According to William R. Hawkins (“A COM for Africa?Cultural Revolutions, July), the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, Ryan Henry, claimed in an April 23 briefing that “Africa represents 35 percent of the world’s land mass” and “about 25 percent of the world’s population.  Each of these figures is off the mark.

The world’s land mass is about 57.2 million square miles; that of Africa, about 11.6.  So Africa makes up only about 20.3 percent of the world’s land mass.  The world’s population is approximately 6.5 billion; that of Africa, about 860 million.  So Africa makes up only about 13.2 percent of the world’s population.

Did anyone at the briefing or in the press catch these huge errors by Ryan Henry?  Perhaps Mr. Henry’s data comes from another planet, like some other information from his department.

        —Henry E. Heatherly
Lafayette, LA

On U.N. Involvement

Ted Galen Carpenter, in his “Tethering the Hegemon” (News, July), states flatly that “Critical decisions, such as whether to cross the 38th Parallel and seek to liberate North Korea rather than just repulse the invasion, were made in the Pentagon and the White House, not the United Nations.”  Yet John Stormer, in his best-seller None Dare Call It Treason, writes, regarding the Korean War, that “Once the action was started the United Nations was asked to assume the responsibility for the ‘police action.’”  Stormer also states that “MacArthur protested the restrictions placed on his military operations by the diplomats and the United Nations.”  For a reference, Stormer cites Korea and the Fall of MacArthur, by Trumbull Higgins, pages 53 and 58.

What can Dr. Carpenter offer as reference material for his assertion?

        —Bill Scaduto
Punta Gorda, FL

Dr. Carpenter Replies:

The overwhelming majority of historians who deal with the Truman administration’s policies in the Korean War agree that the United Nations played (at most) a marginal role in the crucial decisions regarding the conflict.  That was especially true of the fateful decision to cross the 38th Parallel and attempt to liberate North Korea.  Important studies on that issue include Barton J. Bernstein’s “The Policy of Risk: Crossing the 38th Parallel and Marching to the Yalu” (Foreign Service Journal, 54:2, 1977), and James I. Matray’s “Truman’s Plan for Victory: National Self-Determination and the Thirty-Eighth Parallel Decision in Korea” (Journal of American History, 66:2, 1979).  Documents from the Truman Presidential Library declassified in the past 10 to 15 years also support the thesis that the United States, not the United Nations, made the key policy decisions.  Stormer’s view was dubious even when he wrote his book in the mid-1960’s.  It is even more improbable in light of the scholarship that has emerged since then.

On Yes, It Is

The covers of Chronicles are always notable, but the cover of the July issue by Melanie Anderson was most intriguing and artistically excellent.  I was compelled to find out more about what appears to be a classical painting and its Latin subtitle.  Your readers may not be aware, but this is a well-crafted Photoshopped image based on a painting by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591-1666).  In the original, two shepherds have come upon the skull and are gazing at it meditatively, “memento mori.”  The quotation, “Et in Arcadia ego,” is from Vergil and came to mean, by way of 17th-century Italian humanists, “there is no escaping death.”  The contrast with “The American Way of Death” could not be more stunning.

What I could not discover is, what are the originals for the images for the man and woman?  I would greatly appreciate Mrs. Anderson enlightening us about these very interesting figures.

Thank you for your artistic, as well as literary, efforts to bring us thought-provoking material every month.

        —L. Phillip Kelley
Atlanta, GA

Is that really Brangelina on the cover of the July issue—or are my eyes deceiving me?  Strange picture.

        —J. Christopher Hewlett
Columbia, SC

On Catholic Correction

I just finished reading Christopher Check’s otherwise excellent “Americanism, Then and Now: Our Pet Heresy” (View, June), and I must make an objection.  Michael Novak is an orthodox Catholic philosopher and theologian, and does not warrant Mr. Check’s accusation that he is a dissenter on the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception.

I think a public correction is warranted.

