James Reston’s Spanish Imposition

By: Warner Todd Huston

Once in a while an Op Ed will cross the wires that is so egregious, so absurd, that it deserves special attention. The honors this time goes to James Reston, Jr. (I am sure his Father would want us to distinguish the secondary status) for his surreal garbling of history in The American Inquisition, that he penned for USA Today. (Published on 4/17/06, go here for article)

Reston is obviously one of those anti-religious types who sees an evil “Right-wing Christian” around every corner. He takes his place as the newest member of the Chicken Little Club (maybe a Chicken Newdow, if you will), one who careens from newspaper to TV talking head show frenetically waving his arms about all the horrible Christians bringing us into an oppressive Theocracy. Reston is making a bid for head rooster of this wild-eyed sect, with this latest entry in hyperbole.

To make his point Reston falls back on his old stomping grounds of the Spanish Inquisition, a subject upon which he previously authored a book. Begun in the 15th century, the Inquisition is claimed to have taken some 32,000 lives in the many decades of its existence in Spain. It featured imprisonment, torture, murder and the forcible conversion of people from other religions to Catholicism. Certainly one of the blackest marks on Christendom’s record.

But, like a bad “fan” of any particular subject, Reston finds the Inquisition everywhere he goes. And like the bore at a dinner party, he insists on letting us all know how much he knows of his subject and how that subject is an obvious allegory to everything going on around us. And also like that dinner party bore, he is woefully wrong.

Reston begins his piece with a quick history lesson of the Inquisition, that era of “Clandestine trials, secret prisons, rampant eavesdropping, torture, desecration of Islam’s holy books, and gruesome public executions created an atmosphere of pervasive terror. Suspects were assumed to be guilty, with no recourse to a defense, to a jury, or to a legitimate court.”

Yes, terrible times to be sure. This was an era when thousands of people whose very humanity was violated with no regard for their rights were accosted for decades in one of history’s worst episodes. After the little history lesson Reston then asks the following question:

“In the chaos now roiling the Western world, does any of this sound familiar?”

So, after detailing the horrors that the Spanish Crown and Church put people through, he compares those evil times with what is going on today supposedly perpetrated by the USA and the Western world.

“It is time to ask whether the United States, with some of these same touchstones, is entering a period of its own peculiar Inquisition.”

So, then, according to Reston he believes that Bush is a modern day Torquemada torturing his way across the world purifying it of all evils based on his own personal criteria.

Hyperbole. Wild-eyed nonsense. For a brief moment Reston realizes he is starting to look like a nutcase because he follows that last bit of doggerel with a disingenuous and half-hearted backtracking.

“Of course, there are no burning places for heretics in America now. No Tomás de Torquemada presides over this period of internal anxiety and investigation.”

Here is the only bit of sanity in his entire piece. Unfortunately for James, he continues on making the lie to his perfunctory claim that his comparison is not to be taken as direct.

Next he tries to expand the term “Inquisition” to mean just any time of “religious intolerance” and, naturally, attempts to apply it to today’s America. This is akin to people trying to appropriate the term “Holocaust” and apply it to chicken farmers or gays trying to steal the term “civil rights” so that they can campaign for gay marriage laws. We live in an era when words are so elastic that they often end up hollow of meaning and Reston is attempting to apply that process to the term “Inquisition”, saying that it is “useful for historians” to use the word “to characterize phases of history that are distinguished by religious intolerance.”

No, James. It isn’t.

Reston’s next bit of fiction seems to assume that there is no terrorist threat to the country.

“This country, too, is seized with collective paranoia. President Bush knows, as Ferdinand, Isabella and Torquemada knew, that constant warnings about secret terrorists are a powerful deterrent to dissent and a useful tool for consolidating political power.”

Constant warnings of “secret terrorists”? I wasn’t aware that the many attempts from the 1990s to the day of infamy in 2001 to destroy the Word Trade Center in New York were all such a secret? Maybe someone should let the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 in on this “secret”, because I am sure they are all tired by now of waiting for their loved ones to come home after work. For that matter, maybe those secret terrorists should be unmasked in the many countries that have experienced Islamofascist attacks since the 1970’s if not earlier? For a “secret” these terrorists are awfully out in the open!

I think Jimmie needs to get out more if he is unaware of just how overt his “secret terrorists” really are and have been most of his life.

Reston goes on to claim that Bush is acting just “like his Spanish precursors”, as if what we are now living through is handed down to us directly from the Inquisition.

