Monday, August 31, 2009


Well, it should come as a surprise to nobody that Teddy K does go on.

At the Arlington graveside the retired Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C., last seen trying to throw his arms around Tim Russert’s handsome son at that pleasant nonentitiy’s obsequies, was apparently ‘authorized’ to reveal the contents of that letter Teddy had Obama deliver to the Pope and the Pope’s reply; the confusion of many things – such as mistaking a rather senior government employee for a postman – is characteristic of Teddy’s general approach to stuff, and – truth be told – has served him well all along. The Dream goeth on.

In the letter, no doubt intended for eventual public consumption, the finally-cornered lion asks for prayers – a charming last-ditch effort to run the old post-Chappaquiddick play of fixing the judge, although in this case a Judge not known for being ‘reachable’ (in the mob argot) or ‘fixable’ (in the political argot) or ‘reliable’ (in Identity Politics argot). Hey, it worked quite well forty years ago. Exactly forty years ago. Forty Biblical years ago.

But all Catholics can ask for prayers, as a reliable theology-spouting priest at Boston College piously bleated, backed up by a comrade at Notre Dame. Which is true, if hardly an adequate commentary on the thing.

They can also confess, but that’s not a Kennedy thing.

Teddy wants to make sure that the Pope and the world (especially the “admiring bog” of celebrity-, grief-, and sentimentality-sloshed American public opinion) gets the Correct impression.

Teddy, ya see, has really been all about wanting to “give a voice to those who were not heard, to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity, to make real the dream of our founding” (to use Obama’s words). Or, in his own words to the Pope, “I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination, and expand access to health care and education”.


Of course, there’s so much code in that text that it has to be run through the Ultra decoding machinery to actually get to the Enigma spun by the wording.

That “opportunity” included the full embrace of Identity Politics, which deliberately divided the Citizenry into fractured shards, one against another, and each of whose agendas worked toward incompatible goals with the overall result of shattering any sense of an American identity which might ground and support The People as they made their torturous pilgrim way through the increasingly fraught decades of the post-Sixties era.

“The rights of the poor” somehow ended up creating a monstrous entitlement state (even as the desires of the corporationist state demanded the undermining of the New Deal ‘American worker’ and ultimately undermining the very foundations of a productive and capable national economy).

Creating “opportunity” for women required casting millions of undereducated young females loose into a world un-buoyed by any support except the government’s largesse (expressed through an increasingly debased currency and the enhancement of police-state levels of government interference in the civic and private life of the nation). It also doubled the workforce precisely as the economy was being deliberately dismantled and unable to provide jobs even for its more ‘traditional’ workers.

“Welcoming the immigrant” led to a vast influx not only of legal but of illegal immigrants – many of whom needed much help in appreciating the genius of the American vision (so different from the political practices of their countries of origin). But precisely at the same time, wrenching open societal and cultural and political space for “opportunity” meant a devil-may-care dismantling of the foundations of the American vision in any usable sense. And where were they to all find jobs?

In terms of envisioning themselves on any solid ground of belief and emplaced securely within the moral and spiritual parameters of American and Western civilization, the poor and the immigrants – legal and otherwise – were on their own.

They were ‘free’ and ‘liberated’ to try to eke out a living in an increasingly hollow and incompetent economy; whatever support ‘Citizenship’ and American ‘tradition’ and ‘history’ might offer, and whatever they chose to define as being a ‘liberated human being’ … well, they were free to wander through the store and try on anything that caught their fancy.

I think that what We are seeing in this letter – and in the entire frogs’ chorus of official commentary – is Teddy’s, and beyond him the Democrats’, efforts to spin their sorry history of the past forty Biblical years.

And not only of the Demcorats but also of the entire Beltway, which has now congealed into an un-dis-electable nomenklatura resembling nothing so much as the USSR’s governing Soviet ‘elites’ in the 1970s.

They all would like to take this marvelous and solemn opportunity to spin themselves away from – far away from – what they’ve done and been doing for all those forty Biblical years. Let’s pretend the last forty years didn’t happen, folks; we just sorta are where we are now, and the Democrats are here to save ya – hell, let’s be bipartisan: the Beltway’s here to save ya!

Because if Teddy needed a ‘fresh start’ after Chappaquiddick, the Dems and the whole Beltway need a fresh start now. Turns out that the old 'limousine liberal' charge was right: pandering to the bottom of society, collecting PAC money from the top, they lent their authority to a war on the middle. And now the middle is gone - and the economy too. The 'America' of the postwar era, that could get a man on the moon in 1969, is even more irretrievable a reality than the Civil War.

But, of course, if the Dems and the whole Beltway need to be ‘redeemed’ real quick, then maybe they can get it done efficiently and cheaply by getting folks to think that since Teddy redeemed himself, then his 'redemption' will float all the Beltway boats. And then the band can play on, at least up in the first class saloon up on the Beltway deck.

They want to get past Nuremberg without actually having to stop there: They didn’t do it, and anyway they meant well. One cannot think back to the Soviet elites since in their system the elites never had to answer to the citizens – a state of affairs still lamentably not fully actualized over here, where ‘quaint’ and Dead-White-Male and variously ‘oppressive’ Constitutional traditions still retain sufficient integrity to require some minimally “decent respect” for the opinion of the Citizenry and The People.

One might, however, think of the Italian elites – such as they were – as the unspinnable reality of Consequences-come-home-to-roost began to overtake the illusory and frankly delusional ‘wonderland’ of Mussolini’s Fascist paradise. They cockily admit to being long-standing members of the national elite (so they expect good tables at all the better restaurants), but as for their recent activities in the government, they don’t really seem to recall much – except their unassailably good intentions.

The present script lacks only a suitable ‘Mussolini’ upon whom it can all be blamed. Who can decisively choose between Reagan and Clinton? Or among Nixon and George I and George II? Or the towering, desperation-addled Laocoon figure of LBJ?

But once again, the American vision still having retained some of its vitality, there never was one ‘strongman’. Instead there were numerous bloviating treacheries, committed in the eternal self-interested quest for votes and the cash to buy them, that have now deformed the careers and integrity of just about the entire sitting political class (with some few impressive exceptions).


Nor does Teddy choose to remind the Pope that another huge element of that “opportunity” was generalized abortion. After all, given Nature’s rather oppressive plan that saddles the female of the species with the biological reality of gestation and the complex competence to relate to infants, it was required that the government somehow make Nature ‘go away’, repeal or circumvent the consequences of her arrangements, all the while claiming that the government power was not being simultaneously engorged and deformed in order to achieve it, and asserting that any resulting legal inequality was really ‘equality’, since it was being imposed in the name of equality.


Teddy, personally, is on much more solid ground, though, when he asserts that “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic”. The Catholic Church has always held the deepest and most intimate efforts and strivings of its ‘children’ – as it were – to be paramount; and that Church has always assumed that nobody’s perfect and that you have to put up with a lot of tares to prevent ripping up the wheat in any human field.

And, let’s face it, the first Pope himself said to the Boss that if everybody was going to be defined only on the basis of whether s/he led a sinless life “then Lord who can stand?”. The Church has always displayed a patience with sinfulness – since trying to work with humanity without being up to your neck in the stuff is like trying to swim in water without getting wet. And the Church herself – much as some members prefer not to be reminded of it – is composed of sin-prone human beings, just like the rest of the species.

Which is no doubt why the Pope displayed a fine patience – tempered however with an experienced shrewdness – in responding to the letter that the nice though heavily-escorted postman delivered. The Pope thanks the scribbling – but noticeably not kneeling – lion for his prayers, will pray for the gentleman, and commends the lion and all his pride to God.

And really, what more can anybody do?

James Carroll, noted commentator on things Catholic and political, tries to do that ‘more’.

Speaking of Teddy’s passing and those of his two brothers, Carroll asks in a column “Why does his passing rank with theirs as a momentous break in time?”

Carroll, not a little prone to the interwoven Irish tendencies toward self-serving sentimentality and a sugary romanticism that nicely frosts all foibles and crimes, opines that “the clue is in the word ‘dream’”.

“Kennedy’s reference pointed beyond the political cliché of ‘the American dream’ and even beyond the specific agenda that defined his liberalism – social justice, economic equity, peace.”

I am one with Carroll in disparaging the bloviating dishonesty with which far too many of the elite intone or bray that phrase “the American dream”. The phrase has indeed become a cliché. And We are all the worse for that.

But I’d say that the Framers were not ‘dreamers’ in the first place. It’s far too childish a word for generations raised with an acute sense of the dangerous business of being human and living among humans, bethumped as the species is by that ineffable propensity toward at least occasional evil and by the ever-present threat of failure, deformity and death.

They had a clear and precise vision of the dangers humans posed to each other. And while they hoped for the best, they constructed a government for the worst: a balanced mechanism that would keep the assorted human tendencies – the individual fires of greed and self-interest – from burning together into a mega-fire, a wildfire that would consume everything in its path.

And if they had a nice appreciation of individual human propensities to frakkery, they had an even more acute awareness as to how governments – comprised of humans but possessed of a superhuman power – can run wild.

And ultimately, as Lincoln saw, they put their trust in the decency of a citizenry maturing increasingly into civic and personal ripeness, unbethumped – they hoped – by the impositions of a tyrannical government.

That wasn’t a ‘dream’. It was a ‘vision’, which isn’t quite the same thing. They were older and they had ‘visions’, where – as Scripture doth say – it is the young who have ‘dreams’. Life is no business for the young – if I may; the young are too inexperienced and too hasty and too cocky and arrogant, callow even.

Alas, as revolutionaries go – and as they would be in the 1960s – the Framers weren’t your average revolutionary. They were older. Men, yes, but still human beings and rather profoundly aware of that.

And possessed of that solid Anglo-Saxon practicality that is not so often observed in the Continental political experience.

So ‘the American vision’, then, as they saw it, was indeed unique. And based not on wild dreams of a paradise on earth, but rather of a fresh start for a perennially imperfect species. No human angels for them, and no utter monsters. The ‘American’ would be a maturing, ripening Citizen.

And a Citizen and a Citizenry committed by all the necessity of human weakness to struggling in season and out of season, each generation in its era, with such newly-hatched manifestation of the perennial weakness of the species as each historical era’s events would pose.

