Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Sideshow Must Go On!

The Globe and Mail outdid itself yesterday.

It rang the bell, beat the drum, sounded the trumpet—but apparently wasn’t entirely certain what the tune was supposed to be. The show, in any case, went on.

Strangely enough (as in: it was a shock, but not a surprise), the likeness of Winston Churchill made it into both national newspapers yesterday. The impression, that one assumes one is supposed to be getting from this, is that the “resolve” that Churchill embodied and inspired in the Londoner of the Blitz is the clear and obvious inheritance of terrorist-wracked London today. A seamless bequest in spite of the decades … In spite, I say, of the decades that may as well be eons if you’re talking about anything else London might have in common with itself 65 years ago. I mean, it is of course extremely impressive that the city’s inhabitants were so remarkably calm and collected during their ordeal. You might just as easily put it down to shock, but it is still impressive. But I have an awful feeling that, in spite of our invocations of the diehard Londoner of 1940, the calm wouldn’t last were the crisis to continue.

And, really, that “resolve,” that “calm, determination and solidarity”—starting to sound a bit like a Labour union rally but—that (trying not to throw-up here) “sang-froid” that is “an example to the world” is, I’m so very sorry, all we can say about Londoners one day after the fact! It’s remarkable, of course, but it’s no Blitz! Not yet, anyway. And let’s be honest, the “sang-froid” and “resolve” that we so patronizingly cast back to these poor people as though it were food to hungry dogs, are the very English qualities cud-chewing North Americans have looked down on with self-righteous disapprobation since the 1950s. Sang-froid, before it was the feather in the resilient cockney’s cap, was much more pompous, emotionally repressed, snooty at a stretch, than it was virtuous. Resolve was arrogance, superiority; the sort of attitude, we could say (and do), that spawned Kipling’s much-maligned “The White Man’s Burden.”

And, indeed, we have so long made these things the object of our rather crude and simplistic amusement that, my God!, the message actually got through! The London of today bears so little resemblance to the London of the Blitz that it may as well be a different city altogether! That is: it can be as obnoxious, as cretinously superficial, and as unintelligent as any stereotype of Hicksville USA has ever been. It is, in short, full to the brim with potential hysteria.

As much as we fancy that the invocation of the great war-time leader grants a kind of good-luck benediction to a given predicament, it can only, in this case anyway, be ironic. For, were Churchill in London today, surveying the wastes on foot as was his wont, he would be totally and utterly useless! Not, I hasten to add, because he would be incapable of handling the situation. But because none of us could bear to let him.

But, of course, the Globe knows this. And while he is everywhere implicit in yesterday’s editorial—his likeness, as I say, looming large in the cartoon next it—the name Winston Churchill is nowhere actually mentioned … And while it is possible that he too, for the sake of simplicity, might have said something to the effect that “the battle between terrorism and democracy is in essence a test of wills,” he would never, but never!, have accepted the totally nebulous criteria implicit everywhere in this piece in its use of the word ‘democracy’: as though it were an end in itself.

Indeed this editorial, it seems to me, positively jigs with tense, tottering credulity, reaching near spastic proportions with the paragraph beginning “overcoming such an enemy requires more than tenacity; it requires moral clarity.” Indeed, yes! But, for the love of God, that’s exactly what we don’t have!—But it continues, without pause, identifying the apparent obstacle: “there is a school of thought that the democracies have only themselves to blame for terrorism, having neglected the world’s poor and disenfranchised.” Too true: miserable, misguided school of thought! But ask your average Canadian—and one or two Londoners even—as he passes you on the street and he will tell you that this is precisely his school of thought. (And, sorry, but whose Prime Minister was it again that went on record with the national broadcaster shortly after 9/11 to say that the West itself was, in part, to blame?)

Apoplexy is reached in the second to last paragraph with the twice bizarre assertion that, “democracies have overcome evil ideologies before, first fascism and then world communism.” What?! I mean, yeah, I guess the world’s great democracies—the British, the Americans and (oh wait!) the Soviets—did defeat the Nazis in 1945. And the USSR did eventually fall—some might argue of itself; others that it was with the help of a little known Supreme Pontiff of a certain Roman Catholic Church (not a democratic institution that I know of)—to make way for various gangster states more veiled with democracy than governed by it; the plunder, moreover, of terrorists the world over. But how did we double back from all this moral clarity business to a sort of dogmatic assertion that democracy is itself the moral clarity and not just its vehicle?

I mean, yeah, democracy definitely weighed-in there. But can we be quite clear and realistic that it was a certain type of democracy. After all, in and of itself, democracy served Adolph Hitler quite well for a time and that, presumably, is not the same sort of democracy that brought about his end, right? Moral clarity, one hopes anyway, wasn’t the watchword there, was it?

Jeffrey Simpson, of the same paper of the same day, echoes this bald-faced simpering-in-lieu-of-being-able-to-provide- anything-like-authentic-moral-support by saying “there isn’t a chance of Britain’s resolution waning in the face of such attacks. Such is the nature of its history, people and values.” But Mr. Simpson and the Globe and Mail would do well to remember (and, yes, worry) that Britain’s history, people and values have become Britain’s intense shame over the course of the last 40 years. This, because, its critics have felt very strongly that there was rather too much moral clarity for a free society to be able to go on calling itself free. So-called moral clarity is a form of circumscription, thank you very much. Indeed, is a form of indoctrination; hell, of enslavement!

It’s all very telling stuff, in spite of its inherent confusion. But what is it, again, that they say about atheists and sinking ships? There are none on one? How about moral relativists in a city under siege?