June 6, 2011

The Commencement of History

Hatched by Dafydd
So long mommy,
I'm off to get a commie,
So send me a salami
And try to smile somehow.
I'll look for you when the war is over,
An hour and a half from now!

In a previous post on Big Lizards, perennial commenter MikeR took issue with a central (if unstated) point. I had noted that, while Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI, 96%) was excellent on matters of budget and the economy, he didn't seem to have much of a grasp, let alone any fire in the hole, for fighting what has been dubbed the Long War, the war against radical Islamism. Therefore I concluded that he was not yet ready for promotion to President of the United States.

MikeR responded in the comments:

Dafydd, I think a lot of this hangs on whether one thinks that the Long War against Islamic Terrorism is still a critical job of the president. At some point during the Iraq War, I guess we parted ways on that....

I no longer see radical Islam as being an existential issue for the United States....

I think that most Americans are probably closer to my point of view.

I am certain MikeR is right about that last: They are closer to his point of view... as were they in 1940, 1980, and 2001. Americans have a bad tendency to mistake holding our enemies at bay with having no more enemies.

We've all seen that wonderful piece of inadvertent, pro-vigilance propaganda, the Bush-41 era movie a Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and some woman. Let me quote the part that was supposed to make viewers roll their eyes and smirk knowingly, winking about those insane few who actually believed the United States needed actual "defense" from our "enemies." The writers were actually true to the characters (until the very end), and the very opposite happened as they had expected: The scene instead became perhaps the best articulation in any recent movie of why complacency is prelude to national disaster.

Please bear in mind that my argument isn't directed at MikeR, but rather at those "most Americans" he called upon for authority:

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg?

I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

You don't want the truth, because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall; you need me on that wall.

We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Again I note that I'm not saying MikeR is merely complacent; nor am I trying to explain why he personally no longer thinks radical Islamism poses an existential threat. I am certain he thought deeply about it before arriving at that conclusion. But he wrote something further; he wrote that "most Americans are probably closer to my point of view"... And it is that to which I respond here.

Yes, I agree; most Americans probably are closer to his point of view. But but I fancy they are for very different reasons than his own.

Many Americans, perhaps even most, recoil in horror or disgust from the thought that hundreds of thousands of people are actively seeking to kill as many of us as possible to overthrow liberty and individual conscience -- that millions are actively aiding and abetting them -- that hundreds of millions are in sympathy with their goal of a world caliphate run by Moslems with everyone else enslaved or discriminated against -- and that 1.5 billion at the very least acquiesce to that dream, a nightmare that is the real "long war," going all the way back to the seventh century founding of Islam.

Americans reject the very well established fact of a determined, thirteen-hundred-years war for two reasons:

  • First, because it is so existentially terrifying that mere war, normal war as in Iraq and Afghanistan, becomes a comforting mental euphemism.
  • And second, most Americans reject the existence of monsters because the men on our wall have done such a bravura job of protecting them, like Strider and his Rangers protected the hobbits in the Shire. Only a handful of monsters have breeched our wall, and the protected have concluded that no more orcs or balrogs lurk on the other side; they've all been driven away. The danger is over -- and it was blown all out of proportion in the first place!

In fact, many Americans now believe the only real danger to the protected comes from those scary protectors themselves.

MikeR is right: I part company with "most Americans" on this point. I know the orcs are still there; and even though we've killed one or two balrogs, there are still plenty left in stock. We haven't slain Sauron yet, and we never will; because Sauron (and Morgoth before him) isn't a person -- he's an ideology, a diseased mode of thought with an infinite number of faces. Sauron is, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "every form of tyranny over the mind of Man."

In the past, tyranny used the face of a bloodthirsty god, Moloch, or his divine successors, the iron gods of fire and blood and death. Then in the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, tyranny put on a new face: It tarted itself up as the vox populi (as in the French Revolution), ultimately wearing the face of "scientific" socialism, both national and international. And now, the wheel having come full circle, we're right back to a leering, false god of servitude, slavery, and submission.

But it's the same old Evil: You produce, and I consume; you labor, and I loaf; you obey, I command. That demon can be defeated in this theater or that, but never destroyed.

The storm outside our wall still gathers, and it rages stronger now, with more ghoulish gales having joined the whirlwind, than it did on September 11th, 2001. The trumpet that heralded that lightning blast wasn't the culmination; it wasn't playing Taps; it was actually blowing Charge, signaling commencement of the next phase of the longest war.

Too bad America hasn't yet even sounded Reveille.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 6, 2011, at the time of 5:25 AM


The following hissed in response by: MikeR

"I am certain he thought deeply about it before arriving at that conclusion." Sez who?