They would never have expected that a citizenry weakened by immaturity and the utter abandonment of any effort toward some genuine ‘character’ could ever fulfill its responsibilities toward the preservation of what must always be a “strenuous liberty”.

It is perhaps not coincidental that Teddy, seeking his political opportunities where he might, especially after Chappaquiddick’s still unplumbed depths, wound up embracing groups who themselves sought deliberately to erase ‘character’ and ‘decency’ and ‘tradition’ from the American lexicon, and from the American skill-set. After all, judged on those bases, Teddy had always fallen short – and egregiously so.

So his brand of ‘liberalism’, as Carroll refers to it, was somewhat morally flawed to begin with, and lethally so. It flew in the face of History and Nature not simply in its purported revolutionary determination to eradicate ‘oppression’ and – more dangerously – all designated ‘oppressors’, but also in its refusal to acknowledge the most fundamental, the most existential (if you wish) oppression of all: the human propensity to evil that ever seeks to strangle or at least fatally deform that good which is – We must hope and pray – the truly defining characteristic of a genuine, mature humanity – male or female, whatever the color of the skin.

The abandonment by recent American ‘liberalism’ of that humanity – as a goal or even as an existing reality – is a fatal hallmark of the era in which Teddy K made himself indeed a lion (and has no one read what the Psalms have to say about ‘lions’?).

Carroll suggests that it is the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy that are the reason why “two generations of young Americans have been so efficiently ushered into the echo chamber of that cultural moment”. It seems a stretch. Civic adulthood can handle an assassination; youth perhaps not so well – and it is the hallmark of the Sixties that the adults of the day, already a bit gaga over ‘Camelot’ and the success of one of their age cohort over the ‘old’ era of Eisenhower, were suddenly baffled into a withdrawn silence precisely when their qualities were most urgently required to balance the national Ship.

He treads with a coy lightness over the lethal but wholly predictable consequences of Identity Politics: “the anxieties of irreconcilable political discord”.

Nor, coyly and perhaps slyly, does he offer any trenchant commentary on that profound problem. He retreats, rather, into psychologism: since the Sixties and those assassinations, “the nation has been suffering a communal case of post-traumatic stress disorder”. Neat.

But it’s always been a deep and troubling question with the diagnosis of PTSD: why doesn’t everybody get it? Why are only some persons debilitated by it while others – many others – keep on keeping on, performing resiliently, even robustly, and even in not a few cases seeming to ‘feed’ on the stressor in order to evolve an even more seasoned and tempered vitality?

Of course, it’s anybody’s guess whether the non-victims are in the majority. Or whether they could even be heard in the current conditions governing national discourse. ‘Victimhood’ is the ur-Identity now; being an ‘American’ is somehow ‘quaint’ now and trails great clouds of a richly-assorted ‘oppressiveness’.

When Parliament debated Chamberlain’s political fate in May of 1940, one Member –rising to speak – was urged by a colleague in a loud shout heard throughout the hall: “Speak for England!” Rather than to simply assume a business-as-usual, party-politics approach to the momentous challenge confronting them all.

Who now will speak for “America”? For this and that group, there are always the usual voices that will essay a pandering bray or bleat. But who will speak for the country, for The People, for the Vision?

Let the dreamers dream their dreams and let the dead bury the dead.

We have more urgent work. Life-giving, life-threatening challenges confront Us.

And Teddy had a lot to do with that.

Let Us therefore Grit Up and get on with it. What We here do “will mark us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation”, as Lincoln said. And even if “honor” is no longer ‘valorized’ among Our elites, the challenges that must be faced and mastered remain real.

And that is the fierce urgency of now.


Friday, August 28, 2009


As I had mentioned in my Post “Chris Hedges and Illusions” of August 23, I was going to read Chris Hedges’s new book, “Empire of Illusions”.

That’s done, and it’s prompted many thoughts.

He opens by quoting James Baldwin: “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster”.

It is a natural human tendency to want to ease one’s way through this Vale of Tears by not-thinking about the worst stuff. In fact, one of the great questions facing the Framers – and an indication of just how much of an ‘experiment’ their vision of America really was – is this: are most human beings ‘avoiders of reality’ by natural predisposition or is it that any and many might in a period of difficulty retreat from ‘reality’?

Thus: Are you expecting to build a democratic Republic – where The People keep an eye on the government that works for them – on a bunch of human beings (the citizens) most of whom are really not suited to facing reality and avoid it as a matter of temperament and natural predisposition? Or on a bunch of folks who are more or less up to the tasks of facing reality except in periods of significant stress?

They never solved this. They tried to construct a governmental machinery of checks and balances, setting significant boundaries by which neither public passions nor government schemes would break loose and run away with the whole country.

It’s here that one of my favorite images – that of the captain and crew of a ship – seems highly relevant. On a ship you are surrounded by ‘reality’ and you really can never forget it. The ship is a fragile thing with lots of moving parts that break or fail or a hull that can be punctured so that water can get in. And it is even more fragile and puny compared to the huge forces surrounding it: the sea and its moods and awesome power, the weather and (with sailing ships especially) the wind.

Each of these possibilities – or several of them acting in concert or in sequence – can bring immediate consequences of a potentially fatal nature, and any problems have to be spotted, acknowledged, and successfully dealt with immediately. There’s no room for ‘civilian’ or ‘landlubber’ dawdling in avoidance or distractions; nor even any margin for error by taking the wrong action to solve the problem(s).

In that way, life on the sea and aboard a ship ‘keeps you honest’, in a very existential sense. You have to keep an eye on all the interacting factors that can affect you, you have to take the right action as soon as a problem is identified – and you’d best identify it sooner rather than later, and you have to keep at the task no matter how much your ‘feelings’ might prompt you to run away or despair.

And there’s nowhere to run away to anyway.

Passengers, on the other hand, are a different breed. Many are landlubbers and civilians and not familiar with the hard realities of the sea. They may simply assume – strange as it may seem – that they are merely on something as solid and reliable (for those who have never experienced an earthquake) as ‘land’, and see no reason to allow the sterner realities and emotions required of sea-going life to interfere with their more relaxed, laid-back ‘land’ attitudes and their leisure and their comforts and their customary recreations. And their many distractions. And their many preoccupations which have never had to yield in their awareness to vital and urgent emergencies demanding from them significant exertions under life-threatening pressure.

It is the passengers who may well elect to deal with a storm at sea by retreating to the ‘saloon’ or the deep innards of the ship – the larger she is the more opportunity for ‘hiding’ – and keeping up the appearances of their ‘normal’ life and awareness until things calm down outside. And surely in our commercialized leisure industry, cruise ship companies try to sell the sailing experience as if it were a ‘land’ vacation with all the familiar amenities, recreations, distractions … and security that one might expect at, say, Disney World.

The question for the American Republic and its democracy is whether the citizenry are merely passengers along for the ride (the government being the crew, the President perhaps the ‘captain’), or whether the passengers are indeed part of the crew (indeed, in the Constitutional vision, the passengers are actually the ‘owners’ of the vessel).

The generations of the ages before commercial steel motorized vessels, those who made their crossings in small wooden sailing vessels, would have realized the vitality of this imagery: there are few places to hide from the challenges posed by oceanic ‘reality’ on a small wooden ship, and if things take a bad turn every human being on the ship – every ‘soul’ – would be expected to help keep her afloat.

This is a bit of wisdom ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ to earlier generations that is not available to more recent generations.

And of course, part of the ‘discipline’ of the sea is that you cannot simply keep your eyes and mind alert for when a problem arises; you have to train yourself and keep yourself and your skills at a rather high and sharp level of competence so as to prevent many potential problems from developing in the first place.

It’s not a bad way to conduct one’s life as a Citizen, really. Nor is it a bad way to conduct one’s life as a mature and adult human being.

But since most folks don’t actually travel on the sea – except for sailors, merchant and naval – then in these modern times it would require some training and education into this ‘mystery’ and its ‘disciplines’.

But a lot of elements, especially nowadays, interfere with that: First, there’s that matter of whether most folks are capable of living life so intently and intensely and with such acute and abiding awareness of the risks and potential threats and problems and challenges, and – indeed – of the ‘stakes’ which genuinely make human life itself an actual ‘drama’. There is a built in ‘adventure’ to conducting a human life – marshaling your own self so as to be ready to deal with the myriad challenges posed by weakness (your own or others’) and great forces moving according to their own or unknown dynamics – and sometimes acting together in concert.

Second, there are the many opportunities for distraction, especially in a mass society with an emphasis not on disciplined production but rather on creating and consuming leisure opportunities. Even if you aren’t predisposed to distraction, it’s all around you.

Third, there is government’s natural tendency – if left to its own devices by its citizens – to want to be left alone to pursue its use of its powers without interference.

Fourth, there is ‘elitism’, whereby certain groups might feel that they ‘get it’ and know best how things are to be done, and – if left to their own devices – will want to pursue their illuminations and visions for the population unhindered by the ignorant, un-elite ‘sheep’ of the citizenry.

Fifth, there is an emphasis away from adulthood, maturity, and what used to be called ‘character’. Character is that thing that keeps adults working to fulfill a responsibility or even a duty even when the ‘average’ person would simply say To hell with it or Whatever and then simply walk (or run) away … into distraction and illusion, perhaps.

This, of course would be especially lethal if an ‘alternative’ knowledge was raised up to the effect that adulthood and maturity and character are merely illusions themselves, and insidious ones, designed by oppressors to keep the oppressed oppressed.

And if all or most of these things managed to come together, working in a synergy, then the ‘ship’ would be in big trouble indeed: there would be many lethal problems aboard her, and it becomes that much harder to solve them and stay seaworthy.

Then of course, if ‘outside’ there were storms and rocks and shoals – international events and developments – then things would get even more dicey. Lethally so.

And of course, there is a terribly large possibility that the worse things got, the more folks aboard – including perhaps crew and even captain and command staff – would seek the cheap and quick consolations of distraction – through illusions. Like the tyke who faces a real challenge by closing the eyes, blocking the ears, and repeating ‘it’s not there, it’s not there’. Perhaps if the challenge were merely a bad dream, that would be true – but if the challenge is a speeding car or a mad dog charging across the yard … well, you see the problem.

