Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Never, Never, Never

Pondering how centrism can be nurtured in our culture has led me to contrasting Mohandas Gandhi and Winston Churchill. Each man stands out in history as a moral defender of his country and culture, but using opposing methods. Indeed, Churchill and Gandhi were political adversaries during the same era.

Churchill and Gandhi illustrate how being in the right can be wrong if applied inappropriately. Had Hitler's armies encountered pacifist resistance by the Allies, history would be quite different today, in Nazism's favor. As it stands, Gandhi advised European Jews to pacifism in 1938. Although it's doubtful that Jewish behavior during the Holocaust had much to do with Gandhi's nonviolent principles, their general pacifism in the face of a political cult devoted to their annihilation is tragic. European Jewry might've benefitted from having an indomitable leader in Churchill's mold, had it been possible. Their lesson from grossly misapplied pacifism became Never Again -- never again will the Jewish people leave themselves so vulnerable to evil.

Had the Indian nationalists the means to take on the British Empire in a Churchillian military fashion, Indian independence would have been a far bloodier affair for both sides. Despite hysterical claims to the contrary, it is important to recognize that the British were not in India to annihilate the Indians, harsh as their rule was. Gandhi knew that India and Britain had much in common. He wanted post-colonial India to be a partner of the United Kingdom. This, in my opinion, is what made pacifism work for the Indian nationalists, whereas in the face of Nazism, pacifism was crushed by Hitler's death machinery.

In the current war conservatives generally identify with Churchill's warring defiance, and liberals emote Gandhi's pacifism. Yet each man fought a different kind of war. Applying either leader's methods as a blanket panacea for all conflict would be wrong, and dangerous.

There's an essay by George Orwell entitled, Reflections On Gandhi, written in 1949 immediately following Gandhi's death. Mr. Orwell commented on the limits of pacifism in international conflicts, saying:
But let it be granted that non-violent resistance can be effective against one's own government, or against an occupying power: even so, how does one put it into practise internationally? Gandhi's various conflicting statements on the late war seem to show that he felt the difficulty of this. Applied to foreign politics, pacifism either stops being pacifist or becomes appeasement. Moreover the assumption, which served Gandhi so well in dealing with individuals, that all human beings are more or less approachable and will respond to a generous gesture, needs to be seriously questioned. It is not necessarily true, for example, when you are dealing with lunatics. Then the question becomes: Who is sane? Was Hitler sane? And is it not possible for one whole culture to be insane by the standards of another? And, so far as one can gauge the feelings of whole nations, is there any apparent connection between a generous deed and a friendly response? Is gratitude a factor in international politics?
Orwell's questions are prescient for pacifists who think the West or America are the primary cause of terrorism. They don't question our enemies' sanity, only our own. Indeed, Islamic fascism is considered manageable by negotiation between rational actors who are thought to be seeking reasonable goals. Islamicists seek to restore the Caliphate -- the whole world must yield to Islam's domination. Is that sane?

For all its good intentions, multiculturalism's weakness is that it doesn't question anyone's ideological sanity as it enforces separate-but-equal assimilation of disparate cultures. Today we see the backlash of this policy. Cultures can trust each other only if they adopt a common identity, to forge a shared truth. When different peoples immigrate to the United States, the requirement for citizenship is -- or should be -- to adopt the ideals and values of the Constitution; they must drop their homeland's cultural expectations and national allegiances. If all immigrant cultures are equally valid to that of the host country, there's no viable centrist position to take. Who is sane in a multiculturalist world? No one's asking, because that would be judging.

Mr Orwell continued:
"Even after [Gandhi] had completely abjured violence he was honest enough to see that in war it is usually necessary to take sides. He did not -- indeed, since his whole political life centred round a struggle for national independence, he could not -- take the sterile and dishonest line of pretending that in every war both sides are exactly the same and it makes no difference who wins. ...It is not necessary here to argue whether the other-worldly or the humanistic ideal is "higher". The point is that they are incompatible. One must choose between God and Man, and all "radicals" and "progressives," from the mildest Liberal to the most extreme Anarchist, have in effect chosen Man."
Those who invoke Gandhi's principles in defense of appeasing Islamic fascists are disingenuous. There are very few in the West who make the Gandhi Argument while living the same ascetic life that he led, which was integral to his pacifism. Gandhi largely avoided deal-making with his enemies. This can hardly be said of many "antiwar" proponents. Western European nations simultaneously invoke words of Gandhian pacifism while living enriched lives. Some of them work to facilitate arms sales to Communist China; France and Russia had lucrative deals with Saddam during the sanctions regime, while UN cronies raked in money from the Oil For Food program. Such hypocrisy goes far beyond pacifism, straight to appeasement.

If tolerating wrongness is right, then wrong will prevail. Donklephant is trying to identify and nurture centrism and find common ground. A robust center should be based on a broad consensus on what defines our society, both in terms of its health and defense. But when we forge consensus, we should be mindful of Orwell's litmus test. We should ask the question that matters: Who is sane? Answering that question requires judgement.

It's tempting to believe that we are indeed mad -- mad to have evolved to this point of technical prowess capable of killing the world many times over. Perhaps we're insane to think that the complexity and velocity of our modern life is tenable in the long term. Those doubts come easily. The question of sanity is haunting to consider given the current administration's efforts in this war. Our energy policy does nothing to reduce our dependence on theocracies; our porous borders have left us vulnerable to terrorists, and possibly nuclear attack. Our amoral commercial culture uncritically pushes us into the economic influence of the world's largest autocracy, China. Sanity does not gel with these misguided policies -- but there still is a vast difference between government incompetence and the homicidal yearnings of a religious death cult. We should easily be able to tell the difference.

Churchill's stubborn refusal to negotiate with tyrants can be misleading to conservatives too. This isn't like the last great war; the world is shrinking, which challenges established borders of all kinds. The threat to our civilization is devised around exploiting the open infrastructure of our free society. This war is not a Clauswitzian struggle in the way that World War II was, with tank versus tank. The genius of our technology is shared around the world. It has proliferated so deeply that it isn't entirely 'our technology' anymore. It can be a tremendous force for positive growth by fostering borderless collaboration. And it can also be the insidious means for those who seek our destruction.

Churchill believed that a nation must raise an army to defend justice and liberty. A country must be prepared to win its freedom, again and again. Lives are always at stake, so they should be put on the line. That is the strategy that minimizes tragedy, but never entirely prevents it. We must accept that the world is crippled by insanity, and engage it on those terms, soberly. The porous nature of today's world is quite distinct from Churchill's time. Liberty's barricades are at home and abroad, online and offline. This war is everywhere.

In spite of Churchill's and Gandhi's opposing politics, there's hope to be found in their commonality as stubborn leaders of free people. It can be best summed up by Mr. Churchill's unyielding speech to the Harrow School on October 29, 1941:
Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
As a culture we tend to be blind to the great qualities of our own civilization, obsessed with past transgressions. Confronting radical ideologies like Islamofascism requires us to believe in our own civilization, in spite of its flaws. We will need to express the power of our culture to others, and why it's something worth living and dying for. That's what should be at the center. Western culture can endure only as long as the majority of its citizens promote and have faith in its many ideals, while addressing its imperfections.

A new centrism must establish a refined understanding of our values and morality, who we are as a culture, and what we stand for. Both Churchill and Gandhi stood on solid moral ground. In pursuit of that goal, we must never surrender to the insanity of tyranny. Never, never, never, never.