Comment on Sword of honour by Paul Robinson (26/07/2003)
National honour is a valid reason to go to war, but in the current case, there is also the principle of self-defence. When someone announces he’s going to do you serious or fatal harm, it is not required to give him one free blow before initiating defensive measures. In my state, (Colorado), if someone announces he’s going to kill you, and you believe the threat credible, and you have no other immediate recourse, you may use deadly force pre-emptively. In the current world case, we actually gave the enemy several free swings at us before deciding to hit back.
In the South, when a person becomes a threat to the general stability, and someone takes an opportunity to remedy the problem, “He needed killing.” is a valid defence, although you WILL be required to elaborate on this to the courts satisfaction, should the affair come to trial.
First, Texas isn’t, nor was it ever, a part of the Old South, and George Bush is, in any event, an East Coast transplant. Furthermore, the people who generated the current US foreign policy, ancillary to “the war on terrorism,” are all from the East Coast and predominately Jewish.
Selective inattention can render one blind, or at least ignorant.
Mr. Robinson, a former British military intelligence officer, is apparently bothered by the possibility that American policy is in some way a function of Southern notions of honour. In his assertions, though, Mr. Robinson is mistaken as to American history, Greek literature, what precisely honour is and how it functioned both historically and presently. I will reply to him in the fashion the ancients preferred, “point by point.”
It is true that the Old South saw blacks as essentially outside of the realm of honour, which was part and parcel of the desire in the Old South to see blacks as alien generally. It is not true that women were without honour, however. Women’s honour was simply predicated on different principles than men’s. Women did not fight duels: but they certainly did not entertain insults.
As for the distinction between the “New” and “Old” South, it demonstrates that Mr. Robinson has an incomplete understanding of the culture about which he writes. In fact, the “New” South–urban and, as Mr. Robinson tendentiously puts it, “forward looking”–is not the opposite of the “Old” South. It coexists with several other sub-cultures in the contemporary South. Briefly, these are: The Highland South, which is quite traditional along Celtic/Germanic lines quite familiar to early Medievalists, extremely poor historically, and a culture that never knew slavery on any scale at all due to the relative infertility of the land, and where race is unimportant; the Lowland South, symbolized by “Gone with the Wind,” which is where the factor of race became all important due to the heavy importation of slaves to work the cotton plantations; the “New” South, which arose around some of the urban areas in response to the development of the post-agricultural economies; French Southerners, particularly near New Orleans; and African-Americans, whose culture is unique, vibrant, but largely separate–by choice, these days–from the others with which it coexists. Mr. Robinson conflates Highland Southerners, Lowland Southerners, and Texans –three groups with very little similarity.
The war against slavery–a war in which the majority of Highland Southerners joined–had begun fully ten years before the Civil War. It had been a guerrilla conflict in Kansas and Missouri. Abolitionists as well as pro-slavery men killed each other and their families in cold blood over the issue for a full decade before the formal start of the war. Agitators did more than tease: John Brown’s attempt to spark a general slave revolt in the South did more to incite Lowland Southerners than Lincoln. As for Lincoln himself, the immediate cause of Southern secession was his attempt to disarm the Southern militias by seizing the armouries of their state militias. The grandees of the Lowland South realized they had to fight at that point if they were going to fight at all, and they decided that they ought to do so. Allowing their state militias to be disarmed of their small arms and artillery would have been casting away the option of self-defence. Second, that fact means that the actions of the Southern states were not responses to insults, but to threats: and not threatening words, but the immediate threat of force. They could either allow the United States Army, under command of Lincoln, to march in, seize their weapons, and occupy their fortifications; or they could fight. It was a choice to be made at once, and it was irrevocable either way.
It is true that Southerners are disproportionately enlisted in the military. That has always been true. It is likewise true that Southerners of all stripes have more traditional, martial cultures–cultures more directly in touch with their Medieval and Classical roots, that is to say–than other Americans. But there are other things Southerners do disproportionately. One of them is this: even adjusted for their higher likelihood to join the military, Southerners have won by far more Congressional Medals of Honour per capita than anyone else. The rates are especially high for Highlanders.
