Monday, December 18, 2006


Bill Moyers gave a speech to the cadets at West Point recently ( It’s always a good thing to try to expand the consciousness of those who will someday run the military machine that we have built. Especially since it and they are going to have to function in a world where America no longer so widely commands the huge postwar respect for military power that we have been accustomed to since the end of the Good War. “The American Century” was a short one, lasting just about sixty years; the country outlasted Soviet Communism by a decade, and then yielded to the temptation to set itself up as a ‘hyperpower. And yet again, within the lifetime of a single generation, one of our “quick little wars” has morphed into a debacle. Only this time, with consequences even worse than Vietnam.

Moyers quotes Rupert Murdoch, the media Marshal who deployed the forces of Fox in support of this violent misadventure. Murdoch has taken his cue from the bosses of the Bush administration, who took their cue – in reverse – from the Nixon administration: don’t even think of going down the I-was-wrong road because it’s not so much a slippery slope as it is a leap into the abyss; a leap from authority and public respect into opprobrium and potential criminal prosecution. And We the People dare not forget: we now face a looming simulacrum of the problem caused by many functionaries in and out of uniform (although they almost all affected a uniform of one sort or another) in Germany around late 1944: the bosses had to keep up the fighting, even though there was no possible hope of any level of success, because for them personally there was no other alternative except arrest, prosecution, and … nothing pleasant. And so American 18-year-olds had to shoot German 13-year-olds in firefights in frozen mud.

Murdoch, even now, essays an aura of successful command, cocky and in-your-face in a that inimitable adolescent way that we too often nowadays mistake for genuine and successful command (it’s been a long time since we could contemplate the real McCoy). For $20-dollar-a-barrel oil the whole thing was worth the try, quotha. Our military losses, in the big picture, were “minute”. He’s a big-picture kinda guy, like so many of the movers and shakers there in Washington City. But unlike an Eisenhower or a Roosevelt (either of them), our current crop of big-pic honchos literally got their big picture from big pictures, from Cinemascope and Technicolor extravaganzas which unrolled before them in the cool, popcorn-crunchy precincts of local movie theaters. Grand, glorious adventures, easily supplied with all the bounty of a refreshment stand and all the convenience of a parking lot for the chrome-cruiser when the two-hour operation was successfully accomplished. Murdoch, famously, even sought to bring that level of fantasy to the hallowed precincts of journalism and television news, and he has been as successful as any Goth or Vandal.

Three thousand American deaths, in his big picture, are a bargain. And as far as the deaths of ‘others’, he doesn’t even essay the professional modesty that Robert Lewis Taylor noticed in the gunmen of the Wild West. Asked respectfully how many men he had killed, one of these efficient vultures would cough modestly and say “Twenty-five” or whatever the current number might be, and then conclude, de rigeur, with a modest “not including Mexicans and Indians, of course”. The dozens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of ‘other’ deaths – Iraqi children, women, and elderly – are, in the big picture, not worth taking into account. Progress – especially when Divinely authorized – does not stoop to such trivial computations. But even if a Registry is kept, in some Other Place, no doubt our big picture guys presume that the Recorders thus employed are also big picture types. That they are more correct than they could ever imagine, that the Recorders of that Registry serve a Picture far Bigger than anything the elites of modern day Washington City can, or dare to, imagine … that illumination is only just beginning to dawn on some of them. How will they spin the Wrath to come? However will they avoid It? The Bible they carted around, waving it or caressing it, will take on a life of its own – such has been the experience of History in the West. And it is equally clear that rumors of History’s end have been greatly exaggerated.

It is heartening to hear Mr. Moyers encourage the future officers to fight for freedom. He raises, however, the even more excellent point that our Founders were fighting for ‘our’ freedom (yes, however ‘our’ is defined) rather than Freedom in the abstract and around the world. We would through our own struggle gift the rest of the world’s peoples with a model and a good example, but we would not be the agent of anybody else’s freedom. And not simply because you couldn’t keep the world under your thumb with sailing ships, muzzle-loaders, horse-transport and quill pens. Rather, there was the profound and very much adult wisdom that there are far far too many variables, and the plain orneriness of human nature in the individual and in groups, and just too much of ‘the friction of things’ and – as ever – the ‘lacrimae rerum’ … wayyyy too much of all that for any one nation to be trying to play God.

Of course, this was before the development of the profoundly whacko Fundamentalistic hubris that America and her ‘saved’ (that baptized ‘vanguard elite’ that would be so familiar to one Vladimir Ulyanov) are Deputized with God’s authority. To which was then added the utterly adolescent fatuity of mistaking B-2s and aircraft carrier task forces for the omniscient, omnipotent and omni-competent power of God. Not even the Marine Corps makes that mistake (except on one or two days a year). No, we are clothed neither with God’s authority nor His power nor His wisdom. And as far as His responsibilities, we have enough on our hands simply struggling toward Lincoln’s vision: “to achieve a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations”. To which, with awefull sadness, we must now include the clauses just prior to that: “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan”.

