Friday, November 23, 2012

The Professional Soldier

One of the characteristics of the professional soldier—as my late friend and comrade-in-arms Al Coger used to say—is respect for the professionals on the other side. Both are simply doing a job that, alas, has become necessary enough to make war a calling. Hate is not an aspect of it—nor is war something elevated. It isn’t about ideology, much less about adherence to a cosmic faith. It’s organized violence to be managed as efficiently as possible, and as Sun Tzu, who belonged to this profession, wisely asserted in his The Art of War, the most efficient handling of war is to win it without an actual battle.

Elections, to be sure, are somewhat more efficient ways of resolving conflict than war. Unity frays over time, and at right regular intervals it needs to be restored by the force, in the case of politics, of superior numbers. Ballots are more efficient than bullets. And once the matter is decided, civility should rapidly return. It should return if both sides recognize the underlying issue. That issue is that conflict may be unavoidable but isn’t some kind of good in and of itself. Unity is. And conflict must be ended as soon as ever possible—not when the other side has been absolutely annihilated. Compromise, therefore is part of it.

The presence of a sense of unity, even in the midst of the conflict, is what matters. And when it’s absent, real trouble looms. War between nations must be hallowed by an understanding on both side that each is part of humanity—and humanity is the higher good. Within a nation the unity of its people as one community must be the fundamental assumption that renders elections legitimate. Demonization of the other side has been a feature of elections at their emotional heights throughout our own—and in other countries’—history. But after the election is decided, normalcy returns again. Indeed it has been a feature for the winner to embrace those who opposed him and for the looser to pledge his support.

Quite visible cracks have appeared after this year’s election. They may just be a residue of the pain of loss on the right. The right, of course, will triumph again, just give it time, but one of the signs of a loss of effective unity is that every loss today is Doom Forever, and every victory the Triumphal Arrival of the Everlasting Future. One radio host, for instance, Dennis Prager, has elevated political stances into religions. He sees three such competing for humanity’s allegiance: Leftism, Islamism, and Americanism (link). That’s the sort of thing I mean. It reminds me of Toynbee; he saw “end times” characterized internally by the rise of Futurism (read leftism), Archaism (read Americanism), and externally by the eventually successful pressure of an External Proletariat (read Islamism). The secessionist talk, largely only symbolic although it is, also indicates that even great and successful unions of people become, eventually, too big to hold together.

To whom does the future really belong? Toynbee suggested that those in charge of really shaping the future are the people who are looking up, transcending all these battles, and finding  solutions in the spiritual realm—where no “divisions,” in Stalin’s sense, are even discernible. They are too few in number to be clearly seen yet. They’re not agitating in the public square; that square is down there, not up. They’re not thirsting for power, either; they only long to do a good job—like any decent professional soldier. I’m waving to you, Al. You never thought you’d end up in heaven—or that such a place even existed—but there you are now.

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