"No End But Victory"

You've probably all seen the new group blog, No End But Victory. I entirely support the concept behind it.

I have not written about Iraq in a little while, but only because I haven't seen anything to change my opinion of the place. The September before last I wrote "Clausewitz and the Triangle" while guest-blogging at the Mudville Gazette, which laid out the forces at work in Iraq from the perspective of military science. I think, a year and more on, that it still is the correct understanding.

Events have played out as the analysis suggested they should. The insurgent attacks have undermined their cause more than they've helped it, with the result that talk of "inkblots" or "oil spots" is now on our side instead of theirs. The tribes who had been in support of the insurgency have increasingly been splitting off and supporting US military efforts, as Bill Roggio has been reporting all summer and fall. The January elections enjoyed a large turnout and little violence, and the more recent elections enjoyed both a wider turnout and even less violence than the January elections.

Over the summer I posted two pieces to Bill's site that were the same sort of large-scale analysis. "In Response to a Question" was the first. It looked at the insurgents' problem again, and found it to be the same problem but at a later stage of development. Whereas in the September 2004 piece, the insurgents were creating no-go areas and holding towns against the United States for certain periods, the Fallujah campaign marked the start of a grinding away of any insurgent strongpoint. By the summer, the only places the insurgents could "hold" were the places no one was bothering to attack yet -- fewer and fewer as time went along. By this point, we are managing successful "clear and hold" operations throughout the Sunni Triangle, with the aid of increasingly capable Iraqi military units. Even tribes who are genuine allies of the insurgency must now reconsider their long-term future. That process is ongoing, with more and more even of the hardcore tribal insurgents shifting their stance to one amenable to the government's existence.

The other piece was "A Question of Victory," which proposed a test for victory not merely in Iraq, but in the larger GWOT. It predicted that al Qaeda's victory -- in Iraq, and elsewhere -- required that they create and maintain a sense of family bond with their various supporters in Iraq and elsewhere:

Victory is possible when and if al Qaeda's claim to a family bond fails. At that point, the tribal component will not be honor-bound to support the insurgency. If they are not family, they are enemy.

What kind of activity can break that bond? There are only two types.

1) Activity on the Coalition's part that makes the tribes feel a stronger family bond to us than to al Qaeda.

2) Activity on al Qaeda's part that will be interpreted as kinslaying.
Activity type one is something the military is working on, building relationships among Iraqi army units and American ones. Reconstruction projects, always under-reported but always ongoing, are another. But activity type two is of increasing importance, as demonstrated by the recent attacks in Jordan. The attacks were an attempt to strike at forces beyond Iraq, for the small reason of disrupting broader Coalition activity, and the large reason of appearing more powerful than the insurgency really is. The effect was to create a vision of kinslaying:
Zarqawi in particular and Al-Qaeda in general have attracted a measure of support from the Jordanian underclasses, creating a dilemma for the Government of King Abdullah II as he attempts to build on the softly-softly work of his late father, King Hussein, in simultaneously forging ties with the Jewish state, appeasing Jordan's chief foreign aid donor, the US, with limited democratic reform, lifting living standards for its have-nots while retaining credibility on the Arab street. Yet in the battle for hearts and minds which runs parallel to the hot war on terror, Zarqawi might have over-reached himself with the Amman attacks.
But these are the only kinds of attacks the insurgency can manage. They have no alternative strategy, because they have no capacity for an alternative strategy. They cannot concentrate on holding territory because they can hold none. They cannot negotiate because their ideology forbids it. They cannot defeat the American military, so no strategy based on that is available. They can use IEDs to bomb American and Iraqi military targets, but as those targets become hardened each successful attack requires more planning and expertise -- which means that a strategy based on that kind of attack means fewer successsful attacks over time, which the insurgency cannot afford. They must appear to be growing in power, not diminishing.

They cannot stop bombing civilian targets because they would fade out of the public mind, which for an insurgency is exactly equivalent to military defeat. They must continue bombing civilian targets, in more and more horrific fashion, if they are to continue the illusion of being a powerful, undefeatable foe. That this illusion might lead to a political decision by US politicians to withdraw is their only hope.

