Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics
By Charles Krauthammer
Review by John E. Wade II
This is a fascinating book with well-supported opinions that are clearly deeply held by the author. His intelligence and understanding of the last thirty years are evident on a word by word, column by column basis throughout this whole work. I’ve listened to Krauthammer on Fox News and found his commentary enlightening, interesting and consistent—as is his book, which is a collection of his writings from the past three decades, mostly his columns.
The entire book is well worth reading and some parts are quite worthy of serious study, multiple readings and contemplation. This book review will attempt to concentrate on this latter group of columns.
Krauthammer explains that originally he had a working title of “There’s More to Life than Politics,” but he reversed himself because, “Politics is the meat, the walls beyond which lie the barbarians.” He points to Germany, 1933. He also singled out North Korea with its depravity “. . . both spiritual and material.” So, the book is about half what he describes as “personal” and half “political.”
I ask you to read the entire book, and when you do, note the dates on some of the writings. Krauthammer recognized quite early such things as the liberal Democrats and President Obama’s setting America “. . . on a course for decline.” Krauthammer also notes in his introduction that the Democratic Party’s Great Society, “ . . . for all its good intentions, . . . was causing irreparable damage to the very communities it was designed to help.”
Part 1: Personal
Now, let me turn to the columns, first those I select for comment from the “Personal” Part I.
Krauthammer declared Winston Churchill to be “the Indispensable Man” of the twentieth century. I tend to agree considering the sequence of events and Churchill’s amazing leadership in Britain’s “finest hour.” But I was surprised that while the author mentioned other notables in the twentieth century, he didn’t introduce President Reagan in the discourse.
In his column on Christopher Columbus, Krauthammer demeans the liberals’ attack on that innovative explorer. He makes the winning point—at least for me—“The real question is, ‘What eventually grew on this bloodied soil?’ The answer is, ‘The great modern civilizations of the Americas—a new world of individual rights, an ever-expanding circle of liberty twice in [the twentieth century], and a savior of the world of total barbarianism.’”
Krauthammer makes his case that Americans should speak the unifying, historical language of English. I agree.
The author writes that “know thyself” is a highly overrated piece of wisdom. As for knowing others, forget it. Know what they do and judge them by works. I agree that we “can’t know” ourselves or others, but at the same time we must try to do just that in order to handle ourselves wisely and assess others fairly.
Krauthammer writes a very interesting article about a computer—Big Blue—and its chess match with “Garry Kasparov, the best chess player in the world [article in Time, February 26, 1996]; and quite possibly the best chess player who ever lived.” Big Blue won the first game. Kasparov won the match, but think how long ago that was and how artificial intelligence is making giant strides in this Innovation Age.
The author makes a very good case for the continuation of human exploration of space. I fully agree with him if only to reap the scientific and technological rewards, not to mention the cowardly retreat from an endeavor where we have an enormous lead.
Krauthammer writes a column, “Are we alone in the Universe?” It’s actually frightening that despite all our efforts and the fact we have located planets seemingly suitable for life – none has been found. The question is, “Did life exist and it was destroyed by its own hands by nuclear weapons such as North Korea possesses and Iran is close to developing?” It’s a frightening thought, but I believe Almighty God created each of us and all of us with a mind, body and “little piece of God.” Therefore, He loves us with an enduring, steadfast love and that He is somehow guiding us toward a Heaven on Earth.
Part Two: Political
Krauthammer quotes President Obama, who said on July 13, 2012, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” The author thoroughly debunked that statement in part by writing we don’t credit the Swiss postal service for Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity” because they delivered the manuscript; nor do we consider that the roads Steve Jobs drove created Mac and the iPad.
In “Myth of the Angry White Male” the author does a wonderful job of showing how the liberal mainstream press has pounded the damning myth into the psyche of Americans. I remember after watching President Obama’s re-election victory, I was asked by an African American from the University of California whether I was “angry.” It sort of surprised me. I told him “No.” I did say what I saw was a lack of self-discipline. And that’s an honest answer and analysis of the 2012 elections.
I agree with Krauthammer that we should abolish capital punishment “ . . . on the grounds that an advanced, civilized society should strive to preserve public order and social peace with an absolute minimum of official violence to life and liberty.”
