What in the hell DHS

Just What Is Going On Over There?

Captain's Quarters wonders after the recent arrest of Bryan Doyle. Specifically, they wonder how it was that he got the job at the Department of Homeland Security in the first place. He was arrested for using the internet in trying to get a 14-year-old girl to, ah, meet him offline. CQ points out that he'd had a disciplinary action at his previous job for using pornography at work:

One would hope that the revelation that an applicant used computers at work to download pornography would have at least called his judgment into question. Either it got missed entirely, which doesn't speak well at all for the investigators, or it didn't make a difference to the people who hired him, which doesn't speak well for management at TSA and DHS.
It's possibly the latter. Using adult pornography is not illegal. Indeed, there's a raging debate about whether it's even immoral; or immoral, but healthy in a naughty way (like the occasional cigar or poker night); or in fact healthy and moral.

A public porn habit could be troublesome for a political appointee because of the embarrassment to the administration. However, in an America that permits the Howard Stern show to be broadcast on basic cable, the consumption of porn in public has to be regarded as acceptable to a substantial minority of Americans.

As to the acceptability of porn in private to Americans in general, I can only offer two pieces of anecdotal evidence: this article from Forbes examining the size of the industry in America (short version: the lowball estimate $2.6 billion); and a couple of pieces from Cassandra's site (here and here) citing pornography as a major influence on popular forms of cosmetic surgery. That would suggest it was, at least, a fairly mainstream private practice among those with the kind of money to spend on such things as elective surgery.

The point being, security clearances deal with sexuality (as I understand the process) basically only if the practice under consideration is unusual enough that it could be used to blackmail someone, or if it calls their judgment into serious question. If it's not unusual, but instead something that one encounters among a sizable percentage of Americans, it's not a reason to deny the clearance -- the question of whether it's moral entirely aside. Some people find it so, some not -- I myself, as Dad29 and I discussed at length (in the comments to a post I couldn't find -- Dad, if you find it, could you put the link in the comments here?), think it's best to leave in the private realm of morality and sin, rather than the public realm of crime and prison.

Now, this current business -- soliciting a minor -- is plainly a crime, and rightly so. Still, I can see how even a "vetting" process might have let this guy off.

On the other hand, Ms. Malkin has a post demonstraing what really should strike us as a pattern of poor judgment. How, precisely, did DHS end up with so many losers at the top?

She suggests that the problem is with the CIS, but I honestly don't think it is. I've been undergoing a security background check with DHS for months now, and it's been very thorough. I have only good things to say about everyone involved. The fact that they're working on timetables is only because they're trying to hire massive numbers of people, and the people who have been involved are getting worn down by it. So, in classic "market discipline" fashion, DHS has wisely instituted incentives for keeping up a high rate of completed work.

Does that encourage them to overlook things and "complete" background checks they shouldn't? I doubt it. For one thing, as I said, my own experience is that they've been extremely thorough. For another, it's not as if there is a dearth of applications. If you run into a problem with one, all you have to do is kick it back for more questions to the appropriate field office / contractor, then move on to the next application. The field investigators I've dealt with are retired Federal criminal investigators, who have been brought back on as contractors to help handle the massive workload. They're long-time pros, with a full career behind them, not new trainees.

No, I suspect the real problem is cronyism. All of Malkin's examples are people with close ties to the Bush administration or key Senators. DHS should be promoting from within -- in fact, cross-promoting from within. Experts from the various different cultures that the combined agencies brought could be sometimes promoted to some of the top positions in their agencies, and sometimes to some of the top positions in other agencies. That would help fix a lot of the problems DHS is encountering in terms of merging its cultures, ensure expertise, and eliminate a lot of these problems of bad (or unqualified) people getting top jobs.

It should be about the security of the country.


For What It's Worth:

Not to get in between Mark Steyn and John Derbyshire, but... where I come from, it's pronounced "p'KAHN," just like Hank did it.

