The View From 1776

A View Of Foreign Policy Reality

Despite the liberal-progressives’ naive faith in one-world under socialistic harmony, all nations still have national interests that often come into conflict.  Sweet talk of “the war to end all wars” or “peace in our time” in the long run buy nothing but grief.

George Friedman’s analysis of the Eastern European geopolitical situation.

Borderlands: The New Strategic Landscape
Geopolitical Weekly
TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2014 - 03:03


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/11 at 08:21 PM
  1. Thomas,

    In hoping for world peace it is helpful to consider whether Isaiah 2 has any meaning for us today:

    Many nations will come and say, "Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD And to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths." For from Zion will go forth the law, Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between many peoples And render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  09:18 AM
  2. J. Jay,

    Once again, while your quotation appears topical, it is unclear what point you are trying to make by it unless it is the trite one of (an assumed) hypocrisy. It is not enough for men to “hope” for peace, but must work at it; and working at it means we take steps to prevent it. We (liberals and conservatives) disagree strongly as to the means to this prevention. To conservatives, it will always be the case weakness invites predatory behaviors so that the best means of keeping the peace is through strength and a willingness to use it. And, both history and direct experience bear us out on this.

    Neither you nor I are Biblical scholars and you are clearly anti-religious, so your use (or misuse) of the quotation cannot have been intended to instruct in the ways of faith. Yet, there is no way to read the passage outside the context of faith. As it happens, I have been re-reading the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) after many years of neglect, and was in the middle of reading Isaiah 10 when you posted Isaiah 2 (a coincidence?). So, flipping back a few pages I was able to read the passage as rendered by Jewish scholars, and find there are some slight differences between our Jewish and your King James versions. It is an interesting passage, not so much for its “swords into plowshares” imagery as its several and subtle nuances. The Jewish rendering of it is as follows:

    The word that Isaiah son of Amoz prophesied concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

    In the days to come, the Mount of the Lord’s house
    [i.e., the mound on which stands the Temple of Jerusalem] shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills; and all the nations shall gaze on it with joy, and the many peoples shall go and say; ‘Come, let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, to the House of the G*d of Jacob; that he may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in his paths [i.e., in imitation of the Jews].’ For instruction shall come forth (a) from Zion, [aka, Jerusalem], the word of the Lord [comes] from Jerusalem. Thus, he will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares (b) and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not take up sword against nation; [and] they shall never again know (c) war.

    The footnotes to the passage are as follows:

    a) I.e., ‘oracles will be obtainable’.
    b) More exactly, the iron points with which wooden plows were tipped.
    c) Cf. Judges 3.2

    You neglected to include the prefacing sentence, but, as I will soon develop, that sentence is key to understanding the passage itself, as are the footnotes.

    Often, this passage is interpreted as an inflexible admonition against making war applicable to everyone, and that is the sense in which I believe you are using it here. However, that begs the question was that really how it was meant or means. First, pacifism wasn’t a 7th century BCE value or virtue, nor is it likely Isaiah was so much a pacifist as an advisor to his people (and to his weak, idolatrous king) guiding them along a narrow path between stronger, hostile neighbors. Second and as the introductory sentence makes clear, the passage was meant as a prediction of (or prescription for) future events, and not as an admonition. The introduction also makes clear, it is a prescription concerning us Jews alone, and was not directed at non-Jews other than it includes them as part of the resulting action. Third, the arbiter of peace in the passage is clearly our Creator (not man), because it was well understood (at that time) that man is not only incapable of peacemaking without the Lord’s help or sanction, but also because He sometimes directs us to make war (as when he directed David to slay Goliath or Joshua to re-conquer the lands He’d earlier promised to Israel).