If you’re of a romantic bent, that says it all. Southern culture produces heroes. If you’re not a romantic, you’re still left with this: a liberal society needs defenders if it is to survive the perils of a dangerous world. The more liberal, and the more prosperous, the more and the better defenders it needs. Among Americans, the South produces the most and the best. If you are freer today in part due to the efforts of the US military, it is “disproportionately” due to Southerners. Mr. Robinson can consult his copy of Churchill’s history of the Second World War to determine if this applies to him.
Southerners are not shy about their devotion to honour. If honour was what we meant, honour is what we would say. If “credibility” is said instead, then a different point is on offer. What does it mean to say that the credibility of the UN was at stake over Iraq? Well, one thing it might mean is that the UN had cheerily passed a dozen and a half binding resolutions in the Security Council that Saddam was flaunting. Was the UN Security Council to be taken seriously, or not? That’s credibility. Honour is something else again. As far as I can tell, the Security Council has none.
Honour, you see, pertains to persons or to families or–at most–to things you can think of as being like a family. The Marine Corps has an honour that has to be defended–I will wager that is as true for the Royal Marine Corps as it is for the United States Marine Corps. The Security Council? It’s not even an alliance. It’s just a debating house for diplomats. What we wanted to know was, did they actually intend to be taken seriously or not?
As for Saddam being a living insult to American honour, I can only laugh. If the existence of crackpot dictators who hated us was an insult to our honour, why is Castro still around? The moment Castro ceased to be an actual threat to the United States, we stopped trying to kill him. Same with Gaddafi. Even if honour entered into American foreign policy, Mr. Robinson has forgotten a central point of the code duello: a gentleman only duels with equals, as only an equal can insult him. The United States has very few equals.
The invocation of Achilles and the Trojans makes me think that Mr. Robinson is confused as to his Greek literature. It was not hubris that lead to Achilles’ destructive passions, but menis. Menis is a kind of wrath, invoked in the opening lines of the Iliad: “Let wrath be now your song, Goddess!” But menis is a special kind of wrath. Except for Achilles, it belongs only to gods. No mortal but Achilles is ever
said to have it.
Nor was hubris a question of particular interest to Homer or his contemporaries. Consider Oedipus, the poster child of hubris. When Homer wrote–sometime before 700 B.C.–there were also tales of Oedipus, and some literature about Oedipus survives from the early period. In it, Oedipus is a successful king who dies heroically. It is only with the dramas of Classical Athens–about four hundred years later–that hubris becomes so tied up with the Oedipal story. The tale is an invention of a different age, an age suffering the ravages of an unsuccessful war with Sparta. Odysseus, Ajax, and others also endured similar downfalls in Athenian drama. They reconceived their heroes in misery like their own: this is known, in logic, as the Sympathetic fallacy. It may be at work in the writings of a man who, because he feels America to be hubristic, writes our history to make us so.
In doing so, as I feel I have shown, he misunderstands American history, Greek literature, Southern culture, and codes of honour, this last both generally, and particularly concerning women and corporate bodies. I wish to thank Mr. Robinson for his interest in the American South, but also kindly to suggest that his research for his forthcoming book may not be complete.
Yes, it’s true. Honour survives in the South, albeit in more muted fashion than times past. Notwithstanding the error and horror with which Mr. Robinson so clumsily attributes its rationale and manifestations, he is on balance correct in this regard. It strikes me as ironic however, to assign fault as he does with the recipients of, rather than purveyors of admitted insults. It is typical of the superior-minded English, as well as their bastard cousins the Yankees, to find fault with a Southerner’s demonstrative response to his insults. Presumably, the good Southerner (which is to say, one that is broken to the yoke of his betters) accepts such insults with passivity. That being said, it is no mystery why real men seem to be in such short supply in the male-neutered wastelands of the UK and northern US nowadays.