I never heard any alternative until I was a full grown man. My mother in law, who is from Indiana, once suggested that the next time I was in Savannah I might get her some pralines. I wasn't sure what a praline was, not having had a lot of fancy candy as a kid, so I asked her. She said it was made of "PEE-kans," which didn't improve my understanding at all. I did finally locate some, though, and once I saw the nuts embedded in it I knew what she'd been trying to say.



The famous historian Howard Zinn (hat tip Arts & Letters Daily) demonstrates why the Left will never capture America's heart. The Democratic party is constantly having to fight against the perception that its leaders are not patriots and do not love their country. It has to do that because its leaders read, and cite approvingly, people like Howard Zinn.

For example, he seems to believe that this principle:

If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these people up there—the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, all those institutions pretending to be “checks and balances”—do not have our interests at heart, we are on a course towards the truth.
...leads naturally to this one:
And then come the countless ceremonies, whether at the ballpark or elsewhere, where we are expected to stand and bow our heads during the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” announcing that we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” There is also the unofficial national anthem “God Bless America,” and you are looked on with suspicion if you ask why we would expect God to single out this one nation—just 5 percent of the world’s population—for his or her blessing.
The first principle is that we ought to understand that politicians, as a rule, are liars and scoundrels who do not have our best interests at heart. That far, he is entirely correct.

The second principle is that we ought not, therefore, to love our nation or believe that she enjoys a special mission in the world. That is wrong.

In a sense, everyone ought to love his nation regardless of where he is born. This is because it is as natural to love your country as it is natural to love your mother. It arises in the soul reliably and properly. That is another way of saying that the failure to love your country is an unnatural corruption.

What you do when you find that your beloved nation is in the wrong, as she sometimes will be -- or usually will be, if we are speaking of a nation like South Africa instead of America -- is desire, and work for, her correction. You must not stop loving her; you must love her the more fiercely. You are fighting demons for her soul. Demons can only be driven back by faith, hope and love.

Chesterton explained patriotism in this way:
The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises -- he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things.
The patriot, like Zinn, can also say that Congress is filled with worthless scum -- but once Davy Crockett was there. He can say that Washington remains a stinking swamp in spite of more than two centuries' attempts at draining it -- and yet remember that it was named for Washington. He can further remember that Washington was a slave-holder -- and yet look with awe on his politics, his ethics, and his magnificent life.

The error of not loving what you chastise leads you to chastise far more harshly than is warranted. Zinn is guilty of this at every level, and it corrupts his scholarship and his work. Because he can point to a material interest apart from the claimed reason for a war -- say, the interest of United Fruit in Cuba in 1898 -- he believes that the claimed reason was a simple pretense. United Fruit did not raise the Rough Riders, and had no power to do so. It could not summon cowboy from Montana and student from Harvard and Yale, old friends from Scotland, policemen from New York, miners and prospectors, and such men as Theodore Roosevelt described:
The temptation is great to go on enumerating man after man who stood pre-eminent, whether as a killer of game, a tamer of horses, or a queller of disorder among his people, or who, mayhap, stood out with a more evil prominence as himself a dangerous man—one given to the taking of life on small provocation, or one who was ready to earn his living outside the law if the occasion demanded it. There was tall Proffit, the sharp-shooter, from North Carolina—sinewy, saturnine, fearless; Smith, the bear-hunter from Wyoming, and McCann, the Arizona book-keeper, who had begun life as a buffalo-hunter. There was Crockett, the Georgian, who had been an Internal Revenue officer, and had waged perilous war on the rifle-bearing "moonshiners." There were Darnell and Wood, of New Mexico, who could literally ride any horses alive. There were Goodwin, and Buck Taylor, and Armstrong the ranger, crack shots with rifle or revolver. There was many a skilled packer who had led and guarded his trains of laden mules through the Indian-haunted country surrounding some out-post of civilization. There were men who had won fame as Rocky Mountain stage-drivers, or who had spent endless days in guiding the slow wagon-trains across the grassy plains. There were miners who knew every camp from the Yukon to Leadville, and cow-punchers in whose memories were stored the brands carried by the herds from Chihuahua to Assiniboia. There were men who had roped wild steers in the mesquite brush of the Nueces, and who, year in and year out, had driven the trail herds northward over desolate wastes and across the fords of shrunken rivers to the fattening grounds of the Powder and the Yellowstone. They were hardened to the scorching heat and bitter cold of the dry plains and pine-clad mountains. They were accustomed to sleep in the open, while the picketed horses grazed beside them near some shallow, reedy pool. They had wandered hither and thither across the vast desolation of the wilderness, alone or with comrades.
Such a body did not come together for United Fruit. How, then?

