Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, June 4, 2009

chanceLieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl began his 2004 essay “Taking Chance” by saying, “Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him.”

HBO turned Strobl’s essay into an emotional film about the journey of Chance’s body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to his home in Dubois, Wyoming. Taking Chance is excellent at depicting the dignity, honor, and respect involved with the preparation and transport of an individual in the military who have been killed in action. Every military KIA is given a military escort that accompanies the remains of the deceased to their final resting place.

In the film Lt. Col. Strobl is played by actor Kevin Bacon. Bacon does a tremendous job playing a U.S. Marine officer who exudes leadership and professionalism. Normally senior officers don’t serve as escorts, but for reasons explained in the film Lt. Col Strobl volunteers to serve as the escort for the all too young 19 year old Private First Class Chance Phelps, who was later promoted to Lance Corporal posthumously.

One of the real moving parts of the film has to do with Strobl’s encounters with the civilians he meets along the way as he accompanies the fallen Marine whose remains travel in the cargo hold of a commercial flight. Many of the civilians just want to pass their sympathies on to the family and let them know that people are thinking about and praying for them. Still others want Strobel to know what the military has meant to them or want to share with them some sort of experience that has touched them. A particularly moving scene is when a Northwest flight attendant hands Strobel a crucifix for him to keep that obviously is a possession that means a lot to her. Strobel passes it on to Chance’s mother who places it on the top of his casket before burial.

Another moving scene from the film comes early on as the hands and feet of Chance are being meticulously washed at the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base. This evokes an excellent piece that Chris Jones wrote for Esquire Magazine in May 2008 titled, “The Things That Carried Him.” The article by Jones is a descriptive account of what happens during the final homecoming for one Army Sargent. In his piece Jones also wrote generally about the intimacy and honor for those who prepare the remains of the fallen:

Karen Giles tells a story about another young airman, who was polishing the brass on a dead soldier’s uniform jacket. He was using a little tool, a kind of buffer, to make sure that every button shined. A visitor complimented him on his attention to detail. ‘The family will really appreciate what you’re doing,’ the visitor said. But the airman replied, ‘Oh, no, sir, the family won’t know about this.’ The airman told him that the family had requested that their son be cremated, and just a short while later, he was.

Interestingly, if the story in this film was to happen right now instead of 2004 it would be remarkably different. As of Jan 1, 2007 the Holly Provision, a part of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act, changed the law when it comes to how the remains of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines killed in the line of duty are transported to their final resting place. The Department of Defense must use a military transport plane or charter flights because of the concerns raised about proper respect. Remains can no longer be transported by a commercial carrier.

There is little dialogue in this film, and part of the allure of the film is the pageantry the military provides for its fallen. It almost has to be a film with considerably less dialogue to keep the focus on Chance’s sacrifice and journey home. The slow salute is very moving and well executed by any U.S. Marine in their dress blues, and is very emotional in this film.

While this HBO portrayal is ultimately about Chance Phelps and his heroic sacrifice it emphasizes several other important points. When Strobel meets a Marine veteran from the Korean War who came to pay his respects to Chance, we see the camaraderie and special bond between fellow Marines no matter the age, rank, or theater of service. Marines love and cherish their traditions and their accomplishments on the field of battle. The famed nickname for Marines is “Devil Dog,” a moniker of respect they earned by defeating a war hardened and entrenched German enemy at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. The Germans on the front lines sent dispatches to their headquarters saying the Marines fought like “hounds from hell.”

The courage, tradition, and fighting spirit of the Marines today shows just how dedicated they are to the principles that made our country free. When my own brother was in Iraq with the Marines and I was living in D.C. a few years ago, I decided to go to Arlington National Cemetery. Just months before I had remembered reading a special report about the fresh graves from Iraq and Afghanistan in section 60.

I felt like I should pay my respects since I was mostly just enjoying a warm D.C. summer. As I walked through the headstones the newness of it all was very haunting, some just buried days before. Flowers, teddy bears, letters, and pictures adorned section 60. This section is tucked away from the notable attractions and graves tourists visit at the cemetery. There was an eerie stillness and quietness there. And then I saw a picture of a very attractive young girl against one particular headstone. I read the name and date and realized the girl in the picture was buried below me. She was only eighteen and killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq while serving in the Army. It’s times like that when war is just too overwhelming and heartbreaking for those even somewhat distanced from it. I believe that is why Taking Chance is a film worth watching, it also celebrates a nation that often struggles to show just how thankful they are of those who make the ultimate sacrifice.

My essay on the Constitution, judicial activism and the “living document” trope is here at The American Spectator. Here’s one passage:

This brings us to the central irony. The very people most inclined to gush about our “living Constitution” treat it like a Mr. Potato Head:

Ooh, states rights. Let’s pop that off and replace it with a metastasizing Commerce Clause. Oh, and look here in my pocket. A constitutional right to redefine the age-old institution of marriage. Oh and let’s tack this one on, too — a constitutional right to kill a half born baby and throw whatever’s left in the garbage. If anyone complains, we’ll call it “the constitutional right to privacy.”

It’s time to pause and take the living-document metaphor seriously. Living things have an internal logic, have functional constraints. They aren’t endlessly malleable. You can’t replace grandpa’s liver with a second heart just because you think livers are passé — unless you intend to kill grandpa.

