This Issue: Iran and American Influence
History. It just goes on and on doesn't it? That's what we said as students. It can go on and on if one veers from the broad boulevard of a particular civilization into the side streets. The following history of modern Iran and America's influence there is as succinct as possible and does not veer from the subject significantly.
Mohammad Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, assumed the constitutional monarchy of Iran when his father died in 1941, The son proved to be more lenient and less autocratic than his father. The oil reserves in Iran helped the Shah and his prime minister achieve a progressive social policy. Their aim was to pull Iran out of the past and into the future of a modern society. He went on a spending spree with infrastructure development; dams, highways, airports, and power stations. Libraries, schools, universities and postal services were built. There was full employment, women were granted equal rights, there was little inflation and the currency was stable for the duration of his rule. In the interim he extended more power to the parliament.
The British had a significant presence in Iran before and after the first world war. The British discovered oil in Iran in 1908 and in 1909 received a concession from Iran to explore and develop Iran's oil resources. The London based company Anglo Persian Oil Company was formed and the British government purchased a majority of the company's shares in 1914. Accordingly, the British government gained direct control of the Iranian oil industry.
The Prime Minster of Iran, Mosaddegh, became disillusioned with the British control of the oil industry and declared Britain an enemy in 1952 and cut all diplomatic relations with them. Mosaddegh had long considered Britain an enemy since the Anglo-Persian Oil Co, held exclusive rights to Iranian oil. A free market would allow more revenue to flow to Iran. Initially the U.S. had agreed with Iran's rejection of Britain's interest. That position soon changed beginning in 1952. Winston Churchill had convinced the Eisenhower administration that Mosaddegh would soon become dependent on the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party and would increasingly turn to them to promote communism. There was little evidence for this theory since Mosaddegh was anti-socialist and anti-communist. Why was Churchill promoting fear and attempting to influence the American government against Iran? The loss of oil revenue was catastrophic to Britain. Was Churchill hoping to reclaim its monopoly to Iranian oil?
After the expulsion of Britain the remainder of the year was rife with public turmoil. There were riots between those against and for Mosaddegh, the communist party and the pro-British. To settle the turmoil the Shah granted Mosaddegh additional powers. Mosaddegh was popular because of his progressive policies and his position against the British. There were minority factions that were dissatisfied with the prime minister's further reach for authority. In a political compromise the parliament elected Ayatollah Kashani as house speaker. Kashani and his Islamic scholars along with the Tudeh Party proved to be at times uneasy allies of Mosaddegh. In early 1953 the U.S. came around to Churchill's thinking that Mosaddegh was being heavily influenced by the pro-soviet arm of the Tudeh Party. Apparently it was a very persuasive argument that the British gave the U.S, since the U.S. joined in the condemnation of Mosaddegh early that year. The cold war fear had begun and the easy access of Russia's border to Iran presented a concern to the U.S.
The plan to overthrow Mosaddegh began and the assignment was given to the CIA. They chose Kermit Roosevelt to be the lead provocateur in Iran. The plot began by attempting to convince the Shah to depose Mosaddegh. The Shah was at first hesitant to depose Mosaddegh since he was a popular figure in Iran and he thoroughly believed in Mosaddegh's progressive agenda. The CIA paid secret Iranian operatives to masquerade as socialists and nationalists to threaten Muslim leaders with savage punishment if they opposed Mosaddegh and give them the impression that Mosaddegh was going to crack down on dissenters. That stirred anti-Mosaddegh sentiments within the religious community. Then the U.S. urged the Shah to dismiss Mosaddegh from his post. Mosaddegh was certainly aware of the plot against him and relying on his popularity introduced a referendum to dissolve parliament and give the prime minister power to make law. The referendum was submitted to the voters and it passed with a 99% approval. There was a subtle bias in the voting procedure since there were separate polling stations for yes and no votes. The prejudice associated with that scheme gave the U.S. greater influence in branding the prime minister a dictator. In the summer of that year the Shah finally agreed to the overthrow of the prime minister after the U.S. threatened to proceed with or without the Shah's approval. Donald Wilber, the CIA architect of the coup d' e'tat wrote two decrees for the Shah's signature. The first decree dismissed Mosaddegh and the other decree nominated Gen. Zahedi as prime minister. The Shah was firmly in control and the oil was flowing again. Zahedi's government reached an agreement with foreign oil companies to restore the flow of oil to world markets. Mosaddegh was arrested and held in house arrest for the remainder of his life while several of his supporters were executed. Mosaddegh dare not be executed since he was still popular among many Iranians.
