. He was a Catholic priest who periodically met with young women who had an abortion and regretted it. They told him that they had nowhere to go. If they sought help from the pro-choice movement they were told that they shouldn’t regret their decision. If they sought help from the pro-life movement they were told that what they did was unforgivable. He argued that there needs to be a voice that listens to these women and care for them.

But I think we need to move beyond that. I think both sides need to move to a point where it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or not because we live in a place where all life is precious and abortion is unthinkable. I think we are called to move to a place where life is valued in all its stages: before birth, as children, as adults, and as the elderly. A place where our society ensures that we all have what we need to lead healthy, valued lives.

But here’s my problem: the pro-life proponents generally oppose government programs that provide assistance to young families. We find a bright line from those who oppose abortion and those who oppose government assistance for the poor. Former Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank famously stated this: “The Moral Majority supports legislators who oppose abortions but also oppose child nutrition and day care. From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

I’m not writing this to take sides, but instead to claim all sides need to embrace what late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called the “seamless garment of life.” He argued that those who oppose abortion and claim to be pro-life should not only oppose abortion but also support the protection and respect of life in all stages. He argued against abortion, but also euthanasia and capital punishment.

It means we should ensure that children born into poverty are valued as much as children born into wealth. They should have as much access to nutrition and care. It means that no child should be denied medical care or vaccinations.

But more than that, being pro-life should challenge us to see men and women (boys and girls) as equals. Many women who seek abortions can speak with authority about how they didn’t fully consent to sex. Some were (frankly) raped by men that they knew and shouldn’t have trusted, often by family members. Others felt pressure to have sex with boyfriends out of a fear of loneliness. Decades ago I had a conversation with a teenage mother who told me that her pregnancy resulted from her boyfriend’s claim to “not like” condemns. When I told her she had the right to demand that he wear a condemn she had no idea what I was talking about.

The best path forward to decrease abortions is clear: make birth control easier to obtain and teach sex education to our children. We can learn a great deal from the Netherlands.

Simply put, if we can teach young men that sex should be a dialogue instead of a demand, and if we can teach young women that they have a voice in the decision to have sex, we will decrease unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

I’m not arguing that this will be easy. For much of our history as humans we’ve assumed sex was something that men could demand and women needed to regulate. For much of our history women balanced the desire for intimacy with the fear of pregnancy and abandonment. Too many women faced the task of single parenthood out of the inability to choose to claim the power to negotiate.

It takes two people to make a baby. It should take all of us to value that baby without condition. Only then we will be truly pro-life.

Thoughts on Notre Dame Cathedral

Earlier this week we learned to our horror that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire. Because of the bravery of the Paris Fire Department, and particularly the actions of Notre Dame’s Chaplain Fr. Jean Marc Fournier it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Construction began in 1160 and wasn’t completed until 1260: nobody who began the construction lived to see its completion and nobody who witnessed its completion was born when it was began. In the last 800 years people from all over the world have gathered to worship there. Modern day visitors to Paris know they need to visit three places: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre.

I have to confess that I’ve never been to Paris and I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame, but I understand its attraction. My parents and grandparents belonged to Notre Dame de St. Rosary parish, that we all call “Holy Rosary.” My grandmother, Imelda Cazeault (1909-1981) told me about how, as a child, she witnessed the delivery of the bell that was raised into the bell tower.

When she died I was one of her pallbearers and as we carried her into Holy Rosary for the last time, the bell tolled for her (as it did for all funerals). At that moment, in 1981, I found myself carried back to 1915 when she was six years old and watched that same bell hoisted up into the tower. I was also carried back to November 18, 1918 when my father’s parents (recent immigrants from Canada) married.

The sound of the bells became timeless to me. It brought me back to 1915 and 1918, but also to 1931 when my father was baptized, to 1938 when my mother was baptized, and to 1958 when my parents were married. It also brought me back to 1994 when I returned to Holy Rosary as a priest to celebrate my (3rd) first mass and to 1995 when I returned to celebrate the funeral mass for my grandfather (and namesake), Thomas Cazeault (1902-1995).

I write this to illustrate the place Notre Dame de Paris holds in the hearts of Catholics. While Notre Dame de Gardner is more than a century old, Notre Dame de Paris is over 800 years old. Its place in history is clear.

Notre Dame de Paris will rebuild and we will all rejoice. But we should also rejoice that its history will continue well into the future, to Christians who aren’t yet born but will find its place in their lives.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 123: All Americans Should Read James Comey’s Book

This morning my wife Nancy and I finished reading James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty.

