Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.
E = M
Energy is eternal delight.
Impearls: 2004-07-11 Archive
Attitudes toward another War
There's a fond recollection today enhanced by the passage of time of a uniformly enthusiastic and patriotic response to the threats of Fascism and Naziism during World War II, and a belief that everyone rushed to volunteer and there was little dissent, compared to today, during that war.
Actually, there's a lot of resemblance between attitudes among the left towards that war and this. It's worth reviewing authors from back then for insights into the controversy raging today. Following are excerpts from writings by visionary physicist Freeman Dyson and anti-utopian author George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) (1984) in this regard.
Freeman Dyson on another War
Physicist Freeman Dyson, in his tremendously thought-provoking book Weapons and Hope, had this to say with regard to popular anticipations in Britain in advance of the Second World War: 1
By that time we had made our break with the establishment and we were fierce pacifists. We saw no hope that any acceptable future would emerge from the coming war. We had made up our minds that we would at least not be led like sheep to the slaughter as the class of 1915 had been. Our mood was no longer tragic resignation, but anger and contempt for the older generation which had brought us into this mess. We raged against the hypocrisy and stupidity of our elders, just as the young rebels raged in the 1960s in America, and for similar reasons. […]
We looked around us and saw nothing but idiocy. The great British Empire visibly crumbling, and the sooner it fell apart the better so far as we were concerned. Millions of men unemployed, and millions of children growing up undernourished in dilapidated slums. A king mouthing patriotic platitudes which none of us believed. A government which had no answer to any of its problems except to rearm as rapidly as possible. A military establishment which believed in bombing the German civilian economy as the only feasible strategy. A clique of old men in positions of power, blindly repeating the mistakes of 1914, having learned nothing and forgotten nothing in the intervening twenty-four years. A population of middle-aged nonentities, caring only for money and status, to stupid even to flee from the wrath to come.
We looked for one honest man among the political leaders of the world. Chamberlain, our prime minister, we despised as a hypocrite. Hitler was no hypocrite, but he was insane. Nobody had any use for Stalin or Mussolini. Winston Churchill was our archenemy, the man personally responsible for the Gallipoli campaign, in which so many of our six hundred died. He was the incorrigible warmonger, already planning the campaigns in which we were to die. We hated Churchill as our American successors in the 1960s hated Johnson and Nixon. But we were lucky in 1938 to find one man whom we could follow and admire, Mahatma Gandhi. […]
We had grand visions of the redemption of Europe by nonviolence. The goose-stepping soldiers, marching from country to country, meeting no resistance, finding only sullen noncooperation and six-hour lectures. The leaders of the nonviolence being shot, and others coming forward fearlessly to take their places. The goose-stepping soldiers, sickened by the cold-blooded slaughter, one day refusing to carry out the order to shoot. The massive disobedience of the soldiers disrupting the machinery of military occupation. The soldiers, converted to nonviolence, returning to their own country to use on their government the tactics that we had taught them. The final impotence of Hitler confronted with the refusal of his own soldiers to hate their enemies. The collapse of military institutions everywhere, leading to an era of worldwide peace and sanity. […]
[The lack of revolt by Hitler's troops from the cold-blooded slaughter of his concentration camps shows just how likely that dream was of coming true. When the war actually began, reality turned out to be quite different from expectations…. –Imp.]
So this was the war against which we had raged with the fury of righteous adolescence. It was all very different from what we had expected. Our gas masks, issued to the civilian population before the war began, were gathering dust in closets. Nobody spoke of anthrax bombs anymore. London was being bombed, but our streets were not choked with maimed and fear-crazed refugees. All our talk about the collapse of civilization began to seem a little irrelevant.
Mr. Churchill had now been in power for five months, and he had carried through the socialist reforms which the Labour party had failed to achieve in twenty years. War profiteers were unmercifully taxed, unemployment disappeared, and the children of the slums were for the first time adequately fed. It began to be difficult to despise Mr. Churchill as much as our principles demanded.
Our little band of pacifists was dwindling. […] Those of us who were still faithful continued to grow cabbages and boycott the OTC, but we felt less and less sure of our moral superiority. For me the final stumbling block was the establishment of the Petain-Laval government in France. This was in some sense a pacifist government. It had abandoned violent resistance to Hitler and chosen the path of reconciliation. Many of the Frenchmen who supported Petain were sincere pacifists, sharing my faith in nonviolent resistance to evil. Unfortunately, many were not. The worst of it was that there was no way to distinguish the sincere pacifists from the opportunists and collaborators. Pacifism was destroyed as a moral force as soon as Laval touched it. […]
Those of us who abandoned Gandhi and reenlisted in the OTC did not do so with any enthusiasm.
We still did not imagine that a country could fight and win a world war without destroying its soul in the process.
If anybody had told us in 1940 that England would survive six years of war against Hitler, achieve most of the political objectives for which the war had been fought, suffer only one third of the casualties we had in World War I, and finally emerge into a world in which our moral and human values were largely intact, we would have said, “No, we do not believe in fairy tales.”
1 Freeman Dyson, Weapons and Hope, 1984, Harper & Row, New York; pp. 111-113, 115-116.
George Orwell on another War
Writer George Orwell wrote this poem in a letter to the Tribune during the war in response to popular pacifist attitudes in Britain in the midst of the Second World War: 1
O poet strutting from the sandbagged portal
In the Left Book Club days you wisely lay low,
Your hands are clean, and so were Pontius Pilate's,
For while you write the warships ring you round
In 'seventeen to snub the nosing bitch
At times it's almost a more dangerous deed
Your game is easy, and its rules are plain:
Throw in a word of “anti-Fascist” patter
If you'd your way we'd leave the Russians to it
But you don't hoot at Stalin — that's “not done” —
I'm not a fan for “fighting on the beaches,”
But your chief target is the radio hack,
All propaganda's lying, yours or mine;
That's thirteen stanzas, and perhaps you're puzzled
Denounce Joe Stalin, jeer at the Red Army,
1 George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), “As One Non-Combatant to Another (A Letter to ‘Obadiah Hornbooke’),” Tribune, 1943-06-18.
