War: Admirers and Detractors

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There's
no need to list the admirers: far too many and far too famous, or
infamous, from Alexander through Genghis Khan to Napoleon and Hitler.

So
this is mostly about the detractors. Butler Shaffer, whose columns
appear on LRC, wrote on March 16, in "What
Is Terrorism?
": "There are no u2018noble' or u2018just' wars
when the lives of millions of innocent men, women, and children
are consumed in the slaughter."

Contemporary
war admirers would take exception to that by at once instancing
Word War II, wherein Hitler and his statist thugs slaughtered, among
others, millions of Jews. (On the other side Stalin and his allies,
Britain and the US, slaughtered their millions on the ground and
from the air and with such post-hostility political horrors as Operation
Keelhaul, that forcibly returned millions of anti-Communist Russians
from the West to the tender mercies of FDR's Uncle Joe, not to speak
of his pre-war murders of millions of Ukrainians denounced as "Kulaks"
("wealthy farmers," i.e. men who owned more than a couple
of acres.)

But
surely Hitler needed to be stopped? Yes, but he should have been
stopped at home. I know, I know; you can't replay history, but you
can learn from it.

I
am an admirer and supporter of JPFO, Jews for the Preservation of
Firearms Ownership, a well-managed Second Amendment group that insistently
urges today's US Jews, many of whom are vigorous and public anti-gunners
like Senator Schumer of New York, to abandon their anti-gun mentality,
and realize that the one, real, last-resort safeguard they have
– we all have – in the United States, against the possible
rise of a domestic Hitler, is the Second Amendment to the Constitution,
which has given us the legal ownership of guns by 80-plus million
men and women.

Imagine
if the Jews of Hitler's Germany had had guns, even just old pistols
and shotguns, and greeted the Polizei with hot lead when they came
with their Black Marias to cart them away. Unimaginable? Not at
all. The Warsaw ghetto uprising gives a hint.

And
on the likely utility of providing firm, indeed abandoned,
opposition to a tyrant's gendarmes (as well as the cost of failure
to do so) hear Solzhenitsyn:

And
how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things
have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at
night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return
alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods
of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested
a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there
in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs
door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they
had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs
hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers,
or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time
that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And
you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull
of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out there
on the street with one lonely chauffeur – what if it had
been driven off or its tires spiked? The Organs would very quickly
have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding
all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to
a halt! "If. . . if . . . We didn’t love freedom enough.
And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation.
We spent ourselves in one unrestrained outburst in 1917, and then
we hurried to submit. We submitted with pleasure! . . .
We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
(Note 5, page 13, Vol. 1, The
Gulag Archipelago
, by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn)

You
say all this is so much dithering in the face of Apache helicopters,
etc.? I say not so, but only if we get back to the frame of mind
of Patrick Henry and other such dim, old, historic, and heroic folk.

I
have just spent an hour searching for some lines of Confucius that
Ezra Pound quoted, but so far no luck. What I remember are these:

In
the spring and autumn
there are no righteous wars.

That
is a much flatter statement than Butler Shaffer's, with which I
began this piece. I think the great Tolstoy agreed; he was flamboyantly
anti-war. Pound started his search into the reasons for World War
I, which ultimately got him into so much trouble, because the war
carried off so many of his young poet and artist friends, from whom
he expected great things – not to mention so many millions
of their potential audience. In the end he wrote (in a pretty wretched
disillusionment) these lines from "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley":

Daring
as never before, wastage as never before,
Young blood and high blood
Fair cheeks, and fine bodies; . . .

