"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
The Heart of America, Part II
Exclusive to STR
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old. ~ Winston Churchill
This speech inspired millions during a very difficult era. I used to respect, even revere, the orator who gave it. Millions still do. We are taken in by the romantic notions behind it, and by the near universal acceptance of Nazism as a terrible evil. Why not fight the Nazis? Look at their horrible track record.
But the above quote now disgusts me. "We shall never surrender." Let's just pretend for a moment that Churchill really did speak for everyone under the yoke of the British crown, down to the last child old enough to understand and speak the language. Let's imagine that each individual living on the island of England voluntarily refused to surrender if the Nazis ever successfully launched a land invasion. How could you calculate that level of bloodshed? How can anyone even think to speak for millions of souls in such a violent capacity?
In Churchill, we have another famous individual, like Mel Gibson in Part I, who failed to grasp cause-and-effect. Unlike some Hollywood actor/director, however, Churchill was a powerful political figure, with the ability to command millions in violent conflict, and to win an American president to his aid, one who advocated the horror of unconditional surrender, and who surreptitiously stoked the fires of war while promising the opposite to a reluctant nation. Churchill may have grasped, to some extent, a portion of the cause of Hitler's rise, when he allegedly stated that the Versailles Treaty "enthroned Nazism in Germany." But to blame the supposed need for war on Chamberlain's efforts at appeasement (a governmental action deemed to be peaceful, but resulting in little more than meddling with the fortunes of millions who don't get to draw up borders) is to ignore the fact that a truly peaceful island of millions that did not interfere with Hitler, as despicable as he was, was doubtfully ever going to be invaded.
Churchill never grasped the root cause of his own depression. Could it possibly have had anything to do with being raised in almost total isolation from his parents, and being subjected to constant threats of corporal punishment in private school? Why should it be considered a good thing to give such an individual an immense amount of power? Did this depression have anything to do with his preoccupation with war-making, his penchant for belief in violent solutions? And what, if anything, does it have to do with ours?
America , after all, is a descendant of England , and English history, like its American counterpart, is bloodied with war. America and England seem to be forever entwined in mutual or like-minded endeavors.
Statues of George Washington, the most revered of statesmen and founding fathers, often show him in his general's uniform, riding his horse into battle. These sorts of statues are all over the place in this country. We glorify war. We cherish it. We defend it. We justify it. We revere it. As long as "our" government condones or enacts it, we support it. We are deathly afraid of not honoring those who fight. Those who fight have an easy target in lambasting those who criticize those who fight. The embrace of the majority of Americans remains wide open for men who don the uniform. It is believed that all of these wars are necessary for the preservation of freedom and peace. None has been vindicated in this fashion more than World War II, and no war leaders more than Churchill and Roosevelt. We achieve peace, it is commonly believed, through conquering the violent (or more violent) enemy in war. There isn't a politician alive who wouldn't love to be the next Churchill or Roosevelt. Lucky for them, most historians will gladly cover up anything that threatens the reverence of the masses for such men.
I can understand, to some extent, that stopping a violent individual or group with violence can end the conflict. In fact, I know of at least one circumstance, namely rape, where the self-defensive violence of the intended victim is not only justified, but a response that I would recommend if its execution had any chance of preventing the act.
However, it is also true that the opposite of peace is war. How does the execution of one idea lead to its antonym? If war leads to peace, then why doesn't screwing lead to celibacy? Why doesn't hateful rhetoric lead to loving action? Why doesn't building a fire cool things off?
The opposite of spring is winter. It is not true that winter leads to spring, or that without winter, there would be no spring. Spring merely follows winter, but the phenomenon of the later season owes nothing to the earlier one. In order for spring to come about, winter needs to disappear. This is done with the rotation of the Earth, and its position in relation to the Sun. With an increase of sunlight and a closer proximity to the Sun, the Earth warms, which causes winter to disappear. Spring will follow, but not from any preparatory work of winter. What, then, needs to happen in order for war to disappear so that peace may flourish? We need to turn from it to face toward and draw closer to its opposite, do we not?
