Caerdroia's Jeff Medcalf explains his own thoughts on equal protection, which is never equally protected by either party. Then there is this blog, Shining Full Plate and a Good Broadsword, which explains its author's thoughts on the proper position for either Republican or Democrat, though it sounds more Democratic to me:
Let me be clear: I'm for gay marriage, welfare, national health care, and protecting endangered species.
And I am proud when we pump bullets in another terrorist on a daily basis.
In fact, I am so proud that I would readily join a secret force to ritualistically kill terrorists on a daily and nightly basis for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Today's Washington Post has the first potentially convincing argument I've heard for US intervention in Liberia:
washingtonpost.com: Douglas, thank you for joining us this morning. Can you talk a bit about the circumstances under which you left Africa?Mr. Farah is writing on terrorist ties in West Africa. Bringing freedom and democracy to troubled areas is part of the solution to terrorism, and if it can in fact be demonstrated that al Qaeda is running free in Liberia, there may be a real reason to send in the Marines.
Douglas Farah: I left after writing the original story about Taylor's ties to al Qaeda. Both U.S. and European intel picked up Taylor directly threatening to kill me. The Post ordered me and my family to leave as soon as possible. We got out by having U.S. Embassy security escort us through the airport, onto the flight, to make sure nothing went amiss.
Long term readers know that I am, by political affiliation, a Southern Democrat. This is one of the least comfortable positions in modern American politics, as you really do not have a home in either major party. There are tremendous difficulties in cooperating with either the national Democratic party or the Republican party, both of which stand firmly for things to which we are firmly opposed.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. I carry on believing that sooner or later the DNC's total lack of substance on foreign policy, combined with its latent anti-Americanism, will cause it to implode and be relegated to the fringes. The Southern Democrats are the only Democrats who can actually hope to defeat President Bush in 2004, both because we are the only Democrats who are stronger on foreign policy than he is, and because stripping Southern states away from Republican support is the surest strategy to Democratic victory. Without the support of the "solid South," Bush can't win.
That won't happen, though, as long as the national Democratic party continues to view 2004 as a revel deserving nothing but frivolity. Consider, for example, the DNC Party Platform, entitled "Prosperity, Progress, and Peace":
Today, America finds itself in the midst of prosperity, progress, and peace. We have arrived at this moment because of the hard work of the American people. This election will be about the big choices we have to make to secure prosperity that is broadly shared and progress that reaches all families in this new American century. In the year 2000, the Democratic Party stands ready to meet that challenge and to build on our achievements.Now I realize that this is the 2000 platform. I also realize that a new platform isn't traditionally due until the next Presidential election year. May I humbly suggest, however, that is a major reason for the debacle in the last elections?
When Thomas Jefferson was elected as our Party's first president in 1800, America was a young country trying to find its place in the world. Two hundred years later, Democrats gather at a moment of vast possibility to nominate Al Gore as America's next president. A new economy founded on the force of new technologies and traditional values of work is giving rise to new industries and transforming old ones. Biological breakthroughs give us the chance to unlock the mysteries of humanity's deadliest plagues. While the globe is still beset with tragedies and difficulties, more people live under governments of freedom, liberty, and democracy than ever before in history. America enjoys unparalleled affluence at home and influence abroad.
An emergency session of the DNC should have been called sometime between 2001 and now to assemble a platform of suggested action in response to the end of prosperity, the threat to progress, and the destruction of peace. In 2002, the lack of such a platform meant that the party had nothing to offer in a time of war but, "We think Bush is rushing to war. Although we're still going to vote for his Iraq War Resolution. But he's wrong. Except we know war is popular, so he's not wrong. Maybe a little wrong. Vote Democrat!" Horseshit.
This year we still have no platform. The nine presidential candidates--none of whom is presidential--are each fumbling around trying to figure out what they want to say. So far they seem to be finding unity around a message of: "Bush is a liar. Taxes aren't high enough. Iraq is a mess, though we don't have any actual solutions, just complaints. Maybe we should apologize to the French."