Yet the very means by which the illusion is maintained are the very means by which they are achieving our major condition of victory in the GWOT -- not just in Iraq, but worldwide. As they carry on in this fashion, they convince the Muslim world that they are not defenders of Muslims and Islam, but evil men. More protests against al Qaeda will result. More Islamic clerics will come out against suicide bombings, as Hasyim Muzadi did last week. Who is he, you ask? He is the leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, which with forty million members is the largest Muslim religious organization in the world.

I haven't written about Iraq much lately, because all there is to say is the same things again. These forces were and are the crucial forces at work in this war. All that is required is time and leverage, and al Qaeda must provide us with ever-increasing leverage in order to fight us at all. Victory is certain.

What I cannot predict is when al Qaeda's capability in Iraq will collapse, but there is no doubt at all that it will. They are exhausting their one critical store, the sense among Muslims that they represent defenders of Muslims and Islam. Their resiliance to date has come only from that store, as it has so far allowed them to replenish their ranks with new volunteers. When it is gone, al Qaeda in Iraq will be no more dangerous than Jemaah Islamiyah is in Southeast Asia. They may be able to carry out the occasional bombing, but they won't represent a danger to the stability of even weak, third-world nations.

The project of democracy in Iraq will then be like the project in Indonesia or Malaysia -- a project with a long way to go, that is to say, but one in which there is nevertheless notable progress.

All that the American people need to do is be patient and have faith. All that the American military needs to do is allow its men to carry on as they are doing, kicking the insurgents down every time they stand up, holding territory, building the Iraqi army and infrastructure, and building "family" ties through honorable action. That was my analysis in September 2004, and it remains my analysis today.

No End But Victory, indeed.

Hook Sends

Hook Sends:

Sergeant Hook wants you to read this. Hook's been around a long time, and I've never gotten an all-hands MilBlog request from him before now. Go and read what he has been asked to share with you.

Military honors


JHD sends this story about USMC casualty notification. It is called "Final Salute."

Cassandra suggests you read another piece, called "What we owe them." It is about another of our fallen 2/2 Marines, Lance Corporal Nickolas Schiavoni.

The Colonel speaks.

The guys over at Edefense Online have put up a very interesting article about the Serbian Air defense battery that managed to knock down an F-16 and F-117 during the Kosovo war. These were not some ill trained Arabs led by thugs. Instead, these were some competent soldiers led by a smart and bold professional officer, getting the most out of what he had. How many more Colonel Zoltans are out there?

That incident, like the reports about the Indian Air Force handing the USAF its collective butt in some top gun exercises in 2004, should be a warning that technology doesn't win by itself--you need people, leadership, training, and above all, don't underestimate your opponent.

But we all knew that, right?
Honorable Men yet again.

First, we have The Republicans stepping on their collective training aid in the Senate. At random, see Hugh Hewitt. Et tu, Fristus? And I have a message for the Senator: Don't even think about running for President in 2008, you fool.

And today, we have Representative Murtha, unmanning himself. I also have a message for the Representative: You are a walking advertisement for term limits. Resign now, and mitigate some of your disgrace.

Do these 'honorable' men have any idea the message that their actions sends? Apparently not. Go take a gander at memeorandum and just see what's being said.

via Hugh Hewitt again, the transcript of Hugh and Mark Steyn discussing the situation.

Some side notes

Some Side Notes:

Aaron's "deck of death" for bloggers is still ongoing. It appears to me that we may have succeeded in voting Doc a card, for which I thank you. Aaron hasn't yet posted the totals for clubs, but I appreciate everyone who took the time to get over there and vote for Doc. I didn't think to endorse someone for the hearts (although I voted for Baldilocks -- no offense to Soldier's Angels, but Baldilocks and I are old mates from Easy Company. There's a group photo and everything.

It looks like spades are about to get started. I'll gladly endorse The Nation of Riflemen. Good luck to them.

I also added The Donovan to the sidebar today. It's another one of those places I never quite realized I hadn't already linked. Anybody else who wonders why I haven't linked to you, feel free to drop me a line. It's probably just that I'm too busy with my (ahem) other job that I don't get around to editing the template often.



