But the experience
of the twentieth century indicates that self-imposed restraints
by a civilized power are worse than useless. They are interpreted
by friend and foe alike as evidence, not of humanity, but of guilt
and lack of righteous conviction.
Paul Johnson*, Modern
n the fall of 1939,
during the early weeks of what in England was called "the phony
war" (the Germans called it sitzkrieg "the
sitting-down war"), there was an illuminating exchange in the
House of Commons. Some members of Parliament were putting pressure
on Sir Kingsley Wood, the head of the air ministry, to bomb German
munitions stores in the Black Forest. Sir Kingsley was shocked.
"Are you aware it is private property?" he protested.
"Why, you will be asking me to bomb Essen next!" Essen
was the home of the famous Krupp munitions factories.
later the Royal Air Force firebombed Hamburg, completely leveling
eight square miles of the city and slaughtering 40,000 people
most of them civilians in one night alone. Six months later
came the destruction of Dresden, a joint operation with the USAF,
in which 135,000 people were incinerated or buried alive. The children
of Dresden were in carnival costumes, as it was Shrove Tuesday.
From Sir Kingsley Wood to "Bomber" Harris (Arthur Harris,
Churchill's wartime chief of RAF Bomber Command, a strong proponent
of massive aerial bombing), you see the coarsening effect of war,
the moral slide that always occurs, especially when people come
to feel that the existence of their country is at stake.
I'm not sure
it can be plausibly claimed that the U.S.A.'s existence is threatened
by the Taliban, but I am sure that as the war proceeds and our own
casualties mount we shall see and, indeed, experience in
ourselves some of that moral coarsening. At the moment we
are still in the Sir Kingsley Wood stage: taking care to drop one
food package for every bomb, terribly concerned that our enemies
and "coalition partners" understand that in spite of being
driven to do some moderately unpleasant things we are, none the
less, still really, really nice people at heart. Chances are this
won't last. If Paul Johnson is right, as I believe he is, we should
hope it doesn't. Nice doesn't win wars.
The folly of
this kinder, gentler warmaking is already being pointed out by a
few dissidents bold enough to put a boot through the sheetrock wall
of Emotional Correctness the media have been busily erecting since
September 11th. Did you see The O'Reilly Factor last Friday?
O'Reilly himself was off, and the program was hosted by John Kasich
a capable presenter, but one who punches well below O'Reilly's
weight. One of Kasich's guests was Leonard Peikoff of the Ayn Rand
Institute. Clearly and forcefully, yet politely and reasonably,
Peikoff put the case for total war. War, he pointed out, is a violent
conflict between two nations, which comes to an end when one of
those nations has brought the other to its knees and stripped its
people of any will to continue fighting. You do that by the severe
application of brute force, not by dropping food parcels. It wasn't
food parcels we were dropping on Tokyo and Berlin in 1945, he observed.
Sir Kingsley Kasich was plainly shocked. What about the root causes?
he asked indignantly. Didn't this whole situation arise in the first
place because America had failed to share her bounty with the rest
of the world? Peikoff swatted this down with the scorn it deserved.
America's bounty, he pointed out, was created by Americans, who
are under no moral obligation to share it with anyone else, especially
since that sharing can only be accomplished by letting our government
impose ever more taxes on us.
who, as far as I am concerned, could run for mayor at this point
did not add, probably just because he didn't have the time,
that a massive and ruthless application of force, breaking the enemy's
will as swiftly as possible, is actually the more humane policy
in the long run. Recall the story about the man who decided to cut
off his dog's tail. He thought that a single one-time blow with
the cleaver would be too traumatic for the poor creature, so instead
he adopted a policy of cutting off a half-inch from the tail each
day. That is pretty much how Lyndon Johnson conducted the bombing
of North Vietnam sparing the cities, sparing the dikes, approving
targets personally. That ended, let me remind you, with the U.S.A.
losing the war, run out of Vietnam with her own tail between her
legs, and with those who had trusted in the might and goodness of
America hanging on to helicopter skids, or left behind to be hustled
off into concentration camps... and with all the people of Southeast
Asia stuck under the rule of corrupt Leninist gangsters, bereft
of liberty, law, and property, down to the present day.
It would, of
course, be grossly politically incorrect of me to refer to the United
States of America as a Christian nation. I hope no one will mind
too much, though, if I state that she is still, even in this hedonistic
age, a Bible nation. Now the Bible gives us such insights as we
are permitted to have into the mind of God; and the mind of God,
like pretty much everything He created, turns out to have two sides.
There is the thundering, irascible, vengeful yet ultimately just
God who is most visible in the Old Testament; and then there is
the embracing, forgiving, loving God who is more in evidence in
the New Testament yang and yin, the Daddy God
and the Mommy God. (Yes, yes, I know that is an outrageous over-simplification.
Just let me make my argument before you fire off that angry email
setting me straight on points of theology.)
at various times, favored either one or the other of these aspects
of the Almighty. In wartime, the Old Testament God tends to get
more of a hearing, for obvious reasons there are rather a
lot of wars in the Old Testament. One of the small blessings we
have received in this terrible time has been to hear "The Battle
Hymn of the Republic" being sung in public, full throat. Just
listen to the words, the imagery, of that most stirring of all America's
patriotic songs: "Trampling" ... "wrath" ...
"fearsome" ... "terrible". This is not Oprah's
God. This is the God of the Old Testament, the God of Joshua
and Judges; the God of Ehud and Jephthah; of Samson, who,
in his war against the Philistines "smote them hip and thigh
with a great slaughter"; of Gideon, who, let it be well recalled
in this context, when the men of Israel begged him to become their
king, said: "I will not rule over you ... the Lord shall rule
over you"; of Saul and David, of whom the chronicler recorded
with bleak simplicity that: "Saul hath slain his thousands,
and David his ten thousands."
These are early
days yet, though. We are still in New Testament mode at the moment,
giving over valuable air-cargo space to food packages to be dropped
to people who may never receive them. We are singing "The Battle
Hymn of the Republic" but we are not hearing the words. The
sword has been wonderfully swift, but not very terrible. I predict
that, if there are further attacks against U.S. territory on the
scale of the September 11th outrages, this will change. We shall
turn to the God of the Old Testament, and narrow down our focus
to a single war aim: victory, regardless of how much that victory
might hurt the feelings of our enemies, or even of our friends.
Then we shall smite those enemies hip and thigh, laying waste their
cities and fields with our most terrible weapons. When we have won,
we shall, of course, do all we can to help rebuild what we have
laid waste, in the spirit of magnanimity and foresight that created
two stable, prosperous nations out of post-WWII Germany and Japan.
But first, we have to win.
* I am sorry to have quoted from two different books
by Paul Johnson on two successive Tuesdays. The only excuses I can
offer are (a) he is exceptionally quotable, and (b) there are not
many conservative historians to quote from.