From Philip Jenkins at Foreign Policy:

Ironically, after centuries of rebelling against religious authority, the coming of Islam is also reviving political issues most thought extinct in Europe, including debates about the limits of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to proselytize. And in all these areas, controversies that originate in a Muslim context inexorably expand or limit the rights of Christians, too. If Muslim preachers who denounce gays must be silenced, then so must charismatic Christians. At the same time, any laws that limit blasphemous assaults on the image of Mohammed must take account of the sensibilities of those who venerate Jesus.

The result has been a rediscovery of the continent’s Christian roots, even among those who have long disregarded it, and a renewed sense of European cultural Christianity. Jürgen Habermas, a veteran leftist German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.” Europe may be confronting the dilemmas of a truly multifaith society, but with Christianity poised for a comeback, it is hardly on the verge of becoming an Islamic colony.

Today Dr. Donald Condit looks at a new federal proposal called the Patients’ Choice Act, which promises more freedom in choosing health care insurance. “The PCA will enhance patient and family ability to afford health care insurance and incentivize healthier lifestyles,” Condit writes. “In addition, it would surpass other options in fulfilling our social responsibility to the poor and vulnerable.”

Read the commentary on the Acton Website and comment on it here.

The Detroit News says the General Motors bankruptcy filing “is a hammer blow for a state that was already on its knees.” In an editorial, the paper calls for an “emergency response” from government and an entirely new orientation to attracting businesses and jobs to the state:

Longer term, Michigan’s entire focus must be on creating a business climate that makes the state attractive for job creators in a wide range of industries. It can’t afford to focus on any one segment in hopes of finding the next Big Three. Its future will depend on making itself irresistible to investors across the spectrum.

This echoes Sam Gregg’s Detroit News commentary “Entrepreneurs Require More Room to Thrive” published on May 12:

Michigan must create an entrepreneur-friendly economy by lowering the cost of doing business for all firms, not just the favored few darlings of the moment. The state’s policymakers have spent decades trying to pick the winners (automation, biotech, green energy) that would rescue the state from its dependency on automotive manufacturing. But policy makers and elected officials do not “create jobs” or industrial sectors — businesses and entrepreneurs do.

Also in today’s News, Oskari Juurikkala writes about the push for greater regulation in financial markets:

Is lighter regulation the solution to economic crises? It depends. Some over-the-counter financial derivatives are practically unregulated, so there is nowhere to cut regulation. It might be more appropriate to cover such clear gaps in existing rules in a principled manner so as not to lead people to the temptation of recklessness.

But a few clear-and-fast rules are often better than numerous rules that are hard to understand — especially if they are poorly enforced, which seems to be the case in financial market regulation.

When designing rules for a game, one must take into account the moral character of the players. But there needs to be adequate variation: General laws designed for crooks will not produce any saints.

A few weeks back, I posted a version of the famed Richard John Neuhaus/Rockford Institute break-up incident. The story there was that the break-up happened because Neuhaus overspent the Institute’s budget on conferences after having been ordered to cancel them. That version of the story came from John Howard, who used to run the Rockford Institute a number of years ago. Howard’s version was new to me. I’d mainly heard the rumblings about ideological discontent and jumped at the chance to shed a little light on a longtime mystery.

Joseph Bottum, who now runs First Things, offers more discussion about the incident on page 69 of the June/July issue of the magazine. He reiterates the story of ideological animus, but does provide some reinforcement to the budget/conference planning story I mentioned before. However, according to Bottum there was a conference Neuhaus was ordered to cancel, but he refused because the planning was too far along and he had raised adequate earmarked funds. So, Howard’s story is that Neuhaus went beyond his mandate and the Neuhaus story is that Rockford crawfished on a deal!

I was thrilled to see the discussion continued at FT, but I have one small objection. Dr. Howard is presented in the short piece as bringing Neuhaus in for some “knocks” on the occasion of his death. That part isn’t really fair. In the conversation I had with Howard (who is probably an octogenarian), he was very complimentary of Father Neuhaus and clearly respected his body of work. I asked him to tell me the story and he did. Tone doesn’t come across in the typed word many times. That applies here. Dr. Howard was clearly proud of having been associated with Father Neuhaus and of having hired him.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) web site has a new page devoted to Catholic teaching on the economy. It is essentially a reorganization of existing resources, and it does helpfully provide access to the various bishops’ statements over the course of the last couple decades, as well as Vatican sources such as the Catechism and encyclicals.

Here is not the place to revisit the whole question of the USCCB and its economic proposals and statements. Suffice it to say that, in my view, its approach has been moving in a positive direction since the release of the problematic 1987 document, Economic Justice for All. There is more focus on principles: the Catholic Framework for Economic Life (1996), and the related Ten Principles with Reflection Questions push the conscientious Catholic in the right direction, without specifying policy stands that are contingent and debatable.

Those who promoted the War on Poverty and other grand plans to end poverty, writes Hunter Baker, “had no inkling that these good-hearted strategies would lead to enduring cycles of poverty and family disintegration that threatened to consume entire generations. Wishing for good outcomes resulted in disaster.”

Read this commentary at the Acton website.

“When designing rules for a game, one must take into account the moral character of the players,” Oskari Juurikkala reminds us in today’s Acton Commentary. “But there needs to be adequate variation: general laws designed for crooks will not produce any saints.”

Read the commentary at the Acton Website.

Would the fact that Superman is the “longest running fictional character ever” support or undermine my claim that he typically functions as an anti-Christ figure?

I should observe that God himself was considered and rejected for the appellation: “It should be noted, however, that those who would proffer the cheeky suggestion that Our Father Who Art in Heaven is a fictional character are godless heathens and/or Theology majors. Anyway: Troublemakers. Let us pay them no heed.”