It looks like the launch for Open Source Media, or OSM, or whatever it will actually be called, went reasonably well (except for that copyright thing). Dennis the Peasant will be amused to know that I learned the address for the new OSM website from his blog. I imagine they'll email me about it sometime soon. Or not -- since we're meant to be Open Source specialists, I suppose it's not unreasonable to expect us to find these things out for ourselves.

"THOSE BOYS ARE WINGING IT!" Dennis says. Well, indeed they do appear to be. Nothing wrong with that. Those of us who score 92% "Indiana Jones" (h/t Geek w/a .45) don't mind a little bit of making it up as you go along. This is supposed to be fun, after all. If the money doesn't turn up, it's no big deal. I was doing this anyway, and my only plans for it were to give to my wife to invest in her flower garden. If it doesn't show up, she'll just invest my money instead. :)

So far, it has been fun, and more importantly it's been a good learning experience. Blogs are going to revolutionize the media experience even more than they have. PJM/OSM/whatever is a good first effort. I've always thought of it along the lines of the early labor unions. It may yet pull out the initial difficulties and be the next AFL/CIO; or it may yet be the Knights of Labor, and pave the way for the next AFL/CIO. It's a worthy effort either way, and I'm happy to help as much as I can.

Which isn't much, I will be the first to admit. Still, I do wish them well.


Logan and the Captain:

Captain Ed invokes the Logan Act. Nathan at Hoosier Illuminati calls foul.

I think Nathan puts it a bit too strongly when he says, "invoking the Logan Act ought to be the equivalent of Godwin’s Law—whoever mentions it first, loses." The Logan Act really is the law, and it is strongly worded. The fact that it has never been successfully enforced doesn't change the fact that it's on the books.

Nevertheless, we had a good go at the Logan Act here and at Del's FreeSpeech. What we discovered was that:

1) No one had ever been convicted of it, as Nathan points out, and

2) Furthermore, Senators are obviously exempt.

The text of the law is here. The relevant clause:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Emphasis added. Senators do indeed have authority to carry on correspondence and intercourse with foreign governments, and indeed to authorize others to do it on their behalf and that of their constituents. So do Representatives. It's one of their formal duties: witness Henry Hyde's recent letter on behalf of a statue of General MacArthur.

The Logan Act might someday be enforced, even though it never has been -- it is the law, after all. But it can't be enforced against a Congressman.

An Example

On Rudeness:

Dr. Helen (whom I only just realized was also the InstaWife) has this post on the importance of promoting increased harmony between the sexes:

Every once in a while, I make a crack about women--I might call a particular woman a jerk or a bully or some other name. I often do it for effect as much as anything else. Why, you may ask, would she say something negative about someone of her own gender?

Because I believe that women can take it. Men, for the longest time, have been the subject of jokes, putdowns and just downright rude expletives, mainly by women, but also by men.... Joking about people and making crass comments is seen as the weapon of the minority against the majority. You can do it if you are the right gender or race. The psychological reason that society lets women and certain minorities get away with it is that they are seen as the underdog--they are viewed as weak and not able to tolerate a joke or a negative comment for fear they will crumble. But I think women and minorities are stronger than that. I do not see women as people who are weak--but rather who are strong and autonomous--those types of people do not need the government to intervene on their behalf everytime a negative word is said. In a free society, we should have the right to make offensive remarks and jokes without fear of punishment--even of so-called minorities.
Dr. Helen cites a number of examples to reinforce her point about society's treatment of men. Although I have argued against her position that men are suffering from society in the past, I will grant it for the purpose of this particular argument. What I'd like to take issue with today is her proposed remedy, and the reasoning behind it.

Allow me to suggest that the last thing America needs is more public rudeness. If we succeed in "making the playing field level" at the cost of making it acceptable to be rude to anyone at any time, I will consider that we have damaged rather than improved society.