    To understand the passage, I think we must first learn something about the man, Isaiah, and his times. Apparently, Isaiah was a person of some importance as he was a first or second cousin to the kings of Judah, as well as a holy man. Prophets of the Bible are all highly regarded personages, respected for their wisdom and foresight. Beyond that, we know he was a passionate firebrand in his youth who counselled resistance even as he disparaged his kin as sinful and, thereby, deserving of their own difficulties and suffering. Was he a pacifist and heretic that he would disregard the frequent goading of God to war? That seems unlikely. Still, there is some plausibility to it as the period of Isaiah and the periods of robust Jewish war-making are separated by centuries, and Isaiah’s time was fraught with vulnerabilities for his people. A little research reveals the passage was a warning to his king, dissuading the latter from a course of folly then contemplated of defeating one enemy by allying with another, even stronger enemy. Often Isaiah’s warnings are negative, but this one is positive and was intended to increase kingly confidence he was doing the right thing. The final sentence is a promise of peace to come given they stand firm while trusting in the Lord they (we) would not be annihilated, and further implies that by passing this ‘one last test’ we would be at the end of such testing (by incessant war with our neighbors). Thus, Isaiah was enough of a realist to realize his advice would end in casualties, but also believed the king’s policy had some potential for destroying us as a people (which it very nearly did). The success of Isaiah’s proposal was predicated on right behavior assuring his listeners their enemies would sooner come to respect and defer to them from rectitude than from a servile alliance. In the short run, servile alliance appeared to work, and, so, Isaiah was repudiated for his opposition to the alliance. But, over time, it was Isaiah who was proved the one more farsighted when the alliance proved disastrous; and, thus, his contrarian advice took on an aura of prophecy; and is now so enshrined.

    How can we tell this is the more correct interpretation? Partly we can tell from the historical context and what we know of Isaiah’s fixed beliefs and his role in the events of his time. The Tanahk with which Isaiah was familiar ends at Judges (Book of Samuel precedes Isaiah in order, but was actually written later), and has none of the New Testament ‘cheek-turning’ about it. Partly, we can also tell by reading the rest of Isaiah in which he describes much of the sufferings of his people as a result of kingly miscalculation. We can also tell from the footnotes, one of which directs us to read Judges 3.2 reminding us Israel’s hostile neighbors were kept in place by none other than God to keep us on our toes and to periodically visit us with war as a means of testing both mettle and devotion (hardly an admonition to keep the peace at all costs).

    Some differences between the Jewish (original) and KJV (derivative) versions include:

    ‘peoples will’ instead of ‘nations will’; i.e., not all of those supposed to come represent nations or have national identity, meaning some of them live among the Jews, but were not of our nation or had no nation (quite common back then).

    “…go and say” instead of “come and say”; a difference of inflection that gives an impression of rapid movement or anticipation whereas the latter is less urgent.

    “Mount of the Lord” instead of “Mountain of the Lord”; former refers to ‘Temple Mount’ which is the highest point along the ridge of which Jerusalem is a part. Thus, it does not refer to the entire ridge or a mountain on which Jerusalem is located, but only to a relatively small corner of the Temple area. In scripture, it is also the site where Abraham offered his son, Jacob, up in sacrifice and where Adam was created.

    “For instruction shall come forth from Zion” (i.e., not from men) versus “For from Zion will go forth the law”; this may be slight difference, but my sense is that Isaiah was asserting scriptural authority here to pressure the king into following well-defined, tested, and hallowed directives for dealing with Israel’s (local) enemies (those with counterclaims to Jewish lands) rooted in both past experience and scripture. Zion, here, is a reference to the Temple where priest had the final say on matters concerning doctrine. The king, by relying on aliens rather than on the Lord, broke with holy directives and set himself up as his own authority; and Isaiah was, therefore, holding him to strict account for this breach of faith. The King James Version inverts the logic of this accounting by making it seem there was no scripturally sanctioned formula for dealing with Israel’s jealously belligerent neighbors, a policy awaiting some further resolution by G*d, which was not the case.

    Therefore, the ‘swords to plowshares’ analogy is a weak reed not only for pacifists to lean on, but also for whatever point it was you tried making.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/17  at  10:33 PM
  3. Bob,

    Thank you for that explication of that passage from the point of view of the Jewish bible. I was not familiar with the points you presented.

    As to the fine distinctions in meaning due to a single word difference here or there, that raises a whole other discussion, when you consider that there are probably 25 bible translations available to us, each with slightly different wording.

    And of course it is easy to support any political position by carefully selected excerpts and interpretations of biblical passages, but that was not my intent.

    But now that you raise the interesting topic, I think it is probably safe to generalize that the Old Testament (Tanakh)is packed solid with war stories and tales of instructions from on high for various battles to be fought and foes to be vanquished.

    Ecclesiastes (one of my favorite books) 3:8 declares, “There is a time to love and a time to hate, a time of war and a time of peace.”