There
died a myriad,
And of the best among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization

Charm,
smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For
two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

I
doubt these lines are studied in our high schools; I doubt that
very many high schoolers even know that EP was our greatest or second
greatest poet (depends how you value Whitman); probably few enough
college grads have even a faint idea of anything about him. He had
a way of being offensive to the powerful, as in these lines from
the same poem:

Died
some pro patria,
Non "dulce" non "et décor" . . .
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

(When
you bring up Pound in moderately educated circles you will be quickly
filled in on his broadcasts on Mussolini's radio telling Americans
to quit the war because they were only serving the bankers, i.e.,
"the Jews"; he admired Mussolini; he really did go on
an extended, years-long rant about the iniquity of central bankers,
a theme decidedly non-mainstream in the 30s and 40s although far
less so now; and he had some thoroughly way-out views on economics
and money. You may fail to hear that his prose writings on literature
provide enchanting hours of reading, and his poetry is filled with
exquisite wonders – all admittedly for the discriminating.)

But
poetry (truth and beauty, remember?) and war are largely incompatible.
There are exceptions, but not many, not even Homer, if you can believe
some of the more penetrating critics. War is, in a word, hell.

So
if you are going to offer hell to young men, and nowadays even women,
you have to trick it out with glamour, decorate it with promises
of great rewards (not excluding money and a college education),
and make those old-men's lies as seductive as a high-price "vendor
of words" can make them.

I
have a vivid memory of an old man vs. young man contention about
war going back to the early 40s, just after we entered WWII. The
draft had begun, but at that point it was well known that there
were not enough guns yet manufactured to equip the new recruits
with a decent kit, so they marched and drilled with broom sticks.
(I guess that was true, anyway it is an element in this story.)

At
that time there was a brilliant, brash, and youngish scholar on
deck at Harvard, one AHC, who was a friend of friends of my elder
brother, part of a small group of older students and younger faculty
who got together for bull sessions. C was a Bavarian and evidently
heir to a title; he had been chucked out of Germany shortly before.
He was indeed far too outspoken and individualist for the New Germany.
He had become at that time a sort of faculty assistant, as I recall,
at the Harvard Law School, where his expertise in medieval law was
valued. (I heard that many years later he became head of a major
medieval institute.)

This
was either late '41 or early '42. Several of the Law School's distinguished
professors were encouraging law students to consider entering the
service immediately; it would, they said, further their future careers
to be familiar with the sort of Americans who would be the rank
and file of the military.

This
enraged C, who had just got through opposing militarism in Germany,
for which he was invited out by the Gestapo. A typical C remark:
"The FBI is just like the Gestapo only less intelligent."
This sort of thing (uttered after an encounter with the FBI) did
not endear him to officialdom. And what got the Gestapo, er . .
. the FBI, interested in him was his verbal assault on the professors
who were advising their students to go to war: "What do you
think is going to happen to them? Do you think you can turn over
a bathtub and aim a broomstick gun through the hole in it and stand
up against a 30-ton German tank?" Or words to that effect.
And much more about the need to arm against a perfectly serious
German threat and not pretend the war was going to be a social opportunity.
And so on.

Of
course the FBI suspected he might be a Nazi plant. It was not a
good time to be a German and be stressing German strength. After
much trouble, C convinced them he was not a Nazi. But he had one
unholy amount of grief over it. And he would not give up expressing
his outrage at comfortable professors, well past fighting age, urging
young men on with hideous utilitarian reasons.

Well,
I have remembered all that. And I find I am similarly outraged by
the way people who are comfortably ensconced in cushy places now
urge young people to go do the fighting and perhaps die, while at
the same time resolutely failing to explore, or even be interested
in, what changes might be made in our own land and to its policies
that would contribute to a peaceful, that is, a diplomatic solution
to current world exacerbations.

And
what about the failure of people with stakes in international businesses
like oil and munitions to recuse themselves from high-level government
decision-making. Does it make sense to have oil men as Numero Uno
and Numero Dos?

I
do not mean to suggest conspiracy, merely that an oil man or a banker
sees things differently than a poet or a priest, is less sensitive
to things human, much more inclined to be instinctively rapacious,
and much more inclined to justify the wastage of human beings in
causes a high school kid could see need something very different.

Beware
of old men's lies.

March
15, 2002

Tom
White [send him mail] writes
from Odessa, Texas.

LRC
needs your help to stay on the air.

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