The Anglophone, Christian West was a wonder. From the British Empire that ruled not only the waves but also a quarter of the Earth’s land surface for 80 years to the undisputed global hegemony of the United States in the 70 years since the end of the Second World War, our exercise of very great power was usually tempered by a very great sense of duty and of moral responsibility, combined with a self-deprecating sense of humor that made us all more loved than feared.
Atrocities, usually a byproduct of absolute power, were startlingly rare. The black hole of Calcutta. The massacre of Amritsar. The wholesale bombing of civilians in Dresden and Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These were terrible atrocities, and a disfiguring stain on our record. Fortunately, they were far from being the norm.
As Sir Thomas Browne put it in his “Religio Militis,” “No religion so magnifieth goodness as the Christian religion doth.” On the whole, it may not unfairly be said of the pax Britanno-Americana what the philosopher Santayana said of the British Empire: “The world never had sweeter masters.”
The governing class in Britain and in the United States has not yet appreciated that – for good or ill – the role of Britain and then of America as global superpowers is over. The tumult and the shouting has died. The captains and the kings have departed. And all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre.
The end of the white, Anglo-Saxon leadership of the world is going to take some getting used to. Certainly, the “Democrats” have not yet gotten used to the new reality. They have been rattling their rusty sabers at that nasty Mr. Assad in Syria, who, in the end, will listen not to them but to Russia.
John Kerry, who is reliably wrong on everything, uncompellingly mused in front of Congress that the administration was thinking of launching itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny military strikes against Syria. His message seemed to be that hardly anyone would notice – not even the Syrians.
If Kerry’s hero Karl Marx was right that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, then Kerry’s characteristically ill-considered peashooter diplomacy is scarcely likely to cause the dictator of Syria to quake in his boots.
“Dave” Cameron, the unconvincing British prime minister, has been blubbing to anyone who will listen. Those members of Parliament who voted against an attack on Syria, he said, were turning their backs on the 1,400 innocent civilians who had been killed in a chemical attack by forces loyal to the Alawite Shia faction that currently rules in Syria.
That kind of sniveling is unbecoming in a prime minister. Let us put things into perspective. The Sunnis who make up almost five-sixths of Islam, including the al-Qaida faction that killed 3,000 Americans in the World Trade Center attacks, constitute the majority of Assad’s opponents. The Shias, including Assad, are an insignificant but hated minority among Muslims.
The civil war in Syria, then, is between the undeniably brutal hereditary Shia regime of the Assads and the demonstrably savage Sunnis of the soi-disant “rebels.” Somewhere between 90,000 and 110,000 people have been killed in 30 months of conflict. Yet only now, after 1,400 deaths in a chemical attack, do the West’s leaders propose – bizarrely – to side with al-Qaida against the Alawites.
Now, let us do a little moral accounting. In the Second World War, the carpet-bombing of Dresden and Hamburg and the nuclear demolition of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed hundreds of thousands.
I mind well, but am unconvinced by, the argument that these bombings may have hastened the end of the Second World War and may even have saved lives by bringing the savage regimes of Hitler and Hirohito to their knees.
The truth is that the West has lost its way, morally speaking. It is that moral turpitude that is the cause of the purposeless, now-unethical military adventurism and consequent financial decline that is rapidly bankrupting the West, and is removing that ability to command events without which no nation can maintain its superpower status.
The moral yardstick that made the West had just three words. Thou. Shalt. Love. Yet a “civilization” that now slaughters millions of innocent children in the wombs of their mothers every year, and without even giving the little ones an anesthetic before they die in excruciating agony, presumes to make common cause with the murderers of the Americans in the twin towers against another bunch of murderers.
Am I the only commentator who considers that Pennsylvania Avenue and Downing Street have lost the plot, morally speaking? Not lost it behind the couch – lost it altogether. Lost it to the point where our civilization is driving itself to extinction.
For the enduring will to exercise dominion over palm and pine, the will proudly to set international and universal standards of conduct that deserve to endure, springs only from a justifiable appreciation of the moral rightness of one’s cause. The West, however, can no longer assert that its own conduct is moral – not while it preaches about chemical weapons in Syria while ignoring the torture and slaughter of blameless children at home. Muslims do not usually kill their children.
Unless we can restore enough love of our fellow men to outlaw forever the brutal massacre of the innocents in which our supposedly “liberal” society indulges daily, in killing the little ones and thus in killing our moral sense we shall assuredly kill our once-great, once-loved, once-loving civilization.
“And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”