Hedges fears that far too many in American society are now mired – and willingly – in illusion. In order to escape from the challenges of sustaining a self that can sustain a constructive and effective response to very real challenges in the modern world. And, of course, the more one retreats into illusion, the less competent society becomes and the worse the real problems – not only unsolved but ignored and avoided.

I can’t see how he’s wrong.

And worse, he quotes Yeats: “We had fed the heart on fantasy, the heart’s grown brutal from the fare”.

In an age when there is so much concern for the effect of junk food – especially on the young – it stuns to see just how much intellectual and – I’ll say it – spiritual junk-food is force-fed to the young, and to all of those who are vulnerable to the sugary seductive confections of Illusion and its sibling, Appearance (they rate a capital letter the way they’re being used here).

And what Yeats is driving at is a huge chunk of wisdom that has been tossed overboard: there is junk-food in the moral and spiritual realm.

Worse, a steady diet of it can deform the human spirit, individually and in a society. And not simply deform it into some victimized and ‘unfulfilled’ unripe half-adult, but rather into a brutal being operating at the level of the more bestial human potentials rather than at the level that the more ‘evolved’ or ‘mature’ human being is capable of.

But of course then, if this is so and Yeats is onto something here, then that implies that there is a better place within the human self: that within the self there exist many potentials, and that some are closer to bestial and others are higher up – closer to engaging the powers and potentials of the best that the human spirit – and certainly those marvelous frontal lobes – can offer.

All of this, to elite ears nowadays, sounds rather ‘hierarchical’ and ‘essentialist’ and – gack! – Idealist. But there it is.

To refuse to see such complexity in the human spirit – and thus in the dynamics required for its full and mature flowering – is to engage in an Illusion to fundamental as to be toxic and even lethal to any possibility that individual humans and their societies and cultures have of improving human affairs. Because the old materialist idea – espoused by Marx among many others – that one can only improve the human estate through political and material action – at whatever cost – is wrong. And has proven itself bloodily wrong in the past century.

Marx has a lot of accurate insights and diagnoses of modern (not even he could have imagined post-modern) society, but his solutions leave much to be desired. His Materialism – applicable to both individuals and societies – was among the most toxic of his solutions. His Materialism – applicable to both individuals and societies – was among the most toxic of his solutions. He thought that all of this life can be reduced to the material world – the world accessible to the five physical senses, the world that we can see (the world Plato would have called the world of Appearances, flickering on the Cave wall).

Surely, the Flattening of the human ‘world’ is the most essentially wrong and toxic. If the human self has no vertical dimension within – no ladder or hierarchy of possibilities which has to be climbed if maturity is to be achieved – then the human self is Flattened. And with it any genuine ‘drama’ and ‘agon’ through which a self is tempered and tested and ripened and matured.

And if the world of human affairs has no vertical dimension, then it too is Flattened.

Of course, if there is a vertical within the human, then is there not also a vertical outside of the human? If there is some higher potential and possibility in the human, then is there a higher dimension of reality beyond the material world itself?

This brings you quickly to the matter of ‘God’ or at least some Ideal dimension (Plato’s theory) which can anchor this material world. Perhaps even, in the Christian take on it, an Ideal that is also personal (not just a Force), and mature (not one of the whacky or petty Greek gods), and benevolently disposed toward humans (as opposed to demon-gods and destructor-gods … and goddesses).

Surely, the elimination of God – in the realm of elite conceptions anyway – serves only to Flatten the human self and the human world.

And to un-ground them, un-anchor them.

Leaving the human spirit with no solid Ground, which reduces it to the brutal and to its own latent bestialness.

Because if there is no higher potential in the self, the human self remains mired in its ur-primalness and primitiveness and bestialness. And if there is no higher potential than the material world, then why go through all the effort to mature anyway? A Flat world almost guarantees a Flat and bestial individual self, since there is no reason or motivation to climb the ladder.

The two Flatnesses feed each other in an increasingly bestial synergy.

And if there is no authority or power other than the human in this dimension, then the human is saddled with a vast and unbearable burden: the burden of not only controlling or guiding human events, but of generating and sustaining their ultimate meaning.

This is an impossible task for humans. And for governments – which are merely human organizations. Although they may delude themselves into thinking that they are superhuman in their competence and authority. Which they are not. Though they may try like Hell.

Hedges brings up Plato’s allegory of The Cave from “The Republic”: a bunch of humans who have been born into a cave, chained there on short chains, in the darkness; their only awareness of ‘reality’ is from flickering images they see on the inner wall of the cave, thrown there by the light of a world they have never known and do not know exists. Hedges notes that “they believe that these flickering images are reality”.

If, Plato says, one of these folks – prisoners, truly – manages to get free and get to the entrance to the cave, he is in for a world of pain. First, he has to adapt himself to the painful light, and then the shock of seeing that there is a larger, brighter, wider world beyond anything he had ever imagined.

But then second, if he then goes back down into the cave and reports what he has seen – then his pain will really begin. He will be disbelieved. Worse, he will be assaulted – in retaliation for his assault on the beliefs that have held together the lives of the other prisoners. Robert Frost, I think, didn’t quite get all of it when he said that there’s something in humans that doesn’t like a fence or a wall. If the fence and the wall are all a human has ever known, s/he isn’t going to take kindly to have that wall or fence taken away – even if it’s being taken away enables the revelation of a larger world. Perhaps especially if it reveals a wider world.

Because there’s something in humans – in their less mature potentials – that doesn’t like shock and exertion – including the type that liberates the self into a wider and more accurately perceived reality.

Because each liberation requires exertion. Which is not something that the ‘liberators’ of recent times like to mention. ‘Liberation’ – the liberation that they in their elite wisdom choose to impose – can come on the cheap, for nothing, with no heavy lifting.

How can it be surprising that the government is continuously and with increasing boldness encroaching on ‘privacy’ when there are fewer and fewer mature individuals who have achieved a ‘private life’ at all? It was precisely the revolutionary aim of Lenin and Stalin and Mao, and the Fascist aim of Hitler and Mussolini, that there be no ‘private life’ – that the life of the ‘community’ and of the Volk (so much more easily controlled by the government) would squash out that mysterious and unpredictable realm wherein the human spirit, communing with itself and with God knows what ‘spirits’ or Spirit, might bring forth from its treasure-house Truth.

Because in the empire of illusion, Truth is treason and the enemy of the powers of this Flattened world. And a lot of folks would like to keep it that way.

The Brits knew that when in 1940 Churchill offered them the “broad, sunlit uplands” of a strengthened freedom, they were going to have to climb up to them. And, in the event, when they got there, they then faced … 1946. Which posed its own challenges and its own hard slog.

So Plato figured that most humans would prefer to remain in their Cave(s).

Which is why he wasn’t much for democracy – there weren’t enough hardy human spirits to sustain it.

And why he was against ‘the arts’: they were simply distractions, potentially seductive illusions. And Illusion was the great enemy of humanity’s greatest potentials. Theater, poetry, painting, sculpture – he feared what humans would do with them: run from their real challenges deeper into illusion. Away from ‘character’ and into ‘celebrity’, away from the hard slog of living and developing and sustaining your own life and the lives of your society-mates and into the escapist fantasy of your illusions and delusions, your avoidances and escapes ‘from it all’. There’s something in humans – unless they are really committed to their own Mastery and Command* - that accepts slavery to Illusion, and to those who would claim – through the most treacherous illusion – that they could protect everyone else from the hard slog and the shocks and the challenges.**

Slavery is – alas – preferable to genuine personal exertion, he thought, for the vast majority of humans.

Orwell saw as much in ‘Animal Farm’.

But Hedges then usefully contrasts Orwell with the lesser known (to Americans, certainly – a movie was never made about his work) thinker, Aldous Huxley, a relative contemporary of Orwell.

Where Orwell feared that government would try to keep information from people, Huxley feared that people would be so saturated with illusory ‘information’ that they wouldn’t know they were being deprived. Where Orwell feared that government would ban books, Huxley feared that people wouldn’t want to read them. Where Orwell feared that truth would be concealed, Huxley feared that truth would be drowned in peoples’ fears of learning the truth. Where Orwell feared a culture captive to government, Huxley feared a people captive to triviality (precisely a point – triviality, even among the wealthy – that piqued Edith Wharton’s acute and incisive vision).

And where Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us, Huxley feared that what we (wrongly) love will ruin us.

In an American and Western culture where celebrity and ‘entertainment’ and ‘spectacle’ are widely popular, and reinforced by a corporate and consumerist pandering to people’s lowest potentials, and a government desire to keep people ‘happy’ and distracted … Huxley’s concerns seem terrible in their prescience (as was Ben Franklin’s: You’ve got a democracy … if you can keep it).

Indeed, it can well be said now that Orwell’s controlling government has found that pandering to those lower potentials that Huxley saw is the way to ‘govern’.

God save the United States.

But perhaps God is an illusion. And then who will save Us?

The reviewer I had considered in my Post about Hedges on August 23 was disappointed that Hedges hadn’t made him feel good. And as I said in that Post, it’s quite possible that a too-simple ‘optimism’ would be exactly the wrong thing to offer at this point in Our national saga.

We do not at this point need ‘positive psychology’. The problems – and their name is Legion – now bethumping Us are verrrrry real, and it can’t be a matter of making things feel better by – well, feeling better.

‘Attitude’ is indeed important, but it’s got to be an attitude that embraces True Grit, if I may. Blood, toil, tears and sweat – We must be prepared to go up on deck, see what’s happening and what’s already happened, and resolve to expend a great deal of all of those. Otherwise We shall “meanly lose” this marvelous America that was entrusted to Us.

Forget ‘good times’. It is enough to seek for Our “finest hour” – and with a ‘reality’ drama like that, there will be no need to indulge in the profoundly weird national obsession with escaping from ‘reality’ by wildly embracing the pathetic posturings of ‘reality-TV’.


*There is a book called “The Art of Prison” that spells this out at great length. It was an on-demand book from a decade or so ago.

