There is a scene at the end of the film Apocalypse Now where Colonel Kurtz delivers a monologue on the ruthless tactics of the Viet Cong guerrillas. He relates how the Viet Cong had come and “hacked off” the arms of child villagers that the Americans had inoculated as part of an effort to win their hearts and minds.
Although at first disgusted by their tactics, Kurtz explains how he eventually came to realize that their tactics were “genius” and that “they were stronger than we.”
The point, of course, being made by John Milius’s brilliant screenplay is that what appears to be barbarity and brutality may only be manifestation of a superior will. He who possesses the dominant will is inevitably carried forward to victory. He who is prepared to make the greater sacrifice is the one who will emerge victorious from the smoke of battle.
The same point is made in another Coppola film, The Godfather: Part II.
There is a scene in which Michael Corleone, on a trip to Cuba, sees one of Castro’s rebels blow himself up rather than be captured by police. Witnessing this event made a big impression on Corleone, and he mentions it to the Hyman Roth character in the film. “The regular army is paid to fight, but the rebels are not,” he says. “So what does that tell you,” asks Roth. “They can win,” Corleone responds.
And it turns out, of course, that he was right. The side that was prepared to offer more of a sacrifice in blood was the victor. It is not easy to stand against a man who is willing to die for a cause. He is nearly invincible.
Let us now move to a related topic. The Islamic State (ISIS) has been entrenched in Iraq and Syria now for several years. We are told that their numbers are reckoned at between 25,000 to 50,000, depending on the circumstances. They do not have an air force to speak of. They do have some motorized capability, a few tanks, some vehicles, and limited anti-aircraft capability.
What they do have is terror, and willpower. The leadership cadre is apparently composed of an assortment of ex-officers in Saddam’s army and ambitious jihadists, with the bulk of the fighting done by mercenaries recruited from around the world. They specialize in suicide attacks, especially against bases and fortified positions. Iraqi and Syrian army units have come to dread these types of attacks, as they have as yet found no way to counteract them. The Western media has spread the word about ISIS’s ruthlessness and brutality with a mixture of awe and dismay, exactly as ISIS has wished. ISIS also has a very astute propaganda capability. As someone who has read some of their pronouncements in Arabic and studied some of their tactics, I can say that their propaganda capabilities are first-rate. Even the old guard of Al Qaeda seems to be afraid of them. They know just how to tap into the alienation, rage, and militancy of the modern marginalized man. The result is chilling, and effective.
Let me say here that I despise ISIS and all forms of fanatic radicalism of whatever stripe. Their existence is a stain on humanity, and would never have taken root had it not been for the disastrous policies of the West in the region, combined with the unscrupulous connivance of certain countries in the region. But that is not the point. The point is that they exist, and that they are able to project power in a way that far exceeds their conventional capability on the ground. Western leaders in Europe and America have been slow to recognize this. They have as yet not been able to mount an effective response to the ideological power of ISIS. If we must be honest–and we must–we have to conclude that ISIS possesses far more willpower and strength than does its adversaries.
They will not be eradicated with air attacks. The only way ISIS will be destroyed is if they are confronted head-on, in ground combat. It will be a battle in which no quarter is likely to be sought or given. But this is what it will take. And no one is being honest about this. By some estimations, ISIS is actually getting stronger.
No one wants to go toe to toe with ISIS, it seems. Everyone is hoping that they will dry up and blow away if we just “cut off their funding” or “provide more training” to the Iraqi military. People who say such things do not fully understand the power of a fanatical, militant ideology. The only way to inspire men to confront ISIS will be to equip them with an ideology of equal conviction and strength. But where will such an ideology be found? Western leaders and populations are apparently incapable of dying for their beliefs. People in the West find it bizarre that someone would die for his religious beliefs because they themselves are craven, effete cowards who have no convictions themselves. Even the Vatican is too craven to call things by their true names, and to attempt to inspire a military response to the fanaticism that wishes to destroy it. Instead, we are treated to lectures on peace, love, and exhortations to “understand” the grievances of others.
Even nationalism in the West has evidently lost its luster. Who today can imagine battalions of young Spaniards, Frenchmen, Italians, or Germans willing to sacrifice themselves in combat for an ideal? Why do men fight to the death? For consumerism? For feminism? For the “rights of gender equality”? No. These are not the ideals that inspire militancy in men. And no one is being honest about this. Decades of enervating, demoralizing propaganda by the Western media has hollowed out and destroyed the fighting spirit of the European male.
Last week I said this:
“Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions.” –Nietzsche
— Quintus Curtius (@QuintusCurtius) March 14, 2016
Nietzsche may have been right, but so far I am not seeing any contrary extreme positions arise in response to the existential threat posed by organizations like ISIS. Instead, I see denial coming from European capitals. I see the Pope telling us that love and charity will conquer all. I see certain European leaders minimizing and downplaying what is right before their eyes. I see American leaders coddling and providing cover for regional governments who are funding ISIS. No one is speaking the truth, which is this: to destroy ISIS, it will be necessary to undertake a ground campaign characterized by utter ruthlessness. This is an existential battle that has only two possible outcomes: they are triumphant, or we destroy them root and branch.
All of them are making a terrible mistake. ISIS is not a joke. These people are serious, motivated, and actually believe what they are doing. And they are prepared do die. I do not see such opposing conviction coming from anyone in the West. It was not always so. There was a time when religion did inspire the Western man to feats of incredible bravery. The historian Giuseppe Ricciotti, in his masterful The Age of Martyrs, relates how early Christians in the Roman army were prepared to undergo savage tortures or death in defense of their beliefs. Ricciotti relates the story of a man named Maximilian, who refused military service and was executed.
