Friday, May 28, 2021

Steve Skojec offers up two piercing views into the soul of a struggling Catholic.

Steve's essays are long, and they are not comfortable, let alone comforting. But I think each is a must read. 

My own struggles are different, though I admit that each resonates with me. And maybe, if I am so moved enough one day, I may open up on mine. 

Holding your breath is inadvisable, however. 

In any event, here are the essays.

Against Crippled Religion


An Epidemic of Brokenness

Yes, Steve is a close friend, and I am partial to him on that basis. But objectively, there is so much which is distorted and just wrong in the culture of the modern church that there is no escaping the need to examine them carefully.

Not to mention responding with something more than "I assert [apologetic trope/catchphrase], so that's why *I'm* Catholic. 

Late in life have I discovered Horace, the most amiable of Romans.

But blessedly, not too late.

Here is the poet, gently warning a friend about the perils of ambition:

The lofty pine is oftenest shaken by the winds; 

High towers fall with a heavier crash; 

And the lightning strikes the highest mountain.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

This is...quite accurate, actually.


Click to embiggen, and play Find Orwell & Ferdinand.

The Siege of the Toledo Alcazar.

[Writer's note, 5/18/2021: Finally getting this review essay up, and hope to have a few more (self) distracting pieces up soon. Thank you for the prayers.]


Given the general Anglo-American ignorance of things Hispanidad, it is not a surprise that the siege of the Alcazar in the Spanish Civil War is virtually unheard of in our circles today.

This is unfortunate, because as a matter of human drama alone it is worthy of study. 

On July 18-19, 1936, much of the Spanish army officer corps rose against the increasingly-anarchic Spanish Republic. One of the bastions that eventually threw itself in with the uprising was the Toledo Alcazar, an ancient fortress which at the time operated as an infantry academy. 

It was a military history museum when I visited it in 1989.  

Who knows what it will become of it if Spain's misbegotten socialists enact their erase-the-past law. Seriously, read this. A sign of things to come world-wide, I am afraid.

Toledo is a little over 40 miles (73 km) from Madrid, and is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. 

Let me amend that: it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Like Venice, it leaves an indelible impression on the visitor.

The former capital of the Spains (until Philip II packed up and moved north to a then-insignificant market town called Madrid), it was the adopted home of El Greco and still contains some of the most marvelous architecture in the world. I will return there one day...if not soon.

El Greco's View of Toledo, one of his two surviving landscapes.

The salient feature of the July 1936 officer alzamiento was that it succeeded in about 40 percent of the planned locations and generally failed in large cities. In Toledo itself, there was no attempt to take over the city. Those in charge of and manning the Alcazar were not part of the plotting and learned of it after the fact. However, they were in sympathy with the uprising and drifted into open rebellion.

The Alcazar's semi-retired commander, Colonel Jose Moscardo Ituarte, was a soccer fanatic who had been looking forward to going to the Berlin Olympics to watch Spain's national team in action. But once the uprising occurred, he became cagey in his dealings with Madrid. He refused (truly, if sometimes only technically) illegal orders to turn over weaponry and ammunition to the Republic's partisan militias. He also stalled for time by asking for actual legal authorities in the defense ministry to follow the proper chain of command. In the meantime, he assembled as many reliable troops as possible--ranging from teenage cadets, police, Falangists and volunteers to a handful of regular soldiers--to man the defenses of the Alcazar. He also brought in at least 700,000 rounds (not a typo) of rifle ammunition from the city's arms factory and as much spare food as could be found. In addition, the family and friends of the army and Guardia Civil who supported the rebellion were gathered in. 

Despite it being a conservative ciudad which had voted strongly for the right-wing coalition in the controversial February elections, there was no prospect of holding the entire city. There was some preliminary planning, but it was implausible, given the lack of troops. And it was recognized that since the Alcazar was the closest "success" to Madrid, that immediately made it a prime objective for the now-revolutionary regime there. Instead, a couple of blocking forces were placed at obvious choke points to hold off the enemy for a bit.