That is a disaster waiting to happen in 2004. The solid South will vote for no candidate whose campaign is established around those principles. The wild-eyed radical base may be fired up, but they can't win the election by themselves--and, furthermore, they are a bunch of nutcases with whom we should be ashamed to be making common cause. (It is the role of the Southern Democrat to point that out now and again, and be ignored.) Mainstream Democrats will not be energized to vote for a candidate on those grounds, and swing voters--of whom there are more in this election than ever in recent politics--will trend to Bush. This is true even if Iraq is still a mess in a year, which is frankly not all that likely: our successes there have been underreported, and there is no reason to believe that a year from now we won't see a relatively stable Iraq, a dead Saddam, firm documentary evidence of WMD programs that will quell all but the aforementioned wild-eyed radicals, an Iraqi government enjoying wide legitimacy, and oil revenues already beginning to obviate the need for foreign investment. Meanwhile, the US government has decided to triple aid to Afghanistan, making progress there likely as well.
The Democratic Party should be happy about that! By Thunder, if the national party organizes itself so that any of the above is bad news for it, it deserves to be razed by the electorate and scattered by the wind. The Democratic Party should be the party of the people, and the people love America and take pride and pleasure in her success. Well they should! She is the hope of the world.
An emergency session to plan a 2004 platform should be called immediately. The platform, if victory in 2004 is to be achieved, needs to include these items:
1) A strong statement on Democratic goals for the present war. This needs to include not the usual diplomatic vaugery, but specific statements on how to deal with each of: Eradicating Terrorist Networks, Hunting and Killing existing Terrorists, Preventing Terrorism In the United States and Europe, the Problem of North Korea, Preventing or Restraining Nuclear Proliferation, Destroying (through War or Other Means) State Sponsors of Terrorism, and Establishing Flourshing Democracy in Troubled Parts of the World.
2) One of the most important issues for the forseeable future is the overstretched US military. The strains felt by them have brought a number of military voters--conservative by nature, but dissatisfied by the current administration--into the swing voter camp. They need to know that the Democratic Party will defend their interests, which are: Expanding the Military, Constricting Deployments to areas where there is a Clear National Interest, Increasing Pay Rates, Ensuring Continued Technological Superiority, and Bettering Intelligence Sharing between the CIA and the Military.
3) The wild-eyed base needs to be quelled. The Democratic Party, if it is to be taken seriously as a national party, needs to make certain it is not associated with anti-Americanism in any form. Victory requires that we lose every Communist, Anarchist, Socialist, and any voter who would self-identify their political leanings with the preface of "radical." They are welcome to vote for us or against us, but our party platform should contain nothing for them. The Party of the American People ought to love America with all depth and purity of emotion--the American People do.
A continued failure to address these issues is running the DNC onto the rocks in 2004. If the DNC decides to stop running against Bush, and to start running on their actual merits, the Southern Democrats include several persons who could be of service in drafting a platform that could carry the party to victory. It wouldn't hurt, for the serious candidate, to try to draft Zell Miller as your Vice President.
Today marks the second occasion that the London Spectator has published my comments in response to one of their articles. On this occasion it was an edited version of my response to Mr. P. Robinson's article on honor and the American South, the full version of which can be read below.
Since I've only written the Spectator twice, I am particularly honored by their attention. The last time was two years ago, on the same subject as it happens, and during the gentle summer before 9/11 when it was still possible for a Southerner to think of New York City as a wholly foreign place.
It's not often that one beats InstaPundit, Sage of Knoxville, to the punch. I thought based on yesterday's firestorm against the DARPA idea that I was out on a limb alone in supporting them, but this morning that turns out not to be true. Good to know that those who understand the business feel as I do. I thought I'd been a little rash, letting my temper get the better of me, when I called certain Senators "bloviating idiots," but I see that at least the "idiots" part has some support as well.
It appears that DARPA's plan to create a futures market for speculation on terrorism has died an undeserved death. This is due to a total lack of comprehension on the part of the US Senate, which simply isn't smart enough to understand why this was a remarkable and brilliant idea.