In 1957 the U.S. and Israeli intelligence officers worked with the Shah to establish SAVAK, an Iranian Intel organization. It was later responsible for the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners and violent suppression of dissidents. Shortly thereafter the U.S. began selling significant military equipment to Iran to modernize their military. During the 1960's the Shah implemented the White Revolution which was an aggressive campaign of social and economic westernization that was met with intense opposition. Many of the Shah's growing number of critics saw his westernization move as anti-Islamic. It was then that the Ayatollah Khomeini started his rise to prominence with a protest to the westernization plan. During this period the U.S. sold about eleven billion dollars worth of military equipment to Iran. Did the dissenters view this increased relationship with the U.S. as further evidence of pro-western, anti-Islamic position?
Iranians resort to rioting, mass demonstrations and strikes to protest the Shah's authoritarian rule and consequently the Shah enforced martial law. Early the following year the Shah fled Iran amid intensifying unrest. The Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile and encourages the brewing revolution. Under his guidance Iran declares itself a theocratic republic guided by Islamic principles and the country becomes officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Within months the 52 American employees are taken hostage.
This previous synopsis of contemporary history is primarily recorded history from several sources. There are several conclusions and accusations to be drawn from the political actions of the United States in Iran.
The CIA released documents in 2017 confirming their plot to overthrow the prime minister and install the Shah of Iran. Further the documents revealed their involvement in establishing SAVAK the organization that tortured and executed the dissenters of the Shah.
The U.S. explicitly endorsed the Churchill program to ban all shipments and sales of Iranian oil after Mosaddegh terminated relations with Great Britain. Iran certainly had the right to nationalize its oil reserves. The result of the embargo threw Iran into near poverty. It is doubtful that the U.S. had significant interest in oil production then. It wasn't until 1961 that we were faced with the probability that we would find it necessary to import oil in the future. As the years passed the U.S. objective became twofold; Iran was a buffer to Russia and additionally, the oil. The oil shipments resumed after The Shah was installed It was then that the U.S. began its sale of armaments to the Shah. That was a comfortable relationship; the oil, the Shah and the U.S. armament industry.
It is lamentable that the U. S. sought to cripple Iran during the red scare era but it was common at the time to equate progressive politics with socialism and communism. The U.S. took the same action against Guatemala during this same period. Could the U.S. have taken another approach with Mosaddegh? Would it have been a workable scheme to establish a military presence in Iran as a buffer to Russia with the permission of the Shah and the prime minister? There is no evidence that either the Shah or Mosaddegh held any animosity toward the U.S. The U.S. did have such an agreement with Turkey in 1959.
The U.S. implementation in SAVAK enraged the Iranians and gave them further evidence that the Shah would go to any extreme with American endorsement to advance absolute rule. There is no proof that Americans participated in torture or executions, but there was proof that the Americans promoted SAVAK. Eventually the prisons were stormed and the prisoners were set free. Shortly thereafter the 52 Americans were taken hostage as retaliation.
In conclusion, the United States succeeded in turning a sovereign state into a dictatorial regime and eventually created a comfortable relationship with the oil industry, the armaments industry and the Shah. The U.S. decision to install the Shah created an oppressive nation that further created an opening for the radical Islamic Republic. The American decisions eventually set in motion a series of unintended consequences that neither America or the Shah could control. Those series of decisions culminated in political and social chaos and created an enemy.
Note: In Iran the name Shah Pahalvi is obviously treated with contempt while the name Mosaddegh is respected.
"Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change", Mary Shelley
Greta Has a Fever
The same discussions will always follow the Time Person of The Year selection. It will be said that another face should adorn the cover of Time Magazine, another story or another subject has greater historical significance. It is understandable since the choice is subjective and the options depend on anyone's focus as to what is a relevant issue. We all have our individual hot button likes, favorite personalities, and events. Subjective...however the choice is intended to be a subject of current and historical significance and person or persons who most affected our lives for good or ill. Adolph Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi were previously selected and they made appropriate book ends for the range of ill to good on the Time bookshelf. Greta Thunberg is now referred to in headlines and conversation simply as Greta as are Hitler and Gandhi in terms of worldwide familiarity.
Greta is an appropriate choice since her message is the most popular and widely covered story of 2019. Revised forecasts by climatologists strongly warn of a nearing climate disaster for our planet and this warning plays in the news on a daily basis. The story is rife with anger, fear and regret since it is perceived that we have forsaken our duty of stewardship of the earth. Greta's message of man made damage resonated with the general public and ignited the masses to march on their governments and corporations and challenge them to change direction. Her message is a poignant and revealing accusation. It is an accusation that the older generation have been corrupt and self serving in their negligence and thus endangered the lives of the children of the world. Those of the older generation will probably not see the full effect of their misdeeds but the children of the world will suffer the consequences of their actions. She has struck the guilt chord in the older generation and pushed the youth of the world into action. Beware when the youth grab a cause, it will become a movement.
There is a unique characteristic of the person that accentuates the message. She is a child, a teen, with the physical appearance of a preteen. It may even be deemed a fascination with her. It is a reason that pulls at us, consciously or not. We are all familiar with those passages in the bible, religious tracts or novels that refer to children: "and a child came forth and said..." or "a child delivered the message..." It is a literary device intended to sway the audience favorably. If a child of innocence brings a wise proclamation then certainly adults should be just as wise. The child courageously appears at the United nations and strolls up to the podium to deliver her message. Shouldn't adults have such courage?
She is not the scientist, but she is the student who has taken the trend analysis of the climatologists as an absolute truth and developed her message accordingly. Her message is overly pessimistic by stating that we are experiencing massive species extinctions worldwide and her belief that alternative uses of energy and its immediate remedial effect are overly optimistic. We cannot be certain that these embellished claims are intentional. If so, she is an astute prophet by presenting the severest scenario of climate change and conversely proposing solutions that make it seem that change is easily in our grasp. She delivers this message in an authoritative voice, a stern expressionless face, and without hesitation as the solemn prophet who delivers the word to the masses. She expects us to follow her word or face the consequences of falling off the edge of the point of no return
Her message is of historical significance since it is a seminal event of the youth's challenge to corporations and governments. All generations are questioning politicians about their position on non-carbon based energy sources and they threaten with their votes if they don't get acceptable answers. The movement is not new and not one that she started but she gave it a global force that it did not have previously. Greta, the child messenger, will be remembered as the girl who caught a fever from our warming planet and spread the fever.
An exclusive country club once asked me to be a member. I told them if they wanted someone like me as a member I wouldn't want to be in the club. Groucho Marx
Power Politics: Voting and Getting Religion
Recently the Ohio legislature passed Ohio House Bill 164. This bill advances or reaffirms vigorous religious rights to students such as the freedom to wear clothing that promotes religious slogans and ideals (walking billboards) and affords student's congregation time in additional school facilities like cafeterias, auditoriums and gymnasiums. The act goes further and permits the students to incorporate religious beliefs in their science assignments and tests. The teacher must consider the student's answers as correct although the answers lack scientific validity. The basis for determining correctness must be judged according to standard academic pedagogy. We can presume that a student studying earth science may claim that the earth is ten thousand years old or in the science of biology may choose creation theory over Darwinian evolutionary theory and the answers will not be judged as incorrect. The first two stipulations, slogans on clothing and expanded access, seem to be minor adjustments or affirmations to existing provisions. One can only hope that denominational fiction doesn't arise from t-shirt proclamations and dissolve into a distraction and that conflicts don't arise from scheduling time in the auditorium. The sponsor of the bill is Rep. Timothy Ginter a republican representing Youngstown, Oh. Rep Ginter says that this act is necessary since students face pressure over drug use, student violence, depression and suicide. He claims that allowing religious self-expression would be positive. The claim that school time religious study is a positive mechanism for suicide, depression, drug addiction, and violence is certainly hopeful and some would remain neutral as to its efficacy. Perhaps parental guidance at home or professional counseling would be greater positive mechanisms. Though not to exclude religion but to give it a proper venue with adult mentoring. Those issues causing pressure might be better addressed and solved through psychology, a science. Buried in these legislative proposals of inclusion of religious belief is the ideal of some religious organizations that our country is in deep peril because we have lost our moral compass and the solution to this problem is that we need to become closer to our god though prayer and devotion. To accomplish this end they propose that we legislate religious based morality. There is little evidence that religious faith is a cure for immorality and often we do not concur with what is moral.
