Monday, August 11, 2003


Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that it is culture, not physical combat, that is the decisive aspect of the War on Terror. Much of Western society, he says, lives in its own fantasy world, hedged around with artificial expectations and utopian dreams, for which the common shorthand is political correctness. Such a world, he says, is already laid out for barbarian conquest:

What does all this mean? Western societies from ancient Athens to imperial Rome to the French republic rarely collapsed because of a shortage of resources or because foreign enemies proved too numerous or formidable in arms — even when those enemies were grim Macedonians or Germans. Rather, in times of peace and prosperity there arose an unreal view of the world beyond their borders, one that was the product of insularity brought about by success, and an intellectual arrogance that for some can be the unfortunate byproduct of an enlightened society. ...

We should take stock of this dangerous and growing mindset — and remember that wealthy, sophisticated societies like our own are rarely overrun. They simply implode — whining and debating still to the end, even as they pass away.

Ralph Peters asks the equivalent question when he wonders why American society, nearly two years after September 11, cannot bring itself to name the real culprits in the attack. His answer is that our political elites have been bought by the nation's enemies.

OUR immediate missions in the War Against Terror aren't enough to win a decisive victory. ... One cannot have much sympathy with Osama bin Laden, whose vision of a vengeful god thirsty for infidel blood is utter blasphemy. Nor could any decent human being excuse the acts of terror committed by his followers, or by Palestinian suicide bombers or by any of the morally crippled youths who murder in the name of their religion. ... But it is possible to recognize that the majority of the lower-rank terrorists whose lives their overlords throw away so callously have been set up psychologically by the corruption and hopelessness of their societies. ... And those societies have been wrecked by Arabs and other Muslims to whom we cling as partners and whom we even imagine to be our friends.

From North Africa through Arabia's sands to Kashmir, those with whom we do business, upon whom we rely for advice and assurances of stability, with whom we have dinner and play golf - these are the very creatures who have stolen everything they could steal from their own people, who have ravaged educational systems, looted treasuries, corrupted institutions, tortured and murdered populist opponents and turned once-promising states into financial and moral basket cases.

Peters, who was a revolutionary and maverick US Army intelligence officer, has long held that it is in the long-term interest of the United States to wage war against the corrupt Third World elites who oppress their own people. His insight -- which is correct yet not widely accepted --- is that even Third World revolutionary or "progressive" movements are elitist enterprises with exactly the same goals as their "reactionary" counterparts: to keep power in the hands of a few and preserve the many in misery. The ideology of the political movements is window-dressing. Their character is the same.

Together, the arguments of Hanson and Peters fit in a complementary fashion. The Western cultural elites don't recognize the barbarism lurking at their door because it has assumed the human face of their overseas classmates who attended Harvard, Stanford and Princeton. And the Third World sharpies understand, all too well, what buttons to push when it comes to dealing with the guilt-ridden West. After all, many of the post-war dictators who ruined and looted Africa attended either Oxford or Cambridge. What is left out of the equation are the ordinary folk, the non-lawyers, the people without corporate expense accounts; the ones who don't hate their society as much as they hate themselves. Hanson and Peters reminds us that it is the tug of war between the Western elites and the man in the street, the culture wars, that will decide whether civilization survives or not.

There is one respect in which I disagree with Dr. Hanson. He believes that we have run out of outrages to motivate us. September 11 no longer evokes an image of incinerated firemen, innocents leaping out of skyscrapers, or the stench of flesh and melted plastic, but rather: squabbles over architectural designs, lawsuits, snarling over Mr. Ashcroft's new statutes, or concerns about being too rude to the Arab street.

Don't you worry Dr. Hanson, the enemy will provide. The enemy, among us and without, will provide.