**I don’t agree with Plato’s conclusion about the arts. He’s right about how they can be misused, and how cheap ‘art’ can indeed pander to the lowest form of entertainment. But genuine art can call humans to their higher potentials – and that makes it indispensable and invaluable to the human project and to any human society and culture. Nor should a government ever be allowed to take over ‘art’; society and culture, rooted in the individual human spirit’s attraction to its own higher potentials, should never yield to such government intrusion.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


When last seen*, one Major Paula Broadwell had penned a fawning love-note to her boss, General Petraeus, in an Op-Ed which, by amazing coincidence, it occurred to her to write (and the ‘Boston Globe’ to publish) just before the Uber-General’s visit to Harvard to display himself to its ‘elites’. By equally amazing coincidence, she just happened to have been assigned to Harvard by the Army prior to the General’s visit. With such clever planning, I can’t see how all Our current wars are being lost.

This is the type of planting of puff-pieces in ‘reliable’ news media that has become a staple of ‘politics’ and ‘journalism’ in the past few decades: the just-deceased Teddy Kennedy was a master at it (and you may expect immediately that the ‘Boston Globe’ will cap its long love-affair with him, climaxed in the past half-year by an all-out effort to spin him as “the last lion” who had “a fall and rise”, to reach positively baroque proportions).

Ms. Major Broadwell is a West Point graduate, a research associate at Harvard’s Center for Public Affairs, and – rather neatly – “serves on the board of Women in International Security”.

You would think that an aspiring military officer has more to do than getting involved in feminist causes on an international scale – especially with the potential for conflicts of interest – but no. It’s not “your father’s military” or the “old Army” or the “old Navy” (you may recall them - the ones that won wars). Rather the modern military is something that appears to have a remarkable paint and wax job and some glitzy ‘extras’, but whose working parts and tires should be carefully kicked and otherwise inspected with a gimlet eye.

Anyhoo, apropos of some agitation in the murky ‘elite’ machinations which pass for policy-making now, she is suddenly moved to write – and the ‘Globe’ faithfully to publish – an Op-Ed. It is here (along with the Comments, which are also worth they read).

Apparently “a group called the Center for Military Readiness has been lobbying Congress to restrict women’s roles in war” and their “opportunities” (which starts to give the game away). But this is hardly news. Substantive concerns about the whole thing have been going on since the mid-1970s; in the Fall of the last year of Bush the First’s Administration, a major policy review was presented to the White House, and despite feminist plants on the Committee its final assessment harbored grave and substantive reservations about the women-in-the-military trend.

But Bush was in the process of losing the election, a significant factotum in the Defense Department named Barbara Pope threatened to resign if the review was favorably received by the White House, and then, a couple of months later, Bill Clinton came in. The review was buried and within a month or so the officially declared ‘big problem’ in the military was not ‘women’ but ‘gays’ – and the band played on.**

Broadwell here is going to run the feminist variant of the old Israeli “facts on the ground” play: do whatever it takes to get what you want – no matter what the objections, even if it means doing an end-run around rational deliberation; then after you’ve been doing it for a while, start talking about it as if it were the ‘normal’ thing that you have been doing ‘all along’.

It’s a neat trick. You get what you want, and on top of that anybody who tries to object is suddenly cast as the ‘innovator’ who wants to interfere with ‘progress’ that’s already been made. The Israelis have demonstrated exquisite shrewdness and tenacity in deploying this particular gambit – as have those among the Beltway lobbies and advocacies who have imitated it.

Of course, the play is originally from the playbook written by that master of the game, Joseph Goebbels. So you might imagine that it will suffer from the drawbacks that revealed themselves during that gentleman’s unhappy tenure on the planet: you can have all the shrewds and smarts in the world, but if your scheme be in the service of a baaad idea and a baaad cause, then you will win the battle and lose the war. Or, as We are discovering, you will lose wars.

The shrewd modern American solution to this? Declare that the wars will be “endless” or at least verrrrry long-term, such that nobody will really be able to assert that a war is ‘lost’ since it will always be a ‘work in progress’. Neat. Of course, this assumes that ‘reality’ will not be able to assert itself; that everything will remain merely a matter of ‘perception’ so that if anyone continues to raise objections, it can be ascribed to their suffering from “a bit of undigested beef” or having an Incorrect “attitude”. That was Mao’s contribution: such folk could be ‘re-educated’ (through methods disturbingly similar to modern-day ‘awareness workshops’, by amazing coincidence).

Such a gambit also worked in the days of the unlamented Goebbels; who can forget his stirring speech at the Berlin Sportpalast a month after Stalingrad was lost, along with the entire Sixth Army and a full quarter of the Germans’ available motorized equipment? But that precisely was the rub: the Germans actually had lost an entire Army and a quarter of their military rolling stock – a development that rather stubbornly claimed status as ‘reality’. As did the Red Army, which proceeded then not to spin itself as the most powerful land force on the planet and in the planet’s history, but rather to perform as such, winning victory after bloody victory all the way to Goebbels’s Berlin (lordship over which he shared with his gibbering boss, the little psychopath with the funny moustache).

So the trouble with this play is that it will only work so long as ‘reality’ doesn’t actually start demonstrating – through awesome consequences – the baaadness of the idea which the plan was shrewdly designed to spin as ‘a good idea’. As Lincoln saw, ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time’ but sooner or later folks are going to start noticing reality, which the plan is seeking to keep squashed behind the podium and out of sight.

Broadwell is running the play gamely. She refers to “women warriors” although it is exactly her complaint that women are not warriors.

She urges that “Defense Secretary Robert Gates should keep time with the beat of reality on the ground”. Notice the “on the ground” phrase, as in “facts on the ground”. Notice also that she is a serving military officer publicly differing in print with her command, which violates a lot of regulations and possibly a statute or two – unless, of course, Gates has approved her publication, which would constitute a stunning military problem in itself.

She notes, rightly, that “on today’s battlefield there is little differentiation between ‘front’ and ‘rear’”. But as she wants Us to see it, this simply means that women should therefore be everywhere on the battlefield rather than – an equally logical possibility – nowhere.

In a classic trope of ‘advocacy’ here these days, she goes for an emotional point: by denying women, “we diminish the sacrifices and contributions” of the women. Well, it’s really about ‘winning’, not making this or that bunch feel good. And perhaps the official confusion as to the reason why armies are on battlefields in the first place is a major reason why Our armies aren’t winning.

Nor can it be forgotten (see the books I’ve mentioned in the Notes) that in the beginning of all this agitation, the official feminist position was not that women were capable of handling the stresses, strains, and challenges of combat, but rather that they “had an equal right to die for their country”.

Well, as that unreconstructed ‘old Army’ guy – Patton – observed, back in the days of “Industrial Age war” and “Industrial Age macho virtues”: the whole idea of combat is not to die for your country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his. And again, this key conceptual confusion may have more than a little to do with the mess We’re in now ‘over there’.

Continuing with the ‘facts on the ground’ play, she reports that “women have played an increasing role in recent wars and the trend is likely to continue”. Wellll, now. First, since this play has been running for several decades, it can seem like it ‘works’ – after all, would the government continue a baaaad policy that didn’t work, that maybe even made things worse, for all this time? The government wouldn’t do that, would it?

But of course, as Broadwell and her sistern (male and female) know full well, the government has been doing precisely that. Serious objections, reports that discovered unpleasant facts***, individuals who had the temerity to mention them out loud … all have been gotten rid of by a political class desperate to pander to that glittering chimera, the damp-dream of every pol, a 51% national demographic that you had locked in for yourself by giving its members whatever its ‘advocates’ demanded. No matter what you had to applaud with a straight face. Or rather, in the manner of ‘delegates’ applauding a speech of Stalin, with a wide-grin frozen above your feverishly clapping hands. Brilliant insight, Comrade Stalin – the wave of the future and the salvation of Nation and People!

It’s a wonder that there isn’t a vodka-guzzling problem inside the Beltway and across the river at the Pentagon. Or maybe there is.

“And the trend is likely to continue”. This is a nice way of spinning the way you’d like to see things go. It also lends an air of inevitability to your objective – as if it’s such a goooood plan that it will naturally and inexorably continue to ‘succeed’ and if you want to be ‘with it’, then you’d best get on the band-wagon now. Of course, given the serious addiction to pandering now afflicting the Beltway pols, she may have a point here. At least until ‘reality’ kicks even harder than it already has.

“Even as the military fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the class that entered West Point in 2008 contained more women than any other class since women first came to the academy in 1976.” Ooooh. But is it possible that this might have something more to do with the pandering indenture of the Congress and the now thoroughly cowed military leadership? And with wars being lost, perhaps the Congress might seek to shield itself by at least keeping one of its most reliable ‘demographics’ – the radical feminists – happy? It may be an old play to run, but it worked so well before – long decades ago, so maybe it will work again. This is like sending the sailing frigate USS Constitution back to active duty since she won so big once (and maybe can do it again).

But then she gives the real game away: “Higher ranking women are also pursuing combat command experience for promotion opportunities.” This is the verrrry dodgy underside of ‘women in the military’ matters: the entire military is seen not as an essential instrument for force-projection and the winning of combat engagements, but rather as a ‘workplace’ employment opportunity for career-minded females and their formerly sensible shoes.

The other upside to that gambit was imagined to be that the government would employ hundreds of thousands of young, poor females newly ‘liberated’ from husbands, marriage, family and other such ‘quaint’ oppressions; they would stay only for a hitch or two and then move back into civilian life, replete with veteran benefits and ‘status’ while not appreciably diluting the more careerist women’s game of going for career promotion. Something for everyone!

Except, according to that Center for Military Readiness, only 10% of enlisted females want combat assignments. And that same Center quotes the noted national military analyst (and now Veterans Administration honcho) Phillip Carter who observed in 2002 that “The most important reason [for the new role of women in the military] has been from women in the Army who need combat experience to advance their careers, almost all of them in the officer corps.”