The topic of deep concern in the Ohio House Bill is the science test answers allowed in biblical scripture. It is an encroachment of religion in a secular setting. The time and locale for religious contemplation and slogans are simply moderate appeasements. It is a redundancy in this age to proclaim that science and religion are separate fields of study....one would think. A religious answer on a science test brings the two fields together to blur the lines and compromise critical thinking. It is necessary to warn students that the lack of scientific knowledge can lead to unfortunate conclusions. It is disturbing that religious claims are made in lieu of scientific evidence and that basic science is not understood or ignored in the process. Does the Ohio House Bill encourage students to conveniently ignore science not only in favor of a religious scripture but to embrace alternative explanations that are quick and easy observations that do not pass critical analysis? It is wise for teachers and parents to explain that while many scientists are religious they recognize that it is necessary to differentiate the subjects in their professional pursuits.
In recent years some religious organizations have tried to influence legislatures to promote their word in secular institutions and their efforts to do so are increasing. How do politicians view this quest for influence by these organizations? The sincerity of religious beliefs has been degraded to a marketing tool in the political campaign process. Since it has been degraded to a marketing tool the religious community and institutions are summarily courted by politicians who know they can be an important voting block. Religion begets power and vise versa in this relationship. The political party that has been the most active in this relationship has been the republican party and the local example is Rep. Timothy Ginter, a republican. Admittedly, the democratic party has courted favor also but not to the extent of the republicans given their close (and some would claim slavish) relationship with the evangelical/fundamentalist movement. Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham and various leaders of the tel-evangelical mega churches would be excellent examples of serious influence. These leaders publicly support and comment on candidates in public and in their respective churches. Voters can be courted effectively by hinting at further religious influence in government institutions.
The pressure has apparently increased with our current presidential choice, aka The Chosen One. Pres. Trump has magnetized the evangelical core. What would seem to be a satirical skit to have this president become a hero of any religious movement has become a perverse reality. But the perversion is easily ignored when the religious extremists covet their message and call for further influence in our secular society via our legislatures. Apparently they are willing to sacrifice their integrity to anyone with power who will promote their ideals in this comfortable arrangement. The influence for votes has now reached an extreme level with Pres. Trump's announcement that religious organizations and churches be allowed to make political campaign contributions. Recently, Pres. Trump signed an executive order making it easier for churches to participate in politics. The order, as claimed by Pres. Trump, removes the financial threat faced by tax exempt churches from the IRS when pastors speak out on behalf of political candidates. It is unlikely that the IRS would change how the agency polices the issue as a result of this executive order. Congress would have to enact new legislation to accomplish Pres. Trump's goal. The existing law and the executive order aside, it is apparent that Pres. Trump is anxious to secure his religious voting block. Although the executive order is lacking in power his supporters remain true since Pres. Trump is their best chance.
