September 19, 2008, 0:30 p.m.
The Undefended City
By Bill Whittle
When I first got to college, back in the last few weeks of the Seventies, I finally got a chance to see an ordinary game of Dungeons and Dragons. My immediate inclination was to play as a Paladin: the pinnacle of Lawful Good, a character required to dash in and fight overwhelmingly powerful evil forces anywhere and at whatever odds. These contests were short, depressing and hilarious, but all D&D really came down to in the end was slaying small monsters, taking their gold, buying slightly better gear and then slaying slightly larger monsters. Why not just save some time and become a Vorpal Sword distributor? Then you get the weapons and the gold, and people bring them both to you. And so a larval conservative was born. And I never played again.
That was the attitude I took into The Lord of the Rings when the first of the trilogy appeared in 2001, just a few months after the Two Towers actually did fall and the idea of good and evil suddenly became — to me and no doubt to you too — a great deal less ironic and a great deal more real.
And there, in the darkness, staring up at that screen, I marveled at this monumental font of deep and eternal ideas: the aversion to facing danger, even when it is right in front of us; the value of old and true allies; the corrosive force of addiction; responsibility forsaken, then reclaimed… and through it all the fear that we may be lesser sons of greater fathers, and that we may no longer have the courage or the will to defend the City entrusted to our care.
This, and more, what was what John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was trying to teach me, down that dark river of the future — and he ought to know. The Lord of the Rings was written between 1937 through 1949… years of dark waters, indeed.
A few years before Tolkien put pen to paper, an event took place that a man of his education would have undoubtedly been aware. On February 9th, 1933, the ruling elite of the world’s great Civilization held a debate in the Oxford Union. With thunderclouds growing dark across the English Channel, at a time when resolute action could still have averted the worst catastrophe the world has ever known, these elites resolved that “This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.”
The Resolution passed by a vote of 275 to 153. Needless to say, this vote did not avert the fight. It guaranteed it.
How much of the weight of that, I wonder, sat along side him as he penned page after page about the decline of the Men of the West. For taken in its entirety, The Lord of the Rings is about the collective regeneration of the will and courage of a previous age, and ends with the hope that the greatest days of the City lie yet ahead.
I live a few miles from Santa Monica High School, in California. There, young men and women are taught that America is “a terrorist nation,” “one of the worst regimes in history,” that it’s twice-elected leader is “the son of the devil,” and dictator of this “fascist” country. Further, “patriotism” is taught by dragging an American flag across the classroom floor, because the nation’s truest patriots, as we should know by now, are those who are most able to despise it.
This is only high school, remember: in college things get much, much worse.
Two generations, now, are being raised on this poison, and the reason for that is this: the enemies of this city cannot come out and simply say, “Do not defend the city.” Even the smartest among us can see that is simple treason. But they can say, “The City is not worth defending.” So they say that, and they say that all the time and in as many different ways as they are able.
If you step far enough back to look at the whole of human history, you will begin to see a very plain rhythm: a heartbeat of civilization. Steep climbs out of disease and ignorance into the light of medicine and learning — and then a sudden collapse back into darkness. And it is in that darkness that most humans have lived their lives: poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
The pattern is always the same: at the height of a civilization’s powers something catastrophic seems to occur — a loss of will, a failure of nerve, and above all an unwillingness to identify with the values and customs that have produced such wonders.
The Russians say a fish rots from the head down. They ought to know. It may not be factually true that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, the saying has passed into common usage because the image as the ring of truth to it: time and time again, the good and decent common people have manned the walls of the city, and have been ready to give their lives in its defense, only to discover too late that some silk-robed son of a bitch has snuck out of the palace at midnight and thrown open the gates to the barbarians outside.
And how is this done, this “throwing open of the gates?” How are defenders taken off the walls?
Well, most of what I learned about Vietnam I learned from men like Oliver Stone. This self-loathing narcissist has repeatedly tried to inculcate in me a sense of despair and outrage at my own government, my own culture, my own people and ultimately myself. He tried to convince me — and he is a skillfull man — that my own government murdered my own President for political gain. I am told daily in those darkened temples that rogue CIA elements run a puppet government, that the real threat to the nation comes from the generals that defend it, or from the businessmen that provide the prosperity we take for granted.
I sit with others in darkened rooms, watching films like Redacted, Stop-Loss, and In the Valley of Elah, and see our brave young soldiers depicted as murderers, rapists, broken psychotics or ignorant dupes –visions foisted upon me by bitter and isolated millionaires such as Brian de Palma and Paul Haggis and all the rest.
I’ve been told this story in some form or another, every day of every week of the past 30 years of my life. It wasn’t always so.
But it is certainly so today. And standing against all this hypnotic power — the power of the mythmakers in Hollywood, the power of the information peddlers in the media, the corrosive power of America-hating professors on every campus in America… against all that we find an old warrior — a paladin if ever there was one — an old, beat-up warhorse standing up in defense of his city one last time. And beside him: a wonder. A common person… just a regular mom who goes to work, does a difficult job with intelligence and energy and grace and every-day competence and then puts it away to go home and have dinner with the family.
Against all of that stand these two.
No wonder they must be destroyed. Because — Sarah Palin especially — presents a mortal threat to these people who have determined over cocktails who the next President should be and who now clearly mean to grind into metal shards the transaxle of their credibility in order to get the result they must have. Truly, they are before our eyes destroying the machine they have built in order to get their victory. What the hell is so threatening to be worth that?
Only this: the living proof that they are not needed. Not needed to govern, not needed to influence and guide, not needed to lecture us on our intellectual and moral failings which are visible only from the heights of Manhattan skyscrapers or the palaces up on Mulholland Drive. Not needed. We can do it — and do it better — without all of them.
When all is said and done, Civilizations do not fall because of the barbarians at the gates. Nor does a great city fall from the death wish of bored and morally bankrupt stewards presumably sworn to its defense. Civilizations fall only because each citizen of the city comes to accept that nothing can be done to rally and rebuild broken walls; that ground lost may never be recovered; and that greatness lived in our grandparents but not our grandchildren. Yes, our betters tell us these things daily. But that doesn’t mean we have to believe it.
Ask the common people of all politics and persuasions aboard Flight 93 whether greatness and courage has deserted America. Through this magical crystal ball — the one we are using right now — we common people can speak to one another. And by reminding ourselves and those around us of who we are, where we came from, what we have achieved together and of the marvels we have yet to achieve, we may laugh in the face of despair and mock those people that think a man with an MBA from Harvard knows more about running a gas station than the man that actually runs the gas station.
It is the small-town virtues of self-reliance, hard work, personal responsibility, and common-sense ingenuity — and not those of the preening cosmopolitans that gape at them in mixed contempt and bafflement — that have made us the inheritors of the most magnificent, noble, decent and free society ever to appear on this earth. This Western Civilization… this American City… has earned the right to greet each sunrise with a blast of silver trumpets that can bring down mountains.
And what, really, is a Legion of Narcissists and a Confederacy of Despair against that?
— Bill Whittle lives and works in Los Angeles.