And it was not long after Moscardo had exhausted his passive-aggressive delays that the Republic rushed troops to take the fortress.

Moscardo expressed his belief that the siege would last 14 days, tops.

What followed next was a nearly eleven-week siege which reduced most of the fortress and outbuildings to rubble through accurate artillery bombardment and somewhat less accurate aerial bombing.

In the face of this overwhelming firepower, the 1,100 defenders had plenty of rifle ammunition, an artillery piece with a few rounds and a functional mortar--also with limited ammo. These latter two weapons were saved for breakthrough threats only. 

It was a nearly passive defense, with the defenders only firing when the militias launched infantry attacks on the grounds of the increasingly-destroyed fortress.

The civilians lived in the well-protected underground parts of the Alcazar, safe even from the massive and well-crewed 155 mm artillery pieces of the Republicans. No civilians died directly from the attacks themselves. 

As to rations, there was horse and mule meat (from the animals in the stables) sacks of wheat run through a jury-rigged grinder, occasional foraging raids which turned up other food and, later in the siege, two Nationalist airdrops. Water consisted of a liter of brackish cistern water per person per day.

With electricity cut, the defenders were unable to get a clear picture of the status of the uprising for two weeks. For all they knew, they might be alone. Finally, a working radio was cobbled together and the defenders learned that civil war was raging across Spain. While they were not alone, the nearest Nationalist troops were 300 miles away, and there was no guarantee the Alcazar would be considered worthy of relief, with the big prize of Madrid lying just to the north.

Fortunately for them, Francisco Franco, the bantam-sized commander of the Nationalists' elite Army of Africa, thought the Alcazar was not only worthy of rescue, it was essential. While Franco's tactical instincts were cautious, his political sense was usually correct, as it was here. The propaganda impact of the siege was already foremost in the minds of the warring sides--and the liberation of the Alcazar would be a huge boon to the Nationalist cause. So the African veterans were loaded into every conceivable motor vehicle which could be scrounged up (including a purple bus) and launched northward.

The siege ground on for almost eleven weeks, and despite the fortress being reduced to rubble, it was liberated by the Army of Africa on September 27, 1936--with Moroccan troops in the vanguard, barely beating a Spanish Legion spearhead racing for the prize. The Moroccans were greeting with overwhelming joy, and responded with gentleness to the emaciated and often traumatized defenders, reassuring them that after a couple of solid meals they'd be able to go off and kill Reds together.

The two best accounts of the siege in English are either out of print or available as reprints of possibly dubious quality.

The earliest is English historian Geoffrey McNeill-Moss' The Siege of the Alcazar (the British version is entitled The Epic of the Alcazar). Moss was an English army officer and now-forgotten popular novelist and historian. He arrived in Spain shortly after the siege was lifted, had access to Moscardo's daily log and interviewed numerous members of the garrison. He also acquired photographs of the fortress right after the siege, and had diagrams drawn up based on his interviews of the participants. Thus, his access to primary source material was unparalleled in English and remains essential. He tries to (and mostly succeeds) at being objective, not uncritically handing on all of the atrocity stories reported by the Nationalists, and he warns the reader when he cannot make judgments about disputed claims. But he clearly admires the defenders and ascribes their endurance to their Catholic faith. He notes that there was a stockpile of wheat that lay in the no-man's land between the lines, but the garrison never emptied it out, instead taking what they needed to get by for a week or two at a time. He could only ascribe it to the decision to place themselves into the hands of Providence. He also notes (and backs it up with photographic evidence) that the garrison took care not to shoot at holy images when possible. The main failure of the book is also, weirdly, a strength, as it is a nearly-claustrophobic focus on the day-by-day events from the perspective of the Alcazar alone. But his skill as a writer keeps it from being monotonous. 