The mind recoils at the thought: this massive and hugely dubious politically-driven initiative, in one of the core areas of national security, has really been a jobs-program for that small but organized subset of women who want to be senior military honchos. And wear the pants (no joke: full dress uniform for the Army's first female full General was pants and – marvelously – sensible shoes; no more high-heels).****

Broadwell lards on fact after fact – as it were. “Our thin-stretched military can ill afford to keep women out of combat zones … because there are simply not enough male soldiers”. Welllll, again. Lacking not only the physical strength (in all but the most extraordinary instances) but also the psychological predispositions of males (after all, why the Domestic Violence and sex-offender brouhaha except that men are not only stronger but temperamentally more aggressive?) … then it takes more women to do the work of males. When the Navy assigned females to airbase firefighting units (how often do they get called out anyway?) it discovered that the turnout gear had to be redesigned because the females found it too heavy, and the actual fire-fighting equipment and even the apparatus had to be redesigned because they were too heavy or too hard to handle.

And even after all that, the crews had to be increased from four men to five firepersons – a 25% increase in manning that is hardly justifiable on a land base, but can be literally fatal on a vessel in trouble at sea. And in that last regard, the Navy has had to assign more stretcher-bearers to shipboard emergency plans because females can’t reliably carry them and can be rather prone to emotional lability (they are, after all, far more ‘sensitive’ than the chimpish male, as Correctness doth teach us). And this, you recall, is for a situation where you have a major shipboard emergency or you are under attack – and you need every ‘man’ to do the job of ‘two or three men’ as casualties mount. To the military womens’ lobbies, this is just ‘old Navy thinking’ and won’t ever happen in real life anymore. Ya think?

But now Broadwell will let Us in on some rather up-to-date ‘new’ stuff. The military is coming to rely on women because they are better at ‘peace-keeping’, which will be “the norm for today’s military and tomorrow’s”. (Which is what they said 30 years ago too.) The military – the Marines, even! – have developed Marine Female Engagement Teams (no pun intended, I can only imagine) or FETs. In Afghanistan an all-female unit of 46 Marines is assigned, apparently, to fan out and strike up relationships with Afghani women who are “good intelligence sources” and “more open to the basics of the military’s minds-and-hearts effort – including hygiene, education, and an end to the violence”.

So – let’s look at this as it is supposed to play out. A bunch of American females are going to go out and have tea with Afghani females, and through this coffee-klatsch, they will both discover useful military intelligence and also win over the hearts and minds of the Afghani women – because, of course, women are women. Uttering this type of idea would have cost you your job in the military only a few short years ago – the military feminists would have insisted on it.

And so the military – the Marines! – have developed not a new form of Blitzkrieg but (waittttt-for-it) Klatschkrieg! The women will bond with the women over coffee and all will be well.

We see here elements of the old but lethal feminist assumption that gender – not national loyalty – is THE core human identity (don’t even try to suggest ‘human nature’). These Afghani women will bond with American women and sell out their menfolk (the violent, oppressive, macho lumps) rather than play the invader for all they’re worth? These Afghani women will turn on their menfolk? Well, hell, that’s what the American feminist women did, so why not? Such strategic thinking.

Further, there's this old feminist assumption that ‘women’ are more interested in ending violence than men are*****. First, if that’s true then why the frakking frak do they want to get into the military at all? We’ve been seeing more and more talk about beefing up the civilian teams that would go in to do the actual nation-building and hearts-and-minds stuff, under the aegis of the State Department (like the old Peace Corps, perhaps), and maybe that would be the very place for such female endeavors.

Second, there is no way to assume reliably that any nation’s females will bond more strongly with an invading nation’s females rather than support their own males in the armed resistance. Have you seen any stories about French women bonding with Gestapo and SS women (and there were such creatures) in Occupied France, to the extent of betraying their own male Resistance fighters?

I think that where We have seen and been bethumped for decades by radical feminist damp-dreams masquerading (thanks to a pandering Congress) as national policy, We are now seeing the Services – the Marines! – calling such feminist damp-dreams military strategy.

And what’s all this about “all female” units? Recall that the women-in-the-military demand actually has three separate components (slyly hidden behind the haze of emotion and ‘rights-talk’ and rampant male ‘violence’): a) that women should be in the military; b) that women should be in combat (land, sea, and air); and c) that women must not be put into all-female units.

This last point (c) was always the most overtly suspect. If women were put into all-female units, it could clearly and quickly be observed whether a unit of x-number of women could do the work of a unit of x-number of men. And perhaps that was precisely why the military-feminist lobbies had to ensure that it did not happen; after all, when you’re trying to ‘change perceptions’, the last thing you need is ‘facts’ that are ‘unfriendly’ to your objectives. Rather, the ‘women’ could be piggy-backed in on the ‘men’, who would by the implacable nature of operational demands have to take up the slack created by the assorted female-caused incapacities. Neat.

Plus: you could guarantee yourself both an eternal excuse for female failure (the ‘men’ and the ‘macho environment’ were ‘oppressing’ them) and an eternal cause for complaint (men are preventing women from ‘succeeding’). And this is precisely what We have seen, most vividly and luridly in the advocacy ‘reports’ that women are being ‘sexually harassed and assaulted’ in stunning numbers and – as Broadwell herself doth insist – are not being allowed to do all the neat stuff guys do.

The separation into gender-specific units would instantly relieve a significant chunk of that – however much of it is actually taking place. Except for the lesbian-initiated sex assaults (about which the military, by amazing coincidence, seems to keep no records at all). It is utterly stunning why a vocal feminist advocacy and a military-feminist advocacy that are screaming ceaselessly about ‘sex assaults’ don’t simply demand separate-gender units.

But of course, a separate-gender unit deployed into combat would reveal very quickly whether ‘women’ are up to the tasks of sustaining combat operations, especially in the frakkery of Fourth Generation Warfare that many of Our military adventures now promise to be. And I am of the opinion that the military-feminists already know exactly what would be revealed – and they are as committed to preventing that reality from becoming known as Goebbels was to preventing the actual state of German military affairs post-Stalingrad from becoming known.

Slyly, Broadwell quickly tries to insinuate the desired spin. “Without a doubt this is a complex issue with a lot of attendant emotion.” In other words, We are to believe that women can do it all, and that all the objections are merely the result of male emotions, the macho ‘backlash’ at having men’s last ‘playground’ ‘integrated’, sort of like the Old South fighting racial integration. It’s all just a matter of a macho poor ‘attitude’ – and should Americans allow this marvelous vision to be sacrificed just because of a male delusion and tantrum? Neat.

“Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven otherwise” – women can do it all. But of course, as in so many other aspects of the Iraq War, We really haven’t been getting reliable information – the government has made sure of that. But just as in all the other areas relating to this misadventure in Southwest Asia, there have been all along voices trying to get genuine facts and clear thinking out into the public forum.

But as Goebbels clearly saw, in the propaganda game you don’t want genuine facts and clear thinking at all. You want to generate emotion, reduce the citizenry’s ability to deliberate or to critically analyze, and then surf your own scheme along on the wave of public emotions that you yourself have stirred up.

But once you’ve taken Moscow, of course, it won’t matter. Ja!

She slyly coasts by the sex-in-the-military issue. “Human sexuality will always present a challenge to organizational discipline.” How true. But in case you think she’s opened herself to a damaging admission there, she immediately continues: “Managing sexual issues should be like managing routine personnel issues”. Willy Tango Foxtrot?

You need only do a little Google work to discover the voluminous and high-pitched feminist complaints that there is a massive sex problem in the military, that it is the males’ fault, and that the Services aren’t taking it seriously. Can you imagine if a Pentagon or command honcho were to say today: This is just a routine personnel issue … ? He’d be skewered and cashiered before the end of the week.

But here is Broadwell pooh-poohing the whole thing as nothing but a thang.

Nor, I'm thinking, will she be censured by her sistern (male and female). They are all cadres of this revolution, and they know that you say what you have to say in the moment to get what you want in the moment – and the cadres’ task is to prevent anybody from connecting the disparate dots and saying that you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. In revolution as in war, Truth is the first casualty. But – comrades! – it’s all in a good cause.

In James Clavell’s mid-1970s historical novel “Shogun”, the shipwrecked English captain Blackthorne faces the powerful but genuinely intelligent Japanese daimyo, Toronaga. “It is never justified to oppose your liege lord!” bellows Tornanaga, in response to Blackthorne’s suggestion that his cannon could help Toranaga become Shogun.

“Unless you win” countered Blackthorne.

And Toronaga, silent for a moment, breaks into a belly laugh – “Yes, unless you win!” he agrees.

This is, I think, what the gameplan is here, and what it was for Goebbels, and for the Israelis who took notes from his playbook, and from the radical feminist lobbies, and – at this point – by far far far too much of the Beltway: once you win, you can write the history and nobody will care whether your initial excuses were truthful or logical or whatever.

I can’t help but think that that this was the thinking by which Bush and Cheney so flagrantly as well as recklessly initiated the disasters of the past decade of American history. Once we’ve won, they assured themselves, it won’t make any difference what we said to get things started.

In the case of ‘cultural revolution’ on the scale of the radical feminist agenda, ‘winning’ would come about by ‘normalizing’ your ungrounded visions: keep your stuff going long enough that public opinion simply assumes that ‘it’s been this way all along’.

But that requires that the public be kept away from ‘unfriendly facts’.

Yet Facts, and their siblings Consequences, and their parent Reality … all have a way of reasserting themselves.

As they have done. And are doing. And will continue to do. Until there will be no Propaganda and no Berlin Sportpalast where the cadres can put on a good show.

Broadwell wraps it up neatly with a sound-bite that is as duplicitous as it is kewt: “We are ready, and we are already there.”

She would have Us believe that both assertions are ‘facts on the ground’, and genuinely real, and True.

They are not.


*See my Post “Balancing the Globe” under date of April 21, 2009.

**A good pair of books to look at: Stephanie Gutmann, “The Kinder, Gentler Military”: New York, Scribner’s: 2000 and Brian Mitchell, “Women in the Military”: Washington, D.C., Regnery: 1998.

***One such panel went on a world-tour and discovered – to nobody’s surprise – military lesbianism in the Far Eastern commands. In a fine demonstration of what might be termed ‘chutzpah’, the military feminist lobby blamed the military for putting women under such pressure that they had to resort to “extreme behavior”. Truly, We are now all sitting at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and up at the head of the table the Red Queen is pouring.

Ditto the extraordinary number of complaints now from ‘straight’ females – usually of lower rank – who are being sexually importuned by higher-ranking lesbians.

