There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.-- Hamlet Act 1, scene 5.
"There are always ghosts." -- Ralph Peters, LTC, US Army, Retired.
The world seems destined to fulfill Yeats' premonition that "Things fall apart." The threats to our existence are very real and are coming at us as if from a cosmic automatic weapon -- Ebola, beheading jihadi savages abroad and at home, social breakdown, probable economic collapse, domestic tyrannies at all levels -- all these things are on the minds of every thinking citizen. It seems to portend the end of the world as we know it, and we don't feel fine.
When I was young, my dad would take us kids along on a rare treat -- a visit to the drive-in north of Marion, Ohio. I remember seeing classics like Sink the Bismarck and Lawrence of Arabia there. But the film that made the greatest impression upon my memory was On the Beach with this great opening scene to the tune of Waltzing Matilda.
Since the movie came out in 1959 I suppose it was that year or maybe the next when I saw Nevil Shute's "useful dire warning" about the end-of-the-world by nuclear war. I particularly remember being impressed, as only a seven or eight year old kid can be, with the tragedy of billions of people wiped out, including, I realized, myself and everyone I cared about, all to the tune of the Waltzing Matilda Finale.
It was only when I got older and learned the lyrics of that unofficial anthem of Australia that I began to appreciate why the final scenes were also set to Waltzing Matilda.
Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong."You'll never take me alive!" said heAnd his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?"Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me",And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?"
There, in the empty streets of Australia made ghost towns by radiation, was the ultimate ghost story -- indeed, it was a ghost world and we all were ghosts upon it. Powerful stuff for an eight year old kid. Since then, the end of the world has always sounded to me like Waltzing Matilda. A couple years later, my generation was being taught at school how to duck-and-cover at the first flash of a nuclear explosion. They even issued dog tags to Rosey and her classmates in the West Memphis, Arkansas, school system so the kids -- wounded, traumatized or dead -- could be identified in the aftermath of the nuclear strikes that threatened during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
(As an aside, I've always liked Slim Dusty's version of Waltzing Matilda.)
You know, it's funny, but in my research for this piece I happened across this video of that Marion drive-in theater, now reduced to ghost-like structures themselves. I remember when we would stand in line at that now-overgrown concrete block building, which was swarming with life and with people, excited kids all, buying popcorn and soda pop. To see it now, with the passage of half a century (half-a-century!) is a reminder of the evanescence of human existence and the whispered premonition that everything we count as a given will be swept away, eroded, corroded, rotted and ruined. And were you to visit it right now, I have no doubt you would hear the echoes of Waltzing Matilda.
In retrospect and compared with what we face today, we were lucky, back in 1962. Both sides of the Cold War were, with some exceptions, rational actors. Faced with the prospect of an ending like On The Beach, they found a way around annihilation -- mutual assured destruction.
I have been doing some reading on the subject of credible deterrence because it seems to me that the promised firearm confiscation raids after Connecticut Governor Malloy's anticipated re-election (which is by no means certain at the moment, but that his "gun czar" KGB Mike Lawlor is still licking his lips and betting the farm on) can only lead to the assured destruction of many people in an American civil war. Ralph Peters makes the point in his 2007 book Wars of Blood and Faith: The Conflicts that Will Shape the 21st Century that the period of warfare by "rational actors" and according to the Geneva Convention are just about over. I missed Peters' book when it first came out but my son recently sent me a copy. If you missed it too, you can find Peters' discussion of the same themes on the net by going to page 325 of Warfare in the Age of Non-State Actors: Implications for the US Army, Proceedings of the Combat Studies Institute 2007 Military History Symposium.
In retrospect, this symposium makes interesting reading, if for no other reason than to see how some other "experts" in the field got things so very wrong. For example, Michael Scheuer who served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004 and who was Chief of the bin Laden Unit at the Counterterrorism Center from 1996 to 1999, spoke on the subject of “Caliphate and Islamofascism: Two Irrelevant Factors in the Long War." Scheuer claimed "those who warn of the impending imposition of an Islamic caliphate or identify it as a primary motivating factor behind the Islamist movement are wrong." This, of course, would come as a distinct surprise to the beheading victims of the Islamic State.
At the symposium Peters observed:
People in Washington imagine that they have different views of the world because they are Republicans or Democrats. They don’t. They start from the same flawed premises. They just take different courses. But we’ve got an incestuous governing elite, a little new blood now and then, that really go to the same schools. They read the same text. They go to the same briefings at Brookings or CSIS. They go to the same dinner parties. And it just dumbs everything down. Unconsciously, people start to have this same world view, and we don’t all need the same world view. We need a proliferation of world views now arguing with one another. . .We need to think innovatively, and instead of simply yelling at each other, to try honestly and sincerely to see the other’s point of view. With that advertisement, let me go on to the first great shift. Whenever President Bush says we’re in a war of ideas, I cringe. Exemplary of portrayal of 20th Century thinking. The age of ideologies is over, and this is critical. For almost exactly 200 years . . . we’ll date it neatly, from 1789 and the French Revolution, to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Humanity took a baffling detour. One of those instances of mass delusion that logic, that rational explanations, can’t quite clarify for us. Human beings moved from the mainstream into this odd detour of 200 years, the age of ideology, where first of all, individuals become so egocentric and egomaniacal that they imagine that sitting at a desk in the British library, or in a café in Zurich, or perhaps in the provinces in China, that one individual could design a better system of human social, political, and economic organization than the human collective could do. Now you don’t have to be brilliant to figure out that no human being, no individual, no matter how brilliant, is going to design an all encompassing system that takes into account all human complexity, all human needs.Even more amazing, astonishing development was that hundreds of millions, if not billions of people, signed up for these ideologies. The totalitarian version, Fascism, Nazism, Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Mao, and they’re a little bit different, one from the other. And what happens when humanity disappoints the thinkers? You’re on the road to Auschwitz, or the Cultural Revolution, or the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Humanity will always defy the efforts to corral it within a theoretical framework.One of the marvelous, indeed, virtually miraculous strengths, of our blessed country is that we’re pragmatists. One of the many things that worries me now, although I’m confident about America’s future, one thing that worries me is we’re starting to behave like Europeans. The ideological divide in Washington, whether it’s the neocons, or the totalitarians from MoveOn.org, or even a few people in the military—certainly in the Air Force—want to sign up for theories of warfare. Theories don’t win wars. Theories lose wars. Pragmatism wins wars. . . But pragmatism, is our great strength, and whether you try to confine humanity within a theory, or the military, a unified field theory of warfare, or counterinsurgency, or anything else, you’re in trouble. Now that doesn’t mean models aren’t worthwhile. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring hypotheses. This is not an anti-intelligence argument, it’s an anti-intellectual argument. Pragmatism is our strength. So the age of ideology, this disastrous age for human kind, comes to an end in 1991. It still echoes, of course, in Latin America, of which more a bit later. Or in Nepal, a few other places around the world. But by and large, the good news is we’ve moved on from the age of ideology. They’re discredited, it didn’t work. The bad news is we’ve returned to the human mainstream. Conflicts (are now) over blood and belief, religion, ethnicity. And Washington is utterly in denial about this, but I don’t see how you can deny it. Now, again, I’m not proposing single solutions, singular explanations here. On the contrary, any problem you look at that involves human beings will always have complex motives. But what you have to do in a complex age, an age of transition such as this, and the transition will last at least through the end of the century. We’ll all be gone. . .
In the discussion period Peters was asked by a member of the audience:
By extension, Ralph, you’re saying that it’s the end of ideology, and in the same sentence you said that the seed is still there, it could grow, and that there are nations and civilizations that are still afraid of it. So I’m not sure where the grounds of saying it’s over really lies. In addition to that, some of these things you were talking about, there are still Fascists. There’s rising ... you know, in Latin America, rising socialist movement, Chavez and others. So I’m not sure . . .
It’s not ... it’s a question of where it’s weighted. And even in the great age of ideology there were still monarchists. There are always ghosts.You know, you go stand on the bluffs above the Missouri River and you’ll certainly feel the ghosts, and see the ghosts. It doesn’t just disappear. And a Messianic figure, another Hitler may arise in a troubled state, New Jersey, for instance. But somebody may arise, and we may see a return of ideology. It could come back. But when I look, as honestly as I can, at the world today, I see the return to the mainstream, the default to the dominant factors of religion and ethnicity. But that doesn’t mean that all Fascist behavior, or totalitarian tendencies have suddenly disappeared. Human societies are accretive, and now we’re going back to religion, these basic identities, but we’re probably taking a lot of baggage with us, technique type baggage from the age of ideology. So it’s not clean. I don’t mean to suggest that, that it’s over, the slate’s wiped clean.I think if you look at the dominant forces of the times, though, for this century, to the extent one can look ahead, and we have to try and look ahead, the dominant powers are these primitive, if not primeval powers of religious identity and ethnic identity.
Now here's the thing that strikes me -- the thing that echoes from my memory into whispered premonition -- Peters' eye is focused on the world picture of 2007, not the American domestic reality as we experience it now after 7 years, most of them reflecting the neo-tyrannies of the Obama regime. Yet Peters' description of the elites of both parties and of the permanent Mandarin bureaucracies that serve them is even more accurate today. And the disconnect between their collectivist ideologies /slash/ godless-religion and the deeply held beliefs of those of us who still revere the Founders, seek liberty, and worship the God of Abraham, Moses, David and the Christ could not be any more stark than that between us and the beheading savages of the Islamic State.
As I have observed before, we are a nation divided along the answer to the existential question, "Does the government serve the people or do the people serve the government?" This is a political question, yes. It is an intellectual question. It is a question of competing and mutually exclusive world views. It is thus also a moral question. It is a religious question. It is a question of blood and belief, to use Peters' words.
Peters is right. It is not simple. And there are always ghosts of evil ideas thought long dead. But then we, too, possess our own ghosts -- those of the Founders and of every American who fought and died to preserve their vision of ordered liberty.
What our elites, including those in the Governor's mansion of Connecticut, fail to understand is that they are not playing casualty-less political games any more. When Malloy and Lawlor send the jackboots to enforce their diktat, they will ignite a civil war the likes of which this nation has NEVER seen, including those bloody years of 1861 to 1865. It will be a war of blood and belief, of war to the knife and knife to the hilt. And in the wreckage of a great country, some ghosts will be whistling a tune of loss and regret.