The business of predicting terror attacks is very much like the futures business, as it is like the actuarial business (the people who determine the rates for insurance companies are called Actuaries). A question the government has been considering for some time is this: given that the US has the finest actuaries and futures speculators in the world, how can we tap that knowledge for use in the terror war? The central problem is that the knowledge is out there, but that the government can't really compete with the market for the services of the very best of these guys. The top speculators make millions a year.
DARPA thought of a way to tap them: make a new market, one that rewards them in much the same way as the existing market. The potential value to the terror war was immeasurable. For example, when a terror threat comes in that is against NYC, the country really has no mechanism except to raise the terror alert for the entire country. That means that Cumming, Georgia goes on High (Orange) alert just like Los Angeles and NYC. The US government's resources are likewise spread across many threat-areas. Top actuaries would be able to predict much more accurately what areas are really threatened, allowing a better distribution of resources and a more accurate prediction of terror acts. Futures speculators would likewise bring a new perspective to predictive analysis, and would be better than military men at seeing nontraditional targets that terrorists could hit.
All that for a projected cost to DARPA of five million dollars. For five million bucks, you couldn't hire a handful of the top actuaries and speculators, but DARPA would have tapped potentially all of them. Gentlemen, I salute you--just because the Senate is full of bloviating idiots does not mean that your work is totally unappreciated. Better luck next time.
Paul Robinson writes in the London Spectator an article called "The Sword of Honour." It surveys the survival of ancient traditions of honor in the American Southerner. Mr. Robinson, a former British military intelligence officer, is against it. As almost nothing is closer to my heart than Southern honor, I am going to do Mr. Robinson the honor of responding to him in full.
If you are looking for some fun, and have a research grant to spend, try this. Visit an American university, bump into random students in the corridor and loudly call each one �asshole�. Then measure their reactions. This is what a team of psychologists did in a controlled experiment at the University of Michigan. The results were most interesting. Students from the southern part of the United States reacted far more violently and aggressively than those from the North, were shown to have much higher levels of cortisone and testosterone, and in tests regularly suggested more belligerent solutions to problems. America, it seems, remains culturally divided along the Mason�Dixon line, and the crucial difference now, as at the time of the American Civil War, is honour.For my opinion of psychology as a mode of inquiry, see below. Nevertheless, I am familiar with the study Mr. Robinson cites here, and I have to say that my own experience confirms it. The result is, of course, that "asshole" is a word rarely heard in the South, whereas I have found it quite commonly thrown about elsewhere.
In the modern era, honour is generally considered obsolete. As Guy Crouchback notes in Evelyn Waugh�s novel Officers and Gentlemen, it is a �thing that changes. I mean, 150 years ago we would have had to fight if challenged. Now we�d laugh.� However, it is only the language of honour that has vanished, not the idea. Carrying out research for a book on the subject of war and honour, I have repeatedly found that, although the details of what constitutes honourable behaviour have changed over the centuries, its essence has not. The core of honour remains what it always has been � a desire to be a person of worth in one�s own eyes and those of others � and that desire is as powerful now as it was when Achilles rampaged through the ranks of the Trojans.Mr. Robinson's lead in this paragraph puts me plainly outside the community to whom he thinks he is writing, though I am a regular reader of the Spectator. Again, though, I fail to see in Mr. Robinson's definition of honor--"a desire to be a person of worth in one's own eyes and those of others"--anything deserving of the scorn that follows. We will return to the Trojans, but I have to say in early reply to his invocation of the Greek model that the kind of honor by his definition has a Greek name: arete, that is, "virtue" or "excellence." Aristotle thought the exercise of one's vital powers in pursuit of arete was the foundation of ethical behavior, both for the individual and for the polis.