Krauthammer analyzes quite logically the immigration question in the United States. I agree with him, “A solution requires two acts of national will; the ugly act of putting up a fence and the supremely generous act of absorbing as ultimately full citizens those who broke our laws to come to America.” The author points out those fences have been quite successful in Israel and South Korea.
In his column, “In Plain English – let’s make it Official,” the author explains the historical absorption of immigrants in America who spoke all sorts of languages; in the past they upheld the unity of our nation by adopting our language—English. I agree that English should be a necessary part of United States citizenship.
Krauthammer and I agree strongly that values ought to be taught in the schools. They do not have to be linked to any particular religion. The wisdom-associated values that are enumerated by Copthorne MacDonald, in his essay contained in my book, How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth, as well as the shunning of negative values, are sorely needed on our trek toward Heaven on Earth.
Krauthammer’s “Sweet Land of Liberty” does a superb job of showing how our country has championed liberty all over the world, demonstrated partly by so many patriot statues of other nations within our cities.
The author writes a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. I am so glad that we now have a monument to King. I pray for him each night. He did so much, and in a non-violent manner, for our country. Also, he was a person of great faith.
Part Three: Historical
Krauthammer writes, “The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million hard by the Mediterranean . . . relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists—Iran in particular—openly prepare a more final solution.” I agree with the author and consider Iran’s nuclear ambitions to be a dire threat to both Israel and the rest of the world. Somehow, someway, non-violence must rule in the Middle East and everywhere else.
The problem of radical Muslims alone is a global threat; with oil it’s worse and with nuclear arms it’s completely out of reason.
The unfair way Jews are treated in the news is pointed out by the author. The author points out that theInternational Herald Tribune once devoted “. . . seven of its eight columns to the Palestinian uprising. Among the headlines: ‘Israeli Soldier Shot to Death; Palestinian Toll Rises to 96.’” The eighth column reported that 5,000 Kurds died in an Iraqi gas attack. The press can strike in all sorts of unjust ways, such as the above example.
In “Essay Zionism and the Fate of the Jews,” Krauthammer explains in superb fashion how, due to many factors—such as the holocaust, birth rate and assimilation—Israel has become the last hope of a continuing Jewish presence in the world. Our support for that beleaguered nation must continue, hopefully and prayerfully with non-violent means.
The author writes a strong article appearing the day after September 11th. His points are well-taken, and considering that the piece immediately followed these dastardly acts, Krauthammer was quite perceptive.
The author explains how the Iraqi War had been won until President Obama took charge. “He failed though he hardly tried very hard . . .” Three years and a won war had given Obama the opportunity to establish a lasting strategic alliance with the Arab world’s second most important power.” I believe that President Obama lost—and lost badly—in Iraq due to his complete lack of a coherent foreign policy.
In “Language and Leadership,” Krauthammer agrees with my analysis above, that President Obama has a “. . . visible ambivalence that leads to vacillating policy reeking of incoherence.” He says, “This is not leading from behind. This is not leading at all.”
Perhaps the most shocking article in this book is “Hyper proliferation: Can we Survive it?” Krauthammer writes, “Our planet is 4,500,000,000 years old, and we’ve had nukes for exactly 61 years [article written March 26, 2006].” With Iran close to obtaining the capability to produce such weapons, the entire world must stop them for the good of us all, including Iranians.
Part Four: Global
Krauthammer explains that, “The alternative to unipolarity is chaos.” I was impressed in how he summed our unipolar power, “Compared to the task of defeating fascism and communism, averting chaos is a rather subtle call to greatness. It is not a task we are any more eager to undertake . . . But it is just as noble and just as necessary.”
Later the author states, Finland is the landmine between Russia and Scandinavia. America is the landmine between barbarianism and civilization.” Krauthammer sums up democratic globalism in quoting President George W. Bush. “The United States and Great Britain share a mission in the world beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest. We seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings.”
In the final piece, “Decline is a Choice,” the author states something about which I agree, “The current liberal ascendancy in the United States—contriving the executive and both houses of Congress [written October, 2009] Congress dominating the media and elite culture– has set us on a course for decline.” Those were very prophetic words.
I encourage you to read the entire book, which is full of wisdom, truth, facts, and very well-founded and well-supported opinions.