Unfortunately for his credibility, for most of his piece Reston really doesn’t bother developing any proof of his point, he merely states it as fact and moves on. But he does offer us one little bone in the “proof” department. Reston waxes ineloquent over the misnamed “Domestic spying” of Bush’s electronic intelligence program. Reston likens it to when “neighbors were supposed to report a suspicious neighbor to the Holy Office” during Inquisitional Spain.

What a bad analogy. The difference between neighbors turning on neighbors and electronic intelligence gathering couldn’t be greater. The motives of people turning on each other for the “reward” of the Church and state has no correlation to a computer program that has no “motive”, but only programming aimed at catching keywords that would then alert a human operative to look into a possible terrorist connection. And, with the electronic program, it is hardly “neighbor against neighbor” as it is focused on communications from outside the US, not internal communications. (For proof of this see General Michael Hayden explaining the program at the National Press Club last January. Go here for that article)

Then it is back to the hyperbole as he compares the “waterboarding” of terror suspects to the incredible evils of torture under Torquemada’s interrogators. Once again he comes up with a foolish comparison. Torquemada never intended to allow a victim to come out of his chambers alive whereas “waterboarding” is never meant to kill or even permanently maim.

Next, Reston casts Bush in the role of messianic leader claiming that Bush thinks God is talking directly to him on a continuing basis. This is just a flat out lie. Bush has never made any such claim. In fact, Bush has made the same claim of God “talking” to him that every other Protestant Christian has. Claims of Bush’s communing with God are made in the sense that God has come “into” his life and that the Bible has informed him of God’s word. But Bush has never claimed he has had direct, two-way conversations with God, unlike the claims that Hillary made when she said she had such conversations with a dead Eleanor Roosevelt.

This far into his Op Ed, if we were to take out all the inapt historical allusions, we would barely have a few sentences left. So far, what we end up with is Reston’s clumsy attempt to sound erudite instead of serious historical analysis.

But, as we sift through Reston’s absurdist propaganda and we approach the end — mercifully approach the end — of his piece, we finally get to his real historical comparison: Vietnam. So we have to wade through paragraph after paragraph of tortured allusion only to get to the prosaic claims that we are replicating Vietnam in Iraq. So, in the end, for all his attempts to be “new” with his analysis, Reston falls back on the boring Vietnam conclusion to which every other cookie cutter, fever-swamp media maven gravitates.

And he was playing at such erudition, too.

Reston assures us that,

“The situation is getting worse, and there is no end in sight. When this nightmare ends, years of self-examination are sure to follow as happened after the Vietnam disaster.”

No, Jimmie, we don’t have to wait “years” for such bleating to begin. It is happening before we even near the finish line in Iraq. And you are helpfully there to bleat loudest.

Reston ends this mess with the most outrageous claim among all the outrageous claims he made thus far. I’ll not paraphrase or excerpt this one to show just how obscene it really is:

“Though Bush’s explanations for his wayward adventure may constantly change, though the enterprise may show itself to be a military and moral catastrophe of historic proportions, this American leader and his circle of illuminati are utterly convinced of their righteousness. Toward their detractors they misappropriate, like inquisitors before them, the verse of John 15:6:

“If any abide not in me, he should be cast forth as a branch and shall wither, and they shall gather him up and cast him into the fire, and he shall burn.”

Amazing. What universe does Mr. Reston’s little boy live in? Where has Bush, any member of his cabinet, or any foreign leader like Howard, Blair, or Anzar, EVER used this verse as a clarion call to battle the infidel? How, exactly, did any modern leader “misappropriate” John 15:6?

In fact, I cannot think of ANY verse of the Bible that has been used as a cover for the prosecution of this global war on terror! I can think of many religious passages being used against us, but they all seem to come from the Holy Koran and not the Christian Bible, curiously enough.

The shame of this obtuse piece of propaganda for the anti-American left is not that Jimmie Reston, Jr. gets it all so wrong, but that he is merely representative of most of the western news media culture.

As our enemies cut off heads, execute people of other religions, use their holiest books as cover for outrage after outrage, Reston and his ilk unbelievably perceive evil in a computer program that anonymously combs electronic communications for keywords and not the actions of people who want to kill each and every one of us.

Mr. Reston Senior’s little boy might know quite a bit about the 15th century, but it is quite obvious he doesn’t know a thing about 2006.

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