It is a fact that since my Celtic Southern forebears set foot on this continent 250 years ago, they have fought and died under many flags, not the least of which was the Union Jack. In the past century, many good men from the South continued to lay down their lives in support of it, oftentimes for little more than the sense of honour that Robinson now so cravenly slanders. Given our long and bloody shared history, would it be dishonourable for me to suggest that the only time the English seem to have a problem with our bound-bound martial culture is when they have not been able to use it to further their own interests? If I am mistaken, please accept my humble apology.
I very much enjoyed Mr Robinson’s cogent analysis about the importance of “honour” to the Southern US mentality. A related issue that might adumbrate the matter is a curious parallel one may draw between the English and the American civil wars. In the American civil war the roundheads were the Northern puritans, endowed with a typically modern, bourgeois mindset, whereas the cavaliers were the southerners, with their more primitive, aristocratic views. As in Britain, the puritans apparently won, only to see the cavaliers make a comeback (in Britain during the period between the restoration and the repeal of the corn laws, and in America after the reconstruction and period of the Jim Crow laws). It is clear that the emphasis on honour is a distinctly aristocratic trait, since lesser beings (in that worldview), such as slaves or women either have no honour, or have no power to defend it themselves. This attitude, which Fukuyama remarks quoting Koj’ve and Hegel, called “Thymos”, is also possibly the source of aristocracy itself: a sense of inner worth implemented through a fearless pride. Although democracy and capitalism may erode this self-perception, they will never do away with it. If they do, life will be much more reasonable and practical, but somehow plainer and viler.
Antonio J. Nunez
When the Southern States decided at Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency of the United States, that enough-was-enough and proceeded to leave the Union, there were plenty of people in the U.S. whose response was from: “good riddance to bad rubbish” to ‘let the erring sisters depart in peace.” But this overlooks the salient point of the geographical position of the Port of New Orleans. In plain terms, the United States cannot permit a foreign power, be it Spain, France, Great Britain or the Confederacy control the mouth of the Mississippi River and when such a happening occurs, the United States must go to war, she has no choice.
Comment on Boycott Britain by Leo McKinstry (26/07/2003)
Leo McKinstry is right to criticise the appalling state of the British tourist and hospitality industry. I do pub and bar audits for a living – and the best run venues, more often than not, tend to be run by foreigners. One pub I visited in old Windsor had been recently taken over by a South African. He complained about what a ragged state the pub was when he took it over, how he was annoyed about how food in other pubs was a rip off and then pointed out the new decor, which was much cleaner then when I was last there. The pub continues to do well. The sad fact is we even have to go abroad to get properly drunk and arrested (qf. Ibiza) – this country’s tourist industry is so unappealing!
Leo McKinstry is spot on in his criticisms of the British tourists industry. The overall quality of what is on offer is pathetic for the prices charged. So-called “luxury” accommodation is barely adequate and service seems to be non-existent. Food is in general poor and if you are travelling with a child woe betide you. Unless you want the infant to live on a diet comprised solely of chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, or pizza with little or no topping, you are best advised to carry your own supplies. Why it is impossible to simply offer half sized portions of the adult menu is beyond my comprehension.
However in mitigation I must point out that much of the poor quality of service is caused by certain aspects of the British class system, which you hold so dear and nasty British attitudes to outsiders (Whoops! Sorry! There go my loony left tendencies again!).
There is a general resentment in Britain of foreigners; even those who are doing us the complement of visiting our country and spending large wads of cash here. The unspoken assumption seems to be that they have no right to complain and no real right to be here. Presumably they should pay up and push off home with all speed. As for the British public – the smelly oiks should take what they are given and be thankful.
