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.
The 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.