They came for America, and for Roosevelt. Well they might come for Roosevelt! To the New York policeman, he was their former commander; to the men of Harvard and Yale, a fellow student; to the British, an old friend; to the hunters, one of the pre-eminent of their class; the cowboys knew of his youth spent in the West, where he exposed himself to every hardship of the labor as well as any of them, and hunted rustlers by the rivers. No one doubted his love or his respect for them, their country, or their cause.

Theodore Roosevelt was able to do what can never be done by Zinn nor any of Zinn's students. He was able to enact genuine, progressive reforms on a huge scale. He could do this because he was able to win the loyalty and open admiration of the men of the nation. He could do that because he was himself a natural and heroic man.

Zinn would have you believe that the Rough Riders were -- as he feels that you are -- dupes of liars in politics owned by manipulating corporations. All those strong men who had survived the terrible wilderness, those tamers of horses, policemen and college men and noblemen alike: he feels they were fools, and fooled. He must feel this way, because he has no room in his heart for that natural and motivating love of country that a good man must feel. He cannot understand it, and therefore it cannot factor in his calculations.

Yet he has hope, if only people can be awakened to the fact that politicians lie. His hope is this: he imagines a weaker America, and he is glad to imagine it.

It is only Zinn and his ilk who are weakened by his arguments. He has no loyalty to the ideals and love that motivate true-hearted men, and therefore he can neither understand them nor move them to action. Not one man who follows him will ever inspire the loyalty of the people as Roosevelt did, because none of Zinn's students will offer loyalty or love in return. They do not love the men, and they do not love the nation.

Zinn can scorn America, but he cannot praise her, and therefore he cannot change her. Roosevelt could not merely praise her, but correct her. That is the power that comes of love, even to strive with demons.

TYLR Commen

Things You Learn Reading Comments:

At Dr. Helen's place, on this occasion. I see that comment #14 is one of some interest to us here at Grim's Hall.

I knew it was an alias, but now I know why.

Death to Trojans

Death to Trojans:

I have just spent the last eight hours un-wrecking my computer from an encounter with a particularly well-designed piece of Trojan malware. I hereby propose a new Constitutional amendment: anyone caught and convicted of writing one of these things shall be first horsewhipped and then hanged, and neither shall be construed as cruel or unusual punishment.

Alternatively, we could change the law so that shooting a Trojan writer resulted in a reward of ten thousand dollars and no criminal charges. While the first option expresses a proper social unity in condeming these people, the second might do something to spur the economy. Either will do.

Tartan Day

Tartan Day:

Welcome to Tartan Day, 2006! We celebrate this annually at Grim's Hall, although I have been too busy to get myself on the Gathering of the Blogs list this year. If you'd like to see what I can muster on a year when I'm not so busy, try the 2004 celebration, or last year's.

This year, we're a bit pressed for time at the Hall. I did mention it to my wife as she sprinted out the door today to get a letter in the mail, still wearing her plaid pajamas. "I'll just tell the neighbors it's Scottish Day!" she said. "As it happens, it is," I remembered aloud. She laughed. "Really?"

Indeed. I'm caught so off guard that I have no Scotch in the house, and no Scottish beer either. However, I do have a can of haggis that I'll take for lunch, with mashed potatoes and such lesser beer that I have to hand.

Good day to you all. By the way, Cassidy has a huge post on the topic at her place, if you'd like. BlackFive, who proves a clansman of mine, also has a series of posts. Enjoy.