        —Eric Giunta
Aurora, IL

Mr. Check Replies:

My thanks to Mr. Giunta for his praise of my article.  Michael Novak, however, has not made a secret of his dissent from the Church’s immutable teaching that contraception is intrinsically evil.  He discusses it in his book Confessions of a Catholic, published in 1983.  More recently, he has seemed to downplay or offer explanations for his dissent, but these efforts do little to clarify my understanding of his current attitude toward the doctrine.

What is clear from an article Novak wrote in 2002 for National Review Online is that, in 1961, he penned several articles against the teaching.  Novak dismisses them as “short discussions” appearing in journals in America and Europe.  What Novak does not admit is that, in 1964, he contributed a chapter to an anthology titled What Modern Catholics Think About Birth Control (Signet), in which he argued that artificial contraception and periodic abstinence are morally equivalent.  (The chapter is not listed in his website’s “Complete Bibliography.”)

In his NRO article, No-vak states that, after Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae was published in 1968, he “did not want to go into public rebellion and held back from the public protests.”  Nevertheless, as Novak explains, “my earlier public writings stood now contrary to the teaching freshly articulated by Paul VI.  I recognized his authority to make that decision, but I thought it my obligation as a philosopher respectfully to write that, on this one matter, I was not convinced by the new argument.”  The sentence is difficult to decipher.  What does it mean to respect the Pope’s authority to “make” a decision?  Papal authority begins with such decisions.  It ends with binding the consciences of the faithful.  Yet Novak felt obliged to reject the philosophical argument against contraception.

The philosophical argument “freshly articulated” by Pope Paul VI held that the unitive and procreative natures of the marital embrace cannot be separated, and, in 1969, the year following the encyclical, Novak published an essay that argued not only that the two natures could be separated but that doing so was a positive good for a marriage.  The essay appeared alongside contributions from other dissenters, including Charles Curran, John Noonan, and Sidney Calla-han, in the anthology The Catholic Case for Contraception (Macmillan), edited by Daniel Callahan.  (There is no mention of this book on Novak’s web page, either.)

The title of Novak’s chapter, “Frequent, Even Daily Communion,” was a spin on the English title of a decree issued by Pope Saint Pius X in 1905, “On Frequent and Daily Reception of Holy Communion” (Sacra Tridentina).  Novak may have thought he was being profound or merely clever by comparing daily sexual intercourse in marriage to daily reception of Holy Communion; the reader can decide if he was being blasphemous or merely irreverent.  In any case, the essay argues that contraception benefits a marriage since it leads to more frequent sexual intercourse (an assertion that turns out not to be true).  Novak must have been disappointed to learn that even advocates of the Pill did not accept his argument.  Writing at the time in the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s Family Planning Perspectives, one pro-contraception doctor ridiculed Novak’s article: “A particularly poor chapter is the one by Michael Novak extolling the wonders of contraceptive intercourse, where any sane person would prefer the absence of contraception were it not so vitally necessary.”  To a doctor advocating birth control, the Pill was a practical (if unpleasant) necessity.  To Novak, it was a means to strengthen married love.

Where does Michael Novak stand today on the Church’s teaching on contraception?  The NRO article may be the best indication.  It lacks a clear retraction of Novak’s “merely philosophical” argument but allows that, “if one regards married sexuality within a theological context, then one can see how the Catholic teaching, while very hard, makes sense and has a certain rare beauty to it.”  Does Novak mean that an argument against contraception cannot be based on natural law?  If so, he is mistaken.  Nevertheless, I will be happy to be shown that Novak has rejected without equivocation his dissent and has apologized for the scandal he caused.  Next year, Humanae vitae will turn 40.  Perhaps Michael Novak will mark the occasion with an article in which he does those very things.

After that, we can consider his other beliefs that raise questions about his orthodoxy, including his project to square “democratic capitalism” with Catholic social teaching and his aggressive support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  When Pope Benedict XVI declared in his Easter message before imparting his Urbi et Orbi blessing that “nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees,” Novak responded in print that the Holy Father had hit a “low point.”