“You've heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap. There's an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap and endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind.” – Frank Herbert, Dune
“I couldn't have stood it even one more day. I would rather have died. The surgeon said I nearly did. But I was willing to kill, and I did, and if a faceful of scars is all the price I'll have to pay for my escape, I'm the luckiest woman on Earth.” – On Broken Wings
I strongly disapprove of violence done to me. – Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road
Today is of course December 7, the 75th anniversary of Japan’s attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet moored at Pearl Harbor. It was the largest blow ever struck at the United States in a time of war. it catalyzed the rise of the nation from “sleeping giant” to the power that for most of a century would bestride the world.
A wound can do that. Wounds can do many other things as well.
FDR’s “day that will live in infamy” might be the best known of the ringing phrases the attack inspired. My favorite, however, comes from Admiral William Halsey: “When this war is over, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.” We had been struck; we had an enemy willing to kill us to get what it wanted; it was incumbent upon us to gird our national loins, go to war, and force that enemy to its knees. And so we did.
Pearl Harbor was a truly empowering wound, perhaps the greatest strategic mistake made by any nation in the recorded history of nations. It’s said that one Japanese figure of note was aware of it even as we reeled from the blow: “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.” (Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto)
America in 1941 recognized the wound done to us as the action of an enemy, correctly identified the enemy, and chose war over surrender. The suffering we endured, ultimately and in true Nietzschean fashion, made us stronger. It was possible because Americans exhibited a clarity about the attack, its origin, and its implications. We haven’t often shown such clarity since then.
Wounds may be partially categorized thus:
- Inflicted by enemies.
We could pass in silence over the first variety. It’s a species of mental illness; the suffering is as imaginary as the wound. Yet there are many who imagine that others have done them such wounds – indeed, who cherish and carefully nurture their resentment over them. Just now one doesn’t need to look far to find such persons; quite a gaggle of them have been “protesting” in our streets since just after Election Day.
The second variety can be purely destructive, as in the case of persons addicted to cutting their own flesh. However, it can also be healing, even empowering. Pain has an imperative way about it; it focuses the mind on the present moment and its contents. When the pain results in improved health and strength, as is the case with the suffering that comes from exercise properly performed, it’s merely the precursor to a net gain to the sufferer.
The third variety of wounds speaks in the loudest voice of all. He who has been wounded by an enemy should take notice, identify the enemy, and react against him. Not to do so is to accept damage and humiliation for no imaginable gain. Submission to the enemy often follows...and the wounds that follow from that can be truly terrible. Ask the former Eastern European members of the Warsaw Pact.
Whence, then, comes the contemporary strain of thought, so common on the Left, that the proper response to an enemy’s blow is to placate or propitiate him?
Seldom is an identified enemy your enemy alone. What he has done to you he might intend to do to others, if not even worse. To meekly accept the wound he has dealt you and placate him – to “perform the kowtow,” in a classic phrase – leaves him not only “ahead in the game” but encouraged to repeat his aggression, whether against you or another. To recognize this is clarity, as I noted in the opening segment.
Yet for some years America has eschewed such clarity in favor of a propitiatory response to wounds dealt us: “Talk nice. We don’t want to make them mad.” That’s the institutional mindset that has taken hold in our State Department, roughly since the end of the Vietnam War. One of my older essays touches on this and the reasons for it.
We’ve accepted wound after wound, humiliation after humiliation, to no benefit of ours. Why? Are we afraid? Do we reasonably fear what some lesser power might do to us? Or are our diplomatic mandarins terrified by the idea of what we might do to them?
This has been the case even in dealing with allies – allies protected by American military power. American diplomats have urged all manner of cautions and appeasements of the political elites of European nations that have gutted their own militaries. Where’s the sense? They owe us! In several cases they literally owe us their existence! Yet we’ve acted all too frequently as if their willingness to allow us to protect them is somehow a favor to us!
Pure, unadulterated madness. President-elect Donald Trump’s recent chat with the prime minister of Taiwan illustrates this vividly.
The next few years could provide many a great surprise. I certainly hope so; the years immediately behind us have been drearily costly...drearily predictable. It’s imperative to reclaim the clarity with which Americans once reacted to a wound inflicted by an enemy with malice aforethought, whether by word or by deed:
Remember Pearl Harbor. Remember the fallen.