That is not to say that everything is as it was. In the case of the American South, for instance, honour was once based on race. What chiefly conferred worth on a white man, be he rich or poor, was the fact that he was neither black nor female. Things now are rather different. There is a �New South�, the rich, modern, urban, forward-looking society one discovers in contemporary Atlanta. Time has moved on. But as the Michigan experiments demonstrated, southerners retain two vital aspects of the old honour system: a high degree of sensitivity to insults and a tendency to respond with violence and aggression. This has important consequences today, as it did in America�s past. Indeed, the parallels between the present and the Civil War era are very striking, and may lead one to believe that despite the growth of the New South not so very much has changed.This is only half right. It is true that the Old South saw blacks as essentially outside of the realm of honor, which was part and parcel of the desire in the Old South to see blacks as alien generally. It is not true that women were without honor, however. Women's honor was simply predicated on different principles than men's. Women did not fight duels: but they certainly did not entertain insults.
As for the distinction between the "New" and "Old" South, it demonstrates that Mr. Robinson has an incomplete understanding of the culture about which he writes. In fact, the "New" South--urban and, as Mr. Robinson tenditiously puts it, "forward looking"--is not the opposite of the "Old" South. It coexists with several other sub-cultures in the contemporary South. Briefly, these are: The Highland South, which is quite traditional along Celtic/Germanic lines quite familiar to early Medievalists, extremely poor historically, and a culture that never knew slavery on any scale at all due to the relative infertility of the land, and where race is unimportant; the Lowland South, symbolized by "Gone with the Wind," which is where the factor of race became all important due to the heavy importation of slaves to work the cotton plantations; the "New" South, which arose around some of the urban areas in response to the development of the post-agricultural economies; French Southerners, particularly near New Orleans; and African-Americans, whose culture is unique, vibrant, but largely separate--by choice, these days--from the others with which it coexists. You will see Mr. Robinson conflate Highland Southerners, Lowland Southerners, and Texans in a moment--three groups with very little similarity.
From the earliest days of the American Republic, honour played a vital role in the political process. The famous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton is only the most notable example. There were many others. Even Abraham Lincoln once accepted a challenge to a duel, though it was never actually fought. The code of honour was strongest, though, in the South (one theory postulates that this was because of the Celtic, free-ranging herder origins of many southern settlers). Had Boris Johnson been editing this magazine in mid-19th-century Mississippi, he would most likely now be dead. Taki certainly would be. In the 1840s and 1850s, three successive editors of the Mississippi Sentinel were killed in duels. The next survived only because she was a woman, and thus immune from challenges.Mr. Robinson, who tells us that he is researching a book on 'war and honor,' must have encountered K. Greenberg's Honor and Slavery: Lies, Duels, Noses, Masks, Dressing as a Woman, Gifts, Strangers, Humanitarianism, Death, Slave Rebellions, the Proslavery Argument, Baseball, Hunting, and Gambling in the Old South. As such, he has to know that he is not playing fair here. Duels were always consensual, and while social pressure to engage in them was strong, it did not apply equally to everyone. Taki would have been perfectly safe, as his unconcern with questions of honor would have allowed him to refuse any duels. It's likely true he would have been looked down upon in 19th-century Mississippi, but there was already the railroad to New York City for those who wished to take it.
But where are the purported similarities with the modern South? I can't recall a newspaper editor being killed lately--not even forced to leave his job over a point of honor, excepting a certain fellow in the aforementioned New York City, where the antiduelling movement was born in America rather before the Civil War.
Sensitivity over one�s honour was more than a purely personal matter. It was southern honour that caused the War of 1812. The areas of America that were suffering most from the British impressment of American sailors, and who had most to gain from expansion to the West and a possible conquest of Canada, were opposed to the war. In the vital vote in Congress to declare war on Britain, senators from the maritime areas of north-eastern America voted against war. It was the senators from the South who voted in favour, not because they were suffering from British policy, but because they regarded it as outrageous, an insult to America�s young nation, a challenge which could not be rejected without undermining their honour and their manhood.It was also the Southerners who won the only American land victory in that war, at New Orleans. But Mr. Robinson probably forgets that the War of 1812 was not entirely a British success. It is true they burned the White House and the Congressional library in D.C.--apology accepted, Mr. Blair--but their shipping losses to American privateers forced them to accept a peace on very evenhanded terms. This, in spite of their possessing the largest and most capable navy in the world at the time. The aftermath of the War of 1812 was that the American flag on a ship marked that vessel as unassailable worldwide, even by the British Navy. A nation that won a similar victory against the American Navy today would be the astonishment of the world.