Maximilian was called up for service in the year 295 at the age of 21. He reported for service, with his father at his side, at Theveste in Numidia before the Roman proconsul. Maximilian believed that it was wrong to serve in the army, and told the proconsul so. Ricciotti offers this account of the dialogue:
“I will not accept the seal of the emperor. I already have the seal of Christ, my God.” [said Maximilian]
“I will send you straight to your Christ.” [said the proconsul]
“Do it immediately. It will be my glory.”
“Mark him,” ordered the proconsul. The assistants took hold of him…
[The proconsul then said] “In the sacred company of our lords Diocletian and Maximian, Constantius and Galerius [the tetrarchy of Roman emperors] there are Christian soldiers and they are not afraid to fight.”
“They do what they think is right. As far as I am concerned I am a Christian and cannot do evil.”
“Do those who fight in our armies do evil, then?”
“You know what they do.”
“Since indevoto animo [with disloyal spirit] you have refused military service you will be punished as an example to others.”
Maximian replied, “Deo gratias.”
Maximian was then promptly beheaded. His story was not unique. Many others like him were willing to die for their beliefs. Note that I do not use these examples to say that I support conscientious objectors. In fact, I do not believe a man has a right to refuse military service in the country in which he lives. But that is just my own opinion. And it is also irrelevant to the point I am trying to make here. My point is that these men were imbued with the zeal of conviction. They had a doctrine, and ideology that they were willing to fight for. And this made them powerful. Even if we disagree with them, we cannot fail to be impressed by them.
In one of the chapters of my book Thirty-Seven, I wrote about the Battle of Lepanto, in which Spanish monks leaped into combat, armed with little more than crucifixes, to inspire their tercios (naval infantry) to feats of valor. What happened to the Old Spain, the closest thing to a “sword of Christendom” that ever existed? Where is she? Where is the pure idealism, and the soaring imagination, that stacked the sacred stones which would eventually create the sublime vaults of the Notre Dame in Paris? Where is the fanatical spirit that crushed the Turks at Vienna, without apology or equivocation?
It is difficult to imagine this ethic today in Europe. Most European militaries are hollowed-out, demoralized, and totally lacking in combat experience. For decades they outsourced their defense to the United States, and preferred to lavish their citizens with social programs and corrupting doctrines that had no basis in history or experience. The result is now a generation of woefully unprepared men and women who can barely even acknowledge the threats facing them. A wave of defeatism and resignation has engulfed Europe. One could argue that a book like Michel Houellebecq’s Submission is an unconscious surrender to what the author sees as inevitable. It is defeatism and resignation dressed up as literature.
ISIS would eat them alive. They may have technological superiority over ISIS, but this is a gap than can be closed more quickly than most people realize. Ultimately, the issue may be decided on willpower alone. If so, Westerners have no ideology of comparable strength to pit against the fanaticism of ISIS.
In history, weakness and indolence has always inspired attack from leaner, hungrier bodies. It has always been so. Too much freedom, too much indulgence, too much prosperity and softness: all these things corrupt and ruin the fighting spirit. In words that ring with truth today, the ecclesiastical historian Eusebius had this to say on the matter:
As always happens when there is an abundance of liberty, our lives became indolent and careless; we envied one another and did harm to our brethren; any wretched excuse was sufficient to start a war of arms, as it were, with the spear-thrust of words.
Leaders poured ill-fame on other leaders; nation rose against nation; pretense and damned hypocrisy seemed to reach the limit of their evil height…Like certain atheists who consider that human affairs are neither guided nor watched over, we piled wickedness on wickedness.
Those who were supposed to be our leaders disdained the paths of divine piety and inflamed their hearts in contests with one another, only adding thus to the quarrels and threats, the rivalry, the envies and the hates of the times. They filled their time in striving for position in no different a manner from the princes of this world. [Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. VIII.1]
Even if we make allowances for the religious tone of the above passage, it is clear what Eusebius’s point is. Instead of attending to their responsibilities, leaders and people in times of luxury become corrupted and weakened by greed. They abdicated their responsibilities in criminal neglect, without any thought for the consequences.
The lesson was not lost on him, and it should not be lost on us, either.
It is still an open question whether the West will be able (or is even capable) of producing an ideological response that is sufficiently strong to go toe-to-toe with the ideology of ISIS. Time will tell. So far, the responses have been tepid at best. The West has offered absolutely nothing in the form of an ideological counterweight, perhaps because it has none. All it can offer is consumerism, which is en empty and useless concept when it comes to inspiring men to fight and die. Meanwhile, ISIS continues to exist, to expand, and to spread its militant ideology. In Western Europe, religion is laughed at, morals and behaviors are subject to little or no restraints, cathedrals and churches are like empty tombs, and birthrates continue to decline. People take their high standard of living for granted, forgetting that it is a very recent feature of European history, possible only because Europe has faced (until now) no external threats for many decades.
Just to keep their populations and industries afloat, some European nations feel the need to import vast numbers of foreigners from entirely different cultural traditions, apparently without regard for the long-term effects of such policies. And they rely on uncertain foreign mercenaries (i.e., the US military) to fight their battles for them.
One begins to wonder who really is stronger, when all is said and done.
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