Why is good dumb?
Originally posted June 21, 2005
“Lonestar, now you see that evil shall always triumph, because good is dumb,” said Lord Dark Helmet in the 1987 lampoon Spaceballs. No Western leader has tried harder to be good, but looked dumber, than America’s Lonestar, President George W Bush, over whom evil is about to triumph. His vision is crumbling of a democratic Middle East, with suburban housing tracts and shopping malls spreading across the desert, and mosques that preach something like Methodism. “Many will be the night during his second term that Bush will wish he were still in Texas, and still drunk,” I predicted before his re-election, and reiterate the prediction now.
Is Bush personally dumb, or is there something inherently dumb about the good? Exclude the former: every insider account of the Bush White House portrays the president as a crafty operator, very much in control. Besides, now we know that the president earned better grades at Yale than his Democrat challenger, John Kerry. Even if he were dull, clever advisers surround him. No one claims that Vice President Dick Cheney is stupid. Why, then, does Bush seem dumb? Dark Helmet was right. The United States of America is uniquely good, and thus uniquely dumb. Before addressing that issue, let us define “good” and “dumb” in the context of world affairs.
The American president is a good man, in that he wants the whole world to have the same good things Americans have. “Religious conversion is the defining experience of his life, and it is in his nature to convert others. Because he is a 21st-century American and not a 12th-century Crusader, he preaches the ballot box rather than the cross,” I wrote under the title George W Bush, tragic character (November 25, 2003). A simple punitive expedition against Saddam Hussein, followed by side-deals with the Kurds and Shi’ites to secure oil supplies, would have served Washington’s “imperial” requirements, had that been the objective. Bush actually believes he is building democracy in the Muslim world.
By “dumb” I mean that Bush could not have done more to prepare the grounds for Islamist victory had he set out to do so with malice of forethought. Less than a year ago, overwhelming support for the Iraq war forced the Democratic Party to peddle Kerry as a war hero, while gagging its anti-war faction. Only 37% of Americans now approve of the president’s handling of the Iraq war, according to last week’s CBS-NY Times poll. Among the Sunnis of Iraq, a sufficient number of young men will commit suicide to add two or three a day to the American casualty list until America’s loses its will to fight (Why Sunnis blow themselves up, June 14).
Radical Islam, I have maintained since September 11, 2001, may triumph yet, if only for a while, for its fighting advantage is the desperation of a doomed culture. Washington has made concession after humiliating concession to groups it deemed terrorist, such as Hezbollah, the victor in the south of the country in the ongoing Lebanese elections, and the Palestinian Hamas, before whose electoral strength the Palestinian Authority dare not hold a national vote. The world interprets Bush’s recognition of Hezbollah and Hamas to mean that if a nation backs leaders who employ terrorism, their sovereign will legitimizes the use of terror. If suicide bombers drive American troops from Iraq, Bush’s “war on terror” will meet an ignominious end. It will, of course, resume before long, but it will be someone else’s war.
What makes the US uniquely good is that it is uniquely Christian. I do not mean that Christianity is a unique fount of goodness – far from it – but rather that Christianity proposes a universalized form of good. The Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians who chose to emigrate to America left the blood and soil of their origins behind them, unlike the barbarian invaders who populated modern Europe. Christians worship a God outside of nature who loves all of humankind; by contrast, pagans worship themselves. Self-worship can take the form of adoration of a man-made idol, or the adoration of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus for the Germans or an Indian Virgin for the Mexicans. Spiritual narcissism is the curse of the gentiles, who feel justified in exterminating their neighbors out of a perverse adoration for their own ethnicity. As the only nation with no ethnicity, America is the most Christian, and indeed the last Christian nation in the industrial world as a practical matter.
The Christianity that Bush professes is an American original, a true rebirth without a backward glance. The born-again American Christian expects every individual on earth to respond to divine grace in similar fashion. The kind of evangelical Christians one finds in Midland, Texas, evince a spirit of charity found among no other people in the world, sending money and missionaries to assist the most impoverished people of Africa and Latin America.
Good people cannot as a rule understand wicked people. They do not wish to be wicked, and cannot understand why anyone else would wish to do so. American Christians cannot fathom the kind of wickedness that accounts for the bulk of the butchery in world history, born of the pessimism of dying races who will kill without compunction to delay the hour of their demise.
But hasn’t Christianity slaughtered without pity in the name of the faith? Cardinal Richelieu’s France offers the worst example, prolonging the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants until nearly half the people of central Europe had died by violence, disease or starvation. This exceptional case of Christian brutality proves the rule. Seventeenth-century France under Cardinal Richelieu first devised the ghastly idea that God had chosen one particular nation as the bearer of Christianity, justifying the most hideous means to achieve its ends. Narcissism at the level of the individual as well as the nation is the French disease, which the rest of Europe caught.
Only one major war in modern history rightly might be called a Christian holy war, namely America’s Civil War, which took the lives of two out of five Southern men of military age. Young men from the North marched to their death singing that as Christ “had died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”. The slave-holding states constituted an evil entity, somewhat like the great Roman estates, and Southern youth died for an evil cause, namely the right to be rich and idle. Had the North not fought the war, the South would have sought to expand into a Latin American slave empire.
Yet American tourists wander the battlefields of the Civil War, blinking dumbly at the scenes of mass slaughter, mourning Confederate and Unionist alike. Thousands of Americans dress in Civil War-era uniforms and act out the awful battles of the 1860s like a mute chorus in a tragedy written in an antique language none of them can understand. Americans cannot absorb the horror that an evil society grew in their midst, that could be suppressed only by the extermination of its manhood. As a nation of immigrants from failed societies, Americans have lost their memory of what it means when a society fails. In fact, such failure is the typical case, just as extinction is the typical fate of animal species. About 2,000 of the 6,700 languages now spoken on the planet will disappear during the next decade, while French, German and Italian will be in danger within the next two centuries.
To embrace death is the extreme of evil. Iraq’s Sunnis, as I wrote last week, have even less hope without control of the country’s oil than had the young men of the American South without control of slaves. They are the denizens of a failed culture, and therefore hold their lives cheap enough to trade for a bombing in a restaurant or a bank, let alone the death of an American soldier. Against such radical evil, the good has no natural defenses.
Can we cite no example of a good man who also was clever, for example, Sir Winston Churchill? Churchill surely was clever, but he was not all that good. That is, he was a man of the old British Empire, expert at keeping tribal wars at a low boil in order to maintain British control with sparse resources. That is the sort of thing America might have done in Iraq, but which Bush by his nature never will do.
For all of Churchill’s acumen, he did not win World War II as much as Adolf Hitler lost it. Failing to destroy the British expeditionary force at Dunkirk is an obvious case, but decisive German error was accepting war with the US. Suppose that after Pearl Harbor Hitler did not declare war on the US along with Japan, but instead offered himself as a mediator between the two, deploring the Japanese attack but urging American restraint. Would Congress have declared war on Germany as well as Japan? Not likely. Hitler’s overconfidence then stood at its zenith, following the easy defeat of France and the spectacular success of Operation Barbarossa, and megalomania got the better of him. That is a comforting thought. Perhaps the Islamists will lose the war. I hope that turns out to be the case, considering that Bush is not going to win it.