Roger Williams, Baptist theologian and Governor of the Province of Rhode Island, proclaimed in the mid 17th century that his government would observe freedom of religion for the inclusion of all denominations and support a sharp division between religion and the government. The Province would concern itself with the affairs between men and men were free to concern themselves in religious affairs apart from the government. Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by this opinion on religious and state and that influence may have been instrumental in his proclamation that church and state should be separate. Though not specific in the constitution as a separation, but uses the term establishment, it has been referred to as a firewall in jurisprudence since the mid nineteenth century. Although many citizens are knowledgeable of the establishment article they may ask: what could be the problem with these minor inclusions of religious themes in our institutions? The innocence of the question deserves scrutiny.
The most minor inclusion is the first step. If an encroachment is allowed then to which denomination is favor allowed? There are many choices to be considered and the only assumption to be made is that the political party in power will be the decision maker. It would follow that we would have two enormous duties to defend and promote the affairs of men and the affairs of any denomination. Then conflict would arise between that majority and the denomination not in power. Also, it is true that we are a democracy and we should accordingly have the freedom to choose to be religious, atheist or agnostic. We should be free to support any religion or none since we are a nation of immigrants and immigrants bring their religion or no religious belief with them. There seems to be little doubt that many religions have the thirst for power and if granted the opportunity would inject a theocratic ideal into our republic. To include religious dogma, ideals and scriptures into a democratic state via the courting of politicians is the first step for a theocratic republic. The rejection of such, as the constitution reads is "no law respecting the establishment of religion." These religious organizations or voting blocks would better serve their master and the principles of their faith if they would cease their attempts at compromising critical thinking in our school system and promoting religion as a cure for immorality. They might focus on their duty to aid the poor, the hungry and the sick.
The Ohio Governor has yet to sign the house bill as of this writing. Perhaps it will not be signed and never become law or severely amended and then signed into law. If it remains law as written it will likely be struck down by the SCOTUS. These proponents for religious influence in our secular institutions will wield their battering ram to insert their solutions into the political subdivision of the state legislatures knowing that it attracts votes even though their laws fail in the SCOTUS. However, will the philosophical complexion of the SCOTUS change over time and lean in favor of the evangelical and fundamentalist movement? There is concern given the political views of the party currently in power. There is less attention given to the constitution and proper jurisprudence in choosing judges and more attention given to fundamentalist philosophy.
"You can shock them and insult them, but don't bore them." W.B Yeats ...on being an author
A. Wayne Johnson, official of the Educational Department of Federal Loan Aid, has made some proposals that may be the first step in resolving the financial crisis of the student loan system. He first concedes the following facts: the system is broken, much of the outstanding debt will never be paid, the outstanding debt rides on the back of the recipient for decades with a low rate for paying down balances. He has advised canceling most of the outstanding debt and forgiving fifty thousand dollars in debt for current students. Thirty seven million students would have their entire debt cancelled in the total amount of 925 billion dollars. A fifty thousand dollar tax credit will be given to former students who have paid their loans. The proposed plan will be financed with a 1% tax on corporate earnings. The government would be effectively removed from the loan business.
Recent polls indicate that most citizens are in favor of debt liquidation for students loans and free tuition for future students. This proposal would place the United States in line with the majority of countries that offer free university education for their citizens. The question is often asked: why can't we provide the same for our children if we are such a rich country? It is a fair question but there are some elements to this proposal that need to be addressed. Does a student enrolled in a four-year university deserve a financial advantage over a student paying tuition for certification in a technical school? I don't see a proposal for technical school grants. The proposal does not require the student to have any financial stake in their education. It would not have to be a major stake, but could the program require a small payment after graduation? Would the university be inclined to raise tuition rates if the student is receiving a fifty thousand dollar grant and if so would the student be forced to supplement the grant with a loan in the open market?
As well, there are obvious advantages to the proposed grant system. The student would be better prepared to participate in the housing market, retail markets and investment markets earlier since they are not financially handicapped by debt. Graduates would be more likely to advance to post graduate degrees by entering earlier and without debt. Removing the government from the loan business has another benefit. Universities would reduce their administrative costs since they would no longer be awash in the paper work and advisory requirements of the student loan system. These are all financial benefits to the proposals but of equal importance is the distraction and stress that many of these students endure while debt hangs over them as they pursue their studies. An education should be an enjoyable experience for the student and indebtedness is an unnecessary impediment to that end.