There is a sad afterword to that last bit, but one that fairness requires. The success of 1812 allowed the American flag to become the emblem of slavers worldwide. The British Navy's laudable antislavery actions in the ensuing decades were blunted only if the slave ship threw out an American flag. As a consequence, there is a measure of shame clinging to what was otherwise a noble victory against tremendous odds. I wish I could say that it ought not to cling to the bravery of American sailors--but it should, as many of the slave ships were American in fact as well as markings.
Some 50 years later, the South seceded from the Union. Opponents of the Confederacy generally argue that it did so to preserve slavery. Its supporters counter that slavery was a secondary issue, that states� rights were more important. Increasingly, though, scholars are citing another factor altogether: southern honour. As the historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown has pointed out, slavery provoked the secessional crisis, but �southern honour pulled the trigger�.Yes, well, there was rather more to it than that. The war against slavery--a war in which the majority of Highland Southerners joined--had begun fully ten years before the Civil War. It had been a guerrilla conflict in Kansas and Missouri. Abolitionists as well as pro-slavery men killed each other and their families in cold blood over the issue for a full decade before the formal start of the war. Agitators did more than tease: John Brown's attempt to spark a general slave revolt in the South did more to incite Lowland Southerners than Lincoln. As for Lincoln himself, the immediate cause of Southern secession was his attempt to disarm the Southern militias by seizing the armories of their state militias. The grandees of the Lowland South realized they had to fight at that point if they ws were going to fight at all, and they decided that they ought to do so.
The kind of honour I am referring to here is not the gentility of men such as Robert E. Lee. It is the rougher sort embodied in the code duello, which encouraged men to engage in vainglorious bouts of one-upmanship and to respond to insults with violence. Among the poor, the violence took the form of no-holds-barred gouging and scratching contests, the aim of which was to tear out an opponent�s eye or otherwise permanently disfigure him. Among the rich, it took the more formal shape of the duel. But the essential point was the same � an honourable man never accepted insults; he responded to them with force.
In 1861 this led to war. An interesting point is that the South had no need to leave the Union. Lincoln was not proposing the abolition of slavery, and even if he had been, he could not have enacted it. Pro-slavery elements continued to control both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. The �peculiar institution� was not under threat. But to southerners, Lincoln�s election was a provocation too far. It followed years of anti-slavery agitation which had labelled the southern way of life inferior and degenerate. One Republican actually announced that �the South is the poorest, meanest, least productive and most miserable part of creation, and therefore ought to be continually teased and taunted and reproached and reviled�. For southerners brought up to believe that insults must be met with force, the ultimate insult � the election of Abraham Lincoln � had to be met not just with secession but with a deliberate pursuit of war. Some southerners still like to call what resulted the �War of Northern Aggression�, but the truth is that the South started it knowingly and with open eyes.
Letters from Confederate soldiers make it clear that, once fighting started, they considered it a matter of honour and duty to join the colours. When it was all over, they consoled themselves with the thought that the years of struggle had not been in vain. The war had been lost but, through the everlasting fame which the Confederate armies had won, honour had been saved.
There isn't room on any blog to deal with the Civil War at length, or even with slavery. The simple fact is that slavery was the most explosive of possible issues for a nation founded on the principles of Classical Liberalism. A war was, I think, inevitable.