V.S. Naipaul:

He is interviewed in Literary Review, hat tip to Arts & Letters Daily. I have a (very) slight connection to the great Indian, in that he once wrote about my home. Indeed, he wrote about the Sheriff of Forsyth County, who ruled over the place the whole time I was a boy.

...not the [jail] of 1912, but still as flat and basic-looking as a sheriff's office in a Western film; assertively labeled (as in a film) FORSYTH COUNTY JAIL... [S]oon I was called into his office, where, on an old-fashioned hat-rack, at the very top, was a black cowboy hat with a sheriff badge....

He was impressive, Sheriff Walraven. He was an elected official, and he saw himself representing the will of the American people -- who had turned their face against violence. And though he wasn't willing to play up this side of things, he was also doing his Christian duty, Christianity being a religion that taught love and peace.... There was to be no violence; it was his duty to see that there was none.

Did he see a situation where that might change?

He thought for a while and said, "If the system falls down." But then almost immediately he added, "The system can't fall down. Individuals might fall down."
He's retired now, Sheriff Walraven. Now and then you'll see him out tending his garden as you drive down the country road. He is still an impressive man, or was the last time I encountered him.

The system can't fall down. It was his duty, and is now ours.


Songs of Freedom:

I was listening to some old songs tonight. Songs like this one:

Daniel Boone was a man,
Yes, a big man!
With an eye like an eagle
And as tall as a mountain was he!

Daniel Boone was a man,
Yes, a big man!
He was brave, he was fearless
And as tough as a mighty oak tree!

From the coonskin cap on the top of ol' Dan
To the heel of his rawhide shoe;
The rippin'est, roarin'est, fightin'est man
The frontier ever knew!

Daniel Boone was a man,
Yes, a big man!
And he fought for America
To make all Americans free!
Here's another, so you can see where I'm going with this:
I'll tell you a story
A real true life story
A tale of the Western frontier

The West it was lawless
But one man was flawless
And his is the story you'll hear.

Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, brave courageous and bold.
Long live his fame and long live his glory
And long may his story be told.
If you've never heard the above song, you should. It's sung in a form that exists nowhere else, except in a church hymnal.

Just one more, since we were talking about the Alamo:
Fought single handed through the Injun war,
Till the Creeks was whipped and peace was restored.
And while he was handling this risky chore,
Made himself a legend, forevermore.

Davy, Davy Crockett the man who don't know fear.

He went of to Congress and served a spell
Fixin' up the government and laws as well.
Took over Washington, I heard tell,
And patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell.
What do these songs have in common? Three things: they treat the American frontier; they portray the lives of their characters in over-the-top idealism; and they do so without a hint of irony.

We usually see this kind of idealism only in children. Watching children play, you'll see that their toy guns never miss -- and the guns of the imagined enemy always do. They're always faster, cleverer, and in the right.

Yet the audience for these songs, and the television shows or movies that went with them, was not children. They were grown men, and not just any men. They were the adult men of the 1950s and 1960s, who had been the young men and older teenagers in the days of World War II. These were, as Reagan said, the boys of Point du Hoc.

So many today look back on the culture of the 1950s with smugness, as if our generations were so much more clever, so much more insightful than they. How blind they were, how childlike their ideas! Yet they had seen terror and fire close at hand.

I submit that -- maybe -- if they believed in these things, it's because these are things worth believing in.


A Great Opening, A Serious Problem:

"Jack Dunphy" has an article today in National Review Online. It begins:

Are you looking for a job with low pay? Does the idea of working miserable hours appeal to you? How about working weekends and holidays? Is the daily risk to life and limb on your checklist of must-haves for your next job? If so, the New York Police Department has a job for you.
The ending is pretty good too, actually.
No one comes into police work for the money. All we ask for is a decent living and to be treated fairly when things get dicey. Sadly, cops and potential cops are discovering this is too much to ask. Can higher crime be far behind?
Now, as someone who has occasionally chided the cops -- for example, the Fairfax SWAT team that shot and killed my eye-doctor -- I recognize that he's got a point. You can look at the Cynthia McKinney case for a clarifying example, if an example is needed. The guy was doing his job, trying to protect her and her colleagues, and look what it got him: punched, shouted at, called a racist, and now she says she'll sue him.