Quote: Time is the reef upon which all our mystic ships are wrecked, Noel Coward
Our call to arms worldwide today is Man Made Climate Change and our response is Declare War on Climate Change. The answer has become a tidal wave of political action to reset the natural order of the climate for planet earth. Alas, we are late with our enthusiasm. It was a prediction and warning of scientists forty years ago. However, while the empirical modeling was generally accepted as accurate there were few anomalies within the range of our senses to grab our attention. If we could not see the results of our carbon based life style then it must not be urgent. The climate was not changing before our eyes and consequently we continued to casually listen and not act.
In the not so distant past we dealt with two critical environmental issues. One was related to the climate and the other was related to our health. CFCs were being dispersed into the atmosphere with deleterious effects on the ozone layer. CFCs were eventually banned over a ten year period. Lead molecules were belching from our automobiles and our health was at risk. It took about fifteen years to reduce lead in gasoline. These two issues were relatively easy to tackle since they were one dimensional environmental problems and the solutions did not interrupt our daily life style to any serious extent. The problems could have been accomplished in a couple of years if it were not for political and corporate resistance. We can rally to relatively simple problems quickly and scientists can provide solutions. The immediate problem captures our attention and the problem that is distant avoids immediate attention. The flu shot that you need next week is on your mind today, your annual physical in six months is only on your iphone calendar.
Today man made climate change is accepted as fact by the scientific community and the populace has fallen in line with their predictions. Plans for resetting the climate are being promoted by politicians and it has become an election issue. The youth around the world are speaking up, demonstrating, and demanding action. These are the usual criteria for a movement. Not only is the climate changing, but it is progressing with a rapidity not previously predicted. In the past five years we have increased fuel mileage for cars and trucks,sold electric cars and built an untold number of solar panels and windmills. During this period the carbon emission count has increased and by the year it has increased exponentially (exponentially as a numeric expression to be raised as opposed to a verbal expression). The remedial influences that have been introduced have undoubtedly had some positive effect but scientists calculate that there is an increasing carbon foot print each year. Carbon usage increased or accumulated beyond what was implemented to offset emissions. There are compelling reasons for the exponential factor. The worldwide population continues to increase and for the past ten years the economy around the world has been in an expansion phase. With economic expansion came increased production since more durable and consumer goods are sold and with the expansion phase we use more energy in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas. It appears that we cannot reach the break even point with our current efforts. This problem is not about using paper straws. The solution requires a 180 degree turn in our life style.
Given the trend analysis we can expect severe changes in the climate which will bring more severe tornadoes, hurricanes and forest fires with greater frequency and accelerated polar melting leading to rising ocean levels. The day has arrived when we can see these effects and many have personal experiences with recurring heat waves, frequent flooding and hurricanes. The damage is apparent with decreasing fishing harvests , wildlife fleeing their natural habitats and dying coral reefs. The solutions are wise and well intended. The current movement demands more solar panels, electric batteries for cars and trains, thermal energy, wind and wave power, and biomass all of which are currently a minor portion of our total energy production. However, we are using carbon based resources to manufacture solar panels, windmills, and equipment for natural gas wells so as we produce carbon free products we are burning carbon to reduce our carbon foot print. A better trade off assuredly, but we can see the unavoidable effect of adding more carbon to emit less carbon. The law of physics holds true that one consumes a source of energy to produce energy. An additional problem arises from our inability to find a method to store energy produced from wind power, wave power, and solar.
What will happen around the world while we strain to get past the exponential increase factor and then how many years will it take to actually reduce the carbon emissions by a significant amount? The more ingenious solutions may be years away from fruition. There are numerous designs for smaller, safer nuclear power units that could take considerable time for development. What is the possible cost? Water to hydrogen is an intensive process that consumes energy and the distribution of hydrogen is problematic for safety reasons. The challenges are enormous and the effects on civilization in the interim phase of reducing carbon emissions significantly will be devastating. There will be massive migrations out of already desperate countries. Where will they locate? There could be food shortages as extreme weather ravages farm land and fishing areas, there could be serious relocation issues in shoreline cities, taxes could rise to support energy efficient projects, there could be revolutions, riots, and people might be thrown out of work as resources contract and jobs in the old technologies evaporate. All of these disasters are conceivable if the trend analysis is marginally accurate. We will be racing to a continuously moving finish line.
