Part the first, the prayer breakfast:
President Obama was caught corrupting history in an ignorant exercise in moral equivalency. Indeed, he denounced ISIS for terrorizing in the name of religion during Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast. But then, and as he misrepresented the Crusades and the Inquisition, he mocked those on their “high horse” who apparently forget that Christians transgressed in supposedly analogous fashion centuries ago.Corrupting history? Moral equivalency? Really? How?
Let's do something the Trib braintrust doesn't want you to do - check their work by looking at the president's actual words spoken at the prayer breakfast. Here's what President Obama said about the so-called Islamic State:
But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism -- terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.You'll note that he wasn't talking just about ISIS/ISIL. The massacre in Paris was done in the name of Al-Qaeda in Yemen and the even larger massacre in Pakistan committed by militants from the Pakistani Taliban.
Nor did he limit his denunciation of the crimes committed in the name of religion to ISIS or Al-Qaeda or the Taliban:
We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.Extending the frame of reference, he went further:
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.How is that a misrepresentation of either the Crusades or the Inquisition?
Let's take a look at the Crusades. From the Washington Post's analysis of Obama's speach:
The Crusades lasted almost 200 years, from 1095 to 1291. The initial spark came from Pope Urban II, who urged Christians to recapture the Holy Land (and especially the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem) from Muslim rule. Like the promise of eternal life given to Muslim martyrs, Crusaders were promised absolution from sin and eternal glory.Actually according to Thomas Asbridge, scholar of medieval history at the University of London, Pope Urban was a little more detailed in his reasons when he "urged Christians to recapture the Holy Land...from Muslim rule." Asbridge begins the first chapter of his book, The First Crusade: A New History with a translation of Urban's speech to the faithful in 1095 (it's actually a new translation from the account of the speech chronicled by Robert the Monk - you can read a different translation of the entire speech here):
A race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of the Christians, has reduced the people with sword, rapine and flame. These men have destroyed the altars polluted by their foul practices, They have circumcised the Christians either spreading the blood from the circumcisions on the altars or pouring it into the baptismal fonts.And so on. More importantly, Asbridge later calls this imagery "pure propaganda." It was a way to fire up the populace to go fight and die and in doing so receive absolution of all sins and a promised place in Heaven. Hmmm...I wonder if they were promised 72 virgins.
But what did they do on the way to the Holy Land where they were promised absolution for their sins?
They slaughtered some Jews in Germany. From the Washington Post, again:
Along the way, the Crusaders massacred. To take but one example, the Rhineland Massacres of 1096 are remembered to this day as some of the most horrific examples of anti-Semitic violence prior to the Holocaust. (Why go to the Holy Land to fight nonbelievers, many wondered, when they live right among us?) The Jewish communities of Cologne, Speyer, Worms, and Mainz were decimated. There were more than 5,000 victims.And then when they got to Jerusalem:
Early on the sixth day of the week we again attacked the city on all sides, but as the assault was unsuccessful, we were all astounded and fearful. However, when the hour approached on which our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to suffer on the Cross for us, our knights began to fight bravely in one of the towers - namely, the party with Duke Godfrey and his brother, Count Eustace. One of our knights, named Lethold, clambered up the wall of the city, and no sooner had he ascended than the defenders fled from the walls and through the city. Our men followed, killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles....How much more do I need to do? Remember all this was done in the name of Christianity.
How did Obama misrepresent the Crusades when he said that people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
They did. To say otherwise is to misrepresent history. And which side of this argument can we find the braintrust?
Now let's look at Brian Williams. From the braintrust:
Mr. Williams, the anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” was caught in an embarrassing lie. For more than a decade, he claimed to have been in a helicopter forced down under fire during the second Iraq war. Veterans questioned the claim anew last month.I will not defend Williams. Whereas it's completely possible for a human being, in an incredibly stressful situation, to mix two unconnected memories (or even construct a memory whole to reconcile others), it is not acceptable for a reporter to present as fact something that hasn't been confirmed.
Smoked out, Mr. Williams apologized during his Wednesday broadcast for having “misremembered” and “conflated” reality. But he lied again in his mea culpa, saying he had witnessed the attack from a helicopter behind the one that took fire. Witnesses say he was at least 30 minutes “behind.”
He should have known better than to rely on a human memory - even if it was his own. He should have been the first to question its validity and worked to confirm it. If he didn't, that's bad. If he did and ignored the actual facts that's even worse.
So it's a good thing that the braintrust is calling out Williams for getting something wrong.
Now I wonder what they'll do with this:
Once in office, Reagan’s deception in the Iran-Contra scandal briefly threatened his presidency. First, Reagan flatly denied wrongdoing, publicly declaring, “We did not — repeat, did not — trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.” Months later, when subsequent revelations rendered that assertion untenable, Reagan delivered an Oval Office address in which he tried to reconcile his public claims with the factual record. “A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” Reagan said. “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”The braintrust ends with this:
But Reagan’s fabrications also included whoppers about conflict zones reminiscent of those put forth by Williams and Clinton. During Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s November 1983 visit to the U.S., Reagan told Shamir that during his service in the U.S. Army film corps, he and fellow members of his unit personally shot footage of the Nazis’ concentration camps as they were liberated. Reagan would tell this story again to others, including Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal. But Reagan was never present at the camps’ liberation. Instead, he spent the war in Culver City, California, where he processed footage from the liberation of the camps.
Moral equivalency. Revisionist history. Inventive euphemisms for lying. Sigh. We live in the Age of Mush. And we deserve better.Yes we do. Unfortunately we're not getting it from the Op-Ed page of the Tribune-Review.