I am reminded of a bizarre little episode from my childhood, walking out of church after services were over, to find other boys my age in a parking lot filled with grasshoppers. These boys that I played with, who I spent so much time with, and who were and are basically good, were pulling the hind legs off the grasshoppers with relish, watching them squirm around on the pavement, before finally stomping on them. My best efforts were useless against this sadistic little orgy. I simply could not comprehend it. Why was I the only boy my age who had a problem with what was going on? These weren't boys from highly abusive homes, and I doubt the schools they were going to were any worse than mine. This certainly wasn't what was being taught inside the building we were just in, so where did it come from? Is it possible that this is an example of the disconnect that happens so early on in life, when babies are made to cry themselves to sleep, when small children express sadness or even horror, only to be laughed at by adults who know there's nothing to be sad about or scared of? Did the size of these tiny creatures suddenly reinforce the need to feel superior, for boys who were told in so many subtle ways to feel inferior?
"We shall go on to the end." I'm beginning to believe that a violent course of action "to the end" ensures that the violence will never end. I'm beginning to believe that Churchill suffered with depression due to his parents' lack of interest in him, and that his penchant for violent solutions was born of a British society bent on forcing inferiority into each tiny soul born on the island, until the group told each of them otherwise. "[W]hatever the cost may be." What was the final cost of the Second World War, and who reaped the benefits? The greatness of Churchill, like all fighting men, was dependent upon how successfully violent he became. If this poor creature had had a "helping witness" (as Alice Miller would call it), someone who could have pointed out to him the injustices done to him by his parents and other caretakers in his childhood, there probably would have been no homage at his death, because there would have been no great desire on his part for self-aggrandizement. There is no need for a boy who has been loved by his parents to make himself noticed and affirmed by millions. There is no slight against which to take revenge. There is also a reservoir of empathy, due to the connection to one's own feelings, for the rest of humanity, something that both Roosevelt and Churchill lacked. In the process of promoting peace, you may have to give up the opportunity to be buried with state honors, and you will most likely be roundly criticized for being a peacenik, or worse, forgotten entirely. Name a single peacetime president or prime minister more revered than any wartime leader.
To embrace the Spring of Peace instead of the Winter of War, you will have to forego the temporary pleasures of ripping off grasshoppers' hind legs, to be more introspective as to why causing needless suffering fills you with so much glee. You will have to refuse to pose for a portrait with sword-in-sheath and a chest full of medals, and instead take a careful look at the way you were raised. You will have to tear up unfair treaties while ignoring events in areas of the world that do not fall under your jurisdiction, or resign from office, facing years of horrific retirement and ease, as a result of finally thinking the unthinkable about those closest to you.
Your parents shouldn't have beaten you, ignored you, or sent you away from home at an early age. Your schoolteachers should have left you alone to learn what you wished when you were ready. You should not have been thrown into a pen with other mistreated children, to be exposed to a theater of other hurt souls acting out their own hidden aggressions. You should not have been the victim of your parents' emotional manipulation, threatening to withdraw love, a vital force for a young child's survival, if you were disobedient. You should not have been raised to see this world largely as a violent and threatening place, filled with souls that can't be trusted.
America and England , however, will continue for quite some time to honor the likes of Roosevelt and Churchill. Politicians, like flies, will continue to swarm to such opportunities. The rejection of this world-weary way of doing business in human affairs will, of necessity, continue to be a silent and hidden endeavor. It will begin, and must continue, in the homes of enlightened parents and caretakers. For those of us without children, and for whom it is too late to provide a more pleasant upbringing, it will be the relatively thankless task to educate and lead by example; at the very least, to never forget our own childhoods. Spring, after all, happens gradually and quietly. But it happens all the same.