In spite of the odds we will continue the efforts for reduced carbon emissions as we should. Our best efforts may only lead us to a bleak future of a mere existence but it will be an existence. It will be a dystopia of severely compromised living conditions with lower life expectancy, intermittent riots, rampant disease and little hope for future generations . If our best efforts fail our planet will
become a sister to Venus; burned out and uninhabitable. The last tribe that survived will have left a tome behind for another species in the universe. It will be a story of a voracious animal that consumed everything within easy reach without consideration for future generations. They were capable of great accomplishments and great ideas but they created a problem that they could not solve. In their desperate journey of self-destruction they disproved a favorite human adage that was: it's never too late. If the trend analysis holds true.
Quote: I hate quotations. Tell me what you know., Ralph Waldo Emerson
Notre Dame Then and Now
Was the Notre Dame Cathedral conceived, designed and built as France's response to the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome? France has arrived! Was it the symbol of the glorious France that was the grandeur of post Frankish Charlemagne? The state must recognize the dream of the father of modern Europe and simultaneously recognize the power of the Papal Empire. How is it possible to begin a meaning without a visit to the era and place of an historical artifact?
The classic literary depiction of Notre Dame was made by Victor Hugo. A citizen could enter the front door of Notre Dame and meet the corruption of the Papacy and return through the same door and reacquaint with the avarice of kings, poverty, and injustice. In truth does Hugo's observation of the grand edifice become a symbol of oppression as opposed to an edifice of piety and grandeur? The mere size and scope of the edifice represented supplication to state and Papal power and relegated the power of the individual insignificant. Paris, the city of light was in that moment of history, a city of darkness.
Notre Dame rose in the age of spirits and demons that were considered to be real and were interlopers in daily life. The messages of the spirits evoked fear and uncertainty and the grand cathedral would offer resolution for that fear and the uncertainty. The statues, icons and paintings would tell the story of salvation for the multitude who could not read. They could follow the story of the holy word on the stained glass windows and they could bask in the light, the very face of God, since the light was God. For further relief the Papacy offered redemption for the deceased in the state of purgatory so citizens could retreat to the charnel houses and stroke the bones of the dead and bless them out of purgatory. The citizens came by the millions infused with hope for justice and a moment of peace from the pestilence and grief from the outside world. The pick pockets came with the pious, the hungry, the sick, and the unjustly accused. They remained for centuries in the tension of power between the realm of the king and the realm of the Pope, but not in the true realm of piety of Our Lady since she could not give herself to injustice and corruption. The eventual alignment of the state to the Avignon Papacy did not bring relief to the masses. It simply consolidated power between state and church.
The engineering of Notre Dame was both a solution and controversial. The Gothic style was given its name by critics who deemed that the style personified the Goth tribes of the north who were coarse, brutish and unkempt. It was innovative since the outer walls were supported by flying buttresses that allowed for thinner exterior walls and the span of the inner vaults would hold firm. As the centuries passed, the elderly lady became a symbol of age in the throes of entropy with an expanding midriff of crumbling, chipped stone so that the flying buttress symbolized the whale bones of a corset supporting her bulge. Was it ever an example of beautiful architecture or simply a figure of ingenuity and grandeur? The gargoyles fittingly gave warning to the ugliness of the edifice they guarded, but to ignore the striking beauty of the interior would be a slight to its artistic achievements. The dark foreboding skin of her body certainly contrasts with the soul of her being since the heart of her is resplendent with an inner meaning. What came through these walls to the heart of her other than the common man searching for protection or salvation? The regal class recognized its importance of church and state and the statement of power that it represented. Henry VI was crowned there and the wedding of Mary, Queen of Scots was ordained in the holiness of the Catholic cathedral. King Charles I of England married his wife in front of Notre Dame by proxy. In later years Napoleon I and Josephine were crowned emperor and empress in the cathedral.
