- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

In the winter of 1916-1917, the German high command did a rare and brilliant thing. Unless American cultural conservatives do something similar, and soon, they're going to blow Culture War II as badly as they blew Culture War I.
Before discussing what the German army did and its relevance, a bit on Culture Wars I and II.
Culture War I ran roughly from the mid-1960s to the latter-'90s or, if you prefer, from Hillary Rodham Clinton's first scoldings to Bill's final lies, and to an immense national burnout with all the hectoring. By any standard save nostalgia, conservatives lost mightily.
Culture warlord Paul Weyrich admitted as much when, in the aftermath of Mr. Clinton's acquittal, he urged all right-thinking Americans to punch out and build a world of their own until such time as everybody decided that they really wanted to be like us. Others turned out books with titles such as "The Death of Outrage"(William Bennett) and "The Death of Character" (Jim Hunter). It was grim.
Culture War I was about many things: left vs. right, religious vs. humanistic, women vs. men, modern vs. postmodern, gays vs. straights, people of color vs. whites a long litany in which all the issues got bolloxed up into One Big Issue known to the right as morality and reason but to the left as diversity.
Cultural conservatives have never really understood diversity, preferring to equate it with a superficial food-court multiculturalism and with the apparatus of coercion: affirmative action, political correctness and lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits.
The perception is not wrong, just grievously incomplete. At its base, and in its highest aspects, diversity means the attempt to create a civilization in which there exists no normative center, no matter how tolerant and benign, from which all else is deviation, no matter how accepted or acceptable.
No group or creed or sex or heritage or way of life may dominate. There may be no official culture, only a melange of subcultures that people may embrace or reject, mix and match, or ignore.
Then came September 11. And cultural conservatives demonstrated once again how accustomed they had grown to the kind of defeat that flows from repetition of that tired old mantra: Be like us.
Recall the cultural discourse of the last few months. After an initial burst of self-humiliation, the out-to-lunch left the Blame America Firsties and the USA: Just Hate It crowds by and large shut up. Some among the glitterati and the Hollywood heavenlies bleated "Censorship," then stepped back and waited for the popular outrage that never came. Even Pravda noted their utter self-marginalization.
The conservative response? To give them scads of free publicity by assiduously seeking out and self-righteously huffing over such idiotic pronouncements as did get made.
And America yawned.
Of course, many conservatives did more. They rushed in with a variety of pronouncements and analyses, all adding up to a single conclusion. "We're baaaack." Church attendance is up (it's slipping again). Patriotism and black-and-white morality are once more in fashion a word whose meaning denotes little more than superficial transience. We can "use" the crisis to combat PC, "take back the culture" and soon enough everybody will conclude that it's time once more to "be like us."
And America yawned. And now, it seems, we're back to the culture war business-as-usual, with left and right two wrestlers so intent on staging their hokey match they don't notice the audience leaving.
But we're not. For now it's Culture War II, and the fundamental issue is clear. It's the struggle between those who would restore or create some sort of normative center against those who would continue the trek toward an acentric civilization. The only thing is, Culture War II will be conducted in time of war. A real war, a long war, an unpredictable war, and a war that may or may not require unity, uniformity, or even a common center. The stakes are higher now.
Which brings us back to World War I. After two years of bloody stalemate, the German army had reason to be proud. Their defenses were deeper and stronger, their offensives better-prepared, their morale far higher than the enemy's. Their operations were textbook perfect. The only thing was, they were about to lose.
So the high command called a conference in Berlin, inviting everyone from field marshals to sergeants in the trenches. (A young officer named Erwin Rommel also attended). The conference agenda: Trash the manuals and find a way to start winning.
They did it. The German army abandoned massive frontal assaults, shifted to more fluid tactics, prolonged the war by two years, and laid the foundations for blitzkrieg and for what is now known as maneuver warfare.
The point? In culture wars as in real wars, being right and being effective are not always the same. You can lose through excellence or through ineptitude. And tactical rigidity is rarely a formula for success.
Perhaps it's time the army of cultural conservatism called a conference or two of its own.
Philip Gold is a senior fellow of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.


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