A South African Tragedy

Martin Bossenbroek, The Boer War, Seven Stories Press, 2018, 464 pp., $24.00.

The Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) was a tragedy—even a “white-on-white crime.” The world’s greatest military power, the British Empire, waged war on a force of 60,000 South African Boer militiamen. Haughty British officers who had won renown fighting the Pathans in the Northwest Frontier or Madhi fanatics in Sudan thought the Boers were a similarly uncouth force that could never defeat a professional British Army. The initial successes of the Boers proved them wrong, and the British should have known better. During the First Boer War of 1880 to 1881, the South African Republic (also known as the Transvaal) and the Orange Free State won the right to self rule without interference from Cape Town, the base of British operations in South Africa.

As the Dutch historian Martin Bossenbroek explains in The Boer War, the second conflict was largely an attempt by the British to win control over the natural resources of the South African Republic. After the discovery of gold in Witwatersrand in 1885, the city of Johannesburg sprung up almost overnight. It became a boom town right out of the American Wild West, with bordellos and gambling dens. President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic and his fellow Boers despised Johannesburg and the foreigners who were drawn to it by the gold rush. Kruger, Prof. Bossenbroek writes, was a veld-bred farmer who came from the proud Voortrekker and epitomized Old Testament zeal.

Johannesburg reminded Boers of what they had left behind when they trekked out of Cape Colony in 1835. The liberty-loving Boers—a mix of Dutch, Huguenot, German, and Portuguese—resisted when the British first declared the Cape a “protectorate” before soon turning it into a colony. Boers moved eastward into the high veld, defeated several African tribes, and established the two republics—the South African Republic and the Orange Free State—that Britain sought to dominate in the war of 1899.

The Boer War is a wonderful throwback to the days of heroic history. First published in Dutch in 2012 and only recently translated into English, it divides the story into three parts. The first sets the scene with an account of South African politics and economics. The chief character is Cecil Rhodes, the brilliant mining magnate who established the colony of Rhodesia and envisioned all of South Africa as a British confederation. The Boers stood in the way of this Cape-to-Cairo vision.

The second part is about the war. It is filled with tales of battle, commando raids, and guerrilla warfare, and takes as its main character the former British Army officer and war correspondent Winston Churchill. Prof. Bossenbroek provides details about the divisions within the British Army (mainly between officers from the “Indian” vs. “the African” services) and about divisions within the Boer camp.

The final section deals with the guerrilla phase of the war. When the British could not decisively defeat the highly mobile and well-armed Boer commandos, they put Boer women and children in concentration camps so as to deprive the men of the support they needed. These filthy, disease-ridden camps became the great scandal of the early 20th century; today it is thought that some 26,000 inmates died. Despite this cruelty, some Boers fought alongside the British during the First World War.

Boer guerrillas during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

It is easy for Americans to identify with the Boers. Like the whites of North America, they are an ethnic hodgepodge, united by their Christian faith and shared experiences in the wilderness. In 1899, they wanted to be left alone in their republics; millions of white Americans feel the same way today.

Britain justified meddling in Boer affairs because of the non-Boer immigrants—mostly British—who rushed into the Transvaal during the gold rush. By the late 1890s, the Uitlanders, as the Afrikaners called them, were a majority in the cities of the Transvaal. Before long, these economic immigrants demanded voting rights and legal protection, but the South African Republic would not treat them like Boer citizens. Uitlanders then organized political action committees and even tried sabotage. In 1895, in one of the most disgraceful episodes in British imperial history, Cecil Rhodes tried to foment an Uitlander revolt that would give the British an excuse the come to the rescue of their persecuted citizens and take over the goldfields. The Jameson Raid of 1895  failed to stir up the expected rebellion, but was a sign of how seriously the British coveted South African resources.

Today, Mexico justifies agitating for anti-white, pro-Hispanic causes by claiming it is protecting its citizens. Often it doesn’t even try to hide its motivations, and groups such as La Raza make it clear that the goal of illegal immigration is Reconquista. Present-day America is no different from Victorian South Africa; demography is destiny.

Also, like the British of the 19th century, today’s egalitarians claim to have charitable motives. British do-gooders often criticized the Boers for failing to live up to their Christian duty to black and colored neighbors. The Boers understood very well whom they were dealing with and, unlike the British, actually knew how to make peace with African tribes. A similar cultural ignorance was repeated during the Apartheid era, when left-wing British governments and their allies harassed, boycotted, and harangued the Boers into giving blacks the right to vote. Since then, South Africa has spiraled into a chaos of corruption, rape, and murder. The commandos of 1900 could have predicted the consequences of black rule.

