Saturday, February 23, 2013

Never, never, never, never

Although the Gray Lady may disagree, my problem with the anonymous nature of so much internet commentary is not that it encourages hateful, cowardly statements, but rather that there is just no pride of authorship. Take this recent anonymous accusation posted as a comment to this very blog: “Pathetic. Your savior preached love and nonviolence. You want to be able to kill people with guns so you twist his words.”* The syntax is such a jumble that I cannot tell if I am being charged with wanting to employ firearms to kill others, or of wanting to kill those bearing firearms. Either way, the anonymous interlocutor gave me to understand that he considers the Suburban Sheepdog a bloodthirsty fellow, eager to do violence.

Well, no  . . . and yes.

We've explored before the idea that when the time for violence comes, one key is to act violently enough, fast enough. No half measures, no delay. But Robert’s (even more fundamental) Rule is simplicity itself: Keep fighting.

In October of 1941 Great Britain was on its heels – an improvement only when considered in light of the fact that ten months before it had been on its back. Having endured the great air battle of the prior year, invasion of the island finally seemed less likely – or, at least, less imminent – than it had. But by any measure, the war was going poorly and expanding broadly. The Third Reich was sufficiently comfortable astride its European occupation to turn toward Russia. The African war belonged to Rommel. The Mediterranean was a German millpond. America was disinclined to participate beyond the provision of materiel.

Defeat seemed less inevitable, but victory was hard to imagine. Instead, there was every reason to believe that widening and worsening war would be the way of things for the foreseeable future. The young men to whom Winston Churchill delivered the Harrow School commencement address that autumn could expect nothing more promising than soon to find a place in war that was killing their fathers and brothers with the efficiency of a well-run abattoir. Churchill gave a speech that rang with notes not of optimism, but rather with grim satisfaction that despite the efforts of a vicious and determined enemy, Britain still stood. He credited that survival not to courage – which it has to be said had abounded – but to determination. In the best words ever spoken at a commencement address, he exhorted the Harrow boys to embrace that determination:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.**

What Churchill knew, what schoolboys couldn't be expected to understand, is that Britain hadn't defeated Germany – nor would it, nor could it until America entered the war. What Britain had done was endure. It had simply continued to exist. 

When those of us who hold our liberty dear tell the ugly truth about the purpose of the Second Amendment, that it exists as a hedge against tyranny, as insurance against a day we pray not to see, those inclined to comfort in their servility will make the argument that no mere citizen can realistically hope to prevail, should a government turn its full might on its people. Whenever I hear this argument – and I hear it a lot these days – I wonder at how those who make it can so facilely ignore our own history. It is a history that began with a Colonial rabble that did not, could not, hope to defeat King George militarily, but that could and did keep fighting, even so. Our forbears didn't defeat their oppressors, they simply continued to exist until the cost and trouble and pain of beating them became too great for the oppressor to bear. Just so, time and again throughout history, have lesser forces prevailed against more mighty ones – in Indo-China, for just one, painful example.

It isn't only history these willing slaves ignore; it’s also the nightly news. The men and women and children of the Free Syrian Army cannot hope militarily to defeat Bashar al-Assad, his Iranian patrons and his Hezbollah henchmen. But with their trebuchets and catapults and Mad Max creations, they continue to exist, even as Assad kills them in their tens of thousands. They keep fighting. And so long as they do, the days will keep coming, time will keep piling up and bearing its inexorable weight down upon their would-be masters.

Sometimes the task is to keep fighting, to keep on existing, for years on end.  Few remember that the American Revolutionary War lasted eight-and-half years -- 3060 days from Lexington to the Treaty of Paris. Sometimes the task is to keep fighting, to continue to exist, for just a few seconds more, until your rapist or robber is killed or concedes. But year to year, moment to moment, the strategy is the same: Keep fighting.

As a man of partly Irish descent, my feelings about Winston Churchill are more than mixed. But what was admirable in him was greatly admirable and not least of all this: You can hear in his speech to the Harrow boys that, while he would certainly have wished that war had passed his nation by, he is not sorry to be among those alive when it did come. In fact, he closes the speech in gratitude to God that when the fight came, he was on hand to fight it. So no, a good sheepdog isn't bloodthirsty, and it's little use to the flock if it is. But neither will it turn its face, or trouble to spit out the blood when there’s a wolf to defeat.

*The comment utterly missed the central purpose of the post, which was to have an opportunity to make a vague historical allusion while sharing that lovely, classic image of Betty Grable’s adorable bottom and naughty smile.

** In a quote with a less certain provenance than the Harrow speech, Churchill expressed the same sentiment in a simpler, more canine fashion: The nose of the bulldog has been slanted backwards, Churchill said, so that he can breathe without letting go.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you. Pacifists believe their principles will resolve a dispute when it degrades into violence. However, the violent person does not operate with the same set of rules. I've seen that movie and I know the ending.