There is also the problem of the self-satisfied upper middle classes moving to rural areas to open olde tea shoppes and run B&Bs. No doubt the owners while living their rural idyll indulge in rosy coloured images of themselves polishing horse brasses or serving delicious cream teas to grateful (white English) customers. Unfortunately the realities of catering as a way of earning a living are hard work, long hours and little thanks; facts that the middle classes are ill prepared to deal with. The last time I stayed in an Oxford B&B the owner seemed quite put out that I did not practically weep tears of joy over a barely adequate cooked breakfast, while he told me about the inconvenience of getting up early to prepare it.
I have been embarrassed on countless occasions by the surly behaviour of proprietors who seem to feel ill used at having to serve the public at all. Often a single over worked and no doubt minimum waged waitress is expected to deal with everything and is used as a convenient scapegoat by the customers while the owner looks on.
The situation will not
change until British people get it into their heads that service is not the same as servitude and that offering quality does not apply only to themselves or people they perceive to be like themselves. When we stop looking down on our customers things will improve.
Having just completed Leo McKinstry’s piece, I felt compelled to run to the defence of my country’s number one ally and my favourite tourist destination.
Having travelled to Britain 5 times in the last five years – principally London, though also Scotland, Wales, Portsmouth and other parts of the south – my experiences could not have been more different than those outlined by Mr. McKinstry.
To be certain, prices are higher than in the States, but not horribly so. Regarding hotel accommodations, with one small exception, I have never had a really bad experience. As to the people, other than a remarkable intolerance for the American expression, “Have a nice day,” everyone I have met has been friendly, polite and helpful.
Maybe it is that the British do not treat their own people as well as they treat Americans. If so, it certainly stands on its head the notion increasingly common on this side of the Pond that Americans love Britain more than Britain loves America.
James E. Geoffrey II
If we are driving away tourists, then good! You can’t move in Central London nowadays without bumping into unsightly great gangs of half-witted Germans, Japanese, Americans etc. A reputation for inhospitality and poor value for money is a price worth paying for pavements you can walk down.
Comment on Black-eyed monster by Theodore Dalrymple (26/07/2003)
Not impossible, but no doubt a long time coming – I have argued this subject for years, although I must admit never received complete agreement. I deplore the “branding” of women and the notion that they are property. Ironically, my soon to be ex-wife complained endlessly that I never exhibited jealousy and therefore did not love her. Perhaps when marriage is properly transformed to a series of rolling 2 (5, whatever) year contracts, with a mandatory renewal/termination clause, the neolithic instincts will finally be selected out of the gene pool, but I doubt it. Mankind has to finish with the notion of personal property and ownership altogether, and we are orders of magnitude away from the wealth a society must have achieved for that to happen.
Comment on The fall guy by Peter Oborne (26/07/2003)
Much enjoyed Peter Oborne’s article, but feel that there was a lack of detailed explanation. Many readers won’t have grasped the full implications of the Kelly affair as easily as journalists.
Presumably the anti-government case is that Downing Street instituted an aggressive mole-hunt hoping that the declared ‘single source’ could be brought under extreme pressure and made to the government’s bidding. Their worst-case scenario was that the mole was a highly placed MI6 officer who would come out and skilfully expose their lies over the dossier. However, they were also confident that a single source could be effectively rubbished if he was flushed out.
When it emerged that Kelly was their man enormous pressure was out on him – threats of prosecution, loss of pension, the destruction of his reputation. Under duress, Kelly went into the committee and lied for the government.
Oborne is right to say that Kelly’s conscience may have pushed him to suicide, but the explicit allegation is that Downing Street – which must mean Blair – blackmailed him into lying to protect Blair’s lies to parliament.
If that is what the Spectator believes, let’s have it!
It is a delicious irony that you have chosen Peter Oborne to cover a story that revolves around a reporter who has been accused of reporting inaccurately.
Oborne’s pieces are always delivered with such a not-so-hidden agenda that he cannot be taken seriously as a journalist. Yet again he proves the point by not providing not a single shred of evidence for even one of the accusations he makes towards no 10. How does he justify the claims?
Do your magazine a favour and let him out to pasture – after all Andrew Gilligan may soon be looking for a new political correspondent’s job.