****The link to the Report is here. The specific discussion and the Carter quote are on pp.854-856.

*****I recall coming across a researcher's comment that in domestic violence field research, more women than men admitted to initiating domestic violence encounters - the 'shadow' half of that research that the advocacies of the day and their political panderers did not want to be discussed. But that didn't stop all the inaccurately grounded laws from being passed.


Relevant to all of this is the glaring history of very recent US naval mishaps.

The watering down of standards - of competence, of actual achievement, even of the very acceptance of the vital importance of character and maturity and hard, cold successful performance - as part of the campaign to literally change the reality as well as the perception of what the military is 'all about' in order to lever open 'space' for females, has crucially weakened the military's actual capability.

The Navy - skillfully skewered with the overblown Tailhook "harassacre" of 1991 - has been especially affected, since its brass has since then desperately tried to make amends by yielding to almost every miiltary-feminist demand.

Within the past few months, two of the newest and most advanced vessels in the Fleet have been nearly destroyed as a result of 'accidents' that defy explanation.

A new submarine had its sail (the big 'fin' that the periscope sticks out of, that's on top of the rounded body of the boat) nearly ripped off when it was hit by another new vessel, an amphibious ship, while operating in Southwest Asia waters. How two major Navy vessels could collide like that is a disturbing question. The sub will require extensive rebuilding, and may even have to be decommissioned instead - since its structural integrity was gravely compromised and it cannot submerge.

And at the entrance to Pearl Harbor - a major fleet base - in broad daylight, a new nuclear-armed cruiser was run hard-aground, in waters that can hardly be called uncharted. Drawing 33 feet of water, the ship was run at speed onto a coral reef with only 22 feet of water over it, literally ripping away the hugely expensive sonar arrays under the bow, wrecking the propellers and rudder, and ripping open her bottom. Her propeller shafts - embedded deep within the innards of the ship, running from the engines to the propellers and driving them - are probably damaged. She too may be so badly damaged that she is beyond repair and may have to be written off.

The Comamding Officer of this ship was instantly relieved of command and will probably be court-martialled. But the damage is done - and the question remains: How can a professional Navy get itself into such a wreck?

One unhappy indicator is that the entire Pacific Surface Fleet had been found - by the President of the Navy's own Board of Inspecdtion and Survey - to be "unsatisfactory" in its competence.

Amazingly, and ominously, the Deputy Commander of the Pacific Fleet said that the gravely damaged warship "sustained no structural damage from the grounding", which would be an utter impossiblity given the nature of the incident.

Having allowed their Service to become so deeply compromised, none of the brass now dare acknowledge how bad matters have become. And a shrunken fleet, that reputedly relies on its superior warships and professional officers to make up for the lack of vessels, is now down by two hugely expensive and advanced ships.

Labels: ,

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I’ve just come across a review of a new book by the always-worthwhile Chris Hedges. The book is entitled “Empire of Illusions: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”.

I have ordered a copy, will read it as soon as it comes in, and I’ll Post on it.

But meanwhile the review itself offers enough for a few comments.

The reviewer – a free-lance writer – notes that “It’s tough to smack slumbering readers awake when discontent is the new content”.

Who can deny it? What had originally started out forty or so years ago as a little increased emphasis on folks’ feelings just to grab readers’ or viewers’ attention has now bloated into ‘feelings as news’. You can see it on TV news: at a large fire, reporters who no longer know what an ‘alarm’ is or how to tell an ‘engine’ from a ‘ladder’ company, spend their time – often long after the fire is out – getting “reactions” from the bystanders. How many times is it news to hear “It was terrible” or “I can’t believe it?” … ?

Any reportorial analysis of the significance of the event must take a back-seat to playing up the “reactions”. Indeed, there may be no analysis at all; whatever conclusions you make or whatever facts you report or whatever dots you connect may ‘offend’ somebody: an advertiser, a public agency whose PR office you depend on for the faxes that the station or the paper calls ‘news’ now, or this or that segment of your ‘consumers’ who don’t like what they’re hearing and seeing. But you’re always safe just letting folks repeat – as will ever be – that it was ‘terrible’ or ‘unbelievable’.

So you go for ‘spectacle’ rather than for ‘content’ until you reach the point where the public – after several generations of kids have been raised on this stuff and learn no substantive history in school let alone any critical thinking skills – can’t tell the difference between a ‘feeling’ and a ‘thought’, ‘content’ and ‘spectacle’.

And it doesn’t take long – and didn’t in America’s case – before some shrewdies were purposely manufacturing ‘spectacles’ just to keep the feeling-besotted public under the greatly mistaken impression that it is keeping on top of the news by joining in the electronic feel-fest.

A public that can no longer analyze and think, that can no longer judge, is no longer a Citizenry and cannot function as The People.

And as I’ve said before, if you don’t have a People, do you need a Constitution to curb and channel the voracious power of ‘government’? Do you even need a Republic? If all of these folks are such befuddled and addled lumps, do you even need a democracy?

This is an age-old problem. Can people be trusted to function reliably as The People? On the one hand, since the beginning of Western political thought there has been an awareness that most folks never really to achieve a level of intellectual and personal maturity that permits them to be entrusted with serious and large matters. Even Freud – musing on just how many folks might actually use his new-fangled psychoanalysis to achieve a certain amount of freedom from their psychologically hobbling interior dynamics – decided that most folks would in that regard remain “trash”.

Woodrow Wilson, for all his high thoughts about America, didn’t have too much confidence in Americans – and saw it as the moral responsibility of the country’s ‘elites’ to take the reins of the growing government authority of the early 20th century.

Of course, nowadays being ‘elite’ means that you ‘get it’, and the Left and the Right all along have had their own versions of just who qualifies as ‘elite’. But there was a time within living memory when it was neither the Robber Barons nor the Progressives who were ‘elite’; instead, the commonly accepted ideal was closer to some sort of serious adult maturity and awareness, rather than any mere externally-derived ‘status’ or badge that denoted you as being ‘elite’.

But the past forty years have pretty much put paid to all that. Now you are ‘elite’ depending not on maturity (we recall the recent Henry Louis Gates tantrum, which that worthy proclaimed as being in the service of “the downtrodden of the earth”) but rather on your status and which ‘side’ you are on and whether you ‘get it’ or you ‘just don’t get it’. Whether what you ‘get’ is some Left version of Correctness or some Fundamentalist version of Jeeezuzzz or some Rightist version of interminable military adventure is not really the issue in matters of eliteness now.

But the Framers were nervous about ‘elites’ – as opposed to sober maturity and a certain amount of what they ‘quaintly’ called ‘character’. Not that most of them harbored any illusions about the foibles of humanity and the numerous weaknesses to which the species is heir. With the exception of the ever-optimistic Thomas Jefferson, they were skittish about ‘democracy’.

But they were even more skittish about, indeed implacably opposed to, that tyranny that only an organized government can exercise, whether headed by a King or an oligarchy or what-have-you.

To imagine a feeling-addled ‘mobocracy’ in thrall to an engorged government that was merely the political plaything of this or that ‘elite’ … that would have been Fright Night For Real to the Framers.

Lincoln made much of The People. Not that each and every citizen was capable of sitting in the Executive Office.* Rather, that Lincoln trusted in the ability of the majority of them to perceive what is Right and Good, and that when deliberating together and then casting their individual votes, there was a decent chance that they would choose rightly. And at any rate, he like the Framers realized that there was no chance of a ‘perfect’ government in this world or among this imperfect species, and that the best that could be soberly hoped for was that decent and mature folk, individually and as a deliberating community, were the best chance in a risk-ridden History of decently grounding the affairs of a nation and its government.

That was the risk inherent in the Framers’ challenge and in their solution. It was no ‘risk-free’ world, no risk-free History, in which they were operating.

Life, they saw, was Risky Business from the get-go. And so was History.

Our present unhappy state of affairs comprises an increasingly addled and incompetent citizenry beset by ‘elites’ of either Left or Right, appealing to the feelings of the crowds in order to stampede them in the desired direction. And these ‘elites’ are convinced that since there is no Right and no Wrong, then political power is all – and if there is going to have to be political power in the country, than they want their ‘elite’ thought and policy to prevail.

So the arranging of serviceable ‘spectacle’ is the order of the day. If folks cannot completely be distracted by the soap-opera adventures and doings of assorted celebrities, then soap-opera type ‘spectacles’ will be manufactured to reduce large public matters to something that will help stampede the herd in the desired direction.

The reviewer notes approvingly Hedges’ flailing of “positive psychology” – that particular brand of American optimism, often shading over into outright hucksterism and quackery, that assures folks that they only have to ‘feel good about themselves and about things’.

Well, confidence is a good thing. And if you’ve achieved a certain level of maturity then you’re going to notice that you now have it. And with that confidence you can face the challenges – personal and national – that each day brings. But there is no short-cut to it. And while there are many pills that will claim – with more or less honesty – to dispel ‘depression’, there is no pill that will induce ‘maturity’. Nor is there any guarantee that as they are freed from ‘depression’ individuals will automatically become more ‘mature’. If indeed “ripeness is all”, then there is no magic elixir to eliminate ‘un-ripeness’.

The reviewer quotes Hedges: “Cultures that cannot distinguish between illusion and reality die”. As do individuals.

Of course, We can legitimately ask a variant of Pontius Pilate’s question: And what is Reality?
Is it what is there for the five physical senses to perceive and nothing else? Does it include anything that is not accessible to the five physical senses? Are Ideals part of Reality or are they a form of Illusion?

Even if you say that Ideals are a form of ‘necessary’ or ‘constructive’ Illusion, you’ve still cut the ground out from under any justification for humans to strive towards them. Humans are notoriously unable to sustain motivation towards fantasies – unless they’re a bit gaga.

And are all Idealistic persons gaga? (I won’t even get into what happens when you go beyond Idealism as a philosophical proposition and get into spiritual beliefs.) Are all Visions merely the result of “an undigested bit of beef”?

Can you sustain a nation – can this nation and this People sustain ongoing life – merely on the basis of a consciously-embraced mass delusion? The last serious effort in recent world history was supposed to last a thousand years and barely made it past twelve, if you recall.