The discipline that is needed is not the discipline of being ready to challenge others to accept rudeness, but the discipline of etiquette. Part of this is learning to assume the best of people. I imagine that if a gentlemen should open the door for Dr. Helen, she would assume that he is demonstrating a desire to show a kindness to a fellow person, rather than suggesting that he assumes she is too weak to open the door. We can better improve society, not by making it easier to make fun of women and minorities, but by raising the threshold at which "offensive" behavior becomes actionable. A great deal of that is learning, personally, to forgive and assume the best when there is any doubt about the other person's intent.

Etiquette also includes the ability to defend yourself, kindly. Miss Manners demonstrates the way to do this regularly, which is one reason her column deserves more attention than it gets. Consider this academic example:
Dear Miss Manners:

As an educator in a graduate professional education program, I frequently invite guest lecturers. I've had two dilemmas:

The first lecturer informs the class that certain research has been cross-culturally "universally" validated. I know that the research was done only with males. Is it rude for me to bring it up? What if I won't have the chance to correct the information with the students on another occasion?

The second lecturer, an African American female, presents views of her social reality that are disturbing to two white male students, who challenge her views and ask for statistics to verify them. When the lecturer cites her PhD, one student calls out, "I don't care about your PhD" and leaves the room. Should I, as host educator, have intervened, or would that have been paternalistic?

It would be paternalistic to treat an African American female professor more protectively than you would any other guest lecturer. This brings us back to your underlying dilemma, which is that you feel torn between maintaining decorum and permitting debate.

Miss Manners is afraid that you, like many others, believe these goals to be incompatible. On the contrary, it is decorum that allows dissent to be aired, and it is your job to ensure both. Academic lectures should always allow debate, and decorum should always prevail, there as elsewhere.

In the first example, your own dissent was suppressed. There would have been nothing rude about your using the question period to ask for a demographic breakdown of the research.

The second was characterized by neither decorum nor debate. The request for statistics was reasonable, and the lecturer was rude in dismissing it by citing her credentials. At that point, you could have intervened by saying, "Of course, but we would all be interested in hearing your data."

Instead, the student turned rude. What you could have said after the student left was, "I apologize for the outburst. Now we would all be interested in hearing your data."
As Miss Manners points out, the elevation in rudeness ends the debate -- it doesn't further it. Dr. Helen appears to regard this as a psychological problem rather than a problem of manners; as such she advocates what would appear to be a sort of aversion therapy. That will tend to destroy the atmosphere in which a serious consideration of the problem could be made. It will ruin any hope of actual improvement.

I respectfully suggest that it is also rude to assume that people who behave in ways you don't like are sick, and in need of treatment. They may simply be in need of a good example. Even if they do need treatment, though, they have every right to resent it being diagnosed, prescribed and administered without their consent. Involuntary treatment of patients ought to be something undertaken only under the most rigorous ethical guidelines, if only because of the unreliable quality of psychological diagnoses. Even as society would be improved by more rather than fewer manners, psychology would benefit from more rather than fewer ethics.

Ev. & Blogs

Evolution & Blogs:

Grim's Hall is not a popular blog. It ranks reasonably high in the Ecosystem, where we are a Large Mammal at #408; but we have never had anything like the traffic the big blogs get. I've been idly considering the issue, and I think this is why:

1) Evolution: For fourteen thousand years or so, before civilization but during an important period of development for mankind, small bands of hunter-gatherers depended very closely on each other for survival. There are some lingering effects that touch on how blogs operate. Two of them are that the majority of people are extroverts; and that there is a strong, evolutionary drive in most people to desire agreement. Both of these drives developed because they kept the social networks of hunter-gatherer groups strong, which would tend to ensure survival and reproduction.

Most people are extroverts, which means among other things that they get their opinions from other people. That is, they decide what to think by talking to their social circle, feeling out what range of opinions is acceptable in that circle, and then staking out a position in the center of it. They don't approach issues by thinking about them in the sense of applying logic to principles; people who do that, who arrive at conclusions based on private thought, are quite rare. Such people are the only sort who will be comfortable here, because anyone who stays here long (including me, on many occasions) will have their ideas challenged and be forced to defend them on merit. The only merit most people are accustomed to seeking is 'it is commonly agreed.' Such people, most people, will not remain here because they will eventually be hit and be unable to reply.

