- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

In the old story of barbarous warriors vs. the sedentary civilized, history tells us the softer fall to the tougher.

Great placid unwieldy America confronts the closest thing to a warrior society that the modern world offers, rattling its Kalyshnikovs at us while reputedly sneering, "Americans prefer to drink Pepsi; we prefer to die."

Another old plot pits the homogeneous ethnic state against the sprawling multiethnic one. Again history favors the former. It possesses by definition the fabled "unity" we've craved and called for since this war began. "United We Stand" appears everywhere because America's unity of purpose is precisely the war's biggest question mark.

Since we and our allies are on the wrong side of history by both these ancient measures, can we become as tough and unified as we need to be to win decisively?

Critics like writer Joseph Sobran aren't counting on it. What the modern West really wants, according to Mr. Sobran, is "luxury and safety, and nobody is going to sacrifice his life for those things. Hedonism boasts no martyrs." And even if Hedonism is not the only value being defended, are Democracy, Freedom, Free Enterprise and the American Way of Life enough to bond and inspirit a nation?

Very similar questions arose as thunderheads of war gathered over Europe in the 1930s. Fascist, Nazi and Tojo propagandists sneered at the "mongrelized," "corrupt" and "enervated" Western democracies as unworthy foes that could easily be foxed or rolled over. The "nations of shopkeepers" watched the machinations of emergent warrior societies in Germany, Japan and Italy with tremendous self-doubt and fear. The fall of France and evacuation of Dunkirk only added to the crushing psychological warfare burden.

J.R.R. Tolkien conceived his fellow British "Hobbits" in their cosy, beloved shire to be under attack by ruthless predators, as unguarded sheep will ever be. Now serendipity has arranged for the new film version of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," to be released just more than two months into the bombing campaign. If true to the book, the film will have summat [sic] to say on the subject of how sheep may defeat wolves.

When America finally entered World War II, our own propaganda machine also had to tackle the unwarlike/heterogeneous dilemma. The government, Hollywood and other patriots seized upon several themes designed to transform those weaknesses into strengths: the motley platoon forging a brotherhood of diversity in adversity, the guy or girl fighting the battle of the home front to ensure the welcome-homecoming of our fighting men, the cynical hero/reluctant patriot a la "Casablanca," a thousand tales of little guys just trying to live their lives until so brutally interrupted by the damned dictators and forced to detour into great unpleasantness.

And when the GIs finally did come home, they immediately reverted to type, plunging with blind relief back into boring normalcy, blessed peace, domesticity, routine, "complacency," "conformity" and all the other little philistine sins. The Good Life how sweet it is.

Of course American culture has been derided by both left and right for decades, with every new decade, it seems, adding a new angle of critique. The early social novelists like Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane smelled a rat in the hectic growth of our cities and industrial base. Mark Twain was no sentimental fan of his countrymen. Sinclair Lewis mocked the American type in George F. Babbitt, a man unable to dream or transcend to anything fine, "because in his own brain he bore the office and the family and every street and disquiet and illusion of Zenith." Heartland towns like Zenith somehow bred a way of life that was "incredibly mechanical" and possessed no redeeming virtues of place, work or tradition.

While the Reds took social realism to hallucinatory extremes (try Clifford Odets), the Lost Generation fled the U.S. philistine scene altogether to take refuge in Old Europe. All the self-flagellation abated for obvious reasons in the early and mid-1940s, but came back in force with the Beats, Abstract Expressionists and post-modernists. Some of the most savage satires of American mores were written during the supposedly quiescent 1950s. The '60s scarcely require comment: Blame Amerika first, last and always is still the motto of a huge cadre of the Baby Boom generation.

Yeah, we're coarse, we're crass, we got no class. American lives have no second act. We're like overfriendly puppies we're arrogant and overbearing. We're hicks we're decadent. We're puritanical we're effete swine. Like dead herring in the moonlight, we shine and stink in the offended nostrils of the world. Disdained even by the conservative H.L. Mencken and his peers as Boobus Americanus, we are still the "booboisie," that caricature forever branded by the ultimate left/right omni-putdown, bourgeois.

No, to respond to Joe Sobran and other heirs of Mencken, the average American is not willing to die for Freedom or even for the Good Life. The rosary that we've said over repeatedly since September 11 is Family-Friends-Faith. Freedom, the fourth F, is mentioned last, if at all. Not because it is not valued but because it is only realized through other people, through the "little platoons" of daily life, not in the abstract.

We suddenly saw ourselves as others saw us and we loved what we saw.

What is real to Americans are the beloved images that flooded our minds then with the aching prospect of their loss, the dear commonplaces of everyday life, all those negligible, beautiful, homely, cherished things that Emily had to bid farewell when she took leave of earthly life and returned to her grave on the hill in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town":

"Good-bye, Grover's Corners. Good-bye to clocks ticking and Mama's sunflower. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths and sleeping and waking up. Oh Earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

When Yukio Mishima underwent his "sun and steel" transformation from cerebral weakling to neo-samurai, he seared on his heart the words of the "Hagakure": "By the way of the warrior is meant death. This means choosing death over life whenever there is an either/or." But those for whom life is sweet will always choose life. Can life then be too sweet for its lovers to survive?

Most people who claim that "America's diversity is its strength" cynically mean that their ethnic group intends to use whatever it can lay its hands on to muscle in on your ethnic group. The real sense in which American diversity is a strength, however, is quite different, and has two aspects.

First, America may be diverse but it is only very superficially multicultural. Freedom of movement, association and economic mobility have combined to create a tacit, informal, yet extremely resilient new class structure. One's socioeconomic level is directly related to educational and IQ levels, which in turn seem to be a function of one's culture or ethos.

Second, the same ingenious mechanization and efficient division of labor that allows less than 2 percent of our population to feed the whole nation and beyond, also allows America's warrior faction to remain a mere fraction of what it once had to be to defend our borders and project our forces.

The true value of diversity lies not in mutually suspicious cultures minority-vetoing each other, but in the ability of our natural aristocracies, those who are best at something, be it war or professional football or nuclear engineering, to be left alone to do their jobs, not feminized, equalized or otherwise interfered with.

Therefore it stands to reason that the key to victory is to let the warriors make war, the politicians orate, the Berkeley artists march and paint peace murals, the business people figure out how to make money, the mothers worry, the bums loll, and the Good Life roll.

Marion Kester Coombs is a free-lance writer.

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