In his slim book on Winston Churchill (“Churchill,” Penguin, 2010), Paul Johnson reveals the secret of Churchill’s strength as a wartime leader: He didn’t treat military brass as the Oracle at Delphi and Solomon combined.
Churchill, Johnson notes, “benefited from a change of national opinion toward the relative trustworthiness of politicians and service leaders – ‘frocks and brass hats,’ to use the phrase of his youth. In the first World War, reverence for brass hats and dislike of frocks made it almost impossible for the government … to conduct the war efficiently.”
In other words, it made it impossible to sack generals, even when the war was going disastrously. As Churchill put it, “The foolish doctrine was preached to the public through innumerable agencies that generals and admirals must be right on war matters and civilians of all kinds must be wrong.”
Do you get where I’m going with this?
For years, the political right has taken its cues on war policy directly from the Pentagon, often from Gen. David Petraeus, and always from commanders on the ground. For example, if the brass doesn’t approve of big troop cuts in Afghanistan, such cuts must be wrong. This tendency to embrace everything the military tells us has been the rule for civilian leadership for years. It seems less to represent political agreement than outright deference to what is perceived as a higher authority.
I think Obama’s decision regarding troop cuts is wrong, but not because the Pentagon says so. His cuts represent no reversal or acknowledgement of the cataclysmic Bush-Obama policy of nation-building in the umma (the Islamic community) – and that’s the problem. But the larger point is that we are not supposed to be a junta. Generals are fallible. The record of this current crop is, charitably speaking, mixed. Depending solely on their counsel has short-circuited and shortchanged our duties as citizens – and prolonged two wasteful, bloody wars.
So, John Lennon was a Republican wannabe who admired Ronald Reagan? That’s what Fred Seaman, Lennon’s “last personal assistant,” says, reports the Toronto Sun (June 28). “I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who’s an old-time communist,” Seaman says in yet another Beatles documentary. “It was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.”
Seaman continues: “He was a very different person back in 1979 and ’80 than he’d been when he wrote ‘Imagine.’ By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naivete.”
From “Imagine” to the unimaginable. This revelation, if true, is a curiosity on a par with Bob Dylan’s confession that, as he put it in his 2004 memoir “Chronicles,” he “had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of. … What I was fantasizing about was a nine-to-five existence, a house on a tree-lined block with a white picket fence, pink roses in the backyard.”
The ex-Beatle, who was assassinated in 1980, might have become embarrassed by a radicalism the folk-bard of the counterculture claims not to have shared. But I wonder: If these cultural icons each really hankered after the traditions they did so much to undermine, did either of them ever regret the radical sensibility they both profitably enshrined in every generation since their heyday?
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has an image-reality disconnect problem. This week, he trotted the globe to paste a happy face over China. But the leering, totalitarian monster showed through just the same.
“Tomorrow’s China will be a country that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness and justice,” Wen said in London on Monday, as he prepared to ink multibillion-dollar trade deals across Europe. That same day, the Danish newspaper Information began publishing a series of blockbuster articles based on 60 pages of secret documents improbably leaked from the very highest levels of the Chinese government. These documents reveal what we already know about, but rarely get to see in black-and-white: an outline of Chinese government plans for an intensified crackdown on speech and the Internet, and more controls on foreign media; increased surveillance of the population; and renewed internal and external propaganda campaigns to ward off democratic influences.
Does “made in China” still look like a good deal?