Home National Politics A Tale of Two Warriors: Part II– Press the Battle

A Tale of Two Warriors: Part II– Press the Battle

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It is wisely said that one cannot please everybody. And so I have had it confirmed for me lately when a friend of more than 40 years standing wrote to me to express his distaste for my choice of an icon to serve as the graphic for my present campaign, “Press the Battle.”

Of this image, my friend wrote that he disliked the symbol, found it a turn-off: “It strikes me as more male-chauvinist macho stuff.”

It should be said of my friend that when I met him, in 1971, he was recently retired as a major from the United States Marines, where he had pursued a military career. And it should be noted that he has since been an increasingly dedicated opponent of American militarism, a major figure in the organization, Veterans for Peace.

Of course, at some level, my friend is right. This image — derived from a piece of 18th century statuary found at a palace in Berlin– is as much emblematic of the “problem of power” as was that previous warrior image (described in Part I) in the ancient rock painting from the Algerian Sahara.

But in another, I think more urgently important sense, I believe my friend’s reaction is off the mark. More “urgent” because I believe my friend is missing the tragic, but essential truth of our predicament in America today.

P of T warriorThe problem of power is not just about power being a bad thing. It is about a world whose disorder makes power a necessity even for the good. That’s the whole thrust of “the parable of the tribes”:  

[T]he irony is that successful defense against a power-maximizing aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power…

So, yes, this warrior image (a statue with classical lines, appearing in the context of a Prussian culture that would later help bring nightmares of war to the world), like the other, reflects humanity’s problem of a world of brokenness. And yes, macho warrior stuff is one of the symptom’s of humanity’s struggle with the problem of power in social evolution.

But at the same time, the nature of the problem of power is such that sometimes this same “stuff” of the macho warrior — the readiness to confront and defeat an enemy — is a necessary part of the only available solution.

When what is sacred is being assaulted by an evil force, this warrior is an image of what we are called upon to be.

What would have been the fate of humane and democratic values in the world had not the spirit of “Press the Battle” come to power, at practically the last moment, in Great Britain in 1940? Are we not right to consider the pugnacious Winston Churchill one of history’s great heroes?

One can certainly find in Churchill’s lifelong warrior inclinations a manifestation of some of the world’s brokenness. But in the 1930s, it was this battle-ready Churchill — almost alone — who perceived clearly what his nation, and decent human values, were up against. And it was he who called his nation to rouse itself to avert the nightmare that threatened.

But his was a voice in the wilderness. Meanwhile, the government of the time — under Prime Ministers Baldwin and Chamberlain — remained blind to the nature of the threat, and refused Churchill’s call to check the rising evil power in Germany.

The price of that lack in Britain of that spirit of “Press the Battle” was almost completely catastrophic for Britain and indeed for the world. Historians say that had Britain come under the Nazi thumb, as so nearly happened, the outcome of World War II altogether might have been altogether different. It might have brought onto the world a very dark age.

What kind of icon would have suited Prime Minister Churchill as he rallied his nation to that urgently needed spirit:

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Though our battle in America today is fought with different weapons, because fought in different kinds of systems, the basic structure of the situation is the same: an evil force is assaulting all the values we hold dear, and like Baldwin and Chamberlain, Liberal America has been blind and weak in confronting it.

We need the spirit of Churchill, not Chamberlain, as we face this force: fearless, impassioned, ready for combat.

That’s what this warrior image my friend doesn’t like is intended to convey.  

  • InkedProfessor

    …fearless, impassioned combative words by Churchill (the “Happy Warrior”) for rousing a nation at a time of a (justified) war operation against an implacable foreign power bent on military conquest occasions the use of bellicose language. But, IMO, this is not appropriate rhetoric for a public political debate, in a democracy with fellow citizens, however misguided their proposals and ugly their language and tactics. I wouldn’t use the word “evil force,” because I don’t want to “Other” my compatriots in that way, nor adopt their theologically extremist framing of the debate, nor liken this debate to a war. (Eventually, ideally, I’d like to persuade some of them–or enough of the voting public–to a more inclusive, progressive way of thinking, rather than having “defeated” them. I want them convinced, and to join us.) I hear what you’re trying to rally, intending to convey–a vigorous, engaged Left–but I agree with your Veterans for Peace friend. Neither the rhetoric nor this symbol strike me as a positive, helpful, hopeful tone for the movement in which I want to participate.  

  • InkedProfessor

    and Unilateral Disarmament is not what I’m seeking, bc I don’t think that most of the voices on the other side are making reasonable demands anymore, and the post-Citizens United political scene is formidable. So please don’t misread me. I’m not naive, nor new to this. I’ve worked on the Hill, on policy analysis and lobbying, as well as in direct campaign work. Although I’m old enough to remember near-extinct moderate, governing-minded GOPs–I was represented by some who were conservative-ish, but persuadable on certain issues–I’m also young enough that all this to-the-barricades “war” talk has a dated 1960s boomer ring to it. This bombastic lingo is not as effective for rallying #GenX  – ers, much less #Millennials. There are some strong progressive voices now — Rachel Maddow, Melissa Harris-Perry come to mind — who are active on Twitter and other social media, and make strong critiques without resorting to this tired demonization language. Demonization can lead to dehumanization, e.g., #Ferguson police vs. black folk.  

  • InkedProfessor

    …and you and I are allies in confronting it. Even as we perpetuate the time-honored practice of arguments within the left over tactics! 🙂 It’s simply that my response–which is to engage and participate in political campaigns for progressive candidates and to register voters–is not animated by this type of bellicose language. Some people misunderstood MLK, too, to be weak. Part of my commitment to non-violence (though I’m not a pacifist) is to, as much as possible, refrain from using violence-tinged language about fellow citizens who are misguided, and whose polices are destructive (and thus frankly, unsustainable) of the basic social fabric.  But to keep from burning out, to keep strength for a long struggle, I have to remain positive, and to struggle hopefully alongside people who are positive and in it for the long haul. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing this type of approach modeled for me, and to participate in it: by my parents’ anti-Vietnam activities, and by some very feisty progressive nuns who, in their language, confront and “speak truth to power.”  But I’ve also (in my time on the Hill) seen a lot of good strong progressives who burned out. I’ve also seen this kind of bellicose language within the left loop back on itself, find “enemies” within. Back in the day, our interracial, progressive, politically-active church in Chicago was bombed, I kid you not, by members of another radical group who should have been fellow-travelers. But we still struggled on.