Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Good Reads

Justin Taylor tells a story of evangelical history that I’ve never heard before – the day Billy Graham invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of Graham’s crusades. Dr. King accepted.

In Wales, it never rains cats and dogs. But it does rain old women and sticks. The BBC has a story about some of Britain’s weirdest weather words (some of which have been inherited by America).

Lucy Kellaway throws in the towel in her long-running battle against corporate jargon. One of the worst offenders, she says, is Howard Schulz of Starbucks. The Financial Times has her column, and – based on my own experience – everything she says is exactly right.

Nic Rowan at Acculturated explains why Andrew Wyeth’s paintings have outlived his critics. Susan Etole has beautiful photographs of flowers. Tim Good took some photos of blackbirds. And Spitalfields Life continues its series on painters of London’s East End.

And some good poetry, along with a lot more.


Over the Falls – Laura Reece Hogan at Altarwork.

Reading Chesterton – Loren Paulsson at World Narratives.

Such Hours Held – John Blase.

Grace Be Unto You – Katie Andraski at Tupelo Press.

British Stuff

The stories behind Britain’s Weirdest Weather Words – Christine Ro at BBC (Hat Tip: J of India).

Life and Culture

Who Killed the Encyclopedia? – Ernie Smith at Tedium.

How I lost my 25-year battle against corporate claptrap – Lucy Kellaway at Financial Times.

Lessons from Evergreen College: ListenSpeak Up, and Make a Better Culture – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.


The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade – Thomas Kidd at Evangelical History.

What children would say – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.

Your Calling is More Than Your Job – Dr. Art Lindsley at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.

The Businessman's Faith - Brad Fruhauff at Image Journal.

Art and Photography

Three Paintings by John Allin – SpitalfieldsLife.

Pair of Red-Winged Blackbirds – Tim Good at Photography and Poetry by Tiwago.

Being Present – Susan Etole.


Beauty and the Imagination – Aaron Ames at The Imaginative Conservative.


Know You by Red Letters

Painting: Man Reading by Lamplight, oil on canvas (1814) by George Kersting.

Friday, July 21, 2017

“Dunkirk” by Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Maj. J.S. Bradford

It’s called the “miracle of Dunkirk” with good reason. The successful evacuation of most of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and 120,000 French troops in May 1940 should never have happened. Penned into the narrow beaches of the French town of Dunkirk by the overwhelming forces of Hitler’s Nazi Wehrmacht, the hundreds of thousands of Allied troops – with little food and virtually no water – knew they faced death or imprisonment.

Ten years later, two British Army officers, Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Maj. J.S. Bradford, published an account of what happened at Dunkirk and what led up to it. Dunkirk: Retreat from the Brink of Destruction has been republished in time for the new movie version by director Christopher Nolan, and with good reason. The book provided a considerable amount of the basis for the film, and for the film of the same title released in 1958.

Dunkirk is not a standard military history. It was written by two army officers who were there, who experienced what happened, and who decided to tell the story – warts and all – of what led to the defeat of the Allied forces by the Germans and how the army was saved on the beaches. And so the reader gets both history and anecdote, and both are important to understand the events of May 1940.

World War II officially began in Europe with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in early September of 1939. The BEF began arriving in France a few weeks later, and was positioned in northeastern France along the Belgian border. The much larger French army occupied positions along the Maginot Line, the line of fortifications constructed by the French after World War I. The Maginot Line did not extend to France’s border with neutral Belgium.

For months after the war started, little happened on the Western front. Winter had come, never the best time for waging battles, and Germany was focused on consolidating gains in Poland and making plans for its attack in the west. Belgium and Holland desperately tried to hang on to neutrality, Belgium so much so that it stopped any military cooperation with the Allies. With the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940, even the Belgians knew that it was now only a matter of time before they were attacked.

A scene from the movie "Dunkirk" (2017)
The BEF faced a situation of being seriously outmanned and outgunned. War production in Britain was only starting to seriously gear up, and a decade of inaction. The Royal Air Force faced a German Luftwaffe of at least five times the size. And fifth columnists of collaborators were everywhere.

On May 9, Germany invaded Belgium. Half the country was lost within the first two days. The BEF moved into Belgium and desperately tried to establish secure positions. A little more than two weeks later, the BEF fell back to the French coast. In Dunkirk, where most of the troops massed, the water was extremely shallow for some distance from the beach. Big ships couldn’t get close because their drafts were too deep.

In London, the government put out the word: Operation Dynamo, the call to the owners and captains of small boats to sail to Dunkirk. Thousands responded and went. Just like that.

Butler and Bradford tell the big picture story, with the facts you’d find in a military history. But they also tell the human story, and I suspect that’s why Dunkirk has served as the basis for films. The Germans who disguise themselves as French and Belgian troops, trying to prevent the British from blowing up bridges. The aging hotel clerk, also serving as a German spy, who gets summarily shot. The RAF pilots, facing insurmountable odds, who flew the equivalent of suicide missions to provide cover for the retreating troops. And a little known fact: the RAF shot down more German planes in the month-long Battle of France than they did during the Battle of Britain which lasted far longer and is much better known.

