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Monday, 29 April 2013

The non-combatant American

An earlier post reflected on the European desire to kill or be killed for the motherland. Rose Wilder Lane very elegantly explained that this ideal never became part of the American psyche:

War has always been the primary function of Old World Government. Men living in the Old World use a large part of their energy in killing men and in destroying food, shelter, and all other necessities of human life. Americans in general do not understand this. Neither do most continental Europeans understand the American attitude toward war.

When I was living in Albania I had a friend who was one of the finest persons I ever knew. He was an Italian of English ancestry. His mother and his maternal ancestors for many generations had been English. He was fourteen and his brother was nine, when their parents were drowned at sea. The boys had no other near relatives and from that time they were inseparable. They stayed together in schools and universities; they got from the King himself a special permission to do their military service together. They went together to Argentine, and in 1915 returned to join their regiment. They were both wounded at Caporetto, and abandoned on the field. My friend reached his brother but was too weak to do anything for him. The brother died during the third night. My friend's wounds still required him to return to hospitals at intervals.

For weeks I tried to explain to him the American attitude toward war. He could not understand it. I was confused, myself, for like most Americans I had taken it for granted that no one wants war. My friend had the best European schooling, Italian, German, and English. He was widely and accurately informed; he was intelligent, open-minded, and eager to understand my puzzling country. The clue, he said, was in our attitude toward war. It baffled him.

"War has always been the primary function of Old World Government." He laughed at the superficial European belief that Americans are mere dollar-chasers. He knew several Americans intimately. He did not find them mercenary, nor cowardly, nor weak, nor — exactly — unpatriotic. American patriotism is peculiar, he said. Americans never say "my fatherland," "my motherland." What a peculiar attitude toward your country, to call it Uncle Sam. And notice, he said, the tone in which you say "Uncle Sam," or, "The States." It is affectionate; it has a sound of — what should he say? equality? tolerance? — as if a confident young man were speaking of a good old uncle. That is not the way in which a man speaks of his country, the fatherland, the motherland, the parent whose child he is. And then, the curious American talk about war. He did not believe that it was entirely hypocritical. But would I explain the facts?

The United States are made by unprovoked military aggression. They attack the Indians and take half a continent; they attack Mexico and take Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California; they attack Spain, and take Cuba; they attack the Filipinos and take the islands. Then why don't they hold and subdue Mexico, when American troops have taken Mexico City? Why don't they attack Canada while the mother country is embroiled in Europe? Why do the United States reverse all history, and fight for an older empire instead of helping to dismember it? Now (in 1928) the United States are the strongest world power; why do they no have compulsory military training? They have used military power to dictate to all Europe; then why has the army no influence in our foreign policy? Why do the sons of our upper classes go into business or professions, why not into the army and navy? Why do Americans not honor their great Generals above such men as Edison and Hoover? Why, when General Pershing is an American, do Americans make a small-town editor the President of the United States?

One morning his servant brought a note, asking if he might see me at once, for only a moment. He came in, excited, apologizing for calling at that hour, "but I could not wait to tell you! It came to me in a flash, suddenly, just now. It is materialism! As you have said, Signora: Americans hate war because it kills men and destroys property. Suddenly, it comes to me. What are lives and property? Material things. All men die, time destroys all property. Lives and property have no value. The immortal value is the soul of a nation, and war regenerates the nation's soul. Americans cannot see spiritual values. That is it, Signora; yes, yes, that is the truth. Deep down, at base, au fond, your countrymen are pure materialists. You see only the material world; you cannot see what war is, because it is spiritual."

He had seen his brother die at Caporetto, and he died in Ethiopia, a fine, brave, honorable man, who believed with his whole mind that an individual is a cell in the body of The State, that Authority controls all human beings, and that his own life had no value whatever but service to Immortal Italy.

That is the cause of war.

Men who have that pagan belief will always make war. They must make war, because of the nature of human energy. Not knowing that individuals control themselves, they do not recognize and accept that responsibility; they try to make their own energy work on a false basis. It will not work on a false basis, and one of the results of trying to make it do so, is war.

--Rose Wilder Lane, from The Discovery of Freedom

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts here, and in the article that you link.


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