Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Two Winstons...
Please excuse my blatant plagerism: this title is the same exact one that appears in one of the final chapters of Simon Scharma's "A History of Britain". It refers to two of the most consequential figures of British history --- one flesh and blood and the other fictional --- Winston Churchill and Winston Smith.

Churchill, of course, should require no explanation. He was, without a doubt, the greatest British statesman (warts and all) of the late 19th through the 20th century. Winston Smith, a fictional character, was the protagonist in George Orwell's classic 1984. Both still have emaning in today's world, especially in relation to the recent terrorist bombings in London.

There are those in the West that would have you believe that Islamic terrorism is merely the West reaping what it has sown: that centuries of Western hostility to Islam and imperialism gives aggrieved people the right to hijack airliners or to strap explosives upon themselves and detonate them in subways, in both instances killing innocent people. Such thinking merely excuses one evil by allowing another. In fact, it encourages more evil by excusing it in the first place. By this logic, the United States, having nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is in line to have the Japanese do the same to us. Fair is fair, after all. Forget the "two wrongs don't make a right" argument --- guilt compels us to ensure the wronged don't have to play by that rule.

And this is the attitude that informs most of the resistance to the War on Terror. It is not based upon anything resembling conventional logic, merely on tortured philosophy and emotion. It's the philiosophy of the morally blind and the lazily resigned.Somewhat similar to the attitude one takes when one recives a parking ticket when no violation has occurred. You may not be wrong, but you're not exactly up to the fight of proving it, and so you swallow principle and pay the fine. It's easier that way. No muss, no fuss, no expenditure of energy. In the end, the principle that is being compromised is not worth going through the trouble of defending. It's the path of least resistance.

Which is exactly the point of most people's attitude: it's easier to not have to think about it. It's much more comforting to know that someone else is making the effort. Certainly, it's easier than having to make difficult decisions for yourself. If you can justify taking a parking ticket when you're in the right, then you can justify 50 dead people in the London Underground. You're not willing to make a judgement or an effort on anything.

Which brings us to the two Winstons.

Winston Churchill would have made an effort. He would have given a stirring speech. He would have stayed up all night in the halls of No. 10 formulating strategy and responses. He definitely would have made sure the public understood the threat they were under and that he was willing to make the effort not FOR them but WITH them.
Winnie would never allow them to sit on the fat behinds when there was work to be done. He would have rallied them and led them out of their complacency and given them the willpower and resolve to be a part of something larger than themselves. Winston would have appealed to patriotism, tradition, culture, to rouse his people into the proper state with which to defend themselves or to undertake whatever great task destiny had dumped in their laps.

Which leads us to Winston Smith.

In 1984, Winston is a product of the society in which he lives, a society that demands the ultimate physical, emotional and mental effort that he can muster, and which uses an apparatus of terror to enforce it's ideology and requirements. It keeps him barely aware of events (in fact, it co-opts him in it's rewriting of history and falsification of the news), on the edge of starvation, and in a constant state of privation, but continually claims that it makes his life better than his ancestors in millions of ways on a daily basis. Winston has no method of comparison, except memories of an earlier time when things were not the way they are, and so, for most of his life, accepts this. Until memory proves much stronger than uniformity and terror. At this point, he rebels; at first mentally, and then by overt action, because he comes to the conclusion that some things (freedom, human rights, dignity) are worth fighting for. Ultimately, his activities are utterly futile in the face of an all-powerful state, but you get the impression that Orwell was making a statement: no gesture is futile if there's a principle involved.

Now Churchill was an unabashed royalist and Orwell a comitted socialist (until he saw what socialism had warped into), and they could be expected to agree on very little (read Orwell's essays written between 1936 and 1945 and you'll agree with me). However, both men were absolute geniuses at getting down to bottom lines.
In the face of what we confront today, Churchill would recommend a united front, a show of resistance, and a resolve to see it thorugh to the bitter end, if necessary. Winston was a fighter whenever compromise could not be achieved. He would see that today's Islamic terrorist was every bit as nasty as the Nazis of his day, and in his estimation, no compromise would have been possible. British culture could not peacefully (or with good conscience) co-exist with Nazi Germany.

Orwell would have taken a different route, but arrived at the same conclusion. To borrow a few Orwell-isms, George would have concluded vis-a-vis the Arab nutcases we're facing down: two blacks don't make a white and you cannot argue with people who insist that half a loaf is the same as no bread. Yes, the British Empire had an awful lot to answer for (as does the United States), but when you compare it to what else exists in the world (dictatorship, slavery, disaffection, disease, dirt, etc) the British (Or American) way is the next best thing to Heaven on earth. Not because it is perfect, but because it recognizes it's flaws and makes an honest effort to correct them. And even if inequity exists in terms of wealth and political power, given time, such a society will eventually create a place in which all men live in brotherhood, free of want or violence.

The people we're fighting at the moment do not have the perspective that a Churchill or an Orwell can provide. For a start, if either man had emerged in modern Arab society, one would have been inclined to take power for his own personal benefit, and the other would have been crushed to death by heavy stones for daring to question the society in which he lives. Yet both would have an impact far beyond those achievements. A Churchill unfettered by the typical modus operandi of the Middle Eastern, secular dictator, would have shown the people that there was a better way to live and how to fight for dignity. Orwell would have presented their own ignorance to them on a silver platter. Both are prerequisites for a better, more dynamic, more equitable Islamic society in some distant (as yet) future. Until Islam has it's Chruchills and Orwells, it will continue to be merely a source of misery, turning out men willing to commit murder/suicide out of sheer frustration or the perversion of religious values.

But both have left a little wisdom for their own people, which seems totally appropriate today.

"I have nothing to offer the British people except tears, toil, blood and sweat." - Winston Churchill

"To be anti-[West] is to be, objectively, pro-[Islamic terrorist]." - George Orwell

"All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. " - Churchill

"A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him. " - Orwell

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last." - Churchill

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." - Orwell

"It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required. " - Churchill

"In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - Orwell

Men of this caliber no longer exist. But if they did, they would urge that decent society be defended by all means available.