And also, we must first fight to re-establish our own freedom here at home. Our own freedom has been eroding steadily, if not completely by intention, or at least not with evil intention. But erode it has. Americans have always been notorious for their inability to understand what’s going on in other parts of the world; now we don’t seem to have a serious grasp of what consequences have been sown by our own policies here at home. Nor can we – in a golden sunset or sunrise miasm – indulge in the Reagan era’s brassy, mushy sanctification of the military. They may be a standing army, but they’re our standing army. Robert Kaplan was tickled pink with himself when a young major at the Army Command and General Staff College confided (see elsewhere on this site) that then – in 1996 – they were training for the day when they would have to “go domestic”. And while we owe our young combat troops huge debts of support and respect, we cannot forget that more than a few would, if ordered to fire on American citizens, do it. These are the profound complexities of putting youngsters to war, and it is our responsibility – as The People who send them – to manage matters so that such an awful dilemma is not placed before them.

Mr. Moyers holds up the shining examples of Grant and Sherman. They were certainly competent, and creatively so, at their trade. But we also have to remember that they were not organization men nor ‘team players’ nor insiders. At war’s outset Grant was contemptuously written off by Maclellan and Halleck as a drunk and a has-been – and while he was no has-been, he was on more than nodding terms with the bottle; Sherman was considered insane – he had said in the patriotic Spring of 1861 that it would take several hundred thousand men and several years to secure the Mississippi Valley. What saved these two and their skills for the Union was the fact that they got on with their work as best they could and – having won this or that battle – attracted the attention of Lincoln, the supreme realist, who recognized actual competence and honest-to-god success when he saw it. No fancy uniforms, no clanking ceremonial swords; just victory after victory, achieved through shrewd and deft maneuver or – when unavoidable – bulldog tenacity. No Grant or Sherman could survive professionally today. Even Schwarzkopf’s achievement has to be seen in light of the fact that his opponent simply sat there in front of him, utterly inactive, for the months and months it took to actually transport the American armies and fleets to the scene and get into well-supplied position. Grant and Sherman faced a far more able foe. And neither of them were warriors; they were commanders of armies – not at all the same thing. The preening, picky, passion-wracked peacocks of Greek mythology, capable of a certain ballsy grandness in the face of death, but rarely able to muster a sustainable seriousness about Things … can we afford them in a Republic?

And Moyers touches upon, but understandably does not here develop, the fearsome question for all those who would shape events: can Violence in a Good cause ever yield a purely or even mostly Good consequence? Can Evil bring about Good? Or is any result of Evil itself irretrievably Evil itself? The famous American pragmatism has never resolved this; indeed, the famous American pragmatism pragmatically avoided it altogether, settling for a narrower focus on the arena of this dimension, putting off the possible dynamics of any other Dimension for another day – Sunday, perhaps. Yet the mysterious stormy heart of Things beats on, as the famous American pragmatism and its assorted offspring race about aimlessly on the hot hard surface of events like indigestible, un-nutritious globules of fat on a hot skillet.

He mentions – again without developing – the early fears of a standing army. The conundrum of how to enlist – let alone draft – free and Constitutionally endowed citizens into the confinements of military life remains with us to this day, though in the ‘all-volunteer’ era it is most clearly to be perceived in the military justice system, a dangerous and deceitful hybrid that for two centuries has attempted to convince citizens that it is indeed perfectly possible for American ingenuity to meet the implacable requirements of command while adequately protecting Constitutional rights in – so aptly characterized – ‘criminal’ trials.

And he mentions – gamely – the many less than sterling wars which graduates of West Point have had to wage in order to fulfill their oaths: the Mexican War (opposed by both the young Grant and the young Lincoln, among many others), an out-and-out land grab; the Civil War – almost unmentionable since the Southrons and their world-view took control of the military and the Executive and (until recently) Congress; the wars to exterminate the Indian tribes (and their warriors); the early imperial war to grab decrepit Spain’s possessions and secure a globe-circling coaling ability for the Navy; the Philippine insurrection, waged ferociously and ably by Filipinos who had believed that America was actually going to liberate them (as so often with the Indians, the thing was finally won by pragmatic dishonor: the militarily unbeatable Aguinaldo was eventually invited in to discuss matters under a flag of truce, and … well, what did he matter? We won.); the Great War; the banana republic incursions that so disgusted Marine general Smedley Butler, who saw himself as simply a “goon for the United Fruit Company”; the Good War; the Cold War; Vietnam … Vietnam so short a time ago, its veterans (not to include the current supreme high grand-poobah of the American Legion) still an active generation. And then there are the ‘secret’ wars.

But he notes solidly that a military “can’t be expected morally to be much better than the people who send it into action”. To which I would only add: can’t be expected to be morally much better than The People that sends it into action. And how can The People function at a level high enough to qualify as ‘moral’ when cohort upon cohort of its young have been taught that Morality and Virtue don’t exist, except as patriarchal illusions meant to justify ‘oppression’? Or is the very denial of the Moral immoral itself? We had sure as hell better hope that Heaven doesn’t subscribe to ‘zero tolerance’.

