Doomsayers wrong on decline of the West - Businesslive

16 October 2022 - Mulling over why I instinctively feel it is an error to misperceive military superiority as a precondition of freedom led to my tracking down a parenthetical idea in a piece I wrote some years ago on Steve Biko and his 1977 death. This at the hands of a system which, at that very time, I had entered as a bewildered, respectably scornful but unmistakably chastened conscript.

Michael Morris

Mulling over why I instinctively feel it is an error to misperceive military superiority as a precondition of freedom led to my tracking down a parenthetical idea in a piece I wrote some years ago on Steve Biko and his 1977 death. This at the hands of a system which, at that very time, I had entered as a bewildered, respectably scornful but unmistakably chastened conscript.

“It’s tempting,” I wrote in 2014, “to think that one of the finest inoculations against incipient militarism is to pack young men off to boom-gated camps to endure the imbecilic existence of conscription for a year or two and be lastingly disabused of the shabby appeal of guns and bangs and skirmishes in the veld.”

I may have been wrong. In any event, what really intrigues me is the almost unaccountable enthusiasm for what is held up as a corollary, that preserving liberty depends mainly on defeating by lethal force anyone who wants to take it away. 

Doubtless, people in every free society will from time to time confront having to risk dying in its defence. But I am not convinced, as some are, that the vigour of the free world wells from maintaining military superiority (and a gimlet-eyed hawkishness to go with it), and that where the unanimity of this proposition is even slightly diluted by dissent, disaffection, indifference to traditional verities or a willingness to subject old moral certainties to doubt or ridicule, the free world — the West — can be said to be in decline, and fated to succumb to its enemies.

The reverse is actually true, whatever the tremulous doomsayers fear. It is only regimes whose political or clerical elites govern with an authoritarian imprimatur derived from unquestioned and unquestionable ideological or scriptural dogmas that cannot tolerate (or afford) the contradictions, social and intellectual inventiveness, or cultural restiveness (even wokeness comes to mind, or the elaboration of identities that seem to stretch credulity and biology alike) that are not only commonplace in the West, but central to its liberty.

These are the things that make the West what it is: difficult, unpredictable, dynamic ... and free. The absence of these things is the unfree world’s weakness, making it vulnerable as much to atrophy as atrocity. No granite-willed battalions, or battlefield triumphs, can make up for this deficiency. And, to return in a way to the idea I began with, the reason is best illustrated in war history itself.

‘Better warriors, worse human beings’

Max Hastings conveyed it crisply in a 2005 interview on his exceptional account of the final months of the World War 2, Armageddon. On his conclusion that the Germans and Russians were “better warriors, but worse human beings”, Hastings said of the evidence of this “very important truth” that “again and again small numbers of Germans managed to hold up for hours, days, weeks much larger numbers of Allied soldiers”, but adding that there was an important corollary. “If we wanted British and American soldiers to fight like the Waffen-SS, they would have needed to become people like the Waffen-SS. And then, of course, the very values for which the whole war was fought would have been out the window.”

There were “good grounds today”, he went on, “to be enormously grateful that American and British veterans mostly preserved all the inhibitions and decencies of citizen-soldiers ... [who] never thought of themselves as warriors ... [but were] thrust into uniforms to masquerade as warriors for a time.”

Here, in a nutshell, is the difficult, priceless and remarkably durable power of “the West”.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-10-16-michael-morris-doomsayers-wrong-on-decline-of-the-west/

 

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