The Boer War makes for grim reading, but the conflict it describes was fought in an age of true manliness. Readers will be moved by the audacity and courage of both the British and the Boers.

It is terrible that the great British Empire that conquered Africa and India and established Singapore and Hong Kong arrayed its forces against the tiny but resolute republics of the Boers. These two people should never have fought each other. The Boer War is yet another warning to our people: European brotherhood and the future of the West are far more important than any temporary conflict or disagreement.

British casualties after the Battle of Spion Kop, January 24, 1900.

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Scott Hahn’s Call to Save the Family

Christianity in America has reached a critical juncture, as evidenced by the wealth of recent conservative literature that engages in deep cultural and political introspection. Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option calls for Christians to embed “within communities and institutions” dedicated to the “Great Tradition.” Published around the same time were scholar Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture and Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. The former calls for the reclamation of truth, while the latter urges Christians to “live their faith vigorously, and even with hope, in a post-Christian public square.” And Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen’s more recent Why Liberalism Failed is in turn a bold attack on the ideological foundation of American politics.

Now another respected conservative intellectual has thrown his hat into the ring: biblical scholar Scott Hahn, with his more narrowly focused The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order. Its strength is its humility in scope, which offers a vision for how marriage, faithfully lived, can serve as an authentic source of renewal and preservation in America.

Why marriage? Because of the many-pronged assault of the sexual revolution upon this most ancient institution, which has left an impressive degree of wreckage in its wake. In 1969, then-California governor Ronald Reagan signed America’s first no-fault divorce legislation. Within 15 years, virtually every state in the Union had followed suit. From 1960 to 1980, the American divorce rate more than doubled. Today, children exposed to divorce are two to three times more likely than their peers in intact marriages to suffer from serious social or psychological pathologies. Adolescents with divorced parents are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school when compared to children from intact families. Adolescent girls with divorced parents are three times more likely to become teen mothers, while their male counterparts are twice as likely to spend time in prison.

Apart from our social and legal acceptance of divorce culture, other trends have also undermined marriage. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 60 million children have died because of abortion. The ubiquity of pornography has undermined marriage, if not aggressively destroyed it. The widespread use of contraception has led many couples to forego marriage altogether, while also encouraging them to view sex as transactional, rather than unitive and procreative. And perhaps most importantly, an increasingly secularized public square has persuaded Americans to view marriage not as a covenant bond between man and woman before God, intended both for their own good and that of society, but a temporary arrangement between any persons based on personal preference and transitory sentiment.

Hahn recognizes all of this, and his answer is not to turn back the clock to some golden, pre-sexual revolution America when families were larger and happier. He labels such nostalgia “escapism.” We must rather “take the best, leave the rest” of early generations that better understand the intrinsic goodness of marriage. Through the course of his book, which melds biblical exegesis, historical analysis, socio-cultural commentary, and theological reflection, Hahn makes a compelling case that marriage is the first institution we should seek to affirm, support, and revitalize to rebuild American culture.

It would be difficult to read a Scott Hahn book and not walk away seeing Holy Scripture or Christian theology through fresh eyes, nourished from the mind of one of the greatest exegetes of our time. Though Hahn is a Catholic convert from evangelical Presybterianism, all readers regardless of religious affiliation will find much to contemplate in these pages. Those married will likely sense a deeper urgency to live out their callings as husbands and wives more faithfully, more eagerly, and more conscientiously. Singles, too, will be reminded of why they should seek out a culture that praises and supports marriage.

Given Hahn’s scholarly credentials, we should not be surprised that he starts with Adam and Eve in the Garden. In the creation account, everything God made is good, or, in mankind’s case, “very good.” Yet in that same narrative we are told of one thing in creation that is “not good”: loneliness. Even the first chapters of Genesis are an implicit rebuke to the atomization that defines our liberal, increasingly libertarian social order. Indeed, all of us are born helpless into families and communities upon whom we must rely—to think that the goal of human existence is to free ourselves from this state to pursue our own individual goods is to go against the most essential character of the natural order. And what is more basic to this society of individuals dependent upon one another than the family?

As Hahn the theologian notes, the family in its very composition serves as a type for the self-giving love present in the Trinity. In the family, children learn to consider “the needs of other individuals and the community ahead of themselves.” Parents in turn model this anti-individualist paradigm when, instead of “pursuing their own ends,” they seek the good of one another and others—children, neighbors, coworkers, the poor, etc. Hahn’s analysis of the family’s influence on larger society serves as a sucker punch to America’s gut: “all human societies eventually take on the form and structure of the families that comprise them. A disintegrating culture of marriage will lead to a disintegrating society.” Ain’t that the truth!