    In contrast, the thrust of the New Testament, is generally considered to be more anti-war in thrust with emphasis on dealing with one's enemies by turning the other cheek or carrying the burden an extra mile, or forgiving insults not just seven times, but seventy time seven. No eye-for-an-eye justification is found here.

    So, Christians have to face that essential dichotomy in our texts because we hold both the New and Old Testaments to be valid.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  09:21 PM
  4. J. Jay,

    Must you always be confrontational? I was offering you an olive branch and hoping you'd take it. I did not mean this as a criticism of you personally, because misinterpretation is something of which we are all guilty and had hoped we might have (for once) found grounds for a small agreement. Instead, you persist in this ‘hypocrisy’ harping. Are only conservatives, then, guilty of hypocrisy? Would you really care to trade lists on that subject?

    We (Jews), too, have our variations on religion (though not so many as Christians). As I said before, I am no biblical scholar and don’t pretend to be one, so my argument deliberately avoids dependence on faith-based argument. To the contrary, I pinned my argument on the historical (as opposed to scriptural) Isaiah, a solidly historical context and facts, Isaiah’s consistent messaging, and framed the whole in terms which Isaiah would have found familiar. In other words, I intentionally avoided imposing modern concepts and views on this ‘historical’ Isaiah; which is what you (and a great many others) persist in doing with historical figures (e.g., “Jesus would have sided with ... [substitute your own value]).

    It makes very little difference what you and I think Isaiah’s message ought to have been, or how translated. You are the one taking liberties (not I) with his declaration of faith to make points of your own; especially regarding this ‘presumed’ hypocrisy by others business. I did no more than show how your selected passage does not support your claim of hypocrisy. Regardless a Christian or Jewish translation is cited, the result is the same, because Isaiah was not telling his contemporaries to refrain from war, he was reminding them that only by obeying the Lord’s commands (i.e., properly) will we be rewarded with everlasting peace; and that no permanent peace can be had otherwise (i.e., not without His assistance). The message is the same as in other parts of the Tanakh and Torah. Our Creator expects us to act individually and collectively with justice, charity and restraint toward our fellow men, but does not expect us to play victims, and we were/are especially charged with defense of His ‘holy’ land against all usurpers and abominations. That is a constant refrain I found throughout Isaiah’s exhortations, so am not guessing about this.

    Is the Christian (or even the liberal) message really so different from that of Tanakh and Torah. Any close reading of the ‘old testament’ reveals each war and conflict had its roots and rationale (whether you agree or disagree with it is another matter). We Jews were given commands which, on the whole, reduced the level of carnage (e.g., Ten Commandments, lectures on fair dealings with others, of yielding up murderers even to outsiders, &c) both among ourselves and between us and our neighbors. So, yes, Jesus took ‘peace-seeking’ to a new level, but the desire for peace hardly originates with him nor does the concept of peace-minded self-restraint originate with the Christian bible.

    Yes, the ‘old testament’ appears “packed solid” with wars, but over what time span. The span of the New Testament is but a few years only, whereas that of Tanakh is bi-millennial. Consistency is, by definition, far easier in the near term than in the long; wouldn't you agree? The problem here is you are looking at Jewish history down a long tunnel, one in which only the major (aka, violent) events remain visible. The ‘old testament’ contains more than the spoken word of our creator, it is also the chronicle of a people in which only the most significant of events (crises, really) are highlighted. There were other chronicles and other histories recording lesser events and the times themselves, but, unfortunately for us, most of that is lost. From the ‘tunnel’ perspective, all history (not just ours) appears full of violence. This is rather like a line of trees spread out along a long, slightly curved highway, either side of which stand open fields. Viewed one way, the trees look like a forest; but from any other they appear sparse. Seen from the side, history (especially pre-Roman history) looks more like long empty gaps punctuated by brief, infrequent violence. If you, then, look at the frequency of ‘Jewish’ violence over that same period and compare that to the violence of our neighbors, Jewish attacks were surprisingly few and light by the standards of the times. For one thing, Jews took little interest in conquering lands other than those specifically granted us by our Creator. That wasn’t true of our enemies, who hungered for our land, lands we’d made all the more enviable. When Abraham took up proprietorship, there were few people occupying the land; and, the bible specifically records the claims of some of these early ‘friendly’ tribes, and preserves them down to this day. Others, latecomers to the land, were regarded culturally intolerable usurpers (aka, abominable in the sight of ...), and it was they whom the bible records were attacked by us in turn. When we returned from Egypt, we found our relatives (the few who had avoided captivity) and allies overrun and beset by enemies old and new, and our lands usurped. Once we gave these interlopers the boot, both bible and history records we settled into a highly stable and peaceful pattern.

