The culture war within as the cause of the real war without

My Scottish friend Gregor William Stewart, who has the uncanny ability to maintain an outside perspective on America while residing within, sent me a column today from the LA times that got me thinking. Rodriguez writes:

"...the wounds of Vietnam and the 1960s have still not healed. As a result, the 1960s generation has come to power remarkably split, and this division has paralyzed American politics." He continues: "While it is amusing to caricaturize all boomers as pot-smoking, free-loving veterans of Woodstock, one only needs to glance at Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s 1971 Princeton yearbook photo to recall that there were plenty of clean-cut young people who preferred to lead traditional lives."

In some ways it reminds me of the old Doonesbury cartoons, where B.D. the football quarterback would fight with Zonker, the hippie. Are the Democratic and Republican parties reprising that old stereotypical conflict?
Quite possibly. And one core component of that old conflict is differing attitudes about war, and (on a more basic level) about human nature itself.

In The Meaning of Sports, Michael Mandelbaum notes that the fading of football as the pre-eminent American sport coincided with changing attitudes about war in America. The WW II generation "...presided over the onset of football's golden age, {and}encountered heated criticism from the next generation."

He goes on to say "...there took root during the second half of the twentieth century, in the United States and other western societies, an aversion to warin general, a belief that the age old practice of warfare was both barbarous and unnecessary... Far fewer members of the Vietnam generation actually served in the armed forces than had been the case with the World War II generation," (p. 196).

The next paragraph was the one that most captured my interest:

"The decline in the status of war in American society was accompanied by a devaluation of the norms and the practices that war cultivates and that football fosters as well: discipline, self-sacrifice, the acceptance of heirarchy as a principle of organization, and respect for authority. Their antitheses - spontaneity, self-indulgence, an insistence on equality, and the questioning of authority - became more widespread in American society." (p. 196). (You can tell that Mandelbaum, though he was writing about sports, is really an international relations expert at heart.)

It seems to me that this current social debate cuts to the heart of this social conflict. Those currently in power seem to long for a return to the prior era, where "discipline, self-sacrifice, the acceptance of heirarchy as a principle of organization, and respect for authority" reigned supreme. War, in a sense, becomes a character building exercise, a way to forge a stronger national culture through the fires of adversity. In a sense, this is true conservatism, because it harkens back to a prior era of Republicanism that was pure, clear, and idealistic. To wit, Theodore Roosevelt's Speech at the Sorbonne from April 23, 1910:

'It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride of slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength. It is war-worn Hotspur, spent with hard fighting, he of the many errors and valiant end, over whose memory we love to linger, not over the memory of the young lord who "but for the vile guns would have been a valiant soldier."'

I am definitely a product of the modern era. "Spontaneity, self-indulgence, an insistence on equality, and the questioning of authority" describes me pretty accurately (well, I hope not the self-indulgence part). Roosevelt's sentiment sounds antiquated and hollow to my ear. But I think a nostalgia for that pure, clear vision lies somewhere behind the crisis we find ourselves in today.

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