April 26, 2005


The Soul of a Lost Cause: Ernesto Cardenal is still the poet-priest of Nicaragua's Sandinistas. But he knows that the church and the times have turned against him. (Reed Johnson, April 26, 2005, LA Times)

The radical priest who once bucked the will of Pope John Paul II looks old and frail now, with his wintry beard and shuffling gait.

He's still wearing his beatnik beret, and when he speaks of the glory days of the '70s and '80s his eyes blaze with an apostle's ardor. But Father Ernesto Cardenal's fiery eloquence can't burn away this stubborn thought: that the Nicaraguan revolution, the cause that Cardenal served so devoutly, through so many years of sacrifice and spilled blood, is a ghost of its former self.

Sitting beside his living-room wall, with its eerie photo montage of fallen comrades, Cardenal offers a thudding assessment of what happened to that distant revolutionary dream.

"For now it would seem that it wasn't worthwhile, the death of anyone," says Cardenal, a Roman Catholic priest and one of the most renowned Central American poets of the last half-century. "But in that time it was felt that they had died for a better country, in order to create a better country."

The revolution that brought the leftist Sandinistas to power, and the civil war that followed, left tens of thousands dead and laid waste to this majestically beautiful land. As Cardenal, 80, chronicles in his latest volume of memoirs, "La Revolucion Perdida" (The Lost Revolution), revolutions sometimes have an odd way of turning the tables on their inventors.

Sometimes? All violent revolutions are mistakes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2005 7:31 AM

"...not worthwhile,.. the death of anyone.." A true Leninist might question whether they killed enough.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 26, 2005 8:14 AM

Fr. Cardenal has now revealed himself to be a "counter-revolutionary bourgeoise traitor"--which is Marxist for "man with a consience." They're probably already denouncing him over at Daily Kos.

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 26, 2005 8:50 AM

Kerry, a religious man himself, must be shocked ... just shocked.

Posted by: Genecis at April 26, 2005 10:24 AM

Never say always.
Never say Never.

Posted by: Jim at April 26, 2005 10:31 AM

And never say it four times in a row.

Posted by: Shelton at April 26, 2005 11:23 AM

It would be nice if all violent revolutions were a mistake, but they're not. That's where judgment comes in. The problem with the Nicaraguan revolution wasn't overthrowing the Somozas, but what they replaced it with.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 26, 2005 1:33 PM

Which weren't?

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2005 2:57 PM

Ours, for starters.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 26, 2005 3:46 PM

Ours was.

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2005 3:50 PM


Posted by: David Cohen at April 26, 2005 4:05 PM

OJ wishes he were a British subject for some unknown reason. Without it's experience in the American revolution, the UK would be just like Canada and oj would be a proud canuck-like Britisher but with a German accent(in all probability).

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at April 26, 2005 4:05 PM

The Republic would be improved by a monarch. We also would likely have avoided the Civil War and WWI. Certainly WWII.

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2005 5:21 PM

We have, in effect, the incorporeal monarch. The best you can hope for from actual monarchs is that they're not too embarassing.

We would have avoided the Civil War by keeping slavery.

We would have been dragged into WWI earlier and lost WWII.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 26, 2005 5:49 PM

As any mathematician can tell you, revolutions go 360 degrees.

Posted by: Josh Silverman at April 26, 2005 5:55 PM

Our closer ties to Britain would have meant we had to ditch slavery with them. Who would have fought Britain knowing it meant they had to fight us too? Why would Britain have cared whether France or Germany was stronger knowinng together we were invincible?

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2005 9:36 PM

As I read your comments on this subject OJ, my English Roman Catholic greatgrandfather must be spinning in his grave. Was there a particular Monarchy that could serve as your preferred model for governance?

Posted by: Genecis at April 26, 2005 10:04 PM


Would we ever have stretched out to the Pacific and become a great nation in the first place? You don't suppose Napoleon would have sold Louisiana to a bunch of British colonies, do you?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 26, 2005 10:14 PM

What-If history is just making stuff up, so I don't we why I can't if you can.