It’s an excellent book and I recommend it to everyone. In it Mr. Comey describes the highs and lows of his life and his commitment to serve our nation. By any measure Mr. Comey’s patriotism reminds us all of what we should all aspire to as Americans and pass that along to our children.

President Trump’s election came three years after Mr. Comey was appointed by President Obama for a ten year term. And while the FBI director normally serves for ten years, he serves at the pleasure of the President. He can be fired by the President for any reason, or for no reason.

And Director Comey was indeed fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017. There’s much to this and I encourage everyone to purchase Mr. Comey’s book to get the whole story. It’s seriously a good read.

But I want to zero in on a paragraph toward the end of Mr. Comey’s book. He and his wife Patrice were blessed with daughters and a son (Collin) who died as an infant in 1995. Collin’s death made Mr. Comey a more compassionate and caring man. He recognized that their pain, and the pain of their surviving children, called them to greater empathy to the suffering of others. Collin’s death not only made Mr. Comey a better husband and father, it made him a better law enforcement officer. It further emboldened him to do justice better.

In his book Mr. Comey wrote about his experience against the reality he saw with President Trump. He wrote this, and I want all Americans to read this:

I see no evidence that a lie ever caused Trump pain, or that he ever recoiled from causing another person pain, which is sad and frightening. Without all those things – without kindness to leaven toughness, without a balance of confidence and humility, without empathy, and without respect for truth – there is little chance President Trump can attract and keep the kind of people around him that every president needs to make wise decisions. That makes me sad for him, but it makes me worry for our country.

We all deserve better leadership. We all deserve a President that leads all of us, that values our values, and lives the values that we embody in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Yosemite 2018

As readers of this blog know, Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park every winter.  We began this in 2000 when we stumbled on what was called then “Chef’s Holidays” but is now called Taste of Yosemite.

It’s a magical time as we avoid the gridlock that happens most of the year but it’s also terrific for Nancy who attends several cooking demonstrations (and Tom who gets to eat the recipes she brings home).

We also enjoy hiking the valley floor and taking pictures of what we see.  But several of the last few years we’ve been concerned over the effect of climate change and this year was no exception.

I recognize that many of you who read this blog live in areas that would love warmer temperatures in the winter but that misses the point.  Yosemite thrives on a weather pattern that is not affected by human interference.  This year we heard the sound of chainsaws and learned that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of trees were cut down as a result of drought and infestation of bark beetles.

Climate change harms all of us, but not right away and not all at once.  We who love Yosemite and other national parks fear that the things that make these places magical are in danger.  In addition to drought and beetle infestation, Yosemite has also endured fires that scar it for decades.

We pray that 2019 is more like 2017.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 89: Here’s Why We Should All Support PBS and NPR

For over 20 years I’ve supported National Public Radio because I’ve found their news coverage superior to anything else. In the last few years I’ve subscribed to several podcasts connected to NPR and they tell me the best way to support these podcasts lies in support of my local NPR station (KPBS). Starting last year I sent in my donation to KPBS and have included a letter to the program director Tom Karlo.

I’m writing this in the hopes that more of us support NPR. Here is this year’s letter to Tom:

Dear Tom:

Last January we sent in our annual contribution to support KPBS.

In that letter I spoke about how freedom of the press found itself under unprecedented fire from the White House and those foolish enough to believe the President’s lies. A year later I still have the same concerns and, frankly, find PBS and NPR my best weapon to fight back and protect our First Amendment rights.

When I tell people I support public radio some will dismiss it as having a liberal bias. I used to ignore it, but I no longer do. I tell them this: PBS and NPR provides smart, in-depth, reasoned news that does not tell us how to think, but instead enlightens us to the issues. Time again I come away with an understanding of all sides of a controversial issue and I can form my opinion after considering all sides. I explain that PBS and NPR are not balanced because that creates a false equivalency. “Today’s topic is the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. On one side we have a renowned pediatrician and on the other side we have the mother of a child with autism. You decide.”

And finally I tell them that if this level of reporting leans left, I’m OK with that. I’m willing to be thoughtful enough to care about our environment, our neighbors, and our grandchildren.

In addition to listening to KPBS I also listen to several NPR podcasts and I want you to know which ones I support:

Up First
NPR Politics
Planet Money
Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Fresh Air

Please give my best wishes to your staff and know how much all of you mean to me.

