Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wisdom From A Liberal Of Another Era

I am rereading some essays of EB White, who wrote for the New Yorker for many years. All political persuasions take a certain glee in quoting someone from the opposite side who agrees with them. Sometimes the quotes are out of context or inapplicable, but they do generally give us pause, if we are reflective.

The quote is from "Clear Days" in One Man's Meat and carries the timeline October 1938. In the first section, White has discussed how he does not want to shoot a deer despite the social pressure from his Maine neighbors. He is next repairing his barn roof and contemplating world events and the actions of "Mr. Chamberlain, M. Daladier, the Duce, and the Fuhrer." For all the repeated contempt that is cast upon the teaching of history that is just names and dates, it bears mentioning that if we did not know our names and dates, we would have no idea what Mr. White is writing about. Names and dates are good.

I'm down now; the barn is tight, and the peace is preserved. It is the ugliest peace the earth has ever received for a Christmas present. Old England eating swastika for breakfast instead of kipper is a sight I had as lief not lived to see. And though I am no warrior, I would gladly fight for the things Nazism seeks to destroy. (Living in a sanitary age, we are getting so we place too high a value on human life - which rightfully must always come second to human ideas.)

The sacrifice Mr. Chamberlain made to preserve the Ideal of Peace reminded me of the strange case of Ada Leonard, the strip artist of superb proportion. Miss Leonard, if you remember, took sick of a ruptured appendix; but rather than have it out she risked her life in order to preserve. in unbroken loveliness, the smooth white groin the men of Chicago loved so well. Her suffering was great, and her courage admirable. But there comes a point beyond which you can't push Beauty, on account of the lines it leaves in the face. Peace is the same. The peace we have with us today is as precarious and unsatisfactory as the form of a strip artist with peritonitis.

The modern progressive's response to this attitude of reluctant warmongering is often to protest "Well of course there are some extreme situations in which war is justified. We never said it wasn't. It's just that this doesn't apply to the American situation in 2007." That said, they revert to the wide river of generalized anti-war sentiment they float in unless challenged. They delude themselves.

Contrast this with White's easy pronouncement that we place too high a value on human life. Does anyone at the New Yorker think that today? Reflect also that this is years before America's entry into the war and for all this writer knows, he may be advocating for a fight we will not win. America is in no way directly threatened at the time of this writing, nor is there any "imminent" threat.

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