Auschwitz vs. Ground Zero Reply

By Tom Quiner

Edith Stein: "The anguish in our neighbor's soul must break all precept."

Edith Stein was executed at Auschwitz on August 9th, 1942, for the crime of being a Jew.  This 68th anniversary of her death is relevant today.

Some background is in order.  She was born into a devout Jewish family on Yom Kippur, the youngest of eleven children.  As a teen, she moved away from her Jewish faith to atheism until she experienced a profound religious conversion at the age of twenty-nine. She eventually converted to Roman Catholicism.

Ms. Stein gained renown as a writer, philosopher, and speaker, throwing her talents into the Catholic Woman’s Movement.  She eventually became a Carmelite nun and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

In 1932, she denounced Hitler and Nazism.  She wrote the Pope and asked him to also denounce the Nazis and “to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name.”  A public denunciation, of sorts, didn’t come until 1937 when Pope Pius XI condemned the tenets of Nazism in his German encyclical, “Mit brennender sorge” (“With burning anxiety”).  The encyclical did not specifically mention anti-Semitism, but did vigorously support the concept of universal human rights.  On Palm Sunday in 1937, it was read from the pulpit of every Catholic Church in Germany, eventually resulting in increased persecution of Catholics.

The horrors of Auschwitz were prayerfully commemorated in 1979 when Pope John Paul II visited the site during his historic trip to Poland.  There, at “this Golgotha of the modern world,” as he characterized it, the Pope invoked Edith Stein:

“ … many victories were won [here].  I am thinking, for example, of the death in the gas chamber … of the Carmelite Sister Benedicta of the Cross, whose name in the world was Edith Stein … Where the dignity of man was so horribly trampled on, victory was won through faith and love.”

With sad eyes, the Pope recalled the anti-Semitic horror of Auschwitz:  “In particular I pause with you … before the inscription in Hebrew. This inscription awakens the memory of the People whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination. This People draws its origin from Abraham, our father in faith … The very people that received from God the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, itself experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.”

Pope John Paul II: Showed compassion to victims' families.

Perhaps inspired by the Pope’s visit, perhaps inspired by the martyrdom of one of their own, a group of Carmelite nuns purchased an abandoned building at Auschwitz in 1984 and opened a convent.  There they prayed for the souls of the army of innocents executed on those grounds, very much in the tradition of Edith Stein’s words: “it is our vocation to intercede to God for everyone.”

Jewish groups were understandably concerned.

To some, it seemed as if the site of the Auschwitz memorial was being hijacked by the religion, Christianity, of their oppressors, the Nazis (some of whom were nominally Christian).

Some were offended at the idea of Catholics praying for Jewish souls “as a guarantee of the conversion of strayed brothers,” as if Judaism was insufficient for salvation.

Some were offended by the idea of anything Catholic at Auschwitz, since in their eyes, the Vatican had not been strong enough in denouncing anti-Semitism.

Catholic-Polish groups couldn’t understand what could possibly be wrong with a group of nuns calling down God’s love and forgiveness at such a notorious place of evil.  And besides, more Polish-Catholics were killed there than Jews.

Jews responded that extermination of the Jewish race was a central goal of the Third Reich, that Auschwitz held even more important symbolism to Jews than Christians.

Both sides had a point.

Pope John Paul II interceded and asked the nuns to move, which they eventually did.  In his mind, the good accomplished by a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz would be outweighed by the pain it caused to Jewish groups.  Their mission, their prayers, could continue in a convent at a different location.

A similar drama unfolds today, only this time, it is a Muslim group that wants to build a mosque at Ground Zero in New York.

The same issues, the same sensitivities are in play.  The leadership, though, is remarkably different.

Mayor Bloomberg: Scolds victims' families.

New York Mayor Bloomberg attacks families of the victims who don’t want the mosque at Ground Zero, asserting they should “be ashamed of themselves.”

Contrast his approach with that of the Pope who showed compassion to victims’ families and the anguish in their souls.

The Mayor couches the issue in terms of religious freedom for Muslims.

The Pope, on the other hand, viewed the issue through the lens of humility.  Yes, the Carmelite nuns had a right to be at Auschwitz, but at what price?

What would Edith Stein have to say about this controversy?  This: “As for what concerns our relations with our fellow men, the anguish in our neighbor’s soul must break all precept. All that we do is a means to an end, but love is an end in itself, because God is love.”

[I am at work on a new musical titled “The Pope of the People.” It presents Pope John Paul II’s dramatic trips to Poland and Iowa in 1979.  Watch this space for updates.]

President and Mrs. Bush greet returning soldiers Reply

By Tom Quiner

Returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan were shocked and awestruck when they got off their plane at Dallas/Ft. Worth airport last week.  The 145 returning soldiers were greeted by President and Mrs. Bush.

This isn’t the kind of story that will get big press.  The video above is worth watching. The soldiers really appreciated the gesture by the former President and First Lady.

“At least Clinton didn’t take us to war” Reply

By Tom Quiner

President Bush had to make a tough call on whether to invade Iraq.