Hopefully the US Attorney will show some of that "fair treatment" Dunphy requests.

Illegals from China

US To Ship Illegal Immigrants Back Home:

To China. Mexican immigrants are still a hot topic, but Chertoff got an agreement to send every single Chinese illegal immigrant right back to the Communists.

"If we start to show progress in the short term, one of the messages that will be sent to those who are thinking of illegally migrating is that when they get caught in the U.S. they will be going back home," said Chertoff. "They will not be getting released into the United States. We can have a huge effect on this by starting to establish deterrents, which we have not been able to do up to now."
There are, of course, three little differences between Chinese illegal immigration and Mexican illegal immigration:

1) The government of Mexico seems to be encouraging illegal immigration. China, on the other hand, regards these people as criminals to be punished on their return.

2) The trip from Mexico is life-threatening; but it's a walk in the park compared to getting here secretly from China. As a result, there's no demographic tipping point to worry about, as there aren't that many Chinese illegals (39,000 is the estimate).

3) We don't share a border with China, and they don't claim any of our land.

What does all that mean? Well, that depends on how you see the issue. If you think that the issue is purely one of law enforcement -- the right of America to make and enforce its own laws -- none of it makes any difference. They broke the law, and the law says to send them home.

If your concern isn't about the rule of law, but the stability of the culture -- this is my concern and position, just to be clear -- the Mexican immigrants represent a serious problem and danger that needs to be managed; whereas the Chinese immigrants, who will never muster the numbers to destabilize a community or lay claim to American land, are not a danger of that type. We might be free to consider other questions, such as what their fate will be if they return.

On the other hand, we have also to consider that an asylum-centric policy would encourage more people to take the risks of the sea and the evils of human smugglers. Surely that is no good thing.

I'm told that this is a simple issue, and indeed it can be. "The law must be enforced" simplifies things greatly.

Yet America has always held that juries were meant to be involved in the enforcement of the law; or, in courts martial, fellow military men. The idea has never been that the law should be applied without consideration of the individual case, including the question of whether -- this time -- we should make an exception.

The police have a simple job: catch the criminals; arrest them; bring them to a magistrate. From there, though, justice has never been simple. Trying to make it so may improve the efficiency of the courts, but I'm not convinced it will improve the quality of justice delivered. I like the idea of having a jury of Americans look over the case, and give a ruling tailored to the individual facts.

In the case of Mexico, stronger measures and greater efficiency may be needed. The crisis is larger, and it is backed by sections of the Mexican government and organized groups in the United States. If the concern is the letter of the law, then it's the same problem, China and Mexico. But if the concern is assimilation and the American mission of freedom, the Chinese situation is notably different from the Mexican one.

Bush Was Right


Any song that sings the praises of Zell Miller is all right with me. I wonder if he ever thought he'd live to be idolized by a rock and roll band?

Cowboy story

A Cowboy Story:

On the way home from the District of Columbia tonight, I ran into a massive thunderstorm out Manassas way. I cut off the highway and stopped in at a "Grill & Bar" for dinner. Since I was alone, I didn't ask for a table, but went in to dine at the bar.

I was wearing my grandfather's Stetson -- the finest thing ever invented for a T-storm is a beaver-felt hat. There was no place to set the hat, so I just left it propped on my head while I climbed on the stool. Although it was early in the evening, three fellows arranged at the end of the bar had obviously gotten there well ahead of me. They were, in a word, drunk.

So I sat down, picked up a copy of the Washington Post, and put in my order. Just a moment later, the drunk in the middle shouted down the bar:

"Hey! That hat needs a bullet hole through it! That'd be great!"

I just ignored him, and kept reading. Another shout:

"Hey, buddy! I said your hat needs a bullet hole through it! Har, har!"

Not the first drunk I ever met, so I kept reading.

