Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Integrity and Philosophy

Hello Reader,
Got Gibbon’s old classic?
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The decline was in things unseen: character, virtue and civic spirit

My college teacher for Leadership 202, “how to run a meeting,” Gerry Bruce, used to encourage our integrity. If we were having a classroom “meeting,” or discussion, about a tough philosophy decision, he would have us each secretly write down for our eyes only what our answer was—so we would have to make a choice.

If a classmate asked him for time to address the class for something, (such as a party or special event) and if she told him, without honest thought, that it would take “two seconds” then he would not allow such dishonesty. Students had to have the integrity to estimate how much time they were asking for.

Last week’s footnote went: 
Perhaps, if you are reading this in a future library, you are wondering why I would sacrifice the natural flow of my essay to suddenly, in the third from last paragraph, go sideways to a paragraph referring to the war on terror. 
To me it’s obvious, but maybe I could answer in a sidebar, next week. 

Now it’s next week.

My answers: 
Secondly, in a democratic war some sacrifice is expected by everyone, if only the sacrifice of time, attention and a citizen’s duty to be informed. 
Firstly, dear reader, I wonder too. Do the American people deserve my sacrifice?

Do they think so little of the words that fall from their mouths that they say “war” when they secretly mean to stay on their couch, letting only their civil servants “give a care?” Letting themselves abdicate any citizen oversight or planning? A war is not won by accident. I think they are too lazy to win—how, you may ask, could I say such a horrible thing? As I see it, here’s the smoking gun: Americans can’t even be bothered to “demonize” the enemy. Such a lack of national focus would have been inconceivable during my dad’s war, when even sensitive artists were quick to make funny demonic propaganda posters. 

Perhaps those people who declare war yet refuse to demonize, also think there is only “a small difference” between the terrorists and us. That’s no way to run a war. My dad could have told them, as President Barak Obama’s mentor Saul Alinsky said: “You can’t ask a farmer to leave his wife and children, his crops half-grown in the field, for a small difference.” 

Nor can you ask my sister to (hypothetically) leave her college degree in Arab Studies half-finished to go be a volunteer translator wearing a long modest dress, to accompany the U.S. army at night. (Surely the army or the embassy would at least provide her with rations and a free roof overhead—they could even call her a “civilian contractor”) 

Therefore my sister won’t be giving aid and comfort to any Arab families when the U.S. troops are “recruiting for Al-Qaida” by kicking in doors at midnight, frightening families in the bitter search for insurgents and weapons. No. While lazy Americans are saying from their couches, “Let George do it,” I would tell my sister, “Stay in college. The American people don’t deserve you.”

… Note of gratitude: Some of the above ideas are ones I have applied from reading the Chtorr War novels of David Gerrold about a world desperately fighting against an alien invasion by ecological infestation. (No Martian Fighting Machines with death rays) I love that series.

I wonder: Did the folks of the sprawling decadent Roman Empire look back to their famous old city-state republic as a golden age? Did they know, as historians do today, that they were in decline, headed for a fall, even though they were so much greater in terms of gold and territory than the virtuous republic? If they did know, they must have felt helpless to reverse their decline.

One theory, for spotting a state’s decline, is presented by a character in Robert Heinlein’s speculative fiction novel about a grown up orphan named Friday. A wise man tells her a nation in decline has declining civility, adding that the worst offenders view their rudeness as a strength.

I wonder if Heinlein had read old Roman parchments? 

I guess nobody knows how to spot national decline (except for the obvious tell-tale of government being dishonest with the money supply, producing inflation—as in  pre Nazi Germany until Hitler was appointed and stopped inflation cold in its tracks—as documented in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) but here’s another theory: Perhaps a nation has lost greatness when they no longer aspire to have integrity in their language. I suppose the loss of integrity would be most noticeable in a nation’s elected leaders and “patricians.” 

Speaking of leaders: During the U.S. civil war, at a time and place when everyone else went in for florid speech, as an historian has noted, both President Lincoln and General Grant were concise and accurate in their speech—which helped them to trust each other at great distances. Perhaps in their personal lives and relationships those two had the same philosophy as I do: Honest language prevents decline. During my dad’s war, Sir Winston Churchill would correct bad language such as reporting that in Italy yesterday we “were fighting with the Germans.” As if war is a game. No, we were fighting with our allies, against the Germans. Once an officer, as a figure of speech, said to Churchill, “I’m afraid that—” “Don’t be afraid!”

Now what’s to become of us? We may have the president of the United States speak of the “war on terror” but he seems to secretly regard it as being, at most, a mere police action. "Let George do it." "Leave it to the civil servants and career military."

Greatness never sits down beside exaggeration, or lies, or wishful thinking. Integrity means wholesome thought, word and then deed. Any Girl Scout knows that. 

And that’s why I think the American people, even after conserving resources for their war on terror by pulling out of Iraq, have doomed themselves in advance to not-win.

Sean Crawford

As for “citizen oversight,” by searching the web I can find individual congressmen, in tiny groups, going briefly to the occupation zone as Ugly Americans and then staying among the elite in the Green Zone—just as Ugly Americans (as in the classic book) would stay glued to urban Saigon—but I find no sign of a Congressional Committee going over long enough for a structured formal study. 

No one was reprimanded or fired. Perhaps congressmen thought it was peacetime, and so therefore they were most needed back in couch territory. In contrast, in my Dad's war congress was involved, forced the removal of General Patton from the front lines after he tried to motivate a shell shocked man by slapping him. 

As long as our congressmen remain calmly content to not-win, then, like the guerrillas in the former South Vietnam, the terrorists will be excited to keep not-losing.


  1. That's a nice sentiment, but it sounds Turkish-Cypriot to me. Or else Greek-Cypriot.

    Speaking of saying, "It's all Greek to me" when I don't know something: Advertised as opposite the British Museum is "It's All Greek" an excellent store for Greek artifacts.

    Instead of buying a helmet or a shield, I bought something that would have looked at home during the surrealism period of art. Quite modern, Cycladic to be exact.

    —and I'm going there again in a month!...hip hip hooray!