Churchill didn’t have an ‘exit strategy’FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
Five years is not so very long in the life of nations, but there is a sense that the attacks of Sept. 11 and their aftermath have been too long with us.
I was in New York for the first anniversary commemorations and, amidst the still raw emotions, the attitude was resolute. Neither in Canada nor the United States, nor in the West in general, is that the case today. It is an ominous development, because resolve on the home front is the indispensable requirement for vanquishing any enemy abroad. Martial victories are credited to brilliant generals, brave soldiers and advanced weaponry, but behind all that lies the spirit of the people. And the spirit is flagging.
Given the damage inflicted by Islamist terrorists in New York, Washington, Madrid and London — to say nothing of the ongoing carnage inflicted in Muslim countries — there is no denying that a serious and violent enemy is being faced. And while every life lost in battle is a cause for grieving, the casualties, measured against history, have not been overwhelming.
And yet, one increasingly hears the view, perhaps shared by majorities in both Canada and the United States, and certainly in Europe, that it would be better just to withdraw, sooner or later, from the whole affair: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, wherever. Maybe the Islamists would then leave us alone; maybe they wouldn’t. But there is a weariness in the air. The price is too high for us, the outcome not sufficiently clear.
It bears remembering that it was during the very bleak days of June, 1940, that Winston Churchill rallied the British people, pledging that “we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” And at the height of the Cold War, it was JFK who was able to promise “that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Any leader who tried that today would likely earn not admiration, but derisive laughter. Today commitments must come with conditions, modifications and exit strategies.
Or course it is possible to disagree about this or that policy, this or that war — as was the case in the great wars of the past. Yet I fear that there is something more profound afoot, a desire simply not to remain in the fight any longer.
“Weariness, Bill — you cannot yet know literally what it means. I wish no time would come when you do know, but the balance of experience is against it. One day, long hence, you will know true weariness,” wrote the old anticommunist Whittaker Chambers, who died in 1961, in his final letter to the young anti-communist William F. Buckley, Jr.
“History hit us with a freight train,” he wrote. “But we (my general breed) tried to put ourselves together again. Since this meant outwitting dismemberment, as well as resynthesizing a new lifeview, the sequel might seem rather remarkable, rather more remarkable than what went before. But at a price — weariness.”
Chambers, the communist defector who nailed Alger Hiss, had earned his weariness, though he never lost his resolve. Canada and her allies today appear weary, but it is not clear that we have earned it. The Nazis and the communists counted on the decadent democracies (in their view) proving irresolute and soft in the face of a long, sustained fight. They were wrong. The Islamist terrorists are surely making the same calculation; five years after 9/11, it is not obvious that they too will be wrong.
Chambers’ freight train of history went airborne five years ago Monday, and its spectacular brutality requires, now as then, that we put ourselves back together again, outwit the enemy and resynthesize our own world-view. The price is the same — the toil, and blood and sacrifice that makes men and nations weary.
Weariness is, one supposes, inevitable. The discomfort of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 is that is has come so soon.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Churchill didn’t have an ‘exit strategy’." National Post, (Canada) August 31, 2006.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
© 2006 National Post
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