"Hey, bartender, gimme yer pistol! I'm gonna shoot a hole in that fella's hat!"

At this point I glanced over to the end of the bar, took the fellow's eye, and said:

"This hat belonged to my grandfather. I'll thank you if you don't shoot at it."
And I went back to my paper. It got a lot quieter at that end of the bar. I heard the fellow mutter something about his grandfather, but I'm not sure what.

A moment later, the closest of the men came down to me.

"Listen, sir," he said, "we're just having some fun with that other guy. He's a Cowboy's fan, and this is Redskins country. He didn't mean any disrespect to the hat."

He honestly said that. I told him it was fine, and he thanked me, and went on back to what they were doing. Fellows seemed to be having a good time, and good for them.

Never had a man apologize to my hat before. They seemed like good guys, though.



There are many good lessons and wise observations in John Wayne’s The Alamo. However, there is one scene in particular that has always resonated with me every time I thought about Saddam Hussein and the arguments surrounding our invasion of Iraq. The scene takes place in a local cantina after Davy Crockett and his Tennesseans has just arrived in Texas. They are discussing whether or not they should stay and fight with the Texans when one member of the group asks,” I own no part of this here Texas and none of these here Texicans are related to me so why should I fight for them?” Immediately afterwards another member states, “Right, it aint our ox getting gored.

Davy Crockett responds with a classic line that many of our more appeasement minded countrymen would do well to reflect on. He responds by stating, “Talking about whose ox gets gored- figure this, fellow gets in the habit of goring oxes, wets his appetite. He may come up north and gore yours.”

Although it has nothing to do with foreign policy, I enjoyed comment from one of the Tennesseans when another member of the group states that he has been concerned about Crockett’s behavior; “Being in Congress has ruined many a good man.”

How true!

GHMC: Alamo

Grim's Hall Movie Club: The Alamo

Since we've all watched it, I won't post a review at length. There are a couple of things I'd like to talk about, though. Any of you with author's accounts are welcome to start a post of your own if different aspects of the movie interest you; or just add to the comments, as you prefer.

I. Honor v. Authority

The movie has three leading roles: Col. Travis, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie. It's hard to manage that coherently, but each of the three walked so largely in life that they cannot be downplayed in the story.

The writers decided to steal adapt a strategy from the poem that lies at the very root of our civilization. Theodore Roosevelt's history of the Alamo begins with a comparison of the Alamo to Thermopylae, but this retelling reaches back father still. It takes the form from the Iliad, and points to the clash between honor and authority. A hero is a tremendous asset to an army; wars cannot be won without them, and men follow them gladly. Yet the hero's own sense of right and wrong, honor and virture, lead them to argue for what they think is right rather than what they are told. Because men follow them gladly, the very act of fighting for what they think is right splits armies and disrupts the chain of command.

The Iliad remains the most important poem in our culture, even as the Bible remains -- in spite of all that has been written -- the most important book. Even today, we find this to be one of the hardest lessons of leadership -- and one of the hardest things to learn when we are called not to lead but to follow and take commands, for a common goal.

(If you have not read the Iliad, or if you were introduced to a bad, boring or incomprehensible version of it, let me offer a suggestion: Do not read it. Rather, listen to it. It was composed to be heard, and it should be. Get a copy of an audiobook of the Fitzgerald translation from a library or a bookstore, which is by far the best in the English language. I cannot recommend this strongly enough -- if you come by Grim's Hall regularly, you will never regret the time you spend with it.)

Just as in the Iliad, the tension between the three characters is between a man who is willing to set aside mens' honor for victory; a hero whose devotion to honor makes him clash with that first man; and a wiser, older hero who has come to understand both authority and honor, and make them work together. In the Iliad, these heroes are Agamemnon, Achillles, and Odysseus. In the Alamo, they are Col. Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett.