The British never would have abolished slavery in the South, and I have no idea why you think the South would acquiesce to the Crown when the mere election of Lincoln, who had no intention of abolishing slavery, was enough to cause a revolution.

Of course, you are also implicitly admitting, correctly, that the Declaration is just nuts when it complains about George III trying to "enslave" the colonies. That does, though, bring up the point that you have to go back and get rid of the English Civil War to even have a chance of this working, as the ECW caused the American revolution.

You say that we would be invincible, but for that to be even nearly true, Great Britain would have had to had in place American immigration policies. That wouldn't have happened. If it had happened, the American vote would have strengthened the hand of the appeasers and isolationists so that Chamberlain would not have fallen. In any event, the whole point of War I and War II was that the enemy completely underestimated us. That wouldn't have changed.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 26, 2005 10:42 PM

Of course the Declaration is just petulant mewling. That's the point. Things could have been settled amicably enough by either giving Americans representation in Parliament--at an early stage--or separate status and our own Parliament under the King.

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2005 11:24 PM


Who'd have asked him? We'd just have taken it.

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2005 11:25 PM


George III

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2005 11:26 PM

OJ: Sovereignty lies with King in Parliment. Parliment was very jealous of its rights and wasn't about to give up any to any upstart colony. The colonists made these various suggestions about representation, and were refused. The refusal wasn't surprising, as this was the time of rotten boroughs and a restricted franchise. Parliment was of the opinion that it could represent the colonies just fine -- and any contrary position would have called into question Parliment's legitimacy as a whole.

Once again, the problem is that, during and after the Civil War, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution, etc., the British were paying attention only to the British, and the colonies were pretty much left to fend for themselves. This is the period known as the Benign Neglect.

When the Hanoverians tried to reassert the crown's primacy, which was thought to be greater in the colonies than in England proper, the colonists saw it as a loss of the virtual sovereignty they and their fathers had enjoyed for decades. It was conceivable for the crown and then Parliment to acquiesce in this independence, but in reality it was never going to happen because of the effect it would have had in Britain, which both Parliment and George cared about much more than the colonies.

In other words, given the situation in the mid-18th century, independence (or at least an armed revolution) was inevitable -- though neither party saw that.

After that, to assume that history without the American revolution would have unfolded in anything like the same way is almost Marxist.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 27, 2005 9:17 AM

Yes by the second half of the century it was too late for compromise with Parliament. However something like the Albany Plan would have worked fine.

History would have been much different---likely better.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2005 9:24 AM

Ah, an optimist.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 27, 2005 10:17 AM

Precisely. Revolution is a pessimist's out.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2005 11:06 AM

What could be more optimistic than George Washington setting out to deliver his people into freedom? What could be more pessimistic than the French setting out to level the classes? It's all in what you do with it.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 27, 2005 5:10 PM

Washington's optimism was heroic, maybe even reckless in light of the odds he faced. He may have understood the stakes involved as well as the potential of independence for the colonies. We can play the 'what if' game till the cows come home but Washington beleived that independence was the only alternative to the heavy handed British stupidity used to govern the colonies and the mercantilistic, zero-sum economics of the day. One can speculate that he was not overly optimistic regarding long term european prospects. Up to this point, history has proven him and his contemporaries to be correct regarding the larger issues. He would be surprised, however, regarding the direction the country took during the 20th century just as he was alarmed as the revolution in France developed into an exercise in abstract philosophising concerning the nature of man and the state. I'll go with Washington rather than oj.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 28, 2005 7:48 AM


Yeah, we'd tired of making bricks without straw...

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 8:13 AM

It's all in where you draw the line. If you are willing to pick up your musket at "taxation without representation", you never get to making bricks, with or without straw.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 28, 2005 8:51 AM

Would have been more noble had they asked to fight the French and Indians on their own.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 8:57 AM

Like the British ever had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a war with the French.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 28, 2005 9:54 AM