Moreover, as the family’s societal role declines, other institutions rise to take its place: civil authorities and profit-seeking corporations, both of whom seek to make individuals increasingly reliant upon them. While these play an important role in any well-functioning society, they cannot replace the family. We’ve learned recently, for example, that the socialization offered by Facebook is a double-edged sword, if not often fake and dehumanizing. Government and business, though positive goods, will always be much further removed and less stable—and consequently less personal, less faithful, and less merciful—than the family.

Yet many Americans do not know marriage as such an institution. They have suffered at the hands of neglectful parenting and messy divorces, or themselves have been the perpetrators of these societal ills. Even those attracted to the paradigm of marriage presented by Hahn may question whether its ideal can be realized. Marriage, Hahn argues, should be permanent, exclusive, and open to life. With current divorce rates, the likelihood of increased civil redefinition of marriage, and declining birth rates, even these three characteristics seem far removed from our current cultural moment.

This is why, Hahn argues, marriage requires divine assistance. As it was for Adam and Eve, ancient Israel, and historic Christianity, it is a covenantal relationship before God, on which God places an intimate and enduring role. Through God’s grace, marriage becomes a place where partners—and, God willing, their children—guide each other not only to worldly goods but heavenly rewards as well. Through God’s grace, marriage becomes a place where love, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, and even joyful suffering are fostered. God also communicates grace through the sacraments to effect the life of God in the family.

Stronger marriages accomplish more than inculcating virtue in the lives of spouses and children. They also help combat the individualist dogma of our current age, which Hahn censures for removing “any notion of the common good from politics, then begs individuals to act independent for the good of others and the community at large.” It is the family, properly functioning, that helps foster a conception of the common good that seeks the best for both the community and each member of that community. A well-functioning family, for example, must place goodness over freedom, even though it values both.

Hahn’s presentation of “the first society” is especially motivating because the application is so clear. Whether or not one is currently raising a family, one is a member of one. Viewing family life as a calling not only for one’s own sake and that of one’s children, but as one for all of society, means we all have a part to play. Moreover, as Hahn’s definition of family encompasses more than the modern development of the “nuclear family,” it means that our relationships with our grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, and many others are also important. Restoring the American family is a gargantuan task, but it starts individually with us. Through prayer, the support of our churches, and the grace of God, we might be able to turn the tide.

Casey Chalk is a student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College.

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More than two years ago, a twelve year old Michigan boy stabbed a nine year old to death. Now, a jury has found him guilty of murder, making him the youngest convicted murderer in the history of the Great Lakes State. It all began with a murder suicide scheme hatched in the mind of a child. On August 4, 2014, then twelve year old Jamarion Lawhorn stepped onto a Kentwood, Michigan playground and stabbed nine year old Connor Verkerke to death.

Lawhorn’s plan was as convoluted as any adult who has ever sought “suicide by cop.” he imagined that once he took another boy’s life, he would be convicted and executed, thus ending a life fraught with emotional suffering.

At least, that is what his defense attorney alleges.

After deliberating for just four hours, the jury made up of seven men and five women returned a verdict of guilty.

During three days of trial, they heard testimony from Connor’s younger brother who witnessed the attack and helped carry him home. He recounted how Connor told him he loved him and that the attack was not his fault.

The jury also heard from Connor’s mother and father, who watched their son die on their front porch awaiting an ambulance.

Prosecutors also played the 911 recording in which the twelve year old assailant demanded that the police arrest him and give him the electric chair.

Jurors also heard the opinions of two certified forensic psychiatrists who differed as to whether or not he understood what he did was wrong and was in control of his actions.

Lawhorn’s defense attorney , Charles Boekeloo argued that the boy had been the subject of ongoing and regular abuse by his parents right up to the day of the attack. He said that Lawhorn had been failed by every adult in his life, including his parents, Child Protective Services, and his school. Boekeloo went on to point out that Jamarion Lawhorn was also under the influence of stolen medications at the time of the attack.

During the closing statements, Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Bramble reminded the jury that in his statement to police, Lawhorn admitted to planning the attack for a year and that he even removed his shirt before stabbing Verkerke to avoid getting blood on it.

Bramble said “He set out to kill someone and he did it. Take the emotion out of it.”

As he closed his defense, Boekeloo argued that the standards being used by the prosecution could hold even a three year old responsible for a capital crime.

As tragic as this case is, it does demonstrate the difficulty our legal system has when dealing with young offenders. Until the mid 1990’s most states could only prosecute minors as juveniles, with different standards and punitive options than adults. During the Clinton Administration many states sought to “get tough” on crime and created new laws that allowed children as young as ten years old to be tried as adults.