The second drive is agreeability: the desire to find yourself in agreement with others. This has two expressions. The first is a willingness to yield on your own ideas in order to 'go along' with the crowd. The second is the desire to be a gatekeeper: to force others to go along with you. Most people express both tendencies strongly. You can see the results in any clique, from teenage girls to academics. People who have opinions outside the range of acceptable ones submit, or they are punished by the rest of the group. Either they themselves exercise agreeability by yielding, or others enforce it. Some people, I have noticed, feel it so important to enforce agreeability that they are happy to resort to the most ugly and brutal insults in order to silence people who are saying something they don't want to hear.

That kind of agreeability is simply forbidden here. The rules of the Hall are designed to promote the exact opposite: a place where people disagree, strongly, but with mutual respect. The weight of human evolution runs entirely against such an attitude.

That is not to say it is unnatural. Just as the great majority of humanity has brown eyes, there is a minority which naturally has blue. There are introverts, people who think carefully about things, and people who don't feel any particular need to have others agree with them -- or not much of one. They are something of a minority in the world, but they do exist. They will be happy here.

I think this will preclude us from ever being the next Kos, say. These two drives that are so important to most of humanity will not be satisfied here. Those for whom they are important will drift away. But there are other things that will be found, for those who are of that special few. You will find your thinking is improved by disagreement. If your interest is in truth, rather than social acceptability, you will find it here -- either someone will bring it to you, and you will discover it while trying to attack it; or you may bring it yourself, and find that your confidence and faith in it is reinforced by seeing honest, wholehearted failures to refute it; or we may find it together.

If that is what you want, welcome. If it isn't -- well, you were fairly warned.


Carnival of the Badger:

I see that Uncle Jimbo is going to be hosting the Carnival of the Badger, a blogger carnival about things associated with Wisconson. I don't ever get around to participating in these carnivals, though I probably should -- I just don't have the time to remember or keep up with them. Maybe I should appoint a Hall Warden in charge of making sure we get into at least a few of these things, like the Carnival of Cordite.

Anyway, this blog has nothing whatever to do with Wisconson, but Jimbo is doing hunting stories and I happen to know a couple of good ones. So, for your amusement, here is "Trophy Hunting for Dummies," or, "The Story of How Someone Gave Up Hunting Once and For All."

I have this story second hand, from a friend of mine down Atlanta way. An old friend of his had always lived in Atlanta, but had grown up on the great tales of safaris and hunters: Theodore Roosevelt's writings, the autobiography of Col. Patterson, the works of H. R. Haggard, that sort of thing. The Patterson book in particular could inspire a PETA volunteer to want to get out on safari at least once in his life.

So finally, one year this fellow decided that he would go wild boar hunting. You can do this down South pretty easily -- I don't know if they still do it, but they used to have annual wild pig hunts on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast, and there are wild pigs all through Alabama and south Georgia. They're mean, dangerous animals and a man could feel like an honest-to-goodness big game hunter if he had successfully tracked one and taken it.

My old martial arts instructor, Ken Caton, used to hunt them with a boar spear. This fellow wasn't that brave, however -- he just wanted to hunt one. So, he found a place out in Alabama where he could hire a professional hunter to help him. He took his rifle, and went out.

The pro quickly came to understand how low the skill level was here, so he took the guy off to a tree stand and put him up in it. "The pigs come down this trail to the water," the pro explained. "Just wait here, quiet like, and you should get one." The pro went off, and the fellow waited. All day. No pigs.

Along about sundown, the pro came back. "Get any?" he asked.

"I haven't even seen any," the poor fellow said.

"Huh," the pro said. "Well, I think they might be coming any time now, what with sunset coming on. Just, ah, wait here."

The pro left again, and a few minutes later our friend heard what sounded like an all-terrain vehicle running around the brush. Sure enough, suddenly down out of the brush came a whole mess of the pigs, running in terror before the pro on his four-wheeler.

"Shoot! Shoot!" the guide called.

He just couldn't shoot. It wasn't right.