And now the Israelis have declared assassination for state purposes to be legitimate. A fine example we’ve set. Cheney – as Sith as any Republic might hope never to encounter – declared that in order to do Good we would have to embrace “the Dark Side”. How we as The People respond to that alluring proposition will – in the words of an adult who once occupied the White House put it – “mark us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation”. So many of our young seem to feel that the only way to establish one’s cred as a Man is to embrace the Dark side since not only are ‘the good’ pretty wussy, but there isn’t any Good anyhow. But there’s always Evil. It abides. Such faith; such a faith. And if we could scoop up all the gang members or whatever ethnic origin and send them all off to the Eastern Front, what then? Would we have done good? Well, we might win. And huge chunks of humanity will be waiting for us in the tall grass. And – their existence has never been disproven – there are always those Recorders, keeping an offender Registry that will last longer than any databases within our poor power to maintain or enlarge. If this generation has a rendezvous with Destiny, we might give some thought during this holiday season as to just what that Destiny might be. And what we intend to do about.

He urges them not to mistake “flattery and adulation” for genuine support. Can we – can We The People – pull the nose up? Can we correct our “attitude” so that this aircraft isn’t trying to move forward while pointing inexorably down? Not if we are capable – as the once-sturdy Brits now are – of believing that the little flame lit near Princess Di’s accident scene can credibly be named the Torch of Liberty. Have we lost all sense of what ‘Liberty’ really means? What it consists of? What it demands?

He thanks them for not becoming a ‘praetorian guard’. But there is a generation of majors from the mid-1990s – now senior officers – who were taught and prepared to “go domestic”. They are among us, in uniform. Or back in civilian life, hidden in ‘street clothes’, maybe now in law enforcement or prosecutors’ offices. Or for all we know in Congress.

He concludes by urging the West Pointers ever to “speak the truth as you see it”. Well, given that our politics have become surreal precisely because The People are being seduced away from any ‘truth’ except that which the government creates, and since this has been going on for decades, and since Truth itself is held to be nothing more than a personal belief, on a par with believing in leprechauns as long as you keep it to yourself … you see the problem we face nowadays.

But if there is a Truth, and if there is a Universe that balances things, and if such Truth has Keepers, then our falling away from Truth will trigger an awefull Recoil, far more shocking and awe-ing than any force we can still manage to project out into this groaning world.

This is our generations’ rendezvous with Destiny. Every moment we delay is a treason to everything for which We The People are responsible. Are we rightly shocked by the very thought of clergy sex abuse? Each of us as a Citizen, as a member of The People, has a calling and a commission as critical to the survival of the Republic as any soldier’s. As necessary to the working out of History and – Grace – as any clergyman’s. We live in an Occupied world, a world Occupied by a Sinfulness that casts its fake-bright illusions over nations as well as individuals. “Strenuous liberty” – we must “put on the armor of light and walk becomingly as in the day”. T-h-a-t is the true Long War. Let us so bear ourselves. The temptation to actively ‘collaborate’ is great. Even greater is the temptation to collaborate passively – to simply retire into our personal bubble and figure that someone else will fix it. The buck stops with Us.

Nor from what we have seen of the Democrats in the past month, can we expect that the Democratic Party will make it all better, make it all go away come January. The Democrats are up to their professional and personal necks in the orgy of our Second Gilded Age, and if we think that they’re going to go cold-turkey overnight on the basis of Ideals that for 40 years they’ve been claiming don’t exist for any public purposes, then we are bigger dopes and more ‘French’ than all those folks who let themselves sleep snugly in the long Nazi night, and maybe even turned in a Resistance fighter if the occasion or the need arose.

We are not a warrior people. We are warr-ers in the sense that so much of what we’ve got has been the fruit of war. Well it’s a broken world, and we can only hope that a Just God understands. Or at least that we win. But no. God sleeps with the leprechauns and we’re losing every old which way on the Eastern Front. We can contemplate with great fruit – as the old Catholic spiritual directors used to say – the newsreels of the mobbed service of prayer held at Notre Dame in Paris in that late, late Spring of 1940. Defeat seemed to remind even Parisians and the Third Republic that there was a God. And that’s not such a bad thing, in the long run. Who knows what a resourceful People might do with such a re-awakening?

Arise, or no dawn will be at hand, only another slide into the Long Night. History is still alive. We owe it that much. “Assembly” is being sounded. Not on a cavalry bugle, but a far greater Trumpet. Let us, The People, come forth.

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Blogger Davidco said...

'To free the oppressed' (De oppresso liber) the motto of the US Special Forces was coined by Col. Aaron Bank who ran OSS Jedburgh Teams behind Nazi Lines in France to aid the resistance. He did not suffer from the cognitive dissonance to which his heirs are currently subject.

'For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?' 1Cor.14:7-9

Who are the oppressed? Comes now the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies which just released a survey of 2,000 randomly sampled Iraqi civilians 90% of whom believe they were better off under Saddam. Certainly the poor US fighting men and women whom we have sent there are among the oppressed. Who will free them?

4:58 AM  

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