I hope you’ll support your local NPR station.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 29: Do We Need to Revisit the Limits of Free Speech in the Age of Twitter?

We Americans revere few things more than Freedom of Speech. We are told in the First Amendment of our Constitution that “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech.”

Alas, it’s a right that’s little understood. It means you cannot be arrested for what you say. But it’s often misinterpreted to mean you can say whatever you want without consequences. Here’s my favorite example: in 2010 the popular radio advice hostess Laura Schlessinger came under criticism for her use of the “N word” on her show. When an African American caller (in an interracial marriage) objected to her use of that word, Laura responded: “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.” You can read about it here. After being criticized for her remarks she appeared on Larry King Live and demanded return of her “first amendment rights.” She believed that freedom of speech protected her from criticism for her words. She didn’t understand that others have the same right to express their opinions, and she was not Constitutionally protected from having her feelings hurt.

But from the beginning we’ve struggled with limits to the rights of free speech. Can you say anything? This debate goes all the way back to President Adam’s infamous Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 which criminalized criticism of the government.

I have no desire to give an entire history of this debate, but we all look to the 1919 Supreme Court decision of Schneck v. the United States. In his majority decision Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote this: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a panic.”

This make sense. You don’t have the right to speech that directly causes injury to others. But there is also legal precedent that you don’t have the right to prohibit speech that offends you. Many of us remember well the issue of flag burning. In 1989 the Supreme Court decided, in the case of Texas v. Johnson, that burning the American flag is protected speech.

But what about today? If you burn a flag across the street of a VFW hall you’re certainly going to anger the veterans gathered but we can all agree that nobody is in danger. That’s changed.

We’re all still talking about the events last week in Charlottesville but I heard a story that frightens me. The marchers were filmed by many who posted pictures on Twitter, with the hope that the marchers could be called out and recognized for their racist views.

That may be OK with many of us, but it’s not OK with Kyle Quinn. Kyle works for the University of Arkansas and committed the unforgiveable sin of looking like someone who marched in Charlottesville. In an excellent article you can see that someone saw a picture of someone who looked like Kyle and identified him as Kyle (even though Kyle was 900 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas).

Kyle got a call from someone at the university who verified that he was in Little Rock and suggested that Kyle’s life just got more complicated. He was right.

Soon his Twitter account, email account, etc. blew up. His home address was posted and Kyle and his wife retreated to a friend’s house out of fear for their safety.

I write this because (much like those in the theater when someone shouts “fire”) Twitter, Facebook, and other social media make all of us potential victims of danger. Kyle well knows that a someone with a gun and an agenda (and his home address) may pose exactly the same danger to him as to the theater goers who are stampeded after someone yells fire.

I love freedom of speech as much as anyone. I revel in my ability to disagree with, and even lampoon, politicians I don’t agree with. But I don’t think our founders intended to protect those whose words lead directly to mobs who show up with clubs and torches. And I don’t think they intended to protect the 21st century mobs who traded in clubs and torches for Twitter accounts.

So where do we go from here? Whoever misidentified Kyle made an honest mistake, but hate groups created the environment that made this possible. The march on Charlottesville was organized by a group called Unite the Right.

Previous generations looked on groups like this as reprehensible but protected by the First Amendment. Today we need to look on them as hate groups that can no longer hide behind free speech.

Expertise Needs Our Support

From my earliest memories I’ve recognized truth does not depend on our opinions or desires. Facts are facts, even when they’re inconvenient.

I’ve been blessed to have born into a time and place where knowledge was valued and the smartest people in the room should be heard and respected. Good leaders told the truth and journalists reported factually.

But in the last few decades we’ve seen this model challenged. The 24 Hour News Cycle recognized that they didn’t need their viewers to be informed, but instead they needed their viewers to stay tuned. On March 8, 2014 Malaysian Air Flight 370 disappeared and we still don’t know what happened. In the days and weeks after its disappearance CNN and other news outlets learned that as long as they covered Flight 370 they claimed high ratings. Their ratings plummeted when they left this coverage for other stories. And so they continued to cover Flight 370 long after they had anything to report.

On March 19th, 11 days after the disappearance, CNN reporter Don Lemon suggested that the plane was sucked into a black hole. I don’t think anyone believed this, but after 11 days he was running out of things to talk about.

We see countless more examples, but in the early 21st Century we need to recognize we are consumers who increasingly want to be told what we want to hear more than we want to be told the truth.

And that’s a bad thing. This doesn’t serve us well. We need to hear uncomfortable truths because that’s how we grow and learn.