Travis asserts his authority through military discipline, and right of command. He is willing to speak insultingly to Jim Bowie to shut down challenges to his orders ('You were drunk at the last officer's call, and I do not wish to discuss my plans until the next'). He is willing to publicly slur the credibility of friendly Mexican caballeros who bring him word, because he's afraid the word they bring might panic the men and cause desertions. He is gallant to those who are doing what he wants -- as when he shows honor to the arriving Tenneseans -- but cares nothing for the honor of men who disagree with him. Rather than resolving the clash with Bowie, it makes it worse and worse, until Bowie is ready to take his men and depart.

Bowie and his men (like Achilles' Myrmidons) are volunteers, and can leave when they wish. Travis needs them to hold until aid can arrive. He also needs the help of another body of volunteers who arrive under the command of another hero, Davy Crockett.

Crockett appears less of a hero to Travis than his reputation would suggest. Travis is not happy to find his Crockett and his men brawling and drinking, and he refers to Crockett's usual manner of speech as a 'bumpkin act.' Yet when he hears Crockett's speech about the Republic, he is taken aback. So it was said of Odysseus:

One might have taken him for a mere churl or simpleton; but when he raised his voice, and the words came driving from his deep chest like winter snow before the wind, then there was none to touch him.
Crockett understands the balance between honor and authority: both Travis and Bowie trust him, and he is able to mediate between the two. Yet he has this flaw, as Odysseus had it: he uses that ability to understand both worlds, and gain trust in both, to manipulate. He manipulates Travis by appealing to him calmly and with respectful words, as he does after Travis has already dismissed Bowie following the destruction of the great cannon. He manipulates Bowie by playing on his sense of honor and shame, as he does when he introduces him to the kid, tells the kid to ask him 'about that Sandbar fight,' and then says that Bowie is leaving. Of course, Bowie cannot shame himself by admitting he was planning to leave, and so ends up staying.

Yet at last Crockett's manipulations can't hold the army together. What keeps them there to fight and die is this: the moment when Travis decides to let them go, and speaks glowingly of what they have accomplished so far. When Travis takes up the language of honor, and calls them brave and noble soldiers, neither Bowie nor any other will leave him.

That is the lesson, then: for Travis, to honor his soldiers as heroes, as well as to command them as men; for Bowie, to set aside his pride and follow. So he does, and dies for it, and thereby wins the honor he so craved:
The fort that was a mission
Be an everlasting shrine!
Once they fought to give us freedom,
That is all we need to know
Of the thirteen days of glory
At the siege of Alamo.

II. Santa Anna

Perhaps it is also because they drew so heavily on the Iliad, but the treatment of Santa Anna is remarkable. We are used to seeing him "on a horse that was black as the night," a cruel and vicious killer of brave men. One of the unusual qualities of the Iliad is that it shows sympathy to everyone in it: though it is a poem composed in Greek, by Greeks who saw themselves as descendants of the Greek heroes of the poem, it never treats the Trojans as anything less than their own heroes.

That is almost unheard of in heroic literature, where one may fight greater things -- demons, dragons -- or lesser ones -- witness Conan slaughter endless numbers of nameless, purposeless men! We are so used to seeing enemies demonized that we expect it. Even political campaigns now almost always descend to it.

That makes it all the more astonishing to see what great lengths the film goes to in order to portray Santa Anna as a noble and heroic man. Indeed, he is painted as being better than he really was: no real comment is made on his decision to offer no quarter, and everyone is portrayed as dying in combat rather than in later executions.

Yet it is not just that the film elides over his harsher parts. It actively shows him as good and noble. He offers a chance for the men guarding the Alamo to retreat. After they refuse and he has attacked the mission, he discovers the presence of noncombatants and allows them safe passage. There is no suggestion in the film that he attempted to take the families of the men inside as hostages, or did anything but honor his word that they would be safe. Indeed, there is never a suggestion that the men inside the Alamo ever suspect that he would.

The two high notes of this theme come after the battles. After the first battle, some of the volunteers watch from the walls of the Alamo as families of the slain Mexican soldiers look over the dead in search of their kin. The grief of these family members is shown just as strongly as the grief of the Texans later; and in fact, the Mexican women watching the Texan lady leave the Alamo cross themselves in sympathy with her.

