Friday, April 13, 2007

Dream... or epitaph?

Victor David Hanson dreamt about the West:

I recently had a dream that British marines fought back, like their forefathers of old, against criminals and pirates. When taken captive, they proved defiant in their silence. When released, they talked to the tabloids with restraint and dignity, and accepted no recompense.

What a poignant beginning. My Anglophiliac soul weeps. I remember a scene from Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, in which she's advising her nephew Emil about how to behave as an officer at sea. She tells him that every bit of rope used by the British Navy contains, at its core, a single red thread - that anywhere in the world, anyone can tell that that piece of rope is British because it contains that strand of red. She urges him to take that rope as his model: to let his character be known to and seen by all, no matter the circumstances, no matter his companions. He's later shipwrecked, and when he's rescued, he recounts that in some of his darkest moments on the lifeboat, he remembered the story and her admonition - and that it was out of fear that his loved ones would have to discover that he had behaved dishonorably that he did his best to behave honorably.

Somehow I doubt that a red thread is at the core of British rope today. Moving on...

Fellow Democrats like John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and Harry Reid would add [to Pelosi's stern opposition to the actions of leaders of Syria and Iran] that, as defenders of the liberal tradition of the West, they were not about to call a retreat before extremist killers who behead and kidnap, who blow up children and threaten female reformers and religious minorities, and who have begun using poison gas, all in an effort to annihilate voices of tolerance in Iraq.

These Democrats would reiterate that they had not authorized a war to remove the psychopathic Saddam Hussein only to allow the hopeful country to be hijacked by equally vicious killers. And they would warn the world that their differences with the Bush administration, whatever they might be, pale in comparison to the shared American opposition to the efforts of al Qaeda, the Taliban, Syria, and Iran to kill any who would advocate freedom of the individual.

Et cetera, et cetera. In brief, his dream is that the West has definable character, a recognition of its roots, its fundamental aims, and the price paid over hundreds of years to achieve a good measure of those aims. What do we have instead? An essentially two-party system in the United States such that the undisputed enemies of this country actively root for just one of those two parties to take power. What message should the Democrats be getting, loud and clear, from that fact? And why aren't they? Or, if they are, why don't they care?

He ends this way:

And then I woke up, remembering that the West of old lives only in dreams. Yes, the new religion of the post-Westerner is neither the Enlightenment nor Christianity, but the gospel of the Path of Least Resistance — one that must lead inevitably to gratification rather than sacrifice.

Once one understands this new creed, then all the surreal present at last makes sense: life in the contemporary West is so good, so free, so undemanding, that we will pay, say, and suffer almost anything to enjoy its uninterrupted continuance — and accordingly avoid almost any principled act that might endanger it.

I heard a tarot reader on the radio this morning. She did a passable cold reading for a caller; if you were inclined to believe she had "powers," she didn't shake your belief. (If you were disinclined to believe in those "powers," well, her probing questions were kinda obvious.) She told this woman that the hardships in her life were just "tests," that there's no negative outcome in life - just exercises from God to help her move to the "next level." The funny thing is, I tend to see my faith in this light: the stumbles I've had, the obstacles in my way, have each contained some lesson or some hidden good that was eventually revealed, so I've had a pretty easy time believing that God sends these trials at the same time that God sends the means to cope with them, with a purpose known only to God.

But what about the family whose child is abducted and killed? Where's the "hidden good" in that for them? There may indeed be a hidden good for someone there; John Walsh's personal tragedy has brought about good for others, but I doubt that he misses his murdered son any less as a result. God's plan may not include my happiness, is what I'm saying. The thought that they might move to the "next level," for victims of Nazi inhumanity during WWII, would probably have been small recompense for the horrors they endured and from which so many millions escaped only through death. (I could have circumvented Godwin's Law there, but with a Holocaust denier at the top of the list of enemies of the United States, I felt the need to underscore the reality of the Holocaust.) How many enslaved people died as chattel, in the US and elsewhere, so that their disregarded remains could scream out the injustice of considering a human life "ownable" by anyone but its holder?

There is, like it or not, evil that can't be overcome by good thoughts. Likewise, there are threats to our most passionately held and vitally important societal beliefs that fail to respond to linking arms and singing about buying the world a Coke. That project to get as many people to have (shall we say) very, very happy thoughts simultaneously, and thereby bring about an end to the war in Iraq? Somehow I doubt that my refusal to participate was the deal-breaker there.

We went to Williamsburg for spring break this year. We didn't spend enough time in colonial Williamsburg - much more at Busch Gardens, to be honest - but while we were among the colonials we did at least have a chance to hear the Declaration of Independence declaimed. I hope, oh, I hope that kids are still stirred by these words as much as I am now and was as an idealistic teen:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

I hope that there are as many Americans (and others! This document should be known to everyone who values freedom) today as ever who realize that those words were not empty. Those men, and the women in their lives who supported their dangerous act, undoubtedly knew that they faced hanging and permanent familial disgrace if they failed - and that some of them might (probably would) die in the attempt even if they succeeded. Their lives. Their fortunes. Their sacred Honor. That's the price they were willing to pay for the inalienable rights in which they believed. Hanson believes that the West is no longer willing to pay that price for those goods - that the highest price we are now willing to pay, we pay for craven comfort instead.

What do I believe? I believe, or perhaps I only hope, that he's wrong.

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