Now, this didn't put an end to the hunting thing. You don't give up on a lifelong dream just because of one bad experience. Roosevelt wouldn't have! So our boy sulked about it all winter and summer, but early next fall he booked a trip. This time there wasn't going to be any canned hunt; and this time, he was going to have the hunt of a lifetime. He booked his trip in Canada's north, way out in the wilderness.

His quarry? Bull moose.

Now, again, being a city boy he hired a professional guide to help him along. This guy was a real hunter, and together they carefully made their way into the forests and hills of Canada. Far away from civilization, they entered Bull Moose country.

Bull Moose are notoriously dangerous and bad tempered. The stories about them are downright frightening, and furthermore they are huge. So our city boy was a little nervous, fingering his rifle uncertainly as they proceeded through the grasses. Finally, the guide tapped his shoulder and pointed. A long rifle-shot off, standing by a lightly-wooded lake, a big bull was taking a drink of water.

Our hunter moved in closer, to be sure of his shot. He carefully, quietly got into position and slowly brought his rifle to bear.

Just before he could fire, the wind shifted. The moose raised his head, and looked right at him! The man froze. The moose froze.

Then, very carefully, the moose stepped sideways behind a thin little aspen tree. It just hid his eyes, but of course his great big shoulders and antlers stood out on either side, clear as can be. Having slipped into his clever hiding place, the moose stood perfectly still.

"Shoot!" whispered the guide urgently. But our boy couldn't shoot. It was just too pathetic. Instead, he laughed out loud, and laid down his rifle.

He took the story home instead of the antlers. It was probably a better trophy anyway.


Myth and Tribe:

The New Yorker posts this biography of C. S. Lewis, written by Adam Gopnik. It is essentially hostile to Lewis' religion, comforted by doubt, and celebratory of Lewis' affair with a married woman, which Gopnik says was the real source of Joy in Lewis' life. Gopnik's subtitle is "Prisoner of Narnia," but in fact he ends on the opposite conclusion: that Lewis was a prisoner of Christianity, who finally learned to escape into "the darker realm of magic."

I. Heresy

I think that what I just wrote is accurate but unkindly put, which really captures the tone of Gopnik's piece. It is an interesting and thought-inspiring work, but not a kind one, which leads to unfairness. Gopnik chides Lewis' conversion as being insufficiently given to imagination: "[Lewis] is never troubled by the funny coincidence that this one staggering cosmic truth also happens to be the established religion of his own tribe, supported by every institution of the state, and reinforced by the university he works in, the 'God-fearing and God-sustaining University of Oxford,' as Gladstone called it."

The charge can be directed at the author as well. Gopnik himself celebrates Lewis' escape from orthodoxy into "the American cult of salvation through love and sex and the warmth of parenting," having glad words for sexuality in a number of places. Yet one of his original charges against Lewis is perversion; he makes much of his apparent fondness for spanking girls, which Gopnik puts down to the English boarding school culture. Perhaps; but Robert E. Howard, author of the Conan stories among other classics, never went near an English boarding school. As any reader of his knows, he also has a few kind words to say about the pleasures of spanking a willing woman.

It may be that the activity is more primal than perverse. Both Howard and Lewis spent a great deal of time and study on the Northern and Celtic myths, which involve powerful struggles between strong male and female warriors and gods. The power of these myths, as Gopnik himself says, is that they move us deeply and to the roots. Being moved by myths about these titanic clashes between strong and willful male and female heroes might naturally enough express itself in play, and particularly the play of men and women who love each other.

Still, it falls outside of Gopnik's own conception of right-sexuality, and is thus to be scorned as heresy against the true faith. Gopnik sees himself as an advocate of the true faith, the faith of the body. Yet he fails to see that his faith also is hemmed in with heresies and declarations of apostasy, intolerances and scorn.

