Home Made Peril

Duly Noted

Decades ago your correspondent sat in Oregon in a course about China and Japan. It was December 7 of “Day of Infamy” fame. Our Chinese professor had the fault of not expressing opinions that went beyond the text. The anniversary, and the publicity, must have penetrated his shell and so he made a statement.

Professor Chen opined that, yes, Pearl Harbor shames the perpetrator. Then he went further. He added that the attack, if attempted, should have failed.

In the light of that he felt that the blow shamed America because its success was unworthy of an unprepared great power. In the early sixties, the reception of the assessment was less than favorable and so the room exploded in outrage.

The incident, expressed a view that was as new to me as I was to America and so, I recall the occurrence. As time passed events took place – the evacuation from the Embassy in Saigon haunts the mind- that made me recall the professor’s lament.

I remember another memorable lesson in politics and history. During Stalin’s terror, while we expected to be transported to our death. As a thirteen-year-old, I had a surprising question. I wanted to know what my parents thought in the thirties when Stalin decimated the Communist Party, the military, his scientists, and the Muscovite emigrations. (For those that condemn National Socialism for its 12 million murders: Stalin liquidated 20-60 million.) Their answer: “We did not think anything. We knew that such things that cannot happen here”.

What is the lesson for the future we are forging? Seldom are the calamities that take down your country a genuine surprise. Their coming is signaled and the surprise is only possible because the signs were ignored. To overlook warnings broadcast un-coded before the punch is a common human error. It expresses insular thinking and a lack of vision cultivated by the political class which thinks only of the next election. The Yiddish saying picked up while “building Socialism” teaches a lesson. It is that “the gaydes (trouble) seldom comes from above”.

We like to ignore warnings, and live content as does the snail in its shell, unaware of rolling bulldozers. Indeed, “Pearl” should not have happened; Japan had given unmistakable warning of its intentions. Not to take notice flowed from the “it cannot happen” attitude of the snail under the dozer’s shadow.

Democracy’s politics and the assumptions of its governing classes make their society vulnerable to surprises that are discernible on a logical continuum of the foe’s record. The ability to overlook the self-evident can become even more stunning. Just consider that, generally, the ideology of the systems that intend the destruction of everything they cannot control, make the intention to conquer, and the rejection of moral standards, difficult to overlook

Our day’s “liberal democracy”, as run by the political class, has created a system that operates on a cloud that floats on its dogmas. A byproduct of the resulting otherworldliness is my parents’ –to their excuse earlier- “it cannot happen here”.

One does not need to reside in the West for long to discover a fatal weakness that flows from the false assumptions that its success has created. Europe’s West, and its overseas projections, have been incredibly successful. That is an expression of the social order, the political system and the industrial development facilitated by its order. This fortuitous development has, besides the wisely handled man-made factors behind success, supportive components. Such achievements support the impression that prevailing through progress is guaranteed as long as internal good governance supports that goal.

Now, to the supportive externals. Since the Dark Ages the “West” –unlike Europe’s South and East- has been spared from devastations unleashed by determinedly aggressive and militarily superior foes. The Mongol Conquest ended at the Adriatic after a few months. Later, there was no Turkish/Ottoman conquest to ruin the conquered and that left them, once Moslem power waned, shackled by the wrong political instincts that survived the external conqueror. Hitler’s rule has been more benign in the West than in the racially inferior East. Lastly, Lenin’s and Stalin’s Crimson Empire reached its limits in Central Europe. Regardless of its limited input, Western Europe was saved by a non-European power that first checkmated the Soviets and then made them “tear down that wall”.

The West’s experience suggests that, while doing little, calamity can be kept away while its toxic vapors ameliorate. This impression converts good luck into predestined immunity. “Nothing that struck others has happened to us; therefore nothing we let pass will injure us”. Therefore, it did not happen “here” because it could not.

The West’s nations, especially the Anglo-Saxons, have developed an effective internal system for managing political processes. The technique is that of the creative compromise which does not equal capitulation. Hence, two assumptions arise regarding proclaimed enemies. One is that they “do not mean it”. The other is that there is a common ground preferred also by “them”. Finding it is of mutual advantage and thus a basis for contented coexistence. In the case of systems that are legitimized by their possession of absolute truth, their destiny is seen in global dominance. If so, these assumptions are not only invalid, they are destructive.

Like it or not, in the case of universal systems, if their leaders say that they wish to wipe you out, you need to believe them. In the context of their world view –which assumes the inevitability of “struggle”- the “liberal” willingness to negotiate can only bring an armistice. “Talking” is a sign of weakness, a symptom of lacking principles that condemns the spineless to the dust-bin of history.

The West, and non-western societies that have copied its techniques, has created instruments that made the good life possible for a growing number. That overcame history’s iron clad rule that misery, hunger and oppression must determine our lot. Today we are –again- engaged in a confrontation with systems that assume that their survival demands the destruction of every order not governed by their ideology.

Given the nature of this challenge, the factors that made the West’s internal governance successful -seeking a compromise through negotiation among reasonable partners- is out of place in the international arena. This means that the factors of advantage mutate into a disadvantage. Drawing the fitting conclusions is the challenge that our civilization must meet.

Would you advise bovines to be wary of steak houses? If so you have come close to identifying the critical area of caution. First, believe it if told that you are the enemy.  Once you got that, be certain that you do not negotiate about the menu with cannibals. Once you do, be “unreasonably” hard-line about the barbecue sauce to be applied to you. Above all, refuse to negotiate about the modalities of your liquidation. It is better to be cursed as an “illiberal” with a closed mind than to be a fool.

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