How do you feel about treating children as adults in the criminal justice system? Did you follow the Lawhorn case? Please share your thoughts with us here.

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The Tragedy Of Whitney Houston

I was not a fan of Whitney Houston, the megastar who died of a drug overdose six years ago. I thought at the time, “Oh, how sad, another star who couldn’t handle fame and money.” There’s a new documentary out now about her life and death, and this interview with the director made me feel more compassion for her.

It turns out that her family — her brothers — and others around her were saturated by drug abuse. It was everywhere when she was coming up. She wanted to be part of the fun. The director says that in interviewing 70 people for this movie, he was struck by how much latent guilt there seemed to be in everyone. They know that they had a hand in what happened to her.

The part that really got to me, though, was the revelation that Whitney Houston was sexually abused in childhood by her now-deceased cousin Dee-Dee Warwick, sister of Dionne Warwick. Excerpt:

It’s one of Whitney’s brothers who brings up the abuse allegations. How did you feel when you uncovered that piece of information?

I first began to suspect that there might be some kind of abuse involved before anyone had actually told me. I just had a sense, having sat watching interviews about her, watching footage of her. I had a feeling that there was something wrong with her. There was something preventing her, in some way, from expressing her real self. She felt uncomfortable in her own skin in almost every interview there was with her. And I thought that was a very strange thing, and it kind of reminded me of people I’d seen who had suffered from abuse, just in their body language and their sense of holding something back. That was just an intuition, and then somebody mentioned it off-camera to me. They wouldn’t talk about it on camera, but they said Whitney had said to her that something had happened.

And for a long time, that was where it lay. I didn’t know whether that was true. And then I interviewed Pat Houston and Gary Houston, who’s Whitney’s brother. He told me that he was abused by a woman in the family, and Pat Houston told me that, yes, Whitney had said to her, “This is what happened.” So at that stage, I’d had the confirmation that something had happened, but I didn’t know who it was. And then, on the next interview, Gary did tell me who it was. This was at the very end of filming, two weeks before we locked the cut. Then I [interviewed] Mary Jones, who was Whitney’s longtime assistant [throughout] the last 10 years of her life, and who knew her better probably better in that period than anybody else. And she told me Whitney’s point of view on this, and what Whitney had told her in detail, and how important she felt it was for understanding Whitney, but how scared everyone was to talk about it. So, yeah, the film changed radically in the last weeks of editing it, which I guess, as a detective, is the result you want.

But, obviously it’s such a disturbing allegation, and we did have a lot of debate about it. How do you present material like this, and how do you do it in a way that’s going to be fair to the family and to somebody who’s accused who is also deceased?

What was the answer to that question?

In the end, we felt that we had three different people saying this. One of them, Gary, was also abused by [the same woman]. So, we felt that having direct testimony of somebody saying, “This happened to me” meant that even if by some incredible stretch of the imagination, Whitney had been lying to everybody else about it, that there was no reason not to go public about it. All the experts I spoke to about this area and this issue told me that it’s best to talk about these things and best for them to be out. That is the current thinking: it may prevent other people being abused in the future, it may give people the courage to come forward and say, “This happened to me, and this was the person who did it.” So there was some nervousness about it to begin with because I didn’t expect to be making a film about somebody who was an entertainer to lead to such a dark place. But once we got there, I felt like we had an obligation to use this.

Read the whole thing.

Whitney Houston famously had a lengthy love affair with Robyn Crawford, her longtime assistant, something the director acknowledges in the interview, though Crawford refused to be interviewed. Was Whitney Houston’s lesbianism tied to her abuse by her female cousin? Or: was the fact that she had same-sex desire compromised by the fact that when she first discovered it, it was in the context of abuse, and therefore it carried with it a special taint in her mind?

The torment of victims of child sexual abuse is something unique and horrifying. This is something anybody who has spent time reading accounts emerging from the church child abuse scandal learns, and never forgets. That poor woman. God bless those who endured, and found healing, not self-destruction. I wonder what would have happened to the singer had she been in a family that had been willing to talk about the abuse, and had not burdened her (and other victims of Dee-Dee Warwick) with the dead weight of keeping a malign secret.

The Houston tragedy makes me realize that one of the biggest ways the church sex abuse story changed me was making me much more hostile to the idea that people (families, churches, etc.) should keep dark and damaging secrets to maintain the façade, both inwardly and outwardly, of normality. It’s a sick system that tells those who were victimized by that system that they have a moral obligation to stay silent to protect the reputation and the stability of that system.


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