II. Tribalism

Nevertheless, Gopnik's larger claim has merit. There is something here that needs an explanation:

It seemed like an odd kind of conversion to other people then, and it still does. It is perfectly possible, after all, to have a rich romantic and imaginative view of existence—to believe that the world is not exhausted by our physical descriptions of it, that the stories we make up about the world are an important part of the life of that world—without becoming an Anglican. In fact, it seems much easier to believe in the power of the Romantic numinous if you do not take a controversial incident in Jewish religious history as the pivot point of all existence, and a still more controversial one in British royal history as the pivot point of your daily practice.
It would be odd that a man descended from Angles and Saxons, Jutes and Danes, and Normans whose name was itself a shortened form of "North-man," should practice a variant of a Jewish religion. Christianity's claim, of course, is that it is not a Jewish religion, but is instead the natural and universal religion of mankind. For that to be true, here is another thing that ought to be true: Jesus might have been born a Northman or a Greek instead of a Jew. If Christianity is true, there may be reasons why God chose to incarnate into the particular tradition of Judiasim; but if it is universal, and if God is indeed all God is said by the faith to be, He ought to have been able to teach the same message in any tradition. He should have been able to transform the teachings of Bacchus into Christianity. Just as Jesus turned Judiasm into something entirely different from what it had been -- a faith of forgiving rather than destroying your enemies, a faith of transforming all tribes rather than celebrating one's own particular tribe -- just as Jesus did that, if in fact he was God, he ought to have been able to do the same thing to any other religion.

It should not, then, be odd to see that Lewis finds Anglicanism to be a natural choice for him if he was convinced of the truth of Christianity. It is the point at which the stream of Christianity had most closely crossed the underlying traditions of his own people. Those traditions and myths are deeper than it is really possible to understand. They lie beneath the words of our language, such that Tolkien could retrieve dead forms of Old English and return them to us as living things that English speakers understand, though we don't remember why: ent and orc and warg seem like natural words that really should be what Tolkien said they were, because indeed they do mean those things. They always did. Somehow, though no one living had used the words for a thousand years, they still ring true to the ear.

A similar story from my own background: as a boy my parents gave me a book from the Childcraft series on myths of the world. It included myths from very many cultures, rewritten for children. They were also illustrated in forms that replicated the traditional art of the cultures from which they came. There were several stories that included dragons, stories about Chinese dragons and dragons forced to submit through the prayers of Christian saints, evil lizards and flying dragons. They were all amusing, but none of them seemed like more than a pleasant, obviously made-up story -- none except one.

That was was the Beowulf story. I remember having a clear understanding, which I drew from the text and the illustrations, that this story was actually true. This story, alone of all of them, got it right about dragons; it got it right about how men behaved and what dragons were like, and what kind of force it took to deal with them.

Why should that dragon have seemed real and right to me, among them all? The reason is the reason that myth underlies and moves our hearts so deeply; it is the reason that Lewis and Howard and Tolkien all drew first on the Northern myths. While two of the three felt it was important to reconcile those myths with Christianity, it was really the Northern myths that moved their hearts.

III. Myth and Truth

None of that says that Christianity is true, or that it is not true. As I said, if Christianity is true it ought to be able to work its transformation in any mythic tradition. It should be the case, if the claims of the religion are accurate, that Jesus could have been born a Dane; it should also be true that he shouldn't need to be one. God, if he is the God the Christian teachings say, should be able to work through Tolkien as much as through John the Baptist.

The test for that would be to see if the overarching power of what Jesus taught survives, even when it is entirely removed from the Jewish roots. If you look at the sterner sort of Christian textualist, those who closely read the Gospels but have little use for the Old Testament or the letters of saints, their faith should carry the same power even if it has a different feel. The Lutherans should be dour because the faith comes from a dour people; but it should still be Christian.

The scoring of that test I leave as an exercise for the reader. Grim's Hall has no official position on the truth of any religion (except Atheism, which we've declared to be false), even though I do myself. However, this isn't a church, but a hall for warriors, who are welcome whatever faith they advocate (even Atheism). I simply suggest that if you are looking for a test, this might be an illuminating one to apply.

It might be worthwhile to look at the writing of yet another myth-inspired writer, Fritz Leiber, who wrote a wonderful story entitled "Lean Times in Lankhmar." Leiber himself was (like Howard) not that interested in Christianity, and in fact the story is meant to be a parody of the faith, and how it adapts itself to other cultures. Fafhrd, the great Northern barbarian takes to rewriting tales of a Christ-like figure so that "Issek" begins riding dragons rather than simply being tortured. Leiber is a great writer, and even when writing what he intends as a parody is kind and fair to his subject. I think both Christian and non-Christian readers can benefit from thinking about the story he wrote, and reading it might make it easier to score the test.