Nearly thirty years later, Cecil D. Eby, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, also recounted the siege in a book from Random House. Of the two, I would more quickly recommend Eby's to the casual reader. Some reviews (wrongly) criticize Eby in comparison to McNeill-Moss, claiming his view of the siege pays less attention to the primary sources. A quick read of the bibliographical chapter essays at the end of the book disposes of that critique quickly. He was meticulous in his review of the sources, and handled all of them with a critical eye. Apart from that, what Eby does better is giving a fuller overview of the siege in the context of the wider war, and names more of the participants--when given permission. He recounts an odd moment where a surviving officer, who happily assisted with information, balked at being given an acknowledgment. The officer wasn't worried about negative consequences, but could not see the point. So Eby respected that, albeit with bafflement. To use the modern parlance, it seems to be a Spanish thing which we Anglos can't understand. Which is probably the best explanation of any.

So, my recommendation is the opposite of the way I did it--read Eby's first, then get granular with McNeill-Moss if you want the Das Boot view of the conflict.

Monday, May 17, 2021

This can stop now.

During the last 10 months, my wife has lost her mother, her late father's brother, two of her father's sisters and now a cousin, who collapsed and died on Friday.

The day before we learned that Father Robert Witkowski, who received me into the Church in 1999, died of a heart attack. We were at least able to make it to a visitation yesterday for him.

Prayers, please.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Rest in Peace.

 My Uncle Robert passed away before my Mom could get there. Prayers for the repose of his soul and for the comfort of those who loved him would be welcome.

Also, Jan Stirling, the beloved wife of author S.M. Stirling, passed away unexpectedly early Saturday. 

I met her only once, but she was graciousness incarnate to my family, a kind and true lady.

Prayers for the repose of her soul and her bereaved husband are also most welcome. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Prayer request.

My Uncle Robert took a sudden turn for the worse, is unconscious and has been placed in hospice, all in the space of a few hours. My Mom's younger brother, she and my father took the red-eye to Arizona to see him before he passes.

The family storyteller and adventurer, he had settled in Arizona after the Alaska winters became too much for him.

There are so many stories I could tell, and some are even G-rated.

I am only now starting to realize how much I will miss him. Prayers for him and my distraught Mom are most welcome.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Quote of the day.

Men of talents and virtue can love others and yet acknowledge the evil that is in them.

 --From the Confucian Book of Rites I, 1.1.3.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Big, over-long book review post coming.

As it should, other tasks have precedence. 

And if you could offer up a prayer that our 12 year old Impala could be provided with parts tomorrow, I would appreciate it. Getting the right from the supplier has turned into a nightmare of mis-represented garbage transmissions being sent to our mechanic, who is almost as mad as I am. 

But we can't keep using the gas-guzzler for every task, and I am almost out of patience.

Still, expect a super-sized accounting of books about the siege of the Toledo Alcazar by late tomorrow.

Monday, May 03, 2021

This scenario had also crossed my mind.

In response to soaring crime rates and chaos at the municipal and state levels, the Federal government swoops in with the answer:

National police

One does not have to endorse Kirk's wheels-within-wheels theory--in fact, one should not

But the reality is that human beings abhor chaos and the fear that comes with it. And history shows us that fearful people will do all sorts of things to make the fear go away.

See, e.g., the Patriot Act, Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Safety Administration.

A national police force would sound comparatively mild to people horrified by soaring homicide rates.

But it would be politicized right out of the gate, with historically-predictable results. By the way, the previous link omits the salient act of the politicized Asaltos: their participation in the assassination of parliamentarian Calvo Sotelo. Which, in the self-reinforcing spiral of Spanish politics, made the officers' coup viable. 

Likewise, the arrival of a national police force, accountable only to the party in power, would invariably aggravate division, with foreseeable results

Which, in our times, makes it a virtual cinch to occur. 

The GOP Garbage Squad.

Nine awful human beings whose views are unworthy of the slightest respect. Especially after caterwauling about spending money on Ukraine, no...