I’m amazed how quickly our mind can move from one thought to another when a good idea strikes us. This occurred to me recently as William D’Antonio and Steven Tuch discussed their new book “Religion, Politics and Polarization.”
The book draws on 40 years of congressional roll call votes and argues that the ideologies of the Democratic and Republican parties are grounded in religious values that strongly influence the voting patterns of party members. It also addresses the polarization we are experiencing.
We could sure use a study on statesmanship these days.
I started reading once again the writings of George Kennan, who was an American diplomat, and former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.
After visiting Hamburg, Germany, where thousands perished during World War II, Kennan wrote:
“I felt the conviction that no momentary military advantage could have justified this stupendous, careless destruction of civilian life and of material values, built up laboriously by human hands over the course of centuries for purposes having nothing to do with this war. Least of all could it have been justified by the screaming nonsequitur, ‘They did it to us.’ [The Western world] has to learn to fight its wars morally as well as militarily, or not fight them at all, for moral principles are part of its strength.”
Kennan’s beliefs reflect a statesman’s moral conscience differentiating between truth and falsehood. They likewise reflect a human being deeply distressed over the plight of innocent people and the destruction of their life’s work. This oneness with suffering is the solidarity of which Pope John Paul II spoke of repeatedly in seeking to achieve worldwide unity.
In Dulles’ cases, after World War I he was responsible for adjudicating the outlandish reparation that the Allies sought from Germany.
“From an economic standpoint,” he wrote, “I believe that it would enhance the general good if these debts were cancelled.”
He said war debts should be made a part of a general settlement to Europe, bringing about a benefit greater than if the United States were to attempt to collect the money.
His uneasiness with eccentric reparation exemplifies a statesman’s desire for mercy: allowing Germany to rebuild rather than to be decimated with no future.
To be a statesman is to be prophetic and to choose God’s ways over mankind’s, to desire unity and truth in the face of opposition, and to feel sympathy rather than wrath — qualities needed to dispel today’s growing polarization in our nation.