If all this seems remote from the current era, consider that the American Civil War was, according to James McPherson, one of its foremost historians, America�s first pre-emptive war. As he describes it, the South�s way of life was not immediately under threat, but southerners chose to pre-empt what they saw as a potential future threat by seceding. The honour code dictates that one loses face if one does not respond to an insult, but one does not always know whether something is an insult. So it is always best to treat it as if it were. Similarly, it is better to get one�s strike in before an opponent has a chance to hit first, even if perhaps he never intended to attack anyway. Thus, one secessionist commented in 1860 that if one sees a sleeping, curled-up rattlesnake, one doesn�t wait until it wakes and unwraps itself before killing it: precisely the logic of the 2002 US national security strategy.It is true that the Honorable Zell Miller, Senator of the great state of Georgia, did use a snake analogy on the floor of the Senate to explain his opinion in favor of the Iraq war. We'll return to that. But: the Civil War was a war of preemption? First of all, as just mentioned, the uncurling of the rattlesnake was not very far in the future: it was right then. Allowing their state militias to be disarmed of their small arms and artillery would have been casting away the option of self defense. Second, that fact means that the actions of the Southern states were not responses to insults, but to threats: and not threatening words, but the immediate threat of force. They could either allow the United States Army, under command of Lincoln, to march in, seize their weapons, and occupy their fortifications; or they could fight. It was a choice to be made at once, and it was irrevocable either way.
As for the Honorable Senator Miller's remarks, I wholly agree with them. When you find a poisonous snake living where it can kill your children (grandchildren, in his case), you ought not to wait for it to do so before you act. If Mr. Robinson would care to debate the point, I'll be happy to hike him around the Appalachians to show him the sort of Timber Rattlesnakes we have in Georgia.
Other parallels between the old South and the present are not hard to find. The years before the Civil War saw a rapid expansion in the number of military institutes and academies in the South. After years of decline, these schools and colleges are now once again enjoying a revival. Confederate armies were famous for their religiosity. The modern United States army is remarkably similar. It is not uncommon to find American generals beginning meetings with prayers, just as they might have under Stonewall Jackson. The ante-bellum South was famous for its militarism. Contemporary southerners continue to be disproportionately represented in the US military, and opinion polls consistently show far greater support for all forms of military action among the states of the South than in those of the North.Parallels abound, don't they? Just this morning I was writing a letter to a friend on the death of Saddam Hussein's grandson, 14, in the raid that killed Saddam's sons. Some of the Middle Eastern press coverage has been lauding him in terms very similar to those used by Irish Republicans in honor of Kevin Barry, 18, hanged by the British Army after a secret Court Martial.
Of course, Iraq isn't Ireland. It isn't South Carolina, either. The modern American Army is famously religious, but it's also famously tolerant: one of the central complaints of most Southerners I know is that the Army allows the free expression of Wiccan rites, which both they and the Wiccans claim is witchcraft (although they mean very different things by the word). Satanists can get their tongues split so they can perform their rituals, and it's not considered a problem by the US military.
It is true that Southerners are disproportionately enlisted in the military. That has always been true. It is likewise true that Southerners of all stripes have more traditional, martial cultures--cultures more directly in touch with their Medieval and Classical roots, that is to say--than other Americans. But there are other things Southerners do disproportionately. One of them is this: even adjusted for their higher likelihood to join the military, Southerners have won by far more Congressional Medals of Honor per capita than anyone else. The rates are especially high for Highlanders.
If you're of a romantic bent, that says it all. Southern culture produces heroes. If you're not a romantic, you're still left with this: a liberal society needs defenders if it is to survive the perils of a dangerous world. The more liberal, and the more prosperous, the more and the better defenders it needs. The American South produces the most and the best. If you are freer today in part due to the efforts of the US military, it is "disproportionately" due to Southerners. Mr. Robinson can consult his copy of Churchill's history of the Second World War to determine if this applies to him.
In a much discussed recent book, Walter Russell Mead identifies four strands of American foreign policy: Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, Wilsonian and Jacksonian. Jacksonians follow the ideas of President Andrew Jackson, the archetype of ante-bellum, aggressive southern honour, who fought more than a dozen duels. They see the pursuit of national honour as the prime purpose of policy. Right now, Jacksonianism reigns triumphant in the halls of American power. The South�s political influence has possibly never been greater. It was Al Gore�s failure to win a single state in the old Confederacy that lost him the presidency, and George Bush Sr�s nemesis came in the form of Ross Perot, a Texan who in 1953 almost singlehandedly devised the current Honour Code of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis.Would that it were true. Texans are not Southerners, in spite of the Alamo and their abortive participation in the Confederacy. Texan culture is not related to any of the Southern cultures.