One of the boats used at Dunkirk, on display at the Imperial War
Museum in London. Photo by Janet Young.
Perhaps the most gripping account is a chapter-long story of the bank cashier with his pride and joy – a recently purchased boat that he had lovingly restored and for which he had endured the jokes and taunts of his fellow amateur captains. He takes his boat to Dunkirk, carrying water and food, and transfers scores of men to the warships and safety. He’s shot once by machine gun fire from a German fighter plane; he gets patched up and continues to head to the beaches to get more troops. He’s shot again, this time in the lung, and wakes up after surgery on a hospital ship. His first concern – was his boat still in service. And he’s told it is still ferrying troops from the beaches.

Dunkirk is the story of war from ground level. It is about heroism and cowardness. It’s about courage and the doing of one’s duty. It’s about ordinary people facing death and keeping on. And it’s about a miracle – the saving of the British Army from annihilation. You will not be able to read this book and keep a dry eye.

The Trailer for "Dunkirk" (2017), directed by Christopher Nolan

Painting: The Withdrawal from Dunkirk June 1940 by Charles Ernest Cundall.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

“Tainted by Suspicion” by Fred Lucas

Reading history is a good thing. History may not repeat itself, but reading it does provide perspective on major events happening now. As in, the state of American politics may not be the worst it’s ever been.

In Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections, Fred Lucas reviews five presidential elections in depth – those of 1800, 1824, 1876, 1960, and 2000 – and two more briefly – 1888 and 2016. He provides the context for each, how the candidates were nominated, what happened during the elections, and the controversies that dominated the electoral college meetings and (occasionally) Congress itself.

Lucas writes in a highly readable style, and includes several pertinent anecdotes about each election. This isn’t a dry reading of history but an engaging, often funny (in hindsight only; it wasn’t funny when the elections happened), and informative review of some of the most controversial elections in American history.

In 1800, Federalist John Adams was seeking a second term while Thomas Jefferson was seeking a first. The mud was liberally flung by all sides. But because of how the electoral college counted votes at the time, Jefferson and his vice-presidential running mate Aaron Burr ended up with exactly the same number of votes. Intrigue followed, as the Federalists attempted to support Burr and so deny that radical Jefferson the presidency.

In 1824, it was Adams’s son, John Quincey Adams, battling Andrew Jackson. Henry Clay, who wanted the presidency himself, would end up denying it to Jackson. It was an ugly, mudslinging campaign (and would be repeated with different results in 1828).

The 1876 election, between Republican Rutherford Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden, was another electoral cliffhanger. Passions rose so high that newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer editorialized for the arming of 100,000 men to take Washington by force and put Tilden in the White House (yes, one might call that news media bias). A special commission of senators, congressmen, and Supreme Court justices was formed to make a decision – and a deal was cut between the Republicans and southern Democrats to give the White House to Hayes in return for the end of military occupation of four southern states in Reconstruction.

In 1960, the controversy wasn’t so much electoral college in nature as it was the deep suspicions that the vote in Illinois, and especially Chicago, was fraudulent. An investigative series started by the New York Herald Tribune found that several Chicago cemeteries had voted and one abandoned, ruined house was the address for 56 different voters. It appeared that the Daley machine had been up to no good, but Richard Nixon, interestingly enough, intervened with the Herald Tribune and asked that the series be stopped. He was afraid that the world would believe that American elections could be bought and sold. And so John F. Kennedy became President.

Fred Lucas
The 2000 campaign between Al Gore and George W. Bush came down to the controversy in Florida, whether the votes were counted correctly, and all of the legal maneuvering through the courts, with the conclusion of two decisions (7-2 and 5-4) by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lucas concludes with the 2016 election, Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, and the numerous efforts that were put in motion to deny Trump the White House.

Each of the sections includes a speculative “what if it had gone the other way” discussion.

The author makes or implies a number of summary points:

In general, no election was “stolen.” America survived the controversies, although potential violence was close in both 1800 and 1876 (and remember that 1876 was the nation’s centennial celebration).

It’s awful to go through one of these controversies, but it has happened before. Events can indeed appear to be heading for social and political convulsion. But, so far at least, the United States has gotten through its controversial and disputed elections.

In a few cases, a different outcome would have made a significant difference – for example, Al Gore would likely have nominated more liberal justices for the Supreme Court than George W. Bush did. But in many of these examples cited, the differences might have been surprisingly small.

Lucas is the White House correspondent for The Daily Signal. He’s covered the White House for other publications for a number of years, and writes regularly on politics for Fox News, The Weekly Standard, and other publications. He received a bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University and a master’s degree from Columbia University.

Tainted by Suspicion allows us to look past today’s headlines and breaking news stories on television and keep some perspective. It’s also a fascinating account of many of the presidential election controversies the United States has experienced.

Top photograph by Kevin Morris via Unsplash. Used with permission.