The band of tension finally broke with the French revolution. Hordes of peasants breached her doors and ransacked the interior. Works of art were vandalized, statues broken, valuables stolen, and then it was set afire (quickly subdued). Thus sanctity was violated and the king's army attacked so the impromptu riot answered the gnawing hunger and release from subjugation.....until a little Corsican Captain gave the hordes another answer after the revolution turned on itself.
Today they claim that she has witnessed the march of history from her towers and she survived the adversity of time. Yes, true in a romantic sense, but no.....not in the cold eye of reality. The question for this cathedral now is what does it represent? Cathedrals and monuments are the symbolic cultural artifacts that define a civilization's aspirations. The reach for these grand aspirations falls short of expectations but it is the attempt to rise to the occasion that is the hallmark of a civilization. Through the ages these artifacts attract lore, inherit a shadow or suffer derision. Nortre Dame always was a monument of piety though unjustly ruled, and always a grand statement for the Frankish state, though not democratic. The cathedral will be rebuilt because the essential meaning of this monument remains. It says we came here, we built something grand and we remain here. We remain dedicated to peace, justice and art.
Quote: "There is many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher", Flannery O'Connor
I watched a program on NatGeo about two or three years ago that narrated the most arid places on earth. Naturally most arid places are the deserts, but also included was the Antarctic region which receives less snowfall/moisture than some deserts. Included in this program was an item describing the Atacama desert of Chile. There is an observatory in the Atacama that was chosen for its extreme altitude and scarce cloud cover. More or less this is a recent criteria for the location of observatories. I was curious about the observatory and I down loaded a few photographs from the internet. Was I amazed. The celestial view with the naked eye was extraordinary. There it was; a panoply of bright stars from horizon to horizon. There was absolutely no obstruction in the view.
As a youngster I vividly recall standing in the open pasture of our farm late in the evening gazing at the stars. The stars stretched from horizon to horizon and fueled my youthful imagination. Would we ever set foot on the moon and what would we find there? Were there other worlds populated with strange beings and would they descend someday to visit us? It was not only in the distant farm lands where the view was unobstructed. You could find a location in the suburbs where the starry horizon met the ground and a person could have the same inspiring view of the night sky.
The brightly lit universe from our eyesight has dimmed considerably over time. The shimmering canopy has become a smudge obscured by flood lights, headlights of cars, street lights,security lights, twenty four hour stores fully lit from sundown to sunrise. Adding to the obscurity are the particles of progress which are emissions from industry, autos, buses, and trucks. Seldom can one have a clear view of the stars since the sky has become an opaque blur of commercial, industrial and residential man made light. The night sky has become a soup speckled in faded white dots cleaved by shafts of a yellowish blur. It is difficult to be aware of a degradation that evolves over an extended period of time. The eye becomes accustomed to the changes. We certainly are not spending our idle time star gazing on a daily basis unless you are an astronomer. Additionally, whose who are younger did not have a frame of reference for what the heavenly view was in the past. The evolution occurred without our daily observations and the clarity faded without fanfare.
Later I noticed the change when I drove past our former family farm. It was a cloudless spring night, about nine o 'clock. I pulled my car to the side of the road and walked to the barbed wire fence. I looked in the direction of the creek which was the rear boundary line of the farm and I witnessed a broad band of light behind the tree line stretching over the entire horizon. The horizon and part of the sky above had become blurred. Since the days of my youth another community had sprung up beyond the tree line and their lights had captured the horizon and held the stars hostage. The stars of my youth had vanished and I left there thinking of the former brilliance of my youthful starry nights that were similar to that photograph of the Atacama. I thought of mankind taking a step forward with an eraser and sacrificing something wondrous from the past. When we rush to the future it is possible that we may lose something of worth. It does not have to be a destruction or burial of an artifact, but it can be something as simple as a natural wonder beyond our touch.