That was a comment I received following my recent post, “If Bush lied, Clinton lied.” The writer, Monte Gray, who always keeps me on my toes, defends Mr. Clinton at the expense of Mr. Bush.  Let’s take a closer look.

The tragedy of 9/11 may not have happened had it not been for a decision made by the Clinton administration.  That decision was to let Bin Laden slip away when they had an opportunity to get him.  Here’s an excerpt from the Los Angeles Times in 2001 on this subject:

“President Clinton and his national security team ignored several opportunities to capture Osama bin Laden and his terrorist associates, including one as late as last year.

I know because I negotiated more than one of the opportunities.”

The write is Mansoor Ijaz who was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has been a CNN commentator. He had plenty to say on the subject:

“From 1996 to 1998, I opened unofficial channels between Sudan and the Clinton administration. I met with officials in both countries, including Clinton, U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger and Sudan’s president and intelligence chief. President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who wanted terrorism sanctions against Sudan lifted, offered the arrest and extradition of Bin Laden and detailed intelligence data about the global networks constructed by Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, Iran’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Among those in the networks were the two hijackers who piloted commercial airliners into the World Trade Center.

The silence of the Clinton administration in responding to these offers was deafening.”

Was this a big deal?  According to Ijaz, yes:

“As an American Muslim and a political supporter of Clinton, I feel now, as I argued with Clinton and Berger then, that their counter-terrorism policies fueled the rise of Bin Laden from an ordinary man to a Hydra-like monster.”

I quote Mr. Ijaz as a counterweight to the “Bush Lied” revisionists.  President Bush certainly made mistakes, just as President Clinton made mistakes.  We will take a closer look at the “Bush lied” screed in a moment.  But to the point made by Mr. Gray that at least Clinton didn’t take us to war, that’s not totally accurate.  Mr. Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox on December 16, 1998.  For 4 days, the United States and Great Britain bombed Iraq for their failure to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, a similar reason given by President Bush for launching the Gulf War.  (Iraq was in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441.)

President Clinton’s effort differed by degree and resolve, not motivation, to President Bush’s.

As Saddam Hussein acknowledged after his capture, he thought Mr. Bush would embrace similar bombing tactics as had been employed by President Clinton.  He said he hadn’t anticipated Bush’s resolve after eight years of an American Presidency with a different level of resolve.  In fairness to President Clinton, 9/11 changed the political landscape dramatically.

As referenced in my post on August 14th, Hussein acknowledged that he encouraged the belief that he still possessed WMDs to use as leverage against their enemy, Iran. Because he had used WMVs before, because Iraq did not cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, because of the heightened insecurity following the attack on our nation on 9/11 by a man Clinton let get away, President Bush had to make a tough call that President Clinton didn’t have to make.  Do we leave our security in the hands of the United Nations?  Bush said no.

Even after the United Nations weapons inspectors said that they couldn’t find any WMDs, the world still thought Iraq had them hidden away somewhere, or would at least still have the capability to begin production of them again.

Here’s what Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said in October of 2003:

“When [former President Bill] Clinton was here recently he told me he was absolutely convinced, given his years in the White House and the access to privileged information which he had, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction until the end of the Saddam regime.”

Here’s what French President Jacques Chirac said in February of 2003:

“There is a problem — the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq. The international community is right . . . in having decided Iraq should be disarmed.”

Here is what former President Clinton said in July of 2003:

” . . . [I]t is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons. We might have destroyed them in ’98. We tried to, but we sure as heck didn’t know it because we never got to go back there.”

Here is what General Wesley Clark said in September 2002 in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee:

“There’s no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat. . . . Yes, he has chemical and biological weapons. . . . He is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities, though he doesn’t have nuclear warheads yet. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, I think our friends in the region would face greatly increased risks, as would we.”

Here is what former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said in September 2002:
“There’s no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States and to our allies.”
Dean built on that point the next year:
“I agree with President Bush — he has said that Saddam Hussein is evil. And he is. [Hussein] is a vicious dictator and a documented deceiver. He has invaded his neighbors, used chemical arms, and failed to account for all the chemical and biological weapons he had before the Gulf War. He has murdered dissidents and refused to comply with his obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions. And he has tried to build a nuclear bomb. Anyone who believes in the importance of limiting the spread of weapons of mass killing, the value of democracy and the centrality of human rights must agree that Saddam Hussein is a menace. The world would be a better place if he were in a different place other than the seat of power in Baghdad or any other country.”
Here is what Robert Einhorn, Clinton assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation said in March of 2002:
“How close is the peril of Iraqi WMD? Today, or at most within a few months, Iraq could launch missile attacks with chemical or biological weapons against its neighbors (albeit attacks that would be ragged, inaccurate and limited in size). Within four or five years it could have the capability to threaten most of the Middle East and parts of Europe with missiles armed with nuclear weapons containing fissile material produced indigenously — and to threaten U.S. territory with such weapons delivered by nonconventional means, such as commercial shipping containers. If it managed to get its hands on sufficient quantities of already produced fissile material, these threats could arrive much sooner.”
I could go on, but you get the point.  The Democrats and world leaders quoted above shared President Bush’s concerns about an Iraq armed with WMDs.  Did President Bush make the right decision in invading Iraq? Honorable people can disagree. However, it is dishonorable to claim that “Bush lied” in light of compelling evidence to the contrary.
[To the charge that I used unflattering photos in my post on the August 14th, I am humbly trying to rectify it with the use of a more flattering photo in this post!]