I must also wonder at this notion that we're pursuing Jacksonian foreign policy. It was Jefferson who enlarged America vastly beyond her charters through the Louisiana purchase, who enacted the expansion of the US Navy to include frigates, who ordered the assault on Barbary pirates that is immortalized in the Marine Corps Hymn, and so forth. Jackson is most famous for his radical sense of democracy. Bush is--well, not, in all fairness.
Jacksonian rhetoric has spearheaded America�s recent wars. The word �honour� is rarely used, but substitutes such as �credibility� abound in official speeches. Nato had to bomb Yugoslavia because the �credibility of the alliance was at stake�. Coalition forces had to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein was �undermining the credibility of the UN�. Saddam was not a threat to the USA, but he was a living insult to its honour. Despite all the efforts of the most powerful state on earth, he had for ten years continued to survive and defy America�s wishes. For an administration driven by sentiments of honour, such an insult could not be permitted. Just as the South could not allow Lincoln to become their President, so George W. Bush could not allow Saddam to continue humiliating his country. Only war could satisfy honour.Southerners are not shy about their devotion to honor. If honor was what we meant, honor is what we would say. If "credibility" is said instead, then a different point is on offer. What does it mean to say that the credibility of the UN was at stake over Iraq? Well, one thing it might mean is that the UN had cheerily passed a dozen and a half binding resolutions in the Security Council that Saddam was flaunting. Was the UN Security Council to be taken seriously, or not? That's credibility. Honor is something else again. As far as I can tell, the Security Council has none. Honor, you see, pertains to persons or to families or--at most--to things you can think of as being like a family. The Marine Corps has an honor that has to be defended--I will wager that is as true for the Royal Marine Corps as it is for the United States Marine Corps. The Security Council? It's not even an alliance. It's just a debating house for diplomats. What we wanted to know was, did they actually intend to be taken seriously or not?
As for Saddam being a living insult to American honor, I can only laugh. If the existence of crackpot dictators who hated us was an insult to our honor, why is Castro still around? The moment Castro ceased to be an actual threat to the United States, we stopped trying to kill him. Same with Gaddhafi. Even if honor entered into American foreign policy, Mr. Robinson has forgotten a central point of the code duello: a gentleman only duels with equals, as only an equal can insult him. The United States has very few equals.
As the ancient Greeks knew, the pursuit of honour often leads people to attack others, to drive them down, in order to inflate themselves. The Greeks called such behaviour hubris, and believed that hubris inevitably resulted in disaster. It certainly did for the Confederacy.The invocation of Achilles and the Trojans earlier makes me think that Mr. Robinson is confused as to his Greek literature. It was not hubris that lead to Achilles' destructive passions, but menis. Menis is a kind of wrath, invoked in the opening lines of the Iliad: "Let wrath be now your song, Goddess!" But menis is a special kind of wrath. Except for Achilles, it belongs only to gods. No mortal but Achilles is ever said to have it.
Nor was hubris a question of particular interest to Homer or his contemporaries. Consider Oedipus, the poster child of hubris. When Homer wrote--sometime before 700 B.C.--there were also tales of Oedipus, and some literature about Oedipus survives from the early period. In it, Oedipus is a successful king who dies heroically. It is only with the dramas of Classical Athens--about four hundred years later--that hubris becomes so tied up with the Oedipal story. The tale is an invention of a different age, an age suffering the ravages of an unsucessful war with Sparta. Odysseus, Ajax, and others also endured similar downfalls in Athenian drama. They reconceived their heroes in misery like their own: this is known, in logic, as the Sympathetic fallacy. It may be at work in the writings of a man who, because he feels America to be hubristic, writes our history to make us so.
In doing so, as I feel I have shown, he misunderstands American history, Greek literature, Southern culture, and codes of honor, this last both generally, and particularly concerning women and corporate bodies. I wish to thank Mr. Robinson for his interest in the American South; but also kindly to suggest that his research for his forthcoming book may not be complete.