If it is all illusion, no matter how constructive, then why fight for it? Why struggle for it? Why work for it? Why defend an illusion of liberty from government encroachment? Why stand up for an illusion of a self?

The reviewer concludes by sharing a disappointment: Hedges has neither encouraged nor exhorted. Indeed, to read Hedges is to get a whiff of the odiferous awareness of decline. And shouldn’t a good writer – especially an American one – ‘encourage’?

I’ll let you know what I think about that when I’ve read the book (in a couple of days, then).

But it would be less than mature to avoid pointing out to everyone, as Hedges apparently does, that We are in a heepa-trubble. And while it’s not time for the lifeboats (there aren’t any anyway), nobody aboard Our great ship can do anybody any good by simply trying to ‘think positive’. Damage has been done that cannot be repaired merely by adjusting one’s attitude, by changing one’s perceptions. The tilt of the deck cannot be made level simply by holding your head at precisely the Correct angle.

Which cuts the bottom out of the illusions of a number of ‘elites’.

Which probably isn’t a bad thing at all.


*A very large and prestigious Roman Catholic religious Order recently elected a new Superior General. The outgoing SG, a pleasant old person, surrounded by the elite members who came to Rome from all over the world to participate and hob-nob and elect, burbled words to the effect that ‘there are x-thousand members of the Order, and half of them could do the job of General’. Which makes you wonder why the Order then had to spend millions to go through an election process; a mail-in lottery would have worked as well.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 16, 2009



You may have noticed the newsphotos of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s funeral.

There is one * (I haven’t got the skill to reproduce it here, and I’m not sure it’s OK to do so) taken from the street as the casket is carried out of the church and down the steps after the service.
Having done a stint in a funeral home to earn some money as a kid in a galaxy long ago and far away, it caught my eye.

The casket is surrounded by folks, way too many to efficiently carry and maneuver it while keeping it level. Keeping the casket level is not only aesthetically pleasing and a badge of professionalism for the funeral director, but it also means that you stand a much better chance of not dropping it to the ground in the face of the family and friends of the deceased. So keeping the casket steady and level is an important professional task, a ‘mission’ if you will, that needs to be performed.

There are some adults, strong enough to carry the box (which, essentially , is what a casket is) by gripping its handles, along the sides and at either end. But there are clearly a bunch of younger folk who probably aren’t physically suited to the task, especially if it’s much desired that the box be kept level at all times.

But in the photo We are treated to something else.

The casket is already seriously and ominously tilted to the viewer’s left; a ship in this condition would be described as ‘hard down by the starboard bow’.

At precisely the front right-hand grasp-point of the casket, there is a female, youngish but still out of her teens. Her hands can’t be seen – the casket is already tilting so much that it obscures them. But she herself cuts an interesting figure: whereas the adults are concentrating on the next step (down the stairs) and trying to keep themselves and the casket balanced, she is looking off to her own right, out of frame of the photo, and smiling one of those ‘People’ magazine smiles that celebs instantly create when they are about to have their picture taken. The task at hand in regard to the casket and keeping it level and all that … seems not to be on her mind at all.

And of course, the problem she has created in the physics of carrying the casket at the level is affecting the young folk, and placing that much more strain – physically and otherwise – on the adults who are actually trying to carry the thing right.

I get the idea that she was standing around when some ‘soft news’ photo-snapper – and almost all of them are nowadays – had yelled to her to grab the box, figuring it would be nice ‘symbolism’ and make a great – and greatly marketable – shot. On top of the symbolism of all the young Kennedy grand-and-great-grandkids crowding around.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this one speaks directly to Our present national situation.

The actual tasks that produce achievement in any field of endeavor are being ignored in favor of a feel-good symbolism. And a symbolism that precisely preaches that the old focus on achieving tasks is ‘quaint’ and ‘industrial age’. Perhaps even ‘regressive’. As opposed to ‘progressive’.

It is a symbolism that is the private treasure of those elites who ‘get it’, and is designed to – hopefully, dahlings – educate the great unwashed of a quainter era that there is a new Order in the country.

As if Joe and Jane Q. Public didn’t already realize that there is a new Order now. And that it isn’t working. Indeed, just the opposite.


*The hyperlink is to the article, but there is a related option on that page to view photos of the funeral.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 14, 2009


H.D.S. Greenway makes an interesting point in an editorial about the troubles presently bethumping the Israeli consul-general up in Boston.

As you may recall, that worthy recently sent back a candid assessment to his superiors, based on his observations about Israel’s position in the opinion of the American public and – Boston being the home of so much institutional brain-power – America’s ‘elites’.

And that’s what his government sent him to do. As do all governments when they send ‘accredited representatives’ to a foreign country.

Nations, as DeGaulle said, are “cold monsters” and as some English gent said, a nation “has no eternal friends, only eternal interests”. While it is a lovely thought, there is no ‘family’ of nations and probably never could be. Though given the radical feminist revulsion at ‘family’ as a basic concept, it’s mickle curious that the ever-Correct Beltway elites continue to pretend that the Israeli State is American’s BFF and indeed closer to the heart of the Beltway banditti than any State in the Constitutional family, such as Louisiana (still minus a major city after Katrina) or the Great State of (fill-in-the-blank).

Indeed, DeGaulle’s greatest problem was that it seemed hard to love humanity and still remain faithful to La France. Somehow, the Beltway has cut that Gordian knot of DeGaulle’s, although I’m of the opinion that a ‘perennial’ problem is perennial precisely because it is insoluble, and anybody who brays that they have ‘solved’ it is probably trying to sell you something.

The consul-general had written in an internal memo that “the settlement dispute was doing ‘strategic damage to Israel’ because it was alienating the American administration”. Obama, famously, has started to try to correct the domestic-politics driven Beltway preferential subservience to the Israeli State and its interests.

Israel, of course, is not technically an “ally”, much as the Beltway would like Us to simply believe that it is. A treaty of alliance – especially a defensive alliance – would require a precise statement of the official boundaries of the respective treaty-nations, so that it would be crystal clear when those boundaries were violated by some other nation, thus triggering the military assistance. But the Israeli State has always refused to do that, because deep down its perennial objective is to take over Biblical Israel, lock stock, and barrel, and clear away any life-forms already living on the property.

And in this, the Israelis have modeled themselves upon two recent Great Powers.

First, America, whose violent and thorough dispossession of the native tribes proves to the Israelis’ satisfaction that their own plans are as American as apple-pie.

Second, not quite as completely: the government of Germany immediately following the Weimar era, whose quest for what it saw as its rightful Lebensraum to the East was ruthlessly – though unsuccessfully – carried out with much blood and iron. Although that German plan envisioned the enslavement of the subject Untermenschen; the Israelis, to their great satisfaction, are far too moral to enslave anybody. They will go the American route, eliminate the offending lives, and claim that it was God’s will. Or, from a secular point of view, a (charmingly Darwinian) ‘existential imperative’.

Plus ca change, as DeGaulle would no doubt have said.


With the exception of Eisenhower, every American President starting with Truman has played to the domestic Jewish vote by embracing Israel. JFK, of course, did not at all approve when he heard of Israel’s illegal top-secret program to build its own nuclear weapons, but then – some might say Providentially – he was suddenly taken from the stage.

LBJ, addled and desperate as he saw his war in Vietnam going to hell and his civil-rights initiatives going up in the smoke of a hundred urban riots, reached out to Israel with an indomitable will to truckle in friendship. Did they attack and kill US sailors on a Navy vessel in broad daylight and try to leave no evidence in the form of survivors? LBJ preferred that all of the sailors would have died and gone to the bottom with the ship rather than “embarrass our Israeli frens”.

Since the formation of that (in the acute if distasteful Nazi argot) Blutbund, the Beltway – first the Dems, then the Republicans, and then the indistinguishable nomenklatura into which the un-diselectable lump of pols and bureaucrats has now congealed – has pandered to the interests of the Israeli State, following as slavishly, if more stylishly, than a demented basset hound.

All to Our great damage and lasting detriment.

I can’t help recalling that in when the first Arab oil-embargo in 1974 came along, it struck me as perfectly predictable, considering that the Arabs would have probably been upset at Our giving the Israelis so much military and financial support. Especially when it was clear that We could no longer pump enough oil from domestic American sources and would have to rely on other folks’ oil. And then when you added in the size of some of those early-1970s cars, it sort of screamed out to you that it would very much be in America’s interests not to piss-off anybody sitting on big reserves of the stuff.

But no.

As the presence of Israel – especially given its insidious ultimate objectives in the region – inflamed the neighboring nations (precisely as had been predicted in 1948 by the many competent sources familiar with the Middle East and the dynamics of nations) this country just bulled ahead, driven by domestic politics. Originally, that meant the Democratic Party’s desperate need to woo and ‘lock-in’ reliable voting blocs, but then also by newly-invented (by the Democrats) PAC money funneled to the pols by the shrewd Israeli gambit of forming its own PAC to reward Congressional supporters. Later, the Republicans would be allowed to ‘buy in’, which they did.

And where the Israelis took advantage of the Democrats’ ‘secularizing’ of American culture in the 1960s and 1970s (most likely on the assumption that the less ‘Christian’ America was, the less ‘anti-Semitic’ or at least anti-Israel it would be), yet in the 1980s, with the Reagan-era embrace of a militant and militarily-aggressive Fundamentalism, the Israelis suddenly became BFFs with the rabid Fundamentalist Right. An overture that was paid for by the Fundamentalists’ suddenly ‘discovering’ that the fulfillment of all their expectations of Jeezuzzz would require the faithful to fully support Israel first.

And on and on.

I also can’t help thinking that the militarization and regimentation of American society over the past decades has been in no small part* a result of a ‘migration’ of Israeli society’s own militarization. The American Right has always been liable to a corporatist and militarist conformity, and the Left embraced a ‘revolutionism’ that equally called for government intrusion (as for example, the radical feminists bringing government police power not only into the hearths but the very bedrooms of the citizenry).