As I child I was told about Adam & Eve, Noah’s Ark, and other events from the Bible. As an adult I learned that many of these stories were myths. They were true but not factual. But today I’m surrounded by fundamentalists who believe that every animal alive today entered Noah’s Ark in the year 1656 BCE and emerged 40 days later when a dove flew off and returned with an olive branch that spontaneously appeared after all the plants and trees were drowned in the flood. In a Gallup Poll from 2014, 42% of Americans identify as Creationists (ie, the world was created 6,000 years ago over the span of 6 days).

I’ve been thinking about this because a few days ago I heard an excellent essay from Tom Nichols, the author of The Death of Expertise. You can watch him here and I suggest you do.

In case you don’t, let me take some excerpts:

A few years ago a mischievous group of pollsters asked American voters whether they would support bombing the country of Agrabah. As you might expect, Republicans tended to support military action while Democrats were more reluctant. There’s only one problem: Agrabah doesn’t exist. It’s from the animated Disney film Aladdin. Only about half the people surveyed figured this out.

Increasingly…laypeople don’t care about expert views. Instead many Americans have become insufferable know-it-alls, locked in constant conflict with each other, while knowing almost nothing about the subject they are debating.

How did this happen? How is it that people now not only doubt expert advice, but believe themselves to be as smart, or even smarter, than experienced professionals? Parents who refuse to vaccinate a child, for example, aren’t really questioning their doctors. They’re replacing their doctors. They have decided that attending the University of Google, as one anti-vaccine activist put it, is the same as going to medical school.

We need to find our way back from this ego driven wilderness. Historically, all people return to valuing expert views in times of trouble or distress. We’re all willing to argue with our doctors until our fever is out of control. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But that’s where we’re headed. And unless we start accepting the limitations of our own knowledge, then each of us is failing in our obligation to participate in our democracy as involved, but informed citizens.

Well put Mr. Nichols.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 33: I Alone Can Fix It. Really?

This week we are watching the Democratic Convention but I have to confess I still can’t get over last week’s Republican Convention. Frankly it’s something I can’t unsee

But one line from Donald’s speech continues to haunt me. I wrote about this two months ago but Don is simply not a Republican: he is a Fascist.

Don himself made my point last week when he announced that I alone can fix it.

Taking aside the fact that no one alone can fix it, we should all be frightened. In a little over 3 months we will elect a president but Trump apparently believes he will be elected king.

I’ve spoken about this before, but the framers of the Constitution viewed our President as the leader of the Executive Branch, one of the branches of government.

Don does not. He calls on us, the voters, to give him the power to do whatever he wants with the promise that he will protect us from those who wish to harm us.

But in the end, he will harm us the most. Concentrating power in one person never works in the long run. That dictator, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, eventually makes decisions that benefits him at the expense of others. Even when the others helped him achieve his power.

If we truly listen to him, Don has spent his campaign telling us who he will benefit: rich, white, men.

He has spoken with contempt on women, Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, and poor people.

Who has he supported? He has spoken well of Vladimir Putin. He tried to duck question about the Ku Klux Klan’s favorite son David Duke falsely claiming he didn’t know who Duke was.

Our Constitution famously opens with the phrase “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In a real sense, a vote for Donald Trump is an abdication of “we the people” for ” you alone can protect us.” He has made it clear that he has no interest in compromise, discussion, or shared leadership.

Vote for him at your own peril.

Reflections on Memorial Day 2016

Shortly after the end of the Civil War, also called The War Between the States, families began to gather in cemeteries to remember those who died. At first it was called Decoration Day.

By 1868 General John A. Logan (1826-1886) proclaimed May 30th a day to remember those who died in battle. He was the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans. It has since been moved to the last Monday in May.

Eventually Decoration Day became Memorial Day and it was made a federal holiday in 1971.

We’ve all heard the phrase “freedom isn’t free” and our history is replete with young men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. We can never know how many and my attempt to dive into the weeds proved fruitless. Suffice it to say that we need to honor all of them.

And so let me begin my soapbox. We find ourselves in an election year and in November many of us will have the opportunity to choose our leaders. And not without reason it’s become fashionable to lament the lack of worthy leaders. But if we allow this to keep us home on election day we disrespect those who we claim to honor today.

In many arenas we are tasked with choosing between less than ideal selections. Our responsibility to those who gave their lives is no less important in 2016 than it was in 1788 or 1860.

Let’s vote people!