Meanwhile, the volunteers muse about the heroism of the men they have killed. "I was proud of them. Even as I was killing them, I was proud of them," one says. 'It speaks well of a man that so many aren't afraid to die, being sure they are right. It speaks well.' Of course it is military discipline that sent them forward in reality; but in the film, it was love and trust in their commander.

At the last scene in the movie, the lady of Texas is allowed to go free from the Alamo, and given a burro for her child to ride. Santa Anna arranges his army so that she will pass them where they are in full dress uniform. As she passes, he summons the men to present arms in salute. He does not meet her eye, but removes his hat in a display of honor for her.

How odd to see a foe allowed to be so noble! And yet, it makes Jim Bowie, and Crockett and Travis seem all the bolder and better. They lost; but they lost to a noble hero, inheritor of the best traditions of Europe. We know that Houston, inheritor of the best traditions of America, will soon meet him and best him. We finish feeling not simple satisfaction at the end of a villian, but awe and pride that such a man, and such an army, could be overcome by a ragged pack of heroes and volunteers.

The music swells, and invokes the protection of God on the souls who guarded the mission. We are sure that somehow, that is right. Yet the movie does not put Santa Anna on the side of the devils. It is content to view him as another flawed hero, as we all are flawed heroes.

Last Straw

The Last Straw:

I'm a pretty patient and understanding fellow, really. I try to live by the injunction against juding others' sins -- as opposed to their crimes, which I feel entirely competent to judge. I try not to condemn people for doing things I might well do myself, and I try to understand that some others have other moral structures that might -- in some circumstances -- be right even though I don't agree with them.

So we saw all those Mexican flags at the big marches, and it bugs me like it bugs a lot of people. But I think to myself: "Well, and what if it were the Confederate flag? A lot of people don't want to see that anywhere, but it means different things to me than it does to others. Maybe that's what's going on here; and Kaus said it was pleasant and happy, so maybe that's all it is."

Then, we saw the Mexican flag flown OVER the American flag, inverted. I thought: "That's really pushing it, bud -- and I would feel that way even if it were the Confederate flag. On the other hand, we did just have a big thing about the importance of free speech, even offensive free speech, with those Muhammad cartoons. So, if I'm going to be true to the principles at hand, I have to permit this -- even if it is a desecration."

Now, we see the American flag banned at American schools.

I know there's been some chaos, particularly last week's flag burnings, in which Mexican flags were destroyed after they were raised above the US flag. I realize that schools have to maintain discipline.

Nevertheless, we've reached the end of my tolerance.

This is America, and a lot of Americans have fought for that flag. Our kids ought to be able to fly it. The school's place is not to ban the display, but to teach it, and to require the proper forms, as recorded in the United States Marine Corps Flag Manual. When I was a boy, we were taught to raise and lower, and correctly fold, the flag. Particularly good students were honored by being allowed to do it for the school, one week out of their career.

If school discipline is being troubled by the presence of flags, the solution is to enforce those proper forms:

When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. When the President directs that the flag be flown at half-staff at military facilities and naval vessels and stations abroad, it will be so flown whether or not the flag of another nation is flown full-staff alongside the flag of the United States of America. The national flag, if required, will be displayed, on the right (the flag's own right) of all others. The national flags of other nations shall be displayed, right to left, in the alphabetical order of the names of the nations in the English language.
There are several lessons encoded in that paragraph. The American flag has precedence here. The English language has precedence here. The honor of our flag cannot be harmed by being displayed below another flag, provided that it has been properly ordered: for mourning the glorious dead adds to, rather than detracts from, the honor of a man or a nation.

Every American student ought to learn those lessons. They are the forms endorsed by our military, chief defender of our nation's honor and her traditions. These limits are not limits, but liberations: for they establish the forms with which anyone, of any nation, may come here and become fully and completely an American. Do but these little things, and we will embrace you as a brother in a way that no other nation on earth ever will. Do them not, and you will forever remain an alien.