DO NOT READ if you are vegetarian 1

By Tom Quiner

Michael Wedeking, owner of the Flying Mango

I’m a proud Iowan.

I’m a proud conservative.

It comes as no surprise, then, that I’m a proud meat eater.  My wife, Karen, and I had a wonderful dining experience on Saturday night at the Flying Mango.  Let me cut to the bottom line:  I had the best beef brisket I’ve ever had.  I am not one to over-use straight-faced superlatives

Let me set the stage: within sixty seconds of being seated, we had service.  We ordered a bottle of Cabernet from the professional and cordial waitress. Within another three-hundred seconds, Owner/Chef Michael Wedeking himself arrived at our table to open our bottle of wine. (How many times have you gone to a restaurant and twenty-minutes have gone by before you’ve got a drink in your hand? Not at Flying Mango.)

Mr. Wedeking has an easy-going manner about him.  He clearly likes what he does, and he’s good at it.  He’s also very confident about the quality of his offerings.  The subject of beef brisket came up.  He asked me what is the best beef brisket I’ve ever eaten in town.  I told him.  He said his would blow it away.  He wasn’t even bragging as much as relaying a fact which would be self-evident in due course.  He said they go through five-hundred pounds of it a week.  Keep in mind, this isn’t some giant chain.  It’s a locally-owned restaurant snuggled in the friendliest corner of Des Moines called Beaverdale.

I took the bait and ordered the brisket.

Once you order, it doesn’t take long before you’re facing the prettiest plate of brisket, sweet potato pancakes, and home-made slaw you’ve ever seen.  And the aroma is so mouth-watering that it’s difficult writing about it without calling for a reservation at Flying Mango and making a beeline over to 4345 Hickman Road.

The brisket is tender, juicy, and flavorful.  It features a light smoked flavor that is subtle and doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the meat.  Portions are more than plentiful.

For the record, I’d never met Mr. Wedeking or his partner/wife Suzanne Van Englehoven before Saturday.  So I speak objectively when I endorse Flying Mango.

Interestingly, Mr. Wedeking told me that only ten percent of his business comes from the immediate Beaverdale neighborhood.  I guess I’m one of many to miss the boat by driving by Flying Mango en route to other local eateries.  That will now change.

Visit their website at  Call 515.255.4111 for reservations. For catering, call 515.277.1830.

Tell them Tom Quiner sent you.

If Bush lied, Clinton lied 2

By Tom Quiner

Believed Saddam Hussein had WMDs

“Bush lied” was once again invoked in the letters to the editor in the Des Moines Register this morning.

For the record, here is specifically what the President said:  “Saddam Hussein has huge stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons.  And some day, some way, I guarantee you, he’ll use the arsenal.”  Only it wasn’t President Bush who spoke it. Thus spoke then President Clinton.

Believed Saddam Hussein had WMDs

President Clinton’s thoughts on Mr. Hussein are worth revisiting in light of countless assertions that “Bush lied”.  Before the U.S. invaded Iraq, most of the world, including Kofi Annan (then the Secretary-General of the United Nations) and John Kerry, believed Iraq housed weapons of mass destruction.  To think otherwise, one had to assume Mr. Hussein destroyed the weapons, but didn’t report it to U.N. inspectors even though it would’ve gotten sanctions against Iraq lifted.  That doesn’t make sense.

Hussein encouraged the belief that he possesses such weapons with statements like this, made in 20o0:

“Iraq will not disarm until others in the region do. A rifle for a rifle, a stick for a stick, a stone for a stone.”

Believed Saddam Hussein had WMDs

Finally, in 2004 after his capture, Hussein acknowledged the truth about WMDs to FBI interrogator, George Piro.  He said most of the weapons had been destroyed by United Nations weapons inspectors in the 90s.  Iraq destroyed the rest themselves.  But Hussein pretended he still had them. In his mind, that perception was critical to deter Iran from attacking Iraq:

“It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq,” said Agent Piro.

Why, then, didn’t Hussein ‘fess up when he saw U.S. forces preparing to attack Iraq because of this very perception he had so carefully inculcated?

“… he told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox. Which was a four-day aerial attack. So he expected that initially,” Piro says.

Bush-haters are uninterested in such evidence.  Their mind is made up.  But think about the logic they must employ.

In their mind, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair launched a war based on a lie (no weapons of mass destruction) that would soon reveal the lie when no such weapons were found.  Doesn’t make sense.

If weapons HAD been found, the same people would probably have said that Bush planted the weapons to justify going to war against Iraq.

There are certainly honorable differences of opinion on whether the U.S. should have gone to war with Iraq.  Let’s debate the merits of the war honestly and can the phony argument that President Bush lied.  If he did, so did President Clinton.