    If your criterion is only what we espouse without regard to results, then we Jews may be ‘pacifistically’ inferior to Christians. But, if results matter or it can be shown our religion matured in lock step with or in advance of your own, then apologias are moot. It is wonderful you Christians (including those claiming the Christian credo as your birthright) favor peace over war, and have (generally speaking) practiced much of what you preached, though I will not concede you have the greater claim to ‘religion of peace’. But, neither will I agree with you Christianity or Christians are hypocritical in their espousals of faith. Just because you don’t quite ‘get’ what others get, does not make it hypocritical. What I do know of Christianity and Christians is they are at their very best when actions follow principle; and they live up to what they espouse far more often than not.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/21  at  09:25 PM
  5. Bob,

    I am astounded that you found my comments to be "confrontational" and harping on "hypocrisy." There was not the faintest whiff or intent of either sentiment in my reply to you.

    The sole point I was making is that there is an undeniable difference in tone between the old and new testaments in regard to conflict. I did not say that either point of view was the correct or a preferred outlook, nor did I imply that many who profess to be Christians were any more successful in living up to the tenets of their religion than non-Christians.

    But, none-the-less, let me wish you a healthful and happy memorial day weekend!
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  10:56 AM
  6. J. Jay,

    Your first post was an implied criticism of Christians (Thomas included) who favor a strong military while declaring strong religious adherence (on doctrinal grounds). I have to assume you chose to contradict on religious and ‘hypocritical’ grounds because you could find few logical grounds on which to dispute the article’s premise or Thomas’ treatment of it (at least none you felt comfortable might expose you to hypocrisy charges of your own). As already pointed out in my post #2, your use of Isaiah as a rebuttal to the article made little sense other than as a digression with which to humiliate pro-war, pro-defense Christians. Ergo, while your rebuke may have been subtle, it was there and was sufficiently unsubtle we would not miss its’ sting. I do, however, approve the way toned down the criticism, but it remains critical (of people, rather than ideas) all the same.

    The last sentence of your post #3 reads “So, Christians have to face that essential dichotomy in our texts because we hold both the New and Old Testaments to be valid”, which is simply a restatement of your previous complaint which I already demonstrated does not support the criticism you are here trying to make of Thomas, but which you persist in asserting. You are still pretending you never meant it as a rebuke. But then, why bother reasserting your original censure a second time and then as a concluding remark, if you are not clinging to your rebuke. That fits my definition of ‘confrontational, and rather unnecessary I might add. This is so typical of how you mask barbs so that you can later claim innocence of them; which is precisely why I take the time to unmask them. Perhaps you are unconscious of doing this, but then I would expect you to make amends when it is brought to your attention rather than defending or repeating the behavior.

    I did find curious that you include yourself among those who hold both “New and Old Testaments to be valid”. I expect you only meant by that you retain some values from your (Christian?) upbringing. From what I know of Christianity and Christians, they regard the New Testament as superior to the old on any points where the two actually differ. If that is true, then I see no points on which Christians ought to feel conflicted. Is that not so? If not, then why and please give examples.

    Since you clearly believe the New Testament (if not also the Jewish bible) bans war in all its forms, and as Christ’s ‘cheek-turning’ message is key to that, I took time out to research what some practicing Christians have to say about this utterance v pacifism. What I found suggests Christian doctrine is not so much pacifistic as normative. Both the Christian and Jewish bibles set limits on war and condemn violence in some cases, but neither places an outright or general ban on violence in every case, and certainly not on what either religion regards as ‘justifiable’ war (see ). If Kopel is correct, then Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” remark meant no more than to uphold the law by counseling his listener to refrain from taking vengeance against an offender on his own, to, instead, seek justice by means of the civil authorities, including any redress using violent means (lashings, stoning, &c). Other Jesus recitations are discussed, all arriving at much the same conclusion. If so, the doctrinal case for Christian pacifism falls apart.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/24  at  02:47 PM
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