IV. The Flower & the Sword

I was not familiar with the image of "the blue flower" before I read the Gopnik piece, but I find the concept familiar.
He loved landscape and twilight, myth and fairy tale, particularly the Irish landscape near their suburban home, and the stories of George MacDonald. Now too easily overlooked in the history of fantasy, MacDonald’s stories (“At the Back of the North Wind,” “The Princess and the Goblin,” and, most of all, “Phantastes”) evoked in Lewis an emotion bigger than mere pleasure—a kind of shining sense of goodness and romance and light. Lewis called this emotion, simply, the “Joy.” With it came the feeling that both the world and the words were trying to tell him something—not just that there is something good out there but that there is something big out there. The young Lewis found this magic in things as different as Beatrix Potter and Longfellow, “Paradise Lost” and Norse myth. “They taught me longing,” he said, and made him a “votary of the Blue Flower,” after a story by the German poet Novalis, in which a youth dreams of a blue flower and spends his life searching for it.
For me, it was a poem written by Tolkien, which is included in The Hobbit:
...For Ancient King and Elvish Lord
There Many a Gleaming, Golden Hoard
They shaped and wrought,
And light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.
I think I've been looking for that sword my whole life. I haven't found it yet, but I know that I believe in it. I know it's real, somehow, though I don't understand just how it could be. I just know it.

Lewis believed, as John Derbyshire does, that this is not the real world. That is a belief found in many places, and it might be true. I have heard that the ancient Irish believed it so strongly that they would accept debts to be paid 'in the other world.'

If that is true, it may be that seeking things that can only be found in that other world will lead you there. Or it could be that it condemns us to madness, if the world can't be found. Of course, it could also be that it is not true, and those of us who believe it are already mad. That, too, I leave to the reader.


A Funeral for a Son and Hero:

Via B5, we have a sad and moving story. The Funeral of SPC Tommy Byrd should be read, if you feel you can stand to read it.


A Fat Cigar and a Silver Star:

Well earned. Thanks, Gunny.

Good Life

The Good Life:

Daniel's apparently too shy to post a link to it here, so I'd like to direct you to his "Good Life" list. It all sounds pretty good to me, too.


Hollywood Went to War:

Via the Major's Lady, a compilation of Hollywood fighting men. Probably you knew some of these stories, but there may be one or two that will surprise you.


We Desire Harmony From You Rednecks:

President of the Australian federation of Islamic Councils, Dr. Ameer Ali, had this to say in response to the arrest of 17 Muslims on terrorism charges in Australia:

I want the Government to assure my community that they will not allow the rednecks in this country to exploit the situation to cause disharmony in society.
Well, aside from being shocked to realize that "redneck" is the same insult in Australia (and New Zealand) that it is in America, I'm not terribly surprised by this. After all, if there's one thing that society seems to be united on, it's that rednecks are bad.

Not just some of them, all of them. The political right and the political left are in perfect agreement on the question. We wouldn't think of condemning the Muslim community just because it produces terrorists at a rate absolutely unseen in any other group of humanity; no sir. Harmony is what is needed there. But we can just go right ahead and paint all poor, rowdy "rednecks" with the same broad brush.

Growing up in the red hills of Georgia, I met plenty of the type. They'll punch a man out for insulting Mama, but they'll charge into a burning building to save a child -- I knew many who did, with the Volunteer Fire Department. Or who did the same thing just to try to save a little of some other people's property, because they knew all too well what it was like to scramble hard all their lives for not so very much. For that matter, is it such a bad thing to have a culture in which people think it's a fighting offense to insult Mama?

You want harmony from them? Don't insult Mama, God, or country -- I expect that goes in Australia same as it does for America. They won't insult your God if you don't insult theirs -- but allowing your community to produce terrorists is going to be considered an insult to the country. If you want harmony with the rednecks, I suggest you do what you have to do to make sure that stops.

If you don't, I see no reason to think that demanding "Government protection" is going to solve your problems.