Impearls: 2004-07-11 Archive
James Joyner in Outside the Beltway critiques a recent piece by Victor Davis Hanson on what the proper response should be to another massive terrorist attack in the U.S. on the scale or worse than 9-11. Donald Sensing in One Hand Clapping then picks up this story, commenting “James Joyner takes VDH mildly to task for what I agree is a rare lousy column on VDH's part.”
While the indicated article by Victor Davis Hanson isn't a favorite of mine (I prefer this recent piece by him frankly), still I think he's making an important point here, and much as I respect both Joyner and Sensing, I believe both are getting Hanson wrong, as well as misinterpreting history.
In the indicated piece Hanson uses the term “Shermanesque” — referring to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's invasion of Georgia and the Carolinas during the American Civil War — as inflicting “collective punishment,” as indeed it did, on these southern regions for their role in furthering the bloody War Between the States while sitting back, far behind the former battle lines, more or less fat and happy. Joyner in his reply then picks up on Hanson's phrase as somehow implying “unmeasured attack,” as he put it, perhaps even “nuking the entire Muslim world” along with “annihilat[ing] the entire populations of the Middle East.”
Now people who have read my work know I'm hardly one to argue for “unmeasured attack,” or “annihilating the entire populations of the Middle East” — quite the reverse. From what I can see, however, Hanson's article does not argue for any of that.
In fact, Hanson says nothing in his piece about killing on a vast scale in response to a large-scale terrorist attack, and moreover it's really a slur on William Tecumseh Sherman and what he accomplished during the American Civil War to imply that his invasion of the South massacred whole populations or even small portions thereof. Yes, Gen. Sherman's army did destroy troop concentrations which tried to oppose it, and went on to deliberately demolish much civilian and public property, engendering (as Joyner pointed out) long-lasting “regional enmity.”
Nevertheless, murder was left out of the equation. Here's what Winston Churchill (yes, that Churchill) had to say about it in his superb History of the English-Speaking Peoples (which has an excellent section on the U.S. Civil War by the way): 1
Thus, though Sherman destroyed much property (and earned lasting hatred from southerners as a result), the nearly total lack of civilian casualties is a remarkable humanitarian record and achievement — one must note amidst the carnage of the bloodiest war (out of one-tenth the present population) in U.S. history — not an example of “unmeasured attack,” certainly not the equivalent of “nuking the entire Muslim world.”
Victor Davis Hanson is a historian, and surely is aware of this detail about Sherman's campaign — even if much of the public (especially the South of the U.S.) has built up this myth of Sherman's “atrocities.”
In my view, that's what Hanson is advocating here: communicating to the supporters of terrorism that “War is Hell” without invoking wanton massacre.
As he writes in the subject piece, “Perhaps it would be best to inform hostile countries right now of a (big) list of their assets — military bases, power plants, communications, and assorted infrastructure — that will be taken out in the aftermath of another attack, a detailed sequence of targets that will be activated when the culpable terrorists' bases and support networks are identified and confirmed.”
Culprit regimes should “anticipate the consequences should another 3,000 Americans be incinerated at work.”
That doesn't sound like massacre to me, and as Hanson points out, could well help prevent another massacre — of Americans.
1 Winston S. Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume Four: The Great Democracies, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1958, pp. 258-259.
2002-11-03 2002-11-10 2002-11-17 2002-11-24 2002-12-01 2002-12-08 2002-12-15 2002-12-22 2002-12-29 2003-01-05 2003-01-12 2003-01-19 2003-01-26 2003-02-02 2003-02-16 2003-04-20 2003-04-27 2003-05-04 2003-05-11 2003-06-01 2003-06-15 2003-06-22 2003-06-29 2003-07-13 2003-07-20 2003-08-03 2003-08-10 2003-08-24 2003-08-31 2003-09-07 2003-09-28 2003-10-05 2003-10-26 2003-11-02 2003-11-16 2003-11-23 2003-11-30 2003-12-07 2003-12-14 2003-12-21 2003-12-28 2004-01-04 2004-01-11 2004-01-25 2004-02-01 2004-02-08 2004-02-29 2004-03-07 2004-03-14 2004-03-21 2004-03-28 2004-04-04 2004-04-11 2004-04-18 2004-04-25 2004-05-02 2004-05-16 2004-05-23 2004-05-30 2004-06-06 2004-06-13 2004-06-20 2004-07-11 2004-07-18 2004-07-25 2004-08-22 2004-09-05 2004-10-10 2005-06-12 2005-06-19 2005-06-26 2005-07-03 2005-07-10 2005-07-24 2005-08-07 2005-08-21 2005-08-28 2005-09-04 2005-09-11 2005-09-18 2005-10-02 2005-10-09 2005-10-16 2005-10-30 2005-11-06 2005-11-27 2006-04-02 2006-04-09 2006-07-02 2006-07-23 2006-07-30 2007-01-21 2007-02-04 2007-04-22 2007-05-13 2007-06-17 2007-09-09 2007-09-16 2007-09-23 2007-10-07 2007-10-21 2007-11-04 2009-06-28 2009-07-19 2009-08-23 2009-09-06 2009-09-20 2009-12-13 2011-03-27 2012-01-01 2012-02-05 2012-02-12