A little more seriously, I guess that with a few years breathing room from 9/11, I stopped thinking of the 'prox hundred million potential Islamic fascists as being as serious a threat as their numbers would imply. Most of them are barbarians, after all, living in a medieval anti-technological civilization. Radical Islam is not only out of touch with the modern world, it is opposed to it on principle. That makes it hard for a bunch of dervishes with scimitars to be as serious a problem as, say, the Soviet Union. There we were pretty well matched: A largely apathetic West against a Soviet Union that was willing to use roughly half of its resources on the Cold War. Here, 9/11 gave all of us pause, but maybe it was a fluke?

On the other hand, with a hundred million enemies, probably some of them will make it through the cognitive dissonance of embracing modern civilization while hoping to destroy it. But I have some hopes that that will be a small enough fraction that we can handle it without ever being in serious danger ourselves.

On the other hand, part of the advance of civilization is that it gets more fragile as it gets more complex. A smaller and smaller number of people is needed to do bioterrorism, or Stuxnet-level computer terrorism, and maybe other things. Eventually, one evil person will be able to use nanotechnology to turn the world into Gray Goo and usher in the Glorious Gray Goo Caliphate.

So there's definitely what to worry about. I'm just not sure that those robed clowns in Afghanistan climbing about in caves are it.

The above hissed in response by: MikeR [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2011 10:24 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Anent those "robed clowns in Afghanistan climbing about in caves" -- see the next post!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2011 2:14 PM

The following hissed in response by: kentuckydan

I have an internet friend who asked me once with exasperation, "How do you fight a War against 1.5 Billion people?" I replied the same way that 1.5 Billion fight a War to Kill and/or enslave the other 5 Billion.

We are engaged in a recent resurgence of a very Old War. Religous fanatics with access to nuclear arms is a far cry from the Soviet Union.

The Soviets were athiests for the Future Victory of the Revolution to occur and the Radient Future to arrive the world had to still exist.

Now we are faced with the potential for someone to unleash Shiva who thinks Armaggedon is a REALLY GOOD THING,

Yeah the may indeed be "a bunch of dervishes with scimitars" but give them some machine guns and mines they might learn to improvise.

Give them a few ICBMs (Pakistan Falls, Iran succeeds in their nuclear arms plans) you have a pardigm shift of quite a few orders of magnitude.

BTW there are other forms of Mass destruction which have easier engineering difficuties.

Everyone keeps saying about Iran, well they MIGHT get the Bomb but they still don't have a missile that can delvier it!!

Yeah how about a tramp steamer with some Suicide Martyrs steaming into a Western Port??

The above hissed in response by: kentuckydan [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2011 7:56 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson

You really should credit Tom Lehrer for the lyrics.

The above hissed in response by: Bart Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 9, 2011 12:33 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Bart Johnson:

Is there anybody reading this blog who doesn't already know the song? Along with "the Vatican Rag" and probably "the Elements."

As a general rule, I cite quotations that are (a) long, or (b) critical to the post, or (c) obscure enough that they could be mistaken for my own writing. I mean, if I write "Out, out brief candle," I don't note, "That's from Macbeth by Wm. Shakespeare, by the way!" <G>


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 9, 2011 5:03 AM

The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson

My apologies. I forgot that this is a better educated group than the average.
I rather like "new math" and "plagiarize."

The above hissed in response by: Bart Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 9, 2011 2:03 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Bart Johnson:

Tom was an instructor at UC Santa Cruz when I was a math gradual student there, so I got to chat with him a lot. My friend Dave and I even audited a class he taught.

It was pre-algebra; we were auditing to see how he taught math to math-phobic students... and he was brilliant at it!

If you're interested -- I didn't even know what "pre-algebra" was until I sat in -- it's all the basic rules of inference and axioms that underpin mathematics, the fundamental concept of a proof, getting the students to stop having hives when they see numbers, and so forth. I suspect that auditing that class really helped Dave, since he was definitely headed towards teaching math at the community-college or university level (he's a the former now), and some of his classes are at pre-algebra levels.

Me, I just took math degrees for fun; I never had any intention of doing anything with it, other than learning to have an organized, orderly mind.

I think.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 9, 2011 5:03 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson

Tom later went to work for No Such Agency. This is an exempted service; you work at the convenience
of the Director. You could be fired if he didn't like your tie, or lack of it.
Tom had a habit of singing (loudly, of course) in the hallways songs about senior management that
suggested improper sexual behavior.
True or not, Tom was not shown the door, but he was told where it was.

The above hissed in response by: Bart Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2011 12:30 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Bart Johnson:

Tom later went to work for No Such Agency.

Well, earlier, actually; it is sobering to realize that by the time Tom left the NSA, I was still twenty-four years shy of my twenty-first birthday.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2011 4:27 PM

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