Picking up the Broadsword

It was only in 1991 that the truth sank in to me: I am probably not going to die in a nuclear war. It’s conceivable I might have grandchildren. The magnificent City of New York, from the stained glass of St. Vincent Ferrer to the Art Deco gargoyles of the Chrysler Building, would not certainly be melted in fire hot as the surface of the sun, and left a pulsating, uninhabitable, radioactive pile. Every person I’d ever known, my entire family, and their children, would not die slowly of the poison that blew eastward to Long Island, leaving no trace or any descendants. Nor would Rome, Vienna, Paris, Warsaw, Moscow, Munich, London, Madrid, or any of the other cultural capitals of the West face the same liquidation.

This realization crept up on me with tiny, padded feet. I had grown up in the shadow of nuclear war, in an apartment building whose basement held one of the useless, gloomy “fallout shelters” dug out back in the 50s, whose radioactive warning sign I passed every day on my way to school. In faded yellow government paint, it loomed like a skull and crossbones: Remember man, that thou art dust, and to radioactive dust thou shalt return. TV docudramas, old newsreels from Hiroshima, and regular warnings from supporters of “détente” drove the point nicely home. I remember once as a teenager dreaming of the countdown to nuclear Armageddon, of the blinding flash and the blast wave hitting me in a classroom full of parochial students and nuns, rending the flesh from our skeletons, and sending my soul wafting… upward to my surprise. I awoke in a sweat, disappointed that I was not in Heaven, but only in Queens.

The collapse of the Soviet empire happened in such a bloodless, almost miraculous manner that we were tempted to credit that it was what we’d been promised at Fatima. I didn’t even know what a thumping relief it gave me till it all was briefly taken away: When the old-line Communists tried to overthrow Gorbachev in 1991, I wasn’t just terrified but angry. Those filthy atheist drunken Slavs were snatching away our deliverance, like a lamb chop that had taunted a hungry dog. For three days, I felt that black cloud return, the darker because for a few months I had seen the sun. Don’t be stupid, I told myself. Of course you’re going to die in a nuclear war, the only alternative to global Communist tyranny. You were foolish to ever think otherwise. It was only when Boris Yeltsin rode a tank with a crowd of Muscovites to tear down the Soviet flag that it really sank in, and that storm cloud disappeared.

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Crisis magazine was founded in the depths of the confrontation between Western freedom (with all its flaws) and a monstrous earthly utopia gone sour, as such things always do. At the time, the United States was thickly planted with bishops who openly flouted official teachings of the Church, who commissioned events like the Call to Action Conference, which called in Marxist rhetoric and narcissistic Newspeak for “reforms” like the approval of contraception, lay control of dioceses, and the ordination of women. My high school, whose religion teachers gleefully denied the virginity of Mary and the fleshly resurrection of Jesus, had emptied one residence of religious brothers to make way for the laxest annulment tribunal in the solar system. (The Diocese of Brooklyn was so scandalous for its almost 100% approval rate it attracted Vatican notice under Paul VI.) Catholics who complained about these and other abuses were writing, often, to clerics who approved of or even connived at them. The Mass of St. Gregory the Great was effectively banned, and took place in New York only in a rented room at the Warwick Hotel, performed by sede-vacantists. Our bishops churned out with dreary regularity documents on economics and foreign policy, on war and peace, on education and politics, that could have been scrawled by drudges of the left wing of the Democratic Party. There was a good reason for that: they were. As Crisis would go on to document, the very people writing these documents in the bishops’ names were former employees of the Carter Administration, fired by Ronald Reagan and promptly hired by the National Council of Catholic Bishops. Pacifism, socialism, progressivism and utilitarianism were the watchword of what passed for “Catholic Social Teaching,” and we uneducated die-hards who weren’t marching in lockstep were simply a remnant whom our rulers were waiting to die off. Meanwhile, we wrote angry letters to the Vatican and The Wanderer.

The liturgy grew more farcical with each passing year. The altar rails were ripped out, the confessionals sent off for kindling, the laymen trooped out to drop the Host in our hands like movie tickets—all, we were solemnly assured by our masters, at the express wish of the Pope. How were we supposed to know any different? When the TV movie Catholics (starring Martin Sheen) imagined a Vatican IV that banned private Confession and renounced transubstantiation, it was hard to muster much human certainty that this wouldn’t happen. Our pastors, the heirs of the apostles, seemed intent on permanent revolution, and the only people gainsaying them were the oldest, crankiest priests, and the nuns who still wore habits—who were gradually banished from our parishes. We droned the Responsorial Psalm while staring at the relentlessly cheerful felt banners, and watched our traditions scatter to the Communion hymn, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Crisis Magazine emerged as one of the strongest voices for sanity and fidelity in that dark time—having the nerve (unlike many other faithful Catholic publications) to call our pastors on the carpet when they distorted or ignored the plain words coming from Rome, or printed in the actual letter of the Second Vatican Council. As a college student, reading Novak, McInerney and their staff of scholarly journalists or journalistic scholars insist on authentic Catholic teaching or apply the real virtue of prudence to issues of policy, was like finding bits of elven bread in the midst of Mordor.

In these times, when different and subtler dangers than Moscow’s missiles threaten our safety and our souls, when a Renaissance in the Church evokes the ever-growing hatred of the State, a magazine like this one is needed more than ever. The dictators of relativism don’t wear drab green uniforms, or threaten (yet) to put us into camps. They are only here to “help”— to help themselves to more than a third of our incomes, to control over our health plans and our morals, over our families and our schools, over our culture and our borders. Outside the Islamic world, the persecutors have given way to the seducers. It is our job to remember that smooth-talking Mephistopheles works hand in glove with bloody-mouthed Moloch, a fact that is all too clear when we think about Roe v. Wade, and the genocide it launched in the mild name of “privacy.”

I am profoundly honored, and not a little bit humbled, to pick up the founders’ broadsword and carry it forward. Count on Crisis Magazine to be what it always was: A firm, insistent voice for the rights of the laity and the dignity of the priesthood; a partisan of justice and prudence in the face of misguided compassion and ideology; a staunch advocate of the compatibility of reason and faith, of honest enterprise and Christian living, of American patriotism and orthodox Faith. Giving all due credit to God’s grace, it was in large part thanks to the labors of men like Crisis’ founders that there now exists a mighty subculture of faithful Catholic laity, whom addled clerics and activists can lie to at their peril. We support with prayers and donations those heroically faithful bishops, priests and religious who lead us and feed us, and we form in our families the vocations of the future. Like the faithful laymen of the Vendée who resisted to the blood the thugs of a secular State, we defend our rights and the rights of the Church, our families and our Faith.

We invite you to join us.


John Zmirak,
Editor, Crisis Magazine.




  • John Zmirak

    John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins (Crossroad). He served from October 2011 to February 2012 as editor of Crisis.

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