The consistent stoking of ‘fear’ and the sense of being ‘threatened’, coupled with the valorization of a ‘victimhood’ whose awfulness would justify ‘whatever means necessary’ to counter an ‘existential threat’, could as easily apply to the radical feminists’ characterization of women in a 'patriarchal' society as it could an Israeli state surrounded by numerous threats that its own existence and actions had inflamed. And such driving of the public mood toward both ‘fear’ and the desire for ‘vengeance’ – creating a stampede almost literally – also mirrors precisely the tactics of Goebbels’s propaganda objectives in a long-ago 1930s that now seem never to have gone away.

The integrity of Our own political principles is now deeply compromised in a densening matrix of ways. Congress is now enwhored to the Israeli state, and most pols are now so indentured and compromised that it is hardly inconceivable that they dare not change course for fear of their long treachery being exposed.

Worse, as Obama, having had to accept numerous old school pols onto his team in order to secure election, tries now as President to re-introduce some of the ‘balance’ that was last seen in the suddenly-stopped Administration of JFK, he is being undermined by precisely those pols – such as Joe Biden and Hillary – who have for their entire careers made their indenture to Israeli policy objectives a remunerative badge of honor. It is not inconceivable that they both will seek to oust him in the next presidential election. And if anything happens to cut short Obama’s Administration, as happened to JFK, then Biden will even more quickly return America to a full indenture.

None of this makes for a good night’s sleep.

But if the 1930s are baaaack, then nobody should be expecting to get one anyway.


*The corporations' desire for a more disciplined workforce, and then for a workforce that could be controlled as it saw its jobs and benefits dissolved through ‘globalization’, and the Left’s inherent predisposition to increased governmental intrusiveness in pursuit of the demands of its Identities, were even larger factors.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009



Kevin Cullen has a column about a survivor of one of the three US Navy cruisers sunk in the stunning night-time naval defeat inflicted by the Imperial Japanese Navy off Guadalcanal on August 9, 1942. USS Quincy, USS Vincennes, and USS Astoria, all heavy cruisers, some less than 10 years old, were lost – along with a Royal Australian Navy cruiser, HMAS Canberra.

Ernie King, Chief of Naval Operations, considered it personally as the low point of the whole war. Only two months after the stupendous and decisive US naval victory at Midway – where four Japanese fleet carriers were sunk, all veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor – and yet his commanders could turn in the stunningly depressing performance at Savo Island.

And depressing it was.

The cruisers were assigned as a screening group to protect the landing fleet that was supporting the Marines it had landed on Guadalcanal. Word had come that a sizable Japanese naval force had been sighted earlier that day only 400 miles away, near Bougainville. Since they were only two hundred miles from the great Japanese naval base at Rabaul, and heading south, and since there wasn’t any larger activity of interest in the vicinity, their objective could be readily surmised. It was expected that picket destroyers further out from the cruisers would sound the alarm if any of those warships turned up in the vicinity of Guadalcanal.

The cruisers settled into a night formation, two groups of them each steaming in a box pattern five miles on a side. The Allied ships were at a Condition Two state of readiness, whereby two-thirds of the guns in each ship’s main battery were manned and all guns were loaded, but not primed.

Alas. Picket destroyer USS Blue failed to detect the Japanese arrival in the darkness, just after 0100 on Sunday, August 9. The Allied commander, Rear Admiral Crutchley of the Royal Australian Navy, had departed with his flagship, cruiser HMAS Australia, for a commanders’ meeting close inshore off Guadalcanal. Earlier, Japanese advance scout planes had also been unremarked as they determined the Allies vessels’ formations and positions.

Destroyer USS Patterson, close in to the cruisers, was the first to send an emergency alert, over the TBS (talk between ships) radio net: “Warning, warning! Strange ships entering harbor!” But a command vessel was transmitting change of course orders over the same net, and Patterson’s alert was not heard.

Almost immediately thereafter, Japanese float planes dropped flares to give their gunners a good look at their targets. Cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago were illuminated and within five minutes Canberra had taken 24 hits and was a blazing wreck. Chicago was hit by a torpedo and did not engage the Japanese as they went by at high speed, headed for the rest of the Allied ships. Her commanding officer, left in charge by RADM Crutchley, failed to warn his colleague aboard USS Vincennes, now in the path of the high-speed, booming Japanese attack.

Aboard USS Astoria, a lookout had heard the planes, notified the bridge, and been told to keep a sharp eye out. As the flares spread their deathly glow, the lieutenant in charge of her sky-watch rang the bridge and suggested respectfully the immediate need to sound General Quarters, bringing the ship’s crew to battle stations. The officer of the deck ordered the commanding officer (CO) to be alerted in his sea cabin, just aft of the bridge, and to stand by to sound GQ.

The gunnery officer on Astoria had seen the flares and seen Japanese heavy cruisers less than six thousand yards off, ordered all of his guns readied, and also rang the bridge and urgently suggested that GQ be sounded.

Before that good thought could be executed, the Japanese switched on their huge searchlights and started firing.

Astoria’s gunnery officer rang up the bridge, requested permission to begin firing and – receiving no immediate reply – gave the order to return fire himself.

The officer originally ordered to alert the CO had failed to do so, busy with radioing information about a standard course change.

The warship’s Quartermaster, a senior enlisted man, took it upon himself to pull the GQ alarm without orders.

That brought the CO on the double, but his first concern, seeing searchlights and flares, was worry that his guns were firing on friendly ships and he inquired sharply as to just who had given the order to sound GQ and start shooting? He ordered his guns to cease fire immediately. But straightaway a couple of well-placed Japanese salvos detonating close aboard convinced him that GQ and shooting were the thing to do at the time, and he both confirmed the GQ order and ordered resumption of fire.

But Astoria was soon hit and set afire amidships, and her course blocked the aim of her two forward batteries, so she could only bring her aft battery of big guns to bear, and that battery had just lost electrical power. And then her forward turret was hit and destroyed.

By 0445 Astoria’s CO decided that the ship – fires raging, fire mains ruptured, and ammunition threatening to explode – had to be abandoned. Destroyer USS Bagley bravely pulled herself right up alongside the big cruiser’s bow, and wooden planks were laid across to expedite evacuation of the wounded and the dying.

Meanwhile, Astoria’s Executive Officer (XO) and about 150 crewmen had gathered on her stern. Unable to see beyond the roaring flames amidships, and with all communications wrecked, they assumed that the entire ship forward was ablaze, which was not actually the case.

Seeing Bagley apparently pulling away from the bow, the XO signaled her, put off the wounded, and then decided that he and his remaining lads would start a bucket brigade and go after the fire. A light rain began falling and that helped. By dawn he and the Chief Engineer decided that Astoria could not only be saved but might soon depart the area under her own power. Just after dawn, sturdy Bagley brought the CO back aboard.

He huddled with the XO and the Chief Engineer, and they put together a plan to save the ship. About 325 men, not half her crew left unhurt and alive, readily came back aboard to save their ship. Engineering hands went directly below to get the engine-room and one of the engines working. The rest formed fire-fighting parties, except for a detail assigned to collect the dead.

But by 1100, the Japanese long gone and Vincennes, Quincy and Canberra already sunk, the fires proved too much and ominous explosions began to rock her near her ammunition spaces. She began to list, heeling over quickly. As she heeled over, and water began pouring into shell-holes that previously had been above the surface of the waves, her sailors robustly tried to stuff the holes with mattresses and pillows – the sea pouring in on them and flames behind them.

At noon she was abandoned again, with a list of 30 degrees. She went under only 15 minutes later, at 1215. But her plucky crewmen managed to get off.

What’s my point?

Yes, the overall command element had failed rather spectacularly.

But the crews were magnificent. Frakking magnificent. And upon them be much peace.

John Paul Jones once said “Without a Respectable Navy, Alas America!”. But we are now in the grip of a Politically Correct elite – in both the civilian and uniformed command – that has for decades imagined that “industrial age virtues” are “quaint” and “macho”; that US Naval vessels will never again face World War Two-type challenges or – as if ships are only threatened by hostile action – any serious emergencies out on the deep; and that the first concerns of officers and crew should be comfort, career, and Correctness.

Pain, horror, and death – its threat to you and its presence all around you – are considered (if they are considered at all) to be equally “quaint”, and surely so improbable as to be almost mythical.

Consequently, the type of grit that enables crewmen (crewpersons?) to dismiss all personal emotions and focus on the job at hand, to each do the work of two or three men, to manhandle heavy equipment (and perhaps the wounded bodies or corpses of crewmates) up ladders – all under pressure of fire, explosion, poisonous fumes and the ever-present feral growl of the sea … that type of grit is ‘unnecessary’. And few who posses it may last more than one or two tours before getting the message that their type of sailor or officer is no longer required.

Lah dee dah.

A warship is no Ivy League campus that happens to be floating around on top of the ocean. A warship is no traveling ‘career’, no ‘office’ free from the consequences that beset and bethump life in this Vale of Tears.

If anything, a warship is the focus of a much more intensified danger than that facing land-bound civilians. Even on a fine afternoon in peacetime you are standing on a floating mass of steel (notoriously non-buoyant) crammed with fuel, ammunition, all sorts of machinery, all sorts of electronics made up of stuff that can go toxic if it catches fire, maybe some planes that are equally capable of doing baaad things, and surrounded by an ocean that could swallow a 90,000-ton aircraft carrier without a hiccup. And will, if given half a chance.

Considering what those ‘quaint’, ‘industrial age’ sailors accomplished 70 or so years ago – and surely as recently as 1967 when the Israelis attacked the USS Liberty, and later in 1967 when USS Oriskany was set afire by one of her own aircraft’s missiles and 1975 when USS Belknap was decapitated by USS Kennedy and 1987 when USS Stark was hit and 2000 when USS Cole was hit – it should become clear that the true grit displayed by the incredibly named ‘old Navy’ (so designated by the elites who ‘get it’ and want a kindler, gentler, gurrrl-friendly fleet) is still a vital job requirement for anyone who goes down to the sea and into harm’s way.

We may be more open to that truth now that the whole country is facing challenges not unlike a ship in extremis: familiar structures and supports suddenly gone, a lethal atmosphere now clouding vision and breath, and the ever-growling presence of failure, ill health, and death lurking but a short distance away.

We’re all at sea now.

Let Us brace Ourselves to it.

Labels: , ,