Got Gibbon’s old classic
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?
(I didn’t get past chapter one, myself)
My college teacher for leadership 102, “how to run a meeting,” Gerry Bruce, used to encourage our integrity. If we were having a classroom “meeting,” or discussion, about a tough philosophy decision, he would have us each write down for our eyes only what our answer was—so we would have to make a choice.
If a classmate asked him for time to address the class for something, (such as a party or special event) and if she told him, without honest thought, that it would take “a minute” or “two seconds” then he would not allow such dishonesty. Students had to have the integrity to estimate how much time they were asking for.
Last week’s footnote went:
Perhaps, if you are reading this in a future library, you are wondering why I would sacrifice the natural flow of my essay to suddenly, in the third from last paragraph, go sideways to a paragraph referring to the war on terror.
To me it’s obvious, but maybe I could answer in a sidebar, next week.
Now it’s next week.
Secondly, in a modern war, where the total democratic population is involved, some sacrifice is expected by everyone, if only the sacrifice of time, attention and a citizen’s duty to be informed.
Firstly, dear reader, I wonder too. Do the American people deserve my sacrifice?
Do they think so little of the words that fall from their mouths that they say “war” when they secretly mean to stay on their couch, letting only their civil servants “give a care?” Letting themselves abdicate any citizen oversight or planning? A war is not won by accident. I think they are too lazy to win—how, you may ask, could I say such a horrible thing? As I see it, here’s the smoking gun: They can’t even be bothered to “demonize” the enemy. Such a lack of national focus would have been inconceivable during my dad’s war, when even passive artists were quick to make demonic propaganda posters.
Perhaps those people who declare war yet refuse to demonize, also think there is only “a small difference” between the terrorists and us. That’s no way to run a war. My dad could have told them, as Barak Obama’s mentor Saul Alinsky said: “You can’t ask a farmer to leave his wife and children, his crops half-grown in the field, for a small difference.”
Nor can you ask my sister to (hypothetically) leave her college degree in Arab Studies half-finished to go be a translator in a long modest dress, to accompany the U.S. army at night. (Surely the army or the embassy would at least provide her with rations and a free roof overhead—they could even call her a “civilian contractor”) Therefore my sister won’t be giving aid and comfort to any Arab families as the U.S. troops “recruit for Al-Qaida” by kicking in doors at midnight, frightening families in the bitter search for insurgents and weapons. No, better to let America’s army recruit new insurgents. While lazy Americans are saying from their couches, “Let George do it,” I would tell my sister, “Stay in college. The American people don’t deserve you.”
… Note of gratitude: Some of the above ideas are ones I have applied from reading the Chtorr War novels of David Gerrold about a world desperately fighting against an alien invasion by ecological infestation. (No Martian Fighting Machines with death rays) I love that series.
I wonder: Did the folks of the sprawling decadent Roman Empire look back to their famous old city-state republic as a golden age? Did they know, as historians do today, that they were in decline, headed for a fall, even though they were so much greater in terms of gold and territory than the virtuous old republic? If they did know, they must have felt helpless to reverse their decline.
One theory, for spotting a state’s decline, is presented by a character in Robert Heinlein’s speculative fiction novel about a grown up orphan named Friday. A wise man tells her a nation in decline has declining civility, adding that the worst offenders view their rudeness as a strength.
I wonder if Heinlein had read old Roman parchments?
I guess nobody knows how to spot national decline (except for the obvious tell-tale of government being dishonest with the money supply, producing inflation—as in the U.S., Canada and early Nazi Germany until Hitler stopped inflation cold in its tracks—as documented in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) but here’s another theory: Perhaps a nation has lost greatness when they no longer aspire to have integrity in their language. I suppose the loss of integrity would be most noticeable in a nation’s elected leaders and “patricians.”
Speaking of leaders: During the U.S. civil war, at a time and place when everyone else went in for florid speech, as an historian has noted, both President Lincoln and General Grant were concise and accurate in their speech—which helped them to trust each other at great distances. Perhaps in their personal lives those two had the same philosophy as I: Honest language prevents decline. During my dad’s war, Sir Winston Churchill would correct bad language such as reporting that in Italy yesterday we “were fighting with the Germans.” As if war is a game. No, we were fighting with our allies, against the Germans. Once an officer, as a figure of speech, said to Churchill, “I’m afraid that—” “Don’t be afraid!”
Now what’s to become of us? We may have the president of the United States speak of the “war on terror” but he seems to secretly regard it as being, at most, a mere “leave it to the regular military” police action.
Greatness never sits down beside exaggeration, or lies, or wishful thinking. Integrity means wholesome thought, word and then deed. Any Girl Scout knows that.
And that’s why I think the American people, even after conserving resources for their war by pulling out of Iraq, have doomed themselves in advance to not-win.
As for “citizen oversight,” by searching the web I can find individual congressmen, in small groups, going briefly to the occupation zone as Ugly Americans and staying among the elite in the Green Zone—just as Ugly Americans (as in the classic of that title) would stay glued to urban Saigon—but I find no sign of a Congressional Committee going over long enough for a formal study. Perhaps congressmen thought it was peacetime, and so therefore they were most needed back in couch